[NOTE: what follows is entirely tongue-in-cheek and there are no prizes for spotting the semantic leaps in the reasoning. That is not to say that there is not a grain of truth in it all]
The question is an important one, at least to me. I have a layman's interest in politics and religion, not in any active, participatory sense, but rather out of curiosity about what people believe, and why they believe it. I am, in other words, interested in human folly.
As people believe such radically different things, they cannot ALL be right, can they? Or can they?
Belief is nothing if not what people feel is "true", but can you rigorously determine if a belief is in any sense "true" and if so, under what circumstances?
Physics, for example, has a yardstick for determining the "truthiness" of a statement: Experimental results. If the predictions of a theory contradict such experimental results, then the theory is not true, it is wrong. If the theory predicts results that ARE verified by experiments, then that theory is true, within the limits of the technology used in the experiments.
But Truth in Physics is a limited and rather precarious concept: if later experiments throw up contradictory results, then a theory that was "true" is no longer "true". It may describe phenomena within a certain range of parameters, but it does not explain ALL phenomena and so is not "true". And if a theory predicts something that has yet to be verified or disproved by experiment, then that theory is neither true nor false - the realities that such a theory suggests are left in limbo.
So even where there is a yardstick for measuring truthiness, it turns out that Truth is a slippery customer. What hope is there, therefore, for questions and lines of inquiry where there is no such yardstick?
Well, it strikes me that there are two possible approaches; one is faith, the other is philosophy. Leaving Faith to one side for now, what then is Philosophy? And how does it establish if a statement is true or false, and under what circumstances?
It is not even easy to say what Philosophy is not: it is not art, or science, or religion, and
yet it is the alleged parent of the first two and competes with the third; it overlaps and interacts with all three. The most you can say, it seems to me, is the rather obvious statement that Philosophy is in no way equivalent to Belief. You are free to believe anything you want, but you cannot conclude
whatever you want from Philosophy: the sole object of Philosophy is to conclude the Truth by philosophical means. At which point you realize you are on board a tautological merry-go-round.
The truth is rarely what you want it to be, unless you confuse Belief with Truth, an all too human failing. Sure enough, most people tend to think that what they believe is true (and good). Such people, it follows, are not philosophers. Karl Marx, who most people, regardless of what they feel about Marxism, would agree was a philosopher, by contrast dilly-dallied about publishing the second volume of Das Kapital because he was uncertain that he could prove his point.
So if you cannot believe what you want with Philosophy, what can you do with it? Well, you can ask any question you want, and finally, we come to a first approximate answer to our original question:
WTF is Philosophy? At the very least , it is the process of uncovering the "true" answer to any given question by a rigorous process of Deduction.
For Deduction to be rigorous, you are required to subscribe to one of the philosophical "methods" with
some degree of rational and even logical consistency and discipline. You part from a set of axioms, or primary beliefs, and you methodically and rigorously deduce the consequences of those beliefs. Or rather, you answer your question on the basis of your chosen primary beliefs.
The above highlights the relationship between Belief and Philosophy: you are only free to choose your primary beliefs, every other "truth" has to be deduced. You cannot believe everything you want and you cannot prove everything you believe. You have to make a choice and face the consequences.
The above also outlines the link between Truth and Belief.
example, you are free to believe that parallel lines never cross.
Believe that and you get Euclidean Geometry, ie, flat space. Discard
that belief and you get Riemannian Geometry, ie, curved space. Flat and
Curved Space are two very distinct entities, that involve radically
different truths about the same things, both logically and consistently
derived from primary beliefs.
Therefore, if philosophy is about
rationally deducing the truth, it turns out that the truth is entirely
dependent on what you believe. So the question WTF is Philosophy answers the derived question 'WTF is the Truth?'.
If the Truth depends on what you believe, then it is entirely relative. Ie, it is not invariant to a change of beliefs. This means that two people whose beliefs result in contradictory truths are both right, at least from a philosophical point if view, with the sole requirement that they have rigorously deduced their truths from their beliefs.
So if Truth is relative to Belief, then WTF is Reality?
I would speculate that reality is the sum of all truth. In the geometry
example given above, Geometric Reality is the sum of the Truths of
Curved Space and Flat Space along with the sum of whatever other
Geometry you choose to correctly derive from any given set of axioms. (In fact, flat space is just a special case of curved space, where the curvature is zero at all points).
all the above to the realm of politics, it follows that Marxism
and Capitalism are both true in as far as they can be deduced
However, for Truth to mean anything, both contradictory truths cannot be simultaneous true, otherwise Reality would pretty much cancel itself out. But Reality clearly exists. It is, after all, the sum of what is.
So, Houston, we have a problem. How can we solve it?
Well, if we are not going to accept that Truth is an over-rated concept, the word "simultaneous" provides a loop hole that maybe we can manage to squeeze through. Simultaneity implies Time and Time links up to a Universe. So the solution to our problem is to propose a Multiverse, that consists of one Universe for each contradictory Truth.
In other words, a Multiverse is required for Philosophy, Truth and Reality to retain the meaning we ascribe to them. As you can believe anything, it
follows that the number of constituent Universes in our philosophically
consistent Multiverse must be infinite.
But this, as discussed in
a previous post (The Proof that God (with a Capital G) Does Not Exist),
shows that such an infinite Multiverse effectively rules out the validity of any
religion that is founded on the belief that Man (and Woman) are
Cosmological relevant (essentially, in a multiverse the likelihood of
mankind being the only intelligent life, for whom the whole Shebang was
created, in a BigBang or otherwise, is vanishingly small, ie, inversely
proportional to the number of constituent Universes. As the number of
constituent Universes goes to infinity, as philosophy requires, the
probability of man being cosmologically relevant falls to zero).
for example, is therefore inconsistent with Philosophy, whilst Marxism
is not. God, this implies, "truly" is dead. Or rather, if you believe
that Philosophy is alive, it follows that God, as Nietzche claimed, is dead.
All very well, but...
If Philosophy boils down to being able to prove
anything, so long as you are prepared to believe the right things to
prove whatever tickles your fancy, you still end up with a contradiction. For example, you could believe that
God exists, but for that to be true, you would have to accept that God
doesn't exist, or else settle for a god in whose creation man is not
relevant. To believe in any other kind of God you must decry philosophy
but, as Philosophy is what validates Truth from your beliefs, believing
in God would become pointless, because you couldn't say that your
Religion is true and, much more disappointingly, you could not say that
you are Right and everyone else is wrong.
Of course, the answer
to this contradiction is simple: you just have to believe that everyone
else is Wrong and that you are Right and forget all about Philosophy, which is exactly what just about everyone does. By definition, people believe what they believe (otherwise
they wouldn't believe it, would they?) and so everyone believes that the
beliefs of everyone else are wrong, and therefore that what is true to everyone else is false to you. It follows that your truths are
also false to just about everyone else, except for those people who believe the same things as you, in which case, why bother with dialectics and Philosophy?
So WTF is Philosophy if not a way of proving that nothing makes any sense?
Small wonder we don't agree with each other.
The bigger wonder is that we all persist in our denial of the relativity of Truth as described above that, however tongue-in-cheek, holds a grain of, uhmmm... truth.
A truth such that, if we did not deny it, might just help us to understand each other.