Written 7 May 2014
R. C. writes,
There is much depth in your short post on religion and reason from 6 May. Here are two points I often ponder about this topic:
First, I appreciate the difficulty of solving philosophical problems, but I wonder about the claim that they are insoluble (I suppose “insoluble” means “insoluble by humans alone”). If the problems are beyond mere human knowledge, how could we know this? One may inductively suspect insolubility by reflecting upon his experience of practicing philosophy, but how could he know the unknowable? If we can’t solve philosophical problems by philosophizing, then it seems we can’t conclude insolubility by philosophizing because this very conclusion would be a philosophical conclusion.
BV: I hold that the central problems of philosophy are most of them genuine, some of them humanly important, but all of them insoluble. And you are right, by 'insoluble' I mean insoluble by us or by beings of a similar cognitive architecture, ectypal intellects in Kant's jargon. Furthermore, pace Nicholas Rescher, I don't count a 'solution' that is relative to some set of background assumptions and cognitive values as a solution. Of course there are solutions in this sense. Nominalists solve the problem of univerals in one way, realists in another, conceptualists in a third, etc. But those are merely intramural solutions. What is wanted are solutions acceptable to all, solutions that hold outside the walls of self-reinforcing enclaves of the like-minded.
You ask a very important question: How could one know that the central philosophical problems are insoluble? You yourself supplied the clue: by induction from philosophical experience. The best and the brightest have been at this game for thousands of years but not one single problem has been solved during this period, solved to the satisfaction of all competent practitioners. Everything is up for grabs, even the most elementary and picayune topics. Take a look at what is going one as we speak in the thread on logical form. Philosophers can't even agree on the most basic concepts of deductive logic. There is controversy everywhere. This is a plain fact.
The strife of systems and the ubiquity and longevity of controversy need explaining and I offer the insolubility thesis as the best explanation. Why haven't the problems been solved? Because they are insoluble. I agree with Benson Mates on this point. Of course, the following is an invalid argument form: Such-and-such has hitherto not been accomplished; ergo, such-and-such will never be accomplished. But then every inductive argument is invalid. Some inductive arguments, however, do quite reasonably support their conclusions.
But you can and should press your objection. If I maintain that the problems of philosophy are insoluble, then, given that the metaphilosophical problem of whether or not philosophical problems are soluble is itself a philosophical problem, it follows that the metaphilosophical problem is insoluble. Is this a difficult for my position? Not obviously. I simply 'bite the bullet' as they say. I accept that the meta problem is also insoluble.
In fact, the insolubility of the meta problem is further evidence of my thesis.
In other words, I am not dogmatizing. I am not claiming to know with certainty that the problems of philosophy are insoluble. I am not claiming to have solved the meta problem. I am merely claiming that the insolubility thesis is very reasonably maintained. Not every truth is such that we can know it to be true. With some truths the most we can expect here below is reasonable belief.
Compare God and the soul. I do not claim to know with certainty whether either exists. I claim merely that it it is reasonable to affirm both.
Second, I agree that it’s wise to intelligently practice religion and mysticism -- which, by the way, rules out superstition and group-think! Take religion: religious practice does not exclude reason, as Mates’ quote implies. It is a false dilemma to say “One can seek truth either by reason or religion, but not both.” Why not both? If I try to lift a stone and realize I can’t manage alone, this would not entail that I can or should stop lifting. If a stronger person assists me, and I trust his assistance, I can still lift. He may request my help. He may even require that I give it my all, and I may grow from the effort. Likewise, intelligent religion requires reason.
Consider Christianity: The biblical conception of faith is “trust based on good reasons”. This point is clear in passages such as Hebrews 11:1 and 1 Peter 3:15. In the Gospels, Jesus himself reasons and encourages others to do the same. Christian faith calls for the whole self: heart, mind, soul, and strength.
I’d be interested in your thoughts on reason and intelligent religion.
BV: I basically agree with you. Reason in the end must confess its own infirmity. It cannot deliver on its promises. The truth-seeker must explore other avenues. Religion is one, mysticism is another.