Wednesday 29 May 2024

How should we choose our assumptions?

We can all see how obvious other-peoples' assumption are - and how these are completely resistant to emerging evidence. 

(Such is a property of all assumptions: they are prior-to and "above" all possible evidence; because assumptions select and interpret all evidence.) 

This is particularly evident when it comes to large scale and abstract matters. For instance, geopolitical assumptions are indestructible, even across generations - especially when the assumptions are negative: as when it comes to be assumed that a particular nation (or national leader) is hostile, a threat, evil. 

Similar assumptions govern attitudes between some races - and these need not be symmetrical (i.e. one race may regard another as intrinsically hostile, but that feeling may not be reciprocated). 

Of course there is also an element of the self-fulfilling prophecy at work; but even without anything of that kind, such assumptions cannot be overthrown by experience.  

Yet, although evidence-immune, assumptions may be abandoned and replaced. 

And assumptions must be adopted in the first place - even when they are unconsciously socially inculcated. 

So - given that factual information is irrelevant - is there any valid basis by which particular assumptions ought to be adopted or abandoned? 

My answer would be several layered. 

First and most important is awareness...

As of here-and-now; assumptions ought to be (or become) conscious, and we ought to be aware that they are prior to evidence (because assumptions structure our choice and understanding of evidence). 

So we should not assert that our assumptions are obvious or inevitable; and should not suppose that our assumptions derive from factual evidence. 

Such a recommendation of what not to do, is easier said than done! I break it habitually, several times a day - yet in doing so I am making an error - with many ill consequences. 

But I still have not said anything about choosing between assumptions? 

The answer, as with all ultimate matters, is always a matter of intuition - which we cannot go beneath; but which we can recognize and acknowledge as the reality behind our engagement with the world. 

I think it could be said that (assuming we desire to be coherent) our assumptions need to fit our deepest and most solid intuitions. So, for a Christian, all further assumptions need to fit with that ultimate intuition (including the ultimate intuitions of what "being a Christian" actually means). 

Once we have identified our our assumptions; we should then choose whether we really do wish to retain them as assumptions - or else replace them with others - as we are free to do! 

It is a matter of admitting this necessary freedom as our own active choice, and of taking responsibility for its exercise. 


Francis Berger said...

The oxymoronic term "necessary freedom" gets to the heart of the matter as far as I'm concerned. Those who assert that their assumptions are obvious because they derive from factual evidence overwhelmingly reject the development of human consciousness and tend to view man as internally static -- meaning that man and his intuitions are and have always been the same and that the only thing that has changed are externals, due mostly to man's errant and misguided choices.

Sorry, man is "necessarily" far freer than that -- and unless we come to terms with that freedom and recognize it as fundamental to God's purposes, we're going to remain stuck in retrograde assumptions that may "mean well" but actually do more harm than good.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - Yes.

As always, un-tenable situations are maintained by *two*-fold assumptions (or errors).

People are stuck because they can't admit how dire things are here-and-now with external-church-driven "Christianity", until they can see a way forward to something else - and they can't see any need for a way forward, until they admit how bad things are.

I can't see anything likely to be worse or more extreme and "obvious" than the months of (open-ended) church lock-downs/ lock-outs of 2020; yet even That was not bad enough to shake the Christian-identified traditionalists - and 2020 has indeed already been explained-away or memory-holed.

Ron Tomlinson said...

This is what I think about assumptions. Pardon my blunders!

Can we know what our assumptions are? I doubt it. It would be like an eye trying to view itself directly.

If we knew them we could describe them and they would be more like axioms. But axioms are taken as axiomatic because they appeal to us: there are hidden criteria that they satisfy (i.e. deeper assumptions!)

Since we can't know what they are, when deepest assumptions *are* replaced it is because we want something *else* badly enough: to avoid some fate, to solve some problem, to gain something good -- and our existing assumptions are insufficient to achieve it.

At some point there may be an experience; something is seen which cannot be unseen and in a flash they have changed in a 'single and whole action of apprehension'. There has to be such an experience for the change to take place. Reason alone would be merely a kind of internal hearsay, no better than evidence in this regard.

Our new assumptions do a better job and entail our previous assumptions as a sort of limiting case. Now at last we may know what they were...just as we can sometimes infer other people's assumptions.

We may tell them what we think they are, but we can't expect to sway them. This would be like the eye I mentioned above seeing itself in the mirror. Mere evidence cannot persuade without a strong homegrown motive.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ron - It's strange to hear you say that what I've been doing all my adult life is impossible!

But your dismissal of metaphysics as a genuinely possible reality has become pretty mainstream since the late 19th century.

Ron Tomlinson said...

Sorry Bruce. For what it's worth I would like to affirm your big four assumptions:

(I'm shaky on the third one, however I certainly do wish it to be true and trust this will do for now.)

From yesterday's post:

>our assumptions need to fit our deepest and most solid intuitions

Yet those intuitions arise or slowly develop in our minds for particular reasons that we cannot articulate. Maybe this is the difference between us: I'm calling the source of *those* intuitions my deepest assumptions. They are God-given but unknowable except in retrospect, once they've been updated.

Until then they're firmly inside the black box. Which by the by seems related to the idea that God can never be fully known.

If we understand 'assumptions' the way you mean, as things which can be articulated and shared, then fine. Except then it seems that they're about what is 'out there' rather than what is 'in here'. Is that what you intend?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ron - We live in a world in which many the deepest human intuitions (our fundamental assumptions) - which all Men have held (so far as we know) through history until a few hundred years ago, and all children are apparently even yet born with - have been subverted, then inverted.

So - I don't agree with the way you have built your argument!

What I do agree I have restated in posts a few hundred times, in many different ways, over the past decade. I can't do any better in the form of a comment!