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Must We Accept Certain Things On Faith?

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I got in to a discussion the other day with my dad about faith and reason. He has read a number of Ayn Rand books, and he agrees with her on some views, but not all. He was basically stating that you have to except certain things on faith. For instance his argument was, how can you be certain that the Civil War actually happened?? How do you know? Were you there? You just have to take someone else's word for it. Therefore your excepting it on faith. "All history you must except on faith". I don't know what the Objectivist stand point on this is.

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Geoff, I don't thnk your dad is using a proper definition of faith. If you read something in the newspaper and believe that it occured, you aren't taking that on faith. Experience dictates that the paper had a reporter who did the necessary leg work to validate the story (although with today's media, maybe that isn't the greatest example).

A good definition in this context would be something along the lines of: belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

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For instance his argument was, how can you be certain that the Civil War actually happened?
I wouldn't encourage a philosophical argument with your father. So, take this post more as a thought-exercise for yourself.

1. The example is presented as something that he does hold as true on the basis of testimony (i.e. he's actually saying that the civil war did happen; and he's claiming that he accepts it on faith). Ask yourself this: are there things for which some amount of testimony exists (other religions, UFOs, the Yeti, etc.), and yet he does not take them on faith. Why does he not believe those? Is it a question of the number of believers? The quaility of the testimony? What?

2. As a second thought-exercise, why do you believe that the civil war took place when you do not believe the folks who speak of UFOs? Aren't both testimonies equally valid? Do you believe one because it is "more believable"? If so, what makes a statement "believable"?

3. When my son was very young [maybe 4 or 5], I remember saying something really silly to him, as a joke. I don't remember the specifics, but it might have been something on the lines of: "if you do that, gremlins will jump out of the wall". When I said it, I thought it was an obvious joke. I immediately realized that he thought it was true. I checked myself and told him it was a joke, and said, in wonderment: "You believed me!!" Very simply, he replied: "I always believe you." [Aside: That was a lesson I'll never forget!]

I realized that, to him, there was not much difference in my telling him something like that, as opposed to telling him something like: "if you touch the stove, you will burn your hand". At that stage in life, he did not have enough knowledge to judge the likelihood that a new fact was true or false. He was simply gathering facts. As one grows older and learns new facts, one begins to integrate them. A new observation can then seem odd and untrue because it does not integrate well with the other facts one knows. Or, it can seem true because it does. For instance, as he sips hot chocolate that comes straight off the stove, he begins to understand that the stove is hot.

Today, at 7, my son still accepts my "testimony" for many things. However, he will not accept it for everything any more. Testimony is a source of information. As adults, we have to judge it's worth and believability. Does it mesh with other facts? Are there contradictory facts? Is there contradictory testimony? Could the testifier have a vested interest in altering facts? Could he be mistaken? And so on.

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Good points softwareNerd...when the time comes (whenever I get a gf and we decide to have a kid), I'd like to sit down and have a chat with you about child rearing and what you've learned from it :yarr:. (I've read some of your other posts that relate to it, very intriguing!)

Geoff, I'd like to point out, if you haven't already gathered this, that taking someone's word for an event that may or may not have occurred is different than faith, if faith is defined as the absence of reason.

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... everything you claim to "know" is based on faith. You can't claim certainty regarding any of your knowledge ...

Time out. Am I missing something?

I take "faith" to mean empirical knowledge based on feeling, revelation, "intuition", instinct, assumption, wishing, or otherwise on some extra-sensory faculty. Essentially, an invalid epistomology.

"Reason" (as I understand and practice it) is a means of knowledge based on the logical identification of facts, and integrating them into the proper context. Observable evidence, consistent logical thought, and an understanding of what are variables and what are facts within a certain situation give rise to rational thought.

Do you really mean "faith", or do you mean "trust"? Because there's a world of difference between those two words. (I trust the weather man because he's educated in climatology, and he's been in the ballpark enough to keep his job at Channel 9 for several years. I have no faith in people who say it's going to rain, because they "just feel it in their bones.") Or am I looking at this wrong?

I'm not challenging, simply asking ... could you elaborate a bit on that, Felipe, given the context of my confusion? :yarr:

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I'm not challenging, simply asking ... could you elaborate a bit on that, Felipe, given the context of my confusion? :P
I'll chime in for Felipe, since he isn't around, and he can correct me if I'm misinterpreting. You left out the word that was critical to his meaning; the last word: "Eternal". The statement was not meant as a general philosophical principle, but rather as a challenge to Eternal's post, in the tone of: if you take that on faith, then you take everything on faith, and you know nothing.
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  • 4 months later...
... I don't thnk your dad is using a proper definition of faith. ...
I think the original question referred to a different concept of faith; not the one used in "reason vs. faith" arguments.

There is one concept that describes a belief that some knowledge is revealed rather than gleaned by observation and thought. That is one concept, and it is the one that people refer to in the "reason vs. faith" debates. Let's suppose we term this concept "revelation". This concept is arbitrary.

Then, there is a second, very different concept which refers to believing other human beings. Let's call this "trust". This refers to something in reality.

If a person claims to have some knowledge via observation, one has a foundation for trust. Whether one does trust what they're saying depends on whether on trusts them (i.e. the past demonstrations of their trustworthiness) and whether what they're saying integrates with other knowledge. On the other hand, if someone claims to have some knowledge via revelation, it is wrong to trust them.

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