Letters to a Concerned Free-Thinker, Letter #7: The Pursuit of Epistemology

Dear Thinker.

It is through the lens of scientific discovery that humanity’s knowledge of the cosmos is enriched, as the world beyond the eye is found for the first time; one need only look into a microscope. It is this deeper understanding of the world that has broadened humanity’s view of its place in the cosmos. Humanity’s notion of self-importance – its delusions of grandeur – has been challenged by the discoveries of science, as it now faces the reality of its own insignificance; giving rise to both feelings of loss and sadness, as the value in life – it is believed – has been diminished. However, despite this negative association between value and discovery, there is still a great deal of optimism. Yes, though humanity’s sense of significance has appeared to have diminished in light of the new horizon that has been founded by science, there is still place for the reassessment of value in discovery. Through the lens of philosophical analysis and construction a new model of thought is established, one that seeks to put into perspective the new found role of humanity. For philosophy is in the interest of assessing and constructing models of thought that both aid the individual to understand the world around them, and to aid them in their experience within it. Let us take into consideration the value of philosophy.

Philosophy has never been grounded in the halls of academia, for the ‘love of wisdom’ can never be solely caged by a degree, especially a degree that demands others to respect it; for respect is earned, never demanded. Instead philosophy is a universal endeavour that all people take part in. From the mere contemplation over daily matters to the deepest analysis of thought, philosophy is the means by which discourses are framed. Epistemology, the branch of philosophy concerned in organising knowledge, embellishes the idea of a ‘deeper understanding’ that one can have when postulating thoughts about the world around them. A philosopher is interested in the pursuit and cultivation of wisdom. They are, nor should be, individuals who solely rely on their degree to promote their ego… no. A philosopher, and all those who admire wisdom and the pursuit thereof, must realise that philosophy embellishes the pursuit of a deeper understanding of the world. It wishes to allow individuals the desire to understand the universe around them and their place in it. Everyone who reflects upon their place in the cosmos, and the understanding they gain from that reflection, can consider themselves to be philosophers in their own right; by wishing to learn one is acting in the light of wisdom. Freethinkers a like need to embrace the idea that philosophy is not elitist in nature, and is instead a universal enterprise for all people – for it is all people that do philosophy. Thus, when it comes to the discoveries of science, and how one should apply value to it, there is no better enterprise then philosophy. The reason should be evident: philosophy helps put into perspective the findings of science, and thus the individual’s reaction to science as well. Now that value has been re-established in philosophy, one can now move on to more pressing matters.  

In recent times there has been a growing number of people making and asserting propositions without the relative evidence to support. These ‘suppositions’ are made purely by individuals who hold unfound presuppositions about the world around them; they do not appear to be in the business of aligning their beliefs with reality, but are instead in the business of asserting their version of reality upon others. They are a part of religions, and a part of extreme ideologies who wish to corrupt the well of deeper understanding with distorted ways of viewing the world.  When one implicitly assumes the answer to a question that has not yet been given a substantiated answer, what they are enacting is the renouncement of evidence for their suppositions; providing an answer, before providing support for it, is the essence of presuppositionalism and fideism. Logic, reason and evidence should set the standard that one comes about acquiring knowledge. 

In apologetics, the branch of theology that deals with the defence of faith, there is a branch dedicated solely towards presuppositionalism. Presuppositional apologetics, in Christian theology, assumes that opponents of the faith are aware of a God’s (Christian God) existence, but are denying the reality of it due to their desire to sin. Presuppositional apologetics – unlike other branches of theology that deal with evidence for the existence of a God – serves to undermine evidence, and instead argues that other worldviews use different standards by which to come towards truth; that if they had to appeal to such standards it would only negate their own standards. Fideism is the main epistemological system at play when it comes to presuppositional apologetics. As a freethinker one might have heard of the term, or its much more accurate denotation, “faith over reason”. This epistemological position, birthed as a reaction to the rational movement of the 17th century, has been the standard by which most of Christian theology has been organised. Fideism argues that faith is a much more valuable tool in understanding the world than reason is – and any such argument for the contrary is seen as a hostile reproach to the position of faith. Fideism is the foundation by which all – I repeat – ALL religions are built.  Therefore, it is imperative that this foundation be attacked, and subsequently destroyed.

Fideism is the most pernicious force in the world today, as it is not only a force that is widespread, but it is a force that is hidden in plain sight. People refer to it by another name: faith. Let it be clear that the word faith only refers to the, “belief without evidence” – what the word “fideism” refers to is a kind of faithism, where an ideology is at play. People are not merely believing things without evidence – of course not – what they are doing is holding onto their beliefs in spite of the evidence. Since the major monotheistic religions rely on faith for their foundation, it is thus imperative for them to oppose any form of reformation to the contrary, as they know that any reformation will inevitably lead to the destruction of their religion. In the pursuit of epistemology, and the understanding of the paradigm of existence, one should use reason logic and evidence in their dealings. This may raise the question as to, “why?” with the response being; “Because, if we are to understand the world we inhabit, then would it not be helpful if we use our brains to logically deduce things based upon observations of that world, and posit ideas based on those observations?” The essence of understanding the world – one cannot stress this enough – is reasoning within it; for when we reason within it we can focus on building a better world. However, if we reason outside of it, when we forsake reality, then we forsake our future as a species; when humanity concerns itself with the prospects of another realm it forsakes the realm it occupies, and hence forsakes its actions. Let the foundation of tomorrow’s world be built on top of steady supports, not weak ones. It is for this reason that an empirical foundation be laid. 

Being a sceptic implies taking critical assessment towards claims made in absolute certainty, and claims made in the light of absolute knowledge. The reason as to why scepticism is such an important asset in the accumulation of knowledge is because it demands individuals to question what they know – and in so doing forces them to remodel how they view the world. The sceptic demands evidence for claims, and otherwise will remain unconvinced until sufficient evidence is provided to justify said claims. Being a sceptic would imply that one sets a standard of scrutiny to both their own, and others claims’. To put this into perspective with the conversation on presuppositionalism, one needs to attribute scepticism towards such assumptions if they have little-no evidence. Furthermore, scepticism is closely related to critical thinking. Critical thinking is teaching the individual how to think as opposed to what to think, the distinction is important; the latter referring to answers without explanations, which makes the individual dependant of an arbiter for understanding (this can open an individual up to a lot of external dependency; this is primarily denigrating, when you consider that media outlets, as well as political discourses, harper on public support), whereas the former is referring to explanations that allow for answers. By showing the individual how to analyse the problems and work out solutions, the individual becomes less dependent of an arbiter for understanding; allowing them the autonomy to approach any solution without regress. 

For this is the essence of what it is to be a thinker; the freethinker is living in the ‘second enlightenment’. Though many may disagree on this notion, with the growing relation that ignorance is having on humanity, but they forget that as long as people think, thoughts and visions will never perish. Freethinkers, scientists and philosophers all must keep in the pursuit of epistemology, through logic, reason and evidence. Where they think critically about the world around them, and demand evidence claims are made. Never taking dogma or rhetoric as standard, always doing their own research, and making sure what they read or hear is in line with the facts. Scrutiny is the first step in the great learning process of life, and as a result it is best one use it properly.

Knowledge is power.

Use it.

Written by: Anthony Avice Du Buisson