Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two kinds of facts

I think you can show that there are two kinds of facts: facts that you can accept without having to make a decision on whether to accept them, and facts that you need to choose to accept before you can know them.

An example of the first kind of fact is 2 + 2 = 4. I could hold a grudge against mathematicians and their discoveries but I could never doubt that 2 + 2 = 4. In a similar way, I could never believe that the moon is made of green cheese.

The second kind of fact you need to choose to accept before you can know. These tend to be facts about other people. For example, I know it's a fact that everyone has the right to freedom from violence, unless they do something really awful.

But not everyone knows this. Evil dictators, for instance. But we do. So why can't we go up to an evil dictator and say 'Look, it's a fact that people deserve more than this'. I could convince anyone that the moon is not made of green cheese with superior arguments. But I could never convince the dictator that people have rights, not in a million years. That conversation would go nowhere pretty fast. Yet people do have rights... So clearly some facts you need to choose to accept them before you can know them. That's how a 'dictator' doesn't really know what we're talking about when we tell them they're wrong.

I think this applies to religious debates as well. It seems obvious to me that we just can't understand God perfectly through reason. We just can't with finite intellects. And yet so many arguments against God's existence rely implicitly on a) Finding the right definition of God in Christianity, and b) Showing that it's contradictory. How could you do that when it's impossible in principle to ever intellectually understand God? So, to really see where religious people are coming from you would need to choose to accept something like an finite/infinite divide in reasoning and so on...

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