Sunday, November 13, 2005

Concerns About Humanism

I asked an atheist Humanist a few questions:

edit: This was the Jewish Atheist, and the discussion is located here.


"I (usually) believe in free will because it feels so strongly like I have it. I'm also fascinated by the fact that I have no plausible explanation for how it works."

Me too, but the very fact that I do that bothers me. We take free will on faith, essentially, but in doing so we damage our stance in reason. Doesn't the theist do exactly the same thing?

I ask: "Why should the Humanist act morally?"

He answered: "Empathy plus the belief that no person has more worth than another."

I think it is a little more complex than that. Why should we necessarily trust our empathetic feeings? Emotions are notoriously irrational.

It bothers me that we really have two choices. We can go down one path and find our lives devoid of any meaning and worth. In the strict positivist stance we cannot even say that we are free, or moral, or conscious. We are mindless animals equipped with illusory control and a fictional sense of morality.

Or we can give credence to ideas that really do not deserve credence in a strict empirical sense, but which provide our lives with order and meaning and value. The Humanist might be able to restrict this urge to free will and meaningful moral commands, but can he truly judge himself as being less irrational than the theist? Maybe in degree, but certainly not in kind.

21 comments:

B. Spinoza said...

>In the strict positivist stance we cannot even say that we are free, or moral, or conscious.

Does anybody deny that we are conscious? The way I understand consciousness is that we are are aware of our surroundings and we are self aware. Even if we can explain the source of consciousness through biology, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist and that we are creating a fiction.

Jewish Atheist said...

Just FYI, the atheist in question is me, the discussion in question is here, and I'm not totally committed to humanism.

B. Spinoza said...

> Just FYI, the atheist in question is me

aren't you one of the unholy trinity that GH bequeathed on Gil? (in addition to me and Mis-nagid)

>and I'm not totally committed to humanism

me neither, it sounds too banal

respondingtojblogs said...

Does it make any sense to suggest that we are in fact animals without free will, but that we have been blessed with brain and civilization unique in the animal world that has lead us to create an embrace religion and humanism, both of which are without any empirical foundation and both of which seek to elevate us above the other animals?

Orthoprax said...

JA,

I didn't know if you wanted me to refer to you by pseudonym. I'll put the link on the blog proper.

Spinoza,

"Does anybody deny that we are conscious?"

Well, perhaps not that we are conscious, but that we don't know what we mean when we say we are conscious. Maybe we think we're aware of our surroundings, but our surroundings could be totally different.

We also like to think of ourselves as being defined as our consciousness, but really there's likely a mess of things going on in the subconscious and unconscious realms. What does it mean to be conscious? What does it mean to be an individual? What does it mean when we point to ourselves and say "I"?

What we perceive of the world is not pure, it is formulated and processed through our minds. It is a mental construct, perhaps real, perhaps not. We cannot help but see the world through "human" glasses.

Jewish Atheist said...

aren't you one of the unholy trinity that GH bequeathed on Gil? (in addition to me and Mis-nagid

That is I, Baruch. :)

I didn't know if you wanted me to refer to you by pseudonym. I'll put the link on the blog proper.

No prob, orthoprax.

B. Spinoza said...

>What we perceive of the world is not pure, it is formulated and processed through our minds. It is a mental construct, perhaps real, perhaps not.

why isn't a mental construct real? what do you mean that perhaps it's not real?

>We cannot help but see the world through "human" glasses.

that's true, but I don't understand why that's a bad thing or "unreal"

the way I see it is that you can look at consciousness through two perspectives:

1) a bilogical perspective or a God's eye
2) a human perspective, the way we actually experience ourselves

both perspectives are true and real, but they are just two different ways at looking at reality.

Orthoprax said...

Spinoza,

"why isn't a mental construct real? what do you mean that perhaps it's not real?"

What we construct in our minds may not be how reality actually is. We can sense "redness" and "hardness" but it takes the construct of our minds to say "the table is red."

Maybe in reality there is no such thing as "redness" and all we're doing is adding this imagined characteristic to this other object. Maybe both the object and the subject are just our false perceptions of them or maybe they don't exist at all.

"that's true, but I don't understand why that's a bad thing or "unreal""

Because the human-tinged glasses are not reality as it is, but just reality as we perceive it to be. And those two things could be very different.

