The Vital Importance of a Correct Philosophical Stance

Christopher Hurtado —  June 23, 2009 — Leave a comment
The Vital Importance of a Correct Philosophical Stance | Christopher Hurtado
Here I Stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen. (Luther, Diet of Worms, 17 April 1521)

Introduction

The purpose of philosophy is to systematize human knowledge. This entails the correct identification of reality. In order to succeed, philosophy must correctly identify the most basic principles of reality and build a theory of knowledge on that foundation. Philosophy must be built on reality in order to be sound. For a theory of knowledge to be correct, it must stem from principles that correctly identify reality. Likewise, in order to develop a correct ethical theory, philosophy must build on the foundation laid by a correct theory of knowledge which is in turn supported by correctly identified principles of reality. Misidentification of principles of reality necessarily constitutes fundamental error and inevitably leads to incorrect philosophy, regardless of consistency. In fact, commitment to an erroneous foundation will inevitably lead to further error in consistently systematizing knowledge.

The basic principles of all knowledge are that consciousness exists and existence exists. However, it is not enough to know these basic principles in order to gain sound footing. It is crucial to understand that consciousness is consciousness of something and that that something is existence, or reality. In other words, existence has primacy over consciousness. The error of giving primacy to consciousness over existence necessarily leads to the metaphysical supposition that God has primacy over reality and the epistemological suppositions that faith has primacy over reason and the heart over the mind in order to be consistent. This in turn necessarily leads to ethics founded on a commitment to the philosophical supposition that to love has primacy over life, others over self, right over good and duty over happiness in order to be consistent. Correctly identifying the primacy of existence over consciousness leads to the metaphysical supposition that reality has primacy over God and the epistemological supposition that reason has primacy over faith and the heart over the mind in in order to be consistent. This in turn necessarily leads to ethics founded on a commitment to life over love, self over others, good over right and happiness over duty in order to be consistent.

In order to be consistent in philosophy, you must be systematic. The law of non-contradiction demands it. However, philosophy that is consistent in error is no more useful than inconsistent philosophy as it does not and cannot yield a sound, livable and effective ethics. What you need is sound philosophy that can and does yield sound, livable and effective ethics. Ethics are central to philosophy. The point of doing philosophy, of systematizing knowledge, is to test and correct it if necessary, in order to validate your beliefs and practices. Since life is precarious, correct practices are necessary in order to sustain it. Your ethics inform decisions crucial to the preservation of your life. Philosophy in general and ethics in particular are therefore key to survival. The point of ethics is not just to tell you what to do. Ethics tells you what to do in order to survive and prosper. Correct ethics are vital to life in general and to the good life in particular.

Metaphysics

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with what is basic. It is the starting point of a systematic philosophy. Metaphysical axioms are fundamental, and therefore irreducible In other words, they cannot be analyzed or broken down into more basic parts. They are directly perceptible by the senses, and therefore require no proof or explanation. To the contrary, they form the basis of all proofs and explanations. Philosophy is built on the foundation of metaphysical axioms. Consciousness, existence and identity are axiomatic. They are metaphysically given, and thus indisputable. However, many have made the mistake of incorrectly identifying the primacy of existence over consciousness. It is crucial to understand that existence has primacy over consciousness. Only by parting from this metaphysical supposition do correct metaphysics, epistemology and ethics obtain. Knowledge is knowledge of reality. Therefore, all metaphysical principles have epistemological implications. Reality has primacy over consciousness and thus over God. This is metaphysically given and thus not open to evaluation. It cannot be right or wrong, it simply is. It is incontrovertible.

There are three axiomatic principles of metaphysics: (1) Existence exists. This is not to say that existence is thus or so, only that it is. (2) Consciousness exists. Consciousness is the perception of existence. (3) Everything that exists is an identity. To be is to be something. Consciousness is the identification of an entity by means of its identity. There is a fourth metaphysical axiom that is a corollary of identity: causality. Since all actions belong to entities they are causally linked to the nature of the entity, or its identity. Entities act according to their identity. Like identities produce like actions. This is causal and independent of consciousness. Consciousness of reality through sense perception thus involves causality. Consciousness is consciousness of an object as perceived by the senses according to its identity. Consciousness cannot change the identity or nature of its objects. It can only identify them.

That which is metaphysically given is absolute. It is necessary by virtue of identity. It cannot be otherwise. It is not subject to human (or any other) agency. The metaphysically given is not true or false, it simply is. It is the standard of truth. Our judgments are true or false depending on whether or not they correspond to or contradict reality. Thus, human judgment is subject to evaluation, reality is not. Failure to recognize this principle leads to the fallacy of the primacy of consciousness, or the belief that reality is dependent on consciousness. The fallacy of the primacy of consciousness denies the law of identity. Consciousness, like everything else that exists, is an identity. As an identity, it has a given nature. It operates according to that nature. The nature of consciousness is that it is a receptive faculty. As a receptive faculty, it is extrospective. It draws data from the world via the senses and forms conceptual integrations of that data. That is its nature.

