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Hi. I'm a Unix Administrator, mathematics enthusiast, and amateur philosopher. This is where I rant about that which upsets me, laugh about that which amuses me, and jabber about that which holds my interest most: Unix.
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The Truth Shall Set You Free

Posted 09-03-2014 at 04:38 PM by rocket357
Updated 09-03-2014 at 05:13 PM by rocket357

Years ago I read Bradford Keeney's "Aesthetics of Change". I asked my Dad (who recommended the book) where Keeney got the ideas in the book, and he said "it's very different from our Western thinking, isn't it? A lot of it parallels Eastern Religion, particularly Taoism". That launched me on a series of questions regarding religion, human behavior, beliefs, cognizance, etc... that landed squarely on understanding philosophy...because afterall, you don't ask your next door neighbor how to become a billionaire, you ask Bill Gates. If I wanted to understand human thinking, I'd need to study it from the beginning by the people who dedicated their time to understanding understanding.

I put the religion studies on halt and settled on a used copy of Frederick Copleston's "History of Philosophy Volume 1". If his coverage of ancient philosophy was relatively thorough, I could move forward with buying the other Volumes, right? I found Copleston, despite his open Christian beliefs, to be unbiased and relatively fair in his handling of philosophers who believed contrary to his thinking. His bias shows, no doubt, but he declares it and acknowledges it along the way, and the bias is not nearly as pronounced as one would think. Still, people observe from a given perspective, and when they relay their observations to others, their perspective shows.

I just purchased Volume 5, and have yet to begin reading it. Without going into too much detail, Volume 1 covers Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, Volume 2 covers Medieval Philosophy (Christian, Jewish, and Islamic), Volume 3 covers late medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, and Volume 4 covers Descartes and the birth of Modern Philosophy. The remaining Volumes (5 in the original set, 2 additional Volumes in an extended set) cover basically everything from Hobbes and Locke to Logical Positivism and Existentialism.

Alright. That was a mouthful. On to the actual meat of this blog post!

Reading Volume 1 and 2 were incredibly time consuming for me (over 13 months for Volume 1, and nearly 28 months for Volume 2). I was raised in a Christian home, brought up to believe all of the tenants of the particular denomination of Protestant Christianity I was raised in. Much of the pre-Christian and early Christian philosophy was thinking that I was already familiar with, so reading every little nuance of a particular line of logic took time and considerable effort. I won't lie, it was tough. I considered just tossing the quest aside on more than one occasion as the verbosity of Copleston's coverage saturated my ability to absorb what I was reading.

At one point during my childhood, my parents shifted from one denomination to another. They demonstrated the utmost care and thought in doing so...it wasn't an overnight shift! Many months of studying, soul-searching, and praying went into the decision. Seeing that process impressed upon me the importance of rethinking your convictions from time to time, and the importance of being diligent in finding truth. I happened upon the quote "We must follow the argument where it leads", and it occurred to me that the truth, regardless of my convictions, experiences, or beliefs, will stand on its own.

I've held that mindset for the better part of 20 years now, but I've just now found the strength to truly challenge my ingrained convictions. No joke, this is a difficult process. Finding the strength to take a new look at something you've believed for over 30 years is *hard*.

I read Volume 3 in just under a month. Once I broke through and found the resolve to look at the world in a new light, I couldn't believe how easily Copleston's work became. Sure, I'd studied the 14th Century through the Renaissance before, but that was strictly from a scientific discovery point of view...not a philosophic view. Ockham, in particular, lit a fire that I couldn't deny. I'd known very little about Ockham (aside from his infamous razor) before...but reading Volume 3 was more like an action novel than a cold encyclopedia of philosophy. Ockham was the original "bad boy" of philosophy.

Then I purchased Volume 4, and read it in two weeks. I felt as if Spinoza had somehow extracted thoughts from my college years and penned them hundreds of years before my existence. Sure, his system has been successfully attacked, but I felt as though I was hitting new logical territory that I had pondered in college, but never truly followed up on.

At this point, if you've read Spinoza, you likely know where I'm heading with this.

We humans are a particularly weird bunch. We attach meaning to and personify nearly everything we touch. I used to think Buddhism was a neat trick for "distracting the conscience", but I now see the beauty of it. The whole point is to break the habit of attaching meaning, and thereby becoming attached to material crap. Yes, it turns off what many relate to as the "human" side, but that's precisely the point! You never see a cheetah depressed about bills. Or a meadowlark who suffers from anxiety. They just *are*.

My mind is blown.

All of my life, I've attached meaning to (and subsequently gotten depressed over) silly stuff. Spinoza's concept of "God or Nature" was exactly the thinking I'd wondered about (What if this entity "God" is really just "nature", and we've attached meaning to "nature" that doesn't apply, leading to all manners of difficulties because nature isn't a personal, loving creator?). Suddenly the really big philosophical issues I've wondered about are either A) resolved because they aren't really issues, or B) Explained in a very simple manner (a la Ockham's razor?).

The lightbulb has come on.

Now, many people who are religious will assume that my first instinct will be to go murder someone or rob a bank, because without a loving personal God who sees everything and punishes bad behavior, what is there to stop me from being a bad person?

First off, "bad" is a subjective concept. If I steal a loaf of bread to feed my malnourished child, I have committed a crime, this is true. But have I acted out of malice? If my intent is purely to stop my child's suffering, and I have no options other than theft to accomplish that goal, have I truly committed a crime?

Second, my world view has changed, of course, but that doesn't mean I'm going to suddenly do something drastic that could land me in jail or get me killed. I still have my survival instinct and my understanding of the laws in my country.

Third, if we were to debate "ethical" or "moral" issues, there will be disagreements. Show me two people from any two belief systems (or hell, two people from the *same* belief system), and I will show you moral and ethical disagreement. If no law existed to prevent insider trading, and I had knowledge of a big event that wasn't public for a company that I hold stock in, would it be unethical or immoral for me to use that knowledge to make better decisions when to trade stocks in that company to maximize my earnings? Sure, if you frame the question as "should you use knowledge to improve your survival odds?", anyone would agree that insider trading is ethical. The issue arises from the meaning we attach to the action when taken in perspective of the system as a whole. Could I potentially screw a lot of people out of their money? Yep. That's the concern with insider trading. Is it ethical for me screw a lot of people out of their money?

Do you live in the US and have you used your health insurance lately? Tell me now about screwing people out of money and how you feel about it.

I haven't finished this ride, but I've hit a critical point where my beliefs have been stripped bare and I am rebuilding my worldview from the ground up.

The truth shall set you free, or we must follow where the argument leads. Either way, if you can't defend a belief as a solid truth, why should you believe it?
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