"both perspectives are true and real, but they are just two different ways at looking at reality."

Can two opposite contradictory things both be true?

B. Spinoza said...

I guess i'm not being clear. I will try again

I was trying to say that we can explain the sensation of love, for example, in the biological sense as certain neurons(or whatever) in the brain charging or we can describe it in human experience terms as the feeling we get when we are close to someone (read a love poem or something). Both of these descriptions are describing the same thing the experience of love, but they are just doing it from two separate perspectives. But both of them are true and real, they don't contradict each; they compliment each other.

Orthoprax said...

Spinoza,

Ok, but that's a very limited example. Love is an experience that is only found within the individual, really, and cannot be described accurately if not in terms of the individual's own consciousness.

But what about things external to the individual? Is that table red? What does that mean? How does my brain work to make that subject-object connection?

David said...

>>We take free will on faith, essentially, but in doing so we damage our stance in reason.

You're confusing reason with empiricism. Belief in free will is reasonable in the sense that denying it would mean denying everything we think we know about human behavior. I think such a denial is unreasonable because it's almost certainly disingenuous.

>>Or we can give credence to ideas that really do not deserve credence in a strict empirical sense

Again, you assume that only empirical evidence is properly called "evidence". With such a narrow view of acceptable methods of affirming truth, it's difficult to make any positive assertions at all.

Orthoprax said...

David,

"Belief in free will is reasonable in the sense that denying it would mean denying everything we think we know about human behavior."

What does that mean? There is nothing about human behavior that necessitates that free will be a part of it. All it is is denying something which we just really feel is true.

"Again, you assume that only empirical evidence is properly called "evidence"."

What other types of evidence is there? Without empiricism, what kind of evidence is there left?

Jewish Atheist said...

Isn't the sense that we have free will "evidence?" It's weak evidence, as our senses are often misled, but as far as I can tell, it's the only evidence available on the subject.

respondingtojblogs said...

Isn't the sense that we have free will "evidence?" It's weak evidence, as our senses are often misled, but as far as I can tell, it's the only evidence available on the subject.

It's the basis of our hypothesis, but I think the evidence to the contrary blows away the intuition of free will.

Jewish Atheist said...

What's the evidence to the contrary? I'm aware of one study which shows that choices are made before we're aware of choosing, but that's it. Do you have more?

David said...

>>There is nothing about human behavior that necessitates that free will be a part of it.

Let me rephrase that. Our understanding of human behavior assumes free will. Imagine fatalism for a moment. Now consider your ethical intuitions and judgments of character. Consider, for example, what it means when a friend promises you to return your book. Isn't your basic understanding of human interaction at least called into question?

What other types of evidence is there?

First, define empiricism.

Anonymous said...

The "evidence" against free will is of the strongest kind, namely it's self contradictary.
"I" am the the sum total of my conciousness. Now if this database of consciousness cases a certain action then it's not free, for its caused by my previous experiences. But if it's not caused by the consciousness storehouse, (a storehouse made up totaly of pervious experience) then it's not "I" that's making the decision

Koftu said...

I am going to ask an "obvious question". If not free will, then what?

Anonymous said...

"Our understanding of human behavior assumes free will"

Not necessarily, it assumes that we can do whatever we want, but how is this want created?
Sure, it may seem like we have freedom but in reality we "must" to do what we want. It's impossible for you to do anything other than what you want to do.

Want is created by expectation which in turn is created by what we percieve the future to be.
It goes something like this, We identify reality,i.e. the past, present, and future. We are just aware of what the facts are, once we have identified such, we expect that to be the case (if we identified the future as being X we assume and 'expect' that to materialize)So now we already have expectations. The next step is 'wants' which in reality is just another term for expectation. (Please be aware, I'm not talking about the emotion that we have learned to attach along with wants, I'm talking about cold factual wants.)

In sum, Monkey see, Monkey expect, Monkey do.

Orthoprax said...

Koftu,

"I am going to ask an "obvious question". If not free will, then what?"

That would be unfree will, where our desires and wills are determined by factors external to us.

Koftu said...

Ok, so Determinism. I just wanted to make sure that you were acknowledging only two opposite views (don't ask me what a potential third might be like; it's moot anyway).

-Benjamin