Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Importance of the Universal Applicability of Axioms

Certain baseline assumptions are required for obtaining any knowledge. A string of 'why?' questions ultimately leads us back to the most basic kinds of knowledge.

Check out these two posts for an introduction for this post:


If you don't read them, this won't make sense!

A question I have often received is 'why not make morality a fundamental assumption?' This is a question I have frequently pondered myself, because it seems to be similar to some of the others. Especially in the case of the general reliability of the senses; if I trust my senses because they appear to be generally accurate, as well as absolutely applicable for living and making decisions, shouldn't objective morality itself be a fundamental assumption?

First off, there cannot be arguments for or against fundamental assumptions (let's call them 'axioms' from now on). Axioms are just true- we assume them because we have to assume things. In that sense, I can't say that it is wrong to make objective morality an axiom. I would just ask you to specify which morality for the sake of completeness.

Here is why I don't personally use objective morality as an axiom: The whole point of my axioms and subsequent process is to find the truth. Truth is out there, and I am going to figure out what it is.

In order to find it, I don't want to use any axioms that would disqualify potential truths, and selecting an objective morality would disqualify certain beliefs or worldviews. As in, no matter how strong the evidence is for or against a stance, if there is an axiom that discounts it, the argument is simply over. No other evidence matters, even in the slightest. If I make atheism an axiom, then no evidence can disprove atheism. If I make 'anyone who eats sandwiches is a bad person' an axiom, then no amount of evidence can disprove that statement.

Because I don't want to disqualify eating sandwiches from the realm of possible things that could be good, I won't make that an axiom.

Absolute truth exists, and if we knew what it was, then everything that we knew would be an axiom. We could just say "here is everything that exists, and we know everything, done." Unfortunately we do not know everything, so we have to start out by picking some axioms to make progress towards finding truth.

In picking our axioms, then, we need to be careful. If we pick something that disqualifies certain religions, moralities, or worldviews, then we automatically disqualify certain types of people from being able to find the truth. Keep in mind here, that we shouldn't assume that we are the 'certain types of people' I mentioned in that last sentences.

We want our axioms to be universal for the human race, to the greatest degree possible. By choosing axioms that are valid for all of humanity, and only using those to make progress, we protect ourselves from making unwarranted and unresolvable mistakes.

Think about it this way. Lets say there are 30 'correct' axioms, and 30 'incorrect' axioms. In order to make any progress whatsoever I have to pick at least 3. So I pick 3, and try to make progress, and succeed in doing so. That is awesome!

Now, should I pick 4? Why not? Oughtn't 4 be better and more useful than 3? Well, the fourth one would make subsequent progress easier, absolutely. HOWEVER, it would also decrease your odds of actually finding the truth, because you don't know that that axiom actually is part of absolute truth. It is a risky business, adding axioms to the bunch.

With morality specifically, if I pick Christian morals as an axiom, then it is impossible for the end result of my search to be anything other than Christianity, NO MATTER THE EVIDENCE FOR OR AGAINST. Once an axiom is established, it is there, and no one can argue with it, period. If I pick Mormon morality as an axiom, then I cannot logically end up believing something other than Mormonism. I have disqualified potential truths. If I make a certain moral stance an axiom, I disqualify other moral stances from the realm of possibility for me.

Axioms are as much about truth as they are about disqualifications. And you know what? I'm ok with disqualifying the possibility of logic not being valid. I'm just fine with disqualifying the possibility of my senses being unreliable. I also have absolutely no qualms with disqualifying the possibility of my own nonexistence.

I see no point in laying out the evidence for and against those things- there isn't even a conversation to be had there. If my hearing is unreliable, I couldn't even hear you, especially if I didn't exist, and logic being invalid would only make things worse.

In short, an axiom should only be made if the potential 'truth' it disqualifies results in catastrophic instantaneous meltdown.

Not making objective morals axiomatic sure does cause emotional strain, but it doesn't rip the heart out of the very fabric of space-time. In fact, making one specific objective morality an axiom DECREASES your odds of successfully finding out what the correct objective morality would be, if it did in fact exist.

We should not assume that we are not the 'other' people. If we utilize axioms that are not universal for the human race, we risk disqualifying ourselves from potential candidates who could find out pieces of absolute truth.

Fewer axioms are better. Axioms regarding specific kinds of morality decrease your odds of finding the truth (including the truth regarding morality itself), as opposed to helping you find truth.

Because I shouldn't assume that I am not part of group B. If the arguments I formulate are based off of axioms that apply to all of humanity, then I am ensuring that whatever arguments I use end up correctly applying to me, in a retroactive sort of way. Not including morality as an axiom is a way of ensuring that whether or not I start out believing the correct thing, I can end up believing the correct thing.

Neither a specific objective morality nor the existence of morality itself should be axioms, in the same way that 'eating sandwiches is a bad idea' should not be an axiom. Sure, we could include both, but then we end up excluding certain types of people from ever being able to find the truth; and we should never assume that we aren't the 'other' people.

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