The Nature of Essays

On the home page of website-4, some initial ideas were outlined regarding the potential development of this section of the Mysearch website. While this scope might still be considered in terms of a ‘pursuit of knowledge’ that initially starts with the accepted ‘weight of authority’, it still requires a personal ‘duty of inquiry’, if it is to be meaningful to any individual beyond rote acceptance. However, previous sections of the Mysearch website required this duty of inquiry to investigate relatively large topics, which could not easily be summarised. Therefore, in contrast, this section of the website will attempt to pursue discussions of various topics more in the form of a short essay, which might then allow a wider range of ideas to be considered and linked to earlier sections of the website. By way of an introduction to this approach, the home page made reference to a quote by Carl Jung.

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.

However, Jung believed that life has a spiritual purpose, which this website does not necessarily accept, although from the personal perspective of an agnostic, it cannot necessarily be refuted, although it can still be questioned. However, while the quote might be interpreted in different ways, it seems to capture what might be described as a ‘hopeful truth’ about the purpose of human existence. Of course, the history of humanity’s search for the truth has proved to be both elusive and subject to many different worldviews, i.e. philosophical, theological and scientific.

Note: It might be argued that worldviews represent the sum total of human knowledge. However, there is a fundamental problem with this assumption in that many of these worldviews hold truths, which are contradicted by other worldviews. So, while each worldview might be deserving of a certain amount of respect in terms of its historical weight of authority, its perceived truths have to still be open to critical questioning, if we are truly to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.

Given the note above, the following quote by Voltaire has been used many times as a reminder about the inherent problem of assuming certainty in any given worldview.  

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.

For it might be argued on the basis of historical evidence that all worldviews, whether philosophical, theological or scientific in scope, have been proven wrong to some smaller or greater degree. In this context, there is no absolute truth readily available to humanity. If so, then we might be better served by reflecting on the following quote taken from William Clifford’s essay 'The Ethics of Belief'.

It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence.

While accepting the inference in Clifford’s quote, we might recognise that many worldviews rest on a weight of authority that is grounded in historically held truths, often long before any form of scientific methodology could be used to scrutinise its assumptions or beliefs. Therefore, at this point, it is possibly necessary to highlight that many people may have either an emotional or psychological need to believe that life has a spiritual purpose, which may then support their idea of an afterlife. While many may question whether there is ‘insufficient evidence’ to support such beliefs, others do not necessarily have the automatic right to destroy these beliefs without assessing the consequences to the individuals in question. However, by the same token, such beliefs cannot simply remain unchallenged, such that the probability of the existence of any deity has to be open to critical questioning in an appropriate forum. 

So, what might we infer from the quotes above?

This website has used many quotes, which it believes helps capture an essence of truthful knowledge, which might otherwise allude a thousand words. In this context, it is believed that the ones used in this introduction are powerful examples of lessons learnt in the past, which the authors wanted to pass to future generations. However, whether these generations will listen to such ‘pearls of wisdom’ is another matter.

While being forwarded as a subjective opinion, not certainty, the pursuit of truthful knowledge appears to be important for the future of humanity. However, such a statement possibly requires some initial consideration of humanity, both in terms of its genetic nature and the nurture now provided by society. If we accept that humanity was first the product of genetic evolution driven by natural selection, but subsequently modified by a long succession of man-made developments, it leads to a key question.

What is now the driving force behind man-made evolution?

However, this will be the subject of the first essay in this section - see Nature-Nurture Debate.