question for all non-theists

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jmac2112
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question for all non-theists

Post #1

Post by jmac2112 »

I'm looking for definitions or accounts of "truth" from anyone who holds the view that nothing exists beyond the natural world, or that at any rate we cannot know whether anything exists beyond the natural world. I'd appreciate it if you could distinguish between "theoretical/factual" truth (A is B) and moral truth (i.e. matters of good/bad, right/wrong, what "should" be done).

Thanks!

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Post #21

Post by jmac2112 »

Goat wrote:
Subjectively, because I like it. .. and it is instinctual to us. It is instinctual because those that did not have that characteristic died a lot quicker, and didn't pass that instinct on to further generations.

Now, the claim 'survival is good' is totally subjective..
So in terms of the first principle governing all of our practical or moral choices, you would say, not that we SHOULD choose according to what we believe to be good, but that we MUST choose according to our instinctively determined notions of what promotes survival?

In other words, you could trace back a chain of reasoning such as the following:

Q: Why are you going to work?
A: To make money.
Q: Why do you want money?
A: So I can buy food, clothing, and shelter.
Q: Why do you want those things?
A: Because it's a well established fact that I'll die without them.
Q: Why do you want to stay alive?
A: Because I'm instinctively programmed to prefer life to death.


Or maybe we're instinctively programmed to prefer order and comfort to chaos and pain? E.g.:

Q: Why are you reading the newspaper?
A: Because I want to find out what's going on in the world.
Q: Why?
A: Because it helps me to make informed decisions.
Q: Why do you want to do that?
A: Because it's better to make decisions based on knowledge than to just roll the dice.
Q: Why does that matter to you?
A: Because it leads to a more orderly and pleasant life for me and my community.
Q: Why do you care about having a more orderly and pleasant life?
A: Because I'm instinctively programmed to prefer things that way.


I don't want to put words into your mouth; just trying to formulate your ideas in my own words if I can.

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Post #22

Post by Goat »

jmac2112 wrote:Goat wrote:
Subjectively, because I like it. .. and it is instinctual to us. It is instinctual because those that did not have that characteristic died a lot quicker, and didn't pass that instinct on to further generations.

Now, the claim 'survival is good' is totally subjective..
So in terms of the first principle governing all of our practical or moral choices, you would say, not that we SHOULD choose according to what we believe to be good, but that we MUST choose according to our instinctively determined notions of what promotes survival?

In other words, you could trace back a chain of reasoning such as the following:

Q: Why are you going to work?
A: To make money.
Q: Why do you want money?
A: So I can buy food, clothing, and shelter.
Q: Why do you want those things?
A: Because it's a well established fact that I'll die without them.
Q: Why do you want to stay alive?
A: Because I'm instinctively programmed to prefer life to death.


Or maybe we're instinctively programmed to prefer order and comfort to chaos and pain? E.g.:

Q: Why are you reading the newspaper?
A: Because I want to find out what's going on in the world.
Q: Why?
A: Because it helps me to make informed decisions.
Q: Why do you want to do that?
A: Because it's better to make decisions based on knowledge than to just roll the dice.
Q: Why does that matter to you?
A: Because it leads to a more orderly and pleasant life for me and my community.
Q: Why do you care about having a more orderly and pleasant life?
A: Because I'm instinctively programmed to prefer things that way.


I don't want to put words into your mouth; just trying to formulate your ideas in my own words if I can.
Nope... things don't get that complicated. People quite often act from conditioning and habit... and there is the whole 'nature verses nurture' argument.

On the other hand, those people who do decisions that are self destructive and/or dangerous to others do get filtered out of the gene pool.
“What do you think science is? There is nothing magical about science. It is simply a systematic way for carefully and thoroughly observing nature and using consistent logic to evaluate results. So which part of that exactly do you disagree with? Do you disagree with being thorough? Using careful observation? Being systematic? Or using consistent logic?�

Steven Novella

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Post #23

Post by jmac2112 »

Fair enough. However, I'm talking about practical/moral "reasoning", i.e. the way people think about what they should do, whether in terms of attaining a practical goal or living a moral life. I'm not thinking about the things that people do out of habit or accidentally.

I started this thread to see how closely non-theist first principles would be to the first principles as stated in the tradition of classical/Christian philosophy, e.g. the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition.

