Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

h1

Quantum Physics: The Multiverse of Parmenides 2 — Heinrich Pas

July 10, 2014
The bizarre properties of quantum physics naturally inspired the fantasies of both journalists and authors. The parallel existence of different realities in quantum physics, for example, became the subject of a Physics World cover in 1998, which depicts a couple on the phone arguing as follows: "Oh Alice . . . you're the one for me"-"But Bob . . . in a quantum world . . . How can we be sure?" Man’s best friends: A doggie selfie. Where does it all end?

The bizarre properties of quantum physics naturally inspired the fantasies of both journalists and authors. The parallel existence of different realities in quantum physics, for example, became the subject of a Physics World cover in 1998, which depicts a couple on the phone arguing as follows: “Oh Alice . . . you’re the one for me”-”But Bob . . . in a quantum world . . . How can we be sure?” Man’s best friends: A doggie selfie. Where does it all end?

Bohr summarized the apparent paradox of particles and waves under the concept of complementarity. After a guest lecture he gave at Moscow University, he left the following aphorism on the blackboard where famous visitors were sup­ posed to leave comments: Contraria non contradictoria sed complementa sunt (Opposites do not contradict but rather complement each other).

But back to Heisenberg, Plato, and the ancient Greeks: As the American philosopher of science Thomas S. Kuhn realized, science in times of scientific revolutions is particularly vulnerable to nonscientific influences. When changes to the scientific paradigm cause a shift in the generally accepted problems and solutions and thus also in the general perception and scientific world view, rational reasons like conformity with facts, consistency, scope, simplicity, and usefulness are not sufficient to understand the evolution of a new theory.

During these times, personal factors such as cultural back­ ground can also play a decisive role. And Heisenberg’s background was almost as Greek as it was German: As the son of a professor of Greek language, he became accustomed to Greek philosophy and culture and their reception in early twentieth-century Germany long before he himself learned Latin and ancient Greek in school. His biographer Armin Hermann suggests that the encounter with Plato’s philosophy influenced Heisenberg more than anything else. And not long after Heisenberg studied, climbed, and calculated in Helgoland, Paul Dirac in Cambridge and Erwin Schrodinger in Vienna worked out different but mathematically equivalent versions of quantum physics.

Since the standard interpretation of these works was developed basically in the inner circle around Bohr and Heisenberg, Heisenberg’s background seems particularly relevant for its appreciation. Also, Schrodinger made statements such as “Almost our entire intellectual heritage is of Greek origin” and “science can be correctly characterized as re­flecting on the Universe in a Greek way.”And Dirac left on the blackboard in Moscow, right next to Bohr’s principle of com­plementarity, only the laconic remark, “A physical law has to have mathematical beauty,” a statement that reminds us strongly of Goethe’s transfiguration of the classical worldview:

Nature and art, they seem each other to repel
Yet,
they fly together before one is aware;
The
antagonism has departed me as well,
And
now both of these seem to me equally fair.

And sure enough, quantum physics seems to be a Greek theory after all. This becomes evident when reading the thoughts in the book Die Einheit der Natur (The Unity of Na­ture) by Heisenberg’s student and friend, Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker, the brother of the subsequent German president, on the centerpiece of quantum physics — the wave-particle duality — and how it can be traced back to the arguments in Plato’s dialogue Parmenides.

Parmenides of Elea (Fig. 3.3) was a Greek philosopher in the pre-Socratic era around the fifth century BCE. Of his writing only the fragment of a philosophical poem remains; it deals with the unity of all being. It describes how an unnamed goddess-often understood as Persephone- invites the poet to perceive the truthful being-again a likely reference to the mystical experience in the mystery cults of Eleusis. 

The truth­ful being then is distinguished from mere appearances and described as the all-embracing One — uncreated and indestructible, alone, complete, immovable, and without an end — reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s stage of egolessness. One is the All is correspondingly the central statement followed up by Weizsacker  when he discusses the argument between Socrates and Parmenides chronicled by Plato, which, according to the Italian author Luciano De Crescenzo, was the “most boring and complicated discussion in the entire history of philosophy.” 

In this battle of words, which supposedly took place on the occasion of a visit of Parmenides to Athens, Socrates tried to refute the identity of One and All. To this end Socrates argued that One is not Many and thus has no parts. On the other hand All refers to something which does not miss any of its parts. Consequently the One would consist of parts if it were All, and thus finally One cannot be the All. 

