The ground we stand on

Today I’ll address two different but related topics.  The first involves the collection of views and agreements upon which the mission of the Global Circle stands, as I understand them.  The second involves an outline of my view regarding the much deeper ground upon which the whole matter stands.

It’s important and helpful to keep in mind the differences between these two things.  A philosopher or any other person can agree, more or less, with the views and agreements upon which the Global Circle stands, without agreeing entirely (or even much at all) with my view about the much deeper ground.  That is, people may have different underlying theories and “reasons for” agreeing to the basic shared aims and views of the Global Circle, to the need for a transition in emphasis (as Nick puts it) “from knowledge to wisdom,” to the aim of (as he puts it) helping humankind discover and actually achieve what is of value in life, to the aim of facing and addressing our major global problems (many of them self-imposed), and to the aim of achieving a just and sustainable future for humans and for the biosphere on which we all depend.  You may have your underlying theory and reasons for doing this, Nick his, Sally Jones hers, Bob Smith his, and me mine.

In a sense, we can join together in, advocate for, rally around, and try to cooperatively implement wisdom even as we each maintain slightly or moderately different views of truth, different underlying theories, and different reasons.

If this distinction isn’t already clear, it will be soon.

To the first topic, then …

Recall, please, the so-called “Defining Views of the Global Circle” as suggested in my early post, ‘Life-aims and Aimlessness’ and also in the more recent post, ‘Welcome on the bus!’  These five points are my own way of putting what I understand to be the main substantive agreements we, or at least most of us, share in common.  Of course, being philosophers and philosophical people, each of us will likely have her/his own way of putting them, as it should be.  Some might narrow the substance a bit, or make it more specific.  Others might broaden it a bit, or prefer a slight shift in emphases.  Each of us, if asked to write our own understanding of the matter, would apply her/his own style.  And, some of us might even hope, and try, to include substance that goes beyond the shared agreements and views themselves, and begin to include parts of our own underlying theories and “reasons for.”

In any case, because these five points can be understood as agreements, or at least as approximate views about which we agree, they can be thought of as insufficiently theorized agreements.  We each hold them, more or less, but we may each have the same theory, slightly different theories, or substantially different theories and reasons for doing so.  So be it.

Indeed, at this point it might help to note that any theory or understanding of wisdom that understands wisdom to be something more than, and different from, just “a whole lotta truth,” must see value in, and embrace, genuine and wise insufficiently theorized agreements.  In a regime that values only truth, insufficiently theorized agreements are second-class citizens, if they are citizens at all, and if they are even recognized as anything better than admissions of failure (because they don’t achieve agreement on theory).  In contrast, in a philosophy that values wisdom, applied wisdom, and helping each and every person to discover and achieve what is of value in life, insufficiently theorized agreements will frequently be the rules rather than the exceptions (so to speak); and where they are genuine and wise, they’ll yield immense value, very much unlike the case in which two people stand on a shoreline arguing endlessly about truth while a child drowns in the lake, only fifteen feet offshore.

That said, applying wisdom (what wisdom we can manage) and continuing to pursue truth and knowledge are two parallel and intimately interrelated processes, of course.  The living application of wisdom can’t wait for all final truths (or Truth) to be discovered and agreed; but the living application of wisdom continues to seek truth and knowledge as it tries to develop itself, and live wisely and well.

That brings me to the second topic …

(Necessarily, the following discussion is greatly abbreviated—more of an outline than a discussion, let alone a thorough discussion.)

What, then, is the deep ground upon which my own view stands?  That is, what is the “ground” for my underlying theory and, thus, for my reasons for holding the views and agreeing to the agreements that define the mission as I see it?

In several words: life, the nature of life, and life as part of the natural real universe.

Put another way, the “ground” upon which we stand is rooted, contextualized, and vital life.  Life is also the ground we live in and with.  Rooted (in the universe itself), in-context, and vital life constitutes the ground.

Allow me to elaborate, in abbreviated form.

The core of my own existence and being is my body-brain-and-mind.  The core of your existence and being is your body-brain-and-mind.  And so forth.  Prefer what you will—I think, therefore I am; I feel, therefore I am; I move, therefore I am; or etc.—we each are where we are, are what we are, are who we are, and “start” where we are, and we each live and experience life through and from the perspective of our body-brain-and-minds.  Of course, this point is nothing new.

My sensory organ (broadly and inclusively speaking)—my primary means of sensual connection with the rest of existence—is also my body, and more specifically my various senses of smell, touch, taste, hearing, vision, and perhaps one or two others which we haven’t put our fingers on, yet, all with their final seats of experience in the brain.

My body and, ultimately, my brain-mind are the central headquarters of my experiences in, research regarding, and learning about myself, my immediate surroundings, and the broader world in which I live.  They are my point of integration and integrity, so to speak.  As the Beatles put it, but interpreted for purposes of our present context, “Come together, right now, over me.”  My body and, ultimately, my brain-mind are also the repositories of my experiences and memories, to the degree that I have and hold them, subconsciously or consciously.  Of course, none of this is new, either.

