(This was an assignment for one of my psych classes. It's long but as brief as I could be. I'm sure I'll hate it in a year or two, but at this juncture, its my longest work...)
All systems of knowledge rest on assumptions. My philosophy, as presented in this paper, rests on the assumption of radical skepticism. I proceed from this base to argue that reality is subjective and that the individual has the freedom to choose their perspective of reality, subsequently their “truth.” This freedom is limited by many factors, but one liberating factor is free will, or at least, the illusion of free will.
There are more effective ways to spread an idea than this medium—words, APA format, written language. With that in mind, this is the medium that has been issued and I will play by its rules. For clarity, in each section I will begin with defining the terms and offering a little background. In the second half of each section, I will provide my opinion on the matter. As I have understood it, this paper is to gauge my personal view on these issues. I hope that my ideas will not offend, or to be more honest, I hope possible offensive will not cause a lower grade as compared to a paper of equal quality but one that is more conventional and sympathetic to this university’s principles. I also would like to thank my instructor. I have been playing with philosophical ideas for the longer part of 5 years now and I have never written more than a page or two. So, thank you.
As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, Epistemology is “the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity” (Webster, 2012). There is a lengthy game that could be played if I wished to be as philosophically rigorous as I’d like to. I would define every term used in the definition of epistemology, then define all major terms in all terms previously defined, ad continuum until we have established the meaning of all major English words; but I don’t think such an endeavor would be necessary or even appreciated for this assignment, thus I will refrain. However, I do think it critical to define “knowledge.” If I refer back to Webster for a definition of knowledge, within its description is the word “experience.” Within the very definition of knowledge, we have been shown our culture’s answer to the sweet dance A priori and A Posteriori have been entangled in the last few thousands years.
My approach to epistemology, which I’d like to think is unique, but could be reasonably captured by the term “Epistemological Nihilism.” This stance is an extreme skepticism that denies all knowledge. I do not deny all knowledge. I believe no absolute knowledge or truth can be known. Now, a paradox arises here. If I am to claim that there is no absolute truth, that claim is itself attempting to assert an absolute truth. Here, I concede. It is my subjective view that there is no absolute truth.
This view of Epistemology appeals to me because of its implication. Before I explain why, keep in mind all systems rest upon assumptions. Even systems of logic rest on the assumption that logic is an ideal, useful, or valid way to understand or know reality. I assume no absolute knowledge or truth exists. This, in my mind, dispels the existence of a God as accepted by the majority of religious people, that is to say, a God who exists objectively from humans, a God who is all-knowing/all-powerful/all-existing. Such a God, as known as Jesus, Yahweh, or Allah, provides a source of absolute truth. Without digressing into religious debates, I choose my approach because it allows me--the individual--freedom. I am free to choose.
A Priori and A Posteriori
As it was briefly touched on in the last paragraph, the most referenced authority in the English language on defining terms has a description of knowledge that leans in A Posteriori’s favor. A Priori and A Posteriori are the conflicting ideas on where knowledge comes from. A priori argues that knowledge exists before birth while A Posteriori argues that knowledge comes from experience, thus post birth.
To claim either is true in isolation of the other is comical to the extent I would wonder if the assertion was meant as satire. Logically, one could create a definition of knowledge that would allow them to remain logically consistent while claiming either A priori or A Posteriori is true is isolation of the other, but this would be just a semantic and logic game as oppose to some kind of objective truth. I believe that information resides in the organism before birth, thus laying the foundation for experience to add to the organism’s information total as a whole.
Nativism versus Empiricism
As a rock causes ripples, the A Priori and A Posteriori argument reverberates and gives rise to the battle between Nativism and Empiricism. Nativism claims, “perceptions are operational from birth” while Empiricism holds “all perceptions are learned or developed from experience” (King et al, 2009).
Again, any who claim either is true in isolation of the other is simply being naïve. If one so chose, they could define perception in a way that would allow them to argue either side, and again, this would be a game of semantics. If Nativism were true, why live at all? If Empiricism were true, how does one learn to learn?
