The Society of HumanKind
The views and ideas contained in both the 'Foundations of the Society of HumanKind' and these 'Essays' were developed by the use of logic, and are supported by a process of rational argument. However, the Treatise on Knowledge in 'Foundations' concludes that the Axioms of the Society remove any certainty that our universe and its processes, or indeed our existence and nature, can necessarily be wholly explained by our faculty of reason, or by what we are pleased to call logic. It would seem that the Treatise on Knowledge removes the tools by which it and its fellow tracts are constructed. That problem cannot be left unexplored.
At a crucial early stage in the development of the Treatise on Knowledge the point is made that one of the major implications of an acceptance of the Axioms is that our reasoning power is left with no external source. We may find both understanding and satisfaction in a rational or logical explanation of something. It may even enable us to predict with some confidence how a particular process or event in our universe will turn out. But acceptance of the Axioms introduces an unavoidable element of uncertainty into the connection between our understanding or explanation of any aspect of our universe and the way the things we are talking about, or looking at, really work. Axiomatic uncertainty will also apply to our own mental processes. We can never finally know whether logic and rationality are attributes we share with the universe or merely characteristics particular to our species.
The Axioms remove all certainty from these matters, exposing the possibility that the potentialities and senses of our species may not be equal to the task of fully comprehending either ourselves or the universe we inhabit. That negative proposition is used extensively in the 'Foundations', forming an essential plank in the platform on which many of its ideas are constructed. The difficulty is however, that the framework on which the structure of the Society is built is largely composed of reasoned argument and logical deduction. If we cannot be confident about the capacity of our reasoning or logic to provide a reliable interpretation of our experience, how can the Society then use those attributes to justify its propositions and conclusions for the future of humanity? Or is the Society disqualified from using those tools by its own Axioms?
The importance of this question for the Society can be readily demonstrated by setting out a popular, and in many quarters regarded as quite good, proof of the existence of God based on this type of argument. The proof begins with the proposition that our understanding of the world can only be developed on the attributes of humanity, including our capacity for logic and rational thought. But how can we then explain the nature and origins of rationality in our species? It must be apparent that any attempt to answer that question must employ attributes, skills, qualities or capacities wider or more fundamental than logic and rationality themselves. And how, proponents of this argument then say, do we account for whatever attribute we are now using to account for and explain logic and rationality? This well-rehearsed line of argument is then shown to lead to an infinite regress in which each successive explanation is unable to account for itself.
Let it be said at this point that this Essay does not claim that this kind of reasoning is wrong-headed per se . To the contrary, the reader can find an example of its use in the Essay on the Origins of the Universe. However, in the form set out in this Essay it poses a plausible threat to the foundations of the Society of HumanKind.
Specifically, those who use this kind of argument to prove the existence of God say that our possession of any faculty we use to understand or explain the processes and events of our universe must precede, and be independent of, any use we make of it, as must the source from which that faculty came. If therefore, we are able to give any explanation of any aspect of our environment or our experience it can only be because we exist in a universe that includes a source for whatever gave us the power to develop that explanation. Which, for many people, is a good demonstration of the existence of God or one of his many competitors.
Proponents of this kind of belief are easily able to deal with the problems set out at the beginning of this Essay. They simply say that since our world, our universe, ourselves and all the processes that go on in and around us originate in the same creator, then the human attributes of rationality and logic, being part of that creation, are a proper and reliable means to explain not only ourselves but also the universe in which we find ourselves. Those who subscribe to this kind of view therefore feel themselves entitled to assume that the reality that surrounds us and our method of understanding it have a necessary unity reflecting their common origin.
Leaving aside for the moment the many and varied criticisms of this type of argument, it presents a real challenge to the Axioms since it has a strong intuitive appeal. Humanity still finds it difficult to accept that the complex interdependence of our species and its environment can be anything other than evidence of a common source for the attributes of humankind and the universe it inhabits.
Fortunately for the Society of HumanKind, the Treatise on Knowledge not only leads it into this problem, it also shows the way out. It will be remembered that that Treatise rejects the possibility that humanity can ever hope to achieve certainty in any aspect of its knowledge, which must necessarily include any beliefs or opinions humankind may develop about the connection between the human faculty of logic and reasoning and an understanding of the events and processes of the universe. However, later in that Treatise it is shown that such ultimate uncertainty also gives rise to new freedoms for the intellectual life of humanity. In the case of the questions discussed in this Essay a rejection of the possibility of certainty in human knowledge frees the Society to apply its First Axiom to the issue discussed in this Essay, and to say that it believes 'rationality' and 'logical reasoning' to be simply attributes of humanity whose origin is as mysterious (or as chance-based) as that of our species itself.
That stance enables the Society to point out that the ideas and propositions developed on the Axioms do not depend on it being able to account for the origins of humanity or its universe, whether by logic, reasoning or any other means. Indeed, the Society can properly claim that it has no need to explain or account for all or any of our attributes, including of course our capacity for reasoning and for logical thought. Having gained that position the Society can then say that since it is an organisation composed of human beings, and since our species apparently shares common attributes described as logic and reasoning, it is entitled to use those faculties to develop, communicate and propagate its views among its own kind.
Any difficulty that might be caused by the use of reason and logic by the Society when its own Axioms throw doubt on the validity and reliability of those attributes of humankind is therefore resolved by pointing out that the Society does not use logical reasoning to describe reality, or even to attempt to explain what is really happening in our universe. In the founding books of the Society of HumanKind logic and reason are used to communicate with members of the human species, employing a common method of expression and shared conventions of argument to try to convey to them what is meant by the ideas advocated by the Society. No attempt is made to explain the universe, or even ourselves. That is a task the Society is content to leave to others.
In short, the Society escapes from the apparent difficulty it has with reason and logic by rejecting any claim that it is trying to give a rational or a logical explanation of ourselves, our environment, or any element of either. By so doing it is able to avoid the assumptions others make about our universe, including of course the assumption that there must be an origin external to ourselves for its apparent order as well as for the attributes we use to understand and explain it.
In the founding works of the Society, and in the later development of them, logic and rationality are merely a means of communication, not a tool to explain reality, whatever that might be. The justification for the Society to argue logically is simply that it is a proven and effective way of getting members of the human species to understand what is being said to them.
Despite the uncertainty imposed by the First Axiom on any conclusions we may reach in our attempts to explain either ourselves or our universe, there is nothing in the Axioms, or the Principles derived from them, to preclude the Society, or any of its adherents or opponents, from thinking logically and arguing rationally. That conclusion is doubly fortunate. For without it both the Society and many of its predecessors might well have been helplessly silent.
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