Ethical Skepticism – Part 4 – The Panoply of Belief
Ethical Skepticism’s being defined philosophically as a mindset defending the Knowledge Development Process, only affords room for definition of belief and religion in one way. A way in which those who pretend to represent science are cast in the light of the same religious mindset as the theist religious.
Skepticism: The Philosopher’s View of the Knowledge Development Process
Now we will discuss the perspective of Ethical Skepticism and its interplay with and dynamic as contrasted with beliefs and religions. In Ethical Skepticism Part 1 we examined a chart called “The Epignosis” or more plainly The Knowledge Development Process. Within that section, the contention was made that the role of skepticism is to defend the Knowledge Development Process and to challenge the Ignorances of religion. Specifically, pseudo-skepticism, credulity, fanaticism, denial, plausible deniability, cynicism, mores, and doctrine. These are the presumptions of a person enforcing a religion. Robert Nozick, former Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard University, avers regarding skepticism:
“The skeptic argues that we do not know what we think we do. …Given [the variety of causal knowledge] [how then] is knowledge possible? In answering this question, we do not seek to convince the skeptic [or our self], but rather to formulate hypotheses about knowledge and our connection to facts which show how knowledge can exist…” ~Nozick¹
In other words, the purpose of skepticism, whether preparing our own mind to develop knowledge, or demonstrating to others a necessity that they develop knowledge as well, is not to defend the right answer, but rather to defend the integrity of The Knowledge Development Process, or science – as we more commonly call it.¹
Religion in Skepticism is The Illusion of the Absolute. It is Not Defined Simply by Veneration of a God or Gods
Noted philosopher Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel cited in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion that religion was defined as “The Image of the Absolute.”² In this context he expounds about religion in that
“Still [religion] always remains a certainty, and its rays stream as something divine into this present temporal life, giving the consciousness of the active presence of truth, even amidst the anxieties which torment the soul here in this region of time.” ~Hegel²
In other words, religion as defined by Hegel, is the illusion of the presence of absolute truth, which counteracts the anxiety of our present. Notice that Hegel sets his reference to the divine as more metaphorical and not parametrical inside this context of definition. Social Skeptics are keen to equate religion with the acceptance of a god or gods. This is an artifice and non-viable definition of the principle. Religion in a skeptical sense is a defense mechanism against fear of the unknown. Indeed, one of the tenets of Ethical Skepticism is the contention that all religion, stems from the same set of common fears.² If both man A and man O are afraid of the same thing P, then the fact that they devise two diametrically opposed solutions to that anxiety, Pª and Pº, does not dismiss the reality that they have both devised an illusion of truth by which to protect them self from the incumbent current anxiety. What they have devised makes no difference in terms of their ontology constituting a religion. One believes that benevolent frogs will welcome us into the afterlife, so we should not be afraid of death. The other believes that there is no afterlife so we should not be afraid of death. In the Robert Nozick definition of skepticism, both man A and man O have manufactured knowledge from the unknown, independent of fact, based upon anxiety. Both are not skeptics.
Man A develops knowledge Pª (RED) to counter fear P
Man O develops knowledge Pº (GREEN) to counter fear P
Both Pª and Pº are therefore religions
Ethical Skepticism seeks to remove the mind of the participant from this process of fear (P) and Hegel’s ‘Illusion of the Abosolute’ (Pª and Pº)
If one becomes a Nihilist Pª over personal anger or dislike of Fundamentalists Pº, one is nonetheless adopting a religion all the same. Simply one Illusion of the Absolute used to combat the anger and fear over another Illusion of the Absolute. There is no real difference.
For the Ethical Skeptic, there are points of interest in all these beliefs, but he adopts none as his illusion.
This principle plays out in the graphic to the right, wherein we employ the Hegel-Nozick definitions of religion and skepticism to illustrate that all beliefs, adopted to quell the anxiety of the present, are religions. You can see those belief sets which qualify as a means of deflecting anxiety by means of the illusion of truth, marked with a red star in the chart to the right. Further then, the Ethical Skeptic defines a religion in terms of how it is expressed in the social discourse, by means of two qualifiers:
- If you do not accept my illusion of truth, you are ignorant, silly or unacceptable in some fashion, and
- My truth cannot be approached by means of falsification testing.
