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I'll preface this by saying I'm not an informed philosophy academic, but merely bothered.

I've heard that conservative political columnist Ben Shapiro is currently writing a book about how he hypothesizes that the stem of the recent political shift to tribalism and identity politics is rooted in modern philosophy -- off the backs of people like Hume and people that say that "God does not exist" and back the is-ought problem. This has caused a diversion from more ancient Aristotelian, Platonic philosophy that has become a foundation for Judeo-Christian values and caused less of a "love your neighbor" mentality and more of a "us versus them" thing.

The thing that has bothered me a lot recently about this is the following. Our only way of knowing if people's adoption of tribalism from more modern philosophy is working or not is by looking, for example, at countries which are currently left-leaning and expedient with these beliefs. Our only way of knowing people's adoption of Judeo-Christian values is working, or "the right way of seeing things" is by looking at the benefits of the Renaissance and America's development up until around the 1970's. I'm not satisfied with this.

If Judeo-Christian values, for instance, produce a more productive society, but demand you accept certain unsubstantiated things (core tenants of Christianity that justify you acting like a good person) to act a certain way, it seems like convincing us of baseless things are the only way to live in a productive society, and this is truly a depressing thought. To me, some of the more modern viewpoints seem to look at life more concretely, but are far less productive beliefs to adopt.

So, I'm presented with a difficulty - is it true that the only way we can act as good people is by believing in subjective things?

I feel like nothing, no belief has any credence on how we should live our lives because it's fundamentally unsubstantiated. But I don't want to think in such a bleak way. As a physics student and agnostic, I have huge reservations accepting things blindly, but it ends up making me very confused about fundamental values of being human -- how can anyone be right? And if no one can be right, why is anyone given any credit? How on Earth am I supposed to think about life without lieing to myself?

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    I’m not really seeing your question here (about philosophy). Can you make it much clearer. One thing is that you use “subjective” but never define the term or apply it in the body. Do you mean “people disagree” or “arbitrary “ or “depends on the subject”. – virmaior Mar 17 '18 at 18:48
  • @virmaior I mean arbitrary. – sangstar Mar 17 '18 at 19:23
  • I voted to close, but I reluctantly retracted it. There are philosophers who may also dismiss whole areas of philosophy, but they know at least something of what they dismiss. This is knowledge of the history of philosophy. You may want to take some college courses in philosophy, or read a history of Philosophy if this sort of question is important to you. – Gordon Mar 17 '18 at 19:55
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    @Gordon I'd prefer not to have to meddle in this subject too much though as I have plenty on my plate already -- I'm just under the impression that I shouldn't need to become a philosophy student in order to find some insight in some confusing things I've thought about. – sangstar Mar 17 '18 at 20:07
  • @sangstar Yeah, well then I will look at your questions more critically in the future. – Gordon Mar 17 '18 at 20:43
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I've heard that conservative political columnist and intellectual Ben Shapiro is currently writing a book about how he hypothesizes that the stem of the recent political shift to tribalism and identity politics is rooted in modern philosophy -- off the backs of people like Hume and people that say that "God does not exist" and back the is-ought problem. This has caused a diversion from more ancient Aristotelian, Platonic philosophy that has become a foundation for Judeo-Christian values and caused less of a "love your neighbor" mentality and more of a "us versus them" thing.

As a word of caution, all of this sounds really sketchy. Take for example "more ancient Aristotelian, Platonic philosophy": those are two very different things. Aristotle has a fundamentally different view on normative ethics than Plato. Such formulations ring alarm bells. Anyway, just my two cents.

Our only way of knowing people's adoption of Judeo-Christian values is working, or "the right way of seeing things" is by looking at the benefits

Stop. By using this standard you are accepting a consequentialist framework - which is a concept used in modern philosophy. This is not the only possibility and it's not clear enough. For example, you might think that benefits for the worst off are more important than benefits in general. So even the standard of evaluation depends on moral and political philosophy... making things much more complicated.

it seems like convincing us of baseless things are the only way to live in a productive society, and this is truly a depressing thought. To me, some of the more modern viewpoints seem to look at life more concretely, but are far less productive beliefs to adopt.

If you were to accept the background consequentialist framework - a more detailed one which you have reasons for accepting - and "unsubstantiated things" lead to the best result then by merit of delivering these results those things aren't really unsubstantiated.

So, I'm presented with a difficulty - is it true that the only way we can act as good people is by believing in subjective things?

Here are multiple possible viewpoints. We could f.e. think that we've arrived at objective "things" (certain moral values etc.). You seem to assume that there can't be such things. But if you're reluctant out of skepticism (instead of particular arguments) then why aren't you also skeptical about the notion that there are no objective things? The idea that there are no objective values is not a default position.

how can anyone be right? And if no one can be right, why is anyone given any credit?

Only way to be sure would be to examine enough arguments for or against the idea that "no belief has any credence on how we should live our lives because it's fundamentally unsubstantiated." - whatever that precisely means. There are a ton of very different approaches in philosophy on how to even look at the question, let alone what the answer should be. But the existence of differing opinions doesn't mean that no opinion is right.

