This text is also available in German. – Dieser Text in deutscher Sprache.

Peter Moeller

A Brief Summary of my Philosophy (1990)

In the course of my involvement with philosophy and science it became clear to me that people have developed the most diverse religions and scientific world views in their history. And the "great philosophers" have produced the most diverse, contradictory philosophies and declared each other to be charlatans.
When it became clear to me that my senses, my reason and my feelings can deceive me, I did something which numerous people have done before me; I doubted everything! This doubt may even appear absurd. The goal was to find something which would stand up against the most absurd doubt. If I had such a thing, I believed, then I would have an unshakeable point of reference from which I could perhaps build a system of secure knowledge. [1]
In the process of doubting I first came to the conclusion that only immediate experience is sure; but as my subjective experience, not as an objective event or fact. Every claim which exceeds immediate experience could be false and could be doubted.
The next step was the knowledge that a string of claims which exceeds immediate experience can with certainty be dismissed as false. If every claim which exceeds the immediate experience remained doubtable, I could not judge whether Rumpelstiltskin and the other fairy tale figures from the Grimm Brothers exist or not. But I dismiss the existence of Rumpelstiltskin. Not because I can prove that there is no Rumpelstiltskin, but because the statement "Rumpelstiltskin exists" is naive. [2]
I exist on a certain intellectual level which has not only a quantitative, but also a qualitative aspect. (This level is certainly not the highest which is possible for humans or for "Being". Such an assumption would again seem naive to me.) This qualitative level leads to the necessity of discarding a certain number of statements. Since an exclusionary claim is also a "It is thus!" in reverse, my scepticism is partially overcome by a certain amount of truths, but remains basically intact.
Scepticism leads itselfs to absurdity when it makes claim to be an absolute truth. My scepticism is prepared to give itself up when I am convinced by something better.
Belonging to those things which I immediately experience is 1st the material world around me and 2nd that I am a goal-oriented, acting being in that world, because I conti-nually attempt to satisfy various needs. The immediately experienced content of my life is the continual effort to satisfy those needs and therefore the satisfaction of needs is the immediately experienced sense of my life.
In the moment when I act, I assume something to be right. If I did not do this, I would be incapable of acting. But since I only have secure knowledge in rare cases, I often make conjectures as a basis for my action which I call "knowledge" in practical life, and I measure the usefulness of these conjectures by how well they are able to serve my practical life in reaching my goals.
Therefore I am a sceptic (or agnostic) and a pragmatist.
But I do not only experience a material world, I also experience an intellectual world: Language, culture, scientific hypotheses, philosophical systems, art, religion, etc. I also have needs in this intellectual world. In spite of my sceptical position, I also ask questions which are beyond practical life and outside of the material world. For example: Why is there anything at all? What relationship is there between matter and conscious-ness? (I experience myself immediately as body and as consciousness.) Is there a meaning of life beyond the process of satisfying needs? Is there life after death? I find people who occupy themselves with such questions are far more congenial than those who are fixed on the process of satisfying their material needs. (As long as they do not become dogmatics.)
There are probably no definitive answers to these questions. But among the various philosophical systems and concepts which I know, there are some which seem less plausible than others. A material explanation of the world is less plausible to me than an idealistic. There are four reasons for this:

  1. I am unable to imagine the variety and purposeful organization of the world as well as its seemingly lawful development from simple to more complex structures as a product of mere evolutionary pressure. [3]
  2. I am unable to conceive of consciousness as a product of dead, uncons-cious matter which simply organized itself into a system capable of saving and processing information. This is said without even considering the pro-blematic nature of the concept of matter in the light of the relativity theory.
  3. I am unable to conceive my own existence, i.e. my conscious rather than my physical being, as a product of cosmic chance.
  4. In my immediate experience my knowledge of the existence of certain things is not in my mind, it is in these things themselves. I have the impression that the things themselves are consciousness. (This does not mean that they are self-conscious.)
I tend more to an ideal explanation of the world. I find it more plausible that there exists a world consciousness - which is at the same time a world unconsciousness (or subcon-sciousness), a world reason (like the hegelian "Weltgeist") and a world will (like the "Wille" by Schopenhauer) - which determines the primacy of being.
What separates me from followers of religious or occult beliefs is the following: I have no claim to absolute truth about that which seems plausible to me! I can tolerate others who consider another explanation plausible, as long as they are not intolerant. And my tolerance is not simply an expression of politeness, but it has an epistemological foundation.
In addition to that, what separates me from Christian belief is that the spiritual core of the world, whose existence seems plausible to me, is not an almighty, all-knowing subject which exists outside the material world, but an impersonal spiritual power or being which is identical with the world in its entirety as well as with mankind, and which extends far beyond that which is conceivable for human knowledge (and that not only quantitatively but qualitatively as well).
Nor do I believe in an eternal life of individual separate souls. I believe rather that within the eternally existing and all encompassing world consciousness something separates, assumes a position as individual in contrast to others and the world, and after a certain development dissolves again into the whole formlessly. (Whether such an individual has only one or many lives is an open question to me.) Besides that, it seems plausible to me that the spiritual core of the world is engaged in development as well.
I believe that the philosophers Spinoza and Hegel were right in the main, without personly holding to the truth of each and every sentence. I also have much in common with Plato and the new metaphysics. In religious form these concepts, as far as I know, first appeared in the Indian Brahman-Atman Teaching.

This is a brief summary of a longer paper, "My Philosophy" from 1987 in which I described my development from an extremely sceptical to a non-dogmatic pantheistic position. ("My Philosophy" is only available in German.) Translated from German into English in July, 1999. (Many thanks to Anne and Kirk for helping me.)

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N. 1: The most famous case of such doubt in the history of philosophy is RenÚ Descartes, who arrived at his "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am) following this path. Descartes, RenÚ, Meditations on first philosophy. Back
N. 2: As it is in fairy tales, it is the same in other naive stories for example about God and the Devil. It is impossible to prove that these stories deal with inventions. But that does not change the fact that, having reached a certain intellectual level, one can see such stories only as fairy tales. There simply isn't any other way to see them. If I am supposed to believe (or better, "can believe") that in the course of the Great Tribulation (see Revelation of John) the Devil will be bound for a thousand years, then I can also just as well believe that when the sun shines through the rain that the Devil is beating his wife. It is the same level, only different stories. Back
N. 3: The idea that a cell or an eye was developed through chance mutation is a belief in miracles, in my opinion. I do not accept evolutionary pressure as sufficient at all, at least not for the development of the first cell. Back

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Copyright © by Peter M÷ller, Berlin.