Prologue: A Summary of my Metaphysics and Epistemology

  • My personal philosophy, and how I understand reality, is probably closest to what Aristotle taught, and as most recently articulated by the modern philosopher Ayn Rand.   Although I do have some conflicts with Rand’s views on altruism and atheism (and some of her political beliefs), I see more truth in this “Objectivist” philosophical system than most other theories on knowledge and existence that I've looked into. 

    To exist is to think.   I know that there is something that exists because I’m aware that it does, and I can identify it.  Using my mind, I have learned that this planet I’m on is ruled by the laws of nature that are stable, firm, finite, absolute and knowable. This world is made of actual things with substances (“stuff”) and form (“shape”).  This world is what it is.  Reason is the faculty which perceives, identifies and integrates the material world presented to me by my senses.   Mind and body are one.  They are not distinct.  My mind acts with my body to arrive at decisions.  My ideas are based on the information my senses receive; they are the product of my mind's activity in the effort to understand the world.  My mind is able to separate a things form from its matter.  

    I acquire my knowledge by a process of reason that must be validated by logic or empirical evidence to arrive at the truth.  There is an absolute truth.   Revelation, whether by some supernatural power, God, the bible, or some other means, is not a sufficient proof and is not superior to reason.   But my rational faculty is susceptible to error, evasion and distortion, so it must be validated in order to know what I know.  Therefore, reason is the only means of gaining knowledge, and logic and fact finding is the method of validation.  My mind is my most basic tool for survival.  I am not controlled by some determinant cause outside myself.  I have free will.  To think is an act of choice.  The most important freedom man can experience is the freedom to choose.

    The natural world is awesome, brutal, mysterious, and most importantly, anti-fragile.   Created out of the natural world, man experiences the emotion of being scared. Man recognizes his fragility.   To survive in the natural world, I must become resilient and strong.   The more skillful I become at using the volatility, variability and disorder of my existence to develop my physical and mental strength, the more I will flourish.   But I am not alone.  Man thrives best in a relationship with another, so man creates his own social mechanisms to tame nature as best he can.  Through the artificial construction of society, marriage, law, religion, mysticism, art, poetry, etc., man has developed a minimal defense against nature’s power.

    I don’t know how the universe came to exist, or claim to know with absolute certainty how humans were created, but it seems logical that something can’t come from nothing.  Even an accident requires a force to make things collide. There is not enough proof for me to believe that nature created these things itself.  A religious hypothesis of the nature of the universe postulating a First Principle (God), the Source of energy that does not run down, seems to me as rational as some of the strictly scientific, mechanistic views. There are many creation theories, stories, and myths and I believe parts of many of these may be true.  In my opinion, the most beautiful explanation is the Biblical story in the Book of Genesis.  I don’t need to believe that the description in Genesis is literally how the world and man came to be in order to justify my theistic tendencies.   I have more affinity to Aristotle’s description of God as the “unmoved mover”, Paul Tillich’s God as the “ground of being”, Alfred North Whitehead’s God as “process”,  Teilhard de Chardin’s God who is “element”, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call for a “religionless Christianity”; than to the consummate atheism of Ludwig Feuerbach who makes the claim that man’s gods are just man’s projection of his wants and needs, or to the late popular atheist (and whose writings and speeches I enjoyed immensely), Christopher Hitchens, who stated in his book God Is Not Great, that “religion poisons everything”.  

    I believe religion can be a useful survival mechanism for man and a benefit to society, although many horrendous events have occurred because of religious fundamentalism.  However, I would argue that more good comes from a religion that teaches a redemption story of grace, forgiveness, and emancipation for those in bondage (as taught in “Liberation Theology”, for example), than evil caused by religious faith.  The problem is bad theology and intolerant religion, not that some men have a religion.  There are plenty of evil atheists that have done severe damage in our midst.   As Albert Einstein wrote in a paper in preparation for a Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion, “In the end, science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind”. 

    In order to live fully, I must act. In order to act, I must choose.  In order to make choices, I must define a code of values, an ethic.  In order to define a code of values, I must know what I am, where I am, what I should do, and how best to get along on this planet I feel my feet upon.  Without reason, I can have no value, for I just exist, like matter, and other living things.   My uniqueness comes from my ability to think, to reason.  Man is a creature of conscience, not just appetites, drives, and a lust for power. There is only one power that should drive man. It is the power of ideas.

    One great idea that I accept is that man’s primary purpose is to be of value; to be valued by himself, and to be of value to others.  To survive, my needs must be met.   Values are my assumptions of what are the most essential needs that support my flourishing.  Reasons for my action derive from my conception of how best to live.  My first concern must be my own survival, or I very well may not survive.  Secondly, I find that others' survival can enhance my own chances for survival.  Therefore, my own selfishness does have elements of altruism.  But this altruism must not be based on some artificial promotion of “self-denial”. My own interests are not in conflict with someone else's interests when we both seek value.  In this sense, it is good that we are all selfish.  Selfishness does not mean we enrich ourselves at the expense of others.  When we enrich ourselves, we may also enrich others.  Therefore, morality is about enrichment.   How do we increase our value, and the value of others?  How we go about answering this is the role of politics. 

    My political philosophy is based on four key principals: Freedom, Accountability, Capitalism, and Essentialism (“F.A.C.E.”), which I use as a filter to judge what I consider moral and effective policies, regulations and laws from those that are unethical and that, more likely than not, harm mankind.