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Thread: Epistemic Responsibility

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    You have made an interesting list of definitions. But it sounds like you are just trying to redefine words in a little more abstract manner to have them make sense in a more secular world and within a more physicalist paradigm. If that's all you're doing, it sounds to me like you're pretty much there already. It's a little like when we found out "heaven" was not just a physical place above the visible sky, we redefined it to have a more abstract meaning.
    To be clear, I am not credited with those axioms-- they are the invention of Mike McHargue, who created them as a scaffold for him to re-enter Christianity from atheism. Honestly he's barely a Christian by the standard Evangelical definition. He's closer to an igtheist mystic in the Christian tradition with a heavy, heavy lean towards physicalist explanations for the experiential components of his belief. (A very different kind of "Christian".)

    I find these axioms an excellent start point for an epistemically responsible theism. Developing such a theism/religion necessitates more than just physicalist redefinition of terms, though. These offer a kind of bedrock for belief with a built-in anti-dogmatic, anti-doctrinal failsafe: uncertainty.

    Dogma, doctrine, and orthodoxy are the moral virus in the veins of religion. Igtheistic uncertainty is the vaccine. Are you really going to blow yourself up in a plane if you're uncertain that you'll go to a virgin-laden paradise? Are you really going to torture gay people if you're uncertain that God has forbidden their homosexuality?

    Perhaps less virulent of an example, are you even going to make any effort to levy others into your beliefs if you make no claim to any exact nature of God beyond "it feels like God might be X, with no supposition that he is anything MORE than Axiom 2..."?

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    To be clear, I am not credited with those axioms-- they are the invention of Mike McHargue, who created them as a scaffold for him to re-enter Christianity from atheism. Honestly he's barely a Christian by the standard Evangelical definition. He's closer to an igtheist mystic in the Christian tradition with a heavy, heavy lean towards physicalist explanations for the experiential components of his belief. (A very different kind of "Christian".)

    I find these axioms an excellent start point for an epistemically responsible theism. Developing such a theism/religion necessitates more than just physicalist redefinition of terms, though. These offer a kind of bedrock for belief with a built-in anti-dogmatic, anti-doctrinal failsafe: uncertainty.

    Dogma, doctrine, and orthodoxy are the moral virus in the veins of religion. Igtheistic uncertainty is the vaccine. Are you really going to blow yourself up in a plane if you're uncertain that you'll go to a virgin-laden paradise? Are you really going to torture gay people if you're uncertain that God has forbidden their homosexuality?

    Perhaps less virulent of an example, are you even going to make any effort to levy others into your beliefs if you make no claim to any exact nature of God beyond "it feels like God might be X, with no supposition that he is anything MORE than Axiom 2..."?
    Hmmm.

    I don’t know. Maybe. I guess personally I just don’t have the religious bug, so it just seems like extreme mental gymnastics to try to make something stick that just doesn’t want to stick. I guess if you want to make it work that badly, this is one way to think about it.


    But I think it’s a sort of optical illusion. God to me just seems Like a sort of personification or apotheosis of the ultimate platonic ideals (or should I say Plotinus’ The One). It’s a convergence of ideas and ideals taken to their abstract extreme and then personified and deified and given some hypothetical external existence. I don’t see any use in that.

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by Angel View Post
    If your paradigm means to connect theoretical reason with practical reason, thereby giving a moral dimension to belief, perhaps virtue ethics is the means.
    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    I will look into that, thanks.
    On second thought a consequentialist ethics might be more to your point.
    Maybe I am on the wrong scent in starting with morality. Maybe we start with belief and try to abstract some principle from those beliefs that lend themselves to analysis in terms of right and wrong or good and bad.
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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    Hmmm.

    I don’t know. Maybe. I guess personally I just don’t have the religious bug, so it just seems like extreme mental gymnastics to try to make something stick that just doesn’t want to stick. I guess if you want to make it work that badly, this is one way to think about it.
    I can certainly appreciate how someone without the "religious bug" as you put it finds this all unnecessary and excessively difficult. You might be right. But like it or not, humans have a strong disposition to believe in the 'supernatural' and assign some sort of agency to cosmic forces. Whether the need to believe is from divine calling on our heart or just a glitchy byproduct of an unprecedented level of brain complexity, the need is real for most people.