At this point Weizsacker comes to Parmenides’s defense by stressing the connection with quantum mechanics. And it is really astounding how the quantum mechanical interpretation of the One suddenly bestows this incomprehensible debate with lucidity and meaning. After all, in quantum mechanics the All is the wave function and, in its fullest manifestation, the all-embracing wave function of the universe. 

Moreover, in quantum mechanics the analysis of the individual parts of an object without destroying the object is impossible, since the measurement, as explained above, affects the object and thus distorts the unity of its parts. And of all possible states an object can assume, only an infinitesimally small fraction are states in which the parts of the object actually correspond to a clearly defined outcome of a measurement. Only in these states can one truthfully assign reality or existence to these parts.

For example, only two among the infinitely many possible states that Schrodinger’s cat can assume (such as 90 percent alive and 10 percent dead or 27.3 percent alive and 72.7 percent dead) — namely totally dead or totally alive-correspond to possible outcomes in a measurement. But quantum mechanically, a pair of two cats, half of them dead and the other half alive, is realizable not only with one living and one dead but also with two half-dead cats or one being 70 percent alive and one being 30 percent alive.

Consequently, in quantum physics the All is really more than its parts, the partial objects actually constituting through their association a new entity, or, just as postulated by Parmenides, a new unity, a new One. 

Now Parmenides, according to Plato, required further that the One possesses no properties: It has ho beginning, no center and no end, no shape and no location; it is neither in itself nor in anything else; it is neither at rest nor is it moving. Weizsacker can argue that a quantum mechanical object fulfills these requirements perfectly.

After all, a determination of any of these properties relies on a measurement, which implies a collapse of the wave function and thus destroys the unity of the collective object. On the other hand, isolation of the object from the surrounding universe is impossible: The object would not exist in the universe if it were not connected to the universe via some kind of interaction. 

Thus, strictly speaking, only the universe as a whole can constitute a real quantum mechanical object. 

Then, however, nobody would remain who could observe it from outside. Next Weizsacker and Parmenides follow the discussion back­ward: how the One — meaning the all-embracing universe barring all properties — unfurls into the colorful and multifaceted appearances of our everyday life. The argument relies here on the quirky assumption that the One, in the instant where it “is” — in the sense of exists — is already two things. It is the One and it is the Is. This argument can be iterated. Again both the One and the Is are two things: the Is is and is the One, and the One is and is the One. By repetition of this consideration the One acquires an infinite multiplicity: The being One unfolds itself into the universe. And again Weizsacker clarifies the discourse by referring to the quantum mechanical object.

After all, the way an object can exist is via interaction with other objects, which again results in the collapse of the wave function and the loss of quantum mechanical unity: In order to establish that an object exists, the object has to be measured and thus is affected in a way that implies that it is no longer one object according to the meaning of Par­menides’s One. In summary, Weizsacker arrives at an amazing conclusion, that the notion of complementarity has its source in ancient Greece: “We find . . . the foundation of complemen­tarity already foretold in Plato’s Parmenides.” We actually can recover the feel of what the ancient Greeks experienced in their mystery cults in modern twentieth-century physics! 

But this is not the end of the story: The atomism of Democritus, the idea that, the world is not continuously divisible but made out of indivisible particles, makes sense only in the context of quantum mechanics, where matter consists of compound objects that correspond to standing waves and thus can absorb or emit energy only in indivisible portions­ the quanta. 

Also, the idea of tracing the laws of nature back to fundamental symmetries, as proposed in Plato’s Timaeus is an integral part of contemporary particle physics. Finally, consider Einstein’s objection to the fundamental importance of probabilities. Because of that objection, he remained a lifelong opponent of quantum mechanics: God doesn’t play dice with the world. This statement appears as a direct response to the 2,500-year-old fragment of Heraclitus: “Eternity is a child moving counters in a game; the kingly power is a child’s.”

How can one really comprehend the lack of causality inherent in quantum physics and in particular the role of the puzzling quantum collapse, which are not described by the mathematical formalism and remain controversial today? The most modern and consistent interpretation of these puzzling phenomena seems to be at the same time the craziest one: Every­ thing that can happen does happen-albeit in different parallel universes. 

