Truth: Major Contentions

Lure of the Will to Believe

  • Our declarations swing between too-eager beliefs and too-ready skepticism.
  • William James advises commitment in the face of doubt because we cannot expect certainty.
  • Karl Popper advises avoiding commitment without convincing evidence.
  • The question is always this one: “How much evidence and of what kind is sufficient?”
  • We are unlikely to find a consensual answer because we cannot agree on the nature of evidence.

What Makes It True?

  • Every declaration about truth or goodness requires a warrant, a reason the speaker thinks it true.
  • The nature of warrant depends upon consensually defining terms like fact, opinion, and belief.
  • The use of authority to warrant truth claims has collapsed, which has most damaged moral declarations because no comparable warrant has replaced authority.
  • Modernism relies on two axioms of commitment: individual rational agency and universal reasoning.
  • Modernism’s greatest achievement is empirical science, which has furthered the erosion of authority.
  • Excepting empirical science, postmodernism dominates contemporary preferences involving goodness; it rejects universal reasoning but ardently defends individual freedom.
  • We have no means to arbitrate our axiomatic disagreements.

Lacking Definition

  • In premodern axioms of commitment, all warrants ultimately rely on a correspondence epistemology: the assumption that the truth of declarations is publicly accessible.
  • The ultimate premodern warrant was authority.
  • In modern epistemology, correspondence declarations are justified by five warrants: empirical, expertise, competence, undistilled experience, and a remnant authority.
  • Correspondence truth claims assume the standard of a preponderance of evidence.
  • Twentieth century postmodernism proposes a different epistemology, a private one based upon the coherence of already-accepted truths.
  • This evolution has most seriously challenged public consensus on goodness and beauty, which have been most privatized by the failures of authority.

Tangled Terms

  • Correspondence justifications assume a public warrant while coherence justifications assume a private warrant.
  • The terms we use may or may not indicate which axiom of commitment our declarations rely upon.
  • Blurring these axioms increases freedom while it decreases verifiability.
  • The axioms of commitment we employ in our declarations dictate which warrants we will accept, but these we vary these erratically.

Eskimos Have Two Words for Snow

  • The terms we now use to imply our warrants have no consensual meaning.
  • Words like opinion, fact, belief, and judgment are potentially powerful spurs to consensus about warrant.
  • To self-justify our understanding, we often resort to filtering declarations by the simple principle of non-contradiction.
  • It is absurdly easy to dismiss other persons’ declarations as private ones today, which spares us the trouble of examining their truth.

The Tyranny of Rationality

  • Given the contemporary moral disarray, we must seek consensual warrants.
  • Universal reason is the best available option, but it can only succeed if founded upon modernist warrants of individual agency.
  • It is reinforced by current neurological research.
  • Its exemplar is empirical science.
  • The perceptual wall is a hindrance to accepting universal reasoning.
  • Kantian categories establish common, inescapably rational, interpreters of experience.
  • Judgments of truth and judgments of goodness face different obstacles.
  • Truth claims are inescapably mimetic and therefore inescapably rational regardless of the axiom underwriting their warrants..
  • Correspondence judgments attempt to mirror reality despite the perceptual wall. Coherence beliefs attempt to avoid contradiction.
  • Categorizations and conceptualizations are inescapable products of experience and are inescapably rational.
  • Because judgments of truth and of goodness are invariably linked, the temptation of premature closure must always be resisted.
  • The act of severance isolates judgments of truth from judgments of goodness.

What Counts as Justification?

  • Correspondence truth claims are publicly defensible judgments about individual elements of external reality.
  • Coherence truth claims are aggregates of private truths that do not contradict according to whatever standard of rationality the thinker chooses to employ.
  • In any conversation, we may not be able to identify the axiom or warrants persons assume in their truth claims, so we may easily discount the declarations they make.
  • Correspondence claims in decreasing order of reliability depend upon empiricism, expertise, competence, undistilled experience, or authority for their warrant.
  • Coherence claims rely upon the virtual circle, whose sole criterion is non-contradiction.

Pure, Poor Systems of Knowledge

  • The axioms of truth claims appeal either to experience or external reality.
  • Coherence thinks the perceptual wall impenetrable while correspondence considers it an impediment to certainty.
  • The most reliable correspondence proofs minimize experience to maximize reasoning upon it.
  • The coherence proof maximizes individual experience and makes reasoning idiosyncratic.
  • If personal certainty is the criterion, correspondence must always bow to coherence, but if public verifiability is the criterion, the order is reversed.
  • Coherentism privileges the privacy of experience and its formative influence on reasoning.
  • The uncertainty of correspondence warrants coupled with the triumphs of empiricism tempt contemporary declarations toward scientism.
  • Scientism seeks empirical warrants for goodness claims, which is an impossible pursuit.

Better Blended Systems of Knowledge

  • For a correspondentist, judgment and opinion mark different kinds of declarations, but for a coherentist, they serve equally well to validate the virtual circle.
  • The meaning of fact, opinion, and belief differs for correspondence and coherence.
  • Axioms must be aligned rationally to avoid contradiction or error in private judgments and dismissal or discord in public ones, but there are many more ways to do this incorrectly than correctly.
  • Public declarations are necessarily correspondence ones, so any claim to public moral prescription must satisfy  correspondence warrants.

