Potentially, the Atheist Nexus is home to many philosophers, professional or amateur. This group will be the place for them to debate philosophical standpoints, share new ideas, or help each other understand various philosophical propositions.

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The Philosophy Group on Atheist Nexus

Potentially, the Atheist Nexus is home to many philosophers, professional or amateur. This group will be the place for them to debate philosophical standpoints, share new ideas, or help each other understand various philosophical propositions.

Do you ever find yourself discussing the philosophy of science or the philosophy of mind, or do you ever consider yourself a cynic, an existentialist, a nihilist or a skeptic? Join up and launch yourself into interesting discussions and analyses. Connect with your fellow thinker!

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The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris

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The Masochist's Wager

Started by Nathaniel Summers. Last reply by Steph S. Jan 7, 2013. 1 Reply

Can You Imagine Nothing?

Started by JP Carey. Last reply by Steph S. Dec 1, 2012. 3 Replies


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Comment by Keith Brian Johnson on September 20, 2013 at 5:26pm

(Continued because of a character limit) If I go ahead and make the assumption and talk as though I were describing what really was so, not much seems to change except that it's a whole lot easier to talk about tigers and their stripedness than about tiger-appearances and their striped-ish appearances. But I do get to ascribe to other people mental states of their own, and I certainly live my life as though other people really did have their own mental lives. Because of that, ethics changes--but only in very unusual cases--in favor of treating other people as though they mattered. Since not much else really changes, I don't think it does any harm to make the assumption that there is an objectively existing reality of which my senses give me reasonably reliable information. But if I'm wrong about that, my experiential "world" remains intact--I just have to go back to describing seemings rather than beings.

I do wish I had a good reason for making the assumption. Let me know if you think of one.

As for your religious friend--here's the thing: Theist and nontheist alike are stuck making certain fundamental epistemic and metaphysical assumptions. But we make the same ones! (Or parallel ones.) Theist and nontheist both assume the reasonable reliability of their basic thought processes. Theist and nontheist both assume that there is an objectively existing reality of which their senses give them reasonably reliable information. If those are leaps of faith--well, so be it. But *given those shared assumptions*, what else is justified? We want to minimize our leaps of faith, and any other leap of faith must have results consistent with the assumptions we've already made. Thus, the existence of a self-contradictory God would be unacceptable; the existence of a God whose existence would contradict what we take ourselves to know about reality would be unacceptable. We may make our knowledge claims conditionally, based on certain assumptions; but those assumptions constrain what else can be true and what else is reasonable to believe. Since the theist and nontheist make the same basic assumptions, we can reason together to see whether or not we should *also* accept the existence of some sort of God. The theist's claim that we are making leaps of faith does not help his position on God-belief.

Comment by Keith Brian Johnson on September 20, 2013 at 5:25pm

First, I distinguish between the psychological sense of certitude, on one hand, and rational certainty, on the other. The latter generally (if not always) requires that one have justification so strong that no rational agent could reasonably have any doubt. It's hard to think of much about which one can have certainty--that one is experiencing anger (when he is experiencing anger) and the like. Given the assumption that my basic thought processes are reasonably reliable, I may say that I am certain that 2+2=4 and that all bachelors are unmarried. I'm not sure whether or not I would also be justified in saying that I am certain that tigers are striped, given that my basic thought processes are reasonably reliable and that there is an objectively existing reality of which my senses give me reasonably reliable information; I'd be more comfortable saying that I was almost certain.

The feeling of certitude is a 100% degree of confidence. Rational certainty is not. Rational certainty has to do with how strong your justification is, not with how confident you feel. (For a perfectly rational believer, the two should correlate perfectly, though.)

