Understanding the world is a complex task. One must examine the philosophical underpinnings of knowledge, as well as what the meta-philosophical abstractions sublate. The fact of our reliance on our apprehension of reality, and how they bias our way of looking at the world, has dire implications for peace, and the threat to future habitation of our planet.
Our way of looking at the world is determined by this bias. Bias can manifest itself in many forms. One may see, for example, through the lens of individualism, where the world becomes little more than an objectivised plaything. People might see the world as a concrete jungle, where all must compete. Others might see it as a place where, through cooperative labor, the community can thrive. Or one may make judgements about others simply based on physical characteristics.
All people have biases. It can be argued that these biases are innate, where the mind categorizes the world to make sense of it. Yet many of these biases can and do go awry. Some of these biases include the isms: racism, classism, sexism, speciesism (among others). Certain biases are fundamental in our beliefs, and distort our way of understanding the world. These biases are of other “objectivised” groups that can result in misunderstandings: animosity, hatred, antagonism, condescension, dogmatism. Yet sometimes it can seem like biases add a sort of equilibrium and permanence to the world, which is in a constant state of flux or even chaos.
When evaluating the peccadillos of human behavior, it can be found that many attitudes about others, and their concomitant self-justifications, are not justifications at all when looked at objectively. Humans find their attitudes in a constant state of flux. That which is considered true immutably, later on may be thought to be flawed and changeable. One’s dogma, that which one takes for granted, often later on changes to be a discarded and eschewed belief.
Life seems to be in a state of flux. Not only are our belief systems pliable, but the world around us is always changing. We are moving from birth to death, from pliancy to resistance, and then atrophy. Nothing seems constant, except the dogmas that we accept at a certain point in time, which eventually are discarded too for other more comforting, contemporary and convenient ones.
We reassure ourselves that we are conscious and aware beings, capable of making informed choices and holding coherent opinion, yet find our beliefs contrary to what so many others believe. Religion seems to form a sort of foundation in life that one can stand firmly on and feel secure. Yet religions often find themselves in conflict, and religions too are in constant flux, meaning one thing, then another in a later age, then perhaps to be supplanted by another belief system never seen before.
One might get the idea that the author’s intent is to find a firm foundation, or to present a case for a firm foundation to the reader. Unfortunately this is not the case. To try to show or prove such a foundation one would find themselves locked into some new dogma which too would eventually be swept away.
Little can be known to be certain. As Socrates once said something to the effect that “To know not, and know not one knows not, this is wisdom. To know not and know not one knows not is ignorance”. It seems a meagre sort of knowledge to only know that one does not know.
Yet with this pearl one can bring to thought a form of skepticism that can serve one well throughout ones life. That being said, must one assume there is no foundation for our beliefs, and are people therefore consigned to a form of nihilism? We must hope not. Being skeptical implies that there is something to be skeptical about. With skepticism one can look at the so-called truths of the world and decide whether they are worthy of merit, and if not what would or could be a viable alternative.
The job set out here is not easy. When examining the history of philosophy, one soon can find many seemingly plausible arguments, that upon examination by another can be shown to be absurd. The history of philosophy is a sort of historical argument, engaged in dialectic, which subsequently results in different and unique knowledge. So can one arrive at the truth if this attempt is made successfully?
As we ordinarily understand truth, it seems that when all’s said and done one should arrive at the solution, like a solution to a difficult math problem. One interesting things about the dialogues of Plato is that sometimes it is unclear if a resolution to a problem is ever reached through the Socratic dialectic. What once seem true, becomes apparently false, and we then rest assured that the new truth is reliable. Yet later we find that this new truth collapses before even another argument.
One of the main contributions of philosophy then is not simply to solve problems, but to provide tools for analysis, often dissecting arguments, and perhaps generalizing what is left to make new truths. Can truth be found? Perhaps – but a dogged pursuit of the truth using only adequate tools makes drawing conclusions difficult. Perhaps immutable truths may not be arrived at, but new insights may be gained, including any new questions that may arise from the new propositions.
Truth is not finite so one cannot hope to ever arrive at the ultimate truth.