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July 15, 2009

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Joyless Moralist

Sigh. I realize now that I do need to make some atonement for things said in the last thread. Not primarily for the words quoted above, but for, just generally, going along with the "epistemic standards" talk in an effort to show its deficiencies. Certain things can be brought out that way, but, particularly for you, it probably entrenched certain confusions. I thought I could slide temporarily into a Cartesian mindset and argue my way out, but that probably clouded more things than it cleared up.

Talking about changes in philosophy in terms of "rising epistemic standards" just is not apt. The reason it seems so risible to me is because referring to a "standard" suggests a couple of things. 1) It suggests, well, standardization, either by a agreed convention, or by some authoritative body that is empowered to set conventions within a particular context. 2) It suggests a kind of linear progression, in which the same *type* of process or procedure is simply made more rigorous, in a way that would be widely agreed to *be* more rigorous. Of course, rising epistemic standards might lead to debate about whether Information Source A or Information Source B should be weighted more heavily, whether C should be included at all, etc. But at least there would be a general sort of agreement about *what* was being done.

Neither of these would apply to philosophy. Epistemology isn't about determining "standards"; it's about figuring out what sort of a thing knowledge is to begin with, and for that you need to work out 1) what sort of thing a person (or more generally, a knower) is, 2) what the world is like, and 3) what the relationship between them is/should be. Between the ancients and the early moderns there is deep disagreement on these questions, and that's really where the breach should be charted. For Plato or Thomas, Cartesian epistemology isn't merely unrealistically *rigorous*; it is also, in a different way, too shallow or too flat. Descartes' conception of rationality would never have been acceptable to Socrates.

It has long been recognized, by philosophers and religions alike, as well as thinkers both in East (I'm thinking here especially of the far East -- Hinduism and Buddhism and the like) and in the West, that one of the great obstacles to human wisdom is a tenacious clinging to error. Often this is the fruit of pride or insecurity, or some other moral flaw; it's not merely a question of insufficient thoughtfulness (or "critical thinking", to use the modern epithet), though lack of attention to the deeper natures of things can also be part of the problem. Whatever the origin, though, removing those misconceptions can help clear the way for greater wisdom and truer insight. This was part of the strategy of Socrates. As I explained in the last thread, to put him on the same plane as Descartes is to radically misunderstand what he was doing; by Cartesian standards, Socrates himself would never pass muster as "epistemically responsible." He wouldn't have passed muster even by the standards of many of the Pre-Socratics. What he did was to call attention to the way in which errors, themselves usually born of pride and artifice, were affecting the moral development of the people of Athens.

Descartes is playing a completely different game, though in a way it does start with a mutated version of the insight that was so important to Socrates. He poses his enquiry in terms of "what would a rational person think when *entirely* emptied out of all prejudices, presuppositions, and even prior beliefs." Of course, Descartes doesn't supply any theory of recollection or discussion of nous (non-discursive knowledge) to fill the gap; wisdom and moral development are nowhere on the horizon. The starting presumption is that human beings are a bare collection of rational faculties, in a world that has no special relationship to them and that is in no way specifically suited for them to understand. Really, *that* could be seen as Descartes' greatest legacy to the world, and that is the thing that remains in the centuries afterwards and re-stokes the fires of atheism and materialism. But, realizing how unpalatable that outlook is, he does a kind of sleight of hand, and like a magician, redirects the readers' attention to other things. They swallow the presumptions about the nature of rationality and the world more or less unreflectively, and get absorbed in proofs for the existence of God (a much safer-seeming project) and all the rest of it. The general strategy ("empty me of all presumptions, and then see what I would think") has been fairly popular ever since among philosophers; Rawls is a famous recent example of the same. But whereas most people end up concluding that the uninfluenced, prejudiced person would end up thinking... whatever they and their close friends already happen to think, Descartes is much cleverer. Instead of arguing transparently for conclusions he would endorse, he argues badly for points that he would like to see rejected. This project was brilliantly successful; everyone recognizes the weakness of his reconstructive arguments. Some intermediaries do try sincerely to twist and turn the Cartesian picture in a way that allows us to keep God and the supernatural (Leibniz, for example) but given a bit of time, Descartes' intellectual successors overwhelmingly became materialists and atheists, keeping the set-up presumptions (often quite unreflectively) but abandoning the obviously inadequate arguments for what appeared to be traditional conclusions.

My point to you is that is just isn't helpful to think about of the history of philosophy as analogous to mapmaking or economics, shaped by steadily rising standards. Epistemology is about figuring out what knowledge essentially *is*, and that is not first and foremost a question of "standards." Your repeated insistence on casting philosophers as being, first and foremost, Epistemic Warrant Police, shows that you've missed the main point. (And Heaven help us if that's true! A drearier or more pedantic task I can hardly imagine. If *that's* the main vocation of a philosopher, get me as far from it as possible!) Neither Socrates nor Descartes would have regarded that as a primary end in itself.

Joyless Moralist

Sorry... that middle part should read, "the uninfluenced, *unprejudiced* person."

Nathan Smith

re: "The starting presumption is that human beings are a bare collection of rational faculties, in a world that has no special relationship to them and that is in no way specifically suited for them to understand."

It seems to me the Cartesian project is to get rid of all presumptions, including that one. Even that the world exists is doubted, let alone the confident negative about "no special relationship."

re: "Epistemology isn't about determining "standards"; it's about figuring out what sort of a thing knowledge is to begin with, and for that you need to work out 1) what sort of thing a person (or more generally, a knower) is, 2) what the world is like, and 3) what the relationship between them is/should be."

Hmm. I detect the beginnings of an infinite regress here. How can we *know* what sort of thing a person is, or what the world is like, or what the relationship is between them. The questions are a bit vague, but there are no doubt many possible answers. How do we know true answers from false ones? How do we know anything? How do we *know*? Don't we need to answer the epistemic standards question before we can get on with trying to answer such questions as what sort of thing a person is, or what the world is like?

Joyless Moralist

"It seems to me the Cartesian project is to get rid of all presumptions."

Well, of course Descartes does say that. That's how this trick is done. But part of my point is that nobody can ever actually rid themselves of all presumptions, and we should be suspicious of anyone who makes such a claim. Usually it's only a way of obscuring what the presumptions are, redirecting attention away from the really controversial claims that are being smuggled into the argument.

Think about it like this. How is Descartes' project any different, in substance, from that of the person who says, "Let's assume that humans are a bare collection of faculties with no special relationship to any other existent thing, and then see if that assumption can be shown to be self-contradictory in any way"?