Epistemology

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature, manner of acquisition, validity and possible extent of knowledge. It answers questions such as what knowledge is, what can be known, how knowledge can be obtained and how knowledge is distinguished from opinion. Given that reality exists independent of and has primacy over consciousness, knowledge must therefore be knowledge of reality. Knowledge, in order to be reality-based, must correctly identify the identity of existents. Knowledge begins with the sense perception of reality and proceeds through conscious volition to the integration of sense data in order to arrive at concepts. In other words, human knowledge is conceptual in nature. Since integration is volitional, conceptual-level consciousness is fallible. Therefore, man must follow objective rules in order to gain correct knowledge of reality. Thus, reason has primacy over faith and the mind has primacy over the heart.

The human mind is a conceptual faculty. It takes the percepts, or cognitions of entities, that sense data presents to it and forms concepts based on volitional integrations of attributes of those entities. A concept, therefore, is a mental integration of two or more like units sharing distinguishing characteristics. The identification of an existent as a separate member of a group of two or more similar existents, gives rise to the concept of a unit. This concept, unique to man, is the foundational concept upon which man builds all subsequent concepts. Man builds these further concepts through the volitional process of differentiation, integration and abstraction. Concepts are then named, making them mental entities. Thus, man uses language to think, as well as to communicate. Concepts can be formed based not only on percepts, but also on other concepts, forming higher order concepts. The final step in conceptualization is the utilization of a perceived unit as a unit of measurement and the grasping of a similarity based on that unit of measurement. Thus, a concept can be defined as the mental integration of two or more units with the same distinguishing characteristic(s), omitting their particular measurement..

Concepts denote facts. They have a basis in reality. Higher-level concepts may integrate lower-level concepts, but the foundational first-level concepts upon which all higher-order concepts are based are always based on the integration of percepts. Thus, all concepts can be reduced to the perceptual level. This principle of concept-formation gives rise to the fallacy of the floating abstraction. A floating abstraction is not an integration of perceptual data, but a memorized generalization which is not made up of particulars, but of a hodgepodge of particulars, habits and feelings that are then combined to form other such generalizations none of which can be reduced to the perceptual level. Floating abstractions have no basis in reality.

The basic function of concepts is unit-economy. Because consciousness is finite it can only distinguish and focus on a limited number of units at once. Concepts are necessary in order to extend the reach of consciousness. Concepts compress the totality of existents into manageable chunks. Concepts integrate groups of percepts into single mental wholes by condensing the known essential characteristics of those percepts. The human mind surveys and analyzes similarities, differences and causal relationships, selects these essential characteristics and uses them to condense the totality of the percepts that make up any given concept. The process of reduction results in an easy to retain statement.

The purpose of epistemology is to define the correct method of conceptualization. The correct method must reflect reality since consciousness is consciousness of reality and the nature of consciousness itself since consciousness acts according to its identity. The correct method cannot incorporate shortcuts in thought or experience. It must be logical. In other words, it must conform to reality. Since consciousness consists in identification, the law of identity serves as a bridge between metaphysics and epistemology. That is, between reality and consciousness. The law of identity demands that identification be noncontradictory. Thus, when the volitional process of thought occurs, new knowledge must be integrated with existing knowledge without contradiction. Knowledge is proven by reducing it to the perceptual level. This is the only way to establish the link between our concepts and reality.

Knowledge is contextual. Human knowledge consists of a body of interrelated elements. It is a single whole. Knowledge is total. Since, metaphysically speaking, there is only one universe, everything in it is causally linked. Therefore, knowledge of reality must also be total and interconnected in order to reflect the totality of reality, or the universe. Knowledge is based on integrations. Failure to integrate new knowledge with existing knowledge results in contradictions. Man must therefore integrate new knowledge in order to be consistent. Knowledge is philosophical in the sense that it deals with abstractions. Knowledge is contextual in that it arises in the context of earlier information.

Knowledge is hierarchical, based on the logical dependence among concepts and conclusions. The bottom of the hierarchy is the perceptual level, where cognition begins. Not all concepts occur at the perceptual level. Some concepts and conclusions are farther removed from the perceptual level than others. The hierarchical nature of knowledge demands that concepts lower in the hierarchy of knowledge be understood before other higher-order concepts become intelligible. Proof of knowledge requires logical structure. Logical structure demands that new conclusions be integrated with all previous conclusions without contradiction and that they be reduced through the necessary intermediate chain to the perceptual level. Thus, primaries must be identified. That is, you must identify your starting point, including irreducible concepts.

