JRP's Bite-Sized Metaphysics (Series 215)


[This is a continuation of Section Two, Reason and the First Person. An index with links to all parts of the work as they are posted can be found [url=https://forum.evangelicaluniversalist.com/t/sword-to-the-heart-reason-and-the-first-person/1081/1]here.]

[This series constitutes Chapter 19, “The Theistic Argument from Active Reasoning”. Since the points are enumerated as I go along, I’ll do one entry per point. (None are very long.) This series is the climactic chapter of Section Two, so it’ll be longer than usual. I’ll be posting up several entries a day through Sunday.]

My previous two chapters not only continued my line of argumentation, but also (in their own way) summarized, and illustrated through practical applications, the points of my argument, in an imaginary informal debate.

Dialogues, however, although useful in some ways, are not formal arguments; and as these second-section chapters are perhaps the most critical in my entire book, I will take one more chapter to summarize and re-present the argument yet again, before continuing with my inferences.

My argument can be developed from several directions, although the final result is the same in each case. As even now I am still not sure which ‘beginning point’ is best, I have presented slightly different variations for each run-through; and I will do this again here.

I find myself, however the situation came about, behaving in a certain way, in order to maximize my efficiency in relating to reality. This behavior may be called simply ‘thinking’ or ‘reasoning’, or more precisely ‘analysis’. What does this behavior, as I actually and/or necessarily claim to practice it, involve and entail?


1.) I find that when I engage in this behavior, it seems to me that a quality exists above and beyond the mere flow of stimulus in and out of me. I seem to be a contributor to the process. The responses flowing from me, seem more than the sum-total of the impulses coming into me. I perceive I am ‘adding’ something to the chain of causation. I perceive I am ‘acting’.

(My mere perceptions of this are not the same as a conclusion, or even a necessary presumption, that I am ‘acting’. But I have to start somewhere.)

Furthermore, I find that other entities similar to myself claim to have this same property or ability; in fact, their sheer behavior of ‘claiming’ anything–of claiming to claim–is itself a testimony on their part to this behavior (even if that testimony to apparent behavior turns out to be wrong).


2.) I find I must stoutly presume that my perceptions in general are not utterly unreliable. There is not even any real question of behaving otherwise. The imagining of a counter-presumption with corollaries (of any sort whatever) may perhaps be possible; but to “draw any conclusions” or otherwise “use” this counter-proposed impression or presumption (i.e. that my perceptions are utterly unreliable), is to deny the accuracy of that counter-proposition with respect to the reality of me.

If my perceptions of reality are utterly unreliable, every conclusion or action I take would be equally unreliable (even if incidentally effectively corresponsive). But that means my perception or proposal of “general unreliability of perception” would also itself be unreliable (even if in fact true).

It is impossible to claim my general incompetence of perception to be true, and simultaneously mean anything useful and distinctive by the claim. Admittedly, such a behavior might take place (I can type the phrase, for instance) but I cannot accept, or assent to, the claim without immediately violating the claim; which means that ‘I’ cannot actually ‘accept’ the claim. Whatever I do and whatever I claim, the very instance of my claim entails a logically prior claim to some degree of perceptive competence. And I find other entities similar to myself (such as you, my reader), who claim to behave (and so thus behave even in the claim) the same way.


3.) I find, in tracing these perceptions, an even deeper and more primary presumption: I not only must presume that at least some data reaches me with adequate correspondence to reality; but I must also presume I can adequately process at least some of this data.

The arrival of the impressions or data I use in ‘thinking’ may be sequentially and/or causally prior to my ‘thinking’; but the possible effectiveness of my ‘thinking’ must be presumed before any judgments about that data can be accepted.

If I flatly cannot adequately think, then ‘I’ quite literally cannot ‘mean’ anything even by saying “I flatly cannot adequately think.” I can tape-record my voice and the recorder can play back my voice, but the mere utterance of the sound does not entail the ability for the ‘utterer’ to itself ‘mean’ something by the sounds. And I find that this corresponds to my own impression that what comes out of me is in some way more than what goes into me. If I was only a tape-recorder (even a fantastically complicated one), ‘I’ literally could not ‘mean’ anything by proposing such a condition (“I am a fantastically complicated tape-recorder”) as a fact.


4.) I find that these perceptions of mine lead to discovering (or at least they involve) a central presumption concerning the actual reality of myself. It is, even if only tacitly, a necessary and unjustifiable presumption: I can act (not merely that I perceive myself as acting). Not necessarily always, not necessarily with total efficiency; but I nevertheless must still be able to act.

