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Radical Skepticism and Religious Experience

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  • Dom1978
    started a topic Radical Skepticism and Religious Experience

    Radical Skepticism and Religious Experience

    Imagine that I die in a car crash today, and I feel my immaterial soul leaving my body. I then float away to be with Jesus, and experience unimaginable bliss. The Christian will say that this just goes to show that they were right after all.

    Yet radical skepticism won't go away. All of this could be happening in the matrix. It could be extremely advanced extraterrestrials playing some kind of practical joke on me. A higher intelligence could be experimenting on me and giving me these experiences to see how I react. All of these experiences could be going on within a computer simulation.

    So why do people keep saying that NDEs or mystical experiences can give us knowledge of reality? Nothing can give us knowledge of reality. We will never be in that stable and comfortable position of knowing the truth.

    I think the important thing about radical skepticism is that it shows us which questions are worth bothering with and which ones aren't. Contrary to what many people think, questions about God, the afterlife, the nature and source of value, and the ultimate nature of reality are not the important ones. The important questions are the political and ethical ones. What is human flourishing? What is a good society?

  • gabriel
    replied
    The trait we honour with the name skepticism, is usually simple debunking. Self-styled skeptics believe themselves to be working in some classical tradition in search of truth, when most of the time they behave like adolescents who counter their parent's advice with another 'yebbut'. It isn't a search for the real, it's the need to listen to the voice in their own head, and spread that message to anyone who'll listen.

    They believe the voice to have an important message, but because the voice never listens to the sound of anything it doesn't like to hear, it's stuck with its own echo.

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  • Dom1978
    replied
    Both religious fundamentalists and hardcore materialists want an easy life. Fundamentalists will have their consistent and coherent worldview, even if it means pretending that biblical criticism and the problem of evil don't exist, and materialists will have their consistent and coherent worldview, even if it means having to pretend that free-will and consiousness don't exist. What nobody can do is have their consistent and coherent worldview while taking EVERYTHING into account. If we take everything into account, we see that life is extremely weird, and for many people this is not a comfortable position.

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  • Ninshub
    replied
    Originally posted by Carl Jung View Post
    Why on earth one would spend ones time doing something so utterly useless as merely trying to find out what's not true, through skepticism, is beyond me, but to each his own.
    Here's an, I think, ?* propos statement I came across by philosopher Robert Audi on virtue epistemology and the twin ideals of believing truth and avoiding falsehood. The skeptical attitude you describe, CJ, appears to me to "sin" in its excessive emphasis on the latter.

    I want to believe that the field (in front of me) is there if it truly is, for I have a deep-seated desire to believe as many significant truths as I can. But I also want to avoid believing that it is there if it is not, for I have a deep-seated desire to avoid believing falsehoods. Both of these desires are important; and they represent ideals that govern much of our thinking. But the two ideals pull against each other. The former inclines us to believe readily, since we may otherwise miss believing a truth; the latter inclines us to suspend judgment, lest we err by believing a falsehood.

    The former ideal, calling on us to believe truths, pushes us towards credulity: believing on grounds that evidentially are too thin - or without grounds at all - and thereby believing too much. The latter ideal, calling on us to avoid believing falsehoods, pushes us toward a kind of skepticism: believing only on conclusive grounds, and thereby - if common sense is right about the matter - believing too little.

    How can we balance these ideals with each other? (...)

    In very broad terms, skepticism is most commonly conceived by philosophers roughly as the view that there is little if any knowledge. Call this view knowledge skepticism.

    A related kind of skepticism is constituted by an attitude or feature of temperament, such as a disapproval of believing without conclusive grounds. This is not our direct concern. But if philosophical skepticism is not justified, then some common skeptical attitudes are not either, and some people who go through life with a skeptical attitude lack the kind of intellectual balance that goes with epistemic virtue. One reason, then, for studying skepticism is to approach a mean between two cognitive traits - intellectual vices, in the language of virtue epistemology. One vice is (excessive) credulity, which is too weak a disposition to doubt or withhold belief; the other is (excessive) skepticism, which is too strong a disposition to doubt or to withhold belief.

    Robert Audi. (2011). Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge. 3rd edition. Routledge. P. 335-336. (my bold)
    Why, as so evidenced in this forum for one thing (my impression anyway), and maybe this is also a feature of contemporary pop "skepticism" in general, is there always so much concern for the risk of believing falsehoods and comparatively little thought to the risks of missing important truths?

