Objectivity, Science and Self-Honesty
Epistemology is the study of the nature, acquisition, formation, and evaluation of information, truth, knowledge, concepts and beliefs. The more accurate that our knowledge is, the more effective will be our pursuit of hedonic value, both for ourselves, and for those we love.
Truth is the correspondence between a statement and reality. If such correspondence exists in one’s words, i.e., if they are true, then one’s words are in harmony with reality. If one’s thoughts are true, then one’s thoughts are in harmony with reality. If one’s actions are guided by truth, then one’s actions are in harmony with reality. To operate exclusively from a position of truth is to operate in complete harmony with reality.
By our nature we are subjective beings, i.e., we each uniquely experience the world through our individual perspectives, shaped by our individual likes and dislikes, as well as our individual strengths and weaknesses. Each individual experiences the world in a unique way, differently from any other individual. Each individual can only experience the contents of his or her own mind
Because we are finite, limited beings, however, there are limits to our knowledge and to our ability to know. Despite the fact that there are certain things, such as the Three Metaphysical Axioms and certain mathematical truths, which would be true in any world which we could experience, including this one, we cannot be in all places or know all things; furthermore, variations exist from individual to individual. We each uniquely experience the world through our individual perspectives, shaped by our individual likes and dislikes, as well as our individual strengths and weaknesses. Each individual experiences the world in a unique way, differently from any other individual. Each individual can only experience the contents of his or her own mind. We each experience reality subjectively by our very nature.
While each of us necessarily has a subjective nature, we all also have the capacity for objectivity, although many unfortunately cripple themselves intellectually by denying or rejecting that capacity. They misunderstand or misinterpret the role of objectivity, often mistakenly thinking that objectivity requires the rejection of one’s subjective experience, or that our subjective nature precludes objectivity. The reality, in contrast to such mistaken thinking, is that objectivity can and necessarily does co-exist with subjectivity.
Objectivity is a special mode of thinking which one can and absolutely should adopt, within the framework of one’s inherently subjective experience of reality; objectivity does not replace subjectivity, but “overlays” and augments it. This becomes clear once one understands that the very essence of objectivity is self-honesty. To be completely objective is to be completely honest with oneself. It is only by putting forth the disciplined effort required to honestly integrate all of the information available to oneself that one’s thoughts will be in harmony with reality. This entails honestly accepting the facts of reality whether one likes or dislikes those facts, and honestly evaluating the reasons why one feels the way one does about such facts. It entails believing in things because they are epistemologically justified, i.e., “proven,” rather than because they are psychologically appealing, i.e., “feel good.”
Other animals simply don't have the capacity to lie to themselves that humans have. It is absurd to imagine, e.g., a cat or dog lying to itself. This is not because they are somehow “morally superior” to humans, but simply because they don’t have the conceptual abilities required to deal with concepts in the ways that humans can, and it is just these conceptual abilities which are at the heart of what we refer to as “free will.” (The topic of free will will be discussed in 1:4 ETHICS.) Not having such free will, or the conceptual abilities which are at its foundation, other animals do not have the option of self-deception but must deal with reality as it is presented to them, according to the nature of the individual animal; however, self-deception and self-honesty are a matter of choice for humans.
Reality was not invented by humans, but humans are required to deal with reality in order to survive. Self-honesty or objectivity as a mode of thinking was not invented by humans, but was discovered or identified by humans as the means for most effectively integrating and surviving within reality. This is analogous to the way that humans discover or identify rather than invent universal mathematical truths. The techniques of objective thinking are metaphysically defined by the nature of reality itself. Objective thinking works because of the fundamental nature of reality, as identified by the Three Metaphysical Axioms of Scionics.
Science is a special, formalized application of objectivity and self-honesty, which is a means for extracting maximally reliable information from reality. Just as mathematical techniques were invented as a formalized means for discovering mathematical truths, so too was science invented as a formalized means for discovering truths about the world.
Philosophers have long sought some optimum epistemological approach for extracting accurate information from the natural world; science has provided them with the goal of that search. Despite the obvious superiority of the epistemological approach of science, however, there still remains a rather wide diversity of mistaken opinion as to what the optimum epistemological approach might be. Some have even held that nothing can be known at all: this view is called “extreme skepticism.”
