A restrictive assumption of the largest scope

I was reading Thomas Nagel’s stunning Mind and Cosmos last night. Though a dense read, it offers important insights into contemporary discussions, including a line of reasoning which completely trashes Dawkins, Dennett and the confident line of modern materialist atheists.

Though himself not a believer, or a dualist, Nagel is sufficiently precise in his thinking to argue that the current materialist explanation of consciousness which Darwinists are obliged to accept is almost certainly false. But that is not my point I wish to make here.

I came across one of the best phrases I have ever encountered in all my years. But to understand the context, you need to understand there are two large divisions in philosophy, between realism and idealism.

Realism is the notion that something exists outside the mind for which our thinking must ultimately account. Idealism connotes the notion that, unless the explanation of something involves what occurs in or to the mind, it is not properly explained (with apologies to the more learned among us who may have better definitions).

My particular aha! moment came late in the book when he discusses the differences between philosophical “realists”, on the one hand, and “idealists” or “subjectivists” on the other.

Whatever one’s philosophical views, so long as there is such a thing as truth there must be some truths that don’t have to be grounded in anything else. Disagreements over which truths these are defines some of the deepest fault lines in philosophy. To philosophers of an idealist persuasion it is self-evident that physical facts can’t be true in themselves, but must be explained in terms of actual or possible experience, just as it is self-evident to those of a materialist persuasion that mental facts can’t just be true in themselves, but must be explained in terms of actual or possible behavior, functional organization, or physiology. The issue of moral realism [there are objective standards] is of the same kind. Someone who finds an unanswerable challenge in the question, “But what is reason?” thereby reveals a restrictive assumption of the largest scope about what kind of basic truth there can be. 

I think in that one phrase my continuing debate with my atheist friends became much clearer: some, though not all,  make a restrictive assumption of the largest scope as to what kind of basic truth there can be.

I invite you to consider many sources of conflict in life as emanating from restrictive assumptions of the largest scope about what kind of basic truth there can be.

 

Thomas Nagel, heretic

[…] Steven Pinker! Condemned by Daniel Dennett! Reviled by Richard Dawkins! Bad, bad man! Nagel was the philosopher I quoted on Saturday night. He accused another school of thought as making  “a restrictive assumption of the widest […]

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