Creating a new school of thought26 June 2003
QUEBEC CITY — In his latest book, mathematician William S. Hatcher steps squarely into one of the major conflicts in modern philosophical thought.
"Minimalism: A Bridge between Classical Philosophy and the Baha'i Revelation" seeks to provide a much-needed bridge between the so-called "scientific materialists" and the "post-modern relativists."
The two groups represent the two main schools in modern philosophy.
The scientific materialists, drawing on the apparent power of science to explain everything, hold that there is nothing beyond which we can see, hear, touch, or experiment on.
The postmodern relativists, on the other hand, believe nothing can be so easily objectified. They say all knowledge is relative, whether culture, science, or values. And, in the end, you can't really know anything.
In "Minimalism," Dr. Hatcher presents a completely new philosophical approach to these concerns -- and then moves forward to create a new school of philosophical thinking.
The approach offers new insights into the great questions of classical philosophers, such as whether there is a God, the nature of being, and the notion of good.
In a nutshell, Dr. Hatcher has taken modern refinements in logic -- specifically the creation of relational logic, which forms the basis for modern computing -- and applied them in the realm of philosophy, in particular to the kinds of metaphysical and ethical questions that have seemed so stubbornly to resist modern analysis.
The success of his method is revealed towards the end of this short book -- only 128 pages long -- where he offers a logical proof for the existence of God. He concludes that the application of the principles of relational logic to this question prove that there is a single, universal, and eternal First Cause -- something that is very much like God the Creator as named in all of the world's major religions.
He terms his method "minimalism" because it "results from consistently making the most plausible and rational choice in the light of current knowledge" but goes no farther than is necessary.
As outlined by Dr. Hatcher, minimalism steadfastly sticks to logic, uses scientific empiricism where it is proven effective, and makes an explicit statement of viewpoint (in an effort to circumvent the limitations imposed by human subjectivity).
At the same time, it makes no claim to possessing the ultimate truth, acknowledging that there are limits to human knowledge.
The result, he writes, is a "proactive philosophy that yields genuine results," a "middle way" between the "gratuitous restrictions of logical positivism" (and other scientific materialists) and the "gratuitous subjectivism of postmodernism."
For example, one key issue in modern thought, cutting across a wide range of disciplines, from psychology to sociology to neurobiology, is the nature of subjectivity: how do you know what you know.
Post-modern relativists have suggested that we can't really know anything, because of the subjectivity of the human viewpoint.
Dr. Hatcher suggests that this limitation can be overcome by explicitly acknowledging one's viewpoint at the outset of any philosophical discussion -- laying one's cards on the table, so to speak. He traces this idea back to Euclid, who deduced the mathematics of geometry from five basic axioms.
"The reader is free to reject Euclid's axioms if he so desires, but if he accepts them, then he cannot deny any of Euclid's further affirmations," Dr. Hatcher writes. "Euclid has made his viewpoint totally explicit."
Applying that standard to philosophical discourse today, Dr. Hatcher writes, is a key step towards overcoming the split between the scientific materialists and the post-modern relativists on the issue of objectivity.
Another plank of the minimalist approach is that it does not close itself off to the possibility of non-material causes and realities.
"The philosophy of minimalism is open to the possibility of such phenomena as divine revelation, in which man may be given knowledge that transcends any possible rational basis that is currently known," he writes.
Indeed, Dr. Hatcher, who is himself a Baha'i, said in an interview that much of his inspiration for the development of his method came from studying the Baha'i writings, which uphold a highly rational view of God, religion, and theology -- and also uphold the scientific method as the primary path for understanding physical reality.
He occasionally quotes 'Abdu'l-Baha in the book, offering his insights as waypoints in the development of minimalism. Yet at the same time Dr. Hatcher indicates that while his inspiration may have come from his Baha'i belief, his rigorous approach to applying relational logic to philosophical questions is original.
Review by Brad Pokorny
"Minimalism: A Bridge between Classical Philosophy and the Baha'i Revelation," by William S. Hatcher. (Juxta Publishing. Hong Kong.) For information see http://www.juxta.com/main.cfm?SID=30