This is the first entry of Check Your Premises, so I should explain what I’m doing here exactly. This is, more or less, a philosophical blog, but only in the general sense.
Why should we care about such a sterile, pointless field as philosophy? My blog name, I think, gives the answer. Philosophy, at its best (most of philosophy is useless junk), forces us to acknowledge and reconsider our premises.
There is a huge gap between intelligence and wisdom. Intelligence is the capacity to build and understand a field, assuming a number of premises. Wisdom is our capacity to acknowledge and correct those premises when they are wrong. Both are crucial capacities in order to live a happy and productive life. People who have both are rare (and I do not hold to the pretension of being one of them).
Most people concentrate on the news and what they think about them. This does not concern me at all, because people who do that never question their premises. It is a pointless, self-serving form of dialogue, like most dialogue in a democratic society. To even dignify it with the word “dialogue” is generous.
Take a simple proposition that someone may utter: “I think he should be sent to jail for a long time.” It seems like a very simple opinion, but innumerable premises underlie it. Some examples:
* The speaker believes that jail is a valid concept.
* The speaker believes that people should be sent to jail for a long time.
* The speaker believes that “he” is morally responsible, we presume, for some horrible crime.
* The speaker believes that people who break his own moral code are (at least sometimes) morally guilty.
* The speaker believes that some people, presumably the judiciary system of his country, should send that person to jail.
I am not saying that the above premises are incorrect per se, simply that these premises will almost never be examined, even though failure of any single one of these would completely destroy his belief.
Here is another proposition: “Immigrants steal jobs and should be stopped.” This also implies numerous premises such as:
* There is such a thing as “stealing a job.”
* There is such a thing as an “immigrant.”
* People should be stopped from “stealing jobs.”
* Someone has to stop “immigrants.”
* It is moral to stop “immigrants.”
Well, are hidden premises important? Virtually everyone lives a life based on these elaborate and gigantic fantasies, which are nothing more than memetic constructs designed to subjugate the individual into a propagation vector. The two big ones- politics (king, president, country, nationalism, war, law, police, immigration, taxes) and religion (God, church, sin, “religious morality”, dogma) are responsible for the great majority of the suffering inflicted on human beings, as well as a gargantuan unseen loss in freedom, happiness and prosperity for the whole world.
And yet these two are purely memetic constructs, and, when examined even cursorily, collapse completely. And we don’t even need to get into all the other beliefs people hold, which can also cause tremendous damage to one’s integrity, finances, health or even life.
Virtually everyone is a delusional wreck, not by ignorance, but by conditioning. If everyone reconsidered all of their premises, there is no doubt in my mind that people’s thinking would change in a rather drastic way, and so would the world. But doing such a thing requires tremendous energy, capacity to adapt, and education. And most people are hopeless. This is not pessimism but simply the grim reality of things as they stand under the once again ever-tightening noose of collectivism and irrationalism.
It is not in the interest of any ideology based on submission to teach people to check their premises. To do so would lead them to question the structure of the beliefs they must submit to. Religio-political ideologies, as well as more minor beliefs like New Age ideologies, altruism, or even diets, are memetically well crafted, but from a rational standpoint they appear completely absurd. At that point, of course, hope and belief take hold in the believer’s mind, reifying the ideology as untouchable, and doubt becomes pointless.
I would go even further to say that not only does everything we say and so imply hidden premises, but also automatically implies values. To speak of philosophy is fundamentally merely another way to say that we are speaking of morality, as the act of checking our premises itself, like any choice, is a moral decision based on our values. Someone who does not value honesty or rationality will not desire to check his premises, and therefore will not.
While not fundamental in epistemic terms, morality is really just another way to discuss our motives in doing anything, including doing philosophy or epistemology. Morality is therefore strictly inescapable.
The fact that I go to the grocery store to buy food, while an innocuous act, has grave implications for my worldview. It indicates that I believe in a universe which operates by natural law and causality- otherwise I would see no point in doing anything at all in a futile attempt to fulfill anything. Indeed, I could not even hold values to begin with. It indicates that I value going to the grocery store, and by extension that I value food. It indicates that I find voluntary trade at least minimally moral.
Are these assumptions valid? Are my assumptions any more valid than the ones in the examples? How can we know?
The answer is very simple, but at the same time very involved and demanding:
Check your premises.