The Story So Far…
The Barefoot Bum called religion infantile because ‘[t]he specifically religious type of make-believe has an especially disturbing characteristic: Meaning and purpose come from without.’ And then he floundered around before wrapping up with ‘It would be nice to just be pluralistic, to say that well, we’re still going to need people to clean our toilets, and those who cannot consistently understand reality in a rational, adult manner will always be at a substantial disadvantage.’
I said that his post was both false and relied on assuming the conclusion.
He replied that my direct quotes of his argument were a mischaracterisation of his argument and that quoting a person was not a way to argue. He wound up by showing that he was out of his depth with ‘“bald naturalism” (as opposed to what, hairy naturalism?’. Amidst the personal attacks, he mentions the philosophically interesting part:
The fundamental principle of atheism is the rejection of ethical and epistemic authority: even if there were some form of objective values, meaning or purpose, they must be knowable to each and every person capable of rational thought. [Source: The Barefoot Bum, ‘How Not to Argue’]
I still hold that this is an interesting idea, mostly because it is a very common belief amongst internet atheists despite being irrational and indefensible.
So I replied why we shouldn’t believe the statement and why it was irrational. ‘[I]f there were [X], [X] must be knowable to each and every person capable of rational thought’ is not a provably true statement.
When Computer Programmers Disagree
‘[I]f there were [X], [X] must be knowable to each and every person capable of rational thought’ is not a provable statement, as noted in a previous post. How could a person mount a defence of it?
The Barefoot Bum tries to do it by stating that he never said it.
In the quoted passage I do not […] link knowability with existence. [Source: The Barefoot Bum, ‘Injustice’]
So when he says that ‘[I]f there were [X], [X] must be knowable to each and every person capable of rational thought’, he doesn’t really say that. It makes me feel better that he doesn’t say what he means. Perhaps when he says that I’m egregiously stupid, he actually means something completely different. He might mean, for example, that I like marzipan (making it a true statement). And the frequency with which he charges others of poor reading comprehension would make more sense if we suppose that he is projecting his deficiencies on to others.
So what does the Barefoot Bum mean?
I just don’t make the argument […] is not that what we cannot know does not exist. [Ibid. All sic]
When reading masterpiece sentences like that, I wonder if I’m being really unfair by quoting him. It’s like all those YouTube clips of children falling over. Sure, it’s funny when they hurt themselves but should we laugh at the incapable?
I’m arguing against authority, that no individual can reasonably assert private knowledge of any objective truth. [Ibid.]
This is an exciting revelation because it strikes directly at the heart of ‘objective truth’. Is the fact that I’m wearing black pants objectively true? Really? When I kick you, is it objectively true that you’re in pain? Really?
On some accounts, the answer to all of those is yes. If so, then there are clearly objective truths for which an individual has private knowledge. ‘As it is objectively true that I am experiencing pain, I have private knowledge of an objective truth.’
But, in fairness to the Barefoot Bum, he might believe that colour and qualia are subjective (with propositions relating to them being made true by virtue of magic, perhaps — I wonder if he’s written ‘extensively’ on the role of magic as a truth-maker). In which case, he’s making contentless statements: objective truths are those where there is no first-person authority to their truth; truths which depend on first-person authority are not objectively true.
If so, so what? You’ve just defined a term annoyingly. It’s like those theists who pull throw the chessboard by saying ‘God is unable to be debated’. Nobody defines objective truths as those which aren’t based on first-person authority. People define objective truths as those which are independent of the observer. Truths which are based on first-person authority can be independent of the observer: ‘Anybody in this position would know X to be true.’
But we’re still back at the start: the Barefoot Bum is asserting unprovable statements and then firing abuse to people who disagree. How do you know that there are no private objective truths? Because you don’t know any? Are you feeling left out? I know many, many objectively true things which cannot be verified by others. This is because I’m not a p-zombie.
Given that the Barefoot Bum goes on to complain that he has difficulty imagining things, I’m not so sure about him.
Can we imagine an causally inert object? Is such a concept even coherent? What is an object but a collection of causally relevant properties? Ordinary people don’t ever talk about causally inert properties of ordinary objects: such as the happiness of a rock, or the consciousness of piece of cheese. Indeed, does a causally inert object differ at all from no object at all? If so, how? [Ibid.]
The answers to all of these are: Yes. Yes. An existential being (Go-go Gadget Aristotle). Happiness and consciousness are not causally inert, especially when they’re ‘of’ other things. Yes. Beingness.
Again, I’ve waffled far too much. I could have left it with his statement:
[W]ho — besides philosophers, theologians, pseudo-intellectuals such as Sangy, and other professional bullshit artists — would ever care [about truth]? [Ibid.]
It is awfully interesting to discuss this issue with a person who states that only philosophers, theologians, pseudo-intellectuals, &c. are the only people who care about truth.