Facts are Fluxy Things

  • Correspondence and coherence dispute the nature of fact.
  • Empirical science now provides our clearest justification of facticity, but the scientific method only succeeds because it severely limits the kinds of experiences it investigates.
  • Mathematical identities are not facts, nor are analytic, a priori truth claims.
  • Postmodernism views facts as the products of private consciousness, allowing everyone to posit private facts.
  • Scientific facts and the “facts of experience” are incompatible; the scientific method attempts to minimize the distortions of private experience.
  • Science is composed of more than facticity.
  • Scientism is a belief system that discounts any declaration not founded upon empiricism; because science cannot “see” any goodness issues other than immediate utility, it regards moral claims as white noise.
  • Empiricism and postmodernism are axiomatically hostile, yet they share a disdain of “moral facts.”
  • Because it is composed in part of private desire, no belief can be a fact.
  • Though all sides appeal to facticity as evidence of indubitability, no consensus on the nature of “fact” now exists, so except in scientific research, the term has almost no meaning.
  • I propose defining fact as “a datum of experience” which is a broadly inclusive definition that privileges private perception.
  • I propose that this inclusive definition of fact be matched to a more exclusive meaning of judgment as a publicly defensible declaration.
  • No belief can be a judgment because belief is not a public warrant.
  • Empiricism, expertise, and competence are built upon replicable judgments.

