The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1948
Some Footnotes to a Previous Article
Some Footnotes to a Previous Article
All Systems of knowledge suffer from the difficulty that an article of faith is necessary to render them valid. This applies as much to science as it does to philosophy and religion, although in the case of science it is less apparent because the faiths on which science rests are largely the faiths on which our civilization is based, which means they are particularly widespread and largely unconscious in our minds. With most of us the scientific faith is implicit in our actions as a feature of adaptation to the contemporary world, rather than explicit as is the case with religious creeds.
The fact that in the first place this article of faith is always necessary means that it is strictly impossible to prove to anyone that such and such a system of belief must be so, unless in the first place they can agree to the assumptions upon which that system of beliefs is based. The fact that people can agree indicates only that they have common assumptions. Where something appears to have been proven that is only so because of prior agreement (usually implicit) on basic articles of faith. All of which means that the so-called objectivity of science depends ultimately just as much on human agreement as do the 39 Articles of the Anglican Church. It is necessary to point this out in order to see in correct perspective that particular contemporary 'viewpoint' which states that science is the only knowledge worth the name and all else is myth. The basis of scientific knowledge as well as of any other knowledge is human agreement, not something mysteriously different in its nature. Of course it must be granted that the subject-matter and methods of science are such that agreement on its basic articles are widespread. In the final analysis this is where its objectivity resides. One sceptic invalidates the scheme.
Those who have the faith of some American philosophers that objectivity can be extended to all spheres of thought have in effect an unlimited optimism about the possibilities of human agreement, whereas those who believe with Bertrand Russell that apart from science all knowledge is 'mere' opinion have also an unlimited optimism but restrict its application. They realize that truth is ultimately a matter of agreement—enforced or voluntary—but make an exception to this rule in the case of science. Their perspective in the latter case is blinded by the achievements of a particular era. A fitting contrast is the objectivity of religious knowledge in the Middle Ages.
Now all this is by way of preface to some comments on an article, the 'Cult of Uncertainty', in the last issue of Spike. It was offered in the same sense that a new species of wine is offered to the connoisseur. Those who have their tastes conditioned by tea or beer will find no satisfaction in it, whereas those who like the snap of the Italian vermuth but abhor the French muscatel may find here their medicine. In other words it all depends on your assumptions. If they are anti-pathetical you will be unable to stomach the articles of faith. If on the other hand you like the wind blowing through your open mind and not stagnating in the manner of friend Chesterton's you may find something there.
This far I have used the words 'assumption' and 'faith almost alternatively. I now wish to distinguish by defining faith as the explicit and conscious acceptance of some article of knowledge as being truly correspondent to the nature of things, and assumption as an implicit readiness due to particular emotional needs to accept certain articles of faith. Clearly they go together. There is no faith without the emotional need for it. just as clearly the same type of emotional need in one person may lead to different articles of faith at different times due to the fact that a new one may be found more emotionally comprehensive than the old and hence morepage break page 33
satisfying. If this was not so, no one would ever change their mind. Clearly some do.
The article then was offered to those emotionally inclined to that sort of thing as a satisfying alternative to what ever faiths they held at that stage. In effect it said. 'Why not this aesthetic or philosophy instead of that?' . . . The motive behind the offer was simply the belief that the more satisfactory the adjustment the less dogmatically the faith in that particular adjustment is held, and the less dogmatically a view is held the less likelihood there is of conflict. But perhaps you don't agree?
The final difficulty is that any statement of faith is a step into the unreal, simply because it is a selection or an abstraction from the totality of things. Any such statement of faith must lift something from its context and divorce it to same extent from reality.
But, there is no alternative.
Perhaps then we need a faith which directs us back to the experience as the basis of our reality and certainty. It is such a faith that was indicated in the articles of the 'Cult of Uncertainty.' That it was not fully formulated must be admitted. Such a formulation is hardly a matter of a few pages. Let it suffice that it claims that any system of knowledge which says that in that system itself rests the whole or final trust, must of its own nature, as an abstraction, be false. The best we can assert as a faith is that—here—in this experience and—there—in that experience you will find some reality and some certainty, and that altogether in all these experiences you may find more complete satisfaction. In other words it must be a faith leading back to the reality of things as directly experienced, not one substituting itself for them.
And we end with the paradox that without faith there is nothing, but that with faith alone there is only distortion.