Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Reductio Ad Absurdum and Common Sense

[Previous post here]

The issue of "common sense" and "properly basic beliefs" is surely astonishing in light of the post-modern revolution. It seems that a more sophisticated natural theology and philosophy of sorts for some people is preferable to staring down the abyss of the failure of human philosophy of any kind. The failure of postmoderneity to construct a positive system does not imply that their negative critiques can be discarded. One cannot discount skeptical arguments just because skepticism fails to form a coherent philosophy (and it can't).

The problem with "common sense" is not that "common sense" is at some times useful, or that it should be discounted altogether. To discount "common sense" in toto is self-refuting. The question is not whether "common sense" is valid in some instances, but whether it can be used in reasoning about the grounds of knowledge and of knowing. In other words, to deny the validity of "common sense" for all instances is not self-contradictory.

The problems with appeal to "properly basic beliefs" is that it eliminates questions concerning these beliefs. Such beliefs, being "properly basic," cannot be questioned. However, upon what basis can we not question such beliefs? This is where some appeal to "common sense" is brought in. But as I have repeatedly pointed out, "common sense" is no proof for anything. To extrapolate from the usefulness of "common sense" in some instances to its usefulness in others is unwarranted. This is not to mention that "common sense" changes depending on one's expectations. Before the advent of quantum physics, what is "common-sensical" in science is different from what is "common-sensical" now. Nobody now bats an eyelid in speaking about photons or matter waves, but it was almost inconceivable for those reared in the Newtonian mechanical paradigm. So what exactly is "common-sensical"?

Speaking about "properly basic beliefs," it borrows a lot from Christianity and the Christian-influenced Western zeitgeist. None of this talk about "properly basic beliefs" will make sense in a non-Western culture, where for example a denial of the reality of the external world is considered "common-sensical." In this light, it should be interesting for "Reformed Epistemology" if they would get out of its cultural zone and actually engage (not just discount) Eastern philosophers, NOT Western-influenced Eastern philosophers. Such an engagement should prove that "properly basic beliefs" don't exist as such.

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