Philosophy in Faeland

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Philosophy in Faeland is a fusion of two (and in modern times, arguably a third) traditions: Western Continental and Faelish Pataphysical. Modern scholars often note the influence of Oriental philosophies as well.

Faelish philosophy in its modern form is generally quite unified and cohesive.

Epistemology

Faelish philosophy has a uniform view of the origins of knowledge, as best explained by modern thinker Walter Branigan of The Dhíall:

Life

"The principal difference between living and nonliving things is that the former can replicate themselves, thus keeping their form going even though the individual perishes. Ferns, for instance, last a year or so, but The Fern is older by far than the Himalayas." This simple axiom effectively ends the tyranny of Platonic forms as misappropriation of the principles at work in life onto inanimate objects.

Coping

"The main advantage of animals over plants is that they can move about, actively seeking food, choosing with whom to mate, and avoiding dangers. In order to do this, they must receive and process information. Analyzing, and, if you will, internalizing their surroundings. Those animals with the most efficient means to do so often are most likely to reproduce. Accordingly, these skills and attributes continue to evolve and refine themselves over time."

Instinct and Learning

"A bat flies in the night and emits a squeak. The squeak echoes off a bug —prey— and is interpreted as indicating where the bug is, the bat can now swoop accordingly. The bug, for its part, has the potential to hear the squeak, and dodge the bat.

In this contest, the bugs behavior is an instinctive reaction; not learned, but "known" or hard wired, if you will, into the bug. The squeak triggers a reaction whether or not the bug has heard that particular sound before. The reason this happens is because the ancestors of this particular bug did the same thing when they heard the squeak and survived the attack. Eventually the technique was embedded into the insect's DNA. We can call this species learning. And it is, of course, a very slow process.

The bat, on the other hand, must learn to hunt. It is born with an ability, sure, but it must use and improve upon this ability to be effective. The instinct to sate hunger does not guarantee the bat will be a good hunter. The bat must decide what to do given certain information. Whereas for the bug, instinct sets off a specific response: "move". The learning takes place for the bat in the space between input and output, the activation of self in response to the environment.

It works thus: Given input, a being sizes up a situation and acts accordingly. The result is a belief. "This is the way things are and this is the way things can be if I do X." Here is where desire enters the picture. What to do about it? The bat wants to eat the bug. Belief plus desire can produce action. The bat has located his prey, and if he swoops in, he will get what he wants. Or else he remains hungry."

Right and Wrong, True and False

"Coping as we have come to understand it becomes learning. Modifying behavior in light of the memories of previous occurrences in similar situations. The wizened cat responds differently to a skunk than the curious kitten. What one sees as a good reason to walk the other direction, the other sees as a potential playmate. The belief of the expectation for a playmate turned out to be false, as the unexpected stench showed. The kitten did the wrong thing on the basis of what turned out to be a false belief. Now, the cat's belief that the skunk is a creature to be avoided is true. That is it indicates or corresponds to the reality of what the skunk is about. Subsequent behavior based on that then is right, in the sense that it promotes an effective coping system.

The kitten tested its belief that the skunk was a playmate. It acted on it, and suffered the consequences. In the process, though, the kitten leered, as demonstrated by its current knowledge that the creature is to be avoided. A false belief was replaced by a true belief."

High and Low Beliefs

"It is useful here to divide beliefs. Let us call a belief that has been tested a low belief, and one that has not a high belief. In the previous example, the kitten's pre-encounter belief about the skunk was high, its belief afterward was low.

Nonhumans have few high beliefs, as nearly all their beliefs are created by their experiences of what the beliefs are about. Fear is a notable exception: the cat might forever more believe that all small, striped creatures are to be avoid, and this will not be tested, as the nature of this behavior is to avoid. Consequently the beliefs of beasts are both few and low. They are mostly expectations of the here and now. Time is shallow for animals, with no thought of tomorrow. Things like migrating or hibernation or storage of food are instinctive and not based on beliefs. On the other hand, nearly all of their beliefs are true. Animals what size things up wrongly tend to be weeded out in the evolutionary process."

Language

"Information is passed variously from certain animals to others. The monkey in the tree sees a terrestrial predator and screams. Other monkeys hear this, and react accordingly. In other words they can imagine the threat and respond despite the fact that the monkey's scream in and of itself is nothing to fear. They have learned to associate the noise with fear. More specifically, they have learned that the scream means predator and that belief affects what they do next.

