Philosophical Arguments as Guides to Reality

This is the correction about my understanding of philosophical arguments which I promised in Choosing not to Live .

This post explicitly rejects a suggestion of some of my posts that the main purpose of philosophical argument is to trace out logical connections between beliefs so that we can accuse others of logical inconsistency if they hold some beliefs while rejecting others. In particular, I want to set aside the claim in Choosing Not to Live vs Choosing to be Killed that necessarily there is a logical contradiction between holding beliefs justifying suicide but rejecting nihilism.

Justifiable suicide and nihilism cannot be conclusively defined to a point at which we can say “here is what the terms really mean.” Then, using terms with this final, or real, definition, reveals that it is inconsistent to say that suicide is justifiable without accepting nihilism. Rather, those who believe that justifiable suicide is compatible with believing life is meaningful hold, implicitly at least, that their definitions of the crucial terms misrepresent reality until there is no inconsistency. If they seek philosophical justification via philosophical arguments, they will work on avoiding contradictions.

Of course, people need not seek philosophical justification. They can simply stop trying to justify their policy beliefs and continue acting on their policies without justificatory statements which lead to contradictions. The strategy is to let reality justify their policy beliefs. For instance, a scientistic outlook that only the natural sciences provide knowledge encounters a contradiction when considering whether a statement of scientism is a scientific statement or is not a scientific statement. Believers in scientism can, explicitly or implicity, dismiss the so-called law of excluded middle and not answer. They believe that reality will convince all but those blinded by some other ideology that only statements of science are reliable. People are to be convinced of the belief in scientism without being able to articulate the belief. Here we have a case of faith seeking conviction.

Philosophical arguments drive us to seek real definitions. But in some areas there are no real definitions. Indeed, a mark of an area where philosophy is needed is one in which no final definitions are obtainable. In these philosophical areas we respond to reality as we believe it to be and seek for the proper concepts to describe it consistently. We as individuals have to continually seek to resolve the contradictions. There is no absolute mind at working resolving contradictions.

I am not objecting to the style of philosophical argumentation uncovering logical contradictions in specific sets of beliefs. Reductio ad absurdum is my favorite style. I shall continue to use it. However, detecting contradictions is only for generating philosphical problems or for refining beliefs. It is only a preliminary phase. The most significant part of philosophy is refining beliefs to remove contradictions.

What do I intend philosophical arguments to accomplish?

I apply to philosophy what Augustine and Anselm wrote about theology. Philosophical investigation is faith seeking understanding (Fides quaerens intellectum). Philosophy begins with wonder on how it can be the way I belive that it is where “it” refers to reality. Amongst many other things, I wonder how life can be meaningful while death is sometimes desirable. Also, I believe that we can know in ways different from those of the natural sciences. I wonder how such knowledge is possible. I seek to understand these beliefs via the unending task of continually refining concepts of realities involved to have a consistent way of articulating these beliefs. Philosophy is better than the “silence response “on philosophy because here we have a case of faith seeking understanding to support conviction.

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Philosophical Arguments as Guides to Reality

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