Reason is a fact-based faculty. Reason begins with sensory data, which are facts perceived by the senses, organizes these facts according to facts, which are the facts of logic, and in accordance with the law of identity, which is the fundamental fact. Emotions are not fact-based. They are based on ideas. Emotions are responses to facts based on knowledge of these facts and their evaluation in terms of the values of the perceiver. The perceiver identifies a fact, evaluates it and responds to it. Emotions are usually subconscious and often inconsistent. This leads to the misconception of a conflict between thoughts and feelings. In reality, the conflict is between thoughts and thoughts, not between thoughts and feelings.

Feelings or emotions play no part in the method of logic. Feelings cannot be evidence for a conclusion. That you have feelings simply means that you have conclusions nestled in your subconscious. There is no guarantee that these conclusions are reality-based. This can only be ascertained through the process of reason. Emotions do play an important part in life. They are the expression of man’s values. Feelings should not be ignored any more than they should be taken as authoritative. They should be identified and compared to conscious conclusions in order to ascertain which is of the two is correct and which is false so that true conclusions can lead to an amended viewpoint and false conclusions can be rejected. This process of identification, analysis and integration will restore harmony between emotions and reason. Arbitrary claims have no connection with reality. They are neither true nor false. They need not be disproved, but dismissed. The reductio ad absurdum method of disproving a premises based on the absurd or contradictory nature of its logical consequence requires positive facts. Reason, likewise requires positive evidence.

The nature of man’s cognitive ability is such that it is possible for him to know something without knowing everything. The nature of human consciousness is such that human knowledge is founded on percepts and built on concepts. This is not an obstacle to human knowledge, but the identity of its method. When forming concepts, man must base his conclusions on the available evidence, regardless of whether he suspects further evidence may later surface. Thus, knowledge is contextual. A conclusion is only as strong as the evidence that supports it. Nevertheless, knowledge claims are contextual absolutes. That is, they are held to be true within the context in which they originate. This notion of “absolute” is relative. However, this does not imply relativism. To the contrary, context strengthens human conclusions. It gives properly specified conclusions invulnerability.

Mysticism and skepticism deny reason. Knowledge is knowledge of reality. It is based either on perceptual data or on conceptualizations of perceptual data. Mysticism is the notion that there is another way to acquire knowledge other than through the senses and reason, whether it be faith, intuition, or any other means. This misconceived notion is the result of emotionalism. It is the notion that man should rely on automatic rather than volitional thinking. That is, he should accept the ideas in his mind without questioning or validating them, regardless of how they were acquired. Skepticism rejects consciousness and reason. It is the absurd notion that there is no way to acquire knowledge of reality.

The incorrect epistemological supposition that faith has primacy over reason stems from mysticism and is directly related to the metaphysically incorrect supposition that consciousness has primacy over reality. The incorrect epistemological supposition that the heart has primacy over the mind stems from emotionalism and is also directly related to the metaphysically incorrect supposition of consciousness over reality. Just as incorrect metaphysical suppositions inevitably lead to incorrect epistemological suppositions, incorrect epistemological suppositions inevitably lead to incorrect ethical suppositions. Incorrect ethical suppositions in turn lead to unsound, unlivable and ineffective ethics.

Ethics

Ethics provide man with a code of values to guide his choices and upon which to base his actions. Ethics, therefore, deals with what is good or bad, right or wrong for man. These concepts are value-based and thus are objective in nature. Ethics answers questions pertaining to desirable ends and the means to obtain them: To what end should I live? By what fundamental principle should I act in order to reach this end? Who should benefit from my actions? The answers are: Life is the ultimate value, rationality the means to achieve it and oneself the ultimate beneficiary. Therefore, life must be given primacy over love, self over others, good over right and happiness over duty. Value is objective in that it indicates action toward a desired end and presupposes an entity capable of acting toward it. For their to be value, there must be an alternative. It is life that makes value possible since only living organisms face life and death choices. Preserving life and promoting the good life demands compliance with reality.

Life is precarious. That is to say that it is subject to constraints or conditional. Goal-oriented action is necessary for the preservation and promotion of life. All living things have a means of survival. For plants, it is vital functions alone. For animals, it is instinct. For humans, it is reason. As a conceptual being, man does not organize his actions on the basis of instinct alone. Man is purposeful. He identifies goals and how to reach them. Given the epistemological fact that man knows reality by virtue of reason, and the fact that man’s means of survival is reason, reason must be man’s basic survival tool. Man is a composite being. He is an integrated mind and body. In order for man to survive, the mind and the body must remain integrated. Reason is a practical attribute.

