Throughout history, the rational, scientific perspective of the world has come into bitter conflict with the predominant theological or idealistic views of the time. Religious leaders have struggled to insure, under the shadows of doubt cast by empirical discoveries and ideas, the continued faith of their followers. Conversely, rational thinkers have striven to convince the masses of their new-found truths. Both sides of this classic struggle, however, have usually tended to miss the real failings behind their beliefs.
Religion, to begin with, invariably dictates to its followers an explanation, as Douglas Adams put it, of “life, the universe, and everything.” All, from Christianity to Zen Buddhism, try to explain man’s purpose in the grand scheme of things. In any given religion, be humanity bestial or divine in the religion’s eyes, some justification and guide for our lives are always given; holy writings, parables, or scriptures offer the religious their answers. Also, all try to explain the creation of the universe. Genesis, Ptah’s whim, the Earth Mother’s divine conception, Odin’s debauchery: all religions offer, for their followers, the “truth” concerning where everything began. Yet, there is ever the demand for faith. No religion stands alone on irrefutable proof of its views. All require the ubiquitous leap of faith to become a part of them. If one takes a Descartian epistemology (the accepted Western theory of knowledge), one concedes ignorance of matters one can not soundly explain. Subsequently, the religious can never know their truths, for they can never prove them.
This failing is the principle venue of attack taken by the rational philosophers (not to be confused with religious philosophers). Yet, the leaders of empiricism undertake the same task as theologians of the world. They try to offer alternative explanations, through logical proof, of the workings of the universe and man’s place in them. They scoff, hypocritically as will be shown, at the concept of faith. There is, however, an adamantine wall deterring them as well. There exists, as a constant frustration for philosophers, the infamous infinite regress. This idea, simply put, requires retrogressive proof of each thing which a person claims to know. The infinite regress demands continual, causal justification for every protocol statement. There are only two ways to stop a infinite regress. The first requires that a self-evident truth be reached during the regress. Yet, every self-evident truth can be doubted because, barring linguistic axioms (like, a triangle is a three-sided, three-angled polygon), every concept’s falsity can be imagined; and, therefore, every concept is conceivably variable. So, because humans can only be certain of their own instantaneous existence, their imaginations are the only power they can trust. Since this power can realize the falsity of every “truth,” this ‘self-evidency’ solution to the infinite regress is useless. In other words, if some philosopher claims discovery of a self-evident truth and another philosopher can imagine an instance, no matter how hypothetical, where the truth would be false (which can be done by someone in every case), then the “truth” is, in fact, corrigible and untrustworthy. The power of imagination is the only testing grounds, and an idea, failing truth there, can find it no where else. The only other solution philosophy offers is containment. Containment simply involves agreeing upon a place to stop in the regress for practical purposes. But finding the nature of the universe does not allow for convenient arrest. Therefore, philosophical inquiry ends with the same concept or acceptance as religious proof: faith.
Now, it is obvious that the empiricists and religious are actually different sides of the same coin. Both try to give answers concerning the nature of the cosmos; both turn to faith in the end; both damn the other. Though their conflict is deep-seeded, their results are the same. For some, faith is fine to which to concede; most, however, want to know. Why? Most seek some external truth. Why? As stated above, all that man can be certain of is himself. The religious and the philosophical should realize, then, that truth is relative. That belief which gives one man comfort is his religion, his philosophy. If it differs from another man’s beliefs, or another world’s beliefs, it is no more incorrect than its counterpart; neither, conclusively, can be proven. Essentially then, the conflict, the warring, the debate between the rational and the religious has been, and continues to be, wasted effort, except for the result of pushing forth scientific inquiry into the basic truths of the practical world. After all, how can the Pope say Martin Luther is wrong when His Eminence can not know what, ultimately, is right. All should simply realize their ignorance, find a belief (if they choose to believe anything at all), and be content in its security, without attacking another’s peace.
This subjectivist argument seems to lead to the result of noone being allowed to discuss “higher matters.” This riposte hinges upon an implied premise that all communication must be useful. Certainly, this seems true for matters of science, politics, resource management, and, in general, normative life. Must, however, metaphysical debate have a culmination, or, put differently, must it come to an end of concession by one side? To help answer this, I ask that you consider art. The truths of aesthetics are as slippery, if not more so, than those of metaphysics—hence the reason that aesthetics is a field of metaphysics. Noone would attempt to dictate another’s aesthetic reaction to a work of art. Yet, people discuss new art and new artists all the time; what do they hope to accomplish?
The discussion of art is done for the same end as the perception of it: pleasure. Thus, I believe that philosophy is done for the end of pleasure, and not raw truth. People discussing philosophy, like those discussing art, are merely expressing their faiths. The pleasure comes either from the equation of the people’s view, or from the mental exercise, the “brain-endorphine buzz,” generated by trying to defend one’s view or find inconsistencies in another’s.
Some may now dispute that people interested in art read art critics for the end of learning something; and in my metaphor, that philosophers write for the end of augmenting human knowledge, i.e. to accomplish something. This paralleling of philosopher to art critic is correct in my metaphor, but the interpretation of the job the critic does is false. The critic is there to provide his interpretation of his perception of the art for those who failed to experience it. True, many people look to critics for information, but this is really a laziness on the reader’s part; he assumes the critic’s opinion because everyone else says that the critic is good. So those who read philosophy to learn truth are really just too lazy to seek their own truth; likewise for religions (since they are but philosophies of one sort).
Once again, the only reason one should “do philosophy” is for the pleasure gained by the exercise, not to be told the truth.
Thus, rather than an expression of the real nature of the cosmos, philosphies or religions, rationalists or theists, are really just artforms. They have their medium—the written word and debate—their audience, their artist. Far from a denegration of philosophical pursuit, I show that, because it lacks the solid grounding it would like to think it has, it is freed for expression. Every treatise on philosophy need not be written with rigorous logical babble—this is shown clearly by the profound, yet logically inconsistent and at time incoherent, writing of the existentialists. Their influence on the current of ideas in Western society in undeniable, yet their work, under the bobastic demands of most philosophers, is useless, incomprehensible.