Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Foundations of Conservatism: The Mind's Understanding of Reality

Now for some conceptual art.

As mentioned before, Conservatives believe that reality is composed of two parts. That which is perceptible and that which is not. We can draw a diagram which illustrates the conservative conception of reality as follows:


The green area is perceptible reality--stuff that we detect through our senses--and the blue is non-perceptible reality. Stuff that's out there but we can't directly sense. The yellow area represents an ontological plane of non-reality; that is of things that don't exist(propositions which are false).

In the conservative scheme of things, the mind sits between the two planes and is able to know elements of both, even if the mind does not understand. That is, the mind has a capability to grasp both empirical and non-empirical reality, (I'm going to keep this simple for the moment and ignore the fact that the mind can also grasp falsehood. Imagine little yellow circles in the white one.)


Now, note the black line in the blue area that separates the white circle, that represents a "Sense barrier". By sense barrier, what I mean is that stuff on the other side of it--real stuff that exists--is not directly accessible by our senses. The important part about this is that the mind is capable of knowing whats on the "other side" but there is no way to physically perceive it and hence test it scientifically. ( I don't care if you don't believe it, just go with it.) We'll get to the importance of this later on. Ancient Roman, Greek, Hindu, Jewish, Chinese, Sumerian, Viking, i.e Traditional cultures, all had this view of reality. It's only in modern times that man has deviated from this vision.

Now the great revolution in human thought came about through the scientific method. Here theories were tested by sense observation and either validated or rejected. The "hard core" proponents of the scientific method insisted that the only valid knowledge was knowledge derived and verified by sense experience. Their ontological understanding of the hard core empiricists was as follows:

The strict empiricists basically said that since we can't test what's beyond the sense barrier, it either:a) Irrelevant.
b) Not worth knowing.
c) There is nothing beyond the sense barrier.

Now before we diss Empiricism we must recognise its strengths. By forcing men to seek an explanation of natural phenomena without an appeal to "higher powers" men were forced to look for answers amongst the perceptible world. Let's just say that the results produced by the scientific method were spectacular and the results justified the belief, and a corresponding contempt for knowledge that was not derived from it. Furthermore, as science progressed, physical phenomena were found to have to rational explanations which did not require the invocation of God. Theistic explanations gave way to scientific ones and this of course led to a certain optimism that everything could be explained by science.

Believers of empiricism can be thought of having a continuum of opinions of what lays beyond the sense barrier. The strict empiricists(Atheists) believe that nothing exists. The weak empiricists (Agnostics) believe that something may exist but as we cannot empirically verify it and therefore the knowledge is either irrelevant or the subject of personal opinion.

The strict empiricists basically declare that anything that was beyond the sense barrier was not valid knowledge, as it cannot be empirically verified. According to their view, any such "knowledge" was at best second rate and at worst blind superstition.

Now, the first thing to consider is by accepting the strict empirical view of reality a man separates himself for the bulk of traditional humanity by positing a conception of reality which is at odds with the rest of man. From an empirical epistemological point of view religion belongs either to the second rate knowledge or superstitious category. Therefore its thrown out of the window as a practical knowledge.

However then a real life practical problem arises. Humans are interpersonal beings that relate to each other through behaviour, and behaviour implies imperatives. i.e. How to behave? Empirical observation does not give us a guide on this matter. Since empirical observation can show us how best to achieve our goals but it cannot give us those goals in the first place.

The traditionalist view was that the knowledge of these goals came from the non-empirical realm something the empiricists rejected. They had to place the locus of these goals in the mind or self. Morality becomes self-generated or self-optimised. Here are the seeds of moral relativism.

Thirdly, the strict empiricist has to have a negative opinion of religion, because the type of knowledge the religion provides is the type of knowledge he does not want. More importantly he will be hostile towards religion.

Now it needs to be understood that Conservatism is not opposed to the empirical method, it's opposed to the empirical ontology, an ontology which is profoundly anti-conservative. On the other hand, many strict empiricists are hostile to Conservatism because conservative moral claims--derived from non-empirical reality--are usually hostile to some of their personal claims. As I've said before, strict atheism is intrinsically unconservative because atheists deny the realm of reality from which Conservatives derive valid knowledge. Saying that, however, many atheists can with sufficient intellectual honesty and intellectual strength and exertion arrive at a knowledge of "Natural Law" and therefore appear "conservative" without a belief in any non-empirical reality. (Something a complete idiot can efficiently arrive at simply by having faith) A case in point is Heather McDonald.

These type of Conservatives are very conservative, except that they're not.

The minimum ontological vision that a man can possess and still be considered conservative is agnosticism, though I equivocate on this issue and I'm capable of being convinced otherwise.

13 comments:

dana said...

ok, but what if you are a materialist, atheist, empiricist who utterly rejects the Numinous YET believes that you are like that because you have an ABNORMAL brain (intj/aspergers whatever) that causes you to lack a component NORMAL human brains have--say, the god module.

i have come to realize this is a lack on my part--not a "superiority" and that it is tied to a host of cognitive traits that are almost always described as "inhuman" by people who really come to understand it breadth.

i am a conservative because i DO NOT THINK THE WORLD SHOULD BE ORDERED AROUND ME and MY needs as an outlier, but around neurotypical people who need/want the mystical realm for sustenance and meaning AND because their brains GENUINELY PERCEIVE a sense it exists in a way mine doesn't.

The Social Pathologist said...

It' not a question of need or want. It's a question of whether its true or not. Keep dropping by I hope to post on this issue in the next few weeks and I don't think a combox reply would do it justice.

Mark Richardson said...

Excellent.

But can I pre-empt a non-conservative objection?

