Jacob J. Walker's Blog

Scholarly Thoughts, Research, and Journalism for Informal Peer Review

Archive for July 31st, 2013

Seeking Agreement: A Pragmatic and Vital Ethical Objective

with 3 comments

As readers may have noticed (if I have any regular readers, which I don’t think is necessarily currently the case), I have been much more philosophical recently.   While attempting to understand the deep nature of this universe was a goal I had in high school, and my friends would complain that I would philosophize too much, it hasn’t been something that I have done for a while. But given that I’m now in a “Philosophy of Education” doctoral course, I have needed to dive in again.

The biggest challenge that I see with philosophy is that there are some foundational questions that clearly different people have different answers to, and it is possible that the answers to these questions may not even be knowable.  This seems especially the case in the field of ethics; because, while agreement has been mostly reached, in academia at least, that scientific methods of empiricism and evidence should be used to determine “what is”, there is far less agreement about how we should determine “what ought to be”.  This has set up the “is-ought problem” that Hume talked about a long time ago.   Although, in many ways, I believe the “ought” starts first, as even knowledge derived from science can only be accepted if we believe that scientific methods ought to be the way we determine belief. (That is actually not fully true, as I would argue that many people actually believe science is true more pragmatically, in the sense that they believe natural scientists are right because of the technology that has come forth from that science.  But this doesn’t change my overall argument, as even “seeing is believing” is a statement of “ought”.)

Maybe some day we can find a way to come to more agreement on getting answers to the deep ethical questions (and maybe not).  But in the mean time, there is something that can potentially be found to be true, that is nearly self-evident, and that I have already bandied around in this short essay.  That is that we can determine whether we have agreement.  It may not always easy to tell if there is agreement among people, as can be shown from  miscommunication that happens when people think they have agreement, but they don’t really.  But, I think determining whether there is agreement on how we believe is likely more accomplishable then trying to determine if there is an ultimate truth of how we ought to believe.

I want to be clear that this doesn’t mean that agreement equates with truth.  There have often been times that people have agreed widely about a topic, and further learning by humankind has shown that agreement to basically be wrong.   The past belief about the earth being the center of the universe is one such belief.   It is because agreement doesn’t necessarily equate to truth that I have always bristled at the notion some postmodern and critical theory philosophers have had that democratic methods could be used to determine truth.  (There are many problems with the notion that we can find truth through democratic means, as my gravity example shows, and in ethical decisions, a democracy killed Socrates. Further the different scales of democratic groups leads to paradox, for example a small community may be in complete consensus, but as a subset of the full world community, they may be overwhelmingly be in the minority of belief.)

So if I am so fervent in believing that agreement doesn’t equate to truth, why am I now espousing that seeking agreement is a laudable goal?  Because there are many practical benefits of getting us to agree as groups. Agreement with an idea can help motivate a person or group of people to action.   This is especially more true today as democracy is becoming a prevalent method of political power.  Thus if we want to change the world, more and more we need to get people to agree to things to get those things to occur in the world.

Further, while I know it is a bold statement, seeking widespread agreement on key issues may be the only way we can save human kind.   I say this because it is clear that advances in technology haven’t required widespread agreement.  Technology works whether we agree with it or not.  And we have developed technologies of mass destruction, by choice (like nuclear bombs) and inadvertently (like fertilizer bombs or potentially the technology that is leading to global warming).  It seems to me that there is a law of entropy that occurs in human endeavors, in the sense that it is easier to cause chaos than order, and this becomes more true the more we have tools of mass destruction.

So, the only way that we are likely NOT to mostly destroy ourselves, is to work towards widespread (world-wide) agreement in areas that will strategically lower the probability of self-destruction.

So how do we get this agreement?  This will be explored more soon.


Written by Jacob Walker

July 31st, 2013 at 6:47 am

Posted in Philosophy

Some Foundational Philosophical Thoughts

without comments

Renee Descartes started with “I think therefore I am”, but that started with “I think”.  And further, it is clear all philosophy can only be based upon what we think as sentient beings.

Although this statement is getting ahead of the possibility that there isn’t a “we”, and instead that you are either alone or I’m alone.   If you believe that you are the only one, and that the rest of us are illusions, that I suppose is your prerogative, but why even read this?   And it is clear I don’t believe that I am alone; otherwise why would I write any of this?   So let us conclude as clearly evident that we are not alone as thinking beings in this world, and I will respect that you can think and that I can think, although neither of us can necessarily conclude that we think the same way, nor can we conclude by this alone that we are necessarily in the same exact world, but we must have some sort of shared world between us, because we are communicating.

So let us go next to the fact that all we can conceive is that which our minds can conceive, whether that be what we observe of what appears to be an outside world or what we think and feel in what seems to be an inside world.  This is at least how my mind seems to understand the world, and so I will posit it is likely the way for you.  (Evidence from others also suggests this is very likely the case.)  So all that we experience from outside and/or inside of us is what we can use to make sense of this world that at least has some part shared between us, and thus also between all sentient beings (and potentially between non-sentient beings and things as well.)

So from this, all philosophy is empirical, at least in the sense that it is based upon our experience. So the question from this, which I will attempt to answer in the future, is what parts of that experience we trust and thus believe?

Written by Jacob Walker

July 31st, 2013 at 5:32 am

Posted in Philosophy