Back Again to There: A Nontheistic Statement of Faithiness January 20, 2012 | 10:47 am

[Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to There and Back Again. If you haven’t read that post, start there (including the comments) and then come back.]

I finally figured out what was bothering me. While driving to the Science Online 2012 open mic night and listening to Jon Watts’ Lifted Up, I suddenly had an epiphany. Suddenly, things made sense. And it all came back to a mathematical formalism.

The formalism is the disproof by contradiction. That formalism can be colloquially expressed this way: if assuming X leads to a conclusion of not-X, then not-X is true. In this case, the specific expression is as follows: assuming rationality forms the foundation of lifestyle and morality, I have found rationality cannot form the foundation of lifestyle and morality. Therefore, rationality cannot form the foundation of lifestyle and morality.

This is a radical transformation. It is much more radical than anything else I have encountered, because it dislodges and renders impotent any question about why an action should take. This is fundamentally different than the ethical/lifestyle systems proposed to me, and it is easy to see why once you spell them out.

  • Enlightened hedonism, for instance, might claim that they are acting on this philosophy, because they are optimizing the phenomenologically self-justifying good of pleasure. Humanism or utilitarianism, insofar as they might justify themselves through enlightened hedonism, are also founded on this argument. Yet the self-justifying good of pleasure is a course that has to be maximized, and therefore there are better and worse ways of being in the world, and rationality is presumed to be critical in determining which ways are better and which ways are worse.
  • My position is actually more skeptical than the skeptics. The skeptics presume that one should live based on rational claims and oppose non-rational claims. Yet rationality itself is self-defeating, and so does not stand up to the skeptic’s own standards. (Skeptics refusing to apply their own standards to themselves is a recurring problem I have with skepticism as a community, BTW: a case in point.)
  • I don’t know much about Buddhism, but my understanding is that its core teaching is that attachment is the source of suffering, and so the goal is to not be attached to outcomes. If that’s true, than in a way, I’m more Buddhist than the Buddhists, because I’m also not attached to not being attached. (And I must admit, I do feel like I have reached a sense of Enlightenment.)

My new standpoint is the ultimate “Fuck it, let’s go bowling.” philosophy, and so I have adopted the Dude’s answer as a hyper-absurdist effort to counteract the rationalist trap. As soon as you engage a rational argument, you’re playing that ultimately self-defeating game again. Yet what is true or not true does not matter, not because of any statement about the value of truth or nihilism, but because fuck it, let’s go bowling. Why I believe something or act a certain way is not a question I have to answer, because fuck it, let’s go bowling. I’m not optimizing my happiness. I’m not striving towards an ethical life. I’m not playing into a grand narrative. I’m fuck it, let’s go bowling.

When I realized this — when I realized that my nagging issue with rationality leading to irrationality was that it proved rationality was false, and when I really realized how deep the denial of rationality went, then suddenly I was free. I saw the world differently in a moment. It was astounding.

Now, some of you may be saying, “Took you long enough.” There are a lot of people out there who have criticized me for thinking too much. I couldn’t just let stuff go, however, as long as there seemed to be compelling ethical mandates—or even the promise of compelling ethical mandates just under the next book cover. But that effort has not only yielded nothing, but actually outright self-destructed. Now I’m free of the mandate; that’s what it would take, and it finally go there: rationality is self-defeating.

(BTW, I should note that “Fuck it, let’s go bowling” is actually Walter’s line, not the Dude’s, but it so perfectly sums up the philosophy that I’m sticking to it. And besides, fuck it, let’s go bowling.)

(Also BTW, if you’d like to prove to me that rationality can form the foundation of lifestyle and morality, you’re welcome to try in the comments. Start by listing off all your presumptions. I’ll even give you Cogito, ergo sum for free, although you have to presume or argue any nouns you’d like to drive from those verbs. Also, please keep in mind that Hume pretty well destroyed inductive reasoning, so arguments from science are first going to have to undo Hume.)

