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Ontological Commitments

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Posted by Harvey on July 14, 2003 14:53:02 UTC

Harv:If the concept of four as existing made life significantly happier, then why not believe in four? Carl: I never heard that before. An interesting proposition, believing because it makes you happier.

By happier I mean a belief provides more satisfaction (not one that necessarily makes you emotionally gleeful). You may not have heard of it before, but I think satisfaction is key to acceptance of any particular proposition. We are more satisfied ('happier') with a certain concept, and therefore are more willing to believe that concept versus another concept.

Harv: I believe in logic existing Carl: I believe in logic, but I'm not so sure about the "existing" thing. Does logic "exists" the way my chair does?

What is a chair but a collection of atoms, or a collection of quarks and leptons, or any other mereological sum of parts of 'something'? Regardless of what you believe to exist, the point is that you need to ontologically commit to some kind of ontology in order to delineate reality from fantasy. The problem is, whatever ontology you commit to (e.g., a chair) requires beliefs that are unproven and unverifiable. Logic is such a 'belief', so is 'existing', so is 'knowledge'. Yet, without such concepts life becomes unsatisfactory. We need such beliefs to have any kind of satisfaction. Since satisfaction is what we seek in making ontological commitments, then why not be satisfied in our beliefs by believing in God if that satisfaction comes at no major expense (i.e., we do not forsake other important satisfactory concepts in exchange for a belief in God)?

If you're talking about logic, then it seems impossible to be wrong about it. For one thing, if logic goes out the window, so do right, wrong, and everything else you think you know. Logic is knowledge, in its absence there's only ignorance, including ignorance of one's own ignorance.

Oh, but we can be wrong about 'logic'. There are different kinds of logics that are batted around and any one of them could be a more accurate portrayal of how the universe behaves. Perhaps we are haven't even come close to an accurate 'logic' of the universe and that only further inquiry of nature will eventually reveal that (i.e., the confusion that quantum mechanics introduces to many times a million). But, we have to remain committed to our sense of logic since this is all we have to work with at present (or perhaps ever).

Harv: it just means that we recognize the fallibility of human knowledge and that we go with beliefs that deliver the best punch for the dollar so to speak. Carl: Somehow I missed the place where you said just because we don't know everything then we can believe anything, especially if it makes us happier. I'm certainly not aware of the concept. Can I believe I have a billion dollars in the bank? Why not?

We don't necessarily believe anything. We believe whatever is the most satisfactory in light of the costs that this belief represents to our overall satisfaction. For example, I believe that today is going to be a good day. I honestly believe that it will be a good day. Now, if at some point the day starts looking bad (e.g., my stocks perform badly, etc), then in light of the cost of this 'good day' belief in comparison to my overall satisfaction (i.e., that the reality of my day should correspond with what is actually happening to me that day), I might need to re-access this 'good day' belief of optimism. I might have to say, maybe tomorrow will be a good day, or what have you.

Was I wrong for having a belief of today that may have proved to be wrong? Yes and no. I was 'wrong' only in that today didn't prove to be a good day, but I was 'right' in that I had a need to be satisfied by my beliefs of the day, and I committed myself to that belief by accepting it as true (even though unproven). Therefore, I was justified in this belief, and I would be justified for eventually rejecting it as the day wears on as a 'bad day'.

Can I believe I have a billion dollars in the bank? Why not?

You can if you are justified in holding that belief. To be justified in that belief you must have satisfactory reasons for accepting it. Satisfaction is the feeling of being satisfied. So, are you satisfied in that belief? For most of us, being satisfied in something requires that it cohere and correspond with our experiences of the world, and a belief of having a billion dollars in the bank should cohere and correspond to that belief. However, you can still believe that you have a billion dollars in the bank even if all of this does not cohere and correspond just as long as your overall satisfaction is still quite high. For example, if you believe that you feel that you are justly entitled to some trust fund that is not currently in your name, you might have enough overall satisfaction in believing you have a billion dollars in the bank even though it is not in your name. The criteria for the overall satisfaction in holding this belief is maintained even though others around you might dispute it.

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