"Don't we need to answer the epistemic standards question before we can get on with trying to answer such questions as what sort of thing a person is, or what the world is like?"

But all of these questions are inextricably linked. The questions: "What is knowledge?" and "What is a knower?" and "What is there to be known?" really cannot be separated. The answer to any one will necessarily involve/entail answers to the others. So there's no prima facie reason for starting with any one as opposed to any of the others. Descartes shifts the emphasis from metaphysics to epistemology because he doesn't want people to see forthrightly what the metaphysical implications of his views really are. But they're really like different sides of the same coin.

Nathan Smith

re: "But part of my point is that nobody can ever actually rid themselves of all presumptions..."

Well, I don't know. It's not obvious to me that they can't. I think a distinguish is needed between a *presumption* and a *self-evident truth,* logically self-evident or self-evident through introspection. A presumption would be something that is itself unjustified. It's certainly not obvious that the presumption you describe is present in Descartes.

re: "How is Descartes' project any different, in substance, from that of the person who says, "Let's assume that humans are a bare collection of faculties with no special relationship to any other existent thing, and then see if that assumption can be shown to be self-contradictory in any way"?"

The difference, of course, is that this hypothetical person is making lots of presumptions, such as the non-existence of a special relationship between the "collection of faculties" and "other existent things," which Descartes does not seem to make, or at any rate those who imitate his first philosophical moves need not make.

I'm also uncomfortable with the term "collection of faculties," at least as a starting place. It would take a lot of effort to develop the concept of *faculty*, as a general term, and then to reconcile the "collection" of faculties with the unity of the self would be another difficult effort. This abandonment of the simplicity of "I think, therefore I am" seems unwarranted.

re: "The questions: "What is knowledge?" and "What is a knower?" and "What is there to be known?" really cannot be separated."

Hmm. It's difficult for me to see "What is a knower?" as a problem, or at least as a problem that must be dealt with at the beginning. Knowledge is, first of all, a form of belief, and belief is a fact of my own experience which I know occurs by introspection. If knowledge is not merely true belief but justified true belief, and maybe something else over and above that, but even that can be left aside. The real problem is how to distinguish true beliefs from false ones, so as to keep the former and discard the latter. Which of the beliefs to call "knowledge" might even ultimately be a semantic question: one might set the evidence bar high or low to decide whether someone's degree of justification was sufficient or not.

Nathan Smith

Of course, if presumptions really are inescapable, that's a problem. What if different people just start from different presumptions? How can they talk to each other?

Joyless Moralist

Well, if I think, then I must be the sort of being that can think, and I must have whatever it takes to enable me to think. If you don't want to call it a faculty, what would you prefer?

I didn't intend the word "presumption" to mean "unjustified." "Not justified" would be a better term, or at least "not justified discursively."

"The difference, of course, is that this hypothetical person is making lots of presumptions, such as the non-existence of a special relationship between the "collection of faculties" and "other existent things," which Descartes does not seem to make."

They would start in exactly the same place, proceed in exactly the same way, and have exactly the same resources at their disposal. The only difference is that Descartes avoids the word "assumption" and simply designates this the natural and obvious starting place. But it doesn't seem natural or obvious to me, and it wouldn't have to a great many other thinkers that preceded him. So why should we take his word for it that this is "square one" so to speak?

"Well, I don't know. It's not obvious to me that they can't. I think a distinguish is needed between a *presumption* and a *self-evident truth,* logically self-evident or self-evident through introspection."

You make a lot of use of this notion of "introspection." I frankly don't know what you mean it to be. If I just feel really sure about something, does that mean I know it by introspection? Or does it mean that I have some non-discursive faculties that allow me simply to latch onto certain truths about the world? Whence comes this ability? Can I be uncertain about what introspection is telling me, or is that automatically a sign that I don't know a thing by introspection? It seems likely to me that virtually every philosophy and religion in the history of the world would surely have adherents who would claim, quite sincerely, to know its truth by introspection. So how is that supposed to help us be epistemically responsible?

Your last paragraph is a lovely little textbook summary of the direction of contemporary epistemology, but I don't see how it avoids my problem. (Anyway, contemporary epistemology is a mess; even if we take the concept "belief" as somehow assumed, we still really can't do much at all with the "justified true belief plus" business. And to make things even worse, the concept of belief is still pretty much a total mystery to contemporary epistemologists.)

In any claims about knowledge, you have an agent, an action, and an object. And now you want to use words like "think" "believe" and "know" while claiming that you don't need any information at all about either agent or object to understand clearly what they mean. How plausible is this? In what other circumstances would you think yourself able to explain verbs without needing to reference either agent or object at all? Just to seize on one spot at which the neat summary could begin to unravel: go back to the issue of belief. You say you know what it is by introspection. So, your introspection can be a reliable source of knowledge without your needing the least insight into what *you* actually are and what it is you're doing when you introspect? That seems pretty epistemically reckless to me.

Nathan Smith

Well, this is an interesting role reversal. Now JM is playing the radical skeptic!

Maybe this will help. Let's start with "I think therefore I am." One might reply, "You can't even say that you think unless you know what thinking is. First you have to define thinking."

I disagree. We know what thinking is by introspection. Thinking is experienced directly by the mind. We cannot even ask the question "What is thinking?" without, in a sense, and in a sense that is sufficient for present purposes, knowing the answer, because "What is thinking?" is itself a thought.

That is not to say that it is not worthwhile to ask the question "What is thinking?" or to deny that one might, perhaps, write voluminous books answering the question and thereby enrich our understanding of ourselves and of thought. But it is a truism that no definition ever perfectly captures what it is defining, and that is especially true of something like thought, our experience of which does not lie in the domain of intersubjectivity and therefore is more than usually incommunicable. Our knowledge of thought is fundamentally from introspection.

Exactly how much we can know by introspection is difficult to say, because, again, we are not operating in the realm of intersubjectivity here. "I think therefore I am" seems to have certain unique advantages as a starting-place because to deny it seems like a contradiction in terms. Of course, if someone *else* says, "I cannot think, therefore I have no basis for knowing whether or not I exist," that seems in the strictest sense unanswerable, although in practice to laugh at it as a joke would probably be a sufficient answer). But I know in my case that I am thinking, and so I know I exist.

I do not insist that this is the only starting place to build up knowledge. There are, I think, others; also, I think, we can't do without some others. If someone says that, in addition to "I think therefore I am," Propositions X, Y, and Z are knowable foundations of knowledge, I'm glad to hear it-- provided, of course, that they can persuade me that X, Y, and Z really are knowable without prior claims.