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  • Meg

    You’re not enlightened, but you have caught the bull (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Bulls), gaining entree to the world of practice and devotion.  Enjoy the moment.  Then wait like the Quaker you surely still are and observe what arises in your heart.

  • Meg
  • Anonymous

    So… help me understand what you are saying. You are saying that rationality ultimately fails, so you can’t use it as a basis to life and morality. Is that right? If so, my next question is, how did you come to that conclusion? Logically? Rationally? I don’t understand how rationalizing that you can’t rationalize shows that rationalizing doesn’t work, since you are claiming that the method you used to arrive at that conclusion is not a valid way to arrive at conclusions.

    Seems like a paradox. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you.

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    You’re missing how disproof by contradiction works. Once I assume X, I’m free to use X as true in every way I feel like. If I arrive at a contradiction (“not-X” being a popular choice), then that proves X is false. So, I assume rationality is fundamental, I can then treat rationality as fundamental (including rational argumentation). In doing so, I discover that rationality cannot be fundamental, so it self-destructs.

    Now, I am presuming that whatever I take as fundamental needs to be functional under its own terms, which I take as true because fuck it let’s go bowling.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe I’m not understanding what you mean by rationality then. To me, rationality and logic are the same thing. With that in mind, right, I get that this is a form of reductio ad absurdum, but it seems to me you are using it in a way that it becomes self-referencing and introduces a paradox. You are using logic to arrive at a conclusion that states you can’t use logic to arrive at a conclusion. In the process you “prove” that reductio ad absurdum can not be used to make conclusions, in spite of having just used it to decide that.

    But maybe by “rationality” you are referring to something other than logical thinking, in which case I’m making something out of nothing.

  • Luke VanderHart

    (I originally composed this as a response to your previous post on the subject, but it actually transitions nicely into a comparison with Dudism, which I’ve added at the end).

    I was extremely interested as I read your post, since it sounds like I’ve visited a lot of the same points in belief-space, and struggled with many of the same questions.

    The one notable difference is that I’ve never had any kind of experience or impression of the supernatural, not even in my fundamentalist days (which caused me much anxiety at the time). So that was not something I could hold on to when experiencing many of the same realizations you have: the fragility of theological scholarship, the utter misguidedness of the church apparent, and the capacity of science to address questions that most theists would claim only have a supernatural explanation.

    To any thinking theist, these objections and ones like them must necessarily cause a severe and ongoing crisis of faith.

    What keeps me returning to theism is not any kind of personal experience or impression of the supernatural – as you note, these can be readily “explained away” by cognitive science (and tend to be rather transitory, even for the most charismatic of believers). Rather, it is your conclusion; atheism implies nihilism.

    Taking that fact as a premise inverts the chain of reasoning and leads to the conclusion that there *must* be a non-material reality. If strict naturalism implies nihilism, and I deny nihilism, then I can deny naturalism.

    Of course, the question is how to justify non-nihilism as an axiom. And of course, I can’t prove it logically (that’s why it’s an axiom). But this is precisely the sort of question where, it seems to me, it is appropriate to take an existential leap of faith. As you point out, this single question is the fulcrum not just of religious belief, but rationality itself.

    I can’t “know”, this, or anything, in the strictest philosophical definition of knowing (side note: admitting this provides grounds for much-needed humility in proponents of any philosophy). However, by willing myself to believe this one thing, I’ve granted myself the capacity for both reason and belief, and to assert that the world is (more or less) as it seems, and that we are at home in the world.

    Both naturalistic reductionism and theism can theoretically account for the world as I experience it physically and rationally, but only one of them can provide a world I want to live in. So I choose, by faith, the one axiom that allows that.

    This definitely has several elements in common with Dudism. Particularly, it means that the ultimate decision procedure for what to do and believe still contains a non-rational (not irrational!) element. But instead of answering “fuck it” when confronted with any philosophical question, one only has to answer “fuck it” when faced with one philosophical question. It’s not “fuck it, let’s go bowling,” but “fuck it, life has meaning”.

