“When considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn't..."

Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Inherent in the above statement from Sam Harris, one of this generation's most brilliant minds and an intellectual public figure, is the axiomatic claim that a universal good exists embedded in the substrate of factual knowledge.  With this axiom at the heart of Mr. Harris's method, he seeks to ground morals in logical fact, which he draws out of the foundational nature of evidence and arguments.  The example below shows how this line of reasoning may proceed:

Syllogism #1: Living organisms survive with water.  Some living organisms are human beings. Human organisms survive with water.  

One could take this reasoning perhaps further through induction:

Syllogism #2:  Wells generally provide water in desert scenarios.  Sub-Saharan Africa is a desert scenario.  Probability is high that the villagers must dig wells in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain access to water.  

The given in Mr. Harris's and most other philosophical methods posits that human well-being is a transcendent good worth pursuing; thus, a hypothetical approach to a water shortage in Sub-Saharan Africa, along with the villagers' lack of proper building resources, may result in a UN program to fund the building of wells and the acquisition of proper building supplies.  Yet no syllogism readily presents itself to uphold this particular moral action in Mr. Harris's system. One may call Harris's idea of the Good a "transcendent good", in that he argues skillfully and vehemently for it to apply to persons beyond himself. One can hear the Nietzscheans arguing loudly for their own idea of the transcendent good:

Syllogism #3: Through natural selection,  animals evolve to more optimal forms of life. Humans are also animals. Therefore humans must evolve to more optimal forms of life through natural selection.

Such a Nietzschean thought might see the sub-Saharan villagers as merely a less optimal form of human life, whom Nature naturally selects for extinction.  Two antithetical conclusions, both supposedly moral, may arise from these syllogisms: a) It is moral to assist in the building of wells in Sub-Saharan Africa b) It is moral to allow the villagers to adapt or die.   One of these conclusions holds the good of the individual as its highest end, while the other holds the good of the species at large as its higher end.  Ultimately, who's to say which of these ends outweighs the other on the moral scale of justice?  Yet, both final claims were purportedly based on facts, in keeping with the Harris Method, which leaves 'we the thinkers' in a position of immense difficulty.  

In truth, Mr. Harris's claims are neither new nor revolutionary, for one philosopher by the name of Descartes attempted a method in much the same way as Mr. Harris a few centuries ago, wherein he sought to ground his scientific inquiry and ethic on the most basic of truths, building from the more simple or general to the more complex and specific.  

Descartes' first principle, which grounds the rest of his philosophy, bears many similarities to the grounding principle of Mr. Harris, in that it focuses on self-evident facts.

"To only accept as true that which I incontrovertibly know to be so..."

Descartes, A Discourse on the Method, pg 17

In the minds of thinkers like Descartes or Harris, that which is incontrovertibly known is that which the senses may readily prove and perceive.  

From this grounding principle, Descartes constructed a revolutionary system of viewing the world, which bears fruit for civilization to the present day; yet, Descartes also believed in a Christian God.  While both Descartes and Harris would agree to the usage of facts as the basis for correct living and human well-being, both came to entirely antithetical conclusions: One, believing in a Higher Being, and the other denying such.  To make sense of any of this, one must first define the idea of "knowing", along with the idea of "fact."  How much evidence should one take as sufficient to establish a fact "incontrovertibly?" What is evidence?  How do I conclude that the facts lend themselves to my concept of evidence?  Moreover, what data should I consider of sufficient quality to assist me in making a decision regarding truth or untruth? None of these questions present ready answers, and the problems of quantity and quality continue to perplex us.  There remains the possibility of grounding existence on probabilities, which has proven to be a comfortable road in times past; nevertheless, we would like to avoid faith, which probability still requires.  If we proceed in keeping with the methods of Descartes and Harris, it seems permissible to conclude that a transcendent good must be achieved, with such being defined as a basic principle applicable to all.  

