The three worldviews.

In my book “The Triumph of Atheistic Materialism,” I identify three general classes of worldviews. In order of complexity and rationality, they are (keep in mind that I wrote this book many years ago, when I was still a capitalist):

1. Creationism (the belief in a transcendent authority as creator of order)
Main examples: Biological Creationism, Divine Command Theory, statism and political authoritarianism, interventionism and imperialism, the concept of God in general, the belief in souls and spirits.

2. Subjectivism (“we are creators of our own perception of order.”)
Main examples: Post-modernism, tribalism, nihilism, existentialism. (I also included Anarchy in this category)

3. Emergentism (“A system is composed of individuals units which interact with each other, within a given context, giving rise to a higher order.”)
Main examples: Evolution, moral objectivity, libertarianism and capitalism, free trade, materialism, mind-brain dependence.

Some people fail to see the relation between the different kinds of order I discuss in the book. For instance, atheists object when one compares disbelief in gods with disbelief in the State. They say there is no relation and that an atheist can be a communist or a liberal (or even a conservative). That is very true, but besides the point, which is that materialism and Anarchism both follow the same general explanation of order: that order comes from the free interaction of units, that it is an emergent property of this interaction, whether the units are individual human beings, atoms, or neurons. Perhaps they can see this in one case but not in the other.

Certainly I do not believe that an atheist should necessarily be an Anarchist, or vice-versa. I don’t think that all the examples for each class are inextricably linked. But they do share the same kind of worldview about the creation and maintenance of order, and by extension of meaning, of material products, of values. What philosophical issue should concern us more than that? If we don’t know how these things are produced and maintained, how can we hope that our opinions further the aims we desire? A statist, holding that this or that thing is evil and should be made illegal, can have no idea whether such measures bring more or less order: the violence of the State in intimidating its subjects hides a lot of the chaos (but not, by far, all of it) created by law and democracy.

The problem of believing in God creator of matter, God creator of values, the State, or souls, or any other such things, is that there can be no such thing as a transcendent entity or process. Anything that pretends to create or mold must necessarily be part of the same causal system and subject to the same laws.

For the sake of simplification, let’s take the example of God. Suppose we believe in God as the creator of morality. If anything God declares as good is good, then God could declare that mass murder is good, or that something as arbitrary as working on a specific day is evil (both things that are in the Bible). Of course Christians argue against this by saying that God would not do such a thing. But there’s absolutely no way for them to know that: they can believe or have faith that God wouldn’t do such a thing, or have faith in the Bible where it says God wouldn’t do such a thing, but they cannot know that it would never happen.

But the point I am getting to, is that God’s acts are necessarily inscribed within the moral system of this material universe. God is just another moral agent, and there’s no reason to think that God has transcendent moral significance: after all, human beings modify objects all the time and this does not give us any transcendent moral significance. if God decrees that mass murder is good in a specific instance, we are perfectly justified in questioning such a decree and pointing out its flaws. Because of this, the concept of God as creator of values becomes meaningless: there needs to be pre-existing values in the human being in order for us to judge whether following God’s moral statements is desirable.

The only main thing I would change in my classification is the concept of subjectivism as a category, which I think was more a remnant of when I was an Objectivist. I would now like to replace this category with “nihilism,” by which I mean a position of epistemic pessimism: that we can’t find out the truth by ourselves, or that we can’t find truth at all.

The nihilistic class of worldviews is important because it is often used as a justification or support for authoritarianism. The issue is fundamentally an epistemic one: if we deny to the individual the power or capacity to find truth by his own work, but the individual must hold some truth in order to function, then the individual will necessarily turn to some authority to follow. Of course, one may adopt an attitude of total apathy in an area in which one can maintain total apathy, but even apathy is a choice to some extent. The nihilist attitude is the “might is right” attitude: in the absence of principles, whoever can enforce his views best is the winner. There’s no way to prove anything, therefore we can only turn to what is commonly accepted.

3 thoughts on “The three worldviews.

  1. DuncanIowa November 13, 2008 at 11:04

    The biggest problem with your main point is that the state, legal positivism, democracy, even socialism, and so forth are also emergent properties. When a community acts together for it’s own common interests (by voting, revolting, starting a commune) that is an emergent property.

    Collectivism is actually a better example of emergence than capitalism, as capitalism’s invisible hand is more easily disputed than the phenomena of groups acting as if rational agents. So to say that no political philosophy besides anarcho-capitalism is emergent is simply arbitrary.

    Politics, law, legal positivism, collectivism, democracy, market regulation, and the state are all emergent properties of human interaction.

  2. DuncanIowa November 13, 2008 at 11:12

    Also it’s worth noting that a great many people who use the self-identifier libertarian often belief in natural rights and deontology which both resemble your “Creationism” category. They believe there are incontrovertible laws from god, nature, or human nature which are unquestionable and given from above. This idea leads them to right-libertarianism, not away form it.

    Also, you say that nihillism is epistemic pessimism. I agree, however I think epistemic certainty leads to equal amounts of suffering and immorality. I believe in epistemic unvertainty. That we can never know, to a degree of certainty, what is right. However we can come very close and offer sound arguments for why we come to our conclusions but understand that “we may be wrong” and allow the emergent property of a state (even under your market anarchism there will be a state, just a different kind of state, like Molyneux’s resolution system) to reflect our imperfect and changing understanding of the truth.

  3. anarcho-mercantilist November 13, 2008 at 18:47

    We will use “subjectivism” in the “personal opinions and values” sense, not in the philosophical sense, in this blog comment.

    It seems that Francois throws every concept that he disagrees with to the “creationism” and “subjectivism” categories, without any reasonable explanation. Not that I agree with creationism and subjectivism as rules to govern individuals, but because it seems that Francios redefines these terms according to his own neo-Randian (or, if your prefer, post-Randian) bias.

    In order classify an entity as emergent, we must subjectively see it as complex entity composed on simple interacting parts. Thus, the concept of emergence requires subjective judgement to determine its “complexity.”

    I do not see how “moral objectivity” and “materialism” belongs in the emergent category. You see these as complex organizations of nonlinear units, but I do not, because determing its “complexity” requires subjective judgement. No correct position exists in determine an entity’s complexity, and nothing seems wrong to do that. Thus, Francois’ subjectively classifes his concepts into emergent and subjective categories. Again, I do not reject his opinions as “false,” since using the word “emergence” connotes a subjective opinion.

    “They believe there are incontrovertible laws from god, nature, or human nature which are unquestionable and given from above.”

    DuncanIowa, I disagree with your statement. Deontological and natural rights libertarians do not believe in axiomatic or god-given rights, although most of the self-identified rule-consequentialist libertarians believe that the deontologists do. I have a feeling that the deontology-consequentialist distiction seems mostly semantic.

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