    The nice thing is that one is then free to believe in the rest of rationality, science and even religion, and to make decisions about them based on the same rational and scientific tools one has used all along, ironically preserved by a leap of faith.

  • http://www.robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    Thanks for the insightful comment. I appreciate it.

    One pet peeve: please don’t conflate “naturalism” with “materialism”. See John R. Seele for some superb work on non-materialistic naturalism. His book, Mind, is an excellent introduction that shows how badly Descartes has messed up our thinking. Similarly, the ready explanations in cognitive science aren’t nearly as convincing as they are often made out to be. On this point, the book to check out is The Spiritual Brain. Check me out on GoodReads: I’ve got reviews of both of those up for more details.

    Now, onto the more direct response…

    There’s no need to kludge my original post to retain rationality within certain contexts. I can still retain rationality within certain contexts if those contexts carry with them defined epistemologies/rationalities. Examples of these contexts include science, computer programming, politics, and mathematics. What it means for something to be “true” is defined by these contexts. Although the contexts are themselves social constructions without any unfounded ontological statement (mathematics arguably excluded), that doesn’t matter as long as you accept that you are within those contexts for the purposes of a given conversation. (It’s not too far off from the anthropological analysis of games, now that I think about it.)

    And there is one thing that we know: Cogito, ergo sum. (Although Daniel Dennett will try to deny that fact.) Phenomenology as a philosophical field actually has some interesting things to say building up from the epistemology of “certitude”. The existence of whatever it is doing the cogito-ing and the sum-ing is one of the most fascinating points in my reality right now — hence the application to the Cognitive Science Ph.D program.

    In general, this leap of faith is a pretty standard thing that theists have to make in the wake of existentialist and enlightenment critiques of religion. Kierkegaard has an excellent response, but it, too, is situated on a kind of reason-less faith that I simply don’t have. And if I’m willing to just not care if life is meaningless or not, then I don’t see the need to default back to theism to create for myself a “world I want to live in”.

  • http://www.robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    Explain to me where the problematic paradox comes from? I assume rationality. Under that assumption, I arrive at a contradiction. Therefore, I cannot assume rationality. Doesn’t seem to be problematic to me. This isn’t all that far off from Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem, actually, which is at its core a proof that a question can be asked which cannot be answered. Rationality admits these kinds of apparent paradoxes even in its most pure form.

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    Thanks for the insightful comment. I appreciate it.

    One pet peeve: please don’t conflate “naturalism” with “materialism”. See John R. Seele for some superb work on non-materialistic naturalism. His book, Mind, is an excellent introduction that shows how badly Descartes has messed up our thinking. Similarly, the ready explanations in cognitive science aren’t nearly as convincing as they are often made out to be. On this point, the book to check out is The Spiritual Brain. Check me out on GoodReads: I’ve got reviews of both of those up for more details.

    Now, onto the more direct response…

    There’s no need to kludge my original post to retain rationality within certain contexts. I can still retain rationality within certain contexts if those contexts carry with them defined epistemologies/rationalities. Examples of these contexts include science, computer programming, politics, and mathematics. What it means for something to be “true” is defined by these contexts. Although the contexts are themselves social constructions without any unfounded ontological statement (mathematics arguably excluded), that doesn’t matter as long as you accept that you are within those contexts for the purposes of a given conversation. (It’s not too far off from the anthropological analysis of games, now that I think about it.)

    And there is one thing that we know: Cogito, ergo sum. (Although Daniel Dennett will try to deny that fact.) Phenomenology as a philosophical field actually has some interesting things to say building up from the epistemology of “certitude”. The existence of whatever it is doing the cogito-ing and the sum-ing is one of the most fascinating points in my reality right now — hence the application to the Cognitive Science Ph.D program.

    In general, this leap of faith is a pretty standard thing that theists have to make in the wake of existentialist and enlightenment critiques of religion. Kierkegaard has an excellent response, but it, too, is situated on a kind of reason-less faith that I simply don’t have. And if I’m willing to just not care if life is meaningless or not, then I don’t see the need to default back to theism to create for myself a “world I want to live in”.