An examination of a few traditional, invalid epistemological approaches will follow. This will serve to illustrate ways in which individuals often err in their attempts to understand the world. Subsequent to this will be a description of the only valid epistemological approach: empiricorationalism, the epistemology of both science and Scionics philosophy.
Epistemological skepticism is any doctrine which recognizes the unreliability of beliefs. In its most extreme form, skepticism is the doctrine that nothing can be known. We have already seen, however, that there are some things which can be known with total certainty, e.g., the Three Metaphysical Axioms and mathematical truths. This invalidates the most extreme form of skepticism.
Nonetheless, as human beings we use much information that is of less-than-complete certainty; this is due to our nature as finite, limited beings. Thus a more mild form of skepticism does have validity, in which all information is viewed as provisional, until it can be tested and proven according to some sort of optimum epistemological criteria. Skepticism, itself, does not dictate what these criteria might be, other than to affirm that they must indicate a correspondence with reality, i.e., with the natural world.
The term “fideism” comes from the Latin word for “faith.” Epistemological fideism takes several forms, often related to mystical “spiritual” ideas. One doctrine is that one’s spiritual beliefs are not subject to critical evaluation, or that faith, i.e., uncritically accepted spiritual belief, is the most reliable means for acquiring or evaluating information about reality. Another form of fideism holds that “spiritual revelation” is the means to “divine,” “absolute” truth. Still another form of fideism essentially holds that a belief is true merely because it is firmly believed, in the absence of any meaningful or demonstrable correspondence with reality. A further variant is believing something because some “authority” decrees that it should be believed, again in the absence of correspondence with reality.
All of these doctrines can be recognized as fundamentally flawed when we realize that different people often hold contradictory spiritual beliefs, or that different “authorities” often propound contradictory beliefs. If spiritual beliefs actually did represent divine, absolute truth, then those possessing such truths would be in natural harmony with one another; in reality, however, it is very common for people’s differing spiritual beliefs to bring them into a state of disharmony with one another.
Fideism, sadly, often leads many otherwise well-intentioned individuals to follow false paths guided by non-reality-based beliefs, ultimately resulting in disharmony, unhappiness and even hate. To reject fideism, and instead to accept reality itself as the only “authority,” is the only reality-based path to knowledge and understanding.
Intuitionism and Emotivism
“Intuitionism” is the doctrine that intuition is the proper means for acquiring truth and knowledge, or for forming and evaluating concepts and beliefs. "Intuition" has been variously interpreted to include such things as emotion, instinct, "feelings," etc., and has also been identified by other names, e.g., “emotivism.”
Regardless of what this doctrine is called, however, it remains the case that all beliefs must correspond with reality; those which do are true, and those which do not are false. Quite frequently, of course, we don’t really know whether some particular intuition is true or false; after all, even those who seem to have remarkably reliable intuitions can sometimes be in error, i.e., in disharmony with the natural world.
While one can increase the reliability of one’s intuitions, errors and misjudgments will always remain; even if this is only occasional, major undesirable consequences can sometimes result from seemingly minor misjudgments. One's intuitions should always be justified through valid epistemological means before they are accepted as truth.
Empiricism, Rationalism and Empiricorationalism
Empirical evidence is the evidence of sensory or perceptual experience. Epistemological empiricism is any doctrine which holds that empirical evidence is the proper means for acquiring truth and knowledge, and for forming and evaluating concepts and beliefs.
Attempts are sometimes made to discredit the validity or reliability of empiricism. This is typically done by attacks on the ontological status of the physical world, and of the ability of sensory or perceptual experience to provide any level of reliable information about actual reality. These attacks may hold that it is possible that the apparent reality of the physical world is actually a simulation, or a dream, or the like. They may also hold that, even if the physical world is real in the conventional sense, human senses and perceptions are still fallible and error-prone in a way that the absolute certainty of pure logic is not.
