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Chapter 10: Philosophical Antecedents

to Peace and Prosperity

Ideas are powerful. Victor Hugo went so far as to declare that "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come." In the short run the sword may be mightier than the pen, but in the long run the pen determines which direction the sword points. Some ideas have inspired people to make massive personal and social transformations against great odds. Other ideas have justified pessimism and complacency in the face of minor difficulties.

Throughout history civilizations have risen and fallen in large measure due to the ideas that guided their actions and policies. In short, ideas have consequences . "If the old saying that 'philosophy bakes no bread' has its point, it is also true that in the end we do not bake bread or in fact do anything without a philosophy."1

People are Carriers of Ideas

After the Bolshevik revolution, a leading prosecutor named Krylenko declared that he did not see people, but rather "carriers of specific ideas."2 As he carried out his program for exterminating "Kulaks" and other such undesirables, he explained his method as follows: "No matter what the individual qualities [of the defendant], only one method of evaluating him is to be applied: evaluation from the point of view of class expediency ."3 Not only were people allowed to live or required to die based on the kind of ideas they carried, but whether or not they carried the right ideas was assumed to be inherent in their class affiliation. People were allowed to live only so long as their lives were "expedient" for serving the needs of "the people," Namely, those who claimed to represent the people. In other words, ideas were used to justify organized plunder on a colossal scale.

On the positive side, other ideas have promoted notions of self-sufficiency and honest trade, which in turn have led to some of the most prosperous and peaceful eras in human history. Of course, only a small portion of human beings who have ever lived on this planet have experienced such a system.

When we choose our ideas, (consciously or unconsciously), we choose our destinies. Therefore, if we desire more control over our lives and our futures, we will want to take some time to learn how philosophical assumptions manifest themselves in action, and how action in turn creates the reality we experience every day.

The Power of Belief

Throughout history there has been much talk about the power of the mind and the power of belief. Much of this talk has been shrouded in mysticism: "somehow" our thoughts transform themselves into their material equivalent. Some declarations are in fact very inspiring.

One of my favorite poems reads:

Mind is the master power that moulds and makes,
and man is mind and evermore he takes,
The tool of thought and shaping what he wills
brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills.
He thinks in secret and it comes to pass.
Environment is but his looking glass.4

This poem is very inspiring emotionally but it doesn't explain how our thoughts become our experience.

Somewhere I once heard this formulation: "Sow an action, you reap a habit; sow a habit, you reap a character; sow a character, you reap a destiny." To that formulation, I have since added, "Sow a thought, you reap an action." This process is illustrated further by Figure 10-1 .

For the most part, our thoughts are reactions to people and events in the world around us. In Chapter 1 , I offered a diagram to demonstrate how our values determine the way we react to people and events. Here is that diagram once again:

Another term for "value system" is "philosophical system." The way life is (or the way we perceive it to be), compared to the way we believe it should be, determines how we feel about the world and our place in it. Along the same lines, the way we feel about our ability to effect change will determine whether we will work to make changes, or whether we will remain inert.

In this chapter, it will be made clear that everyone is a philosopher. The only question is, are we conscious philosophers, or are we unconscious philosophers? Everyone carries certain assumptions about the world in which they live and about their place in it. As it turns out, most people are unconscious philosophers. Consequently, most of us are driven by forces of which we are unaware.

The Impact of Cultural Assumptions

Like individual human beings, civilizations rise and fall according to the philosophical assumptions that guide their relations among citizens. One might say that there are philosophical assumptions typical of ascending cultures, and there are philosophical assumptions typical of descending cultures.
Generally, the rise and fall of cultures is cyclical. According to Arnold Toynbee, "The historical cycle seems to be: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more."5 Nineteen civilizations are said to have followed this pattern, most often over a span of about 200 years.6

Nine steps in 200 years suggest that imperceptible philosophical shifts take place from generation to generation (a generation being somewhere between 20 and 30 years.) Why is this so? A possible clue might be found in a quote inscribed over the doorway of the library at the Colorado University campus in Boulder: "Who knows only his own generation remains always a child."7 The majority of the people, each knowing only their own generation, will naturally act on their assumptions which are based on childhood experience. Unless people make a special effort to expand their awareness, childhood events will shape their world-view and guide their actions for as long as they live.

While I cannot explain the complete mechanics of transferring knowledge from one generation to the next, I have a theory. After a number of generations in bondage, a new generation decides to choose faith. The following generation, after growing up in a cultural milieu imbued with an aura of faith decides to adopt an attitude of courage. Then the following generation elects to win freedom, and so on. The complete cycle would look something like Figure 10-3.

Of course, it is one thing to observe the course of events over a period of generations. It is yet another to establish a connection between prevailing philosophical assumptions and the events they pave the way for.

The Three Core Philosophical Assumptions

Every philosophy carries with it three types of assumptions about the world and our place in it: metaphysical assumptions, epistemological assumptions, and ethical assumptions. Each assumption is an answer to three fundamental questions. 1. Metaphysics : Is it a hostile universe, or is it a nurturing universe? 2. Epistemology : Is the mind capable of understanding the world we live in, or are we totally dependent on faith for survival? 3. Ethics : Which aspects of human association should be guided by coercion, and which aspects should be left to the discretion of the individuals involved?

The answers we hold in response to these fundamental questions will determine in large part the way we will respond to situations as they arise in our daily lives. Our responses, will in turn create the consequences we must respond to later. In the following paragraphs we will explore each set of assumptions and how they impact our everyday lives.

The first subject this chapter will explore is Metaphysics. This is an interesting topic considering that many people are putting a lot of energy in arguing that this world really does not exist, and that our physical bodies are an "illusion." (Some years back, I happened onto a compromise between the materialists and the "surrealists": "Reality is an illusion that gains solidity through collusion.")

