Why I Believe What I Believe

Why do I believe the things I believe?

If we work strictly within the rationalist paradigm, and somebody asks us why we believe something, we will almost always have a snappy answer. Rationalists establish their beliefs by arguments; and so every belief has an argument to support it.

This is not true in my case. In almost every case, I cannot give an argument to support a philosophical view I hold. So why do I hold these views?

Most often the answer is, “this has to be true for the rest of my view to make sense.” All of my ideas hang together like parts in a machine. Change one thing, and everything else has to change too.

Nor does my philosophy exist in a bubble. It hangs together with the social zeitgeist, with my life experiences, and most particularly with my mystical experiences. The latter are inherently private, but they determine my philosophy in an essential way.

I think that this is a quality of philosophical ideas in general: they are not justified by tidy arguments, but rather hang as parts of a larger view. For instance, if a person was not acquainted with math and science, one could not give them a tidy argument to the effect that reductionism was true. One would first have to teach them a great deal of math and science, and then explain reductionism to them; at which point one would simply have to hope that the pieces came together for them.

And I think it is true of philosophies in general that their parts hang together and don’t make sense when taken in isolation. This is an example of how philosophy is shaped differently from fields of knowledge like mathematics, physics, and biology.

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