Monthly Archives: September 2020

Human Thought as a Fundamental Reality

Here are some more observations about the universal collective consciousness I postulated as a fundamental reality presupposed in moral thinking – indeed in any thinking. This fundamental collective thinking is the location for objective moral laws.

For years I have been troubled by a jibe of Jeremy Bentham to the effect that a natural law moral theorist believe in the existence of heavenly law books wherein they can look up the moral laws. I hope to show that it is nothing mysterious because we all presuppose it, or better participate in it, in our daily lives. It is thinking which is active in all thinking. That is why languages can be translated. It is the thinking used by indigenous people of the Amazon to quickly learn how to use a motor scooter and cell phone.

It is the thinking with which we think that there are many different public opinions around the world.

Turn on the morning TV news to share in what is being thought around the world. It occurs in your thinking when you understand what has been gathered by this thinking used by reporters and also used by all of the technical people who make electronic media possible.

This pervasive underlying thinking is as much a part of our lives as planet earth. Indeed it is more familiar than planet earth. We use this common thinking to develop, or learn, a theory that we live on a sphere rotating on its axis as it revolves around the sun. We use this common thinking to worry that human action is upsetting this planet’s climate.

Am I laboring the obvious? Perhaps. But if I plan to argue that there is a moral order in which there is a place for what I have been calling “moral harm” I need to emphasize that there is a place for this moral order.

I should also note some of what I am not assuming.

I am not assuming that there is some common mind or agent who thinks these common thoughts. I am not sure that we need to assume that there is a “thinker” for there to be thinking. Hume noted that it is difficult to find in our own case any “thinker” for our thoughts.

I am not assuming that it needs living human beings to exist. But neither am I assuming that it could exist without living human beings. Like all that is mental, common human thinking is non-spatial. So, it was never anywhere for someone to start it. It is difficult to think how someone could think anything without intelligence. It is hard to think of intelligence empty of any thoughts. So, I do not think that we should talk of intelligence having a beginning.

I conclude, with some tricky” sentences, by pointing out that despite not being able to say intelligence began, we should not talk of intelligence beginning every thing.
From “We cannot now think of a past time with no human thinking without now using human thinking” we cannot conclude “There is no past time with no human thinking.”

But we can assert the following.

There will never be a time at which we can think without human thinking that there was a time without human thinking.

Collective Consciousness Fundamental in Ontology of Authoritarian Morality

A collective consciousness is a fundamental component in an immanent ontology of an authoritarian morality. The moral authority is immanent in this collective consciousness. It is in this collective consciousness where individuals receive the thinking of the moral authority.

This ontological presupposition goes beyond assuming that there is thinking over and above that of individuals. It assumes that there is one comprehensive collective consciousness which includes thoughts not produced by any specific individual or society.

This assumption is not my wild fantasy. It is called by many “human reason.” But because there is so much error, stupidity and malice in it, I prefer to think of it as human thought which is available to cave men and today’s geniuses. It is the medium by which individuals are linked in a web of meaning or intending with all other humans. For instance, it is in this web where we link ourselves with those who built the monuments of Stonehenge. We link with them by trying to figure out what they meant or intended.

We are so certain of the reality of this medium that we ignore it. Descartes was more certain of this medium than of his own personal existence. He simply took for granted the social reality of the thinking in his method of doubting. All the while he was searching for certainty, he was thinking about communicating his philosophy into this web of thinking.

I am only citing an item for an ontology. I am not presenting a systematic philosophy – a metaphysical theory. So, I am not saying that this universal thinking is all that there is. I am not proposing an idealistic metaphysics. I am not saying that this universal thinking is separate from the physical. There is no dualistic metaphysics. I am only claiming that a presupposition of our moral language is this universal thinking whereby thoughts about good and bad, obligations and duties are, at least potentially, available to all humans living, dead or yet to be.

Of course, there are proper subsets of this collective consciousness which are free from error, stupidity and malice. And some of these subsets seem not to be the construction of any individual or society. The rules of logic and mathematics are classic examples of subsets of human thought which seem not to be a human construction. Some have thought that fundamental claims about the physical structure of the universe are thoughts not created by humans. (I suggests that Kant’s question about the possibility of synthetic apriori judgments was how these judgments got into human thought without anyone inventing them.)

Many have also thought that some basic moral judgments are in this subset of thoughts which are universal in all sets of thinking but are not the invention of any humans. They are given to be discovered.

I am one of those who regard certain moral thoughts as given; not constructed. I cannot here make any effort to show how it is possible for there to be such thoughts.

