Assumptions and their descendants:
From Aristotle1 to Zeno, every man who has claimed the title “philosopher”, has made basic assumptions from which all their later works (if rigorously done) are derived. Even those that demand a priori proof of even the most atomic basis for argumentation (such as those in the Cartesian tradition2) make assumptions somewhere, no matter how well disguised or hidden they may be. There is nothing wrong about doing so, though; being an experiential creature man can only begin to reason from some given truth of which they have experience. “The pre-existent knowledge required is of two kinds. In some cases admission of the fact must be assumed, in others comprehension of the meaning of the term used, and sometimes both assumptions are essential… Recognition of a truth may in some cases contain as factors both previous knowledge and also knowledge acquired simultaneously with that recognition-knowledge, this latter, of the particulars actually falling under the universal and therein already virtually known. ”3
Because it is the case that one must begin from assumptions, it is in one’s best interest to select the most fundamental and apparent assumptions and build up from there with the assistance of reason and observation. When one follows these assumptions to their logical conclusion, then, one will likely see the errors of one’s assumptions if the results are absurd or impossible. At that point, one must select an improved set of assumptions and move forward, repeating this process as many times as is necessary. I use epistemic assumptions here, as my childhood experiences in Cartesianism have shown to me the impossibility of accurately describing the universe if one is an epistemic skeptic or nihilist.
In addition to selecting a certain type of assumption, one must be deliberate in what quantity of assumptions one makes. If too few assumptions are made, there will be insufficient material from which to derive cogent syllogisms or conclusions, trapping one in the tiny cell of skepticism. Choosing too many or too advanced assumptions will short-circuit the philosophical process of discovering where the assumptions will lead and will necessarily result in the desired (and likely incorrect) conclusions of the author. Also, too many or too complex assumptions place one’s work beyond the accessibility of critics, in that no critic can hope to verify one’s claims based on one’s assumptions if the assumptions themselves are opaque, obscurantist, or simply a secret to all but the author.
As was implied by an earlier paragraph, and would logically follow from this conversation concerning the quantity and quality of assumptions, certain enlightenment-era questions and practices ought to be bracketed4 for later discussion. If one were to be forced to synthesize their own version of the Cogito, or the world of numena, the practice of philosophy would have halted midway through the enlightenment with each new philosopher attempting to invent a square wheel. That is not so say that skepticism should not be addressed; only that it doesn’t necessarily have to be the starting point. Nor does it mean that one’s assumptions suffice on their own; they ought to result in an empirically falsifiable claim by which one could determine the validity of one’s assumptions.
The physical world and our understanding:
Why would my project run straight from epistemological assumptions into physics? The physical sciences are the first source of certitude after the basic epistemological claims are made. It is far simpler to state that we can know things and that the primary engine for any knowledge is our experience and discuss that experience as opposed to making such an epistemological claim and immediately begin attempting to discuss experience or knowledge of some transcendent or ethical claim, as their experience is often derived from some manner of physical experience to begin with.
This is because philosophy, like reason, operates from the ground up: first, building a foundation before building arguments atop that foundation. “…If a house has been built, then blocks must have been quarried and shaped. The reason is that a house having been built necessitates a foundation having been laid, and if a foundation has been laid blocks must have been shaped beforehand.”5 As our immediate experiences are derived from our bodily senses, which are confined to matters of a physical nature, so too must our immediate foundations. Even universal and unavoidable principles, like the principle of non-contradiction or many ethical principles, are made known to one by way of physical sense experience (with assistance from reason, of course). In addition to the foundation which physics provides on an experiential level, it also provides a conceptual basis. One cannot properly ask “why?” without first asking “what?” and “how?” Physics, when done properly, effectively shows one what happens in our physical universe and how it does so.
