Dubito, ergo Cogito, ergo Sum


Dubito, ergo Cogito, ergo Sum

An excellent preface for a small attempt to articulate why I am deeply suspicious of some aspects of "reasoning." Descartes statement is one of the great philosophical errors of modern time--an error that stems from asking the wrong question to start with. Other errors stem from other causes. In fact, reason can prove just about any absurd proposition you choose.

The problem with sola rationis even under inspiration is that unless every argument begins from first principles that are mutually agreed upon or upon revelation, the meaning of which is completed agreed upon, they are based upon prior arguments, definitions, or axioms which must be demonstrated conclusively before the argument can begin to be coherent. This is not a sufficient problem to explain my difficulties, but it is a beginning. For example, how do we agree upon revelation. There are some who read both Genesis and Jonah literally, even within the Catholic Church, even given the Church's guidelines for interpreting scripture. Their sense of revelation is likely to differ from those who do not so read scripture. To take an example from a recent discussion, Kairos insisted that one of the commandments should be read, "Thou shalt not murder." Every translation I have read, including some great rabbinical translations say, "Thou shalt not kill." Right away we are faced with a disagreement even in the definitions and axioms of the system.

Does this mean reason should be abandoned? Definitively not. But it also casts into doubt what can be derived therefrom. Further, Godel's theorem, applicable technically only to number theory, but nearly axiomatic in most philosophical circles, tells us that within any closed system their are proposals and theorems that can be advanced that cannot be proven with the instruments, axioms, theorems, and definitions of the system. A broader, somewhat inaccurate translation of this into philosophical terms is that there is a limit to what can be known within any system. Now, perhaps reason takes us to that limit and faith makes the leap into the secondary or tertiary or quaternary system, or perhaps reason leads us away from the boundaries of the system and simply muddles our thinking with considerations that we have it all right.

As we are all aware, statistics, which, I suppose are "facts" of a sort--a quantitative, if biased representation of some small segment of reality, can be manipulated in any number of ways to subvert reality. Probably most importantly, the phrasing of the question is the most critically important datum. For example, if you ask most Americans if they support abortion on demand up to the point of birth, the vast majority are likely to say no. If your approach is to ask if abortion should never be allowed under any circumstance, the majority will say no again. The truth is somewhere in between, and rarely sought by those who ask the question.

To take an old, proven, and accepted argument, when John da Fiesole presents an axiomatic system that says "God frowns as greatly upon the death of one as He does upon the deaths of millions," and shows proof of this, I understand the proof, and I even believe the proof. On the other hand, what kind of God, I ask myself, am I worshipping who allows the continued slaughter of millions by the interdiction of the death of one? While it is not good to think about God fashioning a squad of hit men, neither is it salutary to consider a God who sits back and allows the chaos that we see in many countries and forbids the obvious remedy. You cannot look at the sheer logic and not ask the question, "God would prefer the deaths of millions to the death of one?" Now the answer is that He would prefer no deaths--but what is the reality?

Thus, when I claim to eschew or doubt reason--perhaps it is not so much reason as the further implications of following that chain to its logical conclusion. If God forbids the removal of the one, then He approves the slaughter of the millions. You cannot have Him disapproving both because if He did so, the slaughter obviously would not occur. Now, recast the argument and assume that the person committing the murder of millions is in fact "above the law," by the definition that He is the law, and yet He has committed what must be considered Capital crimes as he has no intention of stopping. He cannot be brought to trial because he is the law. Is it permissible then in a body of peers to try him and to find him guilty and so sentence? My intuition here is that Mr. da Fiesole would argue this also would be illicit because it predicates a solution upon a (pardon the pun) ex-lex solution.

But let us ask the question--if the God who commissions hit men is deplorable and awful, what must one say of the God who allows genocide? Does He allow it? Could it happen if He did not? Does He approve it? Probably not. Then what remedies does He allow? The most efficacious is, of course, the Death of His Son. The second is prayer. The third is to point out that life on this world is but a brief visit with bliss to follow. And yet does that mean that everything in this world must be misery and punishment for those who visit? Did God not make all things good?

Reason proposes no real solution to these dilemma. It outlines what is not permissible. But I venture to guess that one can use a different axiomatic system (such as my suggestion of an ex-lex trial) and come to a different conclusion about what is acceptable. Revelation answers some of these problems, and communion with God yet others.

Hence when I say I eschew reason or logic--it is not the principle but the conclusions one must draw if the reasoning is correct. If we are not to sin in the case of a mass murderer, we must neither murder him nor assist him in his murders through our inaction if it is within our power to stop him. So long as we do not resist, we sin. When we reach the point of murder, we sin. The solution is not in reason but in prayer and in the communion with God through His Holy Spirit.

Thus, rejection of "reason" isn't abandonment of method so often as it is rejection of the conclusion that one must reach if one follows the thought to the end of the line. Reason is a trustworthy vehicle only inasmuch as the founding principles are firm and the chain of thought linking them to the conclusion as firm and not salted with additional propositions that come to us unproven.

Reason is a valuable implement, but it is neither the most valuable, nor is it necessarily the most reliable as it is too subject to our own whims and rationalizations.

All this said, I mean neither personal offense, and I hope I have not in any way intimated that I believe Mr. da Fiesole to be anything other than a fellow-traveler struggling with the same dilemmas, problems, and frustrations that beset all of us. Nor do I wish to intimate that he has been unconvincing in any of his arguments on this point. I readily admit that I accept them all. But I also find the implications of the arguments very, very disturbing and unavoidable. This isn't really about Mr. da Fiesole, but it is an attempt to refine what I meant by some of the hyperbole of a few days ago. I hope I have articulated it sufficiently to be clear and to make clear why, as much as I enjoy the refined pleasures of a well-cast argument, I distrust them as well. I will endeavor not to eschew them, however.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 8, 2003 9:11 PM.

Mimsiness Under Different Systemas of Analysis was the previous entry in this blog.

Mr. da Fiesole, Revisited Yet is the next entry in this blog.

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