This idea was formulated for the first time in 1957 by Hugh Everett III while he was working on his doctoral dissertation at Princeton University. With the bizarre concept of parallel universes he asked too much of his contemporary physicists, even though Everett — like Richard Feynman, a founder of quantum electrodynamics, and Kip Thorne, the father of the wormhole time machine — was a student of the eminent John Archibald Wheeler, who was himself a rather unorthodox and creative associate of Einstein and who, among many other achievements coined the term black hole for the timeless star corpses in the universe.

But even with this first­ class mentor, Everett’s colleagues didn’t take him seriously. Everett left the academic world shortly after finishing his dissertation. During a frustrating visit in Copenhagen, during which Everett tried to convince Niels Bohr to take some interest in his work, he (Everett) transformed a standard approach in classical mechanics into a method for optimization that he could apply to commercial and military problems and that helped him to become a multimillionaire — but didn’t make him happy. He became a chain-smoking alcoholic and died of a heart attack when he was only fifty-one years old. 

According to his explicit wish, his ashes were disposed of in the garbage. Fourteen years after his death, his daughter Elizabeth, who suffered from schizophrenia, committed suicide. In her suicide note she wrote that she was going into a parallel universe, to meet her father. His son Mark Everett became the famous rock star E, lead singer of the Eels. He described his father as distant, depressed, and mentally absent, and his own childhood as strange .and lonely. Only his music saved him. But he also expressed sympathy for his father: “These guys, I don’t think they should be held to subscribe to normal rules. I think that about rock stars, too.” Hugh Everett’s ideas about quantum physics were finally popularized in the 1970s by his advisor Wheeler and Bryce DeWitt, who had also worked with Wheeler. It was DeWitt who added the “many-worlds” label, a term that Wheeler never liked. 

The interpretation essentially states that every measurement results in a split of the universe. Every possible outcome of a measurement — or more generally of any physical process — is being realized, but in different parallel universes. If a guy chats up a girl in a dance club, there is always a universe where the two of them get happily married and remain in love until they die, but also another one where she tells him to back off, he has too much to drink, and he wakes up the next morning with a serious hangover. This very in­sight made me particularly nervous when I prepared to jump out of an airplane 4,000 meters above Oahu’s north shore. After all, even if I survived in this universe, there are always countless universes where the parachute did not open. So somewhere one loses, every time. But somewhere there is also a parallel universe where Everett still lives happily together with his daughter.

The major advantage of the many-worlds interpretation, compared with the classical Copenhagen interpretation, is that no collapse of the wave function — which, in any case, is not really part of the theory — has to be assumed. Even after the measurement has been performed, both possible outcomes­ like an electron at place A and an electron at place B — coexist, but they decouple, so that an observer who measures the elec­tron at place A does not notice the alternative reality with the electron at place B. 

In contrast to the collapse of the wave function, this process of decoupling can be described within the formalism of quantum mechanics. Perhaps this process­ so-called decoherence — is the only reason we witness so little quantum weirdness in our everyday lives. The drawback of the many-worlds interpretation, however, is that we have to give up the concept of a unique reality.

The interaction of different parallel universes is suppressed after a measurement, but not totally lost. So even in our daily lives we don’t reside in clearly defined conditions such as dead or alive. The parallel universes in which we and our fellow human beings experience totally different fates instead resonate as unobservable tiny admixtures of alternative realities into our universe.

Thus the many-worlds interpretation exhibits the Parmenidic-neo-Platonic nature of quantum mechanics most clearly. According to this point of view, the unity of the different realities is not completely lost. It is actually possible to recognize the multiverse — the collection of all of Everett’s parallel universes — directly as Parmenides’s primeval One: the unity of the world the ancient Greeks felt they had lost in the charted modern world, and for whose reunification with the individualized ego they looked in the ecstasy of their mystery cults, in their Dionysian arts, or in the flush induced by psychedelic drugs.

The bizarre properties of quantum physics naturally inspired the fantasies of both journalists and authors. The parallel existence of different realities in quantum physics, for example, became the subject of a Physics World cover in 1998, which depicts a couple on the phone arguing as follows: “Oh Alice . . . you’re the one for me”-”But Bob . . . in a quantum world . . . How can we be sure?”