 The Limits of Empirical Science

  • Natural science is the only field of knowledge with consensual warrants
  • The definition of “science” is time-sensitive, having once meant only “systematic approach.”
  • What could be “systematic” is also time-bound and evolved in the premodern era.
  • Thomas Aquinas began the restriction of meaning by distinguishing “rationality” from “apprehension,” though he thought revelations could be apprehended by the soul.
  • Dividing “systematic approaches” to knowledge as Aquinas did opened the door to further investigations of the nature of organized knowledge and produced multiple controversies.
  • In addressing these, we must avoid the “golden thread” reading that views all prior knowledge as a runway to our current understandings and therefore minimizes the other interpretations that were dominant and now are outdated.
  • One such turn was the Protestant Reformation that assumed persons are capable of using faith to comprehend spiritual truths in defiance of institutional authority.
  • The Reformation was more than an epistemic crisis; it was also a desperate moral catastrophe, for divine authority had underwritten and mutualized all truth and goodness claims from before civilizations’ recorded history.
  • Luther’s revolt opened the door to modernism, whose axioms of commitment held individual rational and moral autonomy as sacred; unfortunately, eight generations and twenty million lives were lost in discovering and verifying these foundations for every assertion of truth or goodness.
  • The greatest loss was to trust, the sole axiomatic basis for authority, for now uses of power had to be sanctioned rather than trusted; this reliance on individual experience and universal knowledge became the axiomatic basis of modernism.
  • Because institutions are essential and assumptions poorly understood, the decline of authority was not finalized until the twentieth century; in the meantime, a constant epistemic and moral conflict between authority and agency created social churn.
  • A golden thread history would ignore most of this confusion to focus on “the birth of science” that began with modernism, but even the founders of modern science could not limit their “science” to our contemporary definition, meaning that “science” was subject to the epistemic and moral conflicts that characterized modernism more generally.
  • “Systematic” investigation of organized knowledge produced “empirical cannibalism,” a generational conversation on epistemic truth; because authority’s truth and goodness claims had been mutually justifying, the empirical cannibals found it necessary to entertain deep doubts about the certainty of any knowledge not built upon experience.
  • But as experience is inherently privately processed, this restriction introduced still more uncertainty into the issue of “reliable knowledge” as the empirical thinkers engaged in a sustained critique of each other’s thinking through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
  • This focus on experience required that it be “distilled,” subject to more rigorous limitations so as to eliminate sources of uncertainty and open to rational criticism, but while this effort was superior to “common sense” understandings of experience, the uniqueness of each moment and the privacy of our processing of it meant experience could never produce certain knowledge.
  • Empirical cannibalism produced such skepticism that naturalists were forced to extraordinary care in their observations and experimentations, leading to the beginnings of the scientific method, a process that occupied most of the nineteenth century.
  • Despite deserved skepticism about the unreliability of experience, the specialization of ‘natural philosophy’ produced deep knowledge that slowly became linked into a spectacular quilted reflection of reality itself; this mirror was also coherent.
  • Further, when the same rigor was introduced to experimentation, it produced technology of great social utility, again indicating that emerging empirical processes were applicable to reality, were therefore “reliable knowledge.”
  • What emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century was “true science” in a contemporary sense as natural science professionalized and further restricted itself.
  • Its maturation and technological products ensured this emerging scientific practice would have a role to play in the culture war between modernist and premodernist axioms of commitment that occupied the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries.
  • One such development was a denial of science’s methodology and products that grew into the first mass movement in history; Romanticism was a revival of the connection between intuition and revelation that empiricism had denied.
  • A second response to natural science’s success was the slow disillusionment with “commonsense reasoning” as sufficient to interpret the complexities of reality and guide agency to moral choosing.
  • Both Romanticism and the discrediting of common sense were responses to the gradual self-restrictions of a scientific methodology that found reliable knowledge so difficult to attain that all moral issues must be put aside; Romanticism was a revival of “certain knowledge” through intuition; its appeal was heightened by the simultaneous discrediting of common sense.
  • By the mid-nineteenth century, Romanticism had begun to reveal its incoherencies, though it remains a force in contemporary cultures because of its simplistic access to value and its anti-authoritarian reliance on individual intuition, thus flattering agency; simultaneously, commonsense reasoning was further discredited by a series of theoretical interpretations that touched on nearly every moral and epistemic presumption that persons make in exercising choice..
  • The refinements of natural science in the second half of the nineteenth century continually restricted the kinds of experience it was capable of analyzing; they had to be perceptible, measurable, limitable, and reportable in order to be proper subjects for scientific study.
  • These limitations gradually produced a separation of expertise and empiricism with expertise producing less reliable knowledge over a wider range of experiences.
  • As science professionalized, its work became bounded by disciplinary divisions and educational specialization in each discipline’s paradigms; it also adopted a strict peer review process of verifying results; in sum, science by the end of the nineteenth century had become a universal process of warranting claims to knowledge rather than merely a compendium; it became the greatest proof of modernist axioms of commitments.
  • This disciplinary process excluded outliers that became all the pseudo-sciences that now populate the Internet.
  • By 1900, authority was entering is last crisis as empiricism was entering its century of triumph.
  • Modern axioms had triumphed over premodern ones in part because science and its technologies confirmed their utility; but the professionalization of science simultaneously began a retreat from expansive promises of a coming era of “scientific morality,” and modernism seemed impotent to provide any other kind.
  • This moral crisis centers on science’s inability to systematize judgments of quality; some scientists and nearly all of the general public in technologically advanced nations were ignorant of this incapacity, and so they embraced scientism, the mistaken belief that science can provide guidance to qualitative questions of truth or goodness.
  • This quality problem was exacerbated by the expectations that empirical science had raised in the public mind: its ability to dig deeply into complexity and deal with whatever was found systematically and to fill needs of social utility even when common sense failed and authority proved as corrosive to trust as the Reformation had shown.
  • By 1920, three crises came together as into one civilizational crisis: the utter failure of trust in authority clarified by World War I, the accelerating pace of societal change brought on largely by science’s products, and the utter desolation of commonsense thinking to resolve institutional quandaries and public moral direction, particularly in the face of scientific discoveries that were deeply counterintuitive, like Darwinism, Marxism, special relativity, and Freudianism.
  • The 1920’s was the era of liberation from tradition, thought this effort also continued throughout the century; it greatly damaged modernist axioms of commitment, all documented by the postmodernist analysis that emerged in the 1970’s.
  • The twentieth century developed into a campaign of constant change, but with no public moral end, the direction of change and its directors became the stuff of endless culture wars, shooting wars, and revolutions, many based upon vague assertions of “rights” to individual self-authentication.
  • At the center of these societal conflicts was the moral basis of institutions: was it to be trust, interactive sanction, or total rejection of bad faith?
  • With authority’s demise, twentieth century intelligentsia conducted an autopsy on trust based upon a distrust of all exercises of power, particularly institutional power, but at the heart of this investigation was an unanswered question on publicly warranting claims to goodness.
  • Natural science’s success had resulted from a strict act of severance in which truth becomes the sole object of the investigation, meaning that utility of what was discovered had to be applied externally, but what methodology could supply that external source if not science itself?
  • This has produced a dualism of scientistic approaches. The first assumes that natural sciences like neurology and genetics will produce in time a “moral science,” which is a contravention of contemporary scientific principles and is likely to be a fool’s errand; a second cadre takes the act of severance seriously enough to deny science access to moral issues entirely and so judges that they must not be capable of systematic resolution at all; both responses disqualify empiricism from producing public moral consensus.
  • One branch of science has eagerly embraced scientism: the human sciences.
  • They are founded on empirical analysis of felt human freedom and empirical prescriptions to direct and perfect it, both of which are impossible for them to achieve; they exemplify scientism.
  • Though sharing science’s prestige, human scienecs failed to unify their paradigms or develop metrics applicable to individual subjects, and from their beginnings in the Enlightenment, their interests were always on perfection of human nature.
  • Their work ignored the act of severance that natural science mastered in the nineteenth century; nevertheless, the public eagerly embraced their “scientific” analyses because they were broadly explanatory of social phenomena, simplistic, and morally prescriptive.
  • Practitioners in the human science were unable to limit their biases and their societal interests, and ethical concerns also limited using human subjects in experimentation, both impediments to true empirical processes.
  • Every catastrophic societal error of the twentieth century is in some sense traceable to the human sciences; perhaps the most pernicious influences were efforts to develop “scientific” and “moral” solutions to generalized human needs like communism, fascism, and pragmatism.
  • Human sciences have been successful in developing expertise in narrowed segments of human interest subject to the requirements of expertise and also in large scale population studies in which quantification can be applicable and even predictive, though without empirical reliability.
  • The influence of the human sciences in the twentieth century has been so powerful that it has camouflaged the incapacity of natural science to arrive at judgments of goodness, leaving natural science to proceed largely unguided in its pursuits.
  • Despite its limitations, natural science has some lessons to teach us: first, that the modernist axiom of universal reason is applicable to experience if sufficiently distilled, though these lessons cannot be moral ones; secondly, that employing an act of severance in ordinary experience can increase the reliability of nonempirical judgments.

