Doubt and Reason

Anil Mitra

Copyright © January 2018—March 2018

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Doubt and reason



Doubt and Reason


In writing the synthesis of world and experience, skeptical doubt was somewhat tacit. I glossed over questions on the meaning and fact of the validity of perception and reason. These issues are addressed here and in further detail in the essential concepts.

This document is a companion to world and experience. The two documents should be read together.

Doubt and reason

In world and experience we began with a standard picture—world as weakly material and subject to material limitations, i.e. material but populated with sentient beings that experience the world in perception, feeling, emotion, creative and critical thought, reason, choice, will, and action. We then built up to a final picture—which employed the following (and other) doubts.

Doubt 1.       There is existence, there is Being, there is a world.

Response—addressed below.

Doubt 2.       There is experience.

Response—experience names a given; and it constitutes a ‘world’. However, it is valid to ask whether it reveals a real or external world

Doubt 3.       There is anything but experience.

Response—that all is experience is logically possible (‘solipsism’). However a metaphysical assumption that the individual against the world is as in a standard picture and cannot sustain the entire world implies that there is a real (‘external’) world populate by other minds. A further metaphysical position of symmetry implies that ‘other minds’ are similar to ‘my mind’.

Doubt 4.       Experience is of the world and this pertains not only to perception but also the other elements above, particularly reason. Therefore perception and reason may be limited in accuracy. What validity they may have may be essentially a priori and therefore inaccessible to analysis.

Response—the previous response addresses the world as real. But what of reliability or faithfulness of perception and reason? The approach regarding perception is to show that with sufficient abstraction, objects are known faithfully; knowledge of concrete objects is ‘good enough’ for practical purposes; and the dual system is perfect with regard to ultimate goals revealed by the abstract case.

The situation is similar with regard to reason. However, reason is different from perception in that the process of the former is explicit while the result of perception is presented in experience. Therefore it is valid to ask explicitly about the validity of the process of reason. What is the source of its principles? Do at least some principles not seem a priori to experience and to reason itself? How do we arrive at these ends?

The process is and must be to begin where we are; to critique reason and thus build up its principles. Can this be done? In possibility and some beginnings of logic it is seen how to build the process and how no element of reason need to be assigned to the absolute a priori.

Doubt 5.       Reason—applied argument, deductive and other—gives us neither a single knowledge or action outcome nor a perfect one.

Response—the assertion is too general. In abstract and/or trivial cases perfection is possible. However, the limit is pertinent to significant concrete cases and some significant abstract situations. And in these cases we neither expect nor desire single valued perfection. Aesthetics and values are almost always inputs and in such cases the ambiguity of outcome is a source of richness. In thinking of reason or rationality as cognitive alone we misunderstand them.

But what really obtains is a case by case matter. We have seen, e.g. in world and experience, significant situations where reason does give single valued perfection. But we have also seen genera of cases where such perfection is neither possible nor desirable.

Doubt 6.       The standard picture.

Response—we relax the weak materialism of the standard picture. Experience is given. Objects that never affect experience are effectively non-existent. We adopt a neutral stance to the substance of known objects. Nonetheless we can assign independent existence to the real or external world for some purposes. However, we do not assign such status to all the world for all purposes and this neutrality permits the emergence of alternative metaphysics.

Doubt 7.       Free will. There are two source of doubt—doubt from materialism and doubt from the nature of free will itself.

Response—we begin with a response to doubt from materialism. Materialism appears to conflict with free will in a number of ways.

(1) Since free will is an aspect of experience the doubt about experience is inherited by free will. However, this doubt has been addressed.

(2) If the world is matter and matter is deterministic, there is an argument that there can be no free will because it involves choosing one future over another. However, we do not know from physical science that the world is deterministic because (a) quantum theory is not understood well enough to conclude determinism and (b) quantum theory is not known to be the end of physics. Further, evolutionary and physical novelty require indeterminism.

(3) Indeterminism cannot give rise to free will because it is random and does not make for structure at all, let alone structured choice, will, and action. The response is that all novel structure occurs at the boundary between determinism and indeterminism. But these responses remove do to doubt from materialism.

(4) Because mind as effectual would be an insertion of an alien or non material element into the natural causal chain, mind can be at most epiphenomenal—it cannot be causal and therefore certainly lacks agency. The response is that only under strict materialism would mind be not natural.

Response to doubt about free will—continued. But now we must face the essential question—How do we know that there is free will? The answer is in two stages.

(1) The first stage establishes the nature and methods of a science of psychology. We find that study of subjective phenomena is objective—i.e. of the real and reproducible.

(2) We establish free will in the communication between pre-conscious and conscious processing. Thus even if simple decisions are pre-conscious, the entire process of choices for significant activities—discovery in knowledge, the engagement in life long endeavors—involves conscious input into creation and execution of choice.

Doubt 8.       Metaphysics is impossible.

Response—already given above.

Doubt 9.       Even if metaphysics is possible we can do no more than establish a trivial metaphysics.

Response—the development of the perfect and ultimate metaphysics occurs in three stages. The first is to set up some trivial preliminaries. It is the very triviality that causes some thinkers to not descend to this level; however, in stating the obviously obvious we engage the power of abstract thought.

In the second stage abstract thought shows the limitless of the universe—from the demonstrated existence and properties of the void, it follows that all logical possibilities are realized.

In the final stage we join the abstract and the concrete and reveal the nature and value of an ultimate endeavor. In this stage an entire metaphysics of identity and spacetime is developed and to describe this here would be to unnecessarily repeat the developments of the perfect and ultimate metaphysics.

