The Dallas Examined Life Philosophy Group Message Board › The leap of faith/leaping is BAD!!

The leap of faith/leaping is BAD!!

Ryan
Ryan9999
Dallas, TX
Post #: 70
At last night's discussion one of the ideas talked about was the existence of a leap of faith, and even in some sense the necessity of a leap of faith.

I'm going to be direct: I'm not big into the leap of faith. It's an interesting concept, but I don't think it is necessary for explaining our intellectual life, and if it isn't necessary, then it shouldn't be considered moral because of how it takes unnecessary and potentially harmful risks.

So, to sketch out why I don't think it is necessary, let's think of an animal. Animals discover knowledge, animals are capable of living in the world, animals do not take leaps of faith. So, if we can describe something that can engage in all three activities, then the question must then pop up, why then would humans have to have leaps of faith?

Now, it's not true that EVERY human has to take a leap of faith; a baby is human but likely lacks the cognitive capacity for a leap of faith, and it's only until certain cognitive developments take place that the idea even becomes possible, so they can't be leaping when they're just following a relatively instinctive process without any real consciousness of it. Now, once the idea is possible, does it then follow that a leap of faith must occur? Probably not, and to illustrate many people are ruled by conventions and habit, and if being ruled by convention and habit is not a leap of faith before the concept exists, then why should it be a leap of faith after the concept is made possible? The person is doing nothing differently before or after, concept existing or not.

So, if a human can get away without a leap of faith, then why should they take one in the first place? They'll still gain knowledge even without taking a leap of faith, because they gained knowledge as a child, and because animals gain knowledge, so the traits aren't incompatible. Now, maybe it's possible that a person who takes a leap of faith will gain more knowledge, but is this likely? Jumping to an arbitrary devotion is more likely to mislead or create error, just like you're more likely to lose money when buying a lottery ticket, the chances of losing are greater than the chances of winning. And for the most part, large bodies of our knowledge can be gained without really any leap whatsoever, so much of the education system involves providing a lot of information through a relatively standardized process, and most of the learning beyond that simply relies heavily on the pre-existing knowledge already gained from the education system.

Another answer may be that by examining one's life, one becomes aware of one's precommitments, and so one takes a leap of faith in assuming these to be true. However, is it really a leap to examine one's beliefs and then to recognize that one has nothing compelling one to change those beliefs? I can examine all of my foundations, but examining these foundations doesn't compel me in any sense to change them, and not changing these foundations if nothing compels me to is hardly a leap, it's merely momentum.

So, I'd say we should not leap. If we have faculties that we believe "work" to provide "good" outcomes, and nothing tells us otherwise, then further examination is hardly necessary. Examination and re-evaluation is only needed if there is a problem, or a task to accomplish, and is to be done in accordance with how to best accomplish this task. One task that most of us have is learning and understanding things, and so we need to do this to discover and accommodate more knowledge. However, still, that doesn't involve any sort of leap, one simply goes through a process, possibly one involving trial and error, but a trial and following a successful line of evidence after a trial is hardly a leap.

I think the reason why people think of the idea, and struggle with epistemic skepticisms is that they somehow put our intellectual processes first because they see them as the foundations. They imagine that all things hinge on those processes, and so they put this "leap" first. That view is incorrect; a functioning epistemology comes first, then an intellectual one follows as a super-structure. The intellectual aspects are helpful, but they're not primary as many of the tools are known first and then articulated, they're just a peripheral refinement for handling the various ego-stroking and curiosity sating processes. However, very few people will ever "leap" to their starvation by doubting the existence of food, and even solipsists are going to likely be very responsive to social pressures. So, because in practice we don't have this role in "accepting the existence of an external world", we just do, shouldn't we also beat back our notions of "leaps of faith", "utter skepticism" and all the rest as simply intellectual gimmicks without any reality to them and instead recognize the functioning epistemology as the psychologically necessary foundation and intellectual efforts as a method of improving the former?

I mean, we can get into all sorts of debates on whether this ends up being "foundationalist", or "foundherentist" or whatever else have you, but the very existence of this sort of debate on the best epistemological structure presupposes that we don't actually get to freely choose our epistemology in the first place, but rather that we already have one and these variations are just interpretations and modifications, not creations ex nihilo, so we still don't need to leap.
Liz
bizzy127
Dallas, TX
Post #: 11
I feel like sometimes the choice to live our lives necessitates a leap of faith.