Metaphysical Assumptions

In the dictionary, metaphysics is described as "1. The branch of philosophy that systematically investigates the nature of first principles and problems of ultimate reality, including the study of being (ontology) and, often, the study of the structure of the universe (cosmology). 2. Speculative or critical philosophy in general."8 Metaphysics is the study of the nature of the universe and of our place in it. There has always been speculation about how humans have come to exist on this planet, why we are here, and where we are going. Implicit in all of this speculation is the question, "Is the universe friendly, or is it out to get us?"

On one side of the debate, we have Andy Worhol who, during his fifteen or so minutes of fame, suggested that, "Being born is like being kidnapped, and then sold into slavery." On the other side of the debate, people disagree by saying, "Life is a gift to be enjoyed, not a sentence to be served!"

Our answer to the question of whether or not the universe is friendly is crucial because it will color every action and every relationship. It has been observed that very often we get what we expect, which brings to mind the story of the young man with a wooden eye:

There once was a young man with a wooden eye. Obviously, he wasn't born that way, so he must have had a traumatic accident that caused him to lose his eye. After the physical pain of his loss went away, the emotional pain of not being "like everyone else" lingered on. As he was single, this caused further problems because he felt too self-conscious to go out and meet people--especially women. However, as fate would have it, a friend of his finally talked him into going to a single's club. When he walked into the club, the first thing he noticed was a very beautiful woman who seemed perfect in every way except that she had big ears. This seemed very promising because his wooden eye and her big ears would make them more equal. Nevertheless, asking her for a dance seemed very threatening. What if she said "no"?
An hour and four rounds of liquid courage later, he got up, walked across the room, and as calmly as possible he asked, "would you like to dance?" She, with great enthusiasm and excitement responded, "would I, would I!!!" He immediately jumped back and yelled, "big ears, big ears!!"
Afterward, he thought to himself, "of all the women I could have asked, why did I choose one who could see my wooden eye even in a dimly lit room?" Had he been successful in processing his experience earlier, he would've realized that a new and possibly wonderful experience was awaiting him.9

This is a (hopefully) humorous way of pointing out that often we fall victim to what psychologists call a "self-fulfilling prophecy." Very often we do get what we expect.

On the other hand, we don't always get what we expect. The world around us demonstrates a certain stubbornness as well. As was stated in the introduction, life demands that we perform certain basic activities in order to maintain our material existence. In other words, we are faced with a certain amount of metaphysical slavery .

A large part of the world persists in being what it is, with little regard for our opinion of it. (In Chapter 5 , we noted that not only do individuals collapse when they fight nature, so do whole civilizations.) This, then, is our dilemma--where does the intransigence of the universe leave off, and where does "free will" begin.

The "Humans are Powerless" Scenario

Some metaphysical systems insist that our lives and even the minute events in our lives are predestined. People are seen as marionettes on strings, pulled this way or that for the amusement of God or some other cosmic entity. These people would have us believe that life is a large prison camp, and that humans are helpless in the face of overwhelming forces.

Another variation of the "humanity is powerless" theory is the notion that reality is so fluid that it is unknowable. Instead of reality being hard and merciless, which can offer some security, reality is held to be mushy and indefinable: A does not equal A, and two plus two can be anything you like. (Especially if you enjoy political power.)

The "Humans are All-Powerful" Scenario

At the other extreme, we have some New Age churches who would have us believe that the universe is infinitely malleable to our whims, and that the world and all who dwell therein are marionettes to our consciousness. From the pulpit you will hear declarations like, "don't bother me with the details--I'm into consciousness." These teachings are very popular because they teach a happy scenario that makes people feel good. Unfortunately, many of those believers focus so much on "consciousness" that they fail to take time to gain the specialized knowledge necessary to win the success they dream of. Sometimes, when their faith fails, they collapse from illusions of grandeur and descend into absolute hopelessness.

The more thoughtful people often run into this dilemma: "When something annoys me, I say that 'something' doesn't exist. And if it doesn't exist, it cannot annoy me. Then something else annoys me--my self-deception."10

Exploring the Middle-Ground

In between these two extremes is the theory of "emergent probability."11 This theory admits that constraints are placed on us by nature as the price of our survival, and yet it suggests that a range of choices is available to each of us at any given moment. The choice we make at one moment determines the range of choices that will be available in the next moment. As an example, consider Figure 10-4 .

In this example, planning for the future by saving money is used. This principle holds true for any goal we might have. Success or failure is not accomplished by one single effort, but is rather the result of a long series of efforts. In the words Og Mandino put into the mouth of the Ragpicker, "Remember that the most difficult tasks are consummated, not by a single explosive burst of energy or effort, but by consistent daily application of the best you have within you."12

Yes, there is much we do not know about this reality we live in. "The most intelligent efforts can end in failure. Sheer luck can sometimes bring success."13 Often it seems that achieving success is too haphazard and that no principles can be divined which would make our results more predictable. In truth, the majority of our efforts do not yield the outcomes we had envisioned, "But over the long run, humans face a world of risk to which intelligence is sufficiently matched to wrest significant successes."14

When we observe the high rate of failure and all the unplanned deflections we experience, we can argue that life is a crap shoot, and that there is no reason to even try in the first place. On the other hand, we should not dismiss examples like Thomas Edison if we are to have any hope of positively affecting our destinies. When someone asked him about how he felt after having failed 14,000 times while inventing the light bulb, he responded by saying that he did not fail. Rather, he had successfully found 14,000 ways that did not work.

Rollo May offers an excellent summation of what this rational middle ground consists of: "Intentionality, in human experience, is what underlies will and decision. . . Intentionality does not rule out deterministic influence, but places the whole problem of determinism and freedom on a deeper plane."15

Is the Universe Friend or Foe?

Is the universe hostile, or is it nurturing? The answer to that question depends in large part on the demands we are placing on it. If we behave like hellions and expect paradise in return, we are bound to be disappointed. On the other hand, if we ask nature to give us a moderately stable playground and some clues to help us unlock her secrets so we can enjoy her gifts, we would conclude that the universe is nurturing. If we assume that the work necessary to maintain our existence is a burden unjustly imposed, then the universe is hostile. If we embrace those same demands as an opportunity for personal growth and mastery, not to mention an arena for exploration and wonderment, we will conclude that the universe is nurturing. This brings us back to the age-old question: "Is your glass half empty or is it half full?"