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  • Dom1978
    replied
    Originally posted by Carl Jung View Post
    Since I joined this forum I've noticed that most of the resident skeptics have never given any positive beliefs on any topic. Why on earth one would spend ones time doing something so utterly useless as merely trying to find out what's not true, through skepticism, is beyond me, but to each his own. But what's utterly clear to me after having been here some time is that the skepticism rampant here is psychological and not well grounded in reason.

    Frankly I find it pathetic to be told about the oh-so-ever-great skeptic so and so and his oh-so-ever-great arguments by some star struck pop-skeptic with the philosophical acumen of my dung.

    Face it - skepticism is a trend much like skateboard during the 70s or bad hair during the 80s and being able to flaunt some philosophical lingo doesn't make you a philosopher any more than owning the right skateboard magically transformed you into Tony Hawk.

    I'd like to propose that if you're here with the sole purpose of being skeptical of any and all views AND that you never postulate positive views yourself then you should be considered a troll.
    Yeah, I don't really have a coherent and consistent positive worldview to offer. I'm the first to admit this. But it's totally unfair to suggest that makes me a troll! I don't understand the nature of the self, consciousness, meaning and free-will. What do you want me to do? Should I just pretend to agree with the hardcore materialists or the religious folks that everything's OK and everything makes sense. This is intellectually dishonest.

    It seems to me that, when we take everything into account, Mcginn's position is the most reasonable one right now. Consciousness and free-will are part of the natural world, but the human brain is simply incapable of understanding how this can be. I also agree with Nagel and Maitzen that ultimate meaning isn't possible and that a certain amount of absurdity in life is inescapable. Still, it might be possible to find an optimistic worldview here, one where we can celebrate and enjoy the mystery and absurdity of life. Daoism may be an example of such a worldview.

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  • Iyace
    replied
    Originally posted by Carl Jung View Post
    Since I joined this forum I've noticed that most of the resident skeptics have never given any positive beliefs on any topic. Why on earth one would spend ones time doing something so utterly useless as merely trying to find out what's not true, through skepticism, is beyond me, but to each his own. But what's utterly clear to me after having been here some time is that the skepticism rampant here is psychological and not well grounded in reason.

    Frankly I find it pathetic to be told about the oh-so-ever-great skeptic so and so and his oh-so-ever-great arguments by some star struck pop-skeptic with the philosophical acumen of my dung.

    Face it - skepticism is a trend much like skateboard during the 70s or bad hair during the 80s and being able to flaunt some philosophical lingo doesn't make you a philosopher any more than owning the right skateboard magically transformed you into Tony Hawk.

    I'd like to propose that if you're here with the sole purpose of being skeptical of any and all views AND that you never postulate positive views yourself then you should be considered a troll.
    Naturally. Organized skepticism, as far as we know it, isn't based on rationality. In fact, sometimes a skeptic will reach for the LEAST obvious answer because it is the one that still remains relevant to their belief system. Organized skepticism spends so much time struggling to reach explanations that aren't intuitively obvious, without regard to rationality. I guess if rationality is postulating absurd and far-reaching answers to questions that seem intuitively obvious, then that's skepticism.

    But it does NOT use rationality, and skeptics believe it is their destiny to make people doubt their beliefs ( I hate that word ). Which is fine, we all need some elasticity back to rationality once in a while. But the fact that skeptics refuse to use that same skepticism of their own belief systems is what confuses me. Why use a rigorous set of criteria for everything but your own beliefs? Why point out God of the Gaps arguments when your arguments are full of promissory materialism?

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  • Carl Jung
    replied
    Since I joined this forum I've noticed that most of the resident skeptics have never given any positive beliefs on any topic. Why on earth one would spend ones time doing something so utterly useless as merely trying to find out what's not true, through skepticism, is beyond me, but to each his own. But what's utterly clear to me after having been here some time is that the skepticism rampant here is psychological and not well grounded in reason.

    Frankly I find it pathetic to be told about the oh-so-ever-great skeptic so and so and his oh-so-ever-great arguments by some star struck pop-skeptic with the philosophical acumen of my dung.

    Face it - skepticism is a trend much like skateboard during the 70s or bad hair during the 80s and being able to flaunt some philosophical lingo doesn't make you a philosopher any more than owning the right skateboard magically transformed you into Tony Hawk.

    I'd like to propose that if you're here with the sole purpose of being skeptical of any and all views AND that you never postulate positive views yourself then you should be considered a troll.

    Leave a comment:


  • Dom1978
    replied
    Originally posted by Carl Jung View Post
    Ok, you win this war of attrition.

    I can't be bothered to rehash reasons and put into new light what I have explained earlier and what should be crystal clear by now.