If I try to reduce this or explain it further, I find I have merely repeated the proposition or else I have denied it. Repeating it does not lead me to a deeper truth; denying it leaves me no ability to (quite literally) ‘do’ anything further–at least, not without cheating and secretly smuggling this ability back in.

It is a proposition that is sheerly unjustifiable as it is; because any attempt to justify it (or, alternately, to explain it away in terms of more basic events) requires that its qualitative properties be accepted first from the getgo. A justification of our justification ability cannot succeed due to its circularity, and thus cannot reliably lead to truth; and a deconstructive reduction of our justification ability requires either eliminating justification ability outright (thus destroying the deconstructive reduction attempt itself) or rejustifying the justification ability at a ‘deeper’ level, which again becomes circular.

My ability to actively think is the Golden Presumption of any inference I draw; and in order to argue to anyone other than myself (such as to you, my reader), then I must extend this Golden Presumption to stoutly include your capability to actively think as well.


5.) Therefore: whatever other truths I discover about this quality or characteristic or ability of mine; or whatever truths I propose or discover about reality other than myself; I should not contradict this central presumption: I (and you, quite literally “for purposes of argument”) do possess the ability to act.

Any purported hypothesis or conclusion which denies this, I should reject; indeed, even if I “accepted” such counter-presumptive hypotheses or conclusions I would be claiming something about myself which such hypotheses or conclusions deny, and thus I could only be making a mistake by proposing such hypotheses or conclusions, if I take my own thinking seriously.


6.) After spending some time processing data, I learn that human beings–such as myself–are (at least apparently) derivative creatures. We are born, and we die. We are affected against our “will” or our “desires” or our “wishes” (whatever may be true about those words), by other entities. Something other than me myself seems to have brought me into existence, and my continuance is ultimately a factor of this other thing or set of things. What properties does this thing, this producer, have?

(Notice I have qualified myself here; I am leaving room to discover that I myself am the ground of my own existence. I might discover that I am derivative of myself, and thus that something other than myself only seems to have brought me into existence.)


7.) There are properties distinctively attached to the concept of action: initiation; choosing; not-necessarily-automatic behavior; simultaneously non-random and non-determinate behavior. (The two terms ‘random’ and ‘determinate’ are not opposites: effects may be determined by random causes.)

So I ask the question about this Producer which I have discovered that I do presume about myself: does it act?

There are two mutually exclusive and fundamentally basic hypotheses about this Producer: It can act (in at least the same fashion that I can act); or It cannot act.

(Note: The question of its existence would fall in line with the question about its mere behavior: if this Producer did not exist, I would not be here to ask the question. If this Producer did not produce effects, then again I would not be here to ask the question. What behaviors does the Producer exhibit? That is the question.)


8.) Can one of these alternative characteristics of the Producer (can act / cannot act) be solidly removed–or ‘deducted’–from the list of possibilities?

9.) If the Producer cannot act, yet It can still behave, then what is It doing?

There are only two basic behaviors in my experience: actions, and reactions. There are also composite behaviors, but the sheer description of them as ‘composite’ requires a tacit recognition that those behaviors are exhibitions of a combination of distinctive behaviors: and again, these are actions and reactions.

If I choose to pick at the scab on my arm, the scab shall react in response to my choices–it shall behave in an automatically necessary response to my contribution and to its surrounding environmental conditions. It shall fall off, and bounce a bit when it hits a solid object, or perhaps displace a tiny splash when it hits a liquid, and/or various other things of that sort; and the path of its fall will be determined by vector energy states of my contribution, as well as by gravity, elasticity, air currents, and quantum behaviors to some degree. The scab does not (as far as I can tell, anyway) contribute to its own fate in any sense which is not determined for it (randomly or otherwise) by its relation to other realities. It is re-active. And the water which splashes or the chair cushion which deforms and reforms elastically (giving the scab a bounce) are continuing the chain of reaction: they are counter-reactive. But their behavior is qualitatively not different from the scab’s reaction (although physically and chemically they will be different–that is, in accordance with particular quantities of material and energy states, in a given space).

Counterreactions are only ‘counterreactions’ as a matter of descriptive convenience, for tracing the path of reaction. But actions are not reactions, and reactions are not actions: they are qualitatively distinct. If this Producer is not actively initiating events, then its behaviors must be utterly reactive and counterreactive; or else they are unintelligible to me, and I am left without any opinion about it whatsoever–including the opinion that its behaviors are ‘unintelligible’.

