Mar 12, 2014

If I were a wealthy donor…

In The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, I briefly discussed "the rule of inverse interest."

As the work of Celsus [a pagan philosophizer, c. 130-200 CE] illustrates, a reason/faith debater need not write a whole book on faith, a book on reason, or a book on the conflict between them. Instead, a debater might insert comments about faith and reason amongst a great number of other comments about religion, philosophy, or their applications to daily life. The principle here is the rule of inverse interest: Generally, the more fundamental the concept, the less sustained discussion it receives. This is due not to the perversity of the authors but to the nature of ideas such as reason and faith: They are fundamental. Once presented, these ideas serve as the base for other ideas and need no further discussion unless rejected by another debater. (p. 23)

In cultural history, it is a fact that the most fundamental ideas have received little discussion compared to issues of application. In two cases in our culture, fundamental ideas should receive more attention by philosophical activists:
1. Philosophical naturalism vs. supernaturalism.
2. Reason vs. mysticism.

The first dichotomy is a question in the most fundamental branch of philosophy, metaphysics. What is real? Is there one natural world in which every entity has a definite nature, or are there two worlds, the natural and the supernatural?

The second dichotomy is a question of the next-most fundamental branch of philosophy, epistemology. What can we know and how? Other branches—ethics and politics, in particular—logically stand on and therefore depend on metaphysics and epistemology. Thus, philosophically, naturalism vs. supernaturalism and reason vs. mysticism are crucial.

Attention to the two issues is most important for an intellectual movement that wants to change a whole culture. Supernaturalism and mysticism are old and well established; a small, new philosophical movement opposing it must establish its own foundation assertively. That does not mean every activist needs to devote full time to the project. However, someone needs to do so. Some individual or small organization needs to say what naturalism and reason are, how they differ from supernaturalism and mysticism, and what the effects of applying these ideas have been and could be in our culture.

If I were a wealthy donor, I would fund one activist individual to support naturalism. he would be someone who understands the issues, their effects on the other branches of philosophy, and their effects on daily life. This activist, over a matter of years, might create a website, write essays, present lectures, enter formal debates, write books, and perhaps start a small institution. He would be a voice devoted to the issue. If I were a wealthy donor, I would do the same for supporting reason.

Then all the work done now by today's pro-naturalism, pro-reason intellectual activists in the fields of ethics, politics, and political policy-setting would know that the deepest fundamentals were being injected into the culture to prepare the way for radical change.

Burgess Laughliin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and the Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described here.