Metaphysics6, as the name would imply, can also be appropriately appealed to in this stage of development. As a counterpart to the physical studies of how our universe operates, metaphysics applies a slightly less experiential and more rational but very similar method as physics to immaterial questions regarding our experience. Metaphysics and I have had a very rocky on-again-off-again relationship throughout my life. As a confessed former adherent of scientism, for quite some time I disavowed that metaphysics could even rightly be considered to exist. I am sure that by the time my life ends, I will have left and returned to metaphysics at least once more, but each time such an event occurs, our understanding and appreciation of each other grows.
Ontology as derived from experience:
Why ontology? If ontology is to be understood as the study of existence or existants, then it would naturally follow from our study of our experience to move on to the study of the things we are experiencing, namely, that which exists. There is a question more likely to be asked by a modern readership. That is, “why theism?” I have long struggled with the discussion of theism or atheism in the realm of philosophy. Even as a “scientist”, I was agnostic as to whether there existed some being beyond the physical realm, primarily because both a positive or negative claim as to theism are empirically unfalsifiable.
However, that was at a period of time where I was still immature, both biologically and philosophically. I have come to realize (as will be discussed in the Theses)7, that one’s assumptions on which one builds one’s philosophy necessarily result in either a positive or negative claim concerning theism. In the case of any teleological philosophy, it must result in a positive claim and, conversely, in the case of any nihilist philosophy, it must result in a negative claim.
Also, after physics is able to establish an empirical validation of one’s assertions, it must be relegated to the role of double-checker, simply checking all later claims against man’s experiences, ensuring that no claims made by other fields of study run contrary to that experience. Naturally, after physics establishes what happens and how, the philosopher must ask why it happens, or another way of phrasing “why” would be, “what is the practical universal significance of such an event?”
Although the question asks for the practical universal significance, and despite the claims made by postmodernists, it is not in any way untoward or egotistical to presume that the universal significance of such an event must, in some way, be centered upon ourselves. There is a twofold reason that this is the case. Firstly, the nature of man is such that he feels a compelling need to search for meaning in his existence; any teleological philosophy would rightly assign an end to that compulsion. Secondly, our definition of philosophy is predicated on the assumption that man is capable of discerning a relevant place in the cosmos for himself. Ultimately, in this case, the absurdist is right, it matters not whether there is a significant place for man in the universal sense or not, man can always make one.
In knowing man’s role and significance in the cosmos, one possesses a tool set which one can use to determine what one ought to do. Now, many will refer to Hume at this point and will insist that “One cannot derive an ought from an is,”8 but rather than conclusively disproving my point, they merely indicate their lack of understanding of Hume. The prohibition of deriving an ought from an is assumes that the realm of “is” consists merely of objective impersonal atomic facts. If one allows value claims into their ontology, or their category of “is”, it becomes inevitable that the is/ought distinction collapses. These value claims are clearly not empirical, but that brings us to our earlier discussion about the relationship between the sciences and philosophy, the moment that certain supplementary matters of fact are allowed into the realm of discourse, such as metaphysical, psychological, teleological, or ontological assertions, it can easily stand to reason that one can derive an ought from an is.
Even in such an event that objective values do not exist, the subjective values of individuals must be informed by a proper understanding of physics, metaphysics, and ontology. If one values a particular activity or outcome, one’s ability to achieve such a result is dependent on properly navigating reality. Many would-be “oughts” are simply impossible or absurd and are beyond the human capacity for comprehension, let alone accomplishment; thus, the realm of values to which one can assent is limited by the same factors which have confined our definition of the philosophical activity thus far. Even after one assents to a rationally consistent and metaphysically possible value, the methods by which one achieves such an outcome is dependent on the nature of reality and the actor’s ability to navigate it. With these strictures in place, it is essentially actionable to claim that one can derive an “ought” from an “is”.
