To deny the existence of global warming is to deny the existence of a dire threat to all human beings. Even worse, it is a threat in which the denier is complicit. Everyone else is, too. We are all contributing to the problem, but only people who deny the existence of the threat want to prevent humanity from fighting against it.
Morally, that’s no different from walking around, having been diagnosed by more than one doctor as having a deadly, contagious disease, denying you are a threat to anyone, not caring how many people you infect — to include your own family and friends — because you don’t like the diagnosis. Perhaps I should include paying a grossly immoral hack to give you a different diagnosis.
The consequences of such behavior lie in the future, but they are certain and they are deadly. What could be more inhuman than that?
In this essay I’ll make a case that there is knowledge that human beings can be required to accept — not through coercion, but by virtue of being human. Global warming is such knowledge. For anybody to reject such knowledge, no matter what, is to abandon a part of what makes a person human. In the case of global warming, it also means abandoning humanity to a fate more horrible than anything anyone can imagine.
Honestly, abandoning humanity is a notion with which I can be very sympathetic. The world of today is a demoralizing place. Demoralized people are de-moralized people. “Every man for himself!” is the cry of people who have lost all sense of any value in acting morally.
However bad things are, though, people who still have morals owe it to ourselves and to morality itself to cling to our humanness, even in the face of overwhelming odds. We must try our best to fight the good fight, either to unexpected success or to the bitter end, however awful the circumstances of life might become.
I’ll start with a definition of knowledge: information received by the brain that is sufficiently verified. There are three terms within that definition that require a tad more attention.
One of those three terms is “brain.” Its presence there brings into the discussion a possible distinction between ‘brain’ and ‘mind’. Fortunately, we don’t have to deal with that. Whether that distinction exists or not, that would be true of all humans and that is sufficient for present purposes.
The next term to address is “information.” It is simply all inputs processed by the brain. Inputs from the senses are obviously part of that.
Inputs to the brain could come from sources that are more debatable, if not to say unknowable. The spiritual realm, generating even visions or auditory experiences, could possibly be a source of inputs. Whatever might be the source of the creative impulse, such as in art, it could be somehow outside the brain. There could also be such a thing as inputs from the mind, such as an original idea. Even if, on the other hand, all those are actually products of the brain as a physical organ, they must in some way be processed by the brain.
A particular form of information that is especially important for present purposes is composed of inputs received from other people, via either hearing or reading. There are people who like to play at pretending that even that which a person experiences as inputs from other people could really be the products that person’s own brain/mind, but wouldn’t that mean that we would have to know every word every ‘person’ we encountered would say before it was said, every word in every book before it was opened? Besides, there would be no “we.” There could only be one actual being in existence; all else would be ephemera.
Lastly, we come to “sufficiently verified.” That gets us to the heart of the matter. `How and to what extent information is verified has everything to do with the extent to which people might be required to accept it. How information gets verified generates, I maintain, three categories of knowledge.
Those three categories are extra-rational knowledge, consensual rationalistic knowledge, and observational rationalistic knowledge. Combining the last of those categories with “sufficiently verified” gets us, I’m saying, to the possibility of knowledge that human beings, as humans, are required to accept.
Before going any further I have to make a very brief detour onto the subject of ‘the rational’. Specifically, someone might say that I am starting out by privileging it. That is not the case.
It will become clear immediately that ‘rational’ is merely a descriptive term. I do not say that rational knowledge is somehow ‘more valid’ than other knowledge is. I do say that as a form of knowledge it can have certain attributes that do make it knowledge that all human beings must accept.
Extra-rational knowledge is knowledge that refers to something beyond the bounds of material existence. I call it extra-rational knowledge because it is beyond the rational capacity of any human being to explain it. We can try, but language itself will fail us in the effort.
For any extra-rational knowledge, all that is needed to establish its validity is that a person accepts it as being valid. It is the realm of knowledge in which beliefs are found.
Here’s the definition of “beliefs” I’m using: assertions of truths which are not amenable to being evaluated within material existence. That is, there is no way whatsoever to prove or disprove them, validate or invalidate them, within material existence. Since morality is always a matter of belief, this is the realm of knowledge in which all moralities reside.
It is significant that this paradigm does recognize belief as a form of knowledge. Personally, I believe in the existence of God. That means I have knowledge of the existence of God (which I do).