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    Explain to me where the problematic paradox comes from? I assume rationality. Under that assumption, I arrive at a contradiction. Therefore, I prove the assumption of rationality was wrong. Doesn’t seem to be problematic to me. This isn’t all that far off from Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem, actually, which is at its core a proof that a question can be asked which cannot be answered. Rationality admits these kinds of apparent paradoxes even in its most pure form.

    Like I said before, I am presuming that whatever I take as fundamental needs to be functional under its own terms (and ergo, rationality needs to be rationally justifiable), which I take as true because fuck it let’s go bowling.

  • Luke VanderHart

    Fair enough. The approach I outlined has the benefit of preserving the notion of ‘meaning’, but if that isn’t a motivating factor for you, then a leap of faith definitely looses much of its shine.

    However, it’s worth noting that Dudism itself is a variety of secular existentialism (if we loosely define existentialist philosophies as those which focus on how to live in the face of the absurdity/irrationality). One thing that Dudism gives up, however, that I don’t think a Kierkegaardian christianity has to give up is the notion that there IS a stable, rational, meaningful universe. You can only arrive at Dudism after accepting that full-scale rationality implodes (as you say, there’s still room for rationality in self-contained systems).  The approach I outline proposes two hypothesis, and full-stack rationality only implodes under one of them. 

    Thanks for the pointer to Searle’s “Mind”, it sounds fascinating. I’ll definitely read it. I was using the terms “naturalism” and “materialism” synonymously, so please read my post in that light.

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    You’re absolutely right. The “Leap of Faith” is a totally legitimate move, which itself is a rejection of rationality (see Kierkegaard’s “Concluding Unscientific Postscript”—IIRC, it’s got the best explicit exploration of this point).

    The issue I have with such a presumption of deity works fine as long as religion is something done by consenting adults behind closed doors. As soon as such a claim requires me to act on it, however, things fall down. I’m simply too evidentiary a person to engage in the process of excusing God when things go badly and praising God when things go well. Moreover, the intentional pretending that God exists despite evidence fails to give me the strength that faith is supposed to grant me. I can’t have faith that all things will work out in the end because God is in control without believing in God (more strongly than the lazy pseudo-rational presumption).

  • Luke VanderHart

    I disagree on two points:

    1. The question of excusing/praising God when things go well/badly is a very interesting theological question, and one I think almost all religious people get wrong. I certainly don’t have any answer. But I think the question we’re discussing is very much prior to that, and deals with questions such as justifying the meaningful definition of words ‘well’ or ‘badly’ to begin with – i.e, can they be meaningfully defined in a nontheistic universe?

    2. Your phrase “pretending that God exists despite evidence” rings false in light of your earlier assertion of _weak_ atheism. If indeed there is positive evidence for the non-existence of a supernatural then my argument breaks down. Specifically, it contradicts proposition 2 in the following outline of the argument:

    P1: The hypothesis of a materialistic* universe has self-consistent explanatory power for the universe as we experience it. (this is the point most theists will not concede)
    P2. The hypothesis of a  theistic universe also has self-consistent explanatory power for the universe as we experience it. (This does not imply that all religions are self-consistent and explanatory – far from it!)
    P3. Either the materialistic or theistic hypothesis about the universe are true.
    P4. The materialistic hypothesis cannot form the foundation of lifestyle and morality.
    P5. The theistic hypothesis _can_ form the foundation of lifestyle and morality.

    As I understand it, where you and I diverge is in trying to find a “unified theory” of the phenomenal universe, and lifestyle and morality. I do believe it’s necessary, and thus am forced to accept the theistic hypothesis on faith on faith, whereas you don’t find it necessary, and accept the materialistic hypothesis (or remain skeptical). Is that a fair analysis?

    * I use the word “materialistic” here intentionally loosely to refer to the class of beliefs that the physical world is the ultimate substrate of reality, and that science and rationality explain all phenomena.