The problem of evil and subsequent ethical prescriptions:
All philosophers are eventually faced with the question which plagues all men: “Why does life suck?” It finds itself phrased in many different ways but, since the time of Epicurus, the problem of evil has remained central to the discourse of philosophy. The most common phrasing would be something akin to, “If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent god, how can he allow innocent people to suffer as horribly as they do?”9 Usually, there are citations of disease and natural disasters killing small children to this effect.10
Different philosophers and traditions provide different answers, some more radically different than others. Some, such as Epicurus, would say that the problem of evil is sufficient cause for a practical atheistic hedonism. Others, such as Pascal, argue quite the opposite. Not the least of the responses, while being more or less outside the theistic spectrum, would be the approach popular in the ancient East (and the answer I once held myself), “Life simply sucks”. While my answer now is slightly more refined, the practical application of it remains mostly the same. So, what to do about the problem of evil? This is, again, more clearly and articulately discussed in the Theses11 than I could hope to write here. It will suffice to say, for now, that our understanding of man’s telos must accommodate for the problem of evil.
What can one do about the problem of evil? I believe that the answer is twofold. In the case of the philosopher, one is obligated to, at least, address and accommodate for it and move on with their reasoning. Each man, however, must be able to address and accommodate for the problem in their daily lives. While the appearances between these two courses of action are very similar, I believe that each require individual attention. The problem of evil serves as a strong device for proofreading philosophical assertions; insofar as one’s philosophy can or cannot address the problem, one can quickly assess the practical viability of said philosophy. The personal approach, while strongly tied to the philosophical one, need not be as rigorous or well-reasoned as the philosophical. The great acts of kindness displayed by those such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or Saint Nicholas are no less great a response to the problem of evil because of any lack of philosophical argumentation for their actions. In this work, I hope to articulate the philosophical side of the problem, and in a later work I hope to provide practical tools for living in accordance with that philosophical approach.
As will be discussed in this work, in all reality, the problem of evil only exists in the form of a problem because of the innate desires of man. Man bears in his heart the desire and freedom to excel. Whether one is aware of it or not, a majority of his actions are caused by or strongly influenced by that desire. Despite the common formulation of the problem of evil, it is less an ontological statement of “How can this thing possibly exist?” and more a plaintive cry of “Why do I want this, if the universe conspires such that I cannot have it?” One must be able and willing to address the problem and either overcome or circumvent it in order to achieve the self-fulfillment sought after by all men.
My aforementioned saloon discussions have operated as a club of sorts, with the working title of Lucaf Fits, which is an acronym for “Let us create a foundation For it to stand.” As the basis of logic, reason, philosophy, and ultimately all human endeavors, a solid rational foundation is required for all meaningful discourse and progress. “Lucaf Fits” serves well as both a goal and mantra for my group and myself. With this work, I hope to begin setting forth a foundation on which my other discourses may stand.
This work, as I have already said, is to be a starting place, not an exhaustive foundation or even an introductory work like the Summa or Prolegomenon. In sharing this work, I am exposing the beginnings on my internal discourse to the harsh elements of the social world. I hope to be met with great amounts of constructive criticism and support from my peers and superiors, but I am not so confident so as to expect it.
Regardless of the social and financial success or failure of “A Philosopher’s 95 Theses”, I intend to continue this line of work, exploring and expanding the 95 Theses, following them to their logical conclusions and modify the foundation as is needed to most successfully pursue the goal of philosophy. I also hope that with sufficient time, effort and experience, I can one day move beyond such foundational types of works and move into a more practical style of discourse and argumentation. I believe that the foundations such as these outlined here will necessarily lead to the conclusions that I so frequently argue and strive to engender in social media and day-to-day life; I hope one day to have outlined from this foundation those points so that others may see the validity of my position and actions. If, however, my conclusions are invalid and do not follow from the premises I am currently laying out, then, just as well, as it will guide me to the Truth which is far more valuable to a philosopher than public affirmation.
Because such discussion is directed at the revision of one’s arguments and beliefs, I will likely revise and correct this work through time. I have already, in the writing of this introduction, revised a few of the theses contained within this book, and have since edited each one a number of times, so as to more appropriately maintain their cohesion and logical validity. While I hope that such causes for revision will appear less and less frequently until, one day, I have acquired Truth, I am skeptical that such a time or event will occur in my lifetime, or even this world at all.