The validity of any belief, however, is limited to its believers. While people often argue for or against one belief or another, any belief can only be accepted or rejected as a straightforward assertion of a truth. No amount of argumentation can enhance or diminish its validity.
I must note that beliefs, including beliefs regarding morality, can also be secular. Immanuel Kant included in his secular philosophy the existence of a noumenal realm of existence that is a fine example of extra-rational knowledge. G.W.F. Hegel had a secular Spirit guiding the dialectical process. To assert that human beings are ‘moral equals’ is a truth that can be secular as well as religious. To assert that there are such things as a priori Rights, such as Natural Rights, is also a secular belief (there being, so far as I am aware, no mention of any Rights in any Holy Book; I know for a fact there is no such thing in the Bible).
One conclusion to be drawn from the existence of secular beliefs is that religious people who have complained about the privileging of ‘the secular’ in Western culture have a valid point. Secular beliefs are no more amenable to being validated within material existence than religious beliefs are, but people who hold secular belies are not even aware that they are basing their moral codes on beliefs.
The point of this portion of this essay is that no human being is under any compunction to accept any belief. While beliefs are a kind of knowledge, no belief can be knowledge that any human being can be required to accept — without coercion. That also means that nothing following from any belief, such as how people should act or how society should be structured or governed, has any validity for anyone who does not accept that belief.
[Any reader who is worried about where that leaves us, in terms of an ethic to govern individuals and the governance of society, could check out my web site, www.ajustsolution.com (Page: real justice).]
It is true that in societies outside of civilization beliefs have been so integral to the group that they have served as non-coercive universally shared knowledge. With the advent of civilization, that was no longer the case. For as long as cities have existed, people with differing beliefs have always been crammed together in them.
The term “consensual rationalistic knowledge” refers to both ‘consent’ and ‘consensus.’ The assertions of consensual rationalistic knowledge get their validity from their acceptance by their (relevant) audience. The products of philosophy and the social sciences exist within that realm of knowledge. Even language itself is in the form of such knowledge. (I acknowledge that the categorization of knowledge I am relating here, like any epistemological construct, is a candidate for such knowledge.)
A person can argue for or against this or that proposition (etc.) as a candidate for consensual rationalistic knowledge using logic, statistics, history, anecdotes, etc. Yet there can be no final, absolute verdict on the validity of any proposition (etc.) within it; anyone can only be on one side or another of any question with more or fewer people sharing that position. Consensual rationalistic knowledge does call on all people to consent to accepting such knowledge once something approaching a consensus within the relevant audience has been reached, but anyone can remain un-persuaded (or persuaded) and not be necessarily wrong.
“Observational rationalistic knowledge” is knowledge obtained from or validated by observation within material existence. It includes the realm of the physical sciences, but is not limited to that discipline. We humans verify such knowledge for ourselves all the time in our day-to-say existence.
Once sufficiently verified by observation, such knowledge must be accepted by all people, whether anyone likes it or not. Such knowledge is necessarily universally valid for all human beings.
That is not to say that all observational rationalistic knowledge is necessarily universally valid. Particular observations must be repeated to be sufficiently verified to that extent.
We have all had experience of one-of-a-kind observations within material existence that we know to be valid that others might not accept. One example would be an unusual sighting in nature, such as an animal thought to be extinct, like an ivory-billed woodpecker. Another kind of example would be something beyond ‘natural’, but experienced externally, such as seeing a UFO or ‘seeing’ (sensing, anyway, the presence of) a ghost — both of which this author has experienced. [I’ve also had one experience of a religious kind of visitation, so I, well, know the difference.]
Still, observational rationalistic knowledge provides the only candidates for necessarily universal knowledge. Even at that, propositions based on observation which were once accepted as indisputable truths have been falsified, such as the proposition that Earth is flat. On the other hand, there are observations that are as valid today as they were the day Adam first gazed on Creation — such as the observation that anything tossed into the air (i.e., away from the center of Earth’s gravity well) will return to the surface of the planet (unless, observation has shown, it is accelerated to the necessary velocity to escape Earth’s gravity). Our understanding of the physical process underlying that observation has changed, but the observation remains the same. ‘Fire burns flesh’ is another example of such long-lasting knowledge.