An even more radical take on the many-worlds interpretation can be found in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Whenever the extraterrestrial crackpot Zaphod Beeblebrox, double-headed and addicted to Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, starts the Infinite Improbability Drive, his stolen spaceship gets located in all places in the universe simultaneously, and tiny probabilities are amplified. In the novel this allows the spaceship to travel faster than light, and also causes various strange incidents, such as when a threatening pair of rockets gets sud­denly transformed into a dumbfounded whale and a flowerpot.

Finally, and now I am serious again, the many-worlds interpretation could protect time travelers from ludicrous paradoxes, and in this way make time travel a meaningful physics concept. But we’ll get to that later…

h1

Modern Philosophy and Death 2 — Roger Scruton 

July 8, 2014
The anxiety towards death is 'ontological'; it spreads over the existence itself, and undermines the 'ground of being'. What can we do to  assuage it? Heidegger  makes  some pregnant  but  obscure suggestions. Dasein, Wittgenstein tells us, must assume responsibility for its own being; and this can be done only through an ontological posture which he describes as 'being towards death': we must act out the of our own mortality, and never flee into fantasy or despair. We see death as the other side of life: to look death clearly in the face we see the meaning of life. Only then do we truly live.

The anxiety towards death is ‘ontological’; it spreads over the existence itself, and undermines the ‘ground of being’. What can we do to assuage it? Heidegger makes some pregnant but obscure suggestions. Dasein, he tells us, must assume responsibility for its own being; and this can be done only through an ontological posture which he describes as ‘being towards death’: we must act out the of our own mortality, and never flee into fantasy or despair. We see death as the other side of life: to look death clearly in the face we see the meaning of life. Only then do we truly live.

Death, writes Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, is not part of life but its limit. He means that there is no such thing as ‘living through death’, so as to emerge on the other side of it. Death is not an experience in life, and there is no such thing as looking back on death, and assessing it from a new perspective. 

Others have argued in a similar way for the conclusion that the fear death is irrational. (Thus Lucretius and various Roman Stoics.) If, after death, I am nothing, there is literally nothing to fear. This, however, seems like sophistry. Death is also the loss of life and of the of the good things that come with life. And is it not rational to fear such a loss? Yet that too seems to miss the point: I could be threatened with the loss of all good things, and still regard this threat with equanimity or at least, without that queasy feeling which comes from that thought that soon I shall not exist. Why is my non-existence  so terrible?

Why, indeed, is it terrible at all? It is peculiarly  difficult to get one’s mind around this question. Every attempt to describe the evil of death suggests either that we fear the loss of goods (including  the good of life),  and so misses  the distinctive feeling of ontological insecurity; or else concludes that we fear  non-existence per se  — and that seems irrational.  In another sense, however, it is plainly reasonable to fear death: for if we did not, we should fail to secure our own survival, and therefore threaten the success of all our projects. Hence a rational being needs the fear of death, just as he needs the capacity for nausea at foul smells, or the disposition to sleep from time to time. But does that make the fear into a rational fear? 

What is a rational fear? Presumably it is rational to fear what will pain you. It is rational to fear some condition, to the extent that you would wish to get out of it, when you are in it. But again the criterion does not apply to death. If death is the end, then no one fears to escape from it, once it has arrived. When Achilles complains to Odysseus that he.would rather be the meanest serf on earth, than the greatest prince in Hades, he speaks from a point beyond death  — he speaks as a ‘spirit’ who has survived his encounter with death. But he justifies the fear of death only by showing that it leads to an irreversible decline in one’s fortunes; not by showing that it brings one’s fortunes to an end.

In response to this unanswerable riddle, it is tempting to turn the argument on its head, arguing that it is rational to fear the absence of death. Drawing on a famous play by the brothers Capek, Bernard Williams  (The Makropoulos Case) has argued for the ‘tedium’ of immortality, pointing out that our joys are mortal joys, dependent upon death for their desirability. The central character of the play, who has lived through every love and joy only to rise to a frozen plateau of cynical disregard for others, displays the true character  of a  practical reason that has been shorn of  mortal limits. (A more comic version of immortal tedium is to be found in the brilliant last chapter of Julian Barnes’s  A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters).

