Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Excessive Parsimony as Intellectual Poverty

Just Thomism had a post last week that struck me because it encapsulated my reaction to the materialism-as-parsimonious-explanation point of view:
John Wilkins explains the reason he is a physicalist:
When I lost my belief in religion I had to decide what I needed to accept as a bare minimum. I decided that I needed to believe in the physical world. I never found the slightest reason to accept the existence of anything else. To this day I am a physicalist only because I never found the need to be anything else.
The principle of parsimony suggests that one should not believe in more than one needs to. Even if it does make you feel comfortable.

There are many reasons why someone would be a physicalist (John himself gives others), but this one is complete and absolutely fundamental. There simply is no reason behind this one, or at least there need not be. After this, physicalism can fall back into the defensive activity of answering various objections- it need not seek to do any more to establish itself in a positive way. If we tried to push the analysis any further back, we would slip into the non-rational sphere of personal and somatic characteristics, the infinite ocean of the subconscious, and the dark causality of whatever else there is.

My fundamental reason is the contrary of Wilkins. His challenge was to believe as little as possible, mine was to believe in the greatest thing possible. His fundamental outlook is critical and minimalist, my fundamental outlook is to find the greatest or loftiest thing that I can. He appeals to parsimony, and there is also a clear implied appeal to certitude; my appeal is to the natural desire to seek what is highest and most perfect. He takes it as obvious that one should never posit more than he needs to; I take it as equally obvious that no one would ever settle for the merely necessary and minimal. He might well see my choice as wishful thinking or a naive uncritical approach that could leave me duped in a thousand ways; but I see his as choice as mean, scrupulous, and closed- minded. His appeal is to Ockham’s razor, mine is to Aristotle’s dual axioms that what is most perfect in itself is least knowable to us and that we cannot but seek the beatitude that comes from knowing what is most perfect in itself.

To put it in a word, John sees everything beyond the minimum given in initial experience as a threat to philosophy, and even as unphilosophical; I see the whole point of philosophy as finding some object beyond this minimum given in initial experience.


Anonymous said...

I believe in things that can be proven. I have opinions about everything else.

This puts me much closer to John than to you.


Darwin said...

I'd certainly agree that John's formula is intellectually self consistent. I just think it has a minimalism which misses the fullness of reality. So I'd break into three categories rather than two. Example:

I know that the speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second.

I believe that all people should be treated equally under the law.

It is my opinion that ale it better than lager.