My goal here has only been to show that this assumption of a collective consciousness with a subset of imperative thoughts from an outside source provides objective truth or assertion conditions for our moral thoughts. Our moral thoughts are correct when they are the same thoughts as those from this special subset.

Immanent and Transcendent Ontology

In my previous post I characterized ontology as follows.

Ontology is the effort to articulate and justify the composition and structure of what there is-reality- so that our beliefs can be true, proper or apt. Broadly speaking, ontology is a theory on what would constitute truth conditions for beliefs.

I do not use “assertion conditions” instead of “truth conditions” because the conditions have to be in reality apart from human conventions which might warrant making an assertion.

What I characterized above as ontology is not the final step in determining the composition and structure of reality. I call this first step “immanent ontology.” In immanent ontology we ask: What must exist for our basic beliefs about the reality which we experience to have truth conditions. A further question is to ask what must exist for these truth conditions to exist. This further question is about what transcends facts, morality, goodness and beauty. It is what must be so that there can be facts, morality, goodness and beauty.

I illustrated these two steps in my post on an ontology for secular naturalism. There the immanent ontology was that only the objects and processes of natural science, which regarded all talk of purpose or goals as eliminable, needed to exist for truth conditions. As a transcendent ontology for secular naturalism, I went on to propose how analogues of theistic arguments could be used to show that an ultimate moving and causing must exist for there to be the truth conditions for natural science. I did not propose that the foundations for natural science truth conditions constitute God. There needed to exist nothing like mentality -having a purpose or exercising intelligence-in these foundations.

In my construction of the philosophy of secular naturalism as the philosophical opponent of my stance, I do not include a move to transcendent ontology. I am constructing this philosophy from the anecdotal evidence collected over years of working on the immanent ontology of secular naturalism. Just citation of the name of W.V. Quine with his aphorism “To be is to be the value of a variable” should indicate that in the second half of the twentieth century an immanent ontology for a very narrow naturalism was a significant philosophical activity.

I am embarrassed to confess how many hours I spent hoping to write something significant about the ontological investigations of the the Ideal Language methodology led by Gustav Bergman. To myself, I used to mock the methodology of Quine, Bergman et al. by attributing to them a belief that God created the world in the image and likeness of a first order predicate calculus. Presumably we could find the basic items of reality by developing a formal language in which all of the truths of science could be expressed. The basic items would be those in the domain of the existential quantifier (Quine) or the referents of the constants (Bergman). This was all fantasy. There was nothing approaching such a language beyond the mathematical portion..

But a genuine naturalist would never ask a question which could lead to acceptance of anything transcending the natural. They begin with a bias which limits possible results. For instance, a genuine naturalist would never ask: What must there be for there to be that which justifies claims about the big bang?

This brings us to an important methodological principle for ontology. It’s Occam’s Razor: Do not multiply entities beyond necessity. Since there was no intelligence in the truth conditions for the ontology of secular natural science, there was no need to find some ultimate foundation for intelligence. Similarly, if you do not have truth or assertion conditions for normative statements in your ontology, you will find no need to find an ultimate foundation for the truth conditions of normativity.

Before I close this post in order to make a few posts on the immanent and transcendent ontology for a divine command morality, I offer a caution about use of Occam’s Razor. Once you uncover ontological assumptions for your beliefs, you should analyze your assumptions to see whether you need assume all of them or if some are based on others. In ontology we are looking for what is fundamental.

For instance, I needed to assume as a foundation of my notion of moral harm, particular norms that harm ought to be done upon violation of a moral law. But analysis led me to see that I did not need to assume the type of harm or the victim of the harm.

But what should not be done to follow Occam’s Razor is to begin with some assumption about the basic items in reality and then dismiss as unnecessary anything which cannot be shown to be dependent upon those basic items. A classical example of this reductionist misuse of Occam’s Razor in nominalism which begins with the assumption that everything is unnecessary except individuals which can be designated with “this here now.”

Ontology Without Apology

I am expressing my relief upon realizing in my previous post that the ontology of secular naturalism is expression of an extravagant hope that a plausible case can be made for a thesis that everything in reality is dependent upon that which can be studied by the methods of natural science.

Ontology is philosophy and philosophy is not necessary for most people to lead a proper life and a flourishing intellectual life. However, those, blessed or afflicted with a philosophical temperament, our life guiding beliefs are unstable without ontology. When people become aware of what ontology is, I think most would agree that it is at least an important phase in providing justification of what we believe.

What do I mean by ontology?

Ontology is the effort to articulate and justify the composition and structure of what there is-reality- so that our beliefs can be true, proper or apt. Broadly speaking, ontology is a theory on what would constitute truth conditions for beliefs. I add “proper” and “apt” because we have beliefs about what is good and beautiful.