I have also myself suggested another factor which is not precisely something known or even something believed, hardly a proposition at all, yet which I think we use and cannot escape using: a belief that *there is order in the world,* which allows us to make inferences from patterns. I have called this "faith," in a sense that may or may not be idiosyncratic in the grand scheme of things. (It would be interesting to have a conversation with philosophically minded Orthodox about whether or not this is an ordinary application of the term, but the stakes would not ultimately be too high in such a conversation, since I could always go on using the word in an eccentric way for purposes of discussing philosophy, or look for a new term.) Other examples of "faith," I think, are (a) the belief in other people, i.e. the denial of solipsism, and (b) the belief in God.

Also, I wanted to clarify one thing: the idea of rising epistemic standards does not imply any kind of historical inevitability. Let's consider a very credulous epistemic practice, say, believing everything you read. It might happen that a person starts by believing everything they read, then becomes more critical, reasoning and comparing texts and sometimes doubting. But it could also happen the other way: someone might, in college, say, under the influence of acute professors, question what they read, and then give it up and become credulous. Civilizations, likewise, might move in either direction.

Joyless Moralist

I'm not a radical skeptic. Far from it. I just find your piecemeal way of latching onto certain claims and saying "introspection!" to be thoroughly unsatisfying. This cannot be the basis for any sort of coherent worldview.

The philosopher should want, not just to observe that we do have experiences, but to make sense of those experiences. While nobody exactly wants to deny the statement, "I think, therefore I am," it's not even a real data point until you have at least some rudimentary explanation of what "I" am, what thinking is, and what it means to say, "I am." Perhaps there is something ineliminably basic to the *experience* of existing, but even formulating it into a statement such as could be used in discussion and argument throws you immediately into the realms of personal identity, ontology, and the nature of thought. Raw experience is something we share even with more primitive animals (or so I believe), but if we're to translate whatever we get from it into rational, discursive thought, we're going to find ourselves dealing in metaphysics almost at once.

Here's another thing that I've been trying to explain (though apparently not with much success.) Once we move out of the realm of just having raw experiences, and into the realm of formulating claims and arguments, we're going to need to have some background assumptions. I know you don't like that word, but I don't know what else to call it... there are just certain conditions about the world (and ourselves) that will make all kinds of difference to the way we interpret that basic experiential data that is so interesting to you. So, either there is some order to the world, or there isn't. Either we have faculties for perceiving things outside of ourselves, or else we don't. Either there are other minds, or else there aren't. But here's the problem: it may be the case that there are multiple, internally coherent sets of assumptions we might make, so that, for example, the person who assumes no order will never be able to find any, and the person who assumes that there is order will likewise find that view to be perfectly consistent. If that is so, then there is no practical difference between the person who says, "I will assume that there is no order to the world," and the one who says, "I will approach the world in a way that does not assume there to be any order." The latter phrasing is more pleasing to the Epistemic Warrant warrior, but for practical intents and purposes, there's no real difference.

All this contributes to my conclusion that the supposed epistemology-sans-metaphysics favored by the Cartesian is a lie. There are lots of metaphysical assumptions being smuggled into the picture even in the very early stages. The fact that they're not *labeled* as assumptions is basically irrelevant if, as I suggest, there are basically just a wide variety of metaphysical views that are internally consistent but not self-justifying. In any case, there are certainly large metaphysical conflicts brewing between the early moderns and the medievals; it isn't a simple matter of different levels of epistemic rigor.

As far as faith goes... what you're talking about certainly doesn't qualify as faith in the sense I would mean it (which I do think is an old and traditional way of regarding faith, though it might take some time to sketch and debate the entire pedigree of my view.) First of all, faith is mutually exclusive with knowledge. That's not to say that things taken on faith must be intrinsically *unknowable* -- it can certainly be possible for one person to take on faith something that another actually knows -- but one person cannot hold the same proposition through both faith and knowledge all at one time. Actually, I really think the *essence* of faith is believing something on the word of another. (In the case of theological faith, or faith most properly speaking, it is ultimately believing something on *God's* word, though that might possibly be mediated through other people or sources.)

Anyway, the important thing is that some of your "faith" propositions are, I think, knowable. Something like the world having order is, I think, *known* by pretty much everybody, and thus not the object of faith. Something like belief in God's existence can potentially be either known or taken on faith (I think), so it might be an object of faith for some, and of knowledge for others. (Still others, of course, don't believe it at all.)

But the most problematic thing about your notion of faith is that it seems to be predicated on the idea that there are some things that we *cannot but believe.* I agree that there do seem to be such things. A person who doesn't (de facto) believe in the existence of order in the world, or of other minds, will fairly rapidly go insane. But the realization that *we can't do without* a particular belief should not be the grounds for making it the object of faith. That's not faith, just survival instincts kicking in. Faith is an investment of trust in what another has said. In its most full and complete form, it is an acknowledgement that God, who is Truth Himself, has spoken. In lesser forms, it is accepting another non-divine person as a trustworthy source of information (though in a more limited or attenuated sense -- no mere human being should be taken to be *absolutely* and across the board trustworthy, though it is appropriate to trust to others' judgment and experience with respect to particular subjects or areas of concern.)

"If someone says that, in addition to "I think therefore I am," Propositions X, Y, and Z are knowable foundations of knowledge, I'm glad to hear it-- provided, of course, that they can persuade me that X, Y, and Z really are knowable without prior claims."

So, what sort of argument, in theory, could persuade you that a proposition is knowable "without prior claims"? Isn't the very fact that you require an argument evidence to the contrary?

Nathan Smith

re: "I just find your piecemeal way of latching onto certain claims and saying 'introspection!' to be thoroughly unsatisfying."

Well, if I claim to know X on the basis of introspection, any interlocutor is free to deny that introspection tells us X. At that point the argument would move into difficult terrain; I might use examples from everyday behavior, or describe experiences to evoke a sense of familiarity, but the conversation could scarcely be described as "argument" until my interlocutor accepted the claim or I abandoned it for purposes of the discussion. If I were to say that we know by introspection that we exercise free will, and someone were simply to say, "I don't know what you mean, I've never had the experience of making choices about anything," I admit I would be rather at a loss how to answer. I don't think it happens very often that my interlocutors deny things that I claim on the basis of introspection. Even with free will, critics usually dismiss it as an illusion rather than simply denying the introspective evidence outright. But, yes, only *I* have access to *my* introspection, others do not, so that is a limitation inherent in the use of introspective evidence.

re: "Perhaps there is something ineliminably basic to the *experience* of existing..."