Humans regularly face extreme suffering without the reasonable expectation of future relief. For people in dire situations, where they know they will continue in extreme pain until the conclusion of their lives, to choose to live is to express faith in a purpose for living greater than pleasure and happiness. I think these people have faith in a source of meaning or joy that transcends their circumstances and motivates them to continue.
Ryan
Ryan9999
Dallas, TX
Post #: 71
Regularly? There are situations like that, but those situations usually result in death, and often don't last long because they result in death. So, because they aren't the typical situation, it's hard to treat them as relevant to the normal course of living. Also, because they often result in death, and... in many cases are taken as optional(people do often desire a quicker death under the circumstances for many reasons, some of which have significant moral components), it's hard to make a requirement even if it is required to continue living.

A desire to live also isn't strictly a matter of pleasure or happiness. It isn't as if the only things people care about in living is just being happy at a given moment in time, people also care about their loved ones, their ideals, their duties, and simply the mere fact of being alive.

And even then, is a leap even sensible? If there are multiple possibilities to fill in gaps of knowledge, then leaping into one of those gaps arbitrarily is more likely to result in a delusion. I would think that self-delusion would actually be a problem, why seek to live if the cost of this is intellectual dishonesty and the forsaking of intellectual virtues? Surely, if we're talking about ideals beyond pleasure, the ideal of integrity would count as one.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 181
This is one perspective on the matter.

1: There are both circular and non-circular bodies of knowledge.
2: Every non-circular body of knowledge, by definition, must rely on outside sources at some point, they cannot be entirely self-contained.
3: Because of #2, eventually the whole of our body of knowledge must rely on at least one body of knowledge which is circular.
4: Those circular principles cannot be known the same way their non-circular counterparts can be known.
5: We are sometimes left with no other option than to trust that such propositions are true.

I'll give a quick example. We understand quite a bit about physics, but physics as a theory cannot explain its own existence. Additionally, we must use math, a separate body of knowledge, to understand physics. There are some who think math is axiomatic and some who believe it relies on other things. There are those who say math relies on the rules of logic and that the rules of logic are axiomatic. It was these axioms that I was talking about. The so-called "leap of faith" is a bit of a misnomer when I'm speaking it because I still maintain that the definition of faith as "belief without evidence" is a straw man propped up by theists and atheists alike. In this instance, I am merely recognizing that there may be limits to what knowledge can access despite the fact that there may also be situations requiring such knowledge.

This also speaks to instinct, which I believe is necessary for knowledge to begin with. That is, everything I know relies on something else I know, this seems necessarily true. The blank slate makes no sense in this context because what is the "first cause", if you will, to my knowledge? That is, why is it that I know anything rather than nothing? I posit instinct as this first non-knowledge cause of knowledge.

Instinct doesn't bother with truth. It bothers with what works. It gets us in the ballpark so that we can at least play the game. Sure, they're sometimes wrong, but they're close enough to keep us from getting killed long enough for us to reproduce. For humans, we seem to have a natural tendency towards a few things. First, even as newborns, we can recognize face-like patterns... granted, show a newborn the capital letter "T" and they'll follow it just as intently as they'll follow their own mother's gaze. Once again, the "T" pattern is close enough that it works decent in the beginning to get the kid started. There's also some who think we have a natural internal grammar that language is built upon.

In any case, what I think is going on with the leap of faith is simple, it is a reliance upon instinct where knowledge fails us. Sometimes it's necessary, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it works pretty well, sometimes its disastrous... but more often than not, I would say that our instincts prove useful even if they are not accurate. After all, they're the product of millions of years of evolution, therefore they must work at least well enough to keep us alive long enough to reproduce.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 375
If by the leap of faith we mean religious faith, I tend to question whether religious faith, at least Christian faith, is primarily about asserting, gaining, or trying to gain, knowledge, but I guess that would hinge on how you define "knowledge." (And trying to define knowledge would embroil us in epistemology). I think that what Ryan is saying is that leaps of faith are bad because they are very undependable ways of gaining knowledge. I agree that if knowledge is the only thing or the main thing that one is trying to leap to, then leaping is bad. But if some leaps of faith are not primarily ways of gaining knowledge, then they wouldn't be bad, at least not in that sense. Maybe they are bad in other ways.