Aquinas would say that the first principle of theoretical reasoning is the principle of non-contradiction, and that was mentioned by McCulloch.

Aquinas formulates the first principle of practical reasoning as "Good is to be done, and evil is to be avoided." What he means by that is that in ALL of our reasoning about how to act, whether it has to do with how to fix a car or how to act in our relations with others, we always choose with the aim of achieving good and avoiding evil. This does NOT mean what it looks like at first glance, i.e. that we are all trying to be saints all the time. It does mean that no one ever chooses anything unless he sees some good in it, or the avoidance of some evil. The good man pays his taxes because it's the good thing to do; the bad man cheats on his taxes because having more money is a good thing. The good soldier doesn't desert his post because faithfulness to duty is good; the coward runs away to avoid the evil of being shot or killed and to gain the good of staying alive. Even suicides, while saying "no" to life, are saying "yes" to freedom from agony. In other words, no one chooses evil for the sake of evil, but only because there is some good that he is aiming at.

Any thoughts on that?

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Post #24

Post by Oldfarmhouse »

I have no way to verify that nothing outside of the natural world -- that which can be tested and measured -- does not exist. In a certain way I think it does, in that, we will not find a method of understanding it anytime soon. What I mean by this is that -- say, hypothetically, we were able to transport pieces of our contemporary technology back in time. For example, if we were to take a simple tape recorder back 200 years and demonstrate it to the citizens of early American Boston of 1811 and show them how their voices, music, and other sounds could be recorded and played back -- even the most advanced scientists of the time would only be able to conclude that such a thing could not be accomplished without a supernatural magical agent making it possible.

It's the gap of knowledge -- magic exists as all the stuff we don't know yet. I don't think it exists otherwise.

Truth is being able to say -- "I don't know," and "I was wrong."

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Post #25

Post by sleepyhead »

Hello oldfarmhouse,

>>>It's the gap of knowledge -- magic exists as all the stuff we don't know yet. I don't think it exists otherwise. <<<

They had a series of magic shows on TV where the individual would perform the trick and then show how it was done. I watched one of the series. They all involved the magician limiting what the audience could see either by obstructing there view, darkening the stage, or distracting them to some other area. If the people of Boston had the ability to examine the recorder then they wouldn't consider it magic.

While we are on earth we are limited in what we can see with regards to the supernatural (or magic). Perhaps (using Karma as an example) something is true but because we can't see the reasons it happenedwe don't believe it.
Using McCullochs 3 types of evidwences is there evedence with regards to the senses, does it conform to rational thought, and is there expert testimony?
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Post #26

Post by Oldfarmhouse »

The example that I gave of 1811 Boston and a tape reorder was just off the top of my head. I wouldn't be so quick to say that if the citizens of such a time and place were given a piece of contemporary solid state electronics and allowed to examine it all they wanted to that they would be able to really grasp the way that it worked. If we were to take an early cylinder phonograph back 65 years before it was invented then they would be able to figure it out and it would give them a jump in technology. A more complex electronic device would be too far removed from them -- it would not be useful just flummoxing.


Then one can ask -- where is the line between a gift to a previous culture that could give them information and a gift that they could only describe as magical without the ability to understand it?

I don't know, I suppose it's an impossible line to draw and an experiment that we can't possibly conduct in reality. If you could -- I would -- but you can't.

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Post #27

Post by jmac2112 »

Oldfarmhouse wrote:
Oldfarmhouse wrote:I have no way to verify that nothing outside of the natural world -- that which can be tested and measured -- does not exist. In a certain way I think it does, in that, we will not find a method of understanding it anytime soon. What I mean by this is that -- say, hypothetically, we were able to transport pieces of our contemporary technology back in time. For example, if we were to take a simple tape recorder back 200 years and demonstrate it to the citizens of early American Boston of 1811 and show them how their voices, music, and other sounds could be recorded and played back -- even the most advanced scientists of the time would only be able to conclude that such a thing could not be accomplished without a supernatural magical agent making it possible.

It's the gap of knowledge -- magic exists as all the stuff we don't know yet. I don't think it exists otherwise.

