Monday, May 19, 2008

The End of Knowledge

While engaging some atheists in what I thought was a debate, I cited some written authorities (per typical rhetorical practices) that bolster my point. They, however, in the most spellbinding work of sorcery that I have ever seen, immediately dismissed my citation, and I found my entire argument dashed upon the rocks. This was not necessarily because they had a better argument; on the contrary, the had no argument. What they had was this: Appeals to authority are logically fallacious because there is/are no authority/authorities. At that moment, I realized exactly what I was dealing with: the old "we know that we cannot know" argument, one of the most commonplace, blatant postmodern contradictions. My opponents were, in effect, trying to win by arguing against argument itself, and there is no way to win against such self-refuting nonsense; it's like hitting your head against a brick wall.
I have gotten ahead of myself. Allow me to expand. In a rhetorical debate, "appeals to authority" specifically means to appeal to the written word of an expert. Generally speaking, however, all rhetorical devices and modes of reasoning appeal to some kind of authority:
  • Citation: appeals to the authority of the written word of an expert in such-and-such field or study.
  • Logos: appeals to the authority of logic; what is and is not so.
  • Ethos: appeals to the authority of morality/ethics; what ought and ought not to be.
  • Pathos: appeals to the authority of emotions: what ought and ought not to be felt about such-and-such or so-and-so.
  • Examples: appeals to the authority of history in regards to practical demonstrations of an argument.

All arguments rely upon one or more of these authorities; and because all arguments rely on them, there is no argument(s) without them. This is (quite frankly) common sense: you cannot even begin to argue about anything unless you somehow know good and well in the back of your mind that there is some authoritative, objective, absolute ground(s) to which you can appeal to by which you can argue, i.e., you must know that you can know. Again, this is just common sense.

The statement "Appeals to authority are logically fallacious because there is/are no authority/authorities" is a contradiction in two ways: (1) It relies on the authority of logic ("logically fallacious"); if there is no authority of any kind, however, then logic cannot be used anymore than citation can. They have refuted themselves. (2) If there is no authority of any kind, then (as already stated) there is no argument(s); all arguments are suspended. Nay, they are completely destroyed, and all statements become either (at best) mildly interesting subjective anomalies, or (at worst) meaningless wastes of time. They told me that there is no authority, and yet they were so willing to argue with me about it! You cannot argue without authority(ies). Again, they have refuted themselves. As stated at the beginning, in order to win the argument, they are willing to destroy argument itself. There is no way to deal with such nonsense except to ignore it.

Back in January, I wrote this blog article, which dealt with how, in order to debunk Christianity's historical claims and proofs, an atheist was willing to debunk history itself. This, of course, is another self-refuting argument (atheists have historical claims and proofs too; read the article to see). Both that (the debunking of history) and this (the debunking of argument) are symptoms of the same problem: epistemological nihilism, i.e., we know that we cannot know. It is one of the most idiotic contradictions in the world, or the most hypocritical, for as we have seen, those who hold to it conveniently exempt their own knowledge from it. They must live parasitically off of knowledge, off of authority(ies), in order to do away with them. Epistemological nihilism is a common error of the postmodern era; be wary of it, my friends, and give it no allowance. It is foolishness masquerading as wisdom.

When my opponents first told me that appeals to authority were logically fallacious, my initial response was tongue-in-cheek: "By what authority do you say that?" Only now do I realize that that is the crux of the whole matter, that that is the key question that exposes the whole contradiction. The loss of authority(ies) is the end of argument, and thus is the end of any attainment of knowledge. Ergo, epistemological nihilism.