    We also now live in a world of science and rationalism, so what has worked for the last 30,000 years to satisfy this bizarre need for cosmic meaning and connection just doesn't work for many people anymore. Several thousands of years of attempting to meet the need for god has produced some of the greatest art, acts of love and cooperation humanity has ever seen. That same process of meeting the need for god has also produced some of humanity's darkest evils. But the god need isn't going anywhere, so I see humanity's next great philosophical task as purifying its myriad epistemologies of the cancer that leads to things like the Inquisition or McCarthyism.

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    But I think it’s a sort of optical illusion. God to me just seems Like a sort of personification or apotheosis of the ultimate platonic ideals (or should I say Plotinus’ The One).
    Seeing Plotinus' The One as God seems pretty spiritual to me. You've already extended beyond McHargue's axioms, so congratulations. If that's as far as you get and that's all you need, you're already closer to the center of the Dawkins scale, which is where I think we should all be.

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    It’s a convergence of ideas and ideals taken to their abstract extreme and then personified and deified and given some hypothetical external existence. I don’t see any use in that.
    Perfectly understandable that you don't see use in it. A lot of people don't. A lot of people do.

    There's a massive amount of wiggle room in the "personified and deified" God, too. These days I'm leaning more heavily to the concept of a Plotinusian 'The One' God but on an infinite order of magnitude; as vast and incomprehensible as a 3D object in 2D Flatland. If I want to engage with it (and I do) I need it to wear a face I can experience. That face is personification and deification. Did I put the face on it, or is it wearing the face for me?

    I don't think it matters.

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by Angel View Post
    Maybe we start with belief and try to abstract some principle from those beliefs that lend themselves to analysis in terms of right and wrong or good and bad.
    This feels closer to what I'm getting at, but I need more clarification. What do you mean by an abstracted principle from belief that lends itself to moral analysis?

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    This feels closer to what I'm getting at, but I need more clarification. What do you mean by an abstracted principle from belief that lends itself to moral analysis?
    We define belief in such a way that we get the set of all beliefs {B1, B2, B3, B4, ...Bn}

    Then we intuitively derive the subset of morally bad or wrong beliefs {B'1, B'2, B'3, B'4, ...B'n}

    Then we abstract our criteria for a morally bad or wrong belief from that subset.

    Then we derive from those criteria a principle by which belief may be said to be wrong or bad.
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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by Angel View Post
    We define belief in such a way that we get the set of all beliefs {B1, B2, B3, B4, ...Bn}

    Then we intuitively derive the subset of morally bad or wrong beliefs {B'1, B'2, B'3, B'4, ...B'n}

    Then we abstract our criteria for a morally bad or wrong belief from that subset.

    Then we derive from those criteria a principle by which belief may be said to be wrong or bad.
    Eh, I don't know if this is sufficient for what I'm trying to get at. And the 'intuitive' derivation of morally bad or wrong beliefs seems rife with problems in itself, because the moral complexity of any given belief makes me question whether or not just categorizing beliefs as "good" or "bad" is enough. Being certain that all humans have an eternal soul that is going to heaven can bring me enormous peace, decrease my stress and improve my quality of life here on earth (very good!) It can also cause me to feel a lack of empathy for the suffering of the dying or their loved ones because "they're going to a better place" (bad!) or even be cavalier towards the mortal consequences of, say, war (very bad!)

    Beliefs also come in degrees. I can be absolutely certain that I am going to die. I can tentatively accept that I have an immortal 'substance' that will persist my death, but not be certain about it. Thus, I may get to experience at least some of the good benefit of belief in my immortal self without being at risk of callousness towards the deaths of others, because while I feel immortality could be true, I can't be sure enough of its trueness (or at least its details) to be dismissive of the fear and pain of someone watching a loved ones' demise.

    Extracting a guiding principal for moral belief from a criteria of a subset of beliefs also doesn't stop people from making exceptions to those categorizations based on their own epistemology. To put it another way, even if we can accurately categorize all belief into "good" or "bad", if I have an epistemology that permits exceptions to that derived moral principle, and those exceptions can be carried with certainty, then the guiding principle doesn't stop me from being epistemically irresponsible.

