Review

Computers, logic, and a "middle way"

Minimalism: A Bridge between Classical Philosophy and the Bahá'í Revelation
By William S. Hatcher
Juxta Publishing
Hong Kong

While the application of the modern scientific method has reaped great rewards in terms of technological progress, its employment in the realm of philosophy has in many ways been a great disappointment.

At the risk of oversimplification, it can be said that the great scientific discoveries of the last hundred years or so have led philosophers down two divergent roads -- and neither, it must be added, offers a very inspiring direction for humanity.

Down one road have gone the scientific materialists. Prompted in part by the apparent success of science at explaining physical reality (such as the nature of sub-atomic particles or the evolution of the human species), this group holds that there is nothing beyond that which can be objectified. There is no transcendent realm, no God, nothing that we cannot see, hear, touch, or experiment on.

Down the other road, so to speak, have gone the postmodern relativists. Inspired by modern scientific theories of relativity, chaos, and indeterminacy, this group concludes that nothing can be objectified. All is relative, whether culture, science, or values, and, in the end, you can't really know anything.

With the publication of Minimalism: A Bridge between Classic Philosophy and the Bahá'í Revelation, William S. Hatcher steps squarely into the middle of the fray, presenting a completely innovative philosophical approach to the kinds of questions faced by both groups of modernists.

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 approach offers new insights into the great questions of classic philosophers, such as whether there is a God, the nature of being, and the notion of good.

"[M]inimalism shows that there are general logical principles which are common to all intellectual endeavors, regardless of the domain of investigation in question," he writes.

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.

Indeed, the essence of minimalism is rationality. As outlined by Dr. Hatcher, it steadfastly hews to logic, utilizes scientific empiricism where it is proven effective, and makes an explicit iteration 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."

Much of the book is devoted to helping the reader understand the basics of relational logic and how it can be applied to philosophical analysis. At times, accordingly, Dr. Hatcher's use of mathematical symbols can seem overwhelming to the casual reader.

Yet, aside from such explication, the book is eminently readable and even dramatically illuminating for its clear-headed exploration of contemporary currents in philosophy.

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?

Philosophers throughout history have wrestled with this question. It stems from the obvious fact that our minds are locked inside bodies and all of our perceptions are filtered through the fives senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

Descartes faced up to this dilemma when he skeptically asked how we know whether anything exists at all. Perhaps we are all dreaming, he said. Or perhaps all that we see and hear is fed to us by an evil demon.

He resolved those doubts in a conclusion that is summed up in the famous quote: "I think, therefore I am." In acknowledging that the mere fact of thinking proves an existence of some sort, Descartes secured a foothold on a ladder of thought that, in his mind, gave certainty to an "objective" world outside himself and a "divine" world centered around God.

More recently, Descartes' formulation has been battered by relativism, to the point where some philosophers now question whether science itself can be objectively valued more than mysticism, intuition, or other "non-rational" belief systems.

Objectivity is a chimera, these philosophers say, since everyone — scientists included — is limited by their own subjective 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 Bahá'í, said in an interview that much of his inspiration for the development of his method came from studying the Bahá'í writings, which uphold an 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-Bahá 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 Bahá'í belief, his rigorous approach to applying relational logic to philosophical questions is original.

The success of his method is revealed towards the end of this short book, which is only 128 pages long, where he offers a logical proof for the existence of God.

Although Dr. Hatcher has offered this proof in previous books, in Minimalism he develops it fully. He essentially takes the reader by the hand and guides him/her through the sophisticated mathematical expressions of symbolic logic that, according to Dr. Hatcher, offer a virtually bulletproof argument for 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.

That proof is too long to explain here, but suffice it to say that any reader with a modicum of reasoning power will find it compelling -- if not wholly convincing.

Over the years, Dr. Hatcher has presented this proof in a variety of forums. No one, he said, has yet successfully refuted it, certainly not within the framework of modern logic. Assuming this holds, Dr. Hatcher — and his philosophy of minimalism — are quite likely to have a lasting influence. They certainly offer a more inspiring direction than the two other roads.

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