I call on all the posters and readers of Philosophy Now! forums to reject the presumptuous foundations of traditional philosophy canon of the Enlightenment in Europe. I declare here a mobilization of the acceptance of a new set of foundational axioms -- axioms which are consistent with the facts we now know about ourselves and our place in the universe.
The entire tradition of Western Philosophy is bankrupt. The basis of the tradition's epistemology was a Cartesian skeptical crisis. This crisis led Rene Descartes to only conclude that he is some sort of disembodied mind which receives sense perceptions, and that he couldn't find a way to demonstrate the factualness of anything beyond that. Thus began the unfortunate departure of a bandwagon of solipsistic skepticism. This bandwagon was joined by a number of later writers in the century following the publication of Descartes' Meditations. The eventual culmination of this (failed) epistemology was that, "All knowledge is derived from sense perception." In other words, we know absolutely nothing at birth, and we literally use deduction on perceptions alone, to produce all of our knowledge.
This tradition is based on wobbly foundations. A more solid foundation is that we are organisms on a planet, and our brains and sense organs are tools which are primarily used to keep our bodies alive in the environment and facilitate our own reproduction. We are not floating, disembodied tabula rasas. The facts of modern biology and modern neuroscience are now running contrary to the mystical framework of the canon. (FBA = Functional Brain Area) A tentative list:
- The limbic system contains a functional brain area called the Amygdala. This is located in the same location in every human brain. It is therefore, ipso facto, a product of our genetic blueprint. The amygdala is the FBA which mediates panic and fright. In particular it mediates an ancient response to fright that is freezing. Humans do not deduce this freezing response -- freezing in response to sudden loud noise is both innate and operates below conscious control.
- The brainstem is located in the same location in every human brain. The brainstem is the FBA that is responsible for controlling breathing, heart rate, and body temperature. Even people with severe brain damage my have a completely intact brain stem, allowing their heart and breathing to operate normally. These people are said to be in a "persistent vegetative state". Most importantly for you philosophers: These functions are carried out without conscious control, completely automatically. They proceed normally during sleep, for instance.
- The brainstem and amygdala demonstrate that entire portions of the brain exist in all humans, whose primary purpose is to keep the body alive in an environment. They have nothing to do with deductions on sense perceptions.
- There are FBAs in all human brains, roughly located in the same location in the left temporal lobe, whose functions are concerned with the production and processing of speech. They are the Vernicke's Area and the Broca's Area. This means that human children do not reinvent language from scratch, but are endowed with innate capacities to process phonemes in spoken language. Children are not blank slates.
- How much of the brain actually performs deducing? We can surmise that this is probably done with the lateral prefrontal cortex, with some supporting role played by the hippocampus. (The thalamus will play a role, but only because it plays a role in everything you are paying attention to while awake). The evidence from science for this is that the PFC is the major brain area for applying verbal rules to behavior. Why am I mentioning this example? Because it shows that only a tiny portion of the brain is actually concerned with DEDUCTION in any sense of the word. The rest of the brain is doing low-level processing having to do with memory, visual processing, spatial processing, and processing of fine control of muscles. Don't mince my words: The vast majority of the weight of the human brain is not dedicated to performing deduction.
- All knowledge is derived from sense perception? Really? But the human eye does not see the world the way it is. The human eye sees the world in such a way that was conducive to the survival of our primate ancestors in rainforest. Consider the facts here -- the human eye only sees a tiny slice of electromagnetic radiation range, called the "Visual range". On top of that limitation, our eyes have a filter for green, meaning our retina does not even receive that particular wavelength. Dogs and cats are nocturnal, and can navigate well in near darkness. And rightfully so. These hunters had to catch prey at night, and that is directly related to their survival. Human eyes are terrible when it comes to vision in the dark conditions of the night. The human retinal cells are trichromatic, whereas the eyes of birds are tetrachromatic. Compared to birds, we have a limited color palette, and we are blind to ultraviolet, which is, ironically, a chief component of sunlight. The eyes of George Berkeley and John Locke were blind to the chief spectral component of sunlight. Mull that over.
- Cats are nocturnal hunters, thus their eyes can see in near darkness. This ability has a direct bearing on their survival in the environment. This has not a lick to do with "God wanted it that way."
- Human beings are social animals, and have innate capacities to process faces. When these innate capacities fail, produce bizarre illusions, all documented by neuroscience. Facial processing is directly related to survival in our (social) niche, and has not a lick to do with "God intended it."
- The organs of perception in our bodies are tools related to our survival in the environment. Organs operate by the laws of physics, and their individual operation is understood at the chemical level, in some cases down to the molecules. It is not the case that "God gave Man eyes so that we could perceive His Creation". The problem is that in order to for you to be a good academic, you need not only suspect and feel like the God-gave-eyes claim might be true on your more spiritual days. Nay -- you must commit yourself to it as a binding axiom of your knowledge. And that is wrong. And that is misguided. This is one of the many reasons why philosophy is becoming marginalized on university campuses.
We do not deduce from first principles, that we are hungry and must eat.
We do not deduce from first principles, that we should salivate around good food.
We do not deduce from first principles, that we are thirsty and must drink.
We do not deduce from first principles, that our body is too warm and must start sweating to avoid hyperthermia.
We do not deduce from first principles, that we are afraid of something.
We do not deduce from first principles, that we are attracted to the opposite sex.
We do not deduce from first principles, that injuring our own flesh is a bad idea.
We do not deduce from first principles, that having sex with the opposite sex is a good plan.
If at this point you still cling to the failed tradition of Western Philosophy, consider the following. Where is the discussion of value in any of these writers? Is the human being a robot, cleanly and logically deducing shapes and regularities from its environment? Or do human beings live in a mental world of valuation? What do you really think is the case? Those things which are conducive to our reproduction all feel pleasurable -- while those things which run contrary create pain and suffering. Why did this simple equation elude the "Greatest Minds" of Europe?
We can speculate -- perhaps the origin of human value was simply too complicated a subject for them to tackle in the time in which they lived.