The leap of faith as I understand it is more about a commitment or decision of a certain kind, whether of a religious or other nature. Whether meant in a religious or some other sense, I don't see it as being about gaining knowledge, at least not primarily. I think the leap has more to do with a decision to respond in a certain way to options about what kind of person I want to be. If I commit my life, even to the point of being willing to risk my life, to a political cause, this isn't about gaining knowledge.

Of course I can eliminate bad candidates for causes for me to commit my life to, and my process of eliminating those bad candidates does not have to require a leap of faith. If I commit my life to counting the blades of grass in all the yards on my street, that's probably a bad idea, and I can probably arrive at this judgment without any kind of faith or leap. So non-leaping processes can get me up to the door but in such cases as the political cause I mentioned, it can't get me all the way across the threshold.

I think that Kierkegaard and others were talking about an existential act rather than an epistemic one, although I'm far from being an expert on the "K Man". This also isn't to say that everyone ought to leap or must leap, only that if a faith leap occurs, it isn't necessarily a bad thing merely because it fails to satisfy the normal conditions of gaining knowledge.

I'd rather this not get into a discussion of pro and contra Kierkegaard or pro and contra religious faith, only that the idea of the faith leap and of faith generally that I'm familiar with are not primarily about knowledge, although knowledge is tricky to pin down.
A former member
Post #: 11
Leap of faith vs Steps of faith... I may be splitting hairs with semantics here but nothing and no one "moves forward" without some degree of risk. Baby steps are a leap of faith for a one year old. Using one's life savings to start a business or send your kids to college is a leap of faith. Changing one's beliefs about something most people hold a contrary opinion of can be a leap of faith. The leap or step(s) is not necessarily a leap off of a cliff!
It is actually necessary to lose your balance by a small degree to take a step forward. In view of what is before you and what it takes to attain it, measured steps can reasonably be expected to get you there. Perhaps a leap is even necessary at times but we have the ability to see and measure and know our limits and our capabilities.
In conclusion, I do NOT consider a change of MIND as having near the impact on one's life or future as a change of HEART. -Give that some thought!
Dale
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 377
In conclusion, I do NOT consider a change of MIND as having near the impact on one's life or future as a change of HEART. -Give that some thought!
I think that a "change of heart" is more like what I referred to when I mentioned a leap considered as an existential act and not primarily one of gaining knowledge. It has more to do with a commitment of the whole person rather than just intellectual assent. Such a commitment requires a leap, but not a blind leap. Rational consideration can have veto power, eliminating bad candidates for what I might leap to, but the affirmative step I don't think can ever be justified rationally other than in a negative sense.

Nothing I think or act on can ever be fully justified, no matter how rationally considered it might be. It will necessarily be a calculated risk and the result of many gaps. The goal of most of our thoughts and actions is to justify them with as much evidence as possible, to narrow the gap so it's more of a step or hop than a leap. Even physically taking the next step requires a fall forward. The 'faith' required to walk, talk, trust the reports of our senses, trust that the future will be like the past in certain ways or that the world didn't pop into existence 5 seconds ago, is a different kind of faith from the one needed to commit my life to a cause of some sort or commit myself to a faith tradition. All of our mental lives are built on this foundation of background capacities, or instincts, so everything we think and act on is necessarily full of gaps. But then everything we think or do would ultimately depend upon a foundation of faith, so we'd have to come up with two different senses for the word faith. I'm not sure if the difference between the two kinds of 'faith' is one of degree or of kind...

If faith is defined as the act of believing, accepting, and/or committing oneself to something unprovable or without empirical evidence, then walking, talking, etc., would not be acts of faith, imo, the way I understand the word. These things would be prior to belief, acceptance, or commitment. They make up a part of what I am, part of what I would use in order to leap, not what I would leap to.
Ryan
Ryan9999
Dallas, TX
Post #: 73

1: There are both circular and non-circular bodies of knowledge.
2: Every non-circular body of knowledge, by definition, must rely on outside sources at some point, they cannot be entirely self-contained.
3: Because of #2, eventually the whole of our body of knowledge must rely on at least one body of knowledge which is circular.
4: Those circular principles cannot be known the same way their non-circular counterparts can be known.
5: We are sometimes left with no other option than to trust that such propositions are true.
2 doesn't promote the requirement that circular propositions exist or are relied on, so your 3 doesn't work. It simply says that a non-circular body of knowledge isn't self-contained.