    I guess we simply don't speak the same language.
    OK, fair enough.

    Leave a comment:


  • Carl Jung
    replied
    Ok, you win this war of attrition.

    I can't be bothered to rehash reasons and put into new light what I have explained earlier and what should be crystal clear by now.

    I guess we simply don't speak the same language.

    Leave a comment:


  • Dom1978
    replied
    Originally posted by Carl Jung View Post
    I am now a substance dualist? Wow. I had no idea. I consider consciousness as, at least, equally as fundamental to existence as matter, but I haven't taken any specific metaphysical view as yet.

    Nor have I denied the implications of anthropology and history on knowledge - I just think don't they are devastating. It's funny that you should mention history though - because that forces me to give you a bit of a history lesson on skepticism from a philosophical perspective:

    1. Late 17th century - Modernism evolves out of the Enlightenment. The modernist believes in mans ability to change and improve his environment.
    The belief in mechanistic science is such that the modernist skeptics arguments against knowledge stem from the belief that things should be measureable - as in science. The problem with this skeptical take on things is that it is completely ahistorical - amongst other things.


    2. The philosophy of Nietzsche leads to Post-modernism - and the post-modernist skeptic criticizes the thoughts of the Modernist by pointing out its ahistorical and acultural pre-suppositions. Instead the post-modernist skeptic tries to use history, cultural studies and anthropololgy as a basis for his cricitism of knowledge and classical philosophy.

    ----------------------------

    Now, what you have done in this thread, is to attempt both the modernist and post-modernist critiques of classicial realist philosophy - but without realizing that one can't really use the ahistorical modernists critique of realism AND the post-modernist critiques without being viewed as someone who don't really understand the history of ones own views and how they ultimately clash.

    I can't argue in detail for why I believe what I believe - that would amount to a couple of books. I can only try a holistic perspective in order to explain why I think what I think.

    Also - what people think in China is not very interesting to me. Not more so than what they think anywhere else - that post-modern take on things just doesn't do it for me. A
    I don't see a big problem here. I'm just trying to give some reasons why we should be skeptical about our intuitions. Some of these reasons come from modernist philosophy, some from postmodernist philosophy, and some from cognitive science, social psychology, history and anthropology.

    We don't have to choose the modernist team against the postmodernist team, or the analytic team against the continental team. The mistake you're making is to assume that anybody using ideas from postmodernism must be an extreme anti-science postmodern relativist. You seem to think that, to be consistent, one must choose either the historical/anthropological critique of intuitions and common-sense, or the modernist scientific cognitive science/psychology critique.

    I think the main problem here is that you are caricaturing postmodernism. There are plenty of reasonable postmodernists out there, and they have no problem agreeing with Rorty that science, while far from perfect, is the best thing we've got for figuring out how stuff works.
    Last edited by Dom1978; August 27th, 2013, 07:48 AM.

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  • Carl Jung
    replied
    I am now a substance dualist? Wow. I had no idea. I consider consciousness as, at least, equally as fundamental to existence as matter, but I haven't taken any specific metaphysical view as yet.

    Nor have I denied the implications of anthropology and history on knowledge - I just think don't they are devastating. It's funny that you should mention history though - because that forces me to give you a bit of a history lesson on skepticism from a philosophical perspective:

    1. Late 17th century - Modernism evolves out of the Enlightenment. The modernist believes in mans ability to change and improve his environment.
    The belief in mechanistic science is such that the modernist skeptics arguments against knowledge stem from the belief that things should be measureable - as in science. The problem with this skeptical take on things is that it is completely ahistorical - amongst other things.


    2. The philosophy of Nietzsche leads to Post-modernism - and the post-modernist skeptic criticizes the thoughts of the Modernist by pointing out its ahistorical and acultural pre-suppositions. Instead the post-modernist skeptic tries to use history, cultural studies and anthropololgy as a basis for his cricitism of knowledge and classical philosophy.

    ----------------------------

    Now, what you have done in this thread, is to attempt both the modernist and post-modernist critiques of classicial realist philosophy - but without realizing that one can't really use the ahistorical modernists critique of realism AND the post-modernist critiques without being viewed as someone who don't really understand the history of ones own views and how they ultimately clash.

    I can't argue in detail for why I believe what I believe - that would amount to a couple of books. I can only try a holistic perspective in order to explain why I think what I think.

    Also - what people think in China is not very interesting to me. Not more so than what they think anywhere else - that post-modern take on things just doesn't do it for me. A

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  • Dom1978
    replied
    Originally posted by Carl Jung View Post
    Given that the question is largely academic - sure I could. But it would still be an impossibility.



