FOM: history and f.o.m.

Stephen G Simpson simpson at
Sun Apr 5 17:06:01 EDT 1998

Bill Tait 3 Apr 98 11:58:50 writes:
 > You seem to think ... that a causal explanation of the
 > effectiveness of reason would be a good thing.

Of course it would be a good thing.  But we can't even contemplate
such a causal explanation until we first assume that reality is *in
some way* real and that our minds are *in some way* competent to know
reality.  This is because, for example, the very concept "causal
explanation" depends on such basic assumptions.  (The concept of
"causality" necessarily presupposes that there exist entities which
act in specific ways.  The concept "explanation" necessarily
presupposes that there is a mind which is competent to link
explanatory concepts to reality.)  Only later, on the basis of such
philosophical axioms, can we hope to establish specific natural
science explanations of exactly how and why reason is efficacious (in
terms of brain chemistry, evolution, or whatever).  The philosophical
axioms of reality and consciousness must come before any natural
science explanation of anything, because they are more basic.  Any
other procedure would violate the conceptual hierarchy.

 > That seems like it would be a universal solution to all problems:
 > write down an axiom!

No, because arbitrary propositions can't be philosophical axioms.
Philosophical axioms must be self-evident and irreducible. 

 > Why wasn't it reasonable for people, before the possibility of a
 > naturalistic explanation, to want to account for it in some way.

I find it reasonable to want naturalistic explanations of everything.
"All men by nature desire to know." -- Aristotle.  But if naturalistic
explanations of reason are lacking or inadequate, it's still not
reasonable to try to "account for" reason by "explaining" it in terms
of unreason, the supernatural, etc.  We have to take reason as a given
in order to get on with the business of philosophy and science.

Look Bill, I'm not trying to unduly run down religion.  I have respect
for certain religious thinkers, and I believe that religion itself may
have originated from somewhat the same impulse as philosophy and
science, i.e. a desire to understand the world.  But at a certain
point in history (ancient Greece? the Enlightenment?), philosophy and
science left religion in the dust.  We can't go back, nor should we
want to.

In any case, I'm not sure we ought to get into these general
philosophical issues here on the FOM list.  Let's try to keep the
discussion focused on f.o.m., to the extent possible.

-- Steve

More information about the FOM mailing list