This ability —when vastly extrapolated— generates what we call language, which essentially is a means of getting other humans to acquire beliefs that they would otherwise have to experience for themselves by direct perception. People then, akin to our scared monkey, can be told what to believe and will believe what they are told unless they have some reason not to. For instance if another held belief conflicts with it. Our natural state, however, is always to believe something. This can be seen in small children. The second proof for this is in the advantageous affect of language in coping. Language can transmit information rapidly throughout a large group, giving benefit that would be severely diminished if everyone waited to "see for themselves". Doubt then, is evolutionarily speaking, a rare and often complicated attitude to take.

Of course, belief of what one is told will always be high until it can be experienced for oneself. Unlike animals, the gap between attaining a belief and putting it to the test can be quite long. This is the origin of the human concept of time. Unlike the shallow time of animals, we can take thought for what tomorrow will bring, and beyond. Even beyond the length of our own natural lives. Similarly, we can take account of the past, before our own time here."

Imagination

"It is easy to see how language and time combine to practically create imagination. For language to work at all, the listener must be able to transform signs or sounds (in the case of humans) into mental images on cue and at behest. Inasmuch as this is the case, it can be assumed that for most beasts of nature, there is no imagination, and life is a steady and shallow flow of quiet readiness.

Imagination has then been humanity's great blessing and wretched curse.

Imagination can lead to description. For example, imagine a glass of water on a hot day. you can request this from another person, and they can bring it. This possibility is the foundation of social order and hierarchy. Cooperation and civilization.

Imagination gives us the special gift of entertaining things we here or read without having to believe or disbelieve. You could consider this the ability to turn off the natural state of "Believe". This is the ultimate requisite in the struggle to reason.

Of course, imagination can lead to misinformation, both accidental and intentional. What we are told becomes a high belief, and can be false, especially when testing it is extremely difficult to prove.

Let us take for example telling a story. When telling and listening to a story, both the narrator and the audience will share an understanding that a "time out" is in effect. The story is not to be believed but imagined. There may be some important message or lesson, or it could just be entertainment, but the story is understood to be false. Sometimes, however, in the course of human existence, a story has slipped through the parameters of our "time out". After enough retellings it may be that the natural state of "believe" is reactivated and the tale becomes held as a high belief. This is the point where it enters a culture's mythology. But we must remember that, to the group, it is not myth, but fact."

Society

"For most of its existence humanity has existed as nomadic bands. Now we can consider the beliefs of this primordial society, typically around 40 or so adults. Coming back to the idea of beliefs, we can apply them to groups. To distinguish, we have "socially low beliefs" when someone in our band has tested it —an individual's low belief— and other people in the society believe it as well as that it has been tested. Basically, it is taken on the authority of someone who is an authority. Socially high beliefs are any other beliefs that are widespread within society.

In most cases, low beliefs will generally be the same across different bands or cultures. These plants are edible, those animals are aggressive, fire burns, etc, etc. High beliefs will be much more varied from band to band, although groups of bands —clans— may share similar beliefs. The chief is descended from the sun, snakes are holy, smearing a woman in wolf's blood increases fertility, etc, etc.

The apparent paradox in all this is that evolution tends to weed out false beliefs, yet humans, as successful creatures, seem to maintain many false beliefs.

The reason for this puzzle is that nature does not care so much what we believe, so long as it does not effect what we do. That is to say how we cope.

We can examine two types of belief that affect what we do: direct and indirect. In a direct interaction with one's environment, right behavior depends on having true beliefs, so that right and true come to the same thing.

Indirect beliefs may be true or false, but can be edifying and thus continue to exist despite their veracity. Say, for example, that in our band, we all believe we are descended from a common ancestor, and that ancestor was a god of the sun. Although we have a high belief that this is a fact, there is no way to actually test this belief. Nevertheless, A few of the men can now go off to hunt, while the rest can stay at the campsite and protect the families and property of the rest, because we are a people and share a common origin and thus have a reason to safeguard each other against outsiders. That origin makes the band a unit, and is therefore a useful belief no matter if it was tested or not, true or not.

In the same way that evolution will weed out false low beliefs, it will do the same to high beliefs. What is useful will stay, what isn't will likely fade."