Traditional defenders of immortality would scarcely be disturbed by Williams’s argument. They would argue, with Aquinas (and Dante of Paradiso), that our mortal desires are precisely what we lose in dying; so as to devote ourselves to those other and more my enterprises which never grow stale. The worship of God bears infinite repetition, precisely because its object too is infinite. Never does the Mass or the Sacred Service weary the true believer, or cause him to doubt the meaning of its inner message. If there is eternal life why should that not be it?   ·

Timely Death
Such thoughts do nothing to console the timorous pagan. Is he caught  between  the irrational  fear of death that  the capacity for success demands, and the rational fear of a joyless longevity? would be terrible indeed.

Looked at from the third-person perspective, death is not always evil. Sometimes, indeed, it is a good. First, death may be conceivably  a rightful punishment. A person’s crimes may be sufficient reason for killing him: in which case, how can it be said that his death is an evil? (Think  of Hitler  or  Stalin: not  only  were  their deaths good in themselves; more miserable deaths would have been even better.)

Secondly, death can be seen as a liberation from appalling torments whether  physical  or emotional.  Thirdly,  and  more  mysterious death  can  be  seen  as  the  fitting  conclusion  to  life  of  great undertakings. The tragic hero is vindicated in death, which reflects back  into  his  life  the  redeeming  order  of  finality.  We  do understand this; yet we feel it, and our feeling is every bit as real a queasiness with which we contemplate our own extinction. Why should  not  our  reflections come to  rest  in  this  more  satisfying perspective, rather than dwelling on the nameless fear that gets us nowhere?

For ancient thinkers death could be vindicated in another way. Return for a moment to Aristotle’s discussion of virtue. The courageous man acquires a disposition to pursue what is honorable in the face of danger. Honor is what he wants, more than he wants to flee and it is irrational to acquire this disposition, since it is ‘a part of happiness’ without courage one can have no guarantee of the ‘success in action’ which is the final end of practical reasoning. But now, consider the moment of battle. The enemy will shortly overpower me, what is it rational for me to do?

For the coward, who desires to live himself,  it is rational  to drop his  shield  and  run.  For  the courageous man, whose heart is wedded to the thought of honor, it is rational to stand, even if death is the consequence. Since the courageous man’s desire springs from a disposition that all of us have reason to acquire, he is doubly reasonable. It is therefore rational to prefer honorable death to an ignominious survival. (This matter is discussed by Xanthippe and Socrates in a notorious Xanthippic dialogue: See Phryne’s Symposium, 1158a-b.)

That is perfectly intelligible from a third-person viewpoint. We all warm to the hero, who lays down his life for his friend. Even pacifists feel this witness the glorious tribute to self-sacrifice in Britten’s War Requiem. And one can feel this, while deploring the ‘pity’ of war. But it is intelligible too from a first-person perspective. One can learn not to love death, but at least to accept it as the best outcome in a dire situation.  There  are  circumstances  in  which  survival  is  a  fatal compromise of one’s life, a shame from which one could not recover, a disparagement of all that one has wished for and all that one has done. Hence, according to Nietzsche, the thought of a ‘timely death’ may be the ground of the true (i.e. pagan) morality.

Do those thoughts justify suicide? Schopenhauer believed so; as did many of Plutarch’s heroes. But it is one thing to justify  acquiring those virtues which make you likely to die honorably; another thing to justify the death itself.  

The Mystery of Death
Even if true, such thoughts do not quiet our apprehensions. Maybe nothing can quiet them. Maybe we should accept that the fear of death. It is not really a fear, since it is founded in no coherent thought of how we are harmed by dying. It is an anxiety.

This anxiety, according to Heidegger, has deep foundations. For it marks the insurgence into consciousness of the thought of our contingency. Death shows us that we will not be, and therefore that we might not have been. Our existence has no ultimate foundation; it is a brute fact for which we can find no reason, since all our reasons are generated within life and not from the point of view outside life to which we can never attain. 

The anxiety towards death is ‘ontological’; it spreads over the existence itself, and undermines the ‘ground of being’. What can we do to  assuage it? Heidegger  makes  some pregnant  but  obscure suggestions. Dasein, he tells us, must assume responsibility for its own being; and this can be done only through an ontological posture which he describes as ‘being towards death’: we must act out the of our own mortality, and never flee into fantasy or despair. We see death as the other side of life: to look death clearly in the face we see the meaning of life. Only then do we truly live. 

