TRANSCENDENT RATIONALISM


O.T. FORD

 

Transcendent rationalism encourages the ideals of truth and stewardship; it encourages the stewardship of the physical world, and the world of ideas. The practice of stewardship in most cases is justified by an ethical system that is traditional or indoctrinated, as with religion. It can be seen, in the eyes of objectivists, as justifiable only through faith. But that is only true under the limitations of materialism. And materialism is itself a faith. The rational basis of stewardship is a broader theory. It is based on one postulate, which is an assumption, naturally, and one methodology, the validity of which is also an assumption. Transcendence is the postulate; rationalism is the methodology.

The postulate of transcendence is that the universe, not merely the physical universe but the totality of all existence, is infinite and completely interconnected. This, like its opposite, cannot be proven. The only empirically-justified standpoint ― the only fully-rational worldview ― is solipsistic agnosticism, that the self exists, and very little else is knowable. The individual can establish the existence of its own mind, of the concepts it thinks, of the percepts it experiences, of linear time and three-dimensional Euclidean space, and nothing else. All else is speculation. The materialist assumption (and that is precisely what it is) that space is occupied by myriad infinitesimal fundamental particles of matter and charge and spin has no solid epistemological basis. This agnosticism on the substance of the universe is similar to agnosticism on the question of god ― technically correct, but immediately inviting speculation. In transcendent rationalism, doubt is applied to the full: technically it is impossible to know if there is a god, but it is certainly reasonable to doubt it. And yet this is an academic speculation.

The question of transcendence versus temporalism is more important; we cannot simply remain agnostic. Our actions are affected by our position on the issue. The transcendent position is that, because all things are interconnected, our actions affect everything, including ourselves, and in particular that anything we do, positive or negative, we do to ourselves ultimately. The temporal position is that our actions have limited or no real effect, and that the only consideration should be the immediate impact on the self. From a logical viewpoint, transcendence is an intuitive realization, a speculative truth, inductive and not deductive. But there is equally no proof for the temporal assumption; and it carries greater potential consequences. The transcendent attitude naturally leads to compassion and responsibility, the temporal attitude to hedonism and irresponsibility. But there is an important further point: if we behave responsibly and the temporal position turns out to be correct, at most we have wasted our lives being responsible when we could have been hedonistic. But if we behave irresponsibly and the transcendent position turns out to be correct, we have done lasting damage that will eventually harm ourselves. The risk-benefit analysis strongly argues in favor of responsibility.

The methodology of rationalism is critical, analytic, and a priori. Critical thought, or skepticism, requires that everything be subject to question, and nothing be taken on faith. In that examination, the procedure must be applied to every conceivable element; things must be taken apart to the greatest extent possible, scrutinized at the simplest possible level. If the critique fails at any level, it fails. Rationalism is truly a question of degree of rationalization; all thought is intuitive on the most basic level. But that does not preclude rational analysis. The processes of breaking ideas down into their constituent parts and of understanding those constituent parts are both intuitive. But this understanding is more reliable concerning the simpler elements than their more-complex parent concepts. And the critique must proceed a priori ― from the first principles. Something must be true logically, as well as appearing to be true in perception, and logic is a truer measure than perception. We cannot prove the validity of logic; we assume it, as a postulate. The advantage of reason over faith is that it avoids the counterintuitive proposition that truth cannot be questioned. Rationalism says, instead, that truth is most invulnerable to doubt, that the truer an idea, the more it will withstand our skepticism.

From a more spiritual perspective, transcendence is the realization that consciousness is not a product of the material world, and thus that the mind is not bound to that world. Transcendence is also the state resulting from the realization. From that state, the mind can see clearly the artificial nature of the temporal assumptions. The mind, no longer constrained by the culture of the perceptual realm, exists in the reality beyond the perceptual realm.

In that transcendent existence, the universe is seen to be holistic, consciousness seen to be eternal. The highest value is truth, the greatest aspiration to understand, to understand all of the mysteries of the universe. Because the mind wishes to understand, its actions are designed to raise its level of understanding; because all consciousness in the universe is holistic, the mindís actions are designed to raise the understanding of all minds. Indeed, all minds are simply perspectives of a collective consciousness, and so all minds in the greater scheme are in fact the same thing.

The stewardship of truth has a solid basis, then. But equally rational is the stewardship of the perceptual realm ― the world as defined by perception, whether material or virtual. It is through the perceptual realm, or many perceptual realms, that consciousness perceives the universe, that one perspective, one mind, interacts with another and thus participates in the dialectical search for truth. And the sensations of the perceptual realm are real enough, even if the supposed objects of the realm are not. The mind which causes another conscious mind to suffer is in a real sense causing pain to itself. The mind which damages the perceptual realm in such a way as to cause suffering is again causing pain to itself. The mind whose actions or negligence limit the ability of minds to exist in this realm (according to the arbitrary laws of the realm) is setting back the principal cause, the pursuit of understanding. The collective consciousness cares for its environment out of the strictest self-interest. To do otherwise would be an attack on itself.

 

The Standard of Justice - a social norm for the individual mind informed by transcendent rationalism

 

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