(Note: If its behaviors do not correspond adequately to behaviors I am familiar with, then there is no way I could even propose a Producer. I could simply sheerly assert that Its behaviors are unintelligible, but then I am left with my own existence–and evidently the rest of reality–which does seem to correspond with behavior of that type, both from within and from without. My own existence and the fundamental behaviors I discover about myself and about other things, indicate that action and reaction are not concepts utterly alien to the character of the Producer, and thus to the Producer’s own behaviors, whatever unimaginable else they may be.)


10.) I can discover from observation that the great bulk of reality around me behaves reactively; so this seems a plausible place to begin for answering the question as to the most fundamental property characteristic of the Producer.

Does the Producer only react and counterreact? Is its behavior purely automatic, non-purposive, non-choosing? In a word, is ‘atheism’ (of either the naturalistic or supernaturalistic type) true?


11.) If atheism is true, then non-sentient behaviors would be ultimately behind all effects. ‘All effects’, includes my own sentience. Automatically reactive causes would ultimately be producers of all effects. ‘All effects’, includes my own action ability.

12.) If atheism is true, then either automatic causation produces non-automatic effects (and/or reactions produce actions); or no such thing as non-automatic effects (or initiated ‘actions’ per se) really exist.


13.) If no such thing as non-automatic effects really exist, then I cannot justify even the possible reliability of my own ‘thinking’ behavior, because such a ‘justification’ (no matter what particular shape it entailed) would under that hypothesis be only one more necessarily automatic response to stimuli, under the same suspicion about reliability as the behaviors it was put into play to help ratify.

This suspended limbo of justification would extend to anything I ‘thought’ about atheism, too. If only necessarily automatic behaviors exist, then I cannot defend even the possible reliability of my proposing that only necessarily automatic behaviors exist; much less could I defend even the possible reliability of my taking that proposition and building consequent positions out of it.

Any real strengths a science has, for instance, shall have been borrowed tacitly, either from the belief that the Producer is an Act-er, or from the belief that although the Producer only reacts it could still possibly produce real actors (who can possibly justify the cogency of atheism or any other theory and proposition–thus providing, for instance, strong sciences).

If only necessarily automatic behaviors exist, there is no way for me to reliably believe that I had reliably discovered this. Indeed, it would even be impossible (no matter how it seemed to my perception) for me to sheerly choose to assert this as a fact, or even a hypothesis, to work from. What seemed my raw choice would be only one more necessarily automatic behavior with questionable reliability.


14.) Therefore, the proposition that there can be nothing except necessarily automatic, fully and blindly reactive behaviors, can and should be deducted from the option pool.

In fact, this proposition is always tacitly denied by any thinker who holds any worldview (even if the worldview, such as the philosophy of hard materialism, distinctively promotes this concept.) It may still be true, but it cannot be justifiably concluded nor can it be the presumptive ground for justifiable conclusions.


15.) This leaves, on the atheism side, the proposition that a fully automatic system can produce behaviors which are themselves non-automatic.

16.) This proposition entails, that even though true action capability (such as what I must presume you and I have) exists now, it did not always exist. The reactive process has brought into existence (eventually, having gotten into the correct configurations) active abilities. Against a primary sceptical threat, which necessarily calls into formal question the presumption we make in favor of (at least) the possibility of our own rational competency, can this proposition be a defense?


17.) The attempt to justify the proposition breaks down on the same problem as proposing that no active ability whatsoever exists.

To explain how reactions have become actions, is to concurrently claim that those reactions did not produce merely more reactions. The question has become: can we reliably say that the behaviors in question are qualitatively and sufficiently different from prior (reactive) behaviors and from currently surrounding (reactive) behaviors–qualifiably different enough that they can be concluded to be possibly reliable in the special sense of reliability we presume for ourselves when engaging in any argument?

Any answer we give, however, assumes from the start that we can at least possibly reliably discover the answer to the question. To answer the question of how our answers can possibly be reliable, is to beg the question in favor of possible reliability to start with. And it must; for you and I must presume before any argument that we are in fact capable of reliably analyzing data. (To presume that we are in fact ‘capable’ of analyzing data, does not mean we will always necessarily be correct.)

If I hypothesize that ‘Reality’, considered fundamentally, is incapable of reliably judging an event; then the question must arise of how I am capable of behaving in a fashion that is qualitatively different from the behavior of ultimate reality.

