Philosophical basics: Where to go from a rationalist-empiricist mix?

In my previous article on philosophical basics I stated that most humans inherently base their understanding of the world on a mixture of empiricism and rationalism and that rationalism allows us to acquire and understand knowledge in a way distinct from animals.

I accepted Occam’s razor and the law of non-contradiction as essential basics for philosophy and finally I rejected dogmatic scepticism as inherently self-contradictory.

A pure agnostic scepticism, where one even doubts whether one is incapable of knowing anything for certain  is at least consistent. But scepticism ends up being only meaningful in an abstract sense.

Pragmatism is mere common sense philosophy. We don’t doubt all things equally. We doubt some things more than others. Some things we believe to likely be true based on repeatedly seeing they correspond with reality. We know for almost certain that fire burns paper because we always see it happen. The simplest explanation is that fire burns paper and not that these are repeated coincidences.


I previously attacked solipsism based on Occam’s razor and that is virtually the same as rejecting it based on pragmatism.

View people live or act as solipsists. We don’t randomly jump of buildings because we might be able to fly in our dream now.

Even if we imagine the entire world and all the people around us, they somehow don’t bend to our will or desires. Or I guess I should say my will and desires. I am just writing for imaginary readers. But really, the world functions according to certain rules we have to conform to. They don’t conform to us/mw. If I jump in front of a fast driving car I will get injured even when I want reality to play out differently. I don’t have Neo’s powers from The Matrix.

A possible explanation for why the world has things I cannot consciously control or change is that it is like a dream. I am chased by a wolf and I cannot just imagine it disappears or goes it’s own way somehow. I have to keep running to not get eaten.

Problem is that my notion that the wolf will eat me is based on knowledge from the real world when awake. Where do I get my ideas from if there is no world to provide me with knowledge?

Also, when we dream but we’re somewhat aware it is a dream, this often allows us to influence our dreams, yet even though I am considering the possibility of solipsism and trying to imagine I have written 50 new articles for this site and received a promotion, a bonus and a new car, nothing like this has happened yet.

Finally, dreams tend to be very incoherent. That is where they differ from reality. Or subconscious isn’t always logical or consistent.

Unless our subconscious can actually create an (at least mostly) coherent and consistent world and through that world limit our conscious’ ability to influence, but that would suggest intelligence and clear thinking on the part of our subconscious, something our conscious at the same time wouldn’t even be aware off. As such it suggests our subconscious is de facto another conscious, deceiving our conscious and as such solipsism ends with our subconscious being a weird deceiving god that creates the world we consciously experience.

Solipsism is implausible for the same reason that the notion that this universe is a simulation is implausible. Generally, there are glitches and holes in fabrications. The more complex the forgery the more difficult to make it full proof.

Unless that is just faulty logic we learned from the simulation we live in, really we’re blind fools, but if this is true, how do we even know that we are living in a simulation? How can the blind know he is blind unless a seeing person tells him he is and demonstrates it by preventing it from walking into another tree?

The notion of a simulated world would be entirely beyond our comprehension. It obviously means the entire natural, scientific and physical understanding of the world is false, but if this were the case, then you have opened the way for God or gods as the explanation. You have undermined any materialistic understanding of the world.

This world is an illusion. The creator(s) is/are far beyond our comprehension. This world is created and there is something greater beyond it we cannot understand through science. Such speculation about living in The Matrix ends with faith and nothing else.

We cannot even understand the world through cause and effect. We have arrived at the occasionalism of Al-Ghazali. And the ‘real world’ might be created as well. So then we have a creator, who was created by God.

Factual and Epistemic Relativism

Philosophical relativism in the absolute sense is the same as scepticism. The idea that there is no objective knowledge, that all knowledge we acquire is coloured/tainted by our personal biases and background has no evidence in reality.

Scientific discoveries have been made where people realised assumptions from their families, friends and educators were wrong, yet they convinced those previously in error through rational arguments and evidence, whether it was the sun revolving around the Earth or the natural processes that cause storms.

There are claims that a person makes that others can confirm independently. People from Japan, Thailand, Chile and Canada, children and elderly, men and women, can all acknowledge that water makes things wet. That 2+2=4.

Some beliefs, views and notions have been shown to be biased and this could be demonstrated by disproving the claims.

But those statements where feelings, tastes, values and estimations don’t apply, simple things like whether a car is 2 metres long or 3, are statements based entirely around facts, about reality, not perception.

Relativism can never be asserted as being true for the same reason that this is impossible with dogmatic scepticism. A relativist’s view that all knowledge and claims are subjective, influenced by biases of others, can itself be biased.

That there are no truths can never be a truth.

Is pragmatism the way to go?

Pragmatism is more in accordance with reason than any form of scepticism, solipsism or relativism. So, should it be the ultimate philosophical standpoint? We cannot have certain knowledge but we can be relatively certain that certain ideas are correct and others false based on whether they correspond what we and others see in reality; whether evidence supports them and that rational argument sustains them. Certain knowledge isn’t possible, likely knowledge is.

The pragmatism to an extent does make the choice to trust that the likely knowledge he has and to trust it over what is probably false.

But why shouldn’t we be certain that things are true if everything so far has been consistent with them being true and there was nothing to suggest that what we knew was false? Things like cause and effects or object permanence.

All doubts are speculative theoretical possibilities in such situation. Most people don’t entertain such doubts.

Historically various theological currents that followed rational philosophy, argued in favour of a specific belief system because they reasoned it would be reliable according to logical arguments. That it would be consistent with what they knew off reality. Platonists and Aristotelians both intermixed theological arguments with philosophical arguments. They argued certain views about God or the gods were illogical and had harmful consequences.

Those were the days before philosophy became more naturalistic and separated from supernatural metaphysics. Philosophers were theologians and vice versa.

This form of faith is rightly understood as trust in what (they believed to be) the true religion that was in accordance with reason and (supposedly) consistently supported by evidence.

This leads to the philosophical distinction between Fideism and rational (not rationalist) faith.

To be continued…

Johan van Schaik

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