For my personal philosophy, I believe one should understand their genetics (Nativism) but not let their genetics imprison them. As for experience, it gets much more lengthy. To be concise, experience is one of our closest sources for objective truth. One should learn the sciences that seek to understand the experiences we all perceive as the same, such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, and other “hard sciences.” This is a limit to my philosophy, which emphasizes subjectivity. However, my perception of this limit is not a rigid wall but more a gravitational pull. If one so chooses, it is yet unknown how different they can experience an “objective” truth of reality, but it is known that they can experience it differently.
Instinct versus Learning
What does one do with the assertion that it is an instinct of humans to learn? Instinct is, “a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity” (Webster, 2012). Learning is defined as, “knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study” (Webster, 2012). Are instinct and learning divisible? Again, it depends on who is defining these terms, what their purpose is for defining, and how they define said terms.
I believe learning is instinctual. Learning for me is a kind of cognitive evolution. I believe it is an instinct of humans to evolve, thus my claim that learning is an instinct of man. The speed and velocity of the individual to learn and subsequently evolve is powered by subjective philosophical assumptions and genetics, both conscious and unconscious. Simple belief in oneself, in either a negative or positive direction, has been demonstrated to have scientifically significant impacts on recalling learned material. Knowledge is subjective. One should choose beliefs that best explain their reality while providing the greatest possible happiness for the greatest number of people.
I think a mastery of learning is one, if not the most, valuable concept to learn. One should continue to learn throughout life. Dogma should always be challenged…including the dogmatic statement that dogma should always be challenged.
Criteria for Claiming to Know Truth
My personal view on human’s criteria for claiming truth rests with the concept of power. The human race has found many ways to divide itself; language, religion, nationality, even what sport team one is a fan of. These divisions are a cause of groups to form. Truth is best described as the beliefs and assumptions more powerful groups accept and convey in spite or directly at, less powerful groups. It is because of this power play that the vast majority of humans succumb to the appeal to truth by means of authority.
An authority is any person or group that claims knowledge of truth (King et al, 2009). My interpretation of authority is an individual or group that is believed to have power in some realm of knowledge.
This is the most common appeal to truth because it is the first we are exposed too as a conscious organism and it is also the one that expends the least energy and resource to assimilate. Due to our inability to care for ourselves at the onset of life, humans are exposed to authority figures from the moment one becomes conscious. These authority figures are our parents or care takers. Many children idolize and even deitize their parents. Parents are humans, mortal, and fallible. Children who are reluctant or incapable of seeing their parents as equals, thus seeing their parents faults and learning from their parent’s mistakes become ideal fodder for culture. Culture does not want dissent. It is a social organism that wants its occupants to follow the established order.
Authority, for me, is the least viable appeal to truth of the ones I will cover mostly due to its potentiality for corruption, and also the lazy nature it encourages. One must take it upon oneself to evaluate these authorities and determine for oneself if these group’s versions of truth is an accurate representation of reality. One must also determine if these groups truth claims that cannot be verified by observation, lets call all claims beyond observation and experimentation metaphysics from here on, promote the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people. The wise will let you know how little they know. The fools are often the loudest and most confident. One should beware any who claim to know. Ultimately, truth is subjective.
Proceeding from my base of epistemological nihilism, empiricism can survive. Empiricism is an appeal to truth through observation. This idea has been synthesized through many great minds and is now the major mechanism that fuels science. The Nihilist can proclaim that logically there can be no absolute truth to gravity, but he will fall and die just the same as anyone else if he proceeds off the edge of a cliff. This is the beginning of the hazy line where my philosophy’s freedom to choose any meaning he or she may please meets with the closest thing to objective truth. In my opinion, the reason this appeal to truth cannot be absolute is because I claim human’s are the measure of things. If one does not believe in external deties, than in the absent of all humans, there resides no meaning.
Rationalism is the appeal to truth through the use of innate ideas. Without my conscious awareness, rationalism seems to be a prominent factor in support of my subjectively based philosophy. There is no absolute/objective rational perspective, from my point of view. Each individual will have a unique genetic makeup mixing with a unique collection of experiences which creates a unique rationale. The weak, lazy, or manipulated accept other’s rationale. Cultures and institutions provide these rationales for the meek minded. I believe if the individual who attempts to learn their own rationale and live accordingly, will be happy. The tragedy is that humans have given so much power to non-human power entities like governments, cooperation’s, political ideologies, laws, and media, that many persons are physically not allowed to live in harmony with their nature. I understand this line of logic opens all kinds of nasty hypothetical “what-ifs”, and ones I would love to engage, but for this paper, I believe this is an adequate introduction to the interchange of my philosophy and rationalism. Rationalism is subjective yet malleable by influence of power.