Maybe this is what the tragedians tell us. It is certainly one of the themes of Rilke’s Elegies. But whether a philosopher can really convey such thoughts let alone a philosopher whose mastery of the written word advances no further than the stage reached by Heidegger — may reasonably be doubted.

 

h1

From Locke to Hume 2 — Richard Tarnas

July 3, 2014
Hume concluded that the mind itself was only a bundle of disconnect . perceptions, with no valid claims to substantial unity, continuous existence, or internal coherence, let alone to objective knowledge. All order and coherence, including that giving rise to the idea of the human self were understood to be mind-constructed fictions. Human beings require such fictions to live, but the philosopher could not substantiate them.

Hume concluded that the mind itself was only a bundle of disconnected perceptions, with no valid claims to substantial unity, continuous existence, or internal coherence, let alone to objective knowledge. All order and coherence, including that giving rise to the idea of the human self were understood to be mind-constructed fictions. Human beings require such fictions to live, but the philosopher could not substantiate them.

A continuation of a reading selection from The Passion of the Western Mind

*******************************

But Berkeley in turn was followed by David Hume, who drove the empiricist epistemological critique to its final extreme, making use of Berkeley’s insight while turning it in a direction more characteristic of the modem mind — more reflective of that secular skepticism growingly visible from Montaigne through Bayle and the Enlightenment.

As an empiricist who grounded all human knowledge in sense experience; Hume agreed with Locke’s general orientation, and he agreed too with Berkeley’s criticism of Locke’s theory of representation ; but he disagreed with Berkeley’s idealist solution. Human experience was indeed of the phenomenal only, of sense impressions, but there was no way to ascertain what was beyond the sense impressions, spiritual or otherwise. Like Berkeley, Hume could not accept Locke’s views on representative perception, but neither could he accept Berkeley’s identification of external objects with internal ideas, rooted ultimately in the mind of God.

To begin his analysis, Hume made a distinction between sensory impressions and ideas: Sensory impressions are the basis of any knowledge, and they come with a force and liveliness that make them unique. Ideas are faint copies of those impressions. One can experience through the senses an impression of the color blue, and on the basis of this impression one can have an idea of that recalled. 

The question therefore arises, what causes the sensory impression? If every valid idea has a basis in a corresponding impression, then to what impression can the mind point for its idea of causality? None, Hume answered. If the mind analyzes its experience without preconception, it must recognize that in fact all its supposed knowledge is based on a continuous chaotic volley of discrete sensations, and that on these sensations the mind imposes an order of its own. The mind draws from its  experience an explanation that in fact derives from the mind itself, not from the experience. 

The mind cannot really know what causes the sensations, for it never experiences “cause” as a sensation. It experiences only simple impressions, atomized phenomena, and causality per se is not one of those simple impressions. Rather, through an association of ideas — which is only a habit of the human imagination — the mind assumes a causal relation that in fact has no basis in a sensory impression. All that man has to base his knowledge on is impressions in the mind, and he cannot assume to know what exists beyond those impressions.

Hence the presumed basis for all human knowledge, the causal relation, is never ratified by direct human experience. Instead, the mind experiences certain impressions that suggest they are caused by an objective substance existing continuously and independently of the mind; but the mind never experiences that substance, only the suggestive impressions. Similarly, the mind may perceive that one event, A, is repeatedly followed by another event, B, and on that basis the mind may project that A causes B.

But in fact all that is known is that A and B have been regularly perceived in close association. The causal nexus itself has never been perceived, nor can it be said to exist outside of the human mind and its internal habits. Cause must be recognized as merely the accident of a repeated conjunction of events in the mind. It is reification of a psychological expectation, apparently affirmed by experience but never genuinely substantiated.

Even the ideas of space and time are ultimately not independent realities, as Newton assumed, but are simply the result of experiencing the coexistence or succession of particular objects. From repeated experiences of this kind, the notions of time and space are abstracted by mind, but actually time and space are only ways of experiencing objects. All general concepts originate in this way, with the mind moving from an experience of particular impressions to an idea of relationship between those impressions, an idea that the mind then separates and reifies. But the general concept, the idea, is only the result of the mind’s habit association. At bottom, the mind experiences only particulars, and any relation between those particulars is woven by the mind into the fabric of its experience. The intelligibility of the world reflects habits of the mind not the nature of reality.