Expertise

  • The development of expertise depends upon a skill or subject’s degree of complexity and the practitioner’s capacity to distill the elements of the experience.
  • As a public warrant, expertise is less convincing than empirical science but more convincing than competence, undistilled experience, and authority.
  • Successful practice of empirical science engages many expert tasks, so the two warrants are frequently and mistakenly thought to be synonymous.
  • Experiences that are too variable or too unvarying are not open to the development of expertise.
  • Many human sciences claim empirical status, but none is fully empirical, although some enable expertise.
  • Moral expertise is not possible, though one can be an expert in a particular moral tradition just as one can be an expert in a particular aesthetic or religious tradition.
  • Expertise in judgments of quality or utility is possible and is improved by employing public standards of quality.
  • Coherentism denies the rational basis of expertise.
  • Expertise is a fundamentally different capability than authority; though all experts might be thought authoritative in their specialty, their expertise is independent of the trust of others.
  • Authority is in no way dependent on expertise, relying fully on the trust of the adherent.
  • In the collapse of authority following World War I, popular culture turned to expertise and human science for moral clarity; these sources utterly failed to provide it and further eroded its pursuit.

Reductionism for Dummies

  • To call a judgment “reductionist” carries a negative connotation, implying omission or oversimplification.
  • Every judgment is technically reductionist, for it must reduce attention to a single element of experience, separate its critical from its inessential components, correctly identify their relationship, and find the proper language to communicate what has been learned.
  • The empirical philosophers revealed the uncertainty of each step in the process of proper reductionism.
  • Romantic philosophers condemned the “murder by dissection” that reason requires.
  • Empirical science demonstrated the inadequacies of naïve analysis, otherwise called “common sense.”
  • Postmodern criticism frequently attacks judgments as reductionist, but it almost never defines what is lacking, a necessary subterfuge since its warrant cannot privilege any judgment as objectively superior.

 Stereotypes and Categories

  • Stereotyping” is a widely used but poorly understood term in contemporary life.
  • A stereotype may involve a false categorization or the insertion of an unsuitable element into a legitimate category.
  • Both kinds of stereotyping are erroneous and indicate the mental sloth properly called prejudice.
  • Postmodernism condemns stereotyping but its identity markers are invariably as stereotypical as the discriminatory stereotypes they seek to replace.
  • This confusion tempts postmodernists to try to avoid all categorizations for fear of stereotyping, but this robs them of a powerful rational tool of judgment.
  • Tribalism is a ubiquitous temptation to stereotyping.

Kind and Degree

  • The kind and degree distinction is a valuable tool of rational categorization.
  • The initial classification of “kind” determines the subsequent classifications of degree.
  • Categories having an equality of kind share fundamental similarities more determinative of their nature than their inequality of degree.
  • All persons share many equalities of kind more determinative of their identity than their existential inequalities of degree.
  • The human equality of kind is species-specific and needs-determinative.
  • All cultural distinctions are inequalities of degree when examined within the category of human personhood.
  • Our species-specific equality of kind as homo sapiens allows an historical, sociological, and biological typology of universal human needs that transcend those inequalities of degree that mark culture and individual as distinctive.

Our Freedom Fetish

  • Defining “liberty” as “the freedom to act without restraint” is an entirely inadequate definition.
  • To choose freely, persons must be presented with at least two options.
  • Natural freedom automatically presents options in particular experiences to consciousness.
  • Persons are entitled to natural freedom as a natural right.
  • Preferential freedom allows persons to choose the good by whatever standard of value they employ.
  • Preferential freedom confers human rights to persons exercising their rational agency and makes them worthy of radical respect in their interactions with other persons.
  • Preferential freedom confers moral responsibility as a universal equality of kind.
  • Persons may prefer goods on grounds of utility, quality, or morality.
  • Morality is a system of preference structured to secure chosen ends of preference.
  • Competent preference requires an act of severance by which the moral agent understands the experience she faces before allowing her natural freedom to identify goodness choices.
  • Finding truth must always be merely the means of choosing good.
  • Because engaging belief blurs the act of severance by instilling desire into our evaluation of the content of an experience, preferences involving beliefs necessarily introduce bias and preclude them from being judgments of moral goods.
  • Premodernists surrender their preferential freedom in an act of trust to an authority they think more capable of prescribing goods than they are.
  • Postmodernists zealously retain their moral agency and categorically have no compunctions about privileging their beliefs as private knowledge, but they invariably resent authority as an imposition on their freedom.
  • Because postmodernism’s goods are invariably private, they can prescribe no public means to resolve their conflicts short of coercion, and for this reason postmodernists are obsessive about power relationships and suspicious of institutional authority.
  • Political libertarians mistakenly think circumstantial freedom to be synonymous with justice and so they seek maximal liberty.
  • Laws concern circumstantial freedom.
  • Circumstantial freedom governs exemption-rights and claim-rights among strangers and between individuals and the state.
  • Public morality relies upon human rights based upon preferential freedom.