Truth is being able to say -- "I don't know," and "I was wrong."
So, would you say that all phenomena that can be experienced by a human being are, at least in theory, explainable in terms of the laws of physics? What I mean is, can the cause/effect relationships among all things that can be experienced by a human being be explained according to purely physical laws that can be expressed by mathematical equations? This would include all human thoughts and decisions.

Another way of posing the question would be to ask, are all things, including our thoughts and actions, exactly the way they must necessarily be according to iron-clad laws of necessity?

Thanks!

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Post #28

Post by Oldfarmhouse »

So, would you say that all phenomena that can be experienced by a human being are, at least in theory, explainable in terms of the laws of physics? What I mean is, can the cause/effect relationships among all things that can be experienced by a human being be explained according to purely physical laws that can be expressed by mathematical equations? This would include all human thoughts and decisions.

Another way of posing the question would be to ask, are all things, including our thoughts and actions, exactly the way they must necessarily be according to iron-clad laws of necessity?
In theory -- yes, I think that everything can be explained in a comprehensible, logical, measurable way. I also believe that we will never -- even if humans exist for another 40 billion years -- be able to find the explanation for everything. There are some things that will always remain in the realm of the unknown.

And yes, this does make complete collective human knowledge like the proverbial carrot on the stick, but I do believe that is how it actually is.

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Post #29

Post by jmac2112 »

Oldfarmhouse wrote:
So, would you say that all phenomena that can be experienced by a human being are, at least in theory, explainable in terms of the laws of physics? What I mean is, can the cause/effect relationships among all things that can be experienced by a human being be explained according to purely physical laws that can be expressed by mathematical equations? This would include all human thoughts and decisions.

Another way of posing the question would be to ask, are all things, including our thoughts and actions, exactly the way they must necessarily be according to iron-clad laws of necessity?
In theory -- yes, I think that everything can be explained in a comprehensible, logical, measurable way. I also believe that we will never -- even if humans exist for another 40 billion years -- be able to find the explanation for everything. There are some things that will always remain in the realm of the unknown.

And yes, this does make complete collective human knowledge like the proverbial carrot on the stick, but I do believe that is how it actually is.
Hmmm...I think you are agreeing to my suggestion that in everything we think and will and do, we are the agents of necessity. I guess the next question is, what would you say to someone who disagreed with you on this point? Can he possibly be a) intellectually in error or b) morally culpable?

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Post #30

Post by Oldfarmhouse »

jmac2112 wrote:
Oldfarmhouse wrote:
So, would you say that all phenomena that can be experienced by a human being are, at least in theory, explainable in terms of the laws of physics? What I mean is, can the cause/effect relationships among all things that can be experienced by a human being be explained according to purely physical laws that can be expressed by mathematical equations? This would include all human thoughts and decisions.

Another way of posing the question would be to ask, are all things, including our thoughts and actions, exactly the way they must necessarily be according to iron-clad laws of necessity?
In theory -- yes, I think that everything can be explained in a comprehensible, logical, measurable way. I also believe that we will never -- even if humans exist for another 40 billion years -- be able to find the explanation for everything. There are some things that will always remain in the realm of the unknown.

And yes, this does make complete collective human knowledge like the proverbial carrot on the stick, but I do believe that is how it actually is.
Hmmm...I think you are agreeing to my suggestion that in everything we think and will and do, we are the agents of necessity. I guess the next question is, what would you say to someone who disagreed with you on this point? Can he possibly be a) intellectually in error or b) morally culpable?
Good question. I would be more inclined to eliminate the moral aspect of it because that usually seems to lead into the inclusion of emotional appeal and strays from the (admittedly) dry rational observations.

I would lead a person to investigate the findings of the late behavioral psychologist -- B. F. Skinner. Skinner's take on the psychology of all animals -- us just being one of many on this planet, is that we quite literally do not have free will. that ever one of our behaviors from absent-mindedly scratching an itch to making a major life decision after examining the pros and cons thoroughly over a long period of time are the result of our neurons firing in the order that our brains are programmed. Given the exact set of stimuli in combination with the physical properties that make up our brain and all the experiences that we have had prior to any event (programming) there is only one reaction that we can have. Of course this is all so complex that we can't possibly examine it to determine what our net response will be. So -- we don't actually have free will but we have no choice but to live under the illusion that we do.

Like the laws of physics -- you will not be punished for breaking these laws -- you just can't do it.

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