Philosophical basics: A process of reduction

All philosophy starts with axioms. The question is which ones are the most basic, the most essential, the most inescapable.

The first axiom appears to be logic. Or perhaps reason. Or perhaps most basically, the law of non-contradiction. There cannot be a round square.

The law of non-contradiction was the basis for the rejection of dogmatic scepticism. You cannot know for certain that nothing can be known for certain. Just as the statement ‘I am a liar’ is inherently meaningless.

Descartes reasoned that while he could question everything, his senses, reality, what others told him, he couldn’t question he existed as at least a mind, because a non-existent mind could not question its own existence.

I know that I am thinking and that the 2 contradictory propositions cannot be true at the same time. Logical consistency as such is the basis for all reasoning. I can start reasoning to comprehend the truth from this basis.

But then, do other people exist? Is Solipsism true and do I imagine everybody else? Or do other people exist but do we live in a virtual world, dream world, illusionary spirit world or some other kind of fake world? Though would it be fake if there is no real world? If dreams, or ideas are all there is and matter is just a (collective illusion)?

Occam’s razor seems like the next useful step here. I cannot say (from a purely rationalist perspective) that it’s a 100 % certain fact or truth that this world and the people in it are real. That this isn’t one long (collective?) dream. But I have no reason to assume otherwise yet. So, I can experience and study this world and learn from the people in it. I can also trust my senses till there is an indication that they’re deceiving me somehow. Now I can also use empiricism.

Most people based their knowledge of empiricism and specifically collective empiricism. What everyone (minus the ones we all agree are insane) sees, hears, smells and so on, is real. This is necessary to embrace the correspondence theory of truth.

While empiricism argues that human knowledge is primarily or entirely acquired through experience, we can only comprehend and understand these experiences in a way (most?) animals can’t, because of our ability to reason.

While empiricism’s questioning of innate ideas and traditions can be argued to a significant extent, experience can only be understood through consistent reasoning. With a few exceptions, all humans develop basic ideas like the law of non-contradiction and object permanence. Even if such ideas might not be innate, both the ability and the (nearly inevitable) tendency to develop them clearly are.

A mix of empiricism and rationalism has always been the norm for virtually all ordinary people and even most philosophers. Reason and experience go hand in hand. The question is more about what the most reliable source for knowledge is. Treating either as the only source

We experience this world as soon as we’re born and we use or capacity of reason from a very early point as well. They are intertwined before we even learn concepts like rationalism and empiricism.  We cannot truly know what ideas, concepts or abilities are innate, which are taught and so on. A feral person could explain to us what they learned without human upbringing.

Empiricism doesn’t seem to prove itself, since many people become rationalists after many years of life experience and empiricists tend to use reasonable arguments to prove their standpoint.

Rationalists already have many years of experience after developing their philosophical viewpoint though. Which rationalists has never referenced their experiences? Could we know anything without our senses? Could we reason without concrete experience?

It seems obvious a mixture of rationalism and empiricism is the right approach, but to be honest, it will never be 50/50, so that is the question, which one should be dominant?

Then I would say, rationalism. Experiences are limited as our senses and our perspectives are. They’re partially subjective. This is why conclusions based on experiences tend to differ. Even animals have senses and experience. Rational thinking is what set us apart. Rational thinking and rational arguments allow us to convince others of our viewpoints… once upon a time… probably.

Reason informed by experience, the law of non-contradiction and Occam’s razor. This seems like a reasonable basis. With that epistemology and basic reasoning are grounded and reliable. The cohere

With this we can reject some false notions of truth. Such as the previously mentioned contradictory dogmatic scepticism and also the notion the man is the measure of the truth. We can reject the fallacy of argumentum ad populum. Truth is not majority opinion.

Truth is not rhetoric. Truth is something we recognise, not something we determine. Truth is consistent because of the law of non-contradiction, because evidence has consistently demonstrated reality to function according to causality, we have no reason to believe otherwise.

Truth can be hurtful or painful, at least to some. It is not determined by emotion.

With this we have come closer to the truth by eliminating falsehood based on its inherent contradictions. Even if we couldn’t know the truth with 100 % certainty, we can at least be very likely to have to acquired it.

From truth, from knowledge, we can use reason informed by experience to form our basic ethics, metaphysical beliefs and views of the human condition.

Johan van Schaik

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