DiaBlogue: Aristotle’s Spiral

While “Heating a Red Porsche“, Alan kindly affirms the truth of my first two axiomatic principles in our new effort to define a mutually-satisfying epistemic framework:

1. Truth exists
2. Belief in Truth is Good

However, he also raises an issue that appears to have long troubled him, which I did not fully address in earlier posts — namely “how Ernie gets from his principles to Christianity without any other ‘inputs’ “.

The short answer is that there are other inputs, and in fact identifying those is the goal of my epistemic framework. [Read more] for my attempt to elucidate them.

I must beg Alan’s indulgence for the delays in connecting all this philosophy to his questions about Christianity. Alas, epistemology is a rather large subject, and even I have trouble solving millennia-old puzzles in a single blog post. 🙂

Let me first try to elucidate a few other supporting principles for our epistemic framework, then sketch out a rudimentary outline of how that connects to Christianity.

3. Knowledge imperfectly reflects Truth
4. Better Knowledge produces Better results
5. Knowledges improves through honest collaborative inquiry into shared Reality

That is, I reject both the Platonic idea that knowledge is truth, and the postmodern idea that knowledge is disconnected from truth. Rather, I explicitly affirm both Community and Reality as the critical inputs necessary to enable my Knowledge to asymptotically approach Truth. In spirit, I often find myself much closer to Aristotle than any other school.

This simultaneous reliance on both a priori assumptions and a posteori experiments is the basis what I call “Empricial Essentialism“, which I’ve elaborated upon before. This approach may seem like merely common sense, but (from what little I’ve read) it doesn’t seem very popular among modern philosophers (though critical realism is probably close). That said, I don’t think Alan will object to very much of this, though he may later be surprised by how much I infer and justify from those principles.

In addition, my epistemology implies that:

a. The purpose of these axiomatic truths is to enable greater knowledge
b. Knowledge, to be validated, must be encoded in a form accessible by a given community
c. Knowledge must therefore be tested against a reasonable shared reality
d. The ultimate test of the quality of knowledge is whether it produces Good outcomes

In other words, my vision of knowledge is as an ever-increasing spiral. Starting from a few “hard” truths, it interacts with my Character, my Community, and our Reality to generate ever-more “knowable” truths with ever-increasing confidence and accuracy. Not monotonically, necessarily — sometimes new knowledge invalidates old knowledge — but progress nonetheless; as long as we possess sufficient Humility to keep learning and questioning.

There’s also a feedback process, where the increasing spiral of truth generates “back-pressure” which reshapes my understanding (and confidence) in my axioms. I sometimes summarize it this way:

* The Truth is what Works
* What Works is not the Truth

That is, one can’t merely observe something working well and conclude that the naive description of “why” is the whole truth. However, if anything does work well, then surely it must embody “some” truth, and the more we “spiral” around it the better we can understand what that truth is.

Note that “Works” in this context means “successfully creates Good.” Thus, it is important to note that my epistemology is incomplete without a companion ethical framework, which is logically the next thing on the agenda. However, I hope that this is coherent and complete enough that we can reach agreement about this aspect before going on that.

Despite that, I do still want to give Alan at least a partial answer to his question about my belief in Christianity. Let me try to put it this way:

1. My goal is to do as much Good as possible.
2. In order to do (1), I must believe as much Truth as possible
3. This requires discovering what beliefs Work to create Good
4. Those beliefs must simultaneously motivate personal, social, and intellectual virtue

And further, in my (reasonably broad) experience of belief systems, I find that Christianity:

* provides the greatest ontological support for those axioms I consider foundationally true
* historically demonstrates the greatest capacity for creating united, other-centered community out of previously antagonistic tribes
* personally enables and motivates me to pursue greater levels of truth and goodness than alternate conceptions of deity
* allows me to tap into the maximal amount of received wisdom from past seekers after truth

To be sure, I am not saying that any of this “proves” that Christianity is true. However, it does mean that within my paradigm I can validly claim to “know” that Christianity is essentially true, and that submitting to the authority of the Christian tradition (even as I critique it!) is a virtuous act.

Again, I don’t think I’ve yet provided enough information to validate these claims, but I wanted to at least sketch out where I’m going. Hopefully that will provide enough fuel for Alan to heat his next Porsche…