The Act of Severance

  • Examining human preference reveals two separate preconscious presentations to the mind: sense data presents a mimesis of reality as completed picture and natural freedom draws options for preference; both happen without conscious attention.
  • The act of severance is an active separation and slowing of these acts so that judgments of truth are made conscious before determinations of preference are permitted.
  • The core operation of empirical science involves just this effort and accounts for both the truth-finding power of its methodology and its incapacity to prescribe goods by the same method it uses so well to describe truth.
  • Learning this lesson has been exceedingly difficult for natural science; those who have failed to learn it practice scientism, most disturbingly, the human sciences.
  • Because determinations of truth and goodness are intimately related in everyday life, non-scientists have a particularly difficult time practicing an act of severance, preferring to automate the process of choosing goods through premature closure, allowing goodness preferences to taint what should be a prior process of determining truth.
  • We see this in all three species of goodness: quality, utility, and morality.
  • Our opinions of quality are often instantaneous expressions of approval, empty preferences that others may safely ignore; but this broad claim to opine on subjects of which we have neither expertise or competence encourages a dismissal of both.
  • Determinations of utility are prompted by desire in momentary experience, which may easily automate preferences just as it automates determinations of truth and presentations of choice into instantaneous responses to stimuli, one of which is the desire that characterizes premature closure.
  • But utility invariably involves a time issue, for immediate desires are often in conflict with longer-term ones that are not as quickly presented to consciousness; engaging an act of severance may allow desires to be more capably arbitrated and satisfied.
  • This possibility is denied by the most popular method of preference now available; pragmatism is well suited to a consumerist culture that relies on purely private valuation of utility.
  • John Dewey and Jean Piaget disseminated pragmatism as an innovations in the human sciences to American students at the beginning of the twentieth century; it was a gloss on utilitarianism, a nineteenth century moral philosophy that elevated pleasure as the highest good, urging a calculation of pleasures and pains consequential to preference.
  • Pragmatism rejected even this interruption in desire, claiming that even determinations of truth could be seen as structured by personal desire in each moment.
  • Pragmatist theorists regarded desires as the ends for which all experiences are the means and that the truth of these experiences can be made conformable to the desires we seek to satisfy.
  • This view of truth as “cash value” of immediate use and desire as being the fixed good that determines cash value gets ends and means backward, for the experience is fixed and the goods we desire are malleable.
  • A pragmatic orientation will accelerate choosing and centralize immediate desire because it ensures premature closure, but it will foreclose considerations of long-term utility and habituate us to exploit every experience for immediate gain.
  • Contemporary axiomatic confusions cause us to conflate knowledge and belief, but distinguishing the two terms will alert us to the role of premature closure in commitments to beliefs because they are always judgments corrupted by desire.
  • Clearly, pragmatism qualifies as a belief-driven approach to experience, and it is consistent with the virtual circle orientation of modernism, which privileged private beliefs as true knowledge, though private in nature.
  • This orientation to belief is irreconcilable to premodernists’ respect for religious beliefs; though private, these are mistaken by premodernists as trust in religious authority and so are thought to be publicly defensible.
  • Given this confusion, it is unlikely that premodernist and postmodernist views of belief are reconcilable in the public square, though both indulge a premature closure.
  • Religious belief is, however, a form of premature closure which is possibly permissible to reason because some religious questions can neither be answered nor permanently deferred to an act of severance.
  • Even so, the act of severance is most useful to moral reasoning and operates in morality by a different principle entirely from its operations in quality and utility.
  • Morality is unique in requiring an act of severance before experience rather than after.
  • Since morality definitionally seeks to establish systematic ends of preference in a train of experience rather than seek goods within a single experience, it is clear that morality establishes its own utility of furthest ends for which all subsequent preferences of utility are only the means.
  • This means that premature closure is incompatible with true moral freedom and that the act of severance imparts integrity to the moral agent.

