A Metaphysical Conundrum
Now consider the problem, if you would, of something as simple as asserting that A:A (i.e. that a thing is identical to itself). As an atheist, I had rejected the idea that we are born with innate ideas like the laws of logic. As a consequence of this, I had to accept the conclusion that knowledge is arrived at via inductive reasoning. How, then, could I know that any object is self-identical? I couldn’t. In fact, there would be no “object,” strictly speaking, but only an abstraction I had formed after having repeatedly experienced a closed set of interrelated material properties. No object, then, actually was self-identical, I thought. If no object is self-identical, then no inferences drawn from the assumption that A:A are true. This was comforting to me as I continued to deal with guilt over my various sins. I also learned that a variety of contemporary philosophers were in agreement with me. I consumed the writings of Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze, and Alain Badiou with the eagerness of a new convert.
The questions didn’t stop, however, as I continued to come across the same problems. An object, I reasoned, may not be self-identical – but in order for me to know that it is not self-identical, must I not already assume that its constitutive elements are themselves self-identical? I must. But if any self-identical thing is, how could I know it to be self-identical? I could not exist at all times and in all places in order to see those constitutive elements in every possible relation, in every possible context; I could not simply intuit that at every time and in every place the elements would be self-identical; and I couldn’t exert the necessary power over those elements that would ensure that they would always remain self-identical. Yet, even more problematically, in order for this to be true, the law of identity had to be true.
This may seem like a non-issue to many, but I was considering the logical consequences of affirming that A:A. If A:A, then ontological essentialism obtains. If ontological essentialism obtains, then relations between objects are already potentially present (i.e. present as a potential relation) in those objects. If relations are already potentially present in those objects, then the events constituted by actualized relations obtaining between objects are all predetermined. But predetermination implies a being or force who has predetermined things and their relations to one another. And so on and so on and so on and…
My Brief Stint as an Existentialist
My atheism was becoming less and less tenable, but my rejection of the Christian faith resulted in these endless contradiction loops (they are not “paradoxes,” since they cannot have, and cannot ever have, solutions given atheism). Having read a few existentialist authors, I found myself thinking that they may have been on to something after all. Perhaps existence precedes essence, I thought. Perhaps my only way to have meaning in this absurd world is to create it for myself, I further “reasoned.”
This too, however, was problematic. For if the very fabric of my existence is sheer absurdity, then upon what basis do I think that my thoughts about it being absurd are not absurd? The argument, more clearly, is this:
i. Existence, in all of its parts, is absurd.
ii. My thoughts are part of existence.
iii. Therefore, my thoughts are absurd.
I assumed that the absurdity of my thinking had to do with my feeble and vain attempts to create a metaphysical system, when only a logical system can be created (according to Kierkegaard). Following Bergson & others, I reasoned that systematic thinking unnaturally fixes/concretizes reality, which is actually fluid and free from any determinations whatsoever.
The only way out of the prisonhouse of language and logic and the everlooming presence of God, all of which were keeping me from being-in-the-world, was by living authentically, passionately, not according to systems of rules – be they logical, metaphysical, or ethical. Yet, as I came to discover, the problem was more fundamental, for the existentialist’s reason/passion conflict cannot be sustained without first presupposing that there is an overarching rational structure to the universe which justifies such categories. Absurdity and irrationality are departures from normality and rationality. How then could they be primary attributes of existence? Answer: They cannot.
What existentialism offered me was a sham, a false sense of heroic dignity to face a cold, impersonal, and indifferent universe and conquer the inevitable nausea of knowing that God is dead and humans are evolutionary mishaps free to submit to or rebel against the conditions of their existence.