On the Axiomatic Self: The I as the Foundational Principle in Which “Truth” is Grounded

I have observed this for a very long time and have decided to write a short piece about it. This idea is not anything new; it has been articulated before. My present purpose is to repeat it in my own words, adding my own peculiar flavors to it. Human beings are interesting creatures. They are born with this innate tendency to view themselves, their own selves, as so-called “truth.” The human individual begins the conversation with the immediate—and unhealthy, in my view—assumption that whatever spews out of the individual’s mouth is truth ex cathedra. The individual’s I functions as a sort of “foundational principle” upon which the whole of reality is grounded.

One easily sees this when listening to a group of individuals debating. People do not seem to listen. They talk past each other. One of them, usually the center of attention, babbles away about a particular point. Adding volume to speech as if to increase the presupposed “truth’s” validity. The others babble away too. One points something out only to be ignored by the others. Another defends his position, grounding it in science. A third points out that the research is now obsolete, referring to another “scientific journal.” A fourth proclaims all such research “ideologically driven” and expounds upon his own version of “the truth.” A fifth accepts the fourth’s position, embracing it hook, line, and sinker; his identifying with the fourth’s position makes it his own, thereby making it synonymous with absolute “truth.”

One observes, also, just how passionate some people become when they argue. Disagreement over something as trivial as acceptance of moral luck (as popularized by Thomas Nagel) in ethics is unacceptable; they become angry, spewing out all kinds of rage at their opponents.

And this is precisely where my observation hits home. No longer is truth something that can be distinguished from the individual; “truth,” at least the individual’s conception of it, is to be made synonymous with the individual. In other words, moral luck, just to follow the aforementioned example, is no longer an idea (that can be held separate of the person); it is “truth.” Once such an association is made—where the individual fallaciously equates the idea of truth with the person of truth, thus forever erasing the demarcation between person and idea—every disagreement, every argument, every comment, becomes an attack on the individual holding the idea [of “truth”]. Once you identify the idea of truth with yourself as a person, you become susceptible to “attack” and “emotional distress.” Now every person criticizing your ideas is, according to such reasoning, criticizing you!

But this is all just hogwash. It is not really so. People disagree all the time. And, while we are on the subject, people’s own perception of “truth” changes with time. Most of us “grow up.” Most people, except those few geniuses born with correct innate knowledge, struggle along life’s path to figure out what is true. Such individuals believe now this and now that. Their person is, by and large, not identified with their particular beliefs. This is not to say that their beliefs do not influence them; of course they do. It is to say that the person holding an idea is separable from that particular idea. A person who used to be a utilitarian does not cease to exist once he or she converts to the correct view (!) of deontological ethics. The person still exists. Given this reality, it is strange to see people fighting over everything. Arguing to the point of murder (I’m referring to the Russians who recently got into a fight over Kant, which left one of them dead.) People everywhere need to simply recognize the reality that we are all thrown into: oceans of subjectivities vying for attention and significance. We wish to rise above the other subjectivities; we wish to become a kind of “herd mentality”; we want our version of reality to become not just a version of reality but the version of reality. This drive for universalization of our own truths is something that stems from what I have called “the axiomatic self.” The axiomatic self is precisely the self (the I) that articulates all truths, all arguments, and all reasons, with the idea that the self, the point of departure, is somehow both trustworthy and true. The self becomes the groundwork for everything else the individual says or does. From this, the individual, for whatever reason, seeks to establish his or her own subjective reality as the truth. The individual seeks to universalize something that probably is relativistic and contingent (…upon the individual).

To conclude: this observation is merely to be used as a properly basic idea when dealing with other human individuals. Humans work this way, at least most of them do, and we all should become familiar with their modus operandi.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

2 thoughts on “On the Axiomatic Self: The I as the Foundational Principle in Which “Truth” is Grounded

  1. Ain’t it the truth, how locked into our own version of truth we become? In 66 years on this planet, I don’t remember a single time when, in the course of a intense argument about a serious subject, one person suddenly looked at the other and said, “You know, now that I think about what you’re saying, you’re right and I’m wrong.” And yet, if we were truly truth-seeking creatures, receptive to each other’s thinking, thirsty for education and wisdom, arguments would end like this all the time. I have a feeling that this is far from a flippant observation you have made here, and that you might have your finger on a common character defect that underlies a great deal of evil. Is humility the door through which other virtues must pass?

    • newtonfinn, that observation (i.e., that all virtues must pass through the doors of humility) is certainly an observation I would like to further develop. I once read a book by Blaine J. Fowers called The Myth of Marital Happiness. He points out how a lot of psychologists tell couples that they mustn’t get too angry and emotional when they fight or argue. The problem, Fowers points out, is what the psychologists DON’T tell the couple; namely, that such a sober “argument” requires virtues (such as humility, self-control, etc.). No matter what you tell the fighting couple, so long as principal virtues (like humility and self-control) are not found, you won’t ever be a decent human being.

      And, yes, I do think that this is more than just an observation (on the axiomatic self). It’s probably an innate structure of the brain (or something like that!)…

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