Friday, March 28, 2014

Hey, SCOTUS: faith ain't internally consistent

From Slate's coverage of the Hobby Lobby trial:
Kagan questions [the] claim that one tenet of the Green family’s faith requires that they provide all their employees with health care while another tenet requires that they deny contraception.
What's to question? I am unaware of any reason from epistemology or philosophy of religion to assume, prima facie, that the tenets we commit to when we adopt a worldview to our purposes won't be mutually exclusive. It is fruitless to look for a hidden consistency in any ethics, be it supernaturalistic or not.

Yeats recognized early on that the challenge in life was to hammer his thoughts into unity; we all face the same difficulty. Sure, a person who wishes to live  "rationally"* is going to pursue self-consistency in their ethical and epistemic commitments. But the trick is in realizing that epistemic unity is only ever imperfectly obtained. With that insight, one realizes the needful thing for humans to learn is how to be comfortable and ethical even  with that limitation.

This paradox at the heart of a self-aware life reminds me of a line from David Milch's wonderful television series Deadwood: "I believe in God's purpose, not knowing it." I'm content, atheist that I am, to let the word "God" suffice here for the illusion of a predetermined course of a events in the universe. I believe: in not knowing the point of my life. I believe: I'm free to determine a purpose for myself, in that absence of a higher plan. I believe: there's no reason to think my purpose-driven commitments will be, on first or second or further consideration, consistent among themselves. I believe: a good person embraces this state of affairs, and learns to muddle through, seeking their purpose, despite their self-contradictions.

* and we mean by this, pace Clifford, to live according to a system of beliefs each of which was acquired in a sufficiently informed fashion.