Saturday, September 27, 2008

Of Postulates and Axioms

Preface: Axiom, as explained by Wikipedia: “In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proved or demonstrated but considered to be either self-evident, or subject to necessary decision. Therefore, its truth is taken for granted, and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferring other (theory dependent) truths.”

Rhology (and, apparently, Vox Veritatis) expressed concerns about my use of “faith” in laying my evidentialist foundation. The questions they jointly prepared make blindingly obvious their mutual misapprehension of the role “faith” actually played (a temporary one, analogous to scaffolding in building construction).

Below, find my attempt to disabuse them of their wrongheadedness.

Rhology: Keep in mind that the JN has retreated to this admission of the faith-scaffolding b/c it has become clear that his First Principle - that evidence is the best way for humans to approximate truth - cannot justify itself. Any attempt to do so ends up in an infinite regress.

Nihilist: Although it is clear one of your preferred debate strategies is to cheerlead any concession you believe you have won from your opponent, you are here pointing out something that I have never denied. My Philosophical First Principle (hereafter, “PFP”), best stated as “evidence is the best, most reliable way for humans to approximate truth,” is a postulate (axiom, premise, etc.). I have defined a PFP as the lens through which an individual interrogates the world in which he finds himself. Before one can commence said interrogation, one must procure said lens. That is, before one may employ a postulate (noun form), one must…well…postulate (verb form). This postulation could be described as an act of “faith,” if one were inclined toward biased word choice. I utilize the scaffolding analogy because, once one postulates, and thus has a postulate, no further postulation is required; one simply employs one’s postulate “to erect one’s tower.”

Rhology: 1) I know you didn't continue with the scaffolding of faith. Why didn't you keep relying on faith? After all, you consider that faith was sufficient to get you to your big First Principle that you find so attractive, while that FP could never get you there by itself.

Nihilist: This question betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the preceding discussion, which, although never laid out quite so explicitly by me, has been implied throughout our recent interactions. In order to obtain a postulate (axiom, premise, etc.), one must postulate; there is no getting around it. In that light, your first query makes little sense. You are essentially asking, “Since, in order to get a postulate, one must postulate, why not make postulation one’s postulate?” In raising such an objection, you effectively attempt to rule out postulates/axioms entirely.

Rhology: 2) Why did you choose this FP? It seems a completely arbitrary standard. Why not the equally-but-no-less-arbitrary "mustard is the best way to discover truth"? Mustard as FP is not self-justifying either, but one could just as easily make evidence-free faith appeals to it, just as you have to your evidentialist FP.

I don't expect the JN to go this route, but rather other commenters - the fact that mustard is a prima facie silly example makes no difference. Unless the argument for the evidentialist FP is successful, it is just as arbitrary as mustard.

Nihilist: I have described a PFP as being the lens through which an individual interrogates the world in which he finds himself. Here, let us focus on the word “lens.” I have worn glasses since third grade and, unfortunately, my vision is quite awful. Without my glasses, I would be completely nonfunctional…unable to work, drive, watch television or do much of anything. When I go to visit my ophthalmologist, he puts a machine in front of my face and proceeds to switch from lens to lens, based upon my guidance of what enhances and/or diminishes my vision. In choosing a PFP, one does essentially the same thing: In terms of interrogating the world of experience, which lens seems to make things most clear? Perhaps several lenses are acceptable…satisfactorily functional. However, it is only sensible to choose what appears to be the clearest, most sharp lens. For me, evidentialism represents 20/20 intellectual vision.

Also, I must say, your “mustard is the best way to discover truth” example seems a bit disingenuous. Remember that, generally speaking, in order to qualify as an axiom (postulate, premise, etc.), a notion must be self-evident. Looking at evidentialism first, “evidence” merely refers to “relevant facts” in the context of any given situation or point of contention. It would be difficult to argue that the usefulness of relevant facts is not self-evident. Conversely, the usefulness of mustard hardly seems self-evident by any conceivable standard. Also, in practical terms, I have no idea how mustard might be used for deducing and inferring truths that are more complex; it hardly seems a foundation upon which to build anything. Thus, your example suffers from definitional and practical problems.

Rhology: 3) The JN said:

I use faith once…as scaffolding…to lay my building’s foundation. This hardly equates to a life rife with faith appeals.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm sure you would claim that your life is rife with appeals to evidence. That's the best way to discover truth, after all.

So it goes like this:


| Answer |

| Question |

| Evidentialist FP |

| Faith scaffolding |


You appeal to something more basic to answer less basic questions. In doing so, how is it an avoidance of appealing to the faith foundation-scaffolding? This question is meant to unmask atheists' widespread allergy to claiming that their position is faith-based. Faith is for wackos and fundies, after all, not for rational people like atheists with rational positions like atheism.

Nihilist: Your “illustration” is wrong because the evidentialist PFP does not rest upon the scaffolding of faith as you imply. Rather, the faith scaffolding permitted the evidentialist PFP to be laid. [That is, the act of postulation allowed one to obtain a postulate.] Think back to physical construction for a moment: A builder does not lay his foundation on top of his scaffolding; if he were to do so, the scaffolding would become an integral part of the building’s structure. And, by definition, scaffolding is not an integral part of a building’s structure. Rather, scaffolding is “a temporary framework used to support people and material in the construction or repair of buildings and other large structures.” Yes - one must postulate before one may employ a postulate; however, it is not the act of postulation that serves as a starting point for world-of-experience interrogation. Postulation merely allows the interrogatory starting point to be established. Once it is established, there is no further need for postulation; this is why, like scaffolding, it is “removed” from the tower.

Rhology: 4) In what way is this evidentialism thing a FIRST Principle since faith precedes it logically?

Nihilist: A foundational postulate allows one to build a rising tower of conclusions. The scaffolding of faith enables one to postulate.

A foundational supposition allows one to build a rising tower of conclusions. The scaffolding of faith enables one to suppose.

A PFP allows one to interrogate the world of experience. The scaffolding of faith enables one to lay a personal metaphysical foundation (from which to interrogate). Only once the foundation is laid can world-of-experience interrogation actually commence.


Blogger Rhology said...

Hi JN,

I think our interaction on this point might be at its end, which will free me up at some point in the (hopefully) near future to engage the idea of the Flying Spaghetti Catfish more fully.
I do not believe you have adequately responded to my mustard-as-PFP point, given that I think my points regarding evidentialism's inability to self-justify have not been refuted. So evidence is as good as mustard in this question.

I also find your protestations about the positions of faith and your evidentialist PFP a bit disingenuous. It is not as if your faith in evidentialism is a one-time thing. It has come up in the here and now, once I challenged evidentialism's ability to self-justify. That is one of the reasons why I find your insistence that it can do so unconvincing - you yourself appealed to faith and bare postulation as at least part of your defense of your PFP. It is as if one hand counts your PFP as self-justifying while the other does not.

Anyway, I appreciate your coming out of blog inactivity to continue this discussion with me. With no one else have I ever, so far in my life, been able to pursue a line of thought such as this so deeply.


9:30 AM EDT  

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