I could perhaps understand if the behavior I am supposed to be exhibiting is a declension or reduction of the ultimate quality of reality: if my behaviors were qualitatively different because I am a derivative entity, then it would be contradictory to propose that my behaviors are at all points qualitatively similar to that which is my ultimate Producer.

But now, I am being asked to accept that I, as an entity derived from this (hypothetically proposed to be) automatically reactive ultimate reality, can accomplish something qualitatively superior to ultimate reality!


17 cont.) A particular action may at times be less effective than reaction in particular circumstances: if I have to ‘stop and think’ to do something, I may be less successful than the entity who, however it came about, can instinctively react to the same end. But any entity–any person–who affirms that she can ‘act’, affirms that this ability of ‘acting’ grants her greater qualitative efficiency in at least some affairs than any automatically reactive behavior could achieve.

‘Reality is not ultimately sentient: there is no God.’ – ‘You were raised in an environment wherein this idea was pressed in upon your psyche, and so you are only reflecting your environment, regardless of whether God exists or not.’ – ‘No! I say this because I have analyzed such-and-such data and have thereby responsibly reached this conclusion.’

This is a person who affirms she is capable of achieving greater efficiency thanks to her independent action ability; indeed, she affirms even that she must affirm this, or her beliefs will be cast, at very best, into a cloud of suspicion as regards their reliability. Here is a clear situation where automatic behavior, far from being considered the epitome of efficient behavior, is itself proposed as evidence of dangerously un-reliable behavior; and our exemplary atheist accepts this as a true principle, which is why she expends so much effort to show she is not behaving in such a knee-jerk automatic fashion. (Indeed, she may even say she has chosen atheism precisely because she discovered she was unreflectively accepting her earlier environment, if her earlier environment was permeated by theism; thus she might very well claim ‘I have broken free from irrationally dogmatic religion’, etc.)

Even when the automatically reactive behavior set is clearly superior in raw power to act-er, indeed even when the reactive set is such that it can easily destroy our action capability (insofar as this system of Nature is concerned anyway), we still perceive a superiority in the act-er to the mere reactions. Our planet may be at any moment blasted into nothing by the electromagnetic pulse of a star that went supernova thousands or hundred of thousands of years ago (which, by the way, is a real threat astrophysicists have discovered); yet although that would destroy all natural life on our planet, we rational entities have this superiority: we can understand and consciously appreciate that threat (for better or for worse).

We may stand under an unimaginably huge number of dangerous and intoxicating things (in several senses of ‘intoxicating’)–humanity has always been aware that the world is unspeakably large and dangerous (up until recent industrial societies anyway, when we tend to forget such things due to the insulating effects of our own increasing power). But at least we can truly understand something about them; whereas those things cannot even begin to approach understanding anything, whether us or themselves. An avalanche can kill a skiing town; but the skiers can understand the tragedy. Indeed it is especially a tragedy for the skiers, whether considering themselves or considering damage done to other entities: a skier may mourn for a rabbit or a cougar, but neither the cougar nor the rabbit, despite having emotional reactions of their own (including to an avalanche and its results), will mourn for the skier (much less for each other).


18.) But does it make any kind of real sense, for me to accept a claim that my behaviors are qualitatively superior to the characteristics of reality that produced me? Granted, such a claim might please me very much to believe, but that is not the issue; the issue is whether it is self-consistently proposable. It is, at best, not defensible, nor any kind of defense, against a necessary sceptical threat derived from proposed characteristics of that reality; because the defense of the proposal requires the proposal to be accepted first, after which the defense is moot.

A totally non-rational behavior results in unjustifiable claims; and my Producer is (according to atheism) utterly and ultimately non-rational; yet I can produce justifiable claims. If I attempt to defend the disparity of this proposal, then I cannot win; because my defense would involve the tacit claim, to be accepted by everyone involved in the discussion, that I truly can in fact possibly produce justifiable claims. But I cannot justify that my claims can be justifiable.

Very well: what happens if I sheerly assert this instead?


19.) I could sheerly assert, that the proposition ‘actions can be produced by an ultimately reactive reality’ is not self-contradictory. But what use is it to assert this? I can assert ‘the moon is made of green cheese’ or ‘there is a God’ just as easily. Why make that assertion?

20.) My mere say-so doesn’t make the assertion true; it is not a necessary presumption for logical disputation, either. The vast bulk of evidence I find in Nature seems to lead to the conclusion that a reactively or non-rationally produced behavior is at least usually non-rational or reactive; further leading to the question of why my behaviors should be (or even can be) considered rational or active instead; and this question cannot in principle be answered without begging the question in favor of presuming my own rationality before the justification. (This would still be true, even if the vast majority of natural processes clearly led to rational behavior. But the evident characteristics of Nature, certainly as accepted by naturalistic atheists, make this easier to perceive.)