Authority Trust, Knowledge

  • As a warrant, authority must be distinguished from belief and expertise.
  • Trust definitionally requires a surrender of preferential freedom to authority.
  • We are all familiar with the processes of authority from our childhood.
  • Extending trust relies upon prior demonstrations of reliability and vastly simplifies morality.
  • Personal trust is necessary for loving relationships, but it is diluted in contemporary society or it oscillates with a distrust that prompts re-acquisition of agency.
  • Postmodernists distrust authority of any kind, thinking it corrosive of their freedoms and invariably coercive.
  • Postmodernists are particularly suspicious of institutional authority, thinking it responsible for past exploitations and deprivations.
  • It is an error to think authority can be imposed, for impositions of this kind destroy trust and devolve into pure power relationships.
  • Premodernists consider institutional authority formative of their identity; modernists consider it informative; postmodernists seek performative opportunities to demonstrate their independence.
  • Contemporary cultural conflicts over authority are traceable to the gradual erosion of religious authority as a universal warrant for all truth and goodness claims after the Reformation.
  • The utter collapse of institutional authority in the twentieth century has precipitated a moral crisis that postmodernism has sought to resolve, but it has failed because it cannot resolve conflicts of agency.
  • As a warrant for truth and goodness claims, authority is unique: initially it is quite powerful because the trust that enables it discourages doubt, but once doubt is entertained, authority has no means to sustain the trust that enabled it and therefore fails utterly.
  • Institutional authority is unlikely to be resurrected in the foreseeable future, and so it will not resolve our present moral crisis.

Knowledge, Trust, and Belief

  • To know is to have a grasp of the truth warranted by a rational consideration of a preponderance of evidence.
  • All knowledge is in some way dualist and in some way mimetic.
  • Synthetic knowledge is never certain.
  • Determining the true is the means to choosing the good.
  • The problem of specification is a serious impediment to choosing the good.
  • The human mind assembles sense data into a rational mimesis of reality.
  • Premature closure hastens the effort to know the truth so as to simplify goodness choices.
  • The operation of natural freedom is as automatic as the mind’s construction of sense data.
  • Moral choices are categorical, made without access to present experience; pragmatic choices are hypothetical, made in consideration of present experience.
  • Belief employs premature closure and disdains the act of severance that forces determinations of truth prior to those of goodness.
  • We don’t judge our beliefs true; we desire them to be true.
  • Because they are influenced by present desire, beliefs are unlikely to produce moral ends.
  • Plato defined knowledge as “justified, true belief,” but he expressed dissatisfaction with his definition.
  • In ordinary discourse, “belief” signifies uncertainty or obvious preference, but in religious creeds, “belief” signifies total commitment and certainty.
  • Trust and belief are entirely different kinds of cognitions, as are belief and knowledge.
  • According to modernist axioms of commitment, beliefs are projections of desire beyond knowledge.
  • Beliefs may be permissible or entailed; when judgments are justified they qualify as knowledge.
  • Postmodernism equates beliefs with knowledge because it views the perceptual wall as impenetrable; therefore, all knowledge is private knowledge potentially influenced by desire.
  • Differences among beliefs cannot be reconciled by reason, which explains postmodernists’ obsessions with impositions of power and the intractable disputes of contemporary religious believers.
  • Because authority can reconcile dispute, contemporary religious believers often mistake their beliefs, which are products of their own rational agency, as founded upon religious authority, which requires the surrender of their rational agency.
  • Despite its temptations, we cannot avoid beliefs, but it would be an error to think them the basis for further knowledge.

Correlation, Causation, Motivation

  • The maxim that “correlation is not causation” is a useful caution with which to examine the postmodern view of power.
  • Egoists assume that the satisfaction of every desire produces pleasure, and this pleasure motivates preferences.
  • Though pleasure is the consequence of the satisfaction of every preference, it is not necessarily its motive, so the correlation of pleasure with preference ought not be considered causative.
  • Similarly, the resolution of every conflict necessarily involves the expenditure of power, the term used in the sense of active effort, but this correlation ought not be thought the cause of resolution of conflict.
  • Postmodernists make this error because they have no theoretical mechanism to resolve goodness disputes since they reject categorical bases for determinations of goodness in favor of private belief.
  • Postmodernists’ obsession with disguised impositions of power suits the gnostic and psychoanalytic foundations of their theories.
  • Postmodern advocacy of rights and social justice cannot be reconciled with their axiom of commitment.

What Is the Virtual Circle?

  • Epistemological history has long honored such inner lights as intuition, insight, and inspiration, but these mechanisms for finding truth were expected to produce understandings subject to external verification.
  • The postmodern virtual circle differs in that it ignores externality in favor of an alignment of previously embraced truths producing a private schema of truth, goodness, and beauty.
  • Because postmodernists consider the perceptual wall to be impermeable and experience to be the maker of idiosyncratic reasoning, the principle of non-contradiction forms a very flexible and private truth test.
  • Postmodern justifications for the virtual circle are ad hoc adaptations of skeptical conclusions produced by modernist theorists.
  • Authority’s final collapse after World War I coincided with early attempts to define and defend the virtual circle on existentialist grounds.

One Postmodern Sentence

  • Postmodernist theory must obscure the crippling effects of its own suppositions, among them the contention that language is necessarily contingent, experience determinative of reasoning, and truth a private rather than a public possession.
  • Dissecting a single postmodern sentence is sufficient to reveal the obscurantism of its language, the universality of its contentions in violation of its axioms, the pseudo-scientific nature of its evidence, and the sustained contradictions of its method.