Aestheticism is a doctrine that principles of beauty apply to other arenas of thought (King et al, 2009). While I find this appeal to truth less convincing than an appeal to authority, I respect it more because of the implications it has on followers of this kind of thinking. Beauty is a hallmark in mathematics. It is generally accepted that a simple equation is “beautiful” and therefore considered more likely true than a longer and less simple equation that may offer the same answer. I know so little about math that it would be an insult for me to comment on the validity of this approach, however I do have a reservation. I believe this appeal to truth rests on an assumption of a God or creator or some kind of driving divine force behind reality. If one does not sympathize with this perspective, it easy to ask why should reality’s “truth” be beautiful? Why not chaos? Why not ugly?
I find tremendous benefit in this appeal to truth for the individual to integrate into their subjective understanding of reality. To be frank, it is an aspect of my philosophy, I have yet to be able to deconstruct or organize without falling into all kinds of loops and paradoxes.
Until this assignment, I had no idea how pervasive pragmatism was in my personal philosophy, but now that I have been exposed to it, it is maybe a deeper foundation to my philosophy than any other assumption. The philosophical kind of pragmatism I mean is closely related to William James’s, that theories, definitions, ideas, and concepts should have practical use (King et al, 2009).
I thought epistemological nihilism was my foundation, allowing for freedom to choose ideal truths for the individual, but why did I believe this was the ideal route to go? Well, because I believe it to be the most useful. It is the most pragmatic. I believe a great deal of suffering has been caused by the belief that there are objective truths, and that humans seem to fail at living in accordance with many of these principles. To be specific, I think this is best represented in religion. Again, without digressing into topics I fear might impact my grade, I ask only the reader to think about the psychological impact on the individual who believes they are born sinners, who must suppress biological drives because of religious doctrine, and who fear that there is an all knowing judge listening to their every thought. While this may be an ideal situation for employing psychiatrists, I do not believe it is an ideal and pragmatic metaphysics for the individual who wishes to be happy.
Skepticism is defined as the stance that all claims are suspect and must be questioned (King et al, 2009). Thus, one is compelled to question the claim that all claims are suspect and must be questioned. Without losing focus on the strange loops logic can take us, I believe this is a valuable appeal to truth.
In an age with an exponential explosion of available data, skepticism seems to be a valiant defense against the onslaught of propaganda. It is my opinion that my skepticism arose due to my culture in the same way the body inflames in response to a disease.
Other Ways of Knowing
The handout instructs that I should discuss Descartes’ method of trusting only that which he could not doubt. I have been exposed to this particular piece of Descartes’ work over and over, year after year. At first, I was enchanted by it, as I feel any should be. But as I became familiar with it, and learned where he took this line of logic, I fell from my enchanted trance. Descartes claims the only thing he cannot doubt is the fact that he is thinking. He introduces the idea of a mad scientist or a Demon who has the power to deceive him and all of his senses. Since he has already proposed this situation as a reason to doubt all his sensory experience, why would he not doubt that his very thoughts are being manipulated? His solution to this problem was to introduce a caring God. He claims a caring god would not allow for his thoughts to be manipulated. Without examining the weakness and uncharacteristic intellectual laziness of this solution, lets focus on implications his severe skepticism would have on a non-believer. Without belief in a caring god to rescue me from my doubt, I can doubt my own thinking. Thus, we have the kind of skepticism found in my philosophy. My ego would like to think that if Descartes was not fearful of religious persecution, he too would have found himself able to doubt even his thoughts, as I do.
Now, simply because I can doubt my own thoughts does not mean I should, to constantly do so would not only be unpragmatic but would surely lead to insanity. What one would do well to take from this line of thought is to understand and accept the responsibility and freedom one has on determining what they believe.