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    Okay, going to have to work this through piece by piece…

    > 1. The question of excusing/praising God
    > when things go well/badly is a very
    > interesting theological question, and one I
    > think almost all religious people get wrong.
    > I certainly don’t have any answer. But I
    > think the question we’re discussing is very
    > much prior to that, and deals with questions
    > such as justifying the meaningful definition of
    > words ‘well’ or ‘badly’ to begin with – i.e, can
    > they be meaningfully defined in a nontheistic universe?
    >

    When I made that comment, I was engaging in a hypothetical exercise — I was presuming that I made the same leap you advocate (as I understood it), and highlighting points where that new position would chafe. One major point is the enacting behavior, which I can’t do.

    > 2. Your phrase “pretending that God exists
    > despite evidence” rings false in light of your
    > earlier assertion of _weak_ atheism.
    >

    Granted. I should have said “despite the lack of supporting evidence”.

    > As I understand it, where you and I diverge
    > is in trying to find a “unified theory” of the
    > phenomenal universe, and lifestyle and morality.
    > I do believe it’s necessary, and thus am forced
    > to accept the theistic hypothesis on faith,
    > whereas you don’t find it necessary, and accept
    > the materialistic hypothesis (or remain skeptical).
    > Is that a fair analysis?
    >

    I don’t accept the materialistic hypothesis, even as you define it. In fact, I actively reject it as you define it. I reject the need to accept a hypothesis at all. You’re welcome to pick your favorite hypothesis, in fact, because I’m unsold on a fundamental way of deciding between them.

    The point of my earlier comment, which you seem to have missed, is the lack of the actual enaction of “belief” is pretty hard when the belief is something I’m defaulting to for the lack of another option.

  • Sohum

    I believe his view is that you’re doing this, using “rationality” to mean rationality and logic:

    Rationality implies ((X implies not-X) implies not-X)
    Rationality implies not-Rationality
    Assume rationality:
        (X implies not-X) implies not-X
        Not-rationality
    Not-rationality ???

    i.e., you’re making a scope error. If you’re treating rationality as proposition rather than a fundamental axiom, then you don’t have its tools at the outer scope.

    (And the Incompleteness theorem is significantly different from this; in fact I cannot see how one could make the analogy at all.)

    That said, I don’t see how “rationality cannot form the foundation of lifestyle and morality” requires you to dump rationality altogether. It is not a panacea; it is simply a way of being able to predict properties of the world (commonly expressed as “being able to come to true beliefs about the world”). As it happens, rationality tells us that beliefs require evidence, and so when there is a lack of evidence, rationality does not—and indeed, cannot—give you more than the uninformative prior.

    And as questions go, if you’ll forgive me the computational phrasing, “What should my utility function be?”  seems like a question that it should be obvious rationality doesn’t even seek to answer. “What are the consequences of my current utility function?” yes. “What sorts of utility functions do humans tend to have?”, sure. “Why do humans tend to have the stunningly similar utility functions they have?”, even.

    You do get an answer to a limited sort of “should” questions, in the form of “Given that I value X, how should I change my utility function in the light of this new information that my current one does not uphold X?”, but the basic question of “What should my morals be?” presupposes axioms underlying that shouldness that there are no evidence for. If rationality did give you an answer to this question in the light of current evidence, then it would be flawed. 

    (And that is not the question that rationalist approaches to morality are trying to answer, I would submit, though it’s entirely plausible that that’s what they see themselves as doing. They’re trying to develop coherent extrapolations of the basic sets of value a significant number of humans have, finding problems in these extrapolations and proposing solutions. This is valuable work, for it means that everyone does not have to go through the work of coherently extrapolating their own values by themselves.)

    Honest question: what were you expecting? Whether there is a god or not, and whether rationality is a good way to model the world or not, you would expect religion to claim to provide a basis for purpose or morality. That has no bearing on whether the actually fundamental way of looking at life will give you a basis for purpose or morality.

