Benjamin Cain has recently turned an interesting philosophical argument by Ray Brassier for nihilism on it's head to show that by a slight re-interpretation we should instead live our lives as if the world is filled with value, purpose and meaning.
Brassier argues that if we take science seriously, and adopt the idea that science is the only reliable method for obtaining truth, we must accept that we are meaningless creatures in a meaningless world. Furthermore, his main philosophical conclusion is that man should be viewed as having no more or less meaning than we will have in our end state: none! Man will eventually receive a meaningless extinction about which the universe is completely indifferent. However, Cain argues two things. First, there are serious problems with such a scientistic worldview as these conclusions are merely forced upon you by the shortcomings of science. Second Cain shows, by a parallel argument, that if one takes an optimistic view of the future of man, one where instead man obtains his full potential as a Lord of the universe, we instead should view the cosmos as being filled with meaning, purpose and eternal grander surrounding mankind.
Brassier’s extinction argument: Cain begins his post discussing Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction by Ray Brassier. Brassier takes a very scientistic stance toward reality. He believes the only reliable truth we can believe in is that which can be demonstrated by science. One problem: science only presents us with material objects devoid of any meaning. This leads to us to nihilism where nothing of meaning has any truth to it and is no more than an illusion:
Only lifeless objects are real, because science presents us only with objects, with material, finite and contingent things, and science alone tells us the truth. Philosophy’s task, then, is to help reconcile us with horrible reality, to help us live as the nihilists we ought to be...
Brassier then insists we should therefore recognize that we are meaningless creatures in a universe who could care less about us. We are just one more species who will eventually go extinct inside an indifferent reality. Moreover, we ought to live by fully owning up to this.
Furthermore, his main philosophical conclusion is that man must be viewed as having no more or less meaning than his end state which for Brassier, is an extinction for wich the universe is completely indifferent. Hence, we should view ourselves as having no meaning at all:
We ought to think of ourselves in terms of how nature treats us: we are nothing now because we’re sure to become nothing.
None of the other quadrillions upon quadrillions of objects in the universe cares about us, so neither should we care about ourselves or each other. Likewise, none of these other objects has a purpose, so neither does human life. In short, because reality is made up of objects, as science shows, there are no subjects; that is, there are no people, nor spirits, souls, or anything else that lives up to our humanizing self-image.
The "zombification" of using reason alone: All the above shows is that reason (scientific reason that is) alone strips reality of any meaning. But is this because reality has no meaning, or does this observation point to a deep failure of naked scientific reason? Or in Cain's words:
Reason finds no meaning in the world, whether that’s because the real world is indifferent and worthless or because reason objectifies and thus zombifies whatever it touches... [perhaps] science is capable of uncovering only part of reality, leaving the possibility that a normative aspect of things is beyond reason’s purview.
Perhaps the universe is full of true and valid meaning. However, if you take a scientific-reason-alone approach to reality, you have forced upon yourself a world that must be intrinsically worthless. But why should you trust a conclusion that is forced upon you by an instrument (scientism) that is incapable of allowing you to conclude anything else? Nihilism being guaranteed from scientism says more about the shortcomings of science than about the validity of meaning or purpose in the universe.
Herein lies the true problem with a science-only worldview: if the universe contains any purpose, value or meaning, a science-only approach compels you to be blind to all of it. So you are not necessarily concluding there is no meaning because there is none, you are concluding there is no meaning because science-only worldviews tie your hands and prevent you from seeing it.
Cain also presents an interesting argument that asks "if there’s such a thing as the semantic property of truth, why aren’t there also the normative and aesthetic properties of rightness, purpose, and beauty?". In other words, Brassier's own theory relies on non-scientific assumptions about reality. (As do all scientistic worldviews at the end of the day, making them self-defeating by their own criteria.) But if Brassier actually believes there is any truth behind these non-scientific attributes, why isn't he open to other non-objective truths like purpose and beauty?
Turning the extinction argument on it's head, or endowing ourselves with eternal grandeur: By Brassier's same line of reasoning one must seriously ask: what if our true end is not extinction? What if at the end of humanity, we find ourselves as Lords of the universe? If this is so, perhaps we should view ourselves filled with this ultimate end purpose and meaning? Or in Cain's words:
I think Brassier’s extinction argument can likewise be paralleled. Brassier says we should think of organisms as if they were already extinct, since their extinction is inevitable... Now, we could just as easily project our minds forward and imagine a different future, one in which intelligent life throughout the universe eventually transforms much of the wilderness, much as we’ve done on Earth. Perhaps some species will achieve godhood status... in which case the sky’s the limit when we ponder the future ratio between meaningless physicality and meaningful artificiality...
Thus, just as we can imagine ourselves as already being lifeless, because our star will explode, so too we can imagine much of the universe as already being invested with cultural meaning, because of the plausibility of assuming that such meaning will actually be created in time.
I really like his conclusion. If Brassier's conclusion is philosophically correct, that we ought to view man as no more or less than his end state, then perhaps we should look around and view each other as having the potential for being Lords of the universe. Perhaps we should view the world around us as having right now all the meaning and potential that may finally be achieved. If this is true, sky is the limit for the value, meaning and purpose we should be placing on the world around us.
Conclusions: First, as the title of this blog suggests, never divorce reason from faith. If you only believe in what science can demonstrate, the day might come when you find yourself entertaining a nihilism that isn't necessarily true, but instead forced upon you by the shortcomings of science. Second, perhaps we should always endow our fellow man around us with the eternal potential, value and meaning they may in fact carry. Or in the words of Elder Maxwell "You have never seen an immortal star; they finally expire. But seated by you tonight are immortal individuals".