Because individuals react to events differently, depending on their world view, some people's lives improve gradually while others decline. As for a culture or a civilization, when a larger percentage of individuals embrace one view or the other, the whole culture ascends or descends accordingly.

On balance, I would vote in favor of our universe being a nurturing place to exist. Human beings have been running around the planet like a bunch of maniacs for centuries, and yet over five billion of us are still alive in spite of ourselves. If there is cause for surprise, it is that we do not fare even more poorly.

Basic Metaphysical Questions

Now that we have considered the psychological ramifications of our metaphysical assumptions, it will be useful to look at some of the philosophical issues underlying metaphysical arguments. Some of these questions are: 1. Are the objects we perceive real or illusory? 2. Is there a world apart from consciousness? 3. Is reality reducible to a single substance? 4. If so, is it material or spiritual? 5. Is the universe orderly and intelligible or chaotic and incomprehensible?

1. Are the objects we perceive real or illusory?

The evidence of our senses tells us that people and objects who give us either pain or pleasure are very real. Generally, this question comes up only for those who have had the time or the need to do more than simply take life for granted.

Philosophers from Plato to the Hindus to Metaphysical Transcendentalists have been proclaiming for centuries that our everyday world is an illusion, or maya . Plato and the Hindus observed that people are born, they live for awhile, and then they die. Because of the unstoppable nature of change, they declared, "This can't be for real!" (Such a proclamation may have been too colloquial even for that time, so they shrouded it with a mystical term: maya .)

Early philosophers found that by shifting their focus of identification from the fleeting to the changeless, they could face the travails of life with greater equanimity. An attitude of equanimity is useful because it can help us delay our responses to situations, which in turn gives us more options. On the downside, devaluing this life in favor of the next life carries a few hazards of its own.

Are objects real or illusory? First, let's ask, what is the penalty for having the wrong answer? Also, what outcome do we seek as a reward for answering this question correctly?

In this world we can speculate that the relation between the top of a cliff and the valley floor below is simply a matter of perception. Modern physics gives weight to this idea by telling us that, on a sub-atomic level, an automobile is composed of more space than matter.16 That may be true on a sub-atomic level, but do we really want to walk off cliffs or in front of automobiles with full confidence that they are simply maya ? I have hit my finger with a hammer and have endured other forms of physical discomfort. Each time, I concluded that "this is real enough for me."

Regarding the next world, if we are concerned about pleasing a distempered deity, or are desperate to escape the wheel of karma, we may prefer to believe that this world is illusory, and then guide our energies accordingly. If the "father-mother-creator" is as angry as some speculations make her/him out to be, we had better believe, do what we are told, and then hope for the best.

In the end, the world beyond our senses will be what it is with no concern for our opinion of it. If we fly at each other's throats trying to gain favor with the unknown because this world is illusory, it will continue to be what it is. If we treat each other and the objects around us as real, and work to make this life nicer, it will continue to be what it is. Consequently, the final question becomes, what kind of life do we wish to experience, and which assumption will best guide our actions toward that end?

2. Is there a world apart from consciousness?

Some philosophies hold that the world is very much outside of us and that it presses down on us heavily. Others insist that the world is simply a reflection of our consciousness. Some even go so far as to suggest that all the objects and other people around us are merely marionettes to our consciousness.

Recently, more weight is being given to the latter view due to some daring interpretations of quantum theory. One speaker I heard was ecstatic when he reported that scientists found it impossible to observe quarks because, apparently, the mind-energy emitted during observation made it impossible for those quarks to stand still. Hence, the axiom, "for the observer not to affect the observed, the observer must be infinitely far away." Any day now, supposedly, a scientist will command: "move thee mountain!", and it will meekly obey. This is taken to mean that the science of today has joined forces with religious wisdom of 2,000 years ago.

When I was on the farm, we spent a lot of time digging ditches. Never once did it occur to me that just because my mind could command my body to move shovel loads of dirt, it could move mountains of dirt with one mighty burst of wishful energy. (The fantasy, however, did cross my mind frequently.) No basketball player would infer from the fact that because his body can bounce a basketball, it can do the same to mountains. Yet, these speakers suggest that because we can bounce quarks around with the energy of our thoughts, we should be able to bounce mountains around in the same way.

Fortunately, there is plenty of middle ground between these two extremes. Life offers plenty of uncertainty and yet it does respond to many of our inputs. Once again, it is good to consider the concept of emergent probability.

3. Is reality reducible to a single substance?

Thousands of years ago philosophers suggested that atoms are the fundamental building blocks from which everything else is made. Today, that is considered common knowledge. In fact, atoms are now further broken down into parts called protons, neutrons and electrons. Furthermore, if atoms are abused enough, they will split-up and blow off a lot of energy.

In recent years there has been talk of neutrinos that are supposed to pass through whole planets without colliding into anything because they are so small. And of course, we can't forget their little friends, the quarks.

Each step toward finding smaller building blocks of material reality brings us closer to determining whether or not there is a common substance. However, it is unlikely we can ever know with certainty that we have finally discovered the primordial ether.

4. If so, is it material or spiritual?

The very structure of this question betrays an assumption on the part of the questioner. It suggests that there is a clear dividing line between spiritual and material dimensions. Typically, the dividing line between spiritual and material is considered to be found where the evidence of the senses leaves off and the world beyond the senses begins.

The last century has seen the world of the senses expand, thanks to radio, x-rays, and other such devices we use to exploit or to measure phenomena that our five senses cannot perceive directly. If we continue to use the "evidence of the senses" approach, these developments would suggest that the material world is expanding, and the spiritual world is contracting.

Is the world spiritual, or is it material? Why can't it be both. Does the world stop being material simply because we no longer perceive it with our five senses? Does the world beyond the senses become spiritual merely because we cannot perceive it with our senses?