Relevance of Epistemology to Psychology
Epistemology is relevant to psychology because it creates an implicit and maybe explicit reason on what psychology should use as measurements to make truth claims. The handout indicates that I should show how people could improve their reasoning by relying on statistical predictions. I believe humans would do well to use statistics as a tool to reason but Noble Prize winning economist Kahneman has done extensive researcher that indicates that not only is the average person very poor at using statistics when reasoning, but even the leading statisticians in the country are poor at using statistical knowledge in everyday reasoning (Kahneman, 2012).
It seems that the current psychological zeitgeist is comfortable using statistical data as a tool to make truth claims. At this point in my life I do not know enough about the science of statistics to question it, but I have a feeling that there are holes in this tool that have yet been indentified, or if so, not properly disseminated amongst soon-to-be psychologists.
The Problem of Causality
Webster’s Dictionary defines it as, “the relation between a cause and its effect or between regularly correlated events or phenomena” (Webster, 2012). The problem I most encounter concerning causality is what was the first cause? My answer to this will win me no fame, but I think it is the answer, and any other answer is at worst a lie and at best a creative person’s attempt at showcasing their creativity. The answer is that one, at this point in time, cannot know the first cause. Without lampooning the apparent holes in both The Big Bang and God as answers to this, I think a more productive endeavor is to examine the limits of our language and our understanding of time. The implicit assumption of causality is that reality progresses in a linear fashion and that A affects B within this linear space/time perception. With my barely child like understanding of quantum physics and the physics of time, I can grasp that both these assumptions underlying causality are not true.
My personal disposition towards causality will be more fully addressed in the Free Will and Determinism section. A brief explanation of it would be that I believe the individual can influence cause.
Free Will and Determinism
To define, Free Will is the idea that one has control of how one’s life is lived while determinism claims that one’s life is fixed and choice does not play a part. This is a huge philosophical subject with many implications. Where does one begin? I suppose I’ll start with implications of free will, then implications of determinism, and then what my personal opinion on the matter is.
Free Will seems to obviously be true when we think about our lives. If we assume free will is true, what does that imply? The first and largest complication I see is that of an all-knowing/all-powerful/all-existing God. If God is all knowing, he knows how your life will unfold, so do you have a choice in how you live it? I have heard many religious people claim this poses no problems. Since logic can be doubted, these people do not seem to care about logical consistency and so this paradox between an all knowing god and their free will causes little concern. Did Judas have the free will to not betray Jesus? It would appear he didn’t. Another concern is neurochemistry and psychology. It is already a precedent in the judicial system that there are exceptions for people deemed crazy, that they did not control over their actions. Can there be a continuum between free will and determinism?
What if we assume determinism is true? I would have no choice as to what I write about on this subject. The teacher would have no choice in how she grades my paper. Fate could logically exist. God’s all-knowingness could logically exist. My responsibility would not exist. The implications kind of boggle my mind.
Since I believe there is no objective truth, I am free to choose which I want to believe as long as my rational self and experiencing self can coexist with these beliefs. My opinion is that our lives are determined if we believe them to be. If you do not believe life is determined, it is not. This belief may or may not be an illusion, but what is an illusion that hasn’t been disproven? It is a truth. There are many details that I think would be excessive for this paper, but I believe in my illusion of free will and I respect that much of my life is determined by factors beyond my awareness and control.
The Mind-Body Problem
The Mind-Body problem can be defined as the study of nature of being (King et al, 2009). Before doing this assignment, I had been exposed to very little of these subdivisions of the mind-body problem. Subsequently, I’ve learned more about the nature of my philosophy. My approach to the mind-body problem is a rejection of the long held assumption that the mind and body are separate. As will show in the explanations of the subdivisions to come, this alternate perspective has interesting implications.
Monism is the belief that there is one undivided reality. This is the view I most sympathize with. This stance is entirely metaphysical, that is to say, unprovable. The individual who rejects absolute objective truths as I do is free to construct any metaphysics the individual chooses too. My metaphysics is monistic. I believe all divisions of whatever reality really is, are created by humans. Humans are the measure of things. I like to believe that there is a universal consciousness that closely but not identically resembles Jung’s. I believe this consciousness can be glimpsed inside every person, and those who do glimpse it tend to call it God. I like to imagine that all conscious beings of varying complexity are all parts of this singular consciousness. In the same way the body has different sense organs, this universal consciousness has varying complexities of sensing beings, and as far as humans are concerned, we are the greatest evolution of these sensing beings at the present moment.