Surely there is, and not only to one's own existence, but to the existence of other things. To define being is difficult; it is rather like asking a painter to make a painting of a blank canvas. If he leaves the canvas alone, it is not a painting, but if he makes a single stroke with his brush, the canvas is no longer blank. Similarly, there is a sense in which any definition that begins "Something *exists* if..." breaks down because we are putting conditions on existence, yet the very fact that we are talking about the something proves its existence and invalidates any conditions we formulate. Of course, there is also a physical sense of the word: Whales exist, but dragons do not, in the sense that while both exist as *ideas,* only whales are physically instantiated. Yet the fact that the number -2 does not exist physically-- one cannot pick it up and handle it, or describe the latitude, longitude, and altitude where it is to be found-- does not mean that it is incoherent if a math test contains the question: "What is three minus five?" Perhaps it won't quite do to say what this this argument seems to point to, that is, that any entity we come into contact with, even in thought, exists. We would not want the set of conceivable things to be a subset of existent thing, would we? Or is it just that the meaning of the verb "to be" is context-specific? There are different modes of existence, perhaps, and one does not wish to confuse them.

Compare the following three statements. (a) "Scarlett O'Hara does not exist." (b) "In 1920, Scarlett O'Hara did not exist, as *Gone with the Wind* had not yet been written." (c) "In 1800, when Gerald O'Hara was a child in Ireland, his daughter Scarlett did not yet exist." All are true, and understandable, but in each one "exist" means something different. In (a), "exist" means to exist as a live person: Scarlett O'Hara does not in that sense exist even today. In (b), "exist" means to exist as a fictional character: Scarlett O'Hara existed when she had been conceived by an author, not before. In (c), "exist" takes us inside the story: Scarlett O'Hara existed from the time when, according to the fictional story, she was conceived by Gerald and Ellen O'Hara on a Georgia plantation. It is as if the mind, or the word, can move among different ontological frames of reference, and the word "exist" has a meaning relative to the implied frame of reference, just as the indexical proposition "Jack is in this room" is simultaneously true in the kitchen and false in the bathroom. But do we have to define these ontological frames of reference *ab initio?* Or can we say "I think therefore I am," and leave the definition of ontological frames of reference until later?

Nathan Smith

re: "Once we move out of the realm of just having raw experiences, and into the realm of formulating claims and arguments, we're going to need to have some background assumptions... So, either there is some order to the world, or there isn't. Either we have faculties for perceiving things outside of ourselves, or else we don't. Either there are other minds, or else there aren't."

But do they have to be *assumptions,* or can we derive these propositions from something more foundational? I won't necessarily say we can. I'm just pointing out that if one is to reject the Cartesian project one should prove, or at least persuade, that we *cannot.* If you think Descartes did have background assumptions that were not themselves indubitable or foundational, maybe he just didn't do his work well enough, and a better Cartesian should doubt *those* assumptions too and start from *really* foundational propositions.

I am not convinced that any background assumptions are needed for "I think therefore I am," and I think there might even be a reasonably large amount of knowledge, albeit completely inadequate for living, that one can derive without any background assumptions. However, I agree with JM that we can't get very far without adopting the belief that there is order in the world. (Though I think the existence of other minds has to be a faith-belief-- one cannot rule out solipsism by reason alone-- we could pile up quite a lot of knowledge without assuming the existence of other minds. I think our possession of faculties to perceive things outside ourselves can be derived from experience and reason rather than needing to be adopted as a background assumption.) On this JM says two things to which I would object in different ways. First:

re: "the realization that *we can't do without* a particular belief should not be the grounds for making it the object of faith. That's not faith, just survival instincts kicking in."

No, no, no. Survival instincts have nothing to do with it. A man might very well be willing to die rather than believe in a falsehood or in a groundless claim. He might refuse to abandon his belief in Christ in return for his life. Of course, there's a difficulty here: one cannot simply adopt or abandon beliefs at will, though on the other hand choice does seem to be able to affect belief. But supposing for the sake of argument that a man knows his own mind well enough to know by what operations he could induce belief in Proposition X, he might still choose to die rather than induce this belief if (prior to such operations) he regards X as false. And that's exactly what he ought to do!

Anyway, if a man *doesn't* believe there is order in the world, he has no grounds for believing that belief in order will help him to survive. A man who believes that believing in order will help him to survive *already* believes in order. He believes that certain patterns will continue to hold, and that behaving so as to adapt to those patterns will be conducive to survival. If he believed that patterns tell us nothing about the world, he would have no reason to believe that a tiger is more likely to eat him than a housecat, or that a fatal fall was more likely to result from walking over the edge of a cliff than from standing still (and being swallowed by a suddenly-appearing hole in the ground).

That we *cannot but believe* in order is a truth deeper, more mysterious, more inexorable and indelible, and far more difficult to override, than any survival instinct. It is like the difference between diving off a diving board and balancing on a rubber ball. A man who attempts to doubt order will find his thoughts betraying him a hundred times every minute. The convert to the chaos doctrine will commit heresy constantly, as his every thought is full of concepts informed by the belief in order. When he says, "I have no reason to think the sun will rise tomorrow," he finds he has inwardly assumed that clocks go on ticking, people getting tired, books being read and food getting cold and a thousand other processes associated with time continuing such that the dogmatic believers in order will have some basis for perceiving the passing of time and experiencing surprise (which our chaotist gratifyingly lacks) when "tomorrow"-- as measured by the clocks etc.-- has arrived and the sun does not appear. Only, why should clocks go on ticking and food getting cold, unless there is order? We can become disinterested in survival, but we cannot cease to believe in order.

But JM also says:

re: "some of your 'faith' propositions are, I think, knowable. Something like the world having order is, I think, *known* by pretty much everybody, and thus not the object of faith."

This I don't understand. Of course, I would agree that everybody knows the world has order in one sense, that is, for everyday purposes and even for lofty scientific purposes I would not insist or even advise that the word "knowledge" be used in such a narrow, rigorous, and scrupulous sense as to exclude the belief in order and other beliefs derived from it. At the same time, I don't see how the belief in order can be something *foundational* as are, on the one hand, truths derived from introspection like "I think therefore I am" or free will, or, on the other hand, strictly logical truths like those of mathematics. That the sun has risen for 10,000 days does not, *logically,* prove that it will rise tomorrow.

Indeed, even to *define* "order" poses insuperable problems. Everyone has had the experience of recognizing patterns, but to give a general definition of a pattern seems either impossible or, to the extent that it is possible at all, seems to depend on a poetic, allusive appeal to this shared experience. To proceed by example seems more promising than to attempt a definition, but has obvious limitations. Thus, if we define a pattern as a line, a circle fails the test; if we define it as a line or a circle, a sine wave fails the test; and so forth.