A human being is made up of cells which are made up of molecules which are made up of atoms which are made up of electrons, protons and neutrons, which are made up of quarks which are made up of whatever. Each level of materiality resides within the coarser levels. Therefore, why bother trying to hunt for that magic dividing line? Even more important, what would we do with that information if we did find it?

One of Einstein's revolutionary ideas said that matter and energy are interchangeable. Matter becomes energy and energy becomes matter. As for the issue of spirituality verses materiality, I call upon two philosophers who, by approaching the subject from opposite directions, will help me make a central point. Gurdjieff is reported to have said that "everything in the universe is material." Just because something is too small for us to see it does not mean that it is not material in nature. On the other hand, Ernest Holmes said that "we are at this moment as immortal as we are ever going to be." Regardless of whether we are immortal or not, this remains a perfectly logical statement--we are as immortal as we are ever going to be.

Therefore, I conclude that any common-source-substance would have to be both spiritual and material at the same time.

5. Is the universe orderly and intelligible or chaotic and incomprehensible?

This question also has epistemological implications. If we believe the universe is comprehensible to the human mind, we will work harder to divine its mysteries than we will if we believe it is beyond our grasp. As I have already stated, knowledge is not perfect, and we operate within the realm of probability, but our actions, which arise from our beliefs, do have the power to put us on the positive side of "emergent probability."

6. The mind-body problem

Is the mind, or spirit, separate from the body? The mind and body are interrelated, and may or may not be one and the same. We can "observe" our bodies, our emotions and our thoughts. This may be the best evidence of a separation between the two. However, just because a spark of vanity within us declares, "surely I am too important to just be around for a few years and then simply disappear," does that obligate the universe to make us immortal?

7. Free will verses determinism

The debate between proponents of free-will and proponents of determinism has been going on for centuries. Sometimes the advocates of free-will win the day, and at other times the advocates of determinism win the day. Although we may never know the ultimate truth about which is true, history does give us some valuable clues. Where belief in free will is strong, cultures usually grow and prosper. Where belief in determinism predominates, cultures decline. Consequently, even if there is no free will, it is best to act as though there is.

8. Personal identity

Are individual human beings real, or are they simply insignificant parts of a larger entity? The practical implications of this question are probably more important than the cosmological implications. If individuals are real, then they have a right to live according to their own vision. If they are not, then individuals will be transformed into cannon fodder for the designs of anyone who claims to represent that higher entity everyone is supposedly a part of.

9. Permanence and change

Change is the essence of our experience. If we are afraid of change, speculation about the "changeless" may be comforting, but it may also be misleading.

Which is more real--that which changes, or that which is permanent? Philosophers have been worshipping at the alter of permanence for centuries. However, to declare that anything that changes is less valuable than anything believed to be permanent is to make an arbitrary value judgment. Such a judgment says more about how we have adjusted to the temporary nature of our existence than it says about reality itself. To fight change is to fight life.

10. Do entities have an inherent nature?

Does A equal A, or can it equal B if only we will declare it so? Must a thing be what it is, or can it change in response to a whim? The idea that reality can be infinitely malleable to our wishes has been popular through the centuries. "The nature of certain things, according to the primitive man's conception, might have an essential duality, similar to that of the electron in physics. With primitive people this is possible, because, as is already shown, in certain fields they do not possess well defined abstract concepts, but rather images which do not exclude each other by the contradiction of the A verse non-A scheme, but leave the possibility, just because the A concept is not defined, that an object might be neither A, nor non-A."17

What does all that mean? If a concept is not defined, it can be anything we like. There is, however, a price to be paid for this luxury. The same universe that can give us what we want through a whim can also take it away through a whim. Cultures that have accepted this way of seeing the universe have generally lived on "a wing and a prayer."

On the other hand, cultures that have progressed so they are not swept away every time a natural calamity happens have generally stuck closer to the A equals A premise. "The idea that A could at the same time be non-A or that to prefer A to B could at the same time be to prefer B to A is simply inconceivable and absurd to the human mind. . . . We cannot think of a world without causality and teleology."18

Bringing this subject closer to home, it is worth noting that in America, the notion that A equals non-A is coming into vogue at the same time as we are having a seed-corn festival. Judging by the policies that are being implemented, many people believe we can consume our capital and have it too. And as regards political discourse, many insist that coercion is not coercion so long as we do not define it as such.

Summary on Metaphysics

To sum up the subject of metaphysical assumptions, the primary issue is: is the universe hostile or is it nurturing? If we believe it is hostile, we will assume that the best defense is a good offense. This means that we will often cause conflict where none would have existed otherwise.

On the other hand, if we believe that the universe is nurturing (at least until it is time for us to be "harvested"), then we will not be as inclined to overreact to situations that develop in our daily lives. Of course, the more people accept the idea of a nurturing universe, the more peaceful and prosperous they will become.

Now we are ready to look at the epistemological assumptions and how they influence the way we cope with life's challenges.

Epistemological Assumptions

The subject of epistemology was dealt with at length in Chapter 1 . However, it will not hurt if we review some basic principles again. Like all other theories, epistemological theories cover the range of possibilities.

"The word epistemology comes from the Greek words episteme ('knowledge') and logos ('theory'). A common definition of epistemology is theory of knowledge."19 The study of epistemology offers us a way to understand how we know what we know.

Interestingly enough, "[e]pistemology began in Greece with the Sophists, who challenged the possibility of knowledge."20 The different theories tend to criss-cross each other in a dizzying array of possibilities. To cover all possibilities, we would need volumes. Basically, there are four categories of epistemological theory: mysticism, skepticism, subjectivism and objectivism.


"In the history of philosophy . . . [m]en have been taught either that knowledge is impossible (skepticism) or that it is available without effort (mysticism)."21 In this section, we will look at mysticism. The idea of gaining knowledge without having to work for it has been a very attractive notion for many people. So attractive, in fact, that many promoters have become wealthy selling the promise of learning while asleep. The lack of widespread success has done little to dampen people's enthusiasm for effortless learning.