I am an experiencer of thoughts, feelings, sensations, imaginings, memories, and so on. I cannot doubt that I am experiencing what I am experiencing. I can doubt the *source* of my mental experiences, but I cannot doubt that I am experiencing them. From my mental experiences--in particular, from my sensations--I build up an internal mental real-world world-model. That does not collapse if I fail to assume that there is an objectively existing reality of which my senses give me reasonably reliable information. I can describe my mental real-world world-model without taking myself to describe a real world external to myself. If I were sitting in a chair at Recall Corp., wearing a virtual reality helmet that generated all of my mental phenomena in me, then it would be appropriate for me to describe the appearances-to-me simply as what seemed to be, not as what was actually so. In order to know whether I should restrict myself to describing my mental real-world world-model as what seemed to be rather than as what actually was so, I'd have to know whether or not there was an objectively existing reality of which my senses gave me reasonably reliable information. Not knowing, perhaps I should restrict myself to talking about what seems to be so. I have a couple of reasons for not so restricting myself. (Continued)


Comment by Jedi Wanderer on September 20, 2013 at 10:37am


Comment by Jedi Wanderer on September 20, 2013 at 10:35am

The terms which draw my attention are “assume” and “confidence”. To my mind, certainty is just a level of confidence we have in the beliefs we have assumed, with whatever justification seems available, that we believe very strongly. Of course one can be certain and be wrong. Especially when it comes to those basic assumptions of which you speak, justification can seem illusory or entirely absent. But one does have to wonder if we have much of a choice with many of these basic assumptions. Suppose I doubt whether my experiences are at all reliable; this is tantamount to doubting the whole of my epistemic structure. We are in the Cartesian position of doubting even whether we can assume a belief in our own existence. Even if we accept his reasoning, “cogito ergo sum”, which I happen to accept, we can still doubt whether our reasoning is sound, etc. There is no logical escape route from skepticism. But in practice, can we help but assume that our experiences are reliable, and that we are capable of reasoning through them to arrive at justified beliefs? It appears that this assumption is forced on us; if we doubt this much, we can have no convictions, no ego, no sense of ourselves or the world at all. This stance just doesn't seem possible. Logically, of course, it might be the case, but in practice, it is patently absurd. My theist friend is extremely fond of pointing to this basic assumption as “a leap of faith”, and so infers that faith is essential even to reason. Naturally, I balk at this! We are not making an unjustified, illogical assumption here – this is no “act of faith”. We simply haven't got a choice in the matter. To be ambivalent and non-committal here is just to remain stuck in some vortex of skepticism on a single question, and to dwell in this vortex as if we are logically compelled to and allow it to suck our entire universe of experiences into it is by far the worse of the two alternatives. We just don't seem to have any choice in the matter; we are forced to assume that the world of our experiences is real, and the point of unfettered, global doubt is just some sort of glitch, a black hole in an otherwise stable universe.

Comment by D R Hosie on September 13, 2013 at 9:11pm

(Sam Harris)

Beliefs hazardous to World Health

In making recent changes to the website, WP accidentally deleted over 70 of our subscribers. So, if you are (or were) a subscriber, please pop-over long enough to re-register, and receive notice of new articles. Thanks, Donnie

Comment by Keith Brian Johnson on September 13, 2013 at 7:07am

I watched the videos that D R Hosie's page had, and it's hard to think of anything I disagreed with.

Comment by D R Hosie on September 13, 2013 at 1:40am
Comment by Jedi Wanderer on September 10, 2013 at 5:03pm

I will try to post a response this week, latest next. Swamped! :)

Comment by Keith Brian Johnson on September 4, 2013 at 9:11am

Jedi Wanderer/PhilosopherAaron (for those who are wondering, he and I are both members of, where I am known as "MindWalk"): My view is that there are certain fundamental epistemic and metaphysical assumptions we have to make in order to make our ordinary, everyday knowledge claims. In order to trust my own conclusions--about anything--I have to assume that my basic thought processes are reasonably reliable. In order to trust that my memories are memories, I have to assume that they really are indicative of my having had earlier mental experiences--that I did not just this moment begin to mentally experience anything at all, including what seem to be memories. In order to make empirical knowledge claims, I have to assume that there is an objectively existing reality of which my senses give me reasonably reliable information, and then I have to assume that there really was a past--that I am not a robot just now switched on, fully stocked with false memories. There are various assumptions I just have to make if I'm going to make ordinary, everyday knowledge claims. I see no way to assess the probability that they're true, so I can't say, "Well, probably, I really do have two hands." I can only say, "Given the truth of my fundamental epistemic and metaphysical assumptions, I have two hands." (Of course, I normally suppress the "Given the truth of my fundamental epistemic and metaphysical assumptions" preamble.)