So the real issue is the stability of observational rationalistic knowledge. While all such knowledge can be said to be ultimately contingent, the more meaningful question is whether it is stable enough for the purposes to which it is applied. For instance, knowledge of physics, whether achieved through mathematics, experiment, or trial and error, has been the basis of every advance in technology in human history. Lives can depend upon the stability of such knowledge, as in buildings, elevators, airplanes, etc. The sufficient validity and stability of those parcels of knowledge is beyond dispute. (When such things fail it is a result of humans failing or greater physical effects on those structures.)
All human beings have a rational capacity. We are all capable of receiving observational rationalistic knowledge. Some human beings have a greater capacity for processing different kinds of information than others and some are simply inclined, for whatever reason, to be more rationalistic, rather than, say, more spiritual or more of a romantic. Even so, to deny the rational capacity, or to deny its due place in one’s existence, is to deny an integral part of one’s humanness.
If a person believes, as I do, that God had something to do with creating human beings, we were created with a rational capacity. The Bible says that Cain, a son of Adam and Eve, the farmer who murdered his brother the (nomadic) husbandman, was banished from the godly folk and subsequently built the world’s first city. I believe that the Bible could be telling us that as a group people living in civilization are separated from God.
If that is the case, then whether a person believes in God or not human beings living in civilization have no choice but to depend on our rational capacity, for better or worse. I would say that we must still do the best we can morally, as individuals, but as civilized peoples we are on our own; we must employ the rational capacity the good Lord gave us to do the best we can for ourselves.
That last argument, like the moral argument with which I started this essay, is a matter of belief. People are completely free to reject it.
Human beings are not free to deny the existence of global warming. It is a parcel of sufficiently verified observational rationalistic knowledge within material existence.
These days, for whatever reason, many (most?) people are wary of any information they receive that they cannot verify for themselves. The greatest irony of people’s rejection of the existence of global warming is that it is information that everyone can verify for oneself to transform it into knowledge.
For that matter, it is my understanding that those of us who reject the reality of global warming tend to be people who are most inclined to distrust ‘experts’ (unless, like all people, those experts provide information that is consistent with their beliefs). They are the very people who are most inclined to count their own experiences as the only ‘real’ basis for what they can accept as knowledge.
Everyone on the planet experiences the fact that the surface of Earth and its atmosphere are warming. When I was growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. (born in 1952) almost every winter there would be a spell when it got really cold, with temperatures in the single digits (Fahrenheit), and it was not unknown for it to get down to zero or even a degree or two below it.
Last winter people in these parts were talking about how cold it was, and compared to winters of the last few decades it was very cold. I think one or two nights it got a bit below 2⁰⁰ in Atlanta, though it never got close to single digits, much less zero or less. That is what passes for a ‘hard’ winter here these days. A similar story could be told for summers in Atlanta, with abnormally high temperatures that were once very, very rare in their extremity or their duration becoming more and more common.
In an essay published here on medium.com, Maarten van Doorn made a point that is actually rather easily overlooked: for human beings, [what I am calling observational rationalistic] knowledge is necessary for survival. Our ability to process information received from the material world is what allowed Homo sapiens to survive in conditions that would otherwise have overwhelmed our species physically.
In a Response to Mr. (soon to be Dr. — of philosophy) van Doorn, I made the point that humans are social beings, meaning the survival of all individuals has depended on the survival of the groups to which they have belonged. Shared observational rationalistic knowledge has always been necessary for the survival of all human societies, and therefore human beings. Such knowledge is necessary to identify threats and dangers that exist for the group as a whole. That has always been the necessary first step towards successfully meeting those challenges.
Today, other than the few hunter-gatherers left on the planet, human beings are all members of the same interdependent group, one vast ‘society’. We are all one civilized ‘people’. (We don’t all live in cities, but we all live in a culture defined by their existence.)
We are divided by our beliefs, but we are united in having a common rational capacity. All of us must accept the existence of global warming as a threat to our survival.
The alternative is to enter into an irreversible decline that will start by destroying civilization by destroying the possibility of large-scale agriculture, on which civilization still depends. The entire planet will be worse than Syria is today — with no outside sources of help of any kind. Unchecked, global warming will exterminate us as a species — following incalculable suffering.
The existence of global warming is a parcel of observational rationalistic knowledge. We are all contributing to it; we must all do all we can to stop it. To deny the reality of global warming is to be, in every possible way, inhuman.