    An example: say we follow your process of abstracted principles from belief for moral analysis. And say we agree on whatever principal we end up with, and we are then able to categorize any belief into "good" or "bad". If at the same time I have an epistemology that dictates I can also know that things are true based on God telling me they are true, I can then prescribe to some kind of divine command theory that will allow me to override any categorization we come up with.

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    Eh, I don't know if this is sufficient for what I'm trying to get at. And the 'intuitive' derivation of morally bad or wrong beliefs seems rife with problems in itself, because the moral complexity of any given belief makes me question whether or not just categorizing beliefs as "good" or "bad" is enough. Being certain that all humans have an eternal soul that is going to heaven can bring me enormous peace, decrease my stress and improve my quality of life here on earth (very good!) It can also cause me to feel a lack of empathy for the suffering of the dying or their loved ones because "they're going to a better place" (bad!) or even be cavalier towards the mortal consequences of, say, war (very bad!)

    Beliefs also come in degrees. I can be absolutely certain that I am going to die. I can tentatively accept that I have an immortal 'substance' that will persist my death, but not be certain about it. Thus, I may get to experience at least some of the good benefit of belief in my immortal self without being at risk of callousness towards the deaths of others, because while I feel immortality could be true, I can't be sure enough of its trueness (or at least its details) to be dismissive of the fear and pain of someone watching a loved ones' demise.

    Extracting a guiding principal for moral belief from a criteria of a subset of beliefs also doesn't stop people from making exceptions to those categorizations based on their own epistemology. To put it another way, even if we can accurately categorize all belief into "good" or "bad", if I have an epistemology that permits exceptions to that derived moral principle, and those exceptions can be carried with certainty, then the guiding principle doesn't stop me from being epistemically irresponsible.

    An example: say we follow your process of abstracted principles from belief for moral analysis. And say we agree on whatever principal we end up with, and we are then able to categorize any belief into "good" or "bad". If at the same time I have an epistemology that dictates I can also know that things are true based on God telling me they are true, I can then prescribe to some kind of divine command theory that will allow me to override any categorization we come up with.
    Fair enough. But I think the problems you point out are bound to crop up with any morality of belief, and this as much for the nature of morality as for the nature of belief, as neither attains to certainty. Were we able to come up with a principle of epistemic responsibility as prescriptively universal as the Golden Rule, the problems of degree, exceptions, and double-edgedness will remain. "Believe and let believe" might be the only responsible epistemic position to practice, and even it, I dare say, is not immune to philosophical cavil.
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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    I can certainly appreciate how someone without the "religious bug" as you put it finds this all unnecessary and excessively difficult. You might be right. But like it or not, humans have a strong disposition to believe in the 'supernatural' and assign some sort of agency to cosmic forces. Whether the need to believe is from divine calling on our heart or just a glitchy byproduct of an unprecedented level of brain complexity, the need is real for most people.
    There are a lot of things we THINK we need. But sometimes, all it takes is a little paradigm shift in our thinking, adapting a different perspective, to realize it falls away easily and we don't need it all that much after all. This idea of a "need to believe" and "ultimate truth" as an inevitable part of human nature may just be a weird byproduct of certain traditional cultural paradigms and ways of thinking we have grown up with. But humanity has reached a stage where that is no longer compatible with more useful ways of thinking we have learned just in the past 2-3 centuries. So it may be time to revisit the earlier ways of looking at things and seeing if it was even the right way to look at things in the first place. It seems what you are describing here is just the discomfort, the cognitive dissonance, that comes from adapting more modern and useful ways of looking at the world, and finding that they are hard to reconcile with many of the old paradigms and worldviews. You are thinking there MUST be some way to reconcile these two. The inability to do so is making you uncomfortable. You want to salvage the old model in some way or other. You are using the perspectives and vocabulary of the new paradigms to look at the old ones, and they no longer make sense. But you feel like you need it, and wouldn't be able to live without them. You really don't. It's like the smoker who thinks he can't live without his cigarettes. Psychologists often use "cognitive behavioral therapy" (CPT) to show them that with being able to think about things slightly differently, you don't find necessarily clever new ways to fill that inevitable "need". You may find you don't need it at all.