Nor does it seem true to say that there is something ineliminably basic about patterns, as there might plausibly be about thinking, or being, or selfhood. We can hardly imagine lacking the concept of the self, or of being; but we can easily imagine a man who fails to recognize the pattern of daily sunrises and is forever surprised by the light, or who fails to perceive the ideal symmetry and beauty of a circle as opposed to the arbitrary shape of a stone or a splatter of spilt milk. Pattern recognition undergirds many if not all our concepts, yet for all that the perception of order remains something we *climb to* rather than merely standing on, and we hope to gain the wisdom to recognize a greater pattern. If order is neither epistemically basic nor derivable from more basic truths (as it can hardly be if even to define it is impossible), we cannot "know" it in the same sense we know that 2+2=4 or I think therefore I am.

JM defines faith as "believing something on the word of another." That would make faith as JM defines it dependent on one of the beliefs that I call a faith-belief, namely, the existence of other persons. I like JM's definition, too. However, I have some questions. What if I believe something because another says it, simply because I think the other is well-informed and has a sufficient motive to tell the truth, not because I trust him in any moral sense? How is that different from a case in which I am reliably informed of something by a computer? It seems to me that faith comes into play only when, in taking the word of another, I am really trusting in them, relying on them not to lie because of some belief about their character. In that case I am not merely making a probabilistic judgment but making a sort of mental act of trust. But why must such an act of trust be directed only towards a person? Might one have faith, more generally, not just in people but in anything outside oneself, and in particular, in the orderliness of creation? If so, perhaps JM's definition of faith could be a special case and/or extension of mine.

re: "So, what sort of argument, in theory, could persuade you that a proposition is knowable 'without prior claims'? Isn't the very fact that you require an argument evidence to the contrary?"

Well, one example is if someone described a belief in such a way as to make me recognize introspective evidence for it that I had overlooked. A good example of this is the idea of *Joy* as described by C.S. Lewis in his autobiography, *Surprised by Joy.* He describes the phenomenon of Joy-- a phrase like "aesthetic rapture" might suggest the special meaning he attaches to it, though there's no substitute for reading Lewis's own account-- in such a way that many readers, I think, might recognize what he's talking about from their own experience. I did. He didn't exactly *make an argument,* he just described and to some extent abstracted from his experience, and persuaded me.

Joyless Moralist

"Or can we say "I think therefore I am," and leave the definition of ontological frames of reference until later?"

Answering the sorts of questions you describe in that comment is one of the things that metaphysicians *do* when formulating an ontology, and it's not just enough to say, "there are different frames of reference." You need a way to explain how all those frames of reference relate to one another so that there can be a unified conception of being. As I say, that's basically what ontology *is*, and a person who works on it would be thoroughly familiar with the sorts of issues you're bringing up. Talking about being is not a "can't study the darkness by flooding it with light" sort of situation. There are meaningful ways of discussing it.

You likely would reply that hey, ontology may all be very well, but surely we can make simple claims like "I think, therefore I am," without getting into all *that* complication. Yes and no. You don't need sophisticated training in metaphysics to make some sense of "I think, therefore I am," any more than you need to be a moral philosopher before you can meaningfully say, "I love you," or a theologian to declare with conviction, "I believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God." But like the latter two phrases, "I think, therefore I am," touches on some concepts that are rather deep. In the latter two cases, a person may have an intuitive understanding of the meaning without an extensive philosophical education, but, on the other hand, further conversation with them probably would reveal a lot of background ideas or assumptions (perhaps only intuitively grasped, so that it would be difficult for the person to articulate clearly what they were thinking.) And further exploration of those ideas might lead you to conclude that they had made some mistakes. The only way to be clearer would be to do the work to explain what it is for one person to love another, or what it means to say that Christ is the Son of God.

Something similar is true, I think, of this. You don't necessarily *have* to have the philosophical background in order to understand the phrase, "I think, therefore I am," but underlying intuitive concepts will always be in play, and it would be possible for those to contain wrong understandings. The way to clear them up is by doing the philosophical work to articulate what is really meant by the phrase. So, while there is, as I say, something fundamental (pre-philosophical, you might say) about raw experience, "I think, therefore I am," cannot stand as a rock of perfect clarity and intelligibility all by itself. You'll need some forays into metaphysics to illuminate the meaning.

"But do they have to be *assumptions,* or can we derive these propositions from something more foundational?"

My whole point is that you need to have multiple pieces in place before reasoning is even possible. Anything fundamental enough not to require a paradigm concerning, say, constancy of identity, or the existence of order in the world, or the ability of human faculties to perceive the external world in a meaningful way, would be little more than an inarticulate collection of feelings and wordless impressions. Once we move to the level of articulation, running proofs and syllogisms, arguing about them etc., you've already brought a great many other concepts into play.

Why should I feel compelled to *prove* that a Cartesian-type project cannot work? To suggest such a thing immediately raises the question of what would even qualify as a proof, which, for the person who lusts after Cartesian certainty, seems a difficult question indeed. Descartes' own attempts to rebuild knowledge from certain foundations (taking the project at face value for the sake of argument) were not very successful at all; even his most stalwart defenders generally admit that. The fruits of his suggested approach have been withered and unsatisfying. Though many have, in one way or another, attempted similar projects (some with considerable more sincerity and good faith than I give Descartes credit for), none has achieved a satisfying result. And modern epistemology, built largely on that foundation, is a quagmire of seemingly insoluble puzzles with no promising horizons in sight. Meanwhile, I think some much more fruitful and intuitive approaches have been found to epistemology, which can open up a much more complete and meaningful picture of what the world is like than the Cartesian ever could. Taken in totality, these seem to me like good enough reasons to reject Cartesian epistemology.

"This I don't understand. Of course, I would agree that everybody knows the world has order in one sense, that is, for everyday purposes and even for lofty scientific purposes I would not insist or even advise that the word "knowledge" be used in such a narrow, rigorous, and scrupulous sense as to exclude the belief in order and other beliefs derived from it. At the same time, I don't see how the belief in order can be something *foundational* as are, on the one hand, truths derived from introspection like "I think therefore I am" or free will, or, on the other hand, strictly logical truths like those of mathematics. That the sun has risen for 10,000 days does not, *logically,* prove that it will rise tomorrow."

I would have thought it evident by now that I don't put much stock in this kind of narrow foundationalism, nor do I think it more "scrupulous" to do so. There is order in the world, and our faculties as rational beings enable us to perceive this. That's enough. You can't have "faith" in something that you are clearly able to perceive.