  • " But the existence of differing opinions doesn't mean that no opinion is right." Why not? How can we formally prove this? How can an opinion even be right in the first place? It sounds paradoxical. – sangstar Mar 17 '18 at 19:24
  • @sangstar Why do you think that formal proof is even relevant here? There are lots of things which are clearly true but which do not admit of formal proof. And an opinion is just a belief, which are true if they correctly represent how the world is. For instance, my belief that the sky is blue is true (or correct, as you put it) if the sky is in fact blue. What's not to understand about that? – possibleWorld Mar 17 '18 at 20:12
  • @possibleWorld I would argue your opinion that the sky is blue is not an opinion but a fact. You shouldn't be able to opine a fact. That's redundant. Saying the sky is blue is a fact, while saying we must believe in a god to have meaning in life is not. That's the distinction I'm trying to make, as we can prove the former but cannot prove the latter. Thus, the sky is blue whether we believe it or not, but that doesn't apply to certain philosophical ideas I'm talking about. A formal proof is relevant here because it differentiates fact from opinion. – sangstar Mar 17 '18 at 20:16
  • This doesn't really work as an epistemological concept. People for instance have tried - arguably not sucessfully - proof of god. Similarily, nowadays we have different opinions about what the facts of physics are then, say, 150 years ago. Yet we can't think the facts have changed. "Thus, the sky is blue whether we believe it or not, but that doesn't apply to certain philosophical ideas I'm talking about." - by your own standard this would have to be a provable fact. But if it this then your distinction is undermined, because then philosophical ideas can count as it and there's no clear line . – Marc H. Mar 17 '18 at 20:32
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Roxanne, an atheist, is grappling with the lack of intrinsic meaning to life. How can one hold objective beliefs about value without an objective source?

Enter stage left, God.

God: Roxanne, worry no more, for I am here to grant your request. I shall declare to you that which is unambiguous moral good.

Roxanne: Bless you, Lord, my woes are no more!

God: First, welfare is a virtue and suffering a sin. Second, consequentialist utilitarianism is correct. I declare these facts to be objective truths.

Roxanne: Thank you profoundly! There is so much wasted time to make up for, so many lives I had neglected to save! Though if I may beg one more request... why is it so?

God: Because I declared it so.

Roxanne: Yes, only... why specifically that? Why not deontology, or to ask us to throw teapots around the sun in ironic tribute?

God: I doubt you would be enthralled by that prospect.

Roxanne: Even if it was true?

God: I declare it to be true.

short pause

Roxanne: You're right, I'm not feeling it.

God: As I tend to be.

I feel like nothing, no belief has any credence on how we should live our lives because it's fundamentally unsubstantiated.

Humans are a coherent process born of noise, formed by an incoherent filter over billions of years of jitter, and millenia of social development. At one point we figured out how to speak and to write. Some humans even told stories and wrote books that told others what to think, and a few of those even replicated wildly. Over time we have discovered systems of values, in which we encode what we have learnt.

If we were conscious states in an ever-forgetful beast, we may have been born indifferent of continuity. If we were all facets of a single mind, far too large to have a coherent self but at no point separate from the rest, we may not even experience a sense of self, never mind value it. Had we neither need nor want to reproduce, it seems no stretch to believe it would have no place in our moral landscape.

You ask for a universal coherent narrative on which to hang your thoughts, as if the hanger by itself would make others agree, the same way you view mathematics as true and others bound by your deductions. Yet though there is no such narrative, you can still see what is true, you want people to know what is good, you value a productive society, you see others believing the same. If God handed you the truth on a plate, you would still only take what you already believe; no offer would make you butcher children, no demand would make you stop caring about your own sadness.

As long as you can feel these things you feel, you have a handle to the truth. You can wait to be passed the Mythical One True Handle so you can grab it should it compare identical to your own, or you can take the one you have already and move forward now. If you care so much about truth, look it straight in the eye and do the things that would be right if only you had a God to tell you so.

More generally, on a societal level it seems very strange to pin modern zeitgeists on modern atheism. The religious past was not more productive, nor did they really love thy neighbor. Many other effects are much easier targets, like how huge global networks tend to polarize and how modern economics doesn't work like it used to. But regardless of whether this is to blame or that, it is your actions that shape society, and if you think an action is good you need not lie to yourself about why in order to take it.

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Your question appears to be motivated by a pessimistic view of philosophy whereby it produces no reliable results, leaving us to invent a thousand unworkable and unprovable theories and choose between them as if philosophy is a matter of opinion. This is the price of a modern university education. It's not a necessary approach but a system for protecting bad ideas and rejecting unappealing ones.

Your impression that it may not be a good idea to enrol as a philosophy student seems spot on to me. But don't dismiss philosophy as a path to knowledge just because some are unable or reluctant to follow it. Only bad workmen blame their tools. . .

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Life itself is subjective.

For example, in the political arena, there are people who believe in capitalism and others who believe in socialism, as well as those who believe in something in between. It's virtually impossible to say that one particular economic theory/philosophy is right and all the others are wrong.

But if we reject all economic philosophies, then we're left with nothing. We might further argue that certain economic systems work better in some situations than others. In this spirit, subjectivity gives us the flexibility to adapt to diverse problems.

  • Downvoted, because it's not at all clear how this answers the OP's question. Additionally, the claim that 'life itself is subjective' is incoherent. – possibleWorld Mar 18 '18 at 23:48
  • See the second paragraph, which begins "For example..." – David Blomstrom Mar 19 '18 at 0:43
  • The OP's question asks "is it true that the only way we can act as good people is by believing in subjective things?" The second paragraph claims that it is nearly impossible to determine whether some philosophical is right or wrong. And, at least as it stands, it's not at all clear how this claim answers the OP's question. – possibleWorld Mar 19 '18 at 14:46
  • The OP asks (in the title): "If vast swaths of philosophy are entirely subjective, why do we care about them?" If we stop caring about subjective things, then we can throw politics (and probably many other things) out the window. The mere fact that there are so many different philosophical schools of thought speaks volumes. – David Blomstrom Mar 19 '18 at 21:56

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