Secular philosophy is the foundation of both science and democracy. All that leaves is to define what secular, philosophy, science, and democracy are.
Philosophy isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds. All the word philosophy means is a bunch of ideas connected to each other. We all do this, whether we realize it or not. Every body of ideas has an underlying philosophy, whether it’s an art, a culture, a science, a religion, or an occupation. Understanding a body of ideas depends on understanding the structure of how the ideas fit together. Understanding the structure of the ideas depends on understanding which ideas people started with and how they developed further ideas. (Philosophers call founding ideas metaphysics and the process of developing further ideas epistemology.)
The Occupy! Movement has an underlying philosophy. It’s made up of the connections among ideas each individual Occupier has made, which are connected to each other through our mutual interests.
Democracy isn’t as simple as people voting for stuff and the majority rules. That would just be an easy excuse for majorities to marginalize minorities.
Democracy is an agreement that the majority rules except when people in a minority position can prove their side in the argument is right. Then the people in the majority will admit they were wrong and change their minds. That will probably still take a lot of debate, but that’s the idea.
Proving ideas as either true or false is the purpose of secularism. That’s the difference between using evidence in court instead of having the Salem Witch Trials.
Everyone’s individual perceptions are subjective, but we can discover objective truth by knowing how our subjectivity leads us astray and not falling into those traps. Reliable information always stays the same no matter who looks at it.
Everyone knows how to do this. Some people are just exceptionally good at thinking this way, so they make good scientists and secular philosophers.
* * *
Imagine going to your doctor for some tests.
Imagine him telling you that the results show that you have a terminal disease.
Think of the five most important questions you would want him to answer before you would believe him.
(This isn’t a trick question, but it seems that way.
The questions are hard to think of without being in this situation because they’re so simple.)
1: What symptoms did he see in your results?
(What did he observe?)
2: Do all of the symptoms indicate the terminal disease, or do only some of them indicate it and some of them indicate something else?
(Are the test results self-consistent?)
3: Do those symptoms always indicate a terminal disease, or do they indicate something else sometimes?
(Do the results show a universal pattern?)
4: Would another doctor get the same test results?
(Can the results be reproduced?)
5: Could you and the two doctors talk about the test results to refine your understanding of the situation?
(Can the results be debated?)
Imagine what you would think if your doctor gave you straight answers to all five of those questions.
Now imagine what you would think if he didn’t give you a straight answer to one or more of those questions.
If your doctor wouldn’t give you straight answers to all five of those questions, you wouldn’t believe him.
* * *
Secular philosophy is this applied to everyday life.
Science is this, applied formalized experiments.
Life is an experiment.
We are in it.
Controlled experiments are easy to use for studying small events.
You run some process multiple times and change one factor at a time to see how the changes affect the outcome.
But some things in life are way too complicated to repeat.
There’s no way we can make the year 2011 happen again and see how it would turn out differently if we change one thing.
Instead we have to find reliable information on the go and apply it to real life.
Secularism is no stretch of the imagination in the Occupy movement.
We do it every day.
Every day, in every Occupation in the country, a lot of people get together to talk about the facts they know about and try to figure out how they fit together.
* * *
Compare this to dogmatism.
This is the philosophy trap.
You and your group of people, whoever they are, live in certain conditions, whatever they are.
In those conditions you think of certain ideas.
You use those ideas to develop further ideas.
Are those further ideas the truth, or not?
If your own group of people is the center of your attention, and you don’t care what anyone from outside your group thinks, you can assume your further ideas are the unconditional truth.
Then you can try to marginalize or eliminate anyone who disagrees with your further ideas.
That’s the simplest choice.
But it’s not the only one.
You can decide that your further ideas might be the truth, but that you also might be mistaken about something.
You can try to figure out why you had the original ideas that your further ideas are based on.
You can also get to know people from outside your group to find out what original ideas they thought of in their situation, and what further ideas those people developed.
Then you can use your expanded set of original ideas to develop further ideas that might be right.
Then you can repeat that process over and over.
Dogmatism is the attempt to assign absolute truth to a set of ideas.
Secularism is the methodical search for absolute truth no matter how long it takes.
Some people believe that it’s an absolute fact that Jesus was the only son of the creator of the universe.
Other people believe it’s an absolute fact that he wasn’t.
Other people don’t care.
It is an absolute fact that art, music, singing, dancing, and poetry are universal to the human race.
Anthropologists discovered this by going out and meeting people from every part of the world and then compiling their discoveries.
These things seem like ideas because they’re things people thought of.
But as it turns out they aren’t just ideas, they’re inherent parts of humanity, because all over the world, without exception, people have thought of these ideas.
Anthropologists have made hundreds of discoveries like these.
Instead of jumping to big conclusions, why don’t we build up to big conclusions one reliable step at a time?