Gerald N. Lund makes an important point about how the various areas of philosophy affect each other:
Whether he recognizes it or not, every person holds to a metaphysical position, trusts in at least one system of epistemology, and holds a personal axiology or set of values and ethics. Furthermore, these three areas of our own philosophy are interrelated. Our metaphysics (our view of reality) influences our epistemology (the way we gain knowledge), and together the two determine our axiology (our values).1
Elder Lund gives an example from Alma 30. Korihor believed that “ye cannot know of things which ye do not see” (his epistemology; v. 15). Since he’d never seen life after death, he concluded that “when a man was dead, that was the end thereof” (his metaphysics; v. 18). Since that meant there was no possibility for judgment of sins after death, he concluded that “whatsoever a man did was no crime” (his axiology; v. 17). Thus, from his assumptions about how we know things, he derives his idea of good and evil.
Elder Lund points out that what we believe is and isn’t real, as well as how we know things, greatly affects what we think is right and wrong. He advises that we should be aware of the implications of our personal philosophy, for one belief can often subtly and subconsciously affect our other beliefs. In other words, “He who picks up one end of the stick, picks up the other.”2
A Significant Example
RenÃ©e Beckwith, in her masterâ€™s thesis, gives an example of how we unwittingly arrive at one end of a stick by picking up the other end. She reviews the psychological literature to show that, with some variations, two major theories compete for the belief and loyalty of human minds and hearts. The first theory is that of an egocentric, inherently distinct and separated self. The other is that of a relational self, an alterocentric ontology. These currents conflict with each other in their basic assumptions about the nature of reality.
Beckwith reviews how these basic assumptions affect each other in five areas: the nature of self, ways of knowing, agency and freedom, morality, and the intent or purpose of living. (Interestingly, her implicative chain begins with metaphysics, unlike Korihorâ€™s, whose seems to begin with epistemology.) In other words, she shows how each of these two metaphysical worldviews entails an epistemology and an axiology. Each worldview is only one end of an entire stick of implications, so we must be careful about which stick we choose to pick up.
In a future post, I will explain the five areas she reviews, showing how, beginning with the nature of the self, each set of assumptions naturally leads to beliefs regarding the other areas. One of the main messages we can draw from this is implied by Elder Lund: whether we realize it or not, the ideas we entertain, nurture, accept, and adhere to will affect our perception of right and wrong and the way to eternal joy. Whether that perception accurately reflects revealed truth has huge ramifications on the state of our relationships, our society, and our souls.
1. Gerald N. Lund, â€œCountering Korihorâ€™s Philosophy,â€ Ensign, Jul. 1992, p. 16.
2. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Living under Tension (1941), 111; quoted in Jeffrey R. Holland, “Abide in Me,” Ensign, Apr. 2004. As Neal A. Maxwell put it, “We must ‘want the consequences of what we want'” (“The Lonely Sentinels of Democracy,” Ensign, Jul. 1972, p. 47.
3. RenÃ©e Beckwith, “Exploring Maternal Ambivalence: Comparing Findings with Two Opposing Paradigms of Intent,” masterâ€™s thesis (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2003), p. 29.