For further development of this idea of faith, I recommend the first essay of Joseph Pieper's excellent little book, "Faith, Hope, Love." The whole book is great, actually, but the essay on faith speaks to this question very well.

Nathan Smith

Well, I had started to think there might be a bit of convergence, but maybe not. *sigh* When JM writes, "I think some much more fruitful and intuitive approaches have been found to epistemology," the question that follows is: "But are they true? How do we know?" Or when JM writes, "There is order in the world, and our faculties as rational beings enable us to perceive this. That's enough."... I don't know what that means. One of "our faculties as rational beings" is logic, and Hume showed that inductive reasoning is not grounded in rigorous logic. JM really seems to want to conflate the belief in order (or "perception of" order but that is interwoven with a prior belief in it) with our powers of logic into some general category of "natural reason" or something. I'm suspicious of "natural reason" in this sense, because, while I can understand what "logic" means, I don't know what "natural reason" means, and it seems to be just a pretext for a certain party in philosophical debates to impose their positions on others without having to argue for them.

re: "Why should I feel compelled to *prove* that a Cartesian-type project cannot work?"

Because if a Cartesian-type project can work, we can have a genuine foundation for knowledge, and we won't be doomed to disagreement by the differing arbitrary "background assumptions" or prejudices which we come to the discussion with. The alternative to a Cartesian-type project would seem to be to reconcile ourselves to some form of fideism or relativism or "East is East and West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet." If we adopt this view, we cannot say, "The Muslims are mistaken and we can show why," for we will have abandoned the claim that our own beliefs have rigorous rational foundations. Perhaps we adopt an externalist epistemology and say that external factors make our beliefs true knowledge, even if, from the internal point of view, they are no better justified than many beliefs held by others. Since all these seem to me like profoundly unwelcome and disturbing conclusions, I would expect someone to keep an open mind to the Cartesian project unless it was clear beyond any doubt that the project was hopeless.

I remain in the happy state of being unconvinced by JM's efforts to problematize Cartesian foundationalism, and of not having had to get used to the grim notion that only some people start with the right "background assumptions" and you just have to hope that external factors make you one of the fortunate ones.

Tom O'Neill

"Though I think the existence of other minds has to be a faith-belief-- one cannot rule out solipsism by reason alone-- we could pile up quite a lot of knowledge without assuming the existence of other minds."

If you encountered just a normal every-day person, what amount of mental contortion would it take to come to the conclusion that the person did not have a mind? Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science and one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, devised a simple and ingenious test using heterophenomenology that determines whether or not something has a (Human) mind: the Turing Test. The test is supposed to determine whether or not a computer/machine has a mind, but it seems to me that it could be applied equally as well to other Humans or non-Humans. The gist is that it is easy for a Human judge to determine that something does not have a Human mind simply by trying to communicate with it. If the Human judge has great difficulty in deciding whether or not the thing she's communicating with has a Human mind, then for all intents and purposes it does have a Human mind. To further illustrate, let's assume that through introspection you know that you have a conscious mind, and your thoughts are in a natural language which can be communicated to some degree. If you come across a person with whom you can exchange these communications in an intelligible way, then even though you don't have intersubjective access to that which generated the responses of your interlocutor, it is impossible to conceive of a mechanism other than conciousness which could have produced those responses.

"Indeed, even to *define* "order" poses insuperable problems. Everyone has had the experience of recognizing patterns, but to give a general definition of a pattern seems either impossible or, to the extent that it is possible at all, seems to depend on a poetic, allusive appeal to this shared experience. To proceed by example seems more promising than to attempt a definition, but has obvious limitations. Thus, if we define a pattern as a line, a circle fails the test; if we define it as a line or a circle, a sine wave fails the test; and so forth."

I recommend you study some communication/information theory, specifically data compression and information entropy. There Order is rigorously defined and described mathematically. I will just touch on a few basic points, but I recommend that you study the field in depth to have a greater appreciation of the implications. How does data compression work? Well, an algorithm recognizes certain patterns in the data and consequently is able to represent the data with less characters. For instance, a straight line (in any number of dimensions) can be represented trivially by slopes and intercepts; the set of slopes and intercepts is a compressed representation of the enumeration of every point that lies on the line; it takes less characters to represent the line using slopes and intercepts than it does to enumerate every point on the line, thus we can say that the former is a "pattern" of the latter. So what about random data? Setting aside the problems with the conception of randomness for the moment, if a data stream were truly random, then it would theoretically be incompressible: any attempt to represent the data with a different string of characters would fail to shrink or compress the data, for the new representations would take as many characters or more than are in the data. One can thus measure the amount of order vs chaos (the entropy rate) in a data stream.

My (controversial?) claim is that true randomness or chaos is not veridical but is merely an asymptote that may be approached but never reached. An instance of randomness cannot be rationally produced, thus I must reject its possibility prior to experience, and since experience is necessarily contingent on what is prior, I must reject the possibility of randomness in experience as well. Thus the universe both a priori and a posteriori is necessarily ordered.

Tom O'Neill

Also, take a gander at fractals, especially the images. From wikipedia:
A fractal is generally "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole," a property called self-similarity. ... A mathematical fractal is based on an equation that undergoes iteration, a form of feedback based on recursion.

A fractal often has the following features:
* It has a fine structure at arbitrarily small scales.
* It is too irregular to be easily described in traditional Euclidean geometric language.
* It is self-similar (at least approximately or stochastically).
* It has a Hausdorff dimension which is greater than its topological dimension (although this requirement is not met by space-filling curves such as the Hilbert curve).[4]
* It has a simple and recursive definition.

Because they appear similar at all levels of magnification, fractals are often considered to be infinitely complex (in informal terms). Natural objects that approximate fractals to a degree include clouds, mountain ranges, lightning bolts, coastlines, snow flakes, even various vegetables (cauliflower and broccoli). However, not all self-similar objects are fractals—for example, the real line (a straight Euclidean line) is formally self-similar but fails to have other fractal characteristics; for instance, it is regular enough to be described in Euclidean terms.

Tom O'Neill

Regarding solipsism and skepticism in general:
One can choose to doubt all of perception and all of reason, but the act of doubting presupposes the object and mechanism of doubt, and thus follows the Cogito: it is contradictory to doubt that which allows the act of doubting. The Cogito to me seems equivalent to Kant's notion of the thing in itself, or in mathematics, the identity theorem. From this rational basis of existence there are only two ways to proceed: either the object of the mind presupposes the mechanism/medium of the mind, or the mechanism/medium presupposes the object, a sort of restatement of the chicken and egg paradox. Objective or Transcendental Idealism propones the former, and Materialism the later. Pragmatically, the distinction is irrelevant as they are both Monist and can be inferred from each other. Non-objective or Skeptical Idealism is inherently Dualist and is the realm of the Cartesian Project. This Descartian system is inherently broken as it is problematic/impossible to infer physical reality from perception and vise-versa.