Of course—and crucially—all of these things (me and my senses and etc.) are within and part of my (and the) environment.  In other words, I am part of the universe, part of nature.  I am not separate from her, removed from her.  I and my senses are part of the natural universe, contextualized in it, dependent on it, and interdependent with other parts and aspects of it.  Both I and my roots are in the natural universe.  My roots and anchors are in the natural universe.  Again, they are not only in it; they are part of it.

(To be clear, because the reading audience is probably diverse, here I am speaking literally, from a secular standpoint, and from what we call a scientific standpoint.  In other words, I am not trying to make or imply—and certainly not relying on—any “spiritual” points here.  Of course, the idea of spiritual means many different things to different people, so I leave it to each reader to choose whether to use that idea to describe a quality or aspect of the natural universe, a quality of life, or a quality of anything else as she or he sees fit.)

As hopefully helpful expressions or illustrations of some of these points, here are several relevant quotes:

The Sphinx must solve her own riddle.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, History

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

–  Albert Einstein

The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.

– Albert Einstein

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

– John Muir

Nature does not go out of its way to befuddle us.  If some phenomenon seems to make no sense no matter how we look at it, we are probably overlooking some deeper principle about how things work.

– Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought

So then, what about you?  My sensual organ, integrating point (roughly speaking), center of experience and learning, and headquarters is me, but there are also about seven billion other humans on the planet at this point, are there not?  I recognize that you exist, and you recognize that I exist.  I also recognize that you are not me, and that I am not you; but I also recognize that you are most likely like me with respect to everything I’ve just mentioned.  We are not each other, but we are both humans.  You recognize this fact too, I assume and expect.  So, I am not alone, nor are you, nor are Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice alone, in this big natural universe of which we are all a part, and in which we all live together.

Loosely and poetically speaking, realizing that not all points in the following lyrics are to be taken literally in a materialistic sense:

I am he as you are he as you are me
And we are all together

– Lennon/McCartney, I Am the Walrus

And because, as we have seen, our interests are inextricably linked, we are compelled to accept ethics as the indispensable interface between my desire to be happy and yours.

– The Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium

And of course, it is not just you and I, Bob and Carol and a few others who live within and as parts of the natural universe.  As noted, there are about seven billion of us humans at this point (an issue for another discussion) along with many trillions of other living beings, don’t ask me the number.  A living, breathing biosphere.  And, as our present understanding strongly suggests, we’re all related.  Hello, relative!

So you and I, all other humans, and all life live in and as part of the natural universe.  And our origins and roots are in her.  She exists, and we exist within her and as part of her.   This much we all understand, or most of us do.

Being humans, we are drawn to try to apprehend and comprehend all this—and we can, within limits, at least to a degree.

And as we attempt competent thinking we immediately begin to reemploy our innate drive for comprehensive understanding.

– R. Buckminster Fuller

Ultimately, then, our “solid ground” comes down to this: life.  More completely, it can be described this way: life, rooted and contextualized in the existence of the natural universe.

The reason that this ground is not egoistic is that I am part of life, belong to the community of life, owe my life to life, and am an example of life, and I am neither all of life nor the center of all life, nor the beginning of life or end of it.  And I understand this.  (It is egoistic in the sense that I am a single being, and thus the position from which I experience and learn about life, and about the universe, is from my own body, brain, and mind; but it’s not egoistic in the sense that I think I am, or should treat myself as, all of life or the center, beginning, or end of life.  I don’t.)  I can understand this, you can, and we do.

Similarly, this ground is anthropocentric in the sense that we humans experience life and learn about life and the universe from the position of, and within the limits of, our humanness; but it’s not anthropocentric in the sense that we actually think that we (humankind) are all of life, the only life, the center of all life, or the beginning or end of all life.  Many of us understand this, and we’re all capable of understanding it, I hope.  Indeed, several of the great discoveries of science in recent centuries have helped us understand that we humans are neither at the center of all “creation” nor the beginning, middle, or end of it.

And, the reason that this ground isn’t separate from, decontextualized from, or unanchored in Nature herself, the universe itself, is that we and the broader community of life are not separate from Nature and the universe, decontextualized from it, or unanchored in it; and we’ve come to the point in human understanding where we understand that this is the case, and even a very great deal about how it’s the case.

Put another way, the ultimate ground is and can be understood this way, in these terms:  The universe exists.  (See Note 1.)  We are in it and of it and from it.  We humans experience and recognize the fact of the existence of the universe, although we can’t explain that fact.  Nevertheless, we now understand that we are part of and grounded in the universe.  From our toes to our heads, we are of it and in it.  Literally speaking, our feet are of, in, and on that “ground.”  And, although our sensual, experiential, emotional, and cognitive apparatuses are our bodies and brain-minds; and we are each physically located within our own; and we experience and learn about the world and each other “from this perspective;” and our repositories of experience and understanding are our bodies and brain-minds; nevertheless, we have the ability to understand (to a degree)—and we do understand (to a degree), and our understanding is increasing—that we are part of the natural universe, that we originated in it, that we depend upon it, and that we presently share a finite planet, along with many other forms of life, with which we are related.