I think that is misleading to talk of moral or aesthetic beliefs which are a correct response to reality as true. Talk of truth misleads us to thinking that the proper response to reality is to think of it statically laid out as a realm of facts. It gives primacy to theoretical reason over practical reason or even aesthetical reason , if I may use the term. The proper response to what is good or obligatory, if such there be, might be obedience rather than mere recognition that it is a fact that such-and-such is obligatory. Knowing that “You ought not kill” is one step removed from recognizing it as morally binding.

I think that exclusive focus on the factual ultimately leads to secular ontologies such as naturalism. Purposiveness is more than just a fact; it is a not yet factual aiming to be factual. Our theoretical thought represents a dynamic reality as abstract states of affairs or facts. We turn the actual conditions for truth into thoughts which are truth conditions for our claims

Indeed, I admit that ontology, being expressed as a theory, falls prey to overemphasizing theoretical reason. So, myths might help people experience the order and structure behind moral and religious beliefs better than some theoretical statements about the “furniture of the universe.” For instance, fables such as C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” or Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” might help many people have a clearer appreciate of what reality is like for the Paschal Mystery to express the human condition than some theoretical statements about original sin.

Nonetheless, I intend to push ahead developing an ontology for authoritarian morality. It is important for defending beliefs and going forward with it in no way is ignoring some well established view on what there is on earth and in the heavens.

Confronting the Nihilistic Ontology of Secular Naturalism

I concluded my previous post by recognizing that the confrontation with nihilism is on the battlefield of metaphysics. In this post, I plan to sketch out the metaphysics of what I think is the most plausible metaphysics behind a nihilistic outlook based on secularization. It is my own construction because it is the metaphysical outlook I think that I confront in thinking what reality might be like if nihilism were true. Ultimately, in philosophy you lay out your own intellectual struggles in the belief that your conceptual problems will help others to articulate their own.

I call this metaphysical outlook secular naturalism. It holds the ontology of scientism while rejecting the inconsistent or narrow epistemology of scientism. It holds:

There is nothing but the objects, processes and events investigated by the natural sciences. However, there are ways of knowing about these objects, processes and events different from the methods of the natural sciences. Belief beyond what could be established by natural science is permissible if consistent with natural science and not about any objects, processes independent of those investigated by the natural sciences.

The fundamental thought behind any metaphysical scheme for secular naturalism is to eliminate any final causation as a basic form of causation. Ultimately, so the thought goes, nothing is for the sake of any thing else. All purposes and intentions are derivative realities. A logical implication is that human lives have no purpose.

So far there is no claim that there can be some formula for reducing all claims to claims about the objects studied in physics. Any secular naturalistic ontology is at most an expression of an intention to develop such a scheme. Yes. A consistent secular naturalism has as part of its project showing how the theory of secular naturalism is dependent upon the purely physical. Indeed, it is still unclear what ‘dependence” means. There really has not been progress on showing how even personal thoughts and feelings are dependent on the purely physical. Any such theory is probably only a hope.

An analysis of dependence is the major problem for secular naturalism. Secular naturalists can make some strong claims about independent reality prior to a generally accepted analysis of “dependence.” They can justify the following despite unclarity about “dependence.” These are analogues of Aquinas’ first three arguments for a God.

There is something which depends upon nothing but upon which everything else depends, viz., the physical.

Granted that there is moving and bringing about, there is a moving and bringing about that depends upon no other movement or bringing about but upon which all other moving and bringing about depends.

The physical with its motion and bringing about necessarily exists.

I mention these analogues to Aquinas’ first three arguments to emphasize that the way to confront secular naturalism is not to argue for a first cause or necessary being. In the twenty first century, we cannot say with Aquinas that all men call such things God. A secular naturalist is not at all inclined to classify a necessarily existing first cause as God.

How should we confront the nihilistic ontology of secular naturalism? For those few, such as me, who have been involved with professional philosophy, one guideline is to stop work on the beginning efforts to establish such an ontology. Don’t work on projects allegedly eliminating the non-physical. But, in general, we should we should boldly uncover and systematize the ontological assumptions behind our best thoughts about God, freedom and immortality without fear that we are ignoring some well established ontological outlook from which our assumptions about reality are superstitions.

On this metaphysical battlefield, we should fight small skirmishes by struggling to articulate some structures presupposed by what we believe is true about God, morality and human destiny. For instance, I am struggling to articulate what there must be in reality if what I claim to be true about moral harm and a moral authority are true. At some other time, most likely not during my life, I should try to find a way of re-expressing my articulations in the concepts of an established philosophical system such as that of Aquinas. But there is no need for development of anything which could be called a “philosophical system.”