On a semi-related note, perception should not be considered to be confined to simply directly accessible sensory data (what does it mean for sensory data to be directly accessible anyhow?). All of perception is necessarily contigent on the object of perception, and the object could itself become a mechanism/medium of perception! When we "see" atoms and molecules with an electron-microscope, we are extending our perceptual abilities. Likewise, everything we come to know about physical reality is made possible by similar extensions of percption. When we come to know other agents, we use communication through natural, adaptive and heuristic language to extend our perceptions of those agents. This is completely consistent with an Objective Idealistic or Materialistic view of reality, and completely inconsistent with any sort of Dualist or similarly impoverished view of reality.

Joyless Moralist

Haven't you always been the one, Nathan, who insists that we must follow the truth wherever it leads? And you show constant concern about the possibility of merely "shouting to the wind", justifying oneself with insistence instead of reasoning or argument. Well, it seems to me that your support of Cartesian foundationalism rather approaches this kind of defense. Thus, you complain that my approach is "fideist" (a charge that would only stick if the Cartesian understanding of knowledge were the right one -- and rather an ironic charge too, coming from a person who thinks even a belief in the world having order is a faith-based proposition), cite Hume as evidence that induction cannot provide knowledge (but of course, Hume is working with a very Cartesian understanding of reasoning, and adopting a Cartesian definition of knowledge; things will look very different to, say, a Thomist), and declare that only Cartesian knowledge is "genuine." You insist that the burden of proof is on *me* to *disprove* the possibility of the project working, though I've already pointed out that it's hard to see how that would be even theoretically possible to one already dedicated to a Cartesian understanding of knowledge. But if I can't prove it, I must stick with the pursuit until it is "clear beyond any doubt that the project is hopeless."

This really seems like an almost religious devotion to Cartesianism. Which seems to me like something just in itself that ought to concern you. Also, you should consider that the situation wouldn't be nearly so grim as you seem to suppose if Cartesian foundationalism didn't work. You worry that it will make rational discussion irresolvable, but I would point out that: 1) your own preferred model seems to have us sitting us sitting around sharing stories in hopes of sparking agreement on which things we can know by introspection, which method also leaves huge amounts of room for irreconcilable disagreement, as well as potentially large worries about rigor. Also, faith gets brought into the picture extremely early on your account, which seems problematic if rigorous logic is so important to you.

2) Obviously there have been very systematic and high-level discussions going on in periods when pretty much nobody was interested in Cartesian-type "rigor." It's clearly possible. And that shouldn't surprise us, because in point of fact we will find a large number of points of agreement with those we might wish to convince, and these become starting points. Not many people like arguing about religion as much as me, and I certainly have no commitment to a Cartesian view of knowledge, but this has never proved an obstacle in getting a discussion off the ground, with Muslims, Orthodox, atheists, adherents to Eastern religion or anyone else. You have to keep in mind that, in my view, humans have complex innate faculties (I don't try to limit them the way Descartes does) that enable them to grasp the truth, so we should expect them to reach many of the same conclusions, and "luck" needn't have much to do with it. I have never met anyone "unlucky" enough not to reach the conclusion that there is order in the world, or that other minds exist. Nobody has ever complained, in a debate, that I was unfairly "imposing" such beliefs on them; you need a good amount of fairly perverse philosophical education to even worry about things like that. Beyond the glaringly obvious things like belief in order, though, further development can depend in part on proper education and upbringing, which does have an element of luck to it. But that should be obvious under any epistemology; people who are raised and taught badly will understand less than people who are raised and educated well. Of course, that does not mean that they cannot offer *reasons* for the things that they believe (how adept they are partly depends on what *kind* of teaching they have received -- some kinds translate more readily than others into discursive forms), but those discussions will proceed by looking for points of shared agreement and going from there. Then again, not everything is strictly intellectual; sin also clouds the mind and senses, while grace can restore them. Scripture draws this connection for us over and over, and I think common experience confirms it; very often we realize, in ourselves or in others, that at the end of the day it is pride or obstinacy or some form of disordered attachment that proves the real obstacle to embracing the truth. That's one major reason why Catholicism, and Orthodoxy even more, often recommend liturgy and Sacraments, rather than intellectual instruction, as a means of coming closer to the truth.

So even if we can't have the Cartesian certainty you crave, that doesn't mean we're lost in a quagmire of confusion with no sources of help. Even if you don't want to actually abandon the possibility of such an epistemology working out, I think you should consider whether it's really necessary to cling to it with such fervor.

Nathan Smith

On the Cartesian project, let me make clear, as I failed to do before, that the Cartesian project could fail in two different ways. First, it might fail to establish *anything;* it might go wrong even in its first steps. That is what JM thinks. Second, it might succeed in establishing some knowledge, even a substantial amount of knowledge, but in the end, fall far short of establishing knowledge adequate for living. That is what I think. So, yes, "faith gets brought into the picture extremely early on your account," and I am explicit about that. Perhaps I am really the more fideist of the two of us, putting less of my confidence in reason to build up a sane worldview. In that respect, JM and I are playing our allotted roles, she the Catholic and I the Orthodox, for the Orthodox have never put as much emphasis on reason for building up true systems as did, say, St. Thomas Aquinas.

JM writes: "This really seems like an almost religious devotion to Cartesianism." There's no "almost" about it. I do not buy into the whole Cartesian argument, but what I do buy into, namely Descartes's initial move of rejecting groundless opinions, is simply honesty, and my no doubt imperfect and intermittent devotion to honesty is precisely religious. Its origins were religious-- I was taught as a boy by the Mormons to tell the truth-- and its consequences in my life were religious: I left one religion which could not stand up to critical scrutiny and kept searching until I found one which (by no means its only or greatest merit, but nonetheless absolutely essential) could. And among my purposes in defending doubt now is not merely gratitude to doubt for liberating me from falsehood, but an aspiration to evangelism, for if doubt converted me, it can convert others. Not least among doubt's capabilities, it can expose scientific materialism as a mere arbitrary dogma. Of course I do not insist that my fellow Christians be as devoted to critical thinking as I attempt to be. It is my own circumstances that compelled me to exercise in this area in a way that those brought up in the faith did not need to. As St. Paul says, people have different gifts. All do not share the debt of gratitude I owe to the critical faculty, or the attendant obligation to honor it by the practice of it.