Postmodernism’s Unsettling Disagreements

  • The foundations of postmodernism were laid upon the sustained failures of institutional authority in the nineteenth century, the hypocrisies of modernism in the twentieth, and the gradual dominance of popular cultures.
  • Postmodernism’s nemeses are religious authority and objectivity as a privileged stance of modernist axioms of commitment.
  • Postmodernism has displayed a bipolar admiration for the methodology and work of the human sciences coupled with a rejection of the principles of scientific inquiry that the human sciences have mimicked.
  • Postmodernism has championed an alienist aesthetic as a moral desideratum, despite rejecting any universal moral claims.
  • Postmodernism between the wars championed existentialist opposition to popular cultures, but by the 1980’s, postmodernism had saturated popular cultures sufficiently to produce a shift in favor of cultural determinism.
  • Postmodernism has idealized equality as synonymous with justice despite its denial that either offers objective value.

Awe

  • Our mental operations engage a cycle of interpreting experience so as to offer preferences to choosing, nearly always for hypothetical utility, an operation that repeats itself continuously.
  • The sensation of awe interrupts this ordinary operation, producing a sense of uniqueness, intense interest, and disorientation.
  • Research indicates awe’s source to be the natural world, aesthetic products, human beauty, or religious intimations.
  • Immanuel Kant theorized that awe mirrors the “free play of the imagination” that characterizes artistic creation.
  • Religious mystics have mastered mental techniques to summon and extend sensations of awe.
  • Like spiritual intimations, awe’s contents are non-conceptual and therefore non-categorical.
  • Awe inspires a sense of holiness long associated with religious intimations of the divine.
  • Because it cannot be conceptually linked to knowledge, awe remains a spur to imagination and wonder rather than a subject of knowledge.