Beyond all this, the sheer assertion (that reactions can possibly produce actions) cannot even reliably be said to be a belief of mine; for I can assert all sorts of claims I don’t accept with belief. So to merely flatly assert ‘yes I believe it’ produces the same problem of reliability–for I am entirely capable of asserting a belief about something I don’t really believe.


21.) This leads me to the conclusion that I must be required to give logical grounds for such a proposition. I can give logical grounds for the proposition ‘actions can produce reactions’, because I always tacitly assume for purposes of argument that I act; I then ‘choose’ to do something, and observe the consequences. Using my earlier example, I pick off a scab and study the behaviors that follow. Perhaps those behaviors could be considered an extension of my initiated action; but I would draw the line at the point where my intentions failed.

If I aim a gun and pull the trigger, then the chemical and physical behaviors which immediately follow might be considered reactions (because I didn’t intend and initiate every single one of them); or the chain might be considered a single action on my part, because I intended–I chose–to behave in such a way that the target a quarter-mile away was blasted to pieces. But I certainly did not choose for the bullet, continuing through the flimsy target, to ricochet off the nearby lake at a shallow angle and careen through a car window one mile away, embedding itself in the driver’s skull; nor did I intend for the driver’s dead muscles to thus be given electrochemical impetus to stomp the gas-pedal and yank the wheel, swerving the car into a Girl Scout camp nearby. (I recall this being an example from an old rifle-safety film I was shown in high-school!)

Yet, while I might call those events ‘reactions’, the fact would be that my choice had contributed to the chain of events in an initiatory fashion; and a court of law would attempt to establish to what extent I was intentionally responsible for the deaths of those people. That I pulled the trigger, starting the sequence of events (considering the sequence as itself), would be an undeniable fact; one the insurance companies (not the courts involved in justice) would see as closing the case. All behaviors have consequences; so consequences are not themselves the distinguishing factor of an ‘action’. ‘Intent’ is the distinguishing factor.

Be that as it may (and it is something worth returning to later in the question of ethics), I can easily demonstrate that intended behaviors can produce unintended behaviors. I can thus give a logical and even experimental defense (if anyone cared to ask for it) for the proposition that ‘actions can produce reactions’.

But I cannot give a similar defense for the proposition that ‘reactions can produce actions’. I could show that reactive behaviors provide data and material for an ‘act-er’ to ‘act’ upon, but that is not the same thing as causally producing the ‘action’ behavior. I could show that reactive behaviors might produce other behaviors which are as effective as actions; but that by itself is not the same thing as claiming the produced behaviors are actions. (Indeed, in some ways such a claim might be a tacit refusal to ascribe action ability to the behavior. A practical definition of ‘instinct’ is ‘behavior as if from reason’, which tacitly affirms that the instinctive behavior is not itself rational behavior.)

The moment I attempt to logically ground the proposition, I find that I am trying to logically ground the effectiveness of my attempt at providing logical grounds; which requires that I already accept my ability to do so exists–thus, no justification can or does occur. Yet if I do not justify the proposition that reactions can produce actions, then I am left with a sheer assertion which by itself has no reliability, not being a necessary presumption (with equally necessarily presumed reliability).


22.) The proposition that ultimate reality (which produced, causally, my action ability, including my reasoning ability) is itself incapable of intended behaviors, thus leaves me no formal grounds to continue. If only automatically blind non-rational behaviors exist, then my own behaviors must also be of the same sort; and this defies the Golden Presumption (‘you and I are not utterly non-rational’, to put it another way). If I propose that my intentive action ability was causally produced by ultimately non-intentive automatic behavior, then sooner or later I will have to justify my own presumed ability to think–a justification which is circular and cannot succeed. If I sheerly assert such a condition as being (despite the formal appearance) reconcilable with the Golden Presumption, then I still cannot treat the presumption as reliable, for it is not a necessary presumption; indeed, it is likely to be a conclusion derived from observations about my environment, and thus not a sheer presumption anyway. (If I decide that observable reality is largely reactive, then my first inductive inference would be that reality as a whole is utterly reactive. But this turns out to be deductively falsified once the Golden Presumption is identified.)

23.) This means I should logically reject the proposition of an ultimately non-sentient, non-active, non-intentive, non-purposive reality. The proposition either has no grounding, or it contradicts the Golden Presumption.