[This is part of a set: Thinking]
In the matter of philosophy, such as that of consciousness, the origins of the universe, theism, one of my biggest bugbears is when philosophers tell us something is obvious – and by philosophers I do include professional ones, for which the mistake is almost unforgivable. If it were all obvious we wouldn’t be having philosophical discussions, as we’d all be of one mind, one faith, or none. The game would be over.
Some of the more ‘obvious’ uses of the word that are clearly mistaken in my view is when the lovely Jehovahs Witnesses stand at my door, look around and say, “Look, this is all so wonderful, it’s obvious there must be a creator.”
The opposite is to claim a view to be ‘absurd’ (or perhaps what is meant is that it is ‘obviously absurd’), as when Muslim Hamza Tzortzis, scourge of the debating scene, says things like “..and this would lead to an absurdity as it would imply that the universe created itself.”, when first, there’s no such necessary implication from his argument, and it’s not as if he knows what is absurd or not, or what is obvious or not, in the matter of the creation of universes. This is probably the most common flaw in attempts by Muslims to ‘prove’ God exists – they feel their assumptions are obviously true.
Atheists philosophers aren’t immune to it. In a discussion with scientist Peter Atkins, the philosopher Steven Law tried to point out that empiricism wasn’t important in some cases, because it was obvious, for example, that if Peter Atkins claimed to have something stuffed up his jumper it would be easy to just look – which sort of makes you wonder what a professional philosopher thinks empiricism is. What Law thinks is obvious is not so much so in the end, and I wonder that he doesn’t get that. What happened to the critical thinking he promotes so assiduously?
And proponents of free-will and the nature of the self are probably the biggest culprits, including atheist Raymond Tallis, in that they feel that how humans experience personal subjectivity is an obvious indication that it’s a real representation of human nature; when most of them know full well that feeling that ‘something is the case’ in matters at the edge of our understanding does not imply that it is obviously true. Many proponents of free-will will happily admit that many other illusions are illusions despite how it feels, but their particular feeling that they have free-will is obviously correct. It’s obvious their double standards are absurd (oh bugger!)
There are countless examples of proponents for some idea or other claiming it is obvious, when the argument itself belies that claim. Where we are of quite different world views it’s even more important to avoid that mistake. What may be patently obvious to me as an atheist, about the nature of the world, clearly isn’t obvious to most theists; and the obvious presence in God in the lives of theists is clearly not so obvious to atheists.
Questioning what is obvious to ourselves is probably the most difficult thing we do. We are challenging our inbred reliance on intuition to examine what might be counter intuitive. Nit picking is essential in this task, and if you have someone tell you something or other is obvious, then that’s the point to challenge – pick that nit. And if you find yourself claiming something is obvious, you need to think deeper about what it is you find so obvious.
Surely all this is obvious, isn’t it? Do I really need to state it?
Duglas Adams (h/t Dawkins)
The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on a gas covered planet going round a nuclear fireball, and think this normal, is obviously an indication of how skewed our perspective is.
Update: Frank Jackson interview by James Garvey
“I had been a dualist for years. I was taught by Michael Bradley, and he had some good arguments for dualism. I always thought it was a plausible view. As I say in the beginning of ‘Epiphenomenal Qualia’, we dualists don’t really need an argument to say that consciousness doesn’t fit into the physicalist world view. It’s just intuitively obvious.”
A shameful example of how personal preconceptions and bias have not only been abandoned by a philosopher, but how it has produced thirty years of paper and megabytes and neuronal confusion. Another example of how philosophers deal with the obvious.