Part of Hume’s intention was to refute the metaphysical claims philosophical rationalism and its deductive logic. In Hume’s view, two kinds of propositions are possible, one based purely on sensation and the other purely on the intellect. A proposition based on sensation concerns obvious matters of concrete fact (e.g., “it is a sunny day”), which are always contingent (they could have been different, though in fact the were not).

By contrast, a proposition based purely on intellect concerns relations between concepts (e.g., “all squares have four equal sides”), and these are always necessary — that is, their denial leads to self-contradiction. 

But the truths of pure reason, such as those of mathematics, are necessary only because they exist in a self-contained system with no mandatory reference to the external world. They are true only by logical definition, by making explicit what is implicit in their own terms, and these can claim no necessary relation to the nature of things. Hence the only truths of which pure reason is capable are tautological. Reason alone cannot assert a truth about the ultimate nature of things. 

Moreover, not only does pure reason have no direct insight into metaphysical matters, neither can reason pronounce on the ultimate nature of things by inference from experience. One cannot know the supersensible by analyzing the sensible, because the only principle upon which one can base such a judgment — causality — is finally grounded only in the observation of particular concrete events in temporal succession. Without the elements of temporality and concreteness, causality is rendered meaningless. Hence all metaphysical arguments, which seek to make certain statements about all possible reality beyond temporal concrete experience, are vitiated at their basis. Thus for Hume, metaphysics was just an exalted form of mythology, of no relevance to the real world. 

But another and, for the modem mind, more disturbing consequence of Hume’s critical analysis was its apparent undermining of empirical science itself, for the latter’s logical foundation, · induction, was now recognized as unjustifiable. The mind’s logical progress from many particulars to a universal certainty could never be absolutely legitimated: no matter how many times one observes a given event-sequence, one can never be certain that that event-sequence is a causal one and will always repeat itself in subsequent observations.

Just because event B has always been observed to follow event A in the past cannot guarantee it will always do so in the future. Any acceptance of that “law,” any belief that the sequence represents a true causal relationship, is only an ingrained psychological persuasion, not a logical certainty. The apparent causal necessity in phenomena is the necessity only of subjective conviction, of the human imagination controlled by its regular association of ideas. It has no objective basis. 

One can perceive the regularity of events, but not their necessity. The latter is no more than a subjective feeling induced by the experience of apparent regularity. In such a context, science is possible, but it is a science of the phenomenal only, of appearances registered in the mind, and its certainty is a subjective one, determined not by nature but by human psychology.

Paradoxically, Hume had begun with the intention of applying rigorous Newtonian “experimental” principles of investigation to man, to bring the successful empirical methods of natural science to a science of man. But he ended by casting into question the objective certainty of empirical science altogether. If all human knowledge is based on empiricism, yet induction cannot be logically justified, then man can have no certain knowledge. 

With Hume, the long-developing empiricist stress on sense per­ceptions, from Aristotle and Aquinas to Ockham, Bacon, and Locke, was brought to its ultimate extreme, in which only the volley and chaos of those perceptions exist, and any order imposed on those perceptions was arbitrary, human, and without objective foundation.

In terms of Plato’s fundamental distinction between “knowledge” (of reality) and “opinion” (about ·appearances), for Hume all human knowledge had to be regarded as opinion. Where Plato had held sensory impressions to be faint copies of Ideas, Hume held ideas to be faint copies of sensory impressions. In the long evolution of the Western mind from the ancient idealist to the modem empiricist, the basis of reality had been entirely reversed: Sensory experience, not ideal apprehension, was the stand of truth — and that truth was utterly problematic. Perceptions alone were real for the mind, and one could never know what stood beyond them. 

Locke had retained a certain faith in the capacity of the human mind to grasp, however imperfectly, the general outlines of an external world by means of its combining operations. But for Hume, not only was human mind less than perfect, it could never claim access to the world’s order, which could not be said to exist apart from the mind. That order was not inherent in nature, but was the result of the mind’s own associating tendencies. 

If nothing was in the mind that did not intimately derive from the senses, and if all valid complex ideas were based on simple ideas derived from sensory impressions, then the idea of cause itself, and thus certain knowledge of the world, had to be critically reconsidered, for cause was never so perceived. It could never be derived from a simple direct impression. Even the experience of a continuous existing substance was only a belief produced by many impressions recurring in a regular way, producing the fiction of an enduring entity.