    "My principal motive is the belief that we can still make admirable sense of our lives even if we cease to have … "an ambition of transcendence." "
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    Last edited by ataraxia; 03-30-19 at 03:12 PM.

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    There are a lot of things we THINK we need. But sometimes, all it takes is a little paradigm shift in our thinking, adapting a different perspective, to realize it falls away easily and we don't need it all that much after all.
    Yowza. That sounds like a tidy clean way of wrapping up the problem, but that is not the lived experience of a LOT of people.

    Don't mistake me, if someone pulls off a faith transition that smooth and at the end of it they feel no real loss, then cool for them. I'd probably want to guide that person into humanism to avoid derailing into some kind of moral nihilism, but yeah whatever floats their boat.

    The very real, tangible problem is that most faith transitions (either into another faith or into atheism) are rarely that simple, painless, or easy. And frequently people end up in atheism or agnosticism in a sort of spiritual identity fugue that doesn't ever subside. I say this both from personal experience and from observing the experiences of others. My need for spirituality and a responsible epistemology to guide it aren't stemming from a nice, clean break into agnosticism from Christianity. After seven years of trying to recohere from a faith deconstruction, I've had enough of the malaise. I'm not alone.

    Also, faith transitions don't happen in a vacuum. Frequently, people in faith have a lot to lose by abandoning their religious practice: career, community, friends, family. Faith can certainly cause problems, but your prescription for its complete abandonment is totally inadequate for addressing all of the symptoms of the condition. A nice, easy transition from theism to atheism is just not in the cards for many religious people, no matter how much you (or they!) want it to be. If you are a humanist concerned with the elevation of society, you are morally obligated to take the well-being of these people into account.

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    This idea of a "need to believe" and "ultimate truth" as an inevitable part of human nature may just be a weird byproduct of certain traditional cultural paradigms and ways of thinking we have grown up with.
    Science says there's a lot more driving the need for certainty, spirituality and ultimate truth than just cultural traditions. I agree with Richard Dawkins on that much.

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    But humanity has reached a stage where that is no longer compatible with more useful ways of thinking we have learned just in the past 2-3 centuries. So it may be time to revisit the earlier ways of looking at things and seeing if it was even the right way to look at things in the first place. It seems what you are describing here is just the discomfort, the cognitive dissonance, that comes from adapting more modern and useful ways of looking at the world, and finding that they are hard to reconcile with many of the old paradigms and worldviews. You are thinking there MUST be some way to reconcile these two. The inability to do so is making you uncomfortable. You want to salvage the old model in some way or other. You are using the perspectives and vocabulary of the new paradigms to look at the old ones, and they no longer make sense. But you feel like you need it, and wouldn't be able to live without them. You really don't. It's like the smoker who thinks he can't live without his cigarettes. Psychologists often use "cognitive behavioral therapy" (CPT) to show them that with being able to think about things slightly differently, you don't find necessarily clever new ways to fill that inevitable "need". You may find you don't need it at all.
    I've been thinking a lot about how to respond to this. I am beginning to wonder if this evangelical streak in the New Atheist isn't really just the same sort of fundamentalism that plagues religion.

    My first rebuttal is to ask you these:

    Do humans need art?
    Do they need music?
    Do they need love?
    And who decides how real or imagined those needs are?

    My second rebuttal is to point out your (and other atheists') severe error in making religion analogous to an addictive substance. The benefits of a cigarette is so utterly outweighed by its costs that guiding people away from them is a pretty healthy thing to do. Science has a lot to say about the neurological benefits of religion though, and they're hard to beat any other way. So you're not asking someone to let go of their need for a smoke: it's more like you're asking someone to let go of their need to be in a loving relationship.

    "But relationships are so dysfunctional," you argue. "And yours is abusive. You don't actually need a relationship, you just want a relationship. Plus they're so prone to failure, why make the effort? It's an imagined desire. You'll be happier alone, you'll see."

    Maybe that individual's 'relationship' is abusive, but is the fairest and kindest course of action really to sever the hand to heal the broken finger?

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