There is no contradiction with a model of knowledge that involves no circular sets of information. So, if I treat every piece of knowledge as simply part of a learning model, where this learning model involves acquisition of new knowledge, then I've created a non-circular model of knowledge, and this can potentially be sufficient. I may have foundations, but there is no reason why even the starting points can't be altered with evidence, like with any feedback loop.

There are those who say math relies on the rules of logic and that the rules of logic are axiomatic. It was these axioms that I was talking about. The so-called "leap of faith" is a bit of a misnomer when I'm speaking it because I still maintain that the definition of faith as "belief without evidence" is a straw man propped up by theists and atheists alike. In this instance, I am merely recognizing that there may be limits to what knowledge can access despite the fact that there may also be situations requiring such knowledge.
It's hard to call it "faith" to rely on some piece of knowledge that I have had embedded in me since before I could critically consider it. I mean, I'm not even requiring that "faith" = "belief without evidence". It's just that faith is reserved for areas where the trust involved is abnormal. It's rather absurd to say that I "drive my car through faith", because that application of the term would apply to everything, and part of the nature and point of a language is to make things distinct. So, if I called everything "beige" then how would applying that word provide additional information? If it wouldn't do anything, then why use it?

The blank slate makes no sense in this context because what is the "first cause", if you will, to my knowledge? That is, why is it that I know anything rather than nothing? I posit instinct as this first non-knowledge cause of knowledge.
I'm not sure that this kind of question even matters. You have knowledge. If you don't claim that, then you're splitting semantic hairs and have a knowledge-like thing in your brain that functions equivalently to knowledge in most practical matters. You could have even started off with wrong answers and through feedback from an environment come up with much more reasonable answers.

In any case, what I think is going on with the leap of faith is simple, it is a reliance upon instinct where knowledge fails us. Sometimes it's necessary, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it works pretty well, sometimes its disastrous... but more often than not, I would say that our instincts prove useful even if they are not accurate. After all, they're the product of millions of years of evolution, therefore they must work at least well enough to keep us alive long enough to reproduce.
But.... I'm not sure you've actually changed anything. If you lack direct knowledge, but you know that instinct is reliable, then trusting instinct is the best step to take with your knowledge.

I mean, Nathaniel, I think we're kind of just talking past each other. So, here's some structure:
1) We come to the discussion holding onto some things we call "knowledge".
2) Inferences and feedback loops are sufficient to gain all of the knowledge we need.
3) In a situation where we lack the information to accept a certain knowledge claim, we should not accept it. The leap is not necessary. We have reason to believe it is wrong. A leap is highly likely to be incorrect, and if not necessary this is a violation of reasonable standards for gaining knowledge.

Talk about circular vs non-circular and first-causes are actually pretty irrelevant as far as I'm concerned. We don't have reason to think they change whether we have knowledge, right?
Ryan
Ryan9999
Dallas, TX
Post #: 74
I think my notion of faith isn't going to include purely prudential decisions. After all, as I said to Nathaniel, if faith can refer to anything, then it fails to be a very useful term at all. Faith needs to be contrasted to a possible non-faith thing. And... if something is a calculated risk, or a highly prudent decision, it's hard to say that it's really a matter of faith.

I mean, one can talk about a lack of full justification, gaps, and risks, but the question in decision-making is risk-return, and in knowledge it would be setting the degrees of certainty to the right degree given the background information. So, let's just assume that I am a robot that simply applies Bayes theorem to every single problem and is given certain constraints(like need for fuel, maintaining good repair, etc). Am I using faith? No, I'm really just using an equation. So, why not think in these terms as a person? I'm not necessarily saying our given knowledge is or includes Bayes theorem, but there is a similarity in that we are creatures that learn in response to information and change our evaluations because of that new information, just like an application of Bayes theorem will change the priors after another piece or set of evidence comes in.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 378
I basically agree with you that if everything we say and act on is the result of faith, then faith loses its usefulness as a contrastive term. My only point was that leaps of faith are not always flawed epistemic ventures so they
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