Wednesday Philosophical Query


One must make an act of faith to think about anything at all.  In other words, one must believe in order to understand because all understanding is based on unprovable axioms (e.g., the universe is rational).

Is this true?


Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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13 Responses

  1. BlaiseP says:

    There was a faith-healer of Deal
    Who said, “Although pain isn’t real,
    If I sit on a pin
    And it punctures my skin,
    I dislike what I don’t think I feel.”

  2. Rodak says:

    Thank you, Son of Sam(uel Johnson).

  3. MikeSchilling says:

    Is knowledge knowable, and if not, how do we know this?

  4. Burt Likko says:

    Is faith necessary to escape solipsism? I’ve not really thought about that deeply, but it seems to me that pragmatism (if I really am a brain in a bottle, or an insane god, then there’s no reason not to play along with the illusion of an objective universe) is at least as effective at that. And once you’re out of solipsism, at least some degree of knowledge is attainable, and faith becomes one of many alternative ways of dealing with the ineffable.

    Maybe there’s an error in there, and if so, I suspect the error is a disconnect on what is meant by “faith.”

  5. Rodak says:

    One can believe without understanding, and call it “mystery.” But one cannot understand without believing (or having faith in) the probability that if a + b = c this time, a + b will also equal c the next time.
    The key word here is obviously “probability,” since everything we can perceive is as though ephemeral seen against the backdrop of infinite time. It is certain that no material “a” will always have the properties that (now) define “a” for us. And an ideal “a” can be “a” forever only if held in the mind of the Eternal. Obviously, the reality of the latter can only be an object of faith for a temporal mind. To answer Kyle’s question, then: Probably so.

  6. Tom Van Dyke says:

    Richard Hooker—Thomist, referred to approvingly by Locke, called “The Father of Anglicanism.” I dig the dude.

    As to “self-evident,” a very good blog:

    “Hooker then turns to the question of the basic principles of moral reasoning. The main principles of reason are self-evident or “in themselves apparent.” Hooker notes that if one were to reject self-evident principles, one would destroy knowledge. “For to make nothing evident of itself unto man’s understanding were to take away all possibility of knowing anything. . . . In every kind of knowledge some such grounds there are, as that being proposed the mind does presently embrace them as free from all possibility of error, clear and manifest without proof.” I.8.5, 85. Necessarily, we must start with such self-evident foundations. If we were to seek the reason behind self-evident principles, we may never get off the ground, and would wallow in skepticism and irrational chaos. As the Greek philosopher Theophrastus put it: “They that seek a reason of all things do utterly overthrow reason” (Ἁπάντων ζητου̑ντες λόγον, ἀναιρου̑σι λόγον).”

  7. GordonHide says:

    I wouldn’t call assuming that our perceptions are at least useful if not necessarily absolute correspondence with reality is an act of faith. After all, what other choice do we have?

    It’s not unreasonable to assume utility for the survival of our genes in our perceptions and the interpretative processes of our unconscious minds.

  8. CK MacLeod says:

    One must make an act of faith to think about anything at all. In other words, one must believe in order to understand because all understanding is based on unprovable axioms (e.g., the universe is rational).

    Under the implied construct of the above statement, the “thinker” can never exist as thinker except on not-yet-thought premises. So, the thinker’s thought will be in that sense always pre-determined by a “revealed” rather than “rationally deduced” essence, deduction being a “deduction from,” a negation. Thinking itself, however, under this construct, negates: It has no content or essence of its own, and the pronoun – the “it” – is merely a placeholder, and thought is the evidence of the negation of the un-thought object of faith.

    • BlaiseP says:

      Based on what I’ve observed, like a frog in a well, with three arc-second of view up the shaft of AI, abstract thinking is the process of fishing through the Lego Blocks of what the perceptual subsystems have already categorised. I’ve come to believe abstract thinking is mostly a process of discarding and reducing. As you say, negation: “What is it? It is not A, it is not B… it is new. What shall I call it?”

      Ever had to use a word you’ve only read? You know the word, you can write it out, you know what it means — but how do you pronounce it? Or, vice versa, how do you spell a word you’ve only heard? The concept is there, the understanding is also present. Communication is the act of faith, believing what we say or write will in fact be understood.

  9. Kyle Cupp says:

    By “act of faith,” I here mean a belief in what cannot be proved. Is it possible to think through and come to an understanding of something without beginning by (or somewhere along the way) presupposing axioms or principles or premises that we have to take on faith (or belief) because there’s no way to prove them?

    • GordonHide says:

      The only things that can be proved are things in mathematics or logic and they depend upon axioms or premises. Real world knowledge is not amenable to absolute proof I think.

      That does not mean that one has to have faith in assumptions. It only means that one ought to recognize that all knowledge depends upon assumptions.

  10. Rodak says:

    Here’s a short poem I wrote a few months back that I think touches on this question:


    After all
    this time
    it remains
    to be shown
    there’s more
    of God
    than the devil
    in the heft
    of a stone.