    No, I am really sorry but there is a difference between questioning and being pre-disposed to accept skeptic arguments as more powerful than the positive constructive arguements in philosophy.

    The conclusion I draw from radical skepticism is that all of our knowledge is so easily attacked that learning to be skeptical of knowledge is something you do during your first semester at college.

    After a while you find that the skeptical arguments are very powerful in their reductive analytic form - but they can't at all be defended when you try to form a coherent world-view.

    The Dennetts or the Laws of the philosophical world hold many views that are inherently contradictory - because the skeptical arguments pre-suppose that you hold other views. The best example of this is of course the empiricist claim that only experience leads to knowledge.

    That world-view can't be defended rationally because, according to this view at least, reason is not a way to know the world - and neither can it be found out through experience.

    But still the skeptical empiricist persevere.

    This kind of skepticism is not defensible in my view. It is not even interesting.
    Well, if Nagel is right that life is absurd with or without God or the afterlife, then we're obviously going to find it very difficult to come up with a coherent and satisfying worldview. You can't just rule out the possibility that the human condition is one of absurdity. You need to try to argue that ideas like ultimate meaning and purpose are actually coherent, and that Maitzen and Nagel are wrong. Nagel thinks that absurdity comes from the fact that human beings have the unique ability to take either a first-person view of their life or a detached third-person view. Even if there is a God and an afterlife, life will still be absurd for creatures like us, simply because we can always take a step back and ask, "Yeah, but what's really so great about worshipping God forever anyway?"

    I also find it bizarre that you take very controversial metaphysical views like substance dualism and libertarian free will to be obviously true. You really need to take the broad anthropological and historical perspective here to understand why you're wrong to do this. I live in China, and if I ask people questions like why is there something rather than nothing, or what's the connection between these two radically different realms the mental and the physical, they just look at me like I'm crazy. What you take to be the universal questions of human existence may in fact just be questions that are very important in the western philososphical and religious tradition.

    The fact that people raised in a Christian culture find the Buddhist view of the self baffling and counter-intuitive obviously doesn't mean that it's false, and the same is true of the views of Hume, Mcginn, or Dennett. You can't just appeal to your intuitions as if that settles the matter. It doesn't. Philosophers will no doubt go on arguing about the self, freedom, values and consciousness forever. The question is, will society fall apart if people have the 'wrong' metaphysical beliefs? The answer is no.
    Last edited by Dom1978; August 26th, 2013, 09:14 PM.

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  • Carl Jung
    replied
    Originally posted by North View Post
    Carl thank you for taking the time to write this. I appreciate your willingness to persist with clear philosophical thinking.
    Oh, how kind of you!! Thanks!

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  • North
    replied
    Originally posted by Carl Jung View Post
    No, I am really sorry but there is a difference between questioning and being pre-disposed to accept skeptic arguments as more powerful than the positive constructive arguements in philosophy.

    The conclusion I draw from radical skepticism is that all of our knowledge is so easily attacked that learning to be skeptical of knowledge is something you do during your first semester at college.

    After a while you find that the skeptical arguments are very powerful in their reductive analytic form - but they can't at all be defended when you try to form a coherent world-view.

    The Dennetts or the Laws of the philosophical world hold many views that are inherently contradictory - because the skeptical arguments pre-suppose that you hold other views. The best example of this is of course the empiricist claim that only experience leads to knowledge.

    That world-view can't be defended rationally because, according to this view at least, reason is not a way to know the world - and neither can it be found out through experience.

    But still the skeptical empiricist persevere.

    This kind of skepticism is not defensible in my view. It is not even interesting.
    Carl thank you for taking the time to write this. I appreciate your willingness to persist with clear philosophical thinking.

    Leave a comment:


  • gabriel
    replied
    Originally posted by Carl Jung View Post
    This kind of skepticism is not defensible in my view. It is not even interesting.
    I agree. There is no way of testing whether someone who feels free, is free or not, so the emotion of freedom is the only standard by which to judge the concept. Take the example of a religiously cloistered individual who chooses that lifestyle as a way of expressing their freedom, or taken to extremes, a hermit in a cave, or a stylite living at the top of a pole for thirty years. Their ascetism is an expression of their freedom, even though to the observer, they are impossibly confined. If it's claimed their lifestyle is a predisposition, how is that any different from a predisposition to skepticism? There's no proof either way. Only by reducing feelings (qualia) to an unquantifiable irrelevance are we able to make such claims. And what is the disposition to skepticism but the manifestation of an emotion?

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