Although man’s ability to reason or think is an individual attribute, the product of man’s thought, knowledge, can be shared. Man can thus benefit from his knowledge and actions as well as those of other men. Nevertheless, each man thinks and acts individually If reason is an individual attribute, and man’s choice to reason leads to the emotions he feels and the actions he takes, then the individual has sovereignty over himself. Man is therefore not genetically or environmentally determined. Neither is man’s nature at variance with his will. Will is reason and man is governed by it. He is free and he is ultimately the product of his freedom, which is to say that he is the product of his own intellect.

Ethics is founded on epistemology. Its central concept is value. The concept “value,” like all other concepts is based on observation. It is based on goal-oriented action. “Value” denotes the object of an action: that which an entity acts to gain or keep. The answer to the questions to whom or for what are presupposed: there must be an entity capable of goal-oriented action. An alternative to the entity’s goal is also presupposed Without an alternative to an entity’s goals, there can be no goals or values. The entities that make “value” possible are living organisms. The conditional nature of life and the choices this entails make living organisms the only kinds of entities that need to pursue values. Only conscious entities subject to destruction and able to act to prevent it have need of goal-oriented action. The ultimate goal is self-preservation. All other goals depend on this goal.

Human life is the standard of moral value. Morality is the result of  man’s ability to choose his values. Man’s action must be not only goal-oriented but long-term-oriented. The demands of morality are persistent and all-encompassing. Morality is the result of the conceptualization of the requirements of human survival. Thus, morality defines an integrated, hierarchical, noncontradictory code of values which make it possible for man to choose, plan, and act with long-term orientation. According to his conceptual nature, man needs such a code in order to conceptually utilize his free will to preserve and promote his life long-term. Reason is man’s basic survival tool. In order to survive, man must value reason, purpose and self-esteem above all else. Reason is his tool for the acquisition of knowledge. Purpose is his choice of happiness, to which he applies reason to succeed in achieving it. Self-esteem is his conviction that he is capable of reason and worthy of happiness, which is life. This is virtue.

The incorrect ethical suppositions that love has primacy over life, others over self, right over good and happiness over duty stem from the incorrect epistemological suppositions that faith has primacy over reason and the heart over the mind. That is, mysticism and emotionalism respectively. Mysticism and emotionalism and their attendant epistemological suppositions stem from the incorrect metaphysical suppositions that God has primacy over reality and consciousness has primacy over existence. The result is unsound, unlivable and ineffective ethics. Rather than preserving and promoting life and happiness, they inevitably lead to sorrow and death.

Conclusion

Ethics is the central branch of philosophy, the reason for doing philosophy in the first place. Because life is precarious, it must be secured. In order to secure life, you must act in accordance with ethics that preserve and promote life. Your ethics should provide you with correct values by which to live your life – life-promoting values. Ethics based on values is necessary in order to preserve and promote life. A correct philosophical stance rests on the foundation of correct metaphysical suppositions. Only correct metaphysical suppositions will yield correct epistemological suppositions. Only correct epistemological suppositions can yield correct ethics. The erroneous metaphysical supposition that consciousness has primacy over existence denies the law of identity an yields a negative theology.  A negative theology inevitably leads to irrational faith. Irrational faith embraces a morality that is impossible to live. Upon the sandy foundation of the fallacy of the primacy of consciousness rest seven false philosophical suppositions. They are consistent, yet inevitably lead to death.

Correct metaphysics recognizes the primacy of existence over consciousness, affirming the law of identity. Correct epistemology, built on the foundation of correct metaphysics, correctly identifies reality and yields rational faith. The foundation laid by correct metaphysics and epistemology in turn yields correct ethics – value based ethics – that preserve and promote life. Existence has primacy over consciousness and thus reality has primacy over God. This is a correct metaphysical stance. Reason has primacy over faith and the mind has primacy over the heart. This is a correct epistemological stance. A correct ethical stance gives primacy to life over love, self over others, good over right and happiness over duty. This is a livable, effective ethics. It promotes the good life. The philosophy outlined above succeeds in systematizing knowledge by correctly identifying true philosophical suppositions and by testing and correcting them, as needed, to validate the beliefs and practices it yields.

Correct philosophy is a life or death matter. Only a consistent philosophy that has correctly identified true metaphysical and epistemological principles can yield ethics that preserves and promotes life. Correct values can only be discovered by first discovering the correct foundational principles that support them. Without a systematic approach to philosophy, it is impossible to correctly identify these principles. Principles must be reduced to the perceptual level to be reality-based and must be integrated with all other principles in order for a philosophy to be sound and consistent. Only a sound and consistent philosophy lives up to the purpose of philosophy – to systematize knowledge in order to test and validate, and if necessary correct, one’s beliefs and practices. Only a correct philosophical stance in general can yield a correct ethics in particular, and this is crucial. Correct ethics are vital to life in general and to the good life in particular.

Christopher Hurtado

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Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children's book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.

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