Dualism asserts there are two distinct realities, that of the mind and that of the body (King et al, 2009). I don’t understand how this idea of reality still lives. The connection between our body and mind is buried beneath a mountain of evidence. We know that if a part of the brain is destroyed, the individual’s personality can be changed forever. King and company claim that a problem with this “common sense” approach is that we do not know how an immaterial system affects a material system. The underlying assumption here is that we have discovered all the physical components involved in this interaction. This is quite an assumption and one that I do not agree with. I believe there is still more to be discovered about neurochemistry, biology, and neuropsychology. Dualism reeks of a time before the severe humbling astronomy and physics provided humankind. We are not the center of the objective universe.
Pluralism is the view that there are multiple realities and that we have yet to discover the others. I believe this and monism can be the same. Any barrier we would define would be an artificial barrier created by us. One with an eastern philosophical predisposition could easily define this multiple divisions as a whole, all-encompassing reality, thus and multiverse theory could be a monistic reality, and vise versa. This is all a matter of perspective.
Psychogeny may be defined as the study of the origin of psuche or the study of theories of the origin of psuche (King et al, 2009). Sadly, the term psuche is not defined by Webster’s dictionary. As I could gather from the handout, this is the study of when the individual’s psyche or personality arises. There are distinct subdivisions of this school of that as represented in the hand out; Identity Theory and Psychogenic Emergentism.
Identity Theory as presented by the handout seems weak. The field of thought rests on the assumption that the psyche is some separate entity from the body and that it merges with the body at some point. If the individual does not see these entities as separate than the Identity theory perspective seems lacking and non-applicable.
Of the two theories offered, I am more willing to accept Psychogenic Emergentism. I like this perspective for a few reasons. The first is it assumes that the psyche and body are not separate and that the psyche arises from the complexity of the body. This explains the many observations science as accumulated between physical damage to the brain and apparent shifts or entire destruction of personalities. It also offers experimental research to be conducted in the future, in regards to just how much complexity is required for consciousness to arise. A hallmark of a good theory, from a scientific perspective, is one that is falsifiable. This theory is.
King and company claim a problem with this theory is the “fact” that we as individuals do not change. I disagree. I’d like to start slinging some sarcasm to make my point, but to be moderate, any who believe they do not change are slaves to cognitive dissonance and surely have a bleak outlook on life and maybe not a successful one.
The Problem Of Explanation
The problem of explanation stems from the limits of language. One could very quickly fall into pages of digressions of the philosophy of language. As to not loose the attention of the reader and also my will power to write, I will keep it brief. The possible amount of explanations for any phenomena is seemingly infinite. As soon as an explanation is offered, the language has put the phenomena into a finite box that could never hope to capture the entirety of said phenomena. This is a fact we live with, and for some, the challenge motivates the writer wishing to describe.
Some of the techniques human’s use language to explain phenomena are analogies, models, and physical explanations. All three can be useful as long as both provider and receiver of information understands the finiteness of words and the ever changing nature of reality and that no finite explanation will remain true for all times.
To condense, what I have presented is a pragmatically based philosophy that starts at the assumption that there is no absolute knowledge. This assumption kills of an objective god and leaves the individual free to choose his or her own truths. These truths are limited by the individual’s rationale and how they experience reality. The individual’s rational and experiencing self is heavily influenced by genetics, subconscious processes, and randomness. Amongst these deterministic variables, the individual has a sliver of control and freedom but only if they believe they do. This freedom, if they choose to believe in it, allows them to effect and direct their life enough to attain their goals and dreams. With practice, one can exert this sliver of control to reach a transcendental state of consciousness. This philosophy will be void as science and technology reach a ”singularity” like peak.
Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. (2012). Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved by
King, D.B., Viney, W. & Woody, W. D. (2009). A history of psychology: Ideas and
content, 4th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon
Kahneman, Daniel. (2012). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York. Allen Lane.