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PostSubject: Cosmic Nihilism   Sat Jan 03, 2009 12:35 pm

What do others think of these articles?

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An Attempt to Rationalize Epistemological Nihilism

I wrote the following piece while a greenhorn in field of nihilism. At that time, I had not yet seen the distinction between epistemological nihilism and other types. I kept hearing proclaimations that to reject one facet of nihilism was to reject nihilism in its entirety. "You're not a real nihilist unless you belief so-and-so," and so on. It was then that I realized the absurdity taken on by nihilism when one rejects rationality in general. There's no point in philosophizing a non-rational nihilism because philosphy implies rationality. With this mindset, you get claims like "I real nihilist wouldn't bother to create a website or do anything really." Basically, anything a nihilist says or does is hypocritical. Obviously, niihilism, like any ideology, needs to be founded in rationality. In actuality, that's how nihilism started in the first place: an excess of rationality. Rationality thought that meaning couldn't be found in church and tradition and a host of other things. I have no idea where the idea that nihilists couldn't believe in ideas originated, but it is entirely ludicrous and useless. My nihilism is one that is deduced from the rationale. Accordingly, epistemological nihilism is untenable. This short piece reveals the absurdity of trying to rationally place epistemological nihilism into any system of nihilism.

A belief is an idea held to be true. Knowledge is the observations and facts that support your belief. What is the relationship between knowledge and belief? The first impulse is to hypothesize that there is a positive relationship. An increase in knowledge is coupled with an increase in the strength of your belief. This view is quite optimistic because it states that truth will be given to all who so desire. But, one must also know where to look. On the contrary, experience with humans leads to the idea that people often hold ill-founded beliefs in great disproportion to their related knowledge. This occurs because people base their self-perception on their self-righteousness. They hold so steadfast to their ridiculous beliefs that they fail to realize that losing a debate means something new has been learned. Belief is more important that truth with this species. Thus, we have arrived at the opposite side of our initial starting point.

There is a negative relationship between knowledge and belief because those with the least knowledge often entertain the most adamant beliefs. This is were the so-called "trailer-park philosophers" shine. The consequence of this perspective however, would imply that those with the most knowledge have the weakest-held beliefs. Ofcourse this cannont be true, can it? We all know people who have attained an abundance of knowledge about trivial issues in order to make themselves feel morally superior. So we revise our hypothesis again.

Instead of the relationship being linear and thus either purely negative or positive, the relationship is curved like a "U." Those with the most and those with the least knowledge maintain the most stringent beliefs, while those in the middle linger in a state of perpetual indifference. Just look at the apathy surrounding elections here in America.
However, can we really sustain the belief that those who know much about the mundane are to be consider our most knowedgable? Upon closer inspection, it must be concluded that the most intelligent are of a very small number who know of a great number of subjects. They see that much can be learned by comparing each of their fields of knowledge, and that every answer they receive entails limitless other questions. Thus we arrive at our final hypothesis, or maybe it is a theory by this time. The relationship between knowledge and strength of belief is exponential. Exponentially decreased beliefs with increased knowledge, and exponentially increased beliefs with decreased knowledge. Although more pessimistic than our initial suggestion, it is also more realistic. Choose the relationship you find most comforting, and you will postion yourself on the curve.

Clearly, this type of epistemological nihilism is so broad that it could include nearly everyone and becomes uninformative. It's really not epistemological nihilism at all.

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Why Epistemological Nihilism is Untenable

Epistemological nihilism is a brand of extreme skepticism which claims that there is absolutely no knowledge. Laying aside the contradiction is turning this idea into an ideology, I’d like to respond to typical proclamation of this faction. It goes something like this: there can be no true knowledge because the tool we use to gather knowledge – logic and rationality – cannot be proven to be correct. The simply assume that they are right and any attempt to prove their correctness would beg the question since it would use logic and rationality in its proof. Basically, if there is no independent source capable of verifying the truthfulness of our truth seeking instruments, they must be considered unable to accumulate any true knowledge.