Rollo May, in his book, The Courage to Create , explored the methods of creative people in depth. One key point he made, which is often overlooked, is that the creative people such as Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein did lots of work and study before they rested. Thomas Edison believed that all ideas ever thought by anyone were stored in the ether (something like the Akashic Records) and was therefore available to anyone who aligned their energy with those thoughts. He also believed that work and study was necessary in order to facilitate that alignment.

The main consequence of mysticism arises when people succumb to its promise of knowledge without effort. "Everyone knows very well that if, for instance, a man wants to learn Chinese, it will take several years of intense work; everyone knows that five years are needed to grasp the principles of medicine, and perhaps twice as many years for the study of painting and music. And yet there are theories which affirm that knowledge can come to people without any effort on their part, that they can acquire it even in sleep . The very existence of such theories constitutes an additional explanation of why knowledge cannot come to people."22 In short, people will not work for what they believe should be had for free.

Another aspect of mysticism is that, far from making life simpler, it makes life much more overwhelming and scary. "There are no people, however 'primitive,' they are, who see the world as a simple place. In fact, the more 'primitive' they are, the more complicated and elaborate the assumed underlying structure of reality in their languages."23 In addition, "research carried out among the indigenous peoples of Oceania, the Americas, and sub-Saharan Africa has revealed rich and very complex religions, which organize the smallest details of the people's lives. . . ."24

A world where every rock has its own spirit with its own capricious moods and deadly power is not a reassuring place to live in. While our knowledge of the world of atoms has us risking self-annihilation, we at least know that if we do ourselves in, we have only ourselves to blame.

Another term for the beliefs described in the last paragraph is animism . "Animism is the belief that a spirit or divinity resides within every object, controlling its existence and influencing human life and events in the natural world."25 In other words, matter is active and humans are passive. Such a belief system is not calculated to energize people so they will shape the material world more to their liking.

It may be surprising, but animism takes on many forms. In America, we have two large camps of people who believe in some brand of animism--conservatives and liberals. Conservatives hold that drugs are active and that people are passive, therefore drugs must be outlawed in order to protect the helpless masses. Liberals hold that guns are active and people are passive, therefore guns must be outlawed. Thus far, we haven't gotten to the point that cars are active, requiring them to be outlawed to protect those passive and helpless little human creatures.

Another aspect of philosophical animism that is manifesting in the land of the free and the brave are civil asset forfeiture laws. (Which, according to the encyclopedia, are prohibited.26) Since the RICO laws were passed in the 1980s, legal theory from the Middle Ages has been resurrected. The notion that property can be charged with a crime totally apart from the property's owner has been revived. Court cases with names such as United States v. 667 Bottles of Wine and United States v. $405,089.23 27 inform us that the government is once again free of the chains of the constitution because property is not a citizen, and therefore does not merit due process. (It goes without saying that when property is deprived of due process, the owner who depends on that property for survival is also deprived of due process.)

There are some who say, "Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics."28 However, words like everything , nothing, always , and never need to be used cautiously. A more balanced assessment of the hazards of mysticism is offered by Peter Breggin: "Think about the last person you saw who praised emotion over rationality. The odds are that this person was an oppressor, the victim of an oppressor, or both. Oppressors play on emotions to control the reactivity of their victims, and the oppressed in turn play on the guilt of their oppressors in order to remain helplessly dependent."29


The next epistemological category is skepticism--knowledge is not possible. A philosophy of skepticism is different from the skepticism that is used by scientists as a means of testing hypotheses more rigorously.

Descartes adopted the strategy of withholding his belief from anything that was not entirely certain and indubitable. To test which of his previous beliefs could meet these conditions, he subjected them to a series of skeptical hypotheses. For example, he asked himself whether he could be certain he was not dreaming. His most powerful skeptical hypothesis, that there is an evil genius trying to deceive him, challenges not only the belief that the physical world exists, but also belief in simple statements of fact, and thus would seem to call into question the validity of reason itself. But not even an evil genius could deceive someone into believing falsely that he existed. "I think, therefore I am" is thus beyond skeptical doubt. From this Archimedean point, "I think, therefore I am," Descartes attempted to regain the world called into doubt by his skeptical hypotheses. His solution to the problem was rejected by later generations, however, and philosophers have been struggling with skepticism--especially skepticism about the existence of the physical world--ever since.30

Of course, philosophers did not start struggling with the existence of the physical world because of Decartes' philosophy. They had already been struggling with the existence of the physical world for centuries. The Eastern world decided that human suffering couldn't be for real, and was therefore maya . Plato asserted the same hypothesis with his allegory of the wall.

In the modern Western world, there is too much daily evidence of the mind's ability to chart cause and effect relationships to dismiss it off hand. When an automobile with thousands of component parts can be relied upon to start at least 99 percent of the time, it is hard to say that we are unable to make probability work in our favor. Instead, skepticism has had its beginning with areas such as economics, ethics, morality, law, and even the natural sciences.

According to Ludwig von Mises, "The revolt against reason . . . did not aim at the natural sciences, but at economics. The attack against the natural sciences was only the logically necessary outcome of the attack against economics. It was impermissible to dethrone reason in one field only and not to question it in other branches of knowledge also."31 Other manifestations of skepticism are ethical relativism, legal positivism, and "science by press release." These, however, are better dealt with under the heading of subjectivism .

Before leaving the subject of skepticism, it is worth noting the social consequences of policies developed by intellectuals who are driven by epistemological skepticism. "Pollsters have discovered widespread skepticism about almost every area of life: only fifty percent of those eligible vote, and this percentage has been steadily declining; and in the area of work, 45 percent believe that hard work no longer pays off, and that percentage is even higher among those earning less than $20,000 per year."32 Naturally, if intellectuals believe that the world is unknowable to reason when they write the laws, the people are bound to agree once they have lived for awhile under those laws.


Subjectivist epistemology is actually a sub-category of skepticism: "Subjectivism, imperativism, and emotivism are . . . forms of skepticism."33 Subjectivism, even as a sub-category, deserves special attention because its implied assumptions can motivate behavior that is other-than-life-enhancing.

