Three Axioms

I think perhaps the most fundamental philosophical statement that can be made, an axiom , if you will, that must be assumed at the very start of our philosophical endeavors, is that people are subjective.

By this I mean that we always see things from a first-person perspective.  I cannot exit myself and understand things in a perfectly objective way.  The story I tell is always my story from my point of view.  I think this is one of the most important insights that we can glean from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.  So while I believe that there is a world out there beyond myself, and that this world exists objectively in a certain way, I also believe, following Kant, that I do not have access to that world directly.  I only have access to my perspective on that world.  And that perspective will always be my subjective, own perspective.

So far, this sounds like a case for a pretty drastic relativism.  But that, I think, is a bit too quick of a conclusion to make, and I believe that if we really follow such relativism to its end it actually negates the value of our selves and our perspectives and results in a kind of nihilism in which everything becomes meaningless.

But I don’t think that is the only option- another axiom I might claim is that humans are thinking beings.

We don’t just react to stimuli, like a worm being prodded with a stick, we actually think about the world we experience and the way we are going to act.  Not always do we think well about it, not always can we articulate our thoughts about it in anything that resembles a clear manner.  But we do think about it.  Part of what it means to think about things, I would argue, is for our thoughts to make sense (if only to ourselves), to be coherent.  Thoughts are not just random jumbles of information, we do in fact systematize them in a certain way.  Again, not always is this done this well, but as thinking beings our thoughts form some sort of coherent understanding of the world from which we operate.

This idea of coherence is, I think, the way from which we escape a complete, nihilistic relativism and what gives rise to the philosophical enterprise.  Here we have to assert another axiom- that we humans are capable of communicating with one another.

That does not imply that communication is always perfect, that misunderstandings do not arise.  Nor does it say anything about the form of that communication, whether or not it follows a particular pattern, etc.  But we are able to communicate in a way that is meaningful, in a way that allows the communication to be constructive and to continue.  In this communication, we frequently talk about the world we experience, from our own subjective points of view, and discuss the differences between these points of view.

This communication adds a new layer to our understanding- we now have more input about which we have thoughts that must be worked into our system in some way.  As this process continues, it turns out that coherence becomes more and more rigorous of a standard so that certain ways of thinking about the world become much more favorable than others- we call these  particular systems schools of thought or perhaps world-views.  Given that we are all subjective, our own understandings will be nuanced, but broadly speaking will fall under the umbrella of some such school.  We will each hold to our particular system of beliefs because they “make the most sense to us” from our first person perspective, they seem the most coherent with our experience of the world.  We will have reasons or arguments for thinking this way and reasons or arguments for thinking other systems are not coherent enough.

We now have a full-fledged philosophy.

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