The Society of HumanKind
The First Axiom asserts that the human species owes its origins to chance. In taking that stance the Axiom presupposes that the elements which make up our species, the building blocks of ourselves and of our universe, were in existence before we emerged on our planet. It also assumes that those elements were in enough abundance for a sufficient period of time to allow the infinitesimal chances of the occurrence of a self-perpetuating life form to be realised.
But the Axiom does not explain the origins of those elements, or the origins of their originator(s), and the origins of those originator(s) of origins, and so on in the kind of infinite regression such speculation always seems to generate. Any debate about the series of causes and effects culminating in the human species invariably ends with the question of what the first cause of the universe might be. This Essay begins by pointing out that the question is not answered by the Axioms.
Those who rightly understand the implications of the Axioms will however, anticipate the stance of the Society of HumanKind on this issue. The Society will simply say that the uncertainty of our knowledge is such that we do not know, and seem unlikely ever to discover, what that first cause was (or is), although the Treatise on Knowledge does allow that this may not be an absolutely insoluble difficulty for humanity.
By contrast, a clear account of the origins of our universe has been a crucial element in the system of ideas of almost every predecessor of the Society of HumanKind. The usual explanation is that some form of external eternal power or entity was the first cause of both humanity and its environment. Indeed, those earlier systems of thought had little hesitation in saying that they did know what our first cause was (or is), and showed (show) no aversion to proclaiming it loud and long. However, the key word to note here is 'know', a term which is too often used as though there could be no dispute about its meaning. Yet if the history of philosophy has any relevance to this discussion, the issue of the meaning of that single word has been, and remains, a substantive problem. Here then is at least one source of ambiguity and misunderstanding between the Society of HumanKind and its predecessors that can be clarified and perhaps, with advantage, settled before the main discussion of this Essay begins.
It is not necessary to rehearse the whole of the philosophical debate that minutely dissects every possible implication and nuance of the meaning or import of the word 'know' as it is applied to human understanding. There is no need for adherents of the Society of HumanKind to embark on that dark and treacherous voyage. First, because the Society makes no claim to provide a solution to every human problem, a point explicitly made at the earliest possible stage of the works, in the Foreword to 'Foundations'. And second, because neither the view of the Society on these issues nor the Axioms and Dogma on which it is based depend on a solution to the problem of what we really mean when we say that we know something. In fact, this is a good example of the many problems to which no solution is required before the achievement of the Aim of the Society.
On the first point, the Society certainly makes no claim to have solved the enduring problem of the meaning of the concept 'to know'. The purpose of the founding books of the Society is merely to set out the implications of its foundation ideas, using whatever means and methods are available to that end. The means used are the language of its author, and the methods are the conventions of debate and argument with which he is familiar. The purposes of this Essay are therefore met by bringing the reader to understand what is meant by the word 'know' when it is used by the Society, rather than by any attempt finally to settle the substantial question of the nature of human knowledge.
To the question of our understanding of the concept 'to know' the Society will apply the Axiomatic uncertainty of all forms of human knowledge. When it does so in relation to our origins on this planet, the Society will note that our appearance appears to be a unique event that must have occurred before we became aware of it. It will also recognise that that event can never be repeated. In those circumstances any account of our origins must be hypothetical. The probative strength of any explanation of our origins must therefore depend on the strength of its appeal to one or other of our mental abilities, (reason, logic, intuition, common sense, or whatever), since it is a unique event whose validity can never be demonstrated by a repetition.
But the Axioms remove any certainty that our faculties or abilities, whether intellectual or physical, are in any way a sure guide to a complete understanding of either ourselves or the universe we inhabit. That being so the Society will argue that all previous and present explanations of the first cause of our universe that depend, to any extent, on an appeal to one or other of those faculties of our species must be regarded as tentative or uncertain.
In that light, all use by the predecessors of the Society of the word 'know' in setting out their understanding of the first cause of the universe should more accurately be described as a belief. Consistently with its own uncertainty however, the Society will not deny that the human species may somehow, sometime find a way through its present incapacity, and so identify the origins of the elements that gave rise to us, and/or discover the first cause of ourselves and our universe.
Adherents of the Society will recognise, of course, that the argument of this Essay must apply with equal force to its own founding works. They too, are based upon an uncritical acceptance of the Axioms and a process of logical reasoning developed on that foundation. The consequence is that the Society itself is equally disqualified from making any claim that it is able to give any definitive account either of our origins, or of the existence of the elements of our universe. That is so because the Axioms can never be anything other than a belief in terms of the argument developed in this Essay. Which, fortunately, brings the discussion back to the original position adopted by this Essay. The Society will reject any claim, including any made on its behalf or by its adherents, that the human species can have anything other than opinions about, rather than knowledge of, its first cause.
After that long, general discussion of the extent of our knowledge of the origins of the universe from the point of view of the Society of HumanKind, it is now possible to return the main theme of this Essay and discuss what the Society of HumanKind can or ought to say on that topic in the light of its Axioms and Dogma. Or indeed to consider whether the preceding discussion leaves the Society in the position of being unwilling or unable to say anything at all about the origins of the universe given the ultimate uncertainty that permeates all its teachings. On so complex and fundamental an issue the reader might think that the Society could well choose a decent and cautious silence.