Explanation & Personification

"High beliefs can also be used to explain things that are otherwise not understood by simple testing. In a Stone Age society, there is no model for comparison except for the personal. Even when discussing the inanimate or cosmic, personal explanation is extended to how and why events occur. If a wiser, older member of our band is asked by a young boy why the earth quakes, he will only be able to reason that —so far as he can tell— to make something shake one must have the desire to shake it. Therefore, there must be a being, possibly greater than men, but a being nonetheless who has the will to move the earth, and then does so. Powerful and fearsome, but ultimately driven by the same motives as us. These high beliefs satisfy curiosity, sure, but they also serve to offer some sense of security or hope. If a powerful being controls the rain, maybe we can convince it to give us a little extra. Maybe we can convince another spirit to let the harvest come early. And so on. Say we want the flooding to stop so we sacrifice our best young warriors. Either the flooding stops right then or later on. But in either case, eventually it will, and thus our theory that sacrificing will satisfy some spirit's appetite is proven "true".

These stories could be seen as primitive theories about existence. Eventually they would expand and interconnect, giving rise to a mythology and more importantly an identity for our band. If our band is descended from the Wolf, then we are superior to those people, descendants of the Bear. The Great Wolf will guard us, and the Holy Wolfskin that our chief wears will make him victorious in battle. And so on. In the end thoughts like these bring the band together in their struggle for survival. These high beliefs, then, become the most important aspect of the band, and any threat to them is met with closed ranks.

In a hunter gatherer society, the high beliefs are rarely put to the test, if ever, as they are often lumped together with the low beliefs (a), and (b) it is assumed that the elders simply "know". And also it is often a well defended high belief that it is evil to question the validity of the tribes beliefs."

Rips In the Social Fabric

"Naturally sometimes these high beliefs would be tested and proved false. We can assume some ancient Greek climbed Mt Olympus and found only wind worn rocks. A Punic sailor went through the Pillars of Hercules only to find more ocean. And so on. How does the society handle this? Probably by force. Suppression. Or indirect measures. It is law that no man may ascend holy Olympus. It is a crime to sail past the Pillars. Perhaps they simply execute the offender to keep word from getting out and discourage further investigation.

Some things can be reinterpreted as allegory. To the returning Greek we could say it was not meant to be understood literally, only that the gods live above us, in another plane of existence."

Civilization

"Agriculture is arguably the precursor and principal requirement of civilization. This was the most radical change to the human condition ever. It was not, however, a foregone conclusion. Humans do not instinctively come together into larger social units. But the social requirements necessary were already in place, respect for the chief could be conferred to a king, the wisdom of a shaman expanded to a priestly class. A whole new set of stories and myths would have to be created in order to get people to accept the drudgery of agriculture and the disparity of wealth and power that occurs in societies comprised of cities."

How Myth Explains

"Let us consider a simple generic myth. In the beginning was Earth and Sky. Wind drove himself between the two, separating them. The blood of this process is water. Water bleeds from the Earth and into Sea. Where the Water meets the Sea we find Silt. All of these gods battle for control of the universe, and Silt wins. We are born of the Silt, and thus inherit the sins of Silt, so we must work the fields in order to sacrifice to the gods.

Pretty basic, but this story does a couple things: it explains how things came to be, but also provides a reason to commit to hard labor. It answers the question, "Why do we have to work so hard?" If we look at this myth we can also see an element of the personification based on the human model that we have encountered before. Our early man sees silt and wonders how it could be born of water and earth. Perhaps it is like two humans begetting a child. Without a concept of an impersonal model, this is then the only way our early forebears can interpret their world.

With the myth, the world is understood and the justification for work is provided. If it is right to punish wrongdoers, then surely the god Silt, who fought against his family —his band— is the worst kind of transgressor, the one who hurts the group. Therefore if we are born of him, we inherit his debt and must sacrifice to make amends for it.

Since humans do not possess magical powers, how are these derivative of the human model? With abstraction, it is actually not hard to imagine. The king issues orders, and so many functionaries and servants execute the orders, all the way down to the laborer in the field whose job it is to see that more corn is grown, as the king commands. A psychologist would recognize that to a child, it would appear that the king said something and, as if by magic, his will was realized. Thus are the gods so endowed. The human model then, as an abstraction, is what it is believed to be, not what it is in fact.

This basic account of the function of the coercive in human mythology is the ultimate goal. Any system of cause and effect based on the model of command and obey must reach the same conclusions as we have herein.

There is an alternative system, less reliant on magic but equally anthropomorphic in that everything is done by manipulation. As by human agency, likewise the gods use their hands to build (contrast the Abrahamic god simply saying "Let there be light.")"

Modern Faelish Schools of Philosophy