Decent Democracy
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Trust and Action

First published June-2010
last update 24-April-2011

Though the word "faith", standing alone, has become synonymous with religion in much contemporary discourse, in context it is still often used for it’s original meaning. For instance, a person might say "I have faith in so and so" or "I have faith in this system" or indeed "I have faith in my myself", all of which can be uttered outside the context of a religious doctrine or institution.

We can define faith as the "decision to act as if something was true without any absolute proof." For instance, there’s no possible proof that a person is who they seem to be, or even if they are who they seem to be at the moment won’t suddenly decide to do something completely different. Likewise, there’s no absolute proof possible that some technical system will work or continue to work. Many people have faith in both other people and technical systems, and if we dig deeper most would conclude such faith is necessary to simply be in society. This type of quotidian faith is widely viewed as reasonable to have.

However, there is a movement in contemporary discourse that views all faith as irrational. Even if they seem to continue to put implicit and explicit faith in both people and technical systems on a daily basis, they may argue this is not faith but based on some probability calculation of observation of people and technical systems. Now, whether such a probabilistic proxy to social and scientific faith can work in theory is difficult to say. However, in practice this approach simply shifts the faith from the people and objects at hand to the writers of scientific literature, and when this is exposed to the debaters own senses and reasoning.

And so, no such "pure rationalism" approach can ever be applied as it presumes a faith in one’s own ability to reason. There cannot be any rational proof of one’s own ability to rationalize as the former depends on the latter. One can never be certain to be a rational being, one can only act assuming this to be true; i.e. have faith that it is so.

However, that faith is a precondition of being able to function at the most basic level, this does not imply that all faith is reasonable. For instance, having faith that it is both day and night, that one is both alive and dead, that I can fly by jumping off a tall enough mountain or breathe underwater, are all examples of faith most people would view as unreasonable. There seems a serious difference between the kind of basic faith that allows one to operate in society, and faith in arbitrary propositions.

Though many thinkers don’t go this far, or if they do simply leave it at that, there is a way to construct reasonable faith as apposed to unreasonable faith. Namely, faith is reasonable when there is no other choice. For instance, many of us had no other choice but to have faith in our parents when young. As adults, most of us also, at least feel, there is no other choice that to have faith that when all people won’t try and kill when we walk down the street unless evidence to the contrary, as assuming all people are robbers, unless evidence to the contrary, would make basic interactions with society unfeasible. Indeed, what would proof someone is not a robber include? as it is in the nature of the robber to appear not a robber, and anyone that appears not to be a robber may simply be cleverer, and there can not be any proof that one is cleverest.

Moreover, even if we entertain the idea of going living in complete isolation on an island somewhere and assume all humans encountered are robbers, for most people this would entail assuming everyone along the way aren’t robbers in order to get there. But more fundamentally, if we entertain the notion that part of the purpose for human life is helping to continue life and humanity, it is difficult to see how this can be achieved in complete isolation.

So, it is impossible to argue that complete isolation, as in a lack of basic faith, in humanity is rational without having faith that complete individualism is rational, which is anything but a given. However, we hardly have to debate this point as any adherents of this sort of individualism cannot by definition be here to argue about it, for fear that we rob them.

That being established, we may wonder how this reasonable faith can be put into practice. The key concept is "pointless to assume". Faith is simply what is left from what is pointless to assume. For instance, it is pointless to assume that I have no reasonable abilities, as I would have no reasonable grounds to assume this, being unreasonable. It is pointless to assume all people are robbers if one strives to better humanity. Likewise, it is pointless to assume the majority cannot govern, as there is no way for society as a whole to pick a minority (though countless minorities throughout history and today have picked themselves, there is no reason to give preference to the arguments of one minority over another; and indeed, unless one is in the minority to accept this view is to assume one is incapable of participating in governance and making such decisions as which minority is to govern).

However, the resulting faith need not be total. For instance, a basic faith in society does not necessitate an absolute faith in everyone all of the time. Basic faith can be turned to distrust as soon as there is evidence to support it. Likewise, in the absence of reason to distrust one need not have complete faith. For instance, for most people I encounter we exchange the basic faith in each other that we won’t do violent harm or intentionally obstruct one and the other. However, this basic faith required to become physically close, and not each hiding in a forest somewhere, does not support a total faith of divulging all one’s thoughts, secrets, plans and entrusting all one’s possessions to such a stranger. Rather, after an initial encounter, based on the result faith can be increased a little more or decreased to complete distrust.

Likewise, though one must have faith in one’s ability to reason, one need not have total faith in all of one’s reasoning, only that one is capable of correcting oneself if reason appears to doubt previous conclusions. Faith in one’s own capacity does not support a complete refusal to doubt oneself, only that it is worth it to try.

Written by Eerik Wissenz.
Contact:
decent@nym.hush.com

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*Chapters in grey are in progress.


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