Or it can be put this way:  Life is our basis, seat, and proximate ground.  We are anchored in the real existence of life.  And life is anchored in the real existence of the universe.  The universe is our ultimate ground.  The universe exists, life within it exists, and we as part of life.  And we now recognize this.

(This sequence can be visualized, loosely and with important differences, as a set of Russian nesting dolls.  The largest and outer doll, within which the others exist, is the universe.  The next largest is the whole community of life.  Within her, along with all the other species, is the human species.  And I am—and you are—within that.  Of course, there are crucial differences between the situation of Russian nesting dolls and our real situation.  One of them is that I am actually part of the universe, not only in her but also from her and of her, and dependent on her.  There are interdependencies and interrelationships among, and constant transformations among, the universe, the community of life within it, the human species within the community of life, and an individual person within the human species, that don’t exist in the situation of a set of four Russian nesting dolls, one simply within the other.)

We are within and of the universe, and this constitutes and secures a deep and contextualized “grounding” in the existence of the natural universe.  Our roots are deep.

Finally, it may also be said—correctly, in crucial senses—that this ground is vital ground.

Sociality, morality and ethics   

Within this context, regarding sociality, morality and ethics, and from a secular standpoint, it is my view that the real things, characteristics and dynamics referred to by (what I call) the seven foundational considerations, when taken together, contextualize, establish, shape and inform a moral-ethical solution space within and by which moral-ethical behaviors and issues exist, can be considered, can be understood, and, importantly, can be addressed.

The seven foundational considerations—or chief considerations—are (see also Notes 2 and 3):

  • The nature of life: what life is, depends on, tends to value and has a natural tendency to do in order to continue from one generation to the next
  • The nature of sociality and its ultimate relationship with life
  • The nature of our brains, cognition and reason and their ultimate relationship with life
  • The existence of human choice (the nature and scope of which we don’t entirely understand)
  • Time and our human awareness of it and of the apparent practical influences of time on human and other life
  • Our human interdependence, relationship with each other, and “equality”—that we humans are members of an interdependent social species, all related to each other, and equally human in fundamental senses
  • Our existence as part of the natural world, our dependence on it, and our interrelationships with other life and all of nature.  (An important aspect of this is that we live on a finite planet, presently at least.)

Taken together, these seven foundational considerations contextualize, establish, shape and inform the solution space within which we can understand and consider morality and ethics in all senses, in other words, including in their normative sense, at least in the secular realm.

In this context and on this basis, I often use the phrase ‘conscious, informed, and responsible human sociality’ in discussions of morality and ethics.  It’s a helpful phrase to consider, and can shed a great deal of light on the matters at hand (although limitations of space don’t allow for that presently, so I’ll ask readers to contemplate the phrase on their own or by way of my other materials for now).

Thus, in sum, our existence (and life’s existence) as part of and within the universe, and the existence of the universe itself provide the grounds upon and within which we, and our understanding, are based.  And, the substance of the matters—or put another way, the real things—that I have attempted to capture in the seven foundational considerations, taken together, provide the grounds for human morality/ethics and our understanding of them.

The resulting view involves a deep, rich, valid, vital, wise and fruitful basis.  Life is its core, a core that’s part of, rooted in, in relationship with, and contextualized by the existence of all else.

Indeed, philosophy without life is much, much less than a day without sunshine.  It’s more like a day without a sun or universe.  Philosophy without life doesn’t exist.  There’s no wisdom without life.  There’s no love without life.  A philosophy that values truth above the community of life, or values knowledge above wisdom, puts the cart before the horse (loosely speaking).

I will offer one more short, concluding post in this series, titled ‘Vital Philosophy revisited’.  As always, thanks very much for your consideration, and have a healthy and happy holiday season!

Be Well!

 

Note 1 — None of this is meant to imply that the universe “merely” exists.  Its existence is remarkable, exhilarating, awesome, beautiful, mysterious, and many other things, and may even have an explanation beyond itself, although it’s highly likely that we humans may never discover or be able to comprehend whatever “ultimate” explanation might exist.  Where do the turtles stop, and how would we ever know?

Note 2 — These are explained further in my existing work and my work-in-process.  See for example the materials at http://www.obligationsofreason.com/Additional_Material.html .

Note 3 — Of course, the number seven is of no importance: the substantive realities to which the seven foundational considerations refer can be grouped together or subdivided more finely into a number of written considerations other than seven.  The substance is what matters, of course.

 

One thought on “The ground we stand on

  1. Jeff,
    Thanks for another well-written and thought provoking essay!

    I have a question regarding your “second topic” where you describe your philosophy of life. My question is simply: “How else could it be?” or perhaps more accurately, “Are there modern, informed people who disagree with, or have an alternative narrative for the points you make in the essay?” Have you said anything that might be considered controversial, or can we all take this as an agreed baseline and move forward?

    I also have a more detailed question about your seven foundational considerations: What is the difference between #2 (sociality) and #6 (interdependence)?

    Might it be important to expand #5 (Time) and #7 (natural world) to include a bit more of physics and astrophysics? I believe that explorations in these areas have informed much of what we know (e.g. the universe is very big, follows surprising rules, is very old, and we are just a tiny part of it all) and will continue to do so.

    Thanks,

    Lee

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