The problem with all such attacks is that there is no model of reality which provides greater explanatory value than the simple and self-evident proposition that the physical world is real in the conventional sense, and that our senses and perceptions are generally reliable for deriving information about the physical world – and that these senses can be vastly augmented by scientific instruments. Any alternative to this simple and self-evident proposition is more complex, and not self-evident – so what is the advantage or justification for taking on such a view? There is none, if one wishes the truth. There is no advantage or justification for adopting a more complex explanation for something, when a simpler one has greater or equal explanatory value. There is no advantage or justification for adopting a non-self-evident explanation for something, when a simpler one has greater or equal explanatory value. (The only so-called “advantage” would be the “advantage” of confusing the issue, which is only helpful when attempting to prop up nonsensical ideas and a mystical worldview, while obscuring or denying reality.) The ontological stance that the physical world is real is simpler and more self-evident than the alternatives, and has greater or equal explanatory value. This is the ontological position of Scionics regarding physical reality, and it is the ontological position upon which the epistemological position of empiricism is based and validated.
Unlike fideism or intuitionism – and despite the attacks of those who would deny the reality of the physical world or the reliability of the senses – empiricism actually has great reliability as an epistemological approach. The evidence of one’s immediate perceptual experience is nearly impossible to doubt. If one wants to know what the weather is outside, for example, one does not employ some mystical spiritual faith or intuition; instead, one can merely step outside, and one’s senses serve as all the evidence one needs.
As human beings, however, we often deal with things which are beyond our immediate perceptual experience. Stepping outside may be a flawless method for determining the weather right here, right now, but it may be a poor method for predicting tomorrow’s weather. When it is necessary to operate beyond the range of our immediate perceptual experience we, must integrate the information we already have to create new information; in other words, we must reason.
Rationalism is any doctrine which holds that reason is the proper means for acquiring truth and knowledge, and for forming and evaluating concepts and beliefs. Reason is very powerful, but it is of limited use for determining certain things about reality in the absence of empirical evidence. Without the evidence of empirical experience, reason is merely logical speculation; when properly used as a means for integrating empirical knowledge, on the other hand, reason becomes a powerful survival tool of the human mind.
Thus, neither empiricism nor rationalism, is sufficient alone as an epistemological approach for human beings, but must be used in conjunction with one another; furthermore, due to the inherently limited nature of human perceptual and reasoning abilities, empiricism and rationalism must be skeptically applied. This requires the testing and retesting of beliefs which may unknowingly be based upon erroneous or incomplete observations or reasoning. This skeptically applied integration of empiricism and rationalism is identified by Scionics as “empiricorationalism.” Empiricorationalism is the creation of models of the world (beliefs) based upon actual empirical observations (empiricism) using valid, logical reasoning (rationalism) and then testing these models to see if they actually hold up under scrutiny (skepticism). Empiricorationalism is the epistemological approach of Scionics philosophy, and the epistemological approach of science.
Scientific knowledge is very different in nature from mystical beliefs. Scientific knowledge is never considered “absolute,” i.e., never considered to be “conclusively” true, beyond doubt and unquestionable; scientific ideas are always subject to further testing. This is in marked contrast to false, mystical “absolutisms:” the acceptance of things unproven and unprovable, which are clung to by mystics as being true beyond doubt or question, and the rejection of things of proven reliability which the mystic refuses to accept. Scientific knowledge is measured in terms of its reliability and predictive power, and this standard of reality-based reliability propels the further advancement of knowledge and power. Mystical beliefs are essentially measured in terms of their conformity with the mystic’s personal faith, feelings, intuitions, etc., and this adherence to invalid epistemological approaches stunts the advancement of reality-based knowledge. The ultimate price of mystical beliefs is ignorance, unhappiness and impotence; the ultimate reward for reality-based thinking is understanding, happiness and power.
Methodological and Epistemological Naturalism
The concept of metaphysical naturalism, the idea that all things which exist are part of the natural (rather than supernatural) world was introduced in Subchapter 1:4 METAPHYSICS. A related view is that only natural methods such as observation, measurement and mathematical modeling (as opposed to supernatural methods) are valid for the study of reality; this is called “methodological naturalism,” or “epistemological naturalism.” Empiricorationalism is the ultimate, invincible form of epistemological naturalism.