Philosophy: What is the point?

What is there?    How do we think?     How do we act?

What is the point?

In the previous section What is there? we began with human purpose. We said that reality is knowable only through human apparatus. We referred to humans as thinking and living objects. We understand, know and learn about the universe, our world and our activities through models. It follows therefore that the point of it all – the meaning of life – is determined by us, collectively and individually. Understanding is being thoroughly familiar with an object, apprehending it clearly and assigning meaning to it. It is gained via an interacting process of perception, reflection and action (an evolving cycle of knowing and doing, both individually and collectively) with reality. We define truth as a correspondence between our understanding and that reality. However the truth through which we make dependable decisions is contextual and uncertain. Absolute truth in all circumstances and contexts is available only through faith – see models and uncertainty.

It is important to realise that this view of models is not anthropomorphic. It does not put us at the centre of the universe – it merely states that we understand, act and attempt to cope with our place in the universe and we evolve and flourish by building models in accordance with our needs and desires.

It follows that if models are uncertain then there will always be some aspect of life that we do not understand and which we label variously as mysterious, mystical and/or unknowable. Complete certainty is only available to us through faith –  see How do we think?

Our individual understanding leads to the worldview of each one of us. As stated in Corollary 2 our worldviews are the ‘spectacles’ through which we understand the world and through which we attempt to satisfy our needs and desires. Worldviews can be shared and developed but the process is a complex combination of subjective, intersubjective and objective perceptions, reflections and actions. Hence our worldviews can change for many reasons – one of the important ways is through learning (Axiom 5).

If our knowledge and understanding is a set of models it follows that our understanding and knowledge of physical natural or artificial systems are embedded in those models – Corollary 4. We call the physical systems ‘hard systems’ since they can be understood and shared objectively. The models are quite precise and often repeatably testable – see uncertainty. Hence they are dependable in many known contexts and they have led to many engineering successes such as large bridges, aeroplanes and computers. One important role of a hard system is to provide a function – Corollary C5.  However we must always remember  that hard systems have other important attributes such as cost, aesthetics and sustainability. When designing artificial hard systems these attributes (together with function) are part of the purpose of the process. Whether the purpose is satisfied or otherwise is a fitness for purpose – Corollary C6. Models are not true or false but rather are dependably fit for purpose to a degree in a context. Dependability corresponds to our common-sense notion of truth or fact. Statements deduced from dependable models correspond to reality in a particular context or situation – see uncertainty.

The human and social systems in which those models are embedded we call ‘soft systems’ since the models are rarely repeatably testable and much more difficult to create. They are subjective, intersubjective and objective.

Human needs occur at levels of immediacy of satisfaction. Starting at the most basic they are (as defined by Maslow) physiological (food, water), safety (security, health), belonging (friends, family), esteem (confidence, respect) and self-actualisation (creativity, curiosity, morality).

Actions that impinge on other humans or Nature require a duty of care – Corollary C7 and Principles P1 and P2 are important for any action we take. A duty of care is a legal obligation under the law of tort to act responsibly and reasonably to ensure that all foreseeable consequences do not cause injury or harm or damage. Law is the set of principles and regulations prescribed under the authority of a community, such as a state or nation, and in a democracy decided by agreed processes. Dependability has to be judged based on the testing of a model. The tests have to be as searching and rigorous as appropriate for the problem.

What is there?    How do we think?     How do we act?