All Thought Begins with Faith
Tom Van Dyke, concerned that the road I’m traveling leads to skepticism and nihilism, asked me to state for the record whether anything is self-evident. I stand by my answer–I’m not sure–but I’d like to expand upon it, having mulled over the question some more since answering.
I’m comfortable calling “self-evident” those propositions in which the predicate is contained in the notion of the subject, but aside from these, I’m inclined to say that there are no self-evident truths. There’s nothing evident of itself unto our understanding. I hold as self evident not justice, not the good, not being, not consciousness, not alterity, and not even the intelligibility of the universe. Heck, not even nothingness. Does this make me a skeptic or a nihilist?
I say no. Tom is right that we have to posit something in order to begin. Thought has to start upon some first principles, but these needn’t be self-evident or provable or have any other sort of evidence for them. Instead, we need faith to start the journey. That’s right, folks; you can’t fly with only the one wing of reason. You also need the wing of faith, whether you’re doing philosophy or science or any other discipline of reason. Strict rationalism doesn’t work: it assumes what reason cannot provide to it. Pure philosophy is a pipe dream: it has traces of what it would exclude. Science is the same.
Now by faith I don’t mean the belief in God, although the faith needed to begin thinking and to come to know anything is not unrelated to religious faith. Both hold to what cannot be proven or demonstrated. They both imply belief in things unseen, belief without evidence. You can call this act of faith “making assumptions” if you prefer, but it makes no matter.
In sum, for those of you who care, I avoid skepticism and nihilism by reason coupled with faith, not by appealing to self-evident propositions.