  • Sara

    Good on you! You might try meditation, purely as a non-rational, non-praying way of using your wonderful brain. See what that does (maybe you already have)?

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    I’m a member at Durham Friends Meeting, and the Quaker “waiting worship” style is one that has been extremely rewarding, even without the interpretation based on God. I’d like to try some other styles of meditation, but I’ve never found someone who knows what they’re talking about to teach me how to actually perform the alternative forms of meditation. To be fair, I haven’t looked very strongly, but such is life. The neuroscientific impacts of meditation is actually one of the major interests that I have.

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    I break out of the scope error by saying: “any fundamental system has to work within its own terms”. This is an arbitrary and semantically vague assertion that I’m going with from outside any particular fundamental system, so it’s not actually a coherent rational statement (necessarily). Kierkegaard’s Christianity, for instance, works within its own terms while being an explicitly incoherent rational system. In the case of rationality, I take “work” to mean “is valid to operate as a fundamental system”. 

    So, I’m taking rationality (which I take to be a superset of logic) to be true as a given. Therefore, it also has to work on its own terms. Yet it doesn’t work on its own terms. Ergo, that which is true as a given fails.
    (As for the incompleteness theorem: the kind of interior-statement-gone-meta trick is the only parallel I’m trying to draw. It’s not formalistically parallel at all.)

    Your question in your last paragraph seems to be missing a clause — what was I expecting from what? If the question is “what were you expecting from rationality”, then I was expecting some justification for living a rational life — some reason why true beliefs are better than false beliefs, and why I should aspire to self-analysis. Those are presumptions of the rationalist camps (e.g. Less Wrong), yet on these most basic points rationalists stop being rational.

  • Sohum

    Oh, I see. That makes sense, and does avoid the scope error… maybe? In any case, that’s not my question. My question rephrases to be: why do you define “work” as “is valid to operate as a fundamental system”? The bulk of my last paragraph still applies: if you have a religious background, you would of course desire whatever you take as fundamental to give you a basis for morality etc., but what reason do you have to expect it?

    I meant more “what were you expecting on leaving religion”, but this works. The reason to prefer true to false beliefs seems self-evident to me: true beliefs are demonstrably better at allowing me to effect my values.  

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    It’s hard to talk about “scope error” in any coherent way once you reject rationality as a basis. I’m just noting that there is an exterior expectation that rationality should be self-coherent.

    I absolutely disagree that true beliefs are better than false ones at effecting values, at least insofar as “true” and “false” are defined deductively or objectively. Political campaigns prove this extremely well, as does the influence of the church. Weak atheists have the most correct belief about deity, but they’ve hardly got the most influence in that sphere. Mathematicians don’t rule the world. They’re not even the happiest — ignorance really is bliss, and we’re geared to propagate our ignorance ( http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-willpower/201112/the-worried-ignorance-is-bliss ), so you’re actually exerting more effort and intentionally making yourself miserable to cling to “true beliefs”, which seems counter to any kind of enlightened self-interest. Evidence seems to be pretty strong against your presumption on this point.

    As for the question — the reason I expected rationality to provide a guiding light is because people advocating rational lives sell it as being such. It’s the empty promise of modernism, which I didn’t recognize at the time. I expected rationality to tell me how to judge between alternatives to reach the best case scenario—and how to define “best case scenario”! I expected phenomenology and enlightened hedonism to provide some way of guiding decisions I am making—some way of justifying bothering with intentionality. Or, for that matter, living.

  • Sohum

    If you’re talking about self-coherency, using the standards of rationality to judge itself, you can talk about scope errors.

