The Value of Hume

I was, during a break, thinking a bit of C.S. Lewis’ On Miracles, when I had a sudden bit of potential integration that I can do nothing with at the moment. In one of the early chapters he is talking about the limits of experience. This was in relation to a naturalist approach to universal explanation. Basically how wide the naturalist abstraction is compared to the personal evidence that can conceivably support it.

As a philosophy with any positive value, Hume’s seems out the gate to be a piece of mud. However, mud has its uses. His shattered, fractured universe is quite useful when we think about the edifices that people stand on unknowingly. How much is assumed, unexamined, unexplained, even unrecognized, from one instance to the next instance.

Immanuel Kant was, historically, the man who attempted to put Humpty Dumpty back together after Hume busted him up…

Few people go through life terrified that the car they are traveling in will suddenly cease to exist right out from under them, or that the ball they are throwing will turn into a dragon and burn them where they stand. But why shouldn’t these things happen? If these things do not happen, surely, some lesser things of the same nature happen all the time? Should we fear that they could happen but just haven’t, at least not in our personal experience?

Why not? These are pretty easy questions in philosophy. Or, rather, such questions have been part of philosophy for millennia. But what about whole world-views? What part of it is blind faith on the part of the holder? And how much is derived from things they can actively demonstrate?

What can one stand on? How much of your views of the world, of the nature of things, of people, politics, right and wrong can you account for? And how much of it is words put together without referent, without ground?

I think most people would be astounded to find there is very little they can account for. And little of that they can piece together. What is your experience of a house but the individual experiences you have formed into a whole? You never experience the full house in one moment of experience. It is many parts sensations and many parts mental glue. What is your experience of the house?

This is not a subjective or radical skepticism I am suggesting or advocating here, just putting down some initial thoughts (that I probably won’t be able to continue until next summer). I would suggest that no one freak out about the true nature of their house that they suddenly find the thing an utter stranger. Even Hume ditched his philosophy at the end of the day to chat with friends.

But, by all means, wake up in the morning, and with your eyes closed, swing your feet over the edge of the bed and…

But am saying the following. The key characteristic I have noticed in a lot of conversations I have had over the years (especially when I was an Objectivist) is the axiomatic standing in many a person’s mind of every item of knowledge. All of the knowledge is on the same level and so is every feeling. That is, every reaction, every feeling has the weight of an unquestionable axiom. This is because the item of knowledge, whatever it is, is on the level of unanalyzed fundamental(s). The recipient of this self-given form of modern revelation cannot be wrong – never even thinks they can be wrong.

God is dead, the self and its revelations (from who knows where) are the highest form of truth. It explains the hostility, the lack of explanation, the absence of retraction, and the condemnation. The absence of retraction, which stems from the complete inability to consider the possibility that one may be wrong about something (notice the modern parallel in morality) is probably the most noticeable sign of this phenomena.

Of these symptoms I can judge. I will not cast a stone, but I can flick a couple pebbles. As an Objectivist I never noticed this at all because as an Objectivist I only noticed the fight. I had position X, the other had position Y. My duty was to destroy Y. With truth, that is, truth as I saw it.

It was not until, at the age of 43, long past the time most people change their mind about anything (hence why I’ll flick a pebble or two but no more) that I began to see holes in my view(s). I have probably changed my mind on more than half my beliefs. But I think one of the best things about my former philosophy was its view of knowledge. One of its leading principles (by no means unique to itself) is the hierarchical nature of knowledge, that knowledge has structure. Some pieces of knowledge are simply not equivalent, they are not all inter-chagable. 2 + 2 = 4 is not the epistemological equivalent to the law of thermodynamics. That honesty is a virtue is not the equivalent to the principles of the Magna Carta.

These errors were not a threat to my identity (but perhaps to my pride) I didn’t associate my ideas with my self as one with a level epistemology must do.

I am running out of time here… I’m supposed to be studying.

It is only by admitting some unflattering things about one’s self and about human nature in general (its fallibility) that one can access a great skill.

The ability to admit or even consider… that you might be wrong.

I can say this without blinking, I have come to more wrong conclusions than anyone I know.

[This topic will be picked up again – time permitting.]



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