Because the aim of the empiricists was to present clear and distinct ideas, similar to physical laws of nature, they will attack the conservative view on the grounds that the knowledge either isn't as certain as a physical law of nature or has an element of variation from culture to culture.

My own reply would be to accept that the knowledge of the non-empirical reality is not clear and distinct in the sense that empiricists demand it to be, but is nonetheless still able to inform human knowledge in important ways.

Emo Civil said...

Atheists are left with only desires (our source of motivation), and beliefs (our means of desire fulfillment). So our goals, aims and morals are all reducible to sense/desire/emotion (otherwise they are non-sense).

Does that lead to moral relativism or liberalism? Not necessarily, because of: the desire for homogeneity; the homogeneity of desires; and the desire for group strength.

In the short term, because of the human desire for homogeneity, radical change will be resisted by many. Particularly so if the culture encourages stability, unlike our current "just do it" mantra. Humans used to be very good at maintaining homogeneity (often too good for comfort).

In the long term, there may be pressure to change the culture to that which maximises individual desires (assuming we're not already there). This might be a good thing if done slowly to avoid intergenerational alienation.

Also, the desire for ethnic group strength (relative to other ethnic groups) may push the culture in yet another direction: towards behaviours which promote genetic strength.

So we have more desires to balance other than to just be "radically individualised", as Mark puts it. Perhaps the better description is: slowly towards a culture that is homogeneous, strong on group self-defence, and otherwise radically fulfilled individually.

Easier said than done, though.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Mark

No major disagreement there, I plan to deal with this objection in the next few weeks, right now I'm a bit pre-occupied with some of the promiscuity data.

Anonymous said...

'Ancient Roman, Greek, Hindu, Jewish, Chinese, Sumerian, Viking, i.e Traditional cultures, all had this view of reality. '

I find that claim very difficult to believe and I would like to see extensive evidence.

wmjas said...

So how is the mind capable of knowing what's on the other side? I don't mean that in any metaphysical way; I just mean, since testing in the ordinary sense is out of the question, how are claims of non-empirical knowledge to be evaluated? How can one distinguish such "knowledge" from mere imagination and wishful thinking?

Shadow said...

"the promiscuity data. "

what?

bgc said...

By Conservative I think you probably mean pre-modern, or reactionary - mainstream Conservatives are just moderate Leftists.

The problem with empiricism is very obvious. Statements like this.

"The strict empiricists basically said that since we can't test what's beyond the sense barrier, it either:a) Irrelevant.
b) Not worth knowing.
c) There is nothing beyond the sense barrier."

Are themselves NOT empirically verifiable, so empiricism is self-refuting (it really is).

Yet of course, this has not impaired a kind of empiricism becoming so dominant that mainstream culture feels free to ignore its self-refuting quality and feels no reason to justify it.

The actual justification for empiricism is, more or less, 'pragmatic' that it seems overall beneficial to believe empiricism - modern culture apparently believes that believing empiricism will believing empiricism makes us happy...

Or something like that - at any rate, logically, empiricism cannot be true - so whatever reasons people have to believe it are irrational.

The Social Pathologist said...

@bgc

Are themselves NOT empirically verifiable, so empiricism is self-refuting (it really is).

I think you've committed a bit of cognitive error here.

The way that the empiricist views sense data is that it is fundamentally axiomatic and hence refutation is impossible. How do you refute what is self-evidently true?

This line of attack against empiricism is however faulty, for it is the same line of attack as the Berklean idealists and the post-modernists use.

Personally, I think Godel was onto something. His incompleteness theorem has been abused quite a bit, and I hope to get stuck into it in the future to back up my thesis, but his proof that, at least with regard to number theory, that axiomatic systems are never complete (that is within any number system there are statements that are true but unprovable) may itself be a subset of some overriding limitation with regard to information theory. (Sorry for the very long sentence)

The problem with empiricism is not its assertion of the axiomatic nature of sense but with its ontological assertion that we have sensory access to the entirety of reality.

The Social Pathologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bgc said...

"The way that the empiricist views sense data is that it is fundamentally axiomatic and hence refutation is impossible. How do you refute what is self-evidently true?"

Sorry - do you mean 1. that it is fundamentally axiomatic? or 2. that it is self-evidently true?

1. If 1, then this is merely a question of arbitrary choice. But why anyone should want to make this particular choice is certainly disputable.

2. Is simply false. Empiricism is not self-evidently true, it is not spontaneous to humans, nor is it universal; as a belief it is extremely spatio-temporally restricted, and it is a late philosophical development in human intellectual history.

The most that can be said in favour of empiricism would be to argue that it is a pragmatically-useful belief leading to (say) the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

The Social Pathologist said...

@bgc

Sorry - do you mean 1. that it is fundamentally axiomatic? or 2. that it is self-evidently true?

Both.

Empiricism is ultimately all about validating our mental models with sense data. In other words, sense data trumps theory or intuition or whatever.

The primacy of sense over reason is the fundamental principle of empiricism.

Our sense data is thus taken as being a reflection of reality. This "reflection of reality" is not cognitively derived but assumed to be self evidently true.

Empiricism rests on this dogmatic assumption, an assumption which I feel is quite correct, our senses do reflect reality however where the empiricists go off the mark is when they dogmatically insist that

1)All that can be known is that which can be known through the five senses.

2)There are only five senses.

1, then this is merely a question of arbitrary choice.

That is correct. It's a "reasonable" yet arbitrary decision.

Empiricism is not self-evidently true, it is not spontaneous to humans, nor is it universal;

Correct again. The great divide begins at this point. Hence what separates the conservative from the radical is this conception of knowledge and sense. This is why people like Heather McDonald aren't really conservatives at all. Their hostility to religion stems from it being a knowledge that comes from outside their dogmatic bounds.