    —In regards to your false-beliefs-are-better-at-effecting-values — what? “I am unable to apprehend the confusion of ideas that could give rise” etc.If I value, say, the environment, and I believe that Party X will work to positively impact the environment and thus vote for them, and this turns out to be a lie propagated by their campaign, then I have been _terrible_ at effecting my beliefs. I would have been better at effecting my beliefs if I had had the true belief that Party X will do nothing for the environment, and indeed may impact it negatively.If I value, say, being healthy, and there is a misleading advertisement about the nutrition content of the McFoodBurger, I am better at effecting my value about health if I form the accurate belief about the McFoodBurger than the inaccurate one the advertisement wants me to form.Having the inaccurate belief that a God exists leads you to waste time and energy on acts designed under the assumption that he exists, time and energy that represent an opportunity cost for your actual values. In the extreme, the belief that God exists, is omnipotent, and will affect your life given prayer can lead you to, say, deny your child medicine, making you absolutely terrible at effecting your value of survival of your children.And why on earth would you expect mathematicians to rule the world? It”s not as if “true beliefs” are some sort of magical currency that you can spend to change the world. That said, holding the true belief of, say, Gödelian incompleteness, significantly changes the way they approach finding mathematical truths towards avenues more likely to succeed—and mathematicians do tend to have “truth” as a core value. So no, there is no evidence at all, and I fail to see what you consider evidence here. If you meant that causing others to have false beliefs can be effective in effecting your values; of course; that is not inconsistent at all. You still need to hold the true beliefs about, say, the consequences of this course of action, and about how humans statistically respond to various forms of stimuli and information.What you are doing, though, is reducing the ability of your victims to effect _their_ values in order to get them to effect yours, exactly as you’d expect if true beliefs made you better at effecting your values. In some instances of the pattern, you’re also gambling that the people you’re lying to don’t find out, and you definitely are better at effecting your values if you have accurate beliefs upon which you decide whether or not to take that gamble.It’s probably not even always wrong. Depending on how much you value personal agency versus how much you value whatever effect comes out of lying to them… Would you tell the public of your country about the new bioterror agent that’s been unleashed on them, but that you’re sure you can destroy?And as for happiness—if happiness is your top priority, then having the true beliefs about which sorts of drugs or religions or life experiences make you happy very obviously effects how happy you can be. As it turns out, though, most people aren’t willing to bliss out on soma—they have values above and beyond either of happiness or pleasure. And thus, they are willing to be unhappier to be better at effecting these values. That _is_ enlightened self-interest.(And you seem to be drawing very general conclusions from a result that does not warrant them. I’m fairly sure McGonigal would argue that her book has helped make people happier, for instance, even though it reduces their ignorance.)—…Bleh. Apologies, that’s looong. I’ll be shorter with the next point:I hadn’t heard of modernism, but it appears to come from the religious tradition, and so would naturally still claim to to provide a fundamental basis for morality. But now that you know that rationality _doesn’t_, and now that you know that whether anything can truly provide a morality or not, religion would claim to anyway…Isn’t expecting that simply setting yourself up for failure?I prefer to think of rationality as a guiding light, but that it lets you choose the destination :D

  • Sohum

    …I don’t know why the linebreaks disappeared, and I can’t seem to edit it to fix them >_>

  • Anonymous


    Therefore, rationality cannot form the foundation of lifestyle and morality.”

    Actually, yes it can!  For the simple reason that it’s all you have.  It may be subjective and flawed, but that’s what you’re brain is wired to do and no high-minded discussion of philosophy will ever change that.

    Also, you made a comment about hedonism and humanism.  You don’t seem to get that these are two different things entirely.  Please don’t lump them together.  It’s lazy and wrong.  

  • Meg

    Probably the best fit for you: http://www.triangleinsight.org/

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    The human brain isn’t wired to do “rationality” as I’m using the term here. There are entire fields of study (e.g. neuroeconomics, behavioral economics) demonstrating that it doesn’t work. The fact that most advertising is emotive and not rational is because businesses have made the non-rationality hypothesis into a technology called “marketing”.

    Also, as far as I’ve heard, secular humanism’s philosophical basis is grounded in “enlightened hedonism”. I think someone even made that exact argument either on this post or its predecessor, and the books I’ve read seem to either 1) presume an intrinsic value in other human beings, or 2) argue based off of hedonism.

