Essay on Atomist Ethics in Epistemology


This text is an essay that allows me to further expand on my epistemological theory of atomism, which seeks to create the most rigorous analytical method to the creation of knowledge and to the decipheration of contentious matters in epistemology. First of all, epistemological atomism contends that absolute knowledge is nigh-impossible to find and that we can at best, have an extremely precise visualization of it. It does so through the method of contingency, where “facts” are enunciated first and then demonstrated.

This is where we shall begin.

Then, we will follow on whether this is an appropriate method to finding facts that then become truths. Removing the need for “justification”, we simply refer to the matter of conditions related to a fact’s contingency. Contingency being that which makes the fact a fact. If conditions for this fact are not met, then the contingency is lost.

If some of the conditions for this fact are met, and those that are not are not crucial to the fact’s enunciation, then the contingency becomes smaller and the fact must be changed to better relate the reality which it describes. In Wittgenstein: “The world is the totality of facts, not of things.” (Tractatus 1.1), the linguistic theory by Wittgenstein relates facts as being descriptive powers in the world that translate images to us.

Facts must thus be approached with a much more in-depth analysis that allows us to separate not only facts from falsehoods, but also the positive nature of falsety.

It is in such that atomist epistemology can be realized: By eliminating the need for absolute realities and instead create need for descriptive power, which allows us to speak with as much strength as necessary, to describe reality.

Facts as ends within themselves

In the usual discourse from an everyday perspective, we tend to exchange facts with one another, and without knowing it, we filter the facts through a filter called “sufficient reason”. It falls within sufficient reason that my friend has eaten breakfast this morning and that this breakfast was pancakes with syrup and a cube of butter. There is no need to question this fact, even if it may appear to be false. In other epistemological structures, this is a Justified Belief, but it is not a True Belief. One of my biggest problems with such epistemological structures is that they require excessive skepticism to be kept afloat. Epistemology need not doubt reality but only that which does not insert itself into sufficient reason.

This in turn may prove to be a flaw of atomism, but in reality, it is not. I use this example not to indicate that old models are pointless but rather that they use the wrong images. ‘Facts as ends within themselves‘ means that we must think of facts as those things we are actively looking to demonstrate. First, they are enunciated: I ate breakfast this morning.

Then, they can be demonstrated. I could, for example, sniff my friend’s breath for the aroma of pancakes or maple syrup or indeed investigate the contours of his mouth for syrup stains. If I were so inclined to pursue my rigorous analysis of his claim, I could also ask him whether he’d have the money to buy the necessary items to cook pancakes. Maybe they were made by his mother? Maybe it is impossible for him to make pancakes, because I know him to be incapable of cooking.

The risk of such theories, I say then, is that they require too many conditions to be made whole. Sufficient reason, as such, is called upon for atomist epistemology, as otherwise, it would regress for infinity. There comes such a time where a fact may hold enough descriptive power to be true. Each condition that is met further enhances this fact’s demonstration.

An atomist in such a situation, would ask:

Do people eat breakfast in the morning? Usually they do.
Do people eat pancakes for breakfast? In occidental societies, they often do.
Does my friend like pancakes? As he lives in an occidental society, it falls within reason that he does.

It falls within reason then that my friend has indeed eaten pancakes and that it would not impact reality that he did not.

An atomist does not bother himself with things that do not defy sufficient reason. Rather, if one demands that he accept something that alters reality, he would begin to put the fact into deeper analysis. There is also the problem of facts that can be enunciated but not demonstrated. These are more difficult to investigate for an atomist, yet they can attempt to be inserted within sufficient reason and given a temporary contingency.

As such, let us pretend that I am told to entertain the existence of alien UFOs.

“Alien UFOs exist.”

This is a fact that is being enunciated. Now, I cannot demonstrate that they do not other than by implying that we have yet to identify any. If I were to seek to make a strong case for such a claim, outside of the natural sciences, given that I am not a scientist, I could go along with the following:

Do Aliens exist? It is probable.
Do UFOs exist? We have had UFOs in the past, but they have all turned out to be of human origin.

It thus falls within reason that the proper course of action here, for the atomist, is to respond with a “I don’t know”, given that there is insufficient grounds to insert this fact into sufficient reason. We can accept that aliens exist but we have yet to find alien UFOs, thus demonstrating their existence is impossible at this time. The atomist should remain open to their discovery, considering the existence of aliens is probable. In the end, what must be retained here, is the enunciation of the fact and that its demonstration, whether it be toward falsehood or truth has yet to be done. Something that has yet to be proven is not automatically false, but it must be subject to a suspension of judgement (per pyrrhonian skepticism).

Now, if the claim were to be less absolute:

“Alien UFOs most likely exist.”

The atomist would have no choice but to concede that point, while also adding that we have yet to find any. An atomist accepts facts that fall within sufficient reason, but does not insert them within it because they are accepted by such reason. The phrase “most likely” indicates a possibility of falsehood. After all, if we discover an alien ship, it is no longer a UFO, but it is possible that among all the UFOs we have registered, at least one was of alien origin. Whether it be a fleeting asteroid or parts of a long-lost satellite from another civilization within our galaxy… There is a possibility, however thin.

Preserving the contingency

A matter of importance to the atomist in ethics is that something enounced as a fact must be met with certain conditions. Were I to posit that only facts that have strong contingencies ought to be considered, I would have to place this inside an atomist contingency as well, thus stopping the infinite regression of the chicken and the egg. Would it that my contingency, demonstrating through conditions that facts that are strongly contingent are superior to those who are not, I would have to say that ethical decisions can only be privileged if their conditions are met.

The categorical imperative wills that we act only upon the maxim which we would will that it becomes a universal law. Particularly, a law of logic, akin to the physical laws of nature. I believe there is only way to work at this problem and it is through preserving the contingency. If I were to take an ethical fact, such as: “One must never kill”, and pass it through the rigorous contingency test, its conditions would doubtlessly lose some of their strength in given situations, and the contingency would become weaker and thus smaller. What would be the conditions of “one must never kill” ? I could perhaps say that a condition meeting this fact would be “killing always has negative repercussions”.

That is true, but a hunter that needs to hunt an animal to get its fur so he may be protected during a harsh winter cannot simply beg the animal to lend it its fur. He must kill it. Immediately, the phrasing appears like it needs modification. Let’s change it to “one must never kill a man”. Does the act of killing also include killing in self-defence? Once more, we must change the saying.

“Lest you be fearing for your life, you should never kill.” 

This already seems to be much stronger and could almost become a universal law. The point perhaps is not to come up with such a law but to come up with the best possible ethics by questioning the things we consider facts, through contigency. Once the contingency is strong enough that it may be part of sufficient reason, testing it against more extreme cases becomes void and the exercise of creative thought-experiments that epistemologists like to play around with. I will not bother with them, because they, in order to work, must exit sufficient reason.

Facts without conditions

It must be said that epistemologically speaking, a fact with no conditions is not a fact. If its conditions are invalid or there are no conditions for it to be held true or false, it is an anomaly of language and thus of epistemology. Primordially, ethics must consist of moral guidance that restricts irrational behavior in all its forms. By practicing atomism, I posit that we may find prejudice much harder to perform, if we allow ourselves to take a step back and question our thoughts, by submitting them to the exercises necessary to confirm them. Sufficient reason must be elaborated upon and I shall do this in my next essay.



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