Friday, June 22, 2012

The Validational Argument

The Validational Argument

            Consider the Ontological Question: why is there something rather than nothing? The Ontological Argument argues for a greatest-conceivable entity, which it says must by definition exist.
            The trouble with this is that it assumes that existence improves an entity’s greatness. But why assume that? Existence is by nature limited, conditional, relational; whereas universality is unlimited, unconditional, and invariant. The Ontological Argument seems to define God into existence, as the greatest possible being; but why focus on existence? Why not the greatest possible universality?
            It all comes back to what “is” is; existence or universality? Is maximal “being” the most existently existent or the most universally universal? Is the “is”iest “is” the thingiest thing or the lawfullest law?
            I deny the first, and propose the second, partly for logical reasons, partly because ‘lawful’ is a word and ‘thingy’ isn’t; but also because mere existence seems so much less - how to put this? - divine than universality! Existence is parochial; universality is cosmic.
            According to Wittgenstein, “the world is that which is the case”; so let us recast the dilemma in terms of facts rather than things. That is, why are there any facts? Call that the Semantic Question.
            The contrary nihilist hypothesis - that there are no facts - is like Epimenides of Crete, denying the honesty of all Cretans, including himself. If there are no facts, then the nihilist hypothesis is a fact as much as it is not. Therefore there is at least one truth or at least one paradox. Specifically, the assertion that some fact is true is itself either a truth or a paradox, and in either case not an outright falsehood.
            The Ontological Argument can be recast as this “Validational Argument”:

            The mind can conceive of various philosophical arguments. Some are better than others. Now consider the best philosophical argument, one better than which cannot be conceived. Either it is valid or it is not. Clearly it would be better if it were valid.  Therefore the best conceivable argument, better than which none can be conceived, is a valid one.

            Note that this Validational Argument is indeed valid, simply because its conclusion is foregone. Of course the best argument is a valid one! That’s practically the definition of validity!
            Note also that the Validational Argument has no existential import. The best conceivable philosophical argument need not exist, for perhaps all arguments are somewhat invalid. All we can conclude is that any best-conceivable-argument, if there be any at all, is valid.
            Nor does the Validational Argument imply uniqueness. There may be several best-conceivable arguments, all valid, but not equivalent; and combining them may not improve them.
            “The best conceivable argument is a valid one”: the Validational Argument reduces to an appeal to reason!
            Are there any valid arguments at all? If not, then the Irrationalist Argument, “All philosophical arguments are invalid” would be as valid as it is not. Therefore there is either validity or there is paradox.
            In particular, the Rationalist Argument, “Some philosophical arguments are valid” would either be valid or paradoxical; and in either case, not outright false.

            Now consider the Rationality Argument:

            Define Reason as the best conceivable thinking; no thinking better than Reason is conceivable; but Reason would be better if it were universal than if it were not universal; therefore Reason is universal!

            Postmodernists and fundamentalists, take note.

            The conclusion, “Reason is universal”, sounds fine and oracular; but really it just means that the best thought is valid. The fly in the ointment is that Reason, though universal, might not exist. At most we can say that the best thought is valid, if there be any thought at all.

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