Criticisms of rationality such as these fall into a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of logic. Logic is simply the transformation of language propositions into mathematical propositions. For example, a proposition like “My hair is brown” would be expressed in logic simply as the proposition P, or in predicate logic as brown(hair). Each of these claims are equivalent to each other. So then, if logic is merely a representation of language, then the truthfulness of logic depends upon the truthfulness of language.

Take again the example “My hair is brown.” How is this proposition determined to be true or false? We simple observe the external world and see if the proposition matches the actual world. In order to do this, we must know what exactly is meant by words such as “my,” “hair,” “is,” and “brown.” And how do we know if what we understand as “brown” is what brown actually is? The answer is so simple that it is often overlooked by the layman and always overlooked by the epistemological nihilist. The meanings of words are only a convention.

Something is “brown” because we as a society have come to collective agreement that things which have such-and-such a look will be referred to as “brown.” Thus a statement like “My hair is brown” cannot possibly be false if the conventional meanings of each constituent part are known and they match the actual world. The very fact that these conventions are readily agreed upon speaks of the fact of a single common external world and gets us past any possible idealist claptrap. This is all there is to truthfulness.

But, an objector may say, many of these supposed conventions are not completely agreed upon and the same proposition may take on more than one meaning. This is true, and it is the duty of rationalist to simplify and define each part of a proposition until it is clear to all parties which one meaning the proposition is to take. If one meaning cannot be agreed upon, there is a simple solution: just stipulate an original definition that everyone can agree on. It’s the action of taking on a moot point. Just say that this is what is meant, then what follows? Rules such as these illustrate the vast flexibility in language and logic which allows to arrive at conclusions and be confident of their truthfulness.

Lastly, a similar vein of argument could be used to argue for the truthfulness of mathematics. Why does 1+1=2? Because of the conventional understood definitions of “1,” “2,” “+,” and “=.” These again merely represent agreed upon meanings of words used in normal language. If one knows the meanings of each of these symbols, the conclusion must follow because it is hidden in the antecedents to begin with. Different symbols could be used to show the exact same proposition if we wanted to. “1+1=2” could have turned out to be “2-2=9” if that is how the original convention had decided to represent the ideas that had in mind.

As for logical truths such as: if P then Q. Q. Therefore P. These can be verified in the exact same way by looking to the actual world and verifying. After many verifications, we understand that the use of truth tables and proofs function in the same way as real world verification and the prior are chosen because they take up less time and effort. Skeptics then come in and see this process at the tail end and erroneously conclude that since logic covers all things, it can never be verified. Such a response only demonstrates a lack of understanding as to what is truth and how it is acquired.

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Cosmic Nihilism is Untenable

Both cosmic nihilism and existential nihilism come to the conclusion that everything is meaningless and that value is nonexistent. The two approaches differ in the means by which they reach this conclusion. While existential nihilism uses rationality and reductionist arguments against moral theory, cosmic nihilism uses high-sounding and poetic argument. Hence its appeal to those of an irrational bent.

Here are some typical cosmic nihilist arguments. All life ends at the same point, death. So, the intermediary events have no meaning. The earth and its inhabitants consist of only a small sand particle within the vast oceanic universe. Therefore, everything we do is meaningless. Or similarly, anything that I do now has no meaning in a million of years. Thus, everything I do now is meaningless.

These, and the many arguments like them, are irrational because of their irrelevance. A few thought experiments will easily prove this. For, if I were to become immortal, or my size or the earth’s size were to be tremendously increased, or something that I do now will having meaning in a million years, none of these things will cause my life to have meaning and to suddenly create value out of nothing. A part of the effect must always be in the cause and if all causes are valueless, nothing will ever change that fact and allow value to be created.

Thomas Nagel, in his article The Absurd, has an excellent reply to the Million Years argument. 1.) If nothing that I do now matters in a million years, then by common reasoning, 2.) nothing that matters in a million years matters now. So, even if 1.) were false and something that I did now did matter in a million years, it still would not matter now because of 2.).

Basically, all arguments from the perspective of cosmic nihilism are poetry posing as philosophy and should be discarded as such. No credit is given for getting the right answer because it was only attained through at admiration of the tragic life, and not through true insight.

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