The Kuzari Proof, part II

All proofs require first principles. A proof starts with givens, postulates, and derives a conclusion from them. Regardless of how sound the proof, the conclusion could never be more solid than those givens. In other words, if I want someone to accept my rigorous proof of G-d’s existance, they must first accept all my givens, as well as the validity of each of my implications. Making a proof more rigorous will involve spelling out more givens and more deductive steps. Ironically, getting someone to accept the more rigorous proof requires that the person start out agreeing with more of your perspective, not less.We could ask someone to experience Z and therefore believe Z. Or, to agree that he has grounds from experience to accept X and Y — and don’t X and Y combined imply Z? But if he doesn’t accept X as a given? Well, we can prove X from T and U, and Y from V and W. There is an infinite regress possible, continually trying to prove our first princples. Getting to ever more self-evident statements.Perhaps this is why in practice we are more moved by the experience of a Shabbos than by an argument proving its Divine origin. Even if we accept the argument, we know how many givens we’re not bothering to question. And every once in a while the mind speaks up “But what if…?” There are so many more “if”s to wonder about than if someone builds his faith on his shemiras hamitzvos.

But at some point we rely on postulates, things that are so in consonant with our experience, generalizations from our experience, or things we learned from reliable sources that we don’t require proving. Even in a proof, there is where we begin our proof.

The deeper faith is one in which the principles of Judaism are postulates, not theorems that require proving. If we can, after the fact, gain greater appreciation for them through proof, or understand their implications, connotations are less fundamental details by giving them philosophical treatment, great.

This is what I meant when I wrote that while there is an obligation to engage in machashavah amuqah, emunah itself is a middah — an attitude, not the product of that deliberation.

Just as we rely on information from our senses and generalizations from them to produce postulates about which we reason, we can also rely on mental experience. Einstein’s heavy use of thought-experiments is one example. So is our acceptance of Euclid’s posulate about parallel lines — despite the impossibility of parallel lines of infinite length ever really existing.

Yes, people convince themselves that they had experiences they did not. They can confuse the line between the experience itself and their judgement of it (liking or disliking it, etc…) This is true of mental experiences as well as sensory impressions. We color our memories, often quite profoundly, but we don’t go through life questioning conclusions based on what we recall. Simply, we trust ourselves, particularly after repeated experience. We develop a fear of falling well before we learn anything formal or rigorous about gravity. Why shouldn’t religion be accepted on the same terms?

Proofs have a role in deepening understanding — after the basic principles have been accepted. This is why the Kuzari has much to say philosophically, as long as one’s belief is not on philosophical foundations.

The rejection of deriving Judaism philosophically is not only Rav Yehudah haLevi’s approach. It’s also a central feature of R’ Chasdai Crescas’s objection to the Rambam in Or Hashem.

A final note about other faith communities and their experiences: It’s not really my problem. I shouldn’t need to be able to validate my experiences in the eyes of others before accepting them myself. After reaching that point, I can use philosophy to try to understand questions like this one. Just as the Kuzari does. After invoking the superiority of tradition over philosophical proof, the rabbi does offer rationals. But only after.

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  1. jacob says:

    “Just as we rely on information from our senses and generalizations from them to produce postulates about which we reason, we can also rely on mental experience.”

    We develop a fear of falling because we perceive with our senses that falling leads to pain. We then ‘produce postulates’ based on these facts to apply to our lives. Should we find truth in mental experiences too? Absolutely. For example, ‘when X happens I feel sad – therefore, I will deal with X to prevent sadness.’ We can deduce that X makes us feel sad and this can be demonstrated scientifically.

    However, someone who grows up in a culture in which they are indoctrinated from birth that when X happens, you feel sad because supernatural Y is punishing you – they might believe that. However, there is no scientific indication or truth that Y actually exists. All that can be drawn from event X is that the individual feels sad.

    There is nothing wrong with making postulates based on real experiences that can be proven and that are logical. But to assume that the feelings felt due to indoctrination from a young age that are not provable scientifically and have no indication that they exist is foolish. This especially true when biology can explain why one would think these experiences are real when in fact they aren’t.

    “Simply, we trust ourselves, particularly after repeated experience. ”

    This is foolish. Look at the religious experiences we have and you’ll see that they are very likely imaginary.

    • micha says:

      Einstein thought that the gedanken experiment had merit. And for that matter, you only know the Euclidean postulates by mental experience. You never encountered two infinite lines of the same slope. Nor even a flat Euclidean space. And yet the intuition that such lines would never meet is deemed reliable, no?

      Your example is flawed in that it invokes an emotion, not a mental assessment of truth. My argument is not that one should believe because they enjoy Shabbos. But that the reality of a G-d-given Shabbos is as self-evident to someone who does Shabbos right as the reality that two parallel Euclidean lines won’t cross is to someone who contemplates such lines.

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