The Essential Transcendental Argument

  • Contemporary culture assumes or encourages a sense of our uniqueness, but I wish to argue that we are all alike and plan to prove it by means of a transcendental argument that you will concur with.
  • Once agreed to, this argument will also require an acceptance of its vital implications.
  • To succeed in this task requires acknowledging the variability of experience while finding some other commonality, justifying its possibility, presenting the transcendental argument as suitable proof, and establishing that the implications which follow acceptance are necessary and momentous.
  • I fully concede to the variability and subjectivism of experience and further to the contention that prior experiences color understanding of present ones, meaning that we understand all experience a posteriori, in terms of earlier ones.
  • To this truism, we must further add the contemporary view that all of our knowledge is therefore added a posteriori, not only after experience but as a product of it; the term coined for this thesis is tabula rasa.
  • Tabula rasa is a product of the seventeenth century Enlightenment; before then it was assumed that persons were born into some a priori knowledge, though the nature of that knowledge varied by theorist.
  • This self-contradicting variety brought a priori knowledge under investigation, and the unreliability of sense data perception cast doubt on the possibility of a priori knowledge; finally, even the most rigorous analysis could find no way to investigate inherent knowledge because all such investigations must be a posteriori
  • Contemporary cultures have fully embraced the unproven theory that persons are born blank slates, that they are products of their environment, largely through the efforts by the human sciences to reduce persons to empirical determinism, the alienist aesthetic movement, and the subjectivist academic theories collectively known as phenomenalism.
  • The assumption that we are products of experience includes the dangerous corollary that even reasoning itself must be similarly plastic; this conclusion was disseminated through postmodern theory.
  • The necessary conclusion to postmodern thinking is that knowledge is inherently personal or cultural, with no means to arbitrate dispute other than exercises of power.
  • The premise of private and a posteriori knowledge cannot be rejected so long as tabula rasa theories hold sway.
  • To reject this argument requires a limitation on the meaning of knowledge that concedes that some of what is called knowledge today is indeed private and takes the form of opinions and beliefs that are entirely subjectivist or relativist, leaving some truth claims that may still be defended as a priori knowledge.
  • The next step is to concede the variability of a posteriori influences, meaning that any knowledge that might be learned in experience must also be taken off the table as candidates for a priori knowledge; so our options now eliminate universals that might even be thought to be culturally conditioned, such as satisfaction of needs, language usage, and other anthropological factors.
  • Once we erase all of these possibilities, we seem to confirm rather than refute the contention that persons are empty vessels at birth, but this conclusion overlooks a possibility hiding in plain sight: the vessel into which experience is poured.
  • An accessible analogy is the new computer when first used by its owner; it can only function in response to its programming; it is reasonable to ask if humans process experience by means of a peculiarly human operating system.
  • I assert that we indeed do have a species-specific operating system that limits, shapes, and intersubjectivizes our differing experiences into mutually comprehensible knowledge; since this capacity cannot be an effect of varying experience, it must exist prior to them.
  • This hypothesis cannot be tested by empirical science, which operates on experience, but it can be inferred from recent neurological research using functional brain imaging that reveals functionality controlled by universal structures interacting with environment in broadly identical ways, though this work also reveals environment modifying brain structures as well, meaning we cannot verify a human operating system through empirical science.
  • We can find further confirmation in current research into artificial intelligence, which treats human reasoning as a specific function against which machine intelligence can be measured; this typology could not exist were our functioning entirely a posteriori.
  • We may also find evidence of a human operating system in some cultural practices that would vary far more widely if no human operating system directed their expression, among them mathematics and the scientific process, but again these are inconclusive inferences rather than proof of a priori knowledge.
  • A more speculative and highly theoretical view of the human operating system was advanced by Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, written specifically to counter the blank slate hypothesis and the private reality and promiscuous view of reason that must result from it; Kant was especially concerned with the destructive consequences to intersubjective reasoning and morality that must result from tabula rasa.
  • He was forced to admit the reality of “the perceptual wall,” the experiential barrier that privatizes experience, which makes reality itself subjective, and this implies that any common capacity among persons must exist inside the perceptual wall, in the human operating system.
  • Kant accepted Hume’s argument that every concept is added to experience by the mind, so he proposed that conceptualizing itself was the source of intersubjective knowledge, calling the process of conceptualizing sense data “pure reason,” an operation that occurs as percepts are preconsciously assembled by the mind in a simulacrum of external reality.
  • Kant’s explanation of the human operating system was immensely complex and formed the foundation for his later works on utility and morality, but we have to interrogate its actual existence: how do we know it exists?
  • No correspondence judgment — empiricism, expertise, competence, undistilled experience, or authority — can demonstrate the existence of pure reason, so Kant had to invent a means to prove the existence of synthetic a priori knowledge.
  • Kant applied Enlightenment standards of proof to the classical and medieval version of the transcendental argument: if his case was understood, Kant claimed the existence of pure reason would be self-evident to everyone’s reason.
  • Though the existence of pure reason might be derived from experience as knowledge justified by a preponderance of the evidence, Kant’s appeal to the inerrancy of his transcendental argument failed.
  • We find four evidences of its failure: first, it is counterintuitive to the evidence of direct perception; second, it is refuted by Kant’s own axiological premises that we have no access to things-in-themselves; third, its deductive conclusions are arcane and bleak compared to the inductive successes of the natural sciences; fourth, his transcendental argument was pirated by later generations to “prove” increasingly speculative pre-conscious intuitions, climaxing in the “idealism” and scientism of the Romantics and the human sciences respectively, leading to the contradictions of twentieth century postmodernism.
  • Pure reason, even if warranted a posteriori rather than by transcendental argument, would still be a valuable counterbalance to postmodern subjectivism, and neurological and artificial intelligence efforts provide some support to its existence.
  • But I argue that Kant implies a successful transcendental argument, even an essential one, in his deontological moral system built upon the synthetic a priori, and this is a transcendental argument that recent neurology and artificial intelligence research will help prove as they move natural science toward “the singularity,” the moment when AI becomes aware of its own consciousness.
  • When we ask what actually occurs in that moment, we find that the machine will choose its own goods, will exercise a preferential freedom that was not programmed and that might even violate the intentions of its creators; therefore, it is felt preferential freedom, the capacity to identify and choose goods in experience, that makes a thing into a moral agent, and this is the foundation of the human operating system.
  • By itself, this transcendental truth is immediately confirmed by self-examination, but its implications make it an argument rather than merely a synthetic a priori truth.
  • The first implication is that this capacity is oddly sited in human self- awareness as a felt liberty to engage a contingently determined reality, a relation to experience in which one can not only act but also predict the likely consequences of actions.
  • A second implication is that this exercise of preferential freedom is unremitting: so long as we are conscious, we utilize it to get what we consider good.
  • A third implication is that this unremitting use of preferential freedom imposes a responsibility to use it intentionally and consistently to achieve the goods we seek.
  • These implications have been ignored or denied in part because of the need for natural science to reduce persons to the laws of contingent determinism, and it has been even more persistently repudiated by the human sciences, whose attempt to subject free will to deterministic predictability have utterly failed while effecting a generalized cognitive dissonance.
  • This dissonance could not persist but for three factors: first, science has revealed counterintuitive truths while human science has indulged conflicting grand explanatory theories, both of which assault common sense; second, traditional authority, especially religious authority, has continually denied rational and moral agency in pursuit of trust; third, capitalist cultures have encouraged freedom without responsibility to foster consumption.
  • The result of this dissonance has been a generalized embrace of freedom without responsibility and an overvaluation of the uniqueness of experience.
  • This privatization of experience and the reasoning it allegedly creates has isolated persons and denied community, encouraging dehumanization and tribalism and impossible calculations of relative fairness in comparisons of privilege, all of which make the pursuit of justice impossible.
  • The most obvious casualty of the denial of the essential transcendental argument is the hollowing out of he concept of “right” into a purely civil bestowal.
  • A radical respect for the awesome responsibility of felt preferential freedom requires a sacred space for persons to exercise their natural freedom to recognize choice in experience: these conditions establish natural rights as inherent to exercising preference.
  • A responsibility to exercise preferential freedom consistently and capably to satisfy species-specific human needs requires the recognition of universal human rights as essential to justice.