Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On definitivism.

I was with my dad last evening at my grandfather's house and we were discussing what I call definitivism. There likely is a better word for it, and it's also likely that in philosophical circles the term has been more profoundly analyzed and defined. My definition, by contrast, is terribly simple. I speak of definitivism as an outlook on things in the world with a definitive attitude, as when one shares with full confidence either a pure opinion on a matter or else a statement of fact that is wholly unfounded, uninformed, and possibly even false. We all express ourselves with some level of definity, albeit some folks seem less convinced by their own ideas and beliefs than others. This musing is about those who speak definitively about nearly everything they share with us.

This all might be obvious, though I want to explore it. We got to discussing people who use their convictions in their religious beliefs as a means to be similarly convicted in, to pull something out of the sky, the construction of a teapot. Take belief in, let's say, Jesus, as the son of the Almighty God, who died, came back, said this, was white, wants us to do this, doesn't mind if we do that, etc...All that 'knowledge' is seemingly inconsequential when it comes to understanding the construction of said teapot. However, it follows that if one has 'discovered' the 'answer' to the unanswerable, one might feel like being confident in matters as trivial as the teapot is totally legitimate.

A couple of thoughts on this. First, and most obvious, there is a logical disconnect. Assuming one's knowledge of an almighty creator is in some way correct, we have no better understanding of their knowledge on a wholly unrelated subject, specifically the more mundane and more concrete subjects (coffeepot).

Furthermore, I'm somewhat skeptical that we'll ever totally understand the brain and how it works, considering we're using the brain to do the investigating. We've gotten quite far, but I do see there being a limit. In the same way, when considering an all-powerful creator, I have trouble understanding how one can claim to 'know' said creator with the specificity of knowing Her/His/Its desires, words, hopes, disappointments, intentions, morality, logic, etc...it seems to me that a similar ceiling of knowledge exists here as with using the brain to understand the brain, assuming .

On a more pragmatic level, I fear how this logic pervades a person's view of the world. I feel as if definitivism, acting as I've attempted to describe, is the opponent of relativism - naturally, the idea that truth is relative. While I am not a huge fan of extreme relativism, I want to draw a parallel.

There seems to be a battle similar to that between what I have called definitivism and relativism. I see that the two different battles have their roots in the same thinking process and logic. That epic battle, of course, is that between intolerance and empathy, and it's one in which we can't afford to see empathy defeated.

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