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Today’s article is by SASHA member Alex Papulis.
In my last post, “Can we be atheists and believe in knowledge?” I laid out an argument against the existence of free will and reasonable belief. In this post, I would like to sketch out an analogy to illustrate the argument that, given the premise that all causes are physical, there is no such thing as reasoned belief or knowledge.
Imagine that you want to learn about Jack. Imagine also that the only access (if any) we have to Jack is through Bob. We can ask Bob questions about Jack, and Bob gladly answers. Now the question is, how would we check to see if Bob is a reliable conveyor of information about Jack? Our only access to Jack (if any) is through Bob. We believe, that is, that Bob has access and that he tells us things about Jack. If we wanted to verify that Bob is reliable, though, we would need some way of receiving information about Jack that didn’t involve Bob. And further, we would then need some reason to think that that additional information source was reliable.
Bob is like our brain. It provides us with beliefs. Jack is like the world. We believe that our brain has access to it, and as a result gives us true beliefs. We see, though, that we are unable to check the belief-forming processes of our brain. We have nothing to verify our brain-formed beliefs against, as even beliefs about our brain and the beliefs it forms are the product of our brains. One person’s brain forms a belief in an afterlife, another person’s produces the opposite belief. Unfortunately, we don’t have any means of checking our belief-forming processes to know which are lead to truth and which don’t.
The conclusion of the argument: we have no reason to think that any particular belief is true, i.e. no beliefs are reasoned. The believer in Santa Claus does not hold a reasoned belief. Nor the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, or Muslim. Nor the atheist. The consistent atheist cannot believe that his beliefs are the product of reason. No one comes to any beliefs by reason.
Alex Papulis is a non-degree-seeking, non-transfer Degree-seeking Transfer student at Mizzou. After getting a B.A. in Economics in St. Louis and spending some time abroad, he’s settled on philosophy. He’s enjoyed his year at Mizzou, and looks forward to starting an MA program in Milwaukee next fall. It would be easier for him to get his assignments done if SASHA wasn’t around.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!