Doubt 10.  Attention to the ultimate metaphysics trivializes the immediate world.

Response—of course truth cannot trivialize anything of worth; and, in fact, the perfect metaphysics gives greater significance to the immediate than it has in other pictures. It gives meaning to the immediate. In the end, of course, what is shown is that the immediate and the ultimate are one.

Doubt 11.      The perfect metaphysics of the realization of all possibility is self contradictory for it is possible that the possible is not realized.

Response—This is already ruled out by the term ‘logical’ possibility. The thought that it is possible that the possible is not realized is a misuse of ‘possibility’—it gives the term an indefinite reference.

Doubt 12.      If all possibilities are realized, how can the definiteness of our world be case? Why is it stable at all?

Response—That it is apparently stable so far is one possibility. There is no contradiction in that. That it will remain stable into any period into the future is not known. There is no contradiction.

Doubt 13.      If all possibilities are realized, is it not a paradox that the other possibilities are not realized here on earth—i.e., in our cumulative experience? Examples are the well known example that the world could have come into existence five minutes ago, or that it is a simulation—or a simulation within a simulation and so on. While these are not logical contradictions in themselves, it does seem a contradictory that only one possibility is realized.

Response—In a limitless universe, our present world-state is repeated limitlessly. In some, the world did come into existence five minutes ago, in some five minutes and a second ago.  Some of worlds are simulations and so on.

Doubt 14.      Along the lines of the previous doubt, there are many alternate interpretations to our world. These cast serious doubt on the way we interpret our world. But after considering a sufficient number of such alternate interpretations, the ‘game’ becomes tiresome

Response—There is indeed always doubt. However, the alternative interpretations, when useful, involve hidden assumptions and/or are logical alternatives. Digging for the metaphysical assumptions is useful and shows us where the seemingly paradoxical alternatives are seriously likely or otherwise. In the former case, we may discover new paradigms. In the latter, we reinforce a standard interpretation. In both cases we learn about reason. The game may indeed become tiresome if it is merely repetitive. We should be alert to situations that are essential doubts—they may arise in so many ways as seen here. It would be useful to build a catalog. Here is one catalog—dilemmas and interpretations.

Doubt 15.      But that makes our world very special. We would be one among a limitless number of identical worlds and it is then at least surprising that we are ‘stable’.

Response—If we take as a metaphysical principle that an iterative process of adaptation from near stable to near stable state is at the root of a world is most likely, then stability would not be uncommon because it would be far more frequent. We are not logically justified in thinking our world is normal but we are metaphysically justified in thinking so. The metaphysical requirements are not as weak as the logical but they are stronger than the physical.

Doubt 16.      But there is no basis to thinking that iterative adaptation is more frequent.

Response—There is indeed some. Imagine transition from the void to our world. It cannot be deterministic there is no novelty in determinism—a new world cannot emerge deterministically from the void. Therefore the emergence is indeterministic.

If it occurs in a single step or a few large steps it is improbable—but not impossible. The incremental process proceeds from stable state to nearby stable state and so the improbability is much reduced. Also note that the outcome is not given but is one of many possibilities—there is no improbable teleology.

Finally, just as in the case of free will, the transitions are not fully random but occur at the border between determinism and indeterminism. What this means is that at any stage, the structure is determinate and most of its processes determined. However, a few, the residue of the original emergence, are random. Those of the random changes that are stable are self-selected.

Doubt 17.      The world is limited as revealed in science and experience.

Response—these are limits according to experience so far but not essential limits. The only necessary limits are those of logic and those do not deserve to be called limits on the world. Rather, they are limits on realism in imagination. The reasoning behind the demonstration shows (a) that it is intuitively satisfactory, (b) does not contradict reason or experience in any way, and (c) is a strictly valid piece of reasoning.


1.     Methodological skepticism, e.g. the construction of apparently indistinguishable and alternate realities is a powerful critical and imaginative tool.

2.     Although the alternate realities may be logically possible alternatives to an experiential or scientific picture, they may be unreasonable in some way. One goal of considering the alternate realities is to uncover just such absence of reason—this leads to the introduction of the idea of metaphysical possibility (see possibility.html for more on metaphysical possibility and argument). For example it is logically possible that nothingness is full of experience—perceptions, thoughts and so on. Physically of course there should be a physical body but we learn little from imposing experiential expectation. We observe that a certain kind of metaphysical possibility would be violated. What kind? This would depend on (a) development of a rational metaphysics (b) further tailored conditions. At bottom metaphysical and logical possibility would be identical. But there are further layers of metaphysical possibility definable by thought experiment but to be rationally evaluated by the necessities of the rational system and/or other paradigms, e.g. dynamic or differential adaptation and stability.

3.     Doubt should not just be positive—doubting a picture of the real—but also negative: doubting the doubt. Far too many critical systems ignore just this. They rejoice in the destruction of constructive thought but they fail to see themselves as constructive and/or paradigmatic. Of course doubting the doubt does not negate the original doubt but may uncover assumptions of the original doubt and lead to a greater picture. Beyond negative doubt, the process should not be merely one of doubt and skepticism but also of imagination and metaphysical construction. An alternate reality may indeed be a reality or one of a family—and as seen in examples the family may contain the standard position as a particular case; and in some examples both the particular and the general have realizations… are interpretations appropriate to sets of circumstances. Definition. Reflexivity is the optimal and interactive, ongoing or process use of all available internal and external resources for either a well defined problem or the general aim of Being and life.

4.     Logic, science, fact, reason, imagination, criticism, aesthetics, and value are inseparable in having a whole picture of the world.