The ideas contained herein are the product of nearly two decades of oral discussion12 and revision, as well as excessive reading of philosophers across time and traditions. I am simultaneously both encouraged and discouraged by the genealogy of my current position. Having run the gamut of political, economic, religious and philosophical stances in my short lifetime, I am emboldened in saying that I have recognized my own mistakes and intellectual frailty enough times now to be more willing and able to admit my own mistakes when they are made. At the same time, however, I find myself skeptical of any truth claims I do make, now, because of my long list of fallacious stances in the past.
With luck and a fair degree of self-control, God willing, I will be able to make use of another seven or eight decades in this endeavor. That, I would hope, will be sufficient time to complete the revisions to this and my later works. Perhaps, one day, my ideas will be perpetuated in the traditions of philosophy. Perhaps commentaries on my work will be required reading in some institutions.
After all, the entire tradition of philosophy consists of free ideas. I do not mean “free” as in without cost, for many of the greatest and worst of the world’s philosophies have been crafted at great price. I mean “free” in the sense that the ideas, granted an appropriate environment, will spread and flourish like wildflowers. As I mentioned before, these ideas are as much a part of the intellectual atmosphere as any other cultural trend or idea. In many cases, these ideas are so liberated from the moorings of their original author that they are falsely attributed to one who was unwittingly synthesizing an already existing work.
It is an obligation of the philosopher to give credit where it is due. One ought especially to give citations to one’s contemporaries, as they are still present to take advantage of what approbations and criticisms come their way. To only a marginally lesser degree, one ought also give credit to those who have come before and laid the foundations on which one now builds, both so that one is not falsely assumed to be the progenitor of another’s work and so that one’s readership may be able to find the primary sources for their own edification. That being said, one must not be so averse to inadvertent plagiarism so as to hinder actual progress. A healthy balance must be struck between progress and citation.
In addition to the intellectual and social coin of credit given where it is due, actual coin ought to be given as well. Being merely human, a philosopher still needs food and shelter and time. When one works full-time performing menial and self-debasing labor (as is common in this age), it can be difficult or impossible to set aside sufficient time, resources, and motivation for such an undertaking as philosophy. Even if the ideas and art of philosophy ought to be unbound by financial constraints like all other intellectual or artistic works, the one producing the work is. I can justify selling this work as opposed to making it freely available to all only because it is being sold at an affordable price and because I am willing to donate copies and excerpts to those who can and will benefit from it but cannot possibly afford it13.
I make this financial case for philosophers with a caveat: no man should solely be a philosopher. If not working some form of job at least part-time or arranging for one’s self-sufficiency to supplement both one’s wallet and mind, than one must be working in some capacity either for survival or for art. A man’s mind can stagnate on outdated and fallacious thought if he is not careful to keep both his body and his social life healthy and active. Even if one makes enough money from teaching or publication (which, I understand, is rare), one must at least volunteer for a local, personal charity in which one works with other people and worldviews.
To this effect, I intend to continue this course my life has taken and see where it leads. I hope you, my reader, are willing and able to make use of this work and to aid me in my quest for Truth.
1Technically, Albertus de Saxonia is alphabetically prior to Aristotle, but he is much less known.
2The philosophers who followed in Descartes’ footsteps, maintaining a skeptical stance towards all facts that are not entirely doubt-free
3Aristotle “Posterior Analytics” book one
4Set aside with the intent to more thoroughly explore at a later time, it is a technique to be used only on concepts that are not crucial to the discussion at hand.
5Aristotle “Posterior Analytics” book 2
6From Greek: “after physics”. While the name denotes only that it was the subject Aristotle would teach after physics, it can be said to deal with the non-material aspects of physical inquiry.
7Chapters 5 and 13
8Hume “A Treatise of Human Nature” book 3
9 Hospers “An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis” p310
10Dostoevsky “Brothers Karamazov” is an excellent example of such descriptions.
12 In this case, I consider social media as a form of oral discussion.
13 Ironically, I qualify under my own rubric for a free copy