Joyless Moralist

To have a religious devotion to truth is admirable. Loving honesty, insofar as it follows from one's love of truth (though we might have some disagreements about exactly how to understand it), is also a reasonable object of commitment or devotion. What doesn't seem healthy or warranted to me is your quasi-religious devotion to a Cartesian conception of knowledge. For all your enthusiasm about the value of doubt, this seems to be one thing that is never doubted; any account of knowledge that does not run along Cartesian lines is "not genuine", people who build their epistemology on other terms are "fideist," and so forth. Everybody's in favor of rejecting groundless opinions, but of course, there might be a lot of room for discussion of what constitute adequate grounds, and this is an area where you seem simply to want to dig in your heels.

Doubt is the sort of thing that can never build; it can only destroy. Since some things ought to be destroyed, doubt can have its place, and sometimes it can leave the mind ready for the building up of something genuinely good, but excessive devotion to skepticism can be as debilitating as any other kind of error. Now, in your case, you're an odd mix; you cling tenaciously to a Cartesian definition of knowledge, but concede that human beings are unable to live on the meager yields of a strictly Cartesian epistemology, and so you bring in faith on a very foundational level. I can see how this might appeal to you as "honest" -- we admit that we can hardly know anything at all, and deal with it as best we can -- but my main point in my last comment was that it hardly seems less "grim" than any epistemology I might suggest. It also seems less useful for the purposes you allude to in this last paragraph. If "faith" is needed even to claim that there is order in the world, how critical can we really be of people who adopt all kinds of other beliefs on the basis of "faith"? Everybody's doing it, after all.

One course you might take, with respect to the Mormons say, is to find internal contradictions in their professed doctrine. That's probably possible, and maybe you would say that those were the kinds of grounds that led you to reject it, but should that be the only thing available to us? I guess in my own case, the most salient moments in my rejection of Mormonism (and also my acceptance of Catholicism) were not ones when I realized, "Proposition X, promulgated by the Mormon Church, is directly incompatible with Proposition Y." Rather, I came to the conviction that certain teachings that were central to the Mormon faith did not match with reality as I understood it, and especially with the Christian faith that I still firmly wished to profess. But I'm far from confident that I could have reached that conclusion merely by examining internal consistency, and anyway, if that *were* my reasoning process, I would probably have gravitated towards religions with much less substantial truth claims. Unitarianism, anyone?

Nathan Smith

re: "If 'faith' is needed even to claim that there is order in the world, how critical can we really be of people who adopt all kinds of other beliefs on the basis of 'faith'? Everybody's doing it, after all."

I think it was Mark Twain who said, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." To put it a little differently, faith might be believing in the teeth of contrary evidence, in obedience to mere authority or community loyalty or habit. Faith in that sense is, I think, a sin. I rather hope that it could be established that the use of the word faith to mean "arbitrary unwarranted belief" is just thoroughly wrong, and that we can, without betraying historic sources untainted by the self-serving reconceptualizations of heretics, give an entirely different meaning to the word. That is the effort I have sometimes made here.

Joyless Moralist

As I understand it (and I may not), the difference between faith and sinful unwarranted belief, for you, is that the latter has been adopted through some gentle, organic process of being taught by elders or conforming to community or something of that kind, while the former has been subjected to the most stringent scouring you can muster for it through a kind of Cartesian doubt, and has proven impossible to eradicate from your soul. Is that right? Maybe not, but if so I would have two main things to say:

1) This is not faith. It is essential to faith that it be adopted freely and willingly. Doubt is the antithesis of faith, not the mother.

2) It doesn't seem to me like a particularly healthy or reliable process. The true propositions may not always prove the hardest to eradicate.

But again, maybe I just don't understand.

Nathan Smith

I'm not sure what is meant by a belief being "adopted freely and willingly." I could not believe that the sky will be pink with purple stripes tomorrow just by wanting to. I don't want to say that will has nothing to do with belief. It does have something to do with it, although what exactly is hard to say. But there are many things that one is either incapable of believing, or cannot help believing.

C.S. Lewis describes his conversion as something reluctant, almost inexorable. He does think that there was a point of decision at some point along the way, but the decision doesn't seem to have been a fully conscious decision to believe, or something that could be described simply as "freely and willingly adopting" Christian belief. I think his experience is a general one.

My point about the beliefs of faith is, among other things, that they are spontaneous. Many beliefs are spontaneous-- it is, perhaps, quite natural simply to believe everything you hear or read-- but especially beliefs such as the belief in order and other minds, to doubt which can only, except possibly in extreme and insane cases, be a form of play-acting, which does not imply or even in the least suggest that it is useless, anymore than performing the plays of Shakespeare is useless.

Doubt is perhaps a word with two meanings: (a) critical questioning, (b) a sort of mental despond or dullness. If one doubts order or other minds in the first sense, doubt is quickly disarmed, and the only effect is to heighten one's sense of wonder at the mundane yet astounding fact of great patterns filling everything in the world around us, or of countless other minds as rich and varied as our own, having the same faculties and the same *value,* moving all around us. Doubting order or other minds in the second sense is probably not usually a conscious act; perhaps it is a side-effect of conscious actions, e.g., when we treat a man abominably our regard for his humanity is lessened and our consciousness of other minds is dimmed. Often our perceptions of order are tied up with a particular social order, and an invasion or a revolution or going to a foreign country might topple it and give us a dizzying, sickening sense of fundamental chaos. And this is perhaps why these two phenomena have come to be associated with the same word: critical questioning of established institutions or traditions often leads us, or others, to lose confidence in transient human institutions and fallible systems of thought which we had come to identify with order as such, which leads to mental despondency, and perhaps to violent and wicked actions that are an attempt to restore meaningfulness to a world that has lost it.

All this is somewhat speculative, I admit... A metaphor came to mind while I was writing it which might be of some use. Faith is a garden. God plants the seeds, and sends rains upon it. Our main task is to weed the garden of error, and doubt is one of our tools for doing so.

Joyless Moralist

Faith is a gift, but I think we have to do a bit more than just weed the garden... we have to accept the gift. A feeling of reluctance in doing so is not uncommon, but the act of submission is still there. I just don't think we can call something faith if we're de facto incapable of believing otherwise.

I also don't think that the two aspects of doubt that you describe are so far apart as you suppose. The most corrosive (and sinful!) kind of doubt is not doubt of human institutions, but rather doubt of God and his goodness and power. The intellectual act of doubting God's goodness leads to the affective result of despondency and despair; intellectual honesty in the Cartesian sense will not insulate us from this effect.

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