Having made those assumptions, I can now take my sensory experiences to give me evidentiary information about the world. I can notice that other people seem to be built the way I am, and they seem to talk and act as though they, too, had mental experiences, so I suppose that they do. And then they, too, can provide evidentiary information about the world, and the whole scientific enterprise gets started.

I do use a modified justified true belief account of knowledge--half of the modification takes into account those fundamental assumptions, and the other half has to do with our justification's normally only justifying us in believing with some degree of confidence rather than in being certain. Taking these things into account--which amounts to taking into account the possibility of error--enables one to deal with philosophical skepticism and with the Gettier problem.

When I say that I cannot rule out the existence of some sort of God, I do not mean that I believe to some extent that God exists. No. I don't believe, even a little tiny bit. I just can't logically rule out the possibility, for some version of God. That doesn't mean I have the slightest reason to think there actually is any version of God, so I don't believe at all.

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on September 3, 2013 at 10:01am

Hey KBJ, it's PhilosopherAaron! Not surprised to find you here. My take: I'm just fine with calling myself an atheist. You put the matter well: one cannot logically rule out the existence of deities, any more than we can logically rule out the existence of fairies or goblins or any number of some such fantastical creatures. And all of these ideas were quite clearly created by people. Beliefs are held based on strength of certitude. I am not at all certain whether life exists elsewhere in the universe, but I tend to believe that there are, just as I am not at all certain that we haven't been visited by aliens, though I tend to believe not. I am very certain that I have two hands, and that my name is Aaron, and that I had tea AND coffee already this morning. This degree of certitude qualifies as knowledge if anything does. I am also very certain that people created the ideas of deities and all other fantastical creatures, and that these creatures exist only as ideas. I could be just as wrong about this as I am that I am who I think I am, and that I have actually experienced what I think I have experienced. I COULD doubt all these things; another way of putting this is that there isn't anything which can not be doubted. As an academic exercise, there isn't anything that, at one time or another, SHOULDN'T be doubted. But when we come back to Earth, we have to decide what degree of certitude we can assign to each of our beliefs, and which ones could be counted as knowledge. On this account, knowledge is weak and is nothing more than having strong certitude in a belief (and it must turn out that this belief was both true and reasonably-justified). With such a weak version of knowledge, it may be acceptable to affirm that we know more than what is logically permissible, because of the difference between logic and practical belief. The problems associated with this approach seem more acceptable than the problems associated with a stricter approach, for the simple fact that, as I previously mentioned, no belief is logically superior than any other, in any purely objective sense. We are all in an epistemological hinterland where the only thing separating truth from fiction is a reasonable suspicion of what is more or less likely. Nevertheless, if anything makes sense, then a great deal can be said about what does or doesn't make sense. Still, there is so much doubt surrounding our entire epistemological constructs that making any progress requires a lot of heavy lifting. But, some beliefs seem much lighter to lift than others, expertise seems possible, and so justification seems possible. At some point it seems possible to say some things with a great amount of certitude. I believe, with a degree of certitude sufficient enough to warrant calling it knowledge, that I have two hands. I have a similar strength of belief that deities are figments of people's imagination. If I cannot say that deities are not real, than I am in much the same situation with regards to saying that my hands are. In other words, either you have to accept a pervasive skepticism which undermines all beliefs and puts every belief on the same epistemological footing, meaning that all beliefs are just as likely to be true as any other, or you have to have some epistemological structure which allows for comparing beliefs against each other. However you bridge that gap, once you do than you have a weak method for separating truth from fiction, and you don't have to qualify every belief on this basic level. It will still be necessary to say what degree of certitude you have in any given belief, but you can be "sure" of some, sure enough to say you "know". I am sure I have two hands, I am sure there are no deities, etc., and I know these things.


I just wrote this off the top of my head though, so I'm not sure how well this all works. I would say I am less sure of what I just wrote than to be able to say that I know it is right. :)


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