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    I know that it’s bizarre, but the reality is that beliefs don’t really impact behavior much — we’re rationalizing hypocrites at our core. Our behavior is much more determined by our immediate momentary environment and state, our tribal associations, our epigenetics, and the classical conditioning that we’ve received through life.

    You’re critiquing modernism for being a religiously-based idea, but you’re also playing directly into modernism and the Protestant presumptions which fueled it. The idea that everything will fall into place if you just get your beliefs right is an *extremely* Protestant idea, and as bizarre as it seems from within the modernist mindset, it actually sounds like crazytalk to a lot of the rest of the world. It’s also false to fact in a lot of important ways.

  • http://profiles.google.com/dthatcher7 David Thatcher

    “rationality cannot form the foundation of lifestyle and morality.”
    -Perhaps from the 30,000 ft view. But rationality pervades everyday existance, whether comparing prices, job offers, whether to take marijuana or Imodium for your diarrhea, etc. You don’t want to go into the operating room under the knife of a doctor who decides to go bowling once he has you sliced open.
    -Which is to say, you may not be able to form the foundation of lifestyle and morality FROM SCRATCH with rationality.
    -Nevertheless, mankind has come to a place where everything has evolved to the point where a moral lifestyle is useful. You would not cheer me on in the idea that, fuck it, I’m going to go bash my neighbor’s head in with a bowling ball.
    -Which is to say that you must factor in the role of Darwinian evolution in providing us with frameworks for lifestyle and morality. Much scholarly work has been done in this field of study to explain how it is that undirected, random evolution has not only produced homo sapiens but resulted in morality.
    -Accepting the explanations of Darwinian evolution requires recognition that along every stage of our existance, the right thing to do has been the expedient thing to do. In morality, evolution has reached the point where we now understand that social cohesiveness is essential for the continued existance of our species. Morality could be seen as an advanced form of manners, perhaps.
    -Morality has evolved from protecting tribes, to protecting nations, and is now evolving to protecting the world. It is why racism is immoral now, when it wasn’t immoral two centuries ago. Religion resists this evolution of morality because most religions are tribalistic. This is also why religion lends itself to nationalism, whether in the form of Nazism (“Gott mit uns”) or the American religious right.
    -The continued evolution of morality requires the continuous advancement of civil liberties. This paradigm informs a fairly comprehensive morality on its own.

  • JustMe

    You said I have found rationality cannot form the foundation of lifestyle and morality.

    How did you come to that determination?

    Does this suggest to you that only irrationality can form the foundation of lifestyle and morality?

  • http://robertcfischer.com Robert Fischer

    You’re a bit late to the game. See the original post to see how I came by that determination. See the comments for someone else who is arguing I have a scope problem. And no, I’m not asserting anything positive about what can or should form the foundation of lifestyle and morality.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.jack.walters Andy Walters

    After my deconversion, I too struggled immensely with the idea that a legitimate ethical mandate seemed illusory.   I’d like to offer you two different possible answers to look into in case you haven’t already.  The first is the closest I ever came to being convinced of a genuinely categorical imperative–a kind of souped up Kantianism, expressed in Christine Korsgaard’s book, The Sources of Normativity.  Starting with (among other things) a basic social interest, and the *capacity* for rationality, she follows Kantianish lines to create (or rather, recognize) a genuine imperative.  Even so, the last half-century of neuroscience has done serious damage to Kantianism’s plausibility, such as in Josh Greene’s paper “The Secret Joke of Kant’s Soul.”  The second option is not quite a categorical imperative, but it does nevertheless preserve normativity, and that’s Meulhauser & Fife’s Desirism.  While I have my reservations, it is a well thought out system built on the Broomean Normative (i.e. if one desires x, then one must y).  Both are worth a look.

    Ultimately, I’ve landed on something similar to Korsgaard’s normativity.  I’m not sure if I believe or merely hope that *on balance*, something like it is true.  In any case, I try to live my life along those lines provisionally. :)

    On a side note, I wonder whether you’ve read Quine?  It strikes me that he might help you down the path of resolving your rationality/irrationality dilemma.