But that is neither necessary nor desirable. The stance the Society should adopt is by no means simple. But the clear need for it and its adherents to have something sensible to say on this issue, faced as they no doubt will be with the certainties of other systems of ideas, outweighs the difficulty in setting out the inevitably complex argument.
From the viewpoint of the Axioms and Dogma the stance of the Society on the origins of the universe falls into two parts. In the first place the Society will accept that there may well be a yet undiscovered creative force that is responsible both for the existence of the universe and for the elements on which chance has operated to produce the unlikely consequence of our appearance as a species. That position is tenable by adherents of the Society because an acceptance of that possibility does not refute the First Axiom. To have that effect it would be necessary to demonstrate that such a creative force not only existed but that it also intended to produce us by its action. Since it is possible to imagine that a (or the) creative force in the universe might be solely concerned with making its basic elements, its building blocks, without any thought for the consequences of that activity, it follows that a refutation of the First Axiom requires more than a mere proof of the existence of a creative force in the universe. Without a purposeful creator we are still the product of chance, and more importantly, are still alone.
The Society can reasonably ask that any offer to refute the First Axiom must meet two criteria. First, a demonstration that a creative force exists in the universe. Second, and perhaps more significantly, evidence that any such creator not only had us in contemplation in its action, but has a continuing interest in our fate. The Society can properly express grave doubt that any such dual proof can ever be expected. However, it should nevertheless adopt the posture of the uncertain follower of the Axioms and allow the issue to remain open.
In the second part of the position of the Society on this issue it stands on its own ground. Starting from the unique perspective of the First Axiom, with its acceptance of the chance origin of our species, the Society can cite that Axiom to reject any necessary connection between our potentialities and the nature and structure of our universe. By that means the Society can reach the proposition that our problem with the origins of the universe may be of our own making. From its own perspective the Society can properly begin the debate on this issue by asking the question, "On what basis do we conclude that an effect must be preceded by a cause?" In the limitless space created by the Axioms the Society can offer humanity glimpses of other ways of viewing the universe.
In particular, the focus of the Objective of the Dogma on the possibilities of our immortal era draws attention to our dependence on a linear, uni-directional concept of time in our understanding of events and processes. With that insight the Society can argue that the question of the first cause of the universe may arise for our species simply because humanity requires every event to have a place in time, and can only understand the relationship between events by reference to their relative position in a linear, uni-directional time continuum. Put directly, the Society can say that our problem in understanding our origins is a consequence of the characteristic of our species that requires a description of any series of events always to take the form of their being one after another, or as following or preceding each other.
Hence, when our species considers the origins of its universe it imposes its own limitations on the problem. We demand that there must be a point in time which precedes all those other points in time that record the one-after-another sequence resulting in our existence. We do so because that is the way we understand and describe any series of events.
Yet why must it be so? Why must there be a one-after-another progression in events? The Objective of the Dogma proposes that we should seek to escape from our mortality into an existence beyond death. When we do, what will then be our view of this problem? Free ourselves from our present mortality and we may be able to see other possibilities. Perhaps the simultaneous existence of cause and effect - a concept not entirely unknown to modern physics. Or indeed the possibility that, while the idea that an effect must be preceded by a cause is presently a sound enough basis for humanity to go about solving its day-to-day problems, it is also a symptom of an inadequate set of senses and capacities in our species, and hence a primitive and incomplete understanding of our universe. An inherent limitation on the capacity of our species that now stands between us and our discovery of a solution to the question of our origins.
Finally, in this exposition of stance of the Society of HumanKind on the origins of the universe, the Society must, in any event, stand firm on the position clearly set out in the Treatise on Knowledge. It will hold that there are likely to be inescapable and unknowable limitations on our capacity to understand ourselves and our universe. The Society and its adherents can therefore, be content to leave the question of the origins of our universe unanswered during our mortal epoch, if that is at all possible. The Society can properly choose to defer the effort to solve that puzzle to the moment when either leisure permits, or necessity insists, that a conclusion on the issue should be reached. As was mentioned earlier in this Essay, the present (and foreseeable) position is that no such solution is necessary prior to the achievement of its Aim.
Any proper understanding of the perspective of the Axioms must lead the Society to relegate the search for the creator of the universe to insignificance when compared with the immediate and pressing problems of securing the infinite survival of our species. It is true that the vast majority of the predecessors of the Society took a different view, placing great store on their ability to provide an answer to this question. There is however, no reason why that precedent should be binding on the Society. Those earlier systems of ideas rested their hopes for our salvation on the existence of their creator, so their preoccupation with the first cause of the universe is perhaps, understandable.
By contrast, by its acceptance of our total responsibility for ourselves and all that happens to us, and by its Aim, the Society of HumanKind is concerned with the future of our species rather than its past. It will therefore be disposed to respond to the question of the origins of the universe with a certain amount of studied indifference. After all, it will say, why do we need to know? All the needs of the Society in this respect are more than sufficiently met by a grateful acceptance that we are still here.
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