Subjectivism suggests that everything is simply a matter of opinion. In the olden days, "The Sophist Protagoras, an epistemological subjectivist . . . explained that since all knowledge is dependent on a person's experience, for which that individual alone is judge, knowledge is relative to each individual."34 One form of subjectivism says that our mind creates reality. Another form of subjectivism says that reality is simply a matter of opinion.

The first form of subjectivism is also called idealism. "[I]n ordinary idealism the individual subject's awareness is the basic element of reality, in Kant's transcendental idealism the subject in general--not a particular subject, but the universal structure of all subjects--is the basic element of reality."35 Idealism is popular in some segments of America, such as the New Age movement, because it promises the individual great power to fulfill goals. However, when they are questioned with why tragedies happened, individual idealism is replaced with transcendental ideal, and the responsibility is placed on some higher self, of which we are a part, and who has designs we do not understand.

The new physics bears testament to this idealism. "May the universe in some strange sense be 'brought into being' by the participation of those who participate? . . . The vital act is the act of participation. 'Participator' is the incontrovertible new concept given by quantum mechanics. It strikes down the term 'observer' of classical theory, the man who stands safely behind the thick glass wall and watches what goes on without taking part. It can't be done, quantum mechanics says."36 What has been the general response to this theory? "It is ironic that while Bohm's theories are received with some skepticism by most professional physicists, they would find an immediately sympathetic reception among thousands of people in our culture who have turned their backs on science in their own quest for the ultimate nature of reality."37

What has been some of the social consequences of idealism applied? "Sir Percy Nunn attributes the social aim of education at present to Hegel. 'From the idealism of Hegel more than from any other source, the Prussian mind derived its fanatical belief in the absolute value of the State, its deadly doctrine that the State can admit no moral authority greater than its own, and that the University should be used as an instrument to ingrain these notions into the soul of the whole people.'"38 Did this "transcendental idealism" die with Nazi Germany? No, it found a new life in America.

"In 1889 William T. Harris was appointed to the post of the first United States Commissioner of Education, occupying this position until 1906. . . . At the same time, as a member of the St. Louis group of Hegelians, as founder and editor of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy (1867-1893), and as one of the organizers and participants of the Concord School of Philosophy (1879-1887), he contributed to the formulation of philosophical idealism in the United States and its applications to education."39 "American pragmatism is a continuation of the central ideas of Kant and Hegel. It is German metaphysical idealism given an activist development. . . . The essence of mind, both concluded, is not to be a perceiver of reality, but to be the creator of reality."40

Regarding reality being simply a matter of opinion, a case in point is legal positivism--the notion that an unjust law is a logical impossibility. In practice, this concept boils down to "might makes right." In the same vein, ethical relativism, insists that there is no basis for determining ethical behavior, other than community norms. Thus the ethics of cannibal societies are not to be questioned by non-cannibal societies.

Finally, we would be remiss if we were to ignore scientific and logical relativism. "Marxian polylogism asserts that the logical structure of the mind is different with the members of various social classes. Racial polylogism differs from Marxian polylogism only in so far as it ascribes to each race a peculiar logical structure of mind and maintains that all members of a definite race, no matter what their class affiliation may be, are endowed with this peculiar logical structure."41 Of course, their practices differed considerably from their theories. "The technology of Soviet Russia uses without scruple all the results of bourgeois physics, chemistry, and biology just as if they were valid for all classes. The Nazi engineers and physicians did not disdain to utilize the theories, discoveries and inventions of 'inferior' races and nations."42

Today, we have "science by press release" where the preliminary results of studies that have not been verified are broadcast as newly confirmed discoveries requiring immediate political action. In Chapter 8 , the section on environmental toxicity mentioned studies where rats were fed an equivalent of 800 cans of diet soda a day, and then with the aid of statistics, it was determined that cancer was inevitable. "Such claims as a thousand different things each causing cancer in a handful of cases are proof of nothing but that the actual causes are not as yet known--and, beyond that, an indication of the breakdown of epistemology in science."43 Also, consider this:

Until this year, no one thought that you were in a drought when flood waters were carrying cars away. But now, through the magic of redefinition, the drought is not over until the reservoirs get back up to where they were before the previous years of drought. By this new definition, there might have been a drought while Noah's ark was riding the waves. Unfortunately, this kind of redefinition is nothing new in politics and bureaucracies. What is more amazing than this verbal sleight-of-hand, however, is that there are grown men and women who take it seriously. Perhaps it is yet another example of the failure of our educational system that people cannot see through words to analyze reality.44

What are the results of such, what is coming to be called, "junk science," on our laws and in our court system? P. J. O'Rourke puts it in perspective: "Certain ecological doom-boosters are not only unreasonable in their attitude toward business; they're unreasonable in their attitude toward reason. I can understand harboring mistrust of technology. I myself wouldn't be inclined to picnic nude at Bhopal. But to mistrust science and deny the validity of the scientific method is to resign your job as a human. You'd better go look for work as a plant or a wild animal."45


The encyclopedia traces objectivism back to Plato and his assertion that the objects we observe have an independent existence from us.46 Although the author described Plato's objectivism as an "epistemological objectivism," it is actually more of a metaphysical objectivism. When he explained how we perceived that independent reality, he relied heavily on mysticism.

Aristotle asserted that objects observed by our senses have an existence of their own apart from us, and that, by applying principles of logic to sense experience, we can chart cause and effect relationships. This viewpoint could be summarized thusly: "It is vain to object that life and reality are not logical. Life and reality are neither logical or illogical; they are simply given. But logic is the only tool available to man for the comprehension of both."47

It is worth noting that wherever and whenever objectivism was embraced, peace and prosperity increased, and that wherever and whenever it was disdained, poverty and conflict increased. Luckily, The Middle East enjoyed a Renaissance during Europe's Dark and Middle Ages, thereby preserving Aristotle's writings so they could be reclaimed by Europe during its Renaissance. Since then, the Middle East has opted for mysticism, and the results are apparent for all to see. Our present danger is that objectivism may lose its hold in the Western world before another part of the world is ready to lift itself out of mysticism and subjectivism. This would mean that no one would be left to carry the baton onto the next Renaissance.