However, the methods of Harris and Descartes both assume upon the ability of the human biological system, comprised of sense organs, cognitive faculties, and the like, to sift through and correctly interpret perceivable data, arriving at such a conclusion of what a transcendent good may be.  They claim that the ability of the human mind to readily apprehend facts fits in as part of the a priori structure of being. Descartes speaks of the human reason with such glorified terms as the "divine light of Man's Reason", while Harris truly believes that a chain of facts can form a moral dictate on which a life may ground itself.  Aside from both of these men's brilliance, it seems rather difficult to prove that a higher ethic arises out of the dust and ashes of such means.  The syllogistic example given above,  wherein the atheist undertakes humanitarian efforts and the Nietzschean strives for the Ubermensch,  readily illustrates this, which is why my propositions grow out of the human need for something more than sensory perception, rational thought, and clear reasoning.   For while rational thought, along with its product, inductive experimentation, produced centuries worth of fruit for the human race and common weal, the individual human remains the last unharnessed frontier, a hot-bed of unknowns and questions; the human – that singularity of mystery, defying description –  seeks for more knowledge than that of his ancestral biological lineage, seeks beyond, seeks an answer from the Cosmos.

Yet if the example above remains insufficient, let us take another go at the issue in question:

The mechanism used by the atheistic humanitarian, as well as the mechanism used by the Nietzschean evolutionary biologist, wherein they consider their idea of a final aim, let that mechanism equal A. (Note that for both of them it is the same mechanism whereby they produce conclusions.) A assists each individual in the establishing of their aim, as well as in producing a conclusion about a moral action in the given scenario, which we will call B.  A produces B because producing B is the chief function of mechanism A.  Mechanism A exists to fulfill a specific cognitive purpose and cannot live outside the realm of its purpose.  I will prove this later.  Yet, one may utilize the mechanism in different ways, specifically in the ultimate aims one plugs into the mechanism, which we will let equal C.  Before this becomes convoluted beyond redemption, understand that the letters above represent the relationship between the rational faculty, aims, and moral conclusions.  One man may say, 'I refuse to select an aim,' yet one must laugh in response, for in saying such he selects an aim – maintaining the absence of any aim.  Living in his realm of absurdity, he utilizes mechanism A to "disprove" other person's ideas, plugs in C as much as the next average Joe, and produces B, the moral conclusion that rightness exists in the realm of aimful aimlessness, which he therefore pursues. Few men are so self-aware, however; rather, they live their lives in carelessness towards any higher aim other than making it through work to the couch that evening.  For this man,  mechanism A assists him in avoiding any more troublesome questions than how to get home safely, plugging in C fills him with forecasted pleasure at his projected indolence, and B arises when he arrives at home to fall on the couch with a sigh of contentment thinking - "life is good!" – life being defined as his delight in indolence.

Perhaps one disagrees with the necessary existence of B, which is at least worthy of more consideration than the purported non-existence of C.  Nietzsche declared himself as one of these folk, in that morality proceeded from the aristocratic class, and different moralities governed each social group.  As a result, morality varied from society to society in his system.  Instead of attacking Nietzsche's idea of morality, I must point out that aristocrats and slaves are loosely defined at best in Nietzsche's system, which leaves much vaguery in the idea of morality in his system. What if the slaves one day decide they are the aristocrats, worthy of setting the morals?  One sees how this readily leads to war without end, for any human may rise up at any time against the established hierarchy. Even if the Nietzschean moral system is true, does it work in the globalization of the modern world?  I fail to see how it remains effective outside of the Kaiserreich. In a world of increasing levels of equality, along with less social stratification, this system of transcendent good seems to fall short. In fact, effectiveness aside, the basic premise of the rational mechanism's tendency to plug in an aim and produce a moral maxim remains even in Nietzsche's system, for he creates a universal system of his own through his own aims,  C = the emergence of the Ubermensch.  B = the disillusionment of all that might stand in the way of such an emergence.  Let this suffice as an argument for the function of both B and C.

A must not and cannot serve any other purposes than those stated heretofore. I allow the honest reader to arrive at their own conclusions regarding this by analyzing their own lives.  A must produce an assertion of what things are good, desirable, pleasing, etc., and what things are bad, undesirable, distasteful; while this may be an unconscious process to many, the process continues.  Even the choice to remain ambivalent towards a thing or a proposition is evidential of the effectual work of mechanism A .  At this point, I'm sure you have come to a conclusion about my proposition regarding the nature of the rational faculty, or at least have decided to remain ambivalent and close the essay, never to think on these things again. Nevertheless, show me the person completely disconnected from these workings and I will show you a corpse.  If my B fall out incongruently with your C, your A will pursue every means to filter out my B.  But what is my C?  And....what is D?  Does this variable exist, and why does it remain undefined? We'll get there soon.  