A Prison of Their Own Mindset – Never Aware That They Could Leave at Any Time
In other words, what the religious participant is really saying is “I must protect my ‘knowledge from the unknown’ (Pª and Pº) at all costs. The alternative (P) terrifies me.” It does not matter whether they have invented a deity or confabulated a ‘nothingness’ to assuage this fear. These ontological machinations are both simply relgion in the Hegel sense. It does not matter that their life practices might not keenly adhere to the tenets of the religion. It is the terror, after all which must be allayed through mindset, not practice. Fundamentalists do not seek to perfect morality, and Nihilists perform very little scientific method. These are only symbols for them. For this reason, the Ethical Skeptic should bear affinity to many of the arguments from both sides of the spectrum depicted in the chart. The Ethical Skeptic understands and empathizes with the ‘why’ of all this. This understanding of the artifice (P) which has created this polarization depicted above, frees him from this fear. Part of your ethos as an Ethical Skeptic is to recognize and work to ease the bars of the prison in which people like this exist. Remember it is not a prison of their own crafting, rather it has been thrust upon them. Your voice should work to counter those who craft and sell these prisons on other people. Those are the religious.
Given this professional definition of religion, let’s examine the field of illusions of truths, beliefs. Beliefs are not excused by the apologetic that one is applying ‘critical thinking’ or ‘rationality’ or ‘the tools of science.’ When one uses ‘science’ to refuse to collect data, and to dismiss information elements they dislike one at a time, one is not performing science, rather one is allaying their terror. Such are the actions of Social Skeptics, actions of belief as defined in the chart above. Much of this claptrap is adorned no differently than are robes and talisman. It is this chosen illusion of truth, the Image of the Absolute, which protects one from anxiety (whether fear of god or simply the unknown) which qualifies the doctrine as a religion. Indeed, it is drawing absolute out of the unknown, which is the handiwork of those protecting a religious stand. Now to the degree that some of the list of ontologies shown in the chart, are not forced on others, or their tenets are set precariously on the crucible of falsification (such as in the cases of interventionism, atheism (not Big-A Atheism) and evolution for example) these ontologies are not religions for the most part, as they do not meet the two criteria.
The Ethical Skeptic intercepts this process of illusion of the absolute via two means. First, to remove the influence of fear of the unknown in their ontological development discipline, and second, to link the development of knowledge to a professionally, ethically developed set of what can be known, with nothing thrown out. In Pyrrhonistic Greek Skepticism, the removal of this fear (and its derivative disdain, hatred or reactionary fear) and replacement of it with a suspended state of Epoché is called the state of Ataraxia.
Ataraxia (ἀταραξία, “tranquility”) is a Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for a lucid state of robust tranquility, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry.³
It is the act of dismissal of an ‘anecdote’ which betrays servitude to this fear, the desire to enforce a religion. If the data you are credibly presented is inconsistent with your favorite view, collect it anyway. How will it harm you? There is no need to make a MiHoDeAL claim to knowledge. Even lies can deliver a wealth of value, and eventually under diligence of accrued verity, prove themselves to be false. In an environment where all ‘incorrect’ data is MiHoDeAL, one will only find what one has assumed to be true in the first place.
The Ethical Skeptic divests him or herself from the belief/fear/hate business, and instead chooses to let the mystery be, until sufficient knowledge can be developed which falsifies any or all of the belief sets which he has at his disposal.
He is neither accepting, nor ruling out any particular ontology, rather being patient enough to accept new data as it arrives. His chief frustration is at the hands of those who claim they have truth because ‘god told them’ or ‘science told them.’ He does not stray unnecessarily to either the red or green extremities of the panoply chart above, and moreover, removes himself from the process altogether. He eschews subjects which are prohibited falsification by existentialism or law, and refuses to enforce belief sets on others.
For me personally, you can see my ontological preferences in the boxes marked in white at the neutral center of this chart. As an ignostic, I do not know what a god is, and moreover seek falsification bases to my perceptions about the unknown. Yet as an Ethical Skeptic, neither have I ruled out the possibility of a spiritual realm, nor the necessity to develop a spiritually advancing and enlightened life. Were I forced to make a choice today, I would have to say that both Nihilism and Fundamentalism have been falsified, along with much of their spectrum of beliefs. The only reason they survive today, are the false skeptics who promote those religions in the name of their personal fear and Image of the Absolute.
¹ Nozick, Robert; Philosophical Explanations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1981, ISBN 0-674-66448-5; pp. 167-171.
² Rosen, Stanley, Editor; The Philosopher’s Handbook: A User’s Guide to Western Philosophy, Random House, Inc., New York, NY, 2000; ISBN 978-0-375-72011-6; pp. 165-169.
³ Ataraxia, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ataraxia, extracted 8 Dec 2014.