Objectivism does not claim omniscience for the human species, but it does proclaim that by applying logic to sense experience, we can gradually and continually improve our lot in life. "Natural science does not render the future predictable. It makes it possible to foretell the results to be obtained by definite actions. But it leaves unpredictable two spheres: that of insufficiently known natural phenomena and that of human acts of choice. Our ignorance with regard to these two spheres taints all human actions with uncertainty. Apoditictic certainty is only within the orbit of the deductive system of aprioristic theory. The most that can be attained with regard to reality is probability."48

Objectivism does not demand all or nothing. "Knowing reality means constructing systems of transformations that correspond, more or less adequately, to reality. . . Knowledge, then, is a series of transformations that become progressively adequate."49 It is willing to allow people to develop in their own time. Francis Bacon summed it up well: "An acre of Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia. The smallest actual good is better than the most magnificent promises of impossibilities."50

What kind of society will best support objectivism. A Buddhist paper advocating religious tolerance offers an excellent summation:

[I]n our relationship to the truth, or reality, it is not possible for human beings to negotiate with nature, to bring it over to their side. We must clearly distinguish these two different kinds of relationship. Among ourselves, human beings can relate with goodwill and dialogue, but in our relationship with nature or reality, we must work through wisdom, we must adhere to the truth. It is the use of wisdom which leads to freedom. We should not make compromises with reality, but should instead really try to understand it. In order to understand reality there should be unrestricted opportunity to investigate it with reason.51

In other words, individuals need to be free to work toward peaceful goals in such a way as to allow others to do the same. Epistemologically speaking, "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four ."52

Summary on Epistemology

The first three types of epistemology are basically mystical and emotional in nature. The final type of epistemology focuses on the use of reason applied to the evidence of the senses as the primary means of cognition. One could say that history is the outward manifestation of the philosophical battle between these two sets of assumptions.

According to Ayn Rand, there are two kinds of mystics: "the mystics of spirit and the mystics of muscle, whom you call the spiritualists and the materialists, those who believe in consciousness without existence and those who believe in existence without consciousness. Both demand the surrender of your mind, one to their revelations, the other to their reflexes."53 As has been mentioned earlier in the book, intellectuals tend to put a lot of energy in justifying powerful governments because political patrons generally pay better than do the unwashed masses in an impersonal marketplace. Consequently, a blue-collar philosopher once described an intellectual as "a self-appointed soul engineer who sees it as his sacred duty to operate on mankind with an ax."54

On the other hand, the use of reason has already benefited humanity handsomely. Although we have applied reason primarily to the physical sciences, we have not used it nearly as much in the social sciences. "In aesthetics, politics, psychology, sociology, and so forth, the stage of systematic symbolization with its fixed and unalterable definitions has not been reached. . . . The most highly systematized sciences are those which deal with the simplest aspects of nature."55 This, however, does not mean that the social sciences are beyond the pale of systematic and logical inquiry.

Frederick Bastiat, for one, did not believe that the social sciences were so complex as to require being relegated to the province of mysticism. "Our theory consists only in observing universal facts, universal attitudes, calculations, and procedures, and at most in classifying and co-ordinating them so as to understand them better."56 In the 1840s, he was arguing in favor of free trade, and in this case, he was pointing out that the political leaders of the time were mandating behavior from the masses that even they did not do when managing their personal lives.

In the study of the physical sciences, the use of numbers has been quite adequate. The social sciences are more complex, so a productive study requires the use of more than only one of the ten aspects of language. E.F. Schumacher has observed that "economics has only become scientific by becoming statistical. But at the bottom of its statistics, sunk well out of sight, are so many sweeping assumptions about people like you and me--about our needs and motivations and the purpose we have given our lives."57

Finally, "Science never tells a man how he should act; it merely shows how a man must act if he wants to attain definite ends."58 We must also be aware of which values we will seek. This is the province of our next topic: ethics .

Ethical Assumptions

In Chapter 3 , it was noted that ethics is better analyzed by using behavioral descriptions than by referring to political and religious dogma. According to one atomic scientist, "the scientist's job is to invent bombs, not decide when and if they should be used."59 This admission is symptomatic of the split between science and mysticism, and the unwritten agreement between them--science will study and apply the laws of nature, and then leave it to religion and politics to determine how those discoveries will be used. After surveying the horrific results of modern weaponry, some have cried that humanity is a scientific giant and a social pygmy. Actually, the different roles are played by different people. The social pygmies have successfully obliged the scientific giants to do their bidding.

Ethics is about relationships. On one level, it is about being true to ourselves--being internally consistent. Then there is the aspect of social relations. In that arena, ethical questions are basically questions of which situations require the use of coercion, and which situations should be left to the discretion of those engaged in voluntary association. Chapter 3 concluded that cultures which minimize coercion in human relationships and maximize the arena of voluntary association are generally more peaceful and prosperous. This, of course, is not a compelling argument for those who have agendas that are more important to them than peace and prosperity.

Ethics presupposes the pursuit of values. The two basic values we can pursue are life or death. Therefore, if an ethical system holds life as its standard of value, it will prescribe behavior which supports and enhances life. Conversely, if an ethical system holds death as its standard of value, it will naturally prescribe behavior that either diminishes or destroys life.

Most people want life, but certain people profit from death, and many of these profiteers' ethical systems have an uncanny way of supporting the cause of death. It is hard to speculate what the original intent of the promoters of sacrifice was, but we do have two possibilities. First, they actually believed that they were serving the cause of life by promoting behavior that lead to death, in which case they were deluded. Otherwise, they knowingly promoted behavior that supports the cause of death with full knowledge of what they were doing, in which case they were malevolent.