Imagine rational thought as a sort of of circular continuum, with such a shape inherent in its course.  One imagines themselves traveling in a straight line of thought, yet somehow continually arrives at the same problems and unanswered questions again and again, with no end of debate or discussion ever sufficing to explain it all away.  The variables given so far produce conclusions, but suffice but little in the way of deciding what is good for a human individual.  If the equation currently rests at the following A x C = B, life proceeds in a purely self-centered, and arguably nihilistic manner. For all this mechanism gives us is the simple statement that such and such a course of action is good for me. But this equation barely suffices, and merely confuses, does it not?  I agree; let us consider if perhaps more of this equation remains unrevealed.  If the equation produced another result, we could perhaps call that result x.  Let x = happiness.  

But before we get to the elusive x, it seems to follow that another variable must exist.  Moreover, how may any sort of transcendent claim on morality exist if no variable D exists?  

Position #1
Without variable D, the rational mechanism merely travels in the circular motion of the mind as it inputs aims (C) and jumps to moral conclusions (B) –  (let it be known that I define the rational mechanism as the system whereby a decision regarding tastefulness is made) – such that the lack of governance from variable D results in morality presenting itself much like food, falling equally in and out of favor with the passage of time.

Descartes solves this problem by simply jumping to the conclusion that the Good must be a Higher Being with a name, that may be personally known and loved, but we moderns rarely afford ourselves such a luxury of reasoning.  In fact, we perceive such a jump of reasoning as a betrayal of Descartes own method.  Descartes makes use of certain proofs within him to 'prove' the existence of a Higher Being.  He states that the awareness of perfection, as well his lack thereof and the seeming lack in everything around him, demonstrates the necessitude of such a Being's existence. For how else could he have come to possess such a notion of perfection? To which we may easily respond, "Yes, perfection obviously exists, but must it necessarily be a Divine Being?  May it not be Nature, the Universe, Matter, Mathematics, Existence itself, or any other number of things?  Why must the Good be personified?"  To posit God as the answer to the rational continuum of thought simply begs the question, and many variables elude one in the way to such a conclusion.

Position #2
No end of reasoning may ever bring one to the elusive threshold of the Good, such that the Good is defined and known, with the Good defined as the universal or transcendent guiding principle; reasoning defined as the rational progression of thoughts based upon data acquired inductively and deductively .  

To understand the reasons for this, one must analyze the foundational idea of cognition, as it has been perceived in the West for a few millennia, receiving fierce criticism in only recent history.  According to the Platonic idea of cognition, thought moves in an upward and downward fashion, with the most apprehendable forms of knowledge residing at the bottom (images), and the least apprehendable forms of knowledge residing at the top (The Good or the Forms), outside the confines of the Cave of Ignorance.  In the Cave allegory, the Good is represented by the sun, which gives illumination and life to the beings that ascend from the depths of the pit.  

Position #3
Before a person reaches the light of the Sun in the Cave allegory, an unknown variable, which we shall call the existential beyond, rises up in hindrance of the course of thought, sending it back along the same ground it previously traversed.  

But I get ahead of myself: let us discuss this in the next part of JuveniliaAscending the Tree of Thought.  

Variable D must remain unknown, for such is our lot, but no reason determines that my variable C remain hidden.

Chief Aim (C):  To reveal the ineptitude of the rational mind insofar as it bulwarks the individual's weal; to demonstrate the necessitude of some sort of transcendent good to avoid the specter of nihilism and strife; to open the human mind to consider the needful possibility of illumination from out the confines of observable reality.

Perhaps this aim offends our sensibilities?  Yet, I believe it must offend our sensibilities that we may advance still further as individuals and as a race.  In the method and proofs to follow, let us all relinquish ourselves at the altar of truth, along with Harris and Descartes, to find what secret Nature has hid from us. Nothing kills the light of inquiry more than believing one has found all of the answers.  Once, long ago in the twilight of scholasticism, men relinquished what they knew.  

And what they stumbled upon, we call Science.  Now, we too, slip the surly bonds of the known.

We will use our rational faculties as life rafts to float on the ocean of questions to follow, but, in time, we may yet make landfall and dance through the fields of the existential beyond.