If these leaders are misguided, humanity's hope consists in enlightening them. If they are malevolent, then humanity's only hope consists of enlightening the masses and finding new leaders. This, of course, won't be easy so long as most people's primary goal in life consists of living as comfortably as possible while at the same time knowing as little as possible.

Chapter Summary

Everyone lives and dies by philosophy, whether that philosophy is conscious or unconscious. The basic assumptions we hold determine how we will respond to the many events that unfold before us daily. Our responses will in turn create more events to which we must respond. Consequently, it is in our best interests to be conscious of the assumptions that drive us. ("If the old saying that 'philosophy bakes no bread' has its point, it is also true that in the end we do not bake bread or in fact do anything without a philosophy."60)

Rather than repeat what has been said throughout this chapter, I have decided to close this chapter with Figure 10 1 above. Once again, science and reason cannot tell us which values we should strive for. Some people prefer life while others prefer death. However, once we have determined which values we seek, we can use science and reason to chart the course to our destination. Those who prefer life will choose one course, and those who prefer death will choose another.

Ultimately, it is our choice whether we will be conscious philosophers or unconscious philosophers. We are free to do anything we want--all we have to do is pay the consequences.

Footnotes for Chapter 10:


William Barrett, "What Is Existentialism?", Adventures of the Mind from the Saturday Evening Post (New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc., 1959, 1960, 1961), p. 424.


Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 308.


Ibid.. [Brackets original]


James Allen, As A Man Thinketh (Marina del Rey, CA: Devorss & Company), p. 7.


Quoted in Warren Hackett, It's Your Choice (New Rochelle: America's Future, Inc., 1983), pp. 16-17.


Dean Russell, Continuum of a Civilization, Cited in Fred Holden, Total Power of One in America (Arvada, CO: Phoenix Enterprises, 1991), p. 14.


Dr. George Norlin quoted in Elizabeth F. Selleck, "Who knows only his own generation remains always a child," University of Colorado Library Inscription, University of Colorado Libraries, Boulder, Colorado.


American Heritage Electronic Dictionary (Sausalito CA: Writing Tools Group, Inc., 1991).


Larry Barnhart, Your Power to Create Love, Side Two.


Paul B. Lowney, The Big Book of Gleeb (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1968), p. 24.


Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982), pp. 72&endash;77.


Og Mandino, The Greatest Miracle in the World (New York: Bantam Books, 1977), p. 85.


Michael Novak, Op. Cit., p. 76.




Rollo May, Love and Will (New York: Dell Publishing, 1969), p. 199.


Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters (New York: Bantam Books, 1979).


Anton Dumitriu, History of Logic, Vol. 1 (Kent, England: Abacus Press, 1977), p. 11.


Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1966), p. 35.


Donald Gotterbarn, "Epistemology," The Academic American Encyclopedia, (New York: Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1993).




Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (New York: New American Library, 1966), p. 105.


G.I. Gurdjieff quoted in P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949), p. 39.


Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say (Boston MA: Little, Brown & Company, 1979), p. 27.


Charles H. Long, "Primitive Religion," The Academic American Encyclopedia, (New York: Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1993).


Christian Clerk, "Animism," Ibid.


"Forfeiture of an estate as punishment for a crime was common during the Middle Ages under Feudalism, but is generally prohibited today." "Forfeiture," Ibid.


"Court Rules Forfeiture Violates Double Jeopardy Clause," Colorado Liberty, Oct/Nov 1994, p. 10.


Charles Peguy quoted in Michael C. Thomsett, A Treasury of Business Quotations (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990), p. 101.


Peter R. Breggin, The Psychology of Freedom (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1980), p. 49.


Paul Hoffman, "Cartesian Philosophy," The Academic American Encyclopedia, (New York: Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1993).


Ludwig von Mises, Op. Cit., p. 73.


Charles Colson and Jack Eckerd, Why America Doesn't Work (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991), p. 175.


Marcus G. Singer, "Ethics," Op. Cit.


Donald Gotterbarn, "Epistemology," Op. Cit.


J.T. Moore, "Idealism," Op. Cit.


John Wheeler quoted in Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters (New York: Bantam Books, 1979) p. 29.


Ibid., pp. 309-310.


Shanti Swarup Gupta, The Economic Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi (Delhi: Ashok Publishing House, 1968), p. 174.


V.T. Thayer, Formative Ideas in American Education (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1967), p. 161.


Leonard Peikoff, Ominous Parallels (Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein & Day, 1982), p. 124. [Italics original.]


Ludwig von Mises, Op. Cit., p. 75.


Ibid., pp. 5-6.


George Reisman, "The Toxicity of Environmentalism", The Freeman, September 1992, p. 340.


Thomas Sowell, "The best investments are made by people, not politicians," Rocky Mountain News, Feb. 3, 1993.


P.J. O'Rourke, A Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991), p. 197.


Donald Gotterbarn, "Epistemology," Op. Cit.


Ludwig von Mises, Op. Cit., p. 67.


Ibid., p. 105.


Jean Piaget, translated by Eleanor Duckworth, Genetic Epistemology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970), p. 9.


Bergan Evans (ed.), Dictionary of Quotations (New York: Avenel Books, 1978), p. 5.


Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto (Pra Debvedi), A Buddhist Solution For the Twenty-first Century, (for 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., August 28 &emdash; September 4, 1993), p. 28.


George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (New York: New American Library, 1949), p. 69.


Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: Random House, 1957), p. 952.


Eric Hoffer quoted in Ron Gross, The Independent Scholar's Handbook (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1982), p. 36.


Murray Dyer, Rethinking the Weapon on the Wall: Psychological Warfare (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 1959), p. 9.


Frederick Bastiat, translated by Aurthur Goddard, Economic Sophisms (Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Foundation for Economic Education, 1968), p. 84.


E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 3.


Ludwig von Mises, Op. Cit., p. 10.


Quoted in Henry Lee Ewbank and J. Jeffrey Auer, Discussion and Debate (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951), p. 31.


William Barrett, "What Is Existentialism?", Op. Cit., p. 423.

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