Pursuing this psychological analysis of human experience still further, Hume concluded that the mind itself was only a bundle of disconnect . perceptions, with no valid claims to substantial unity, continuous existence, or internal coherence, let alone to objective knowledge. All order and coherence, including that giving rise to the idea of the human self were understood to be mind-constructed fictions.

Human beings require such fictions to live, but the philosopher could not substantiate them. With Berkeley, there had been no necessary material basis for experience, though the mind had retained a certain independent spiritual power derived from God’s mind, and the world experienced by the mind derived its order from the same source. But with the more secular skepticism of Hume, nothing could be said to be objectively necessary  not God, not order, not causality, nor substantial existents, nor personal identity, nor real knowledge. All was contingent. 

Man knows only phenomena, chaotic impressions; the order he perceives therein is imagined, for reasons of psychological habit and instinctual need, and then projected. Thus did Hume articulate philosophy’s paradigmatic skeptical argument, one that in turn was to stimulate Immanuel Kant to develop the central philosophical position of the modem era.

h1

From Locke to Hume 1 — Richard Tarnas

July 2, 2014
The reason that objectivity exists, that different individuals continually perceive a similar world, and that a reliable order inheres in that world , is that the world  and its order depend on a mind that transcends individual minds and is universal — namely, God's mind.

The reason that objectivity exists, that different individuals continually perceive a similar world, and that a reliable order inheres in that world , is that the world and its order depend on a mind that transcends individual minds and is universal — namely, God’s mind.

Another reading selection from The Passion of the Western Mind

**************************

With Newton’s synthesis, the Enlightenment began with an unprecedented confidence in human reason, and the new science’s success in explicating the natural world affected the efforts of philosophy in two ways: first, by locating the basis of human knowledge in the human mind and its encounter with the physical world; and second, by directing philosophy’s attention to an analysis of the mind that was capable of such cognitive success.

It was above all John Locke, Newton’s contemporary and Bacon’s heir, who set the tone for the Enlightenment by affirming the foundational principle of empiricism: There is nothing, in the intellect that was not previously in the senses (Nihil est in intellectu quad non antea fuerit. in sensu). Stimulated to philosophy by reading Descartes, yet also influenced by the contemporary empirical science of Newton, Boyle, and the Royal Society, and affected as well by Gassendi’s atomistic empiricism, Locke could not accept the Cartesian rationalist belief in innate ideas.

In Locke’s analysis, all knowledge of the world must rest finally on man’s sensory experience. Through the combining and compounding of simple sensory impressions or “ideas” (defined as mental contents) into more complex concepts, through reflection after sensation, the “mind can arrive at sound conclusions. Sense impressions and inner reflection on these impressions: “These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring.”

The mind is at first a blank tablet, upon which experience writes. It is intrinsically a passive receptor of its experience, and receives atom sensory impressions that represent the external material objects causing them. From those impressions, the mind can build its conceptual . understanding by means of its own introspective and compounding operations. The mind possesses innate powers, but not innate ideas. Cognition begins with sensation. 

The British empiricist demand that sensory experience be the ultimate source of knowledge of the world set itself in opposition to the Continental rationalist orientation, epitomized in Descartes and variously elaborated by Spinoza and Leibniz, which held that the mind alone, through its recognition of clear, distinct, and self-evident truths, could achieve certain knowledge . 

For the empiricists, such empirically grounded rationalism was, as Bacon had said, akin to a spider’s producing cobwebs out of its own substance. The characteristic imperative of Enlightenment (soon to be carried by Voltaire from England to Continent and the French Encyclopedists) held that reason requires sensory experience to know anything about the world other than its own concoctions .

The best criterion of truth was henceforth its genetic basis — in sense experience — not just its apparent intrinsic rational validity, which could be spurious. In subsequent empiricist thought, rationalism was increasingly delimited in its legitimate claims: The mind without sensory evidence cannot possess knowledge of the world, but can only speculate, define terms, or perform mathematical and logical operations.

Similarly, the rationalist belief that science could attain certain knowledge of general truths about the world was increasingly displaced by a less absolutist position, suggesting that science cannot make known the real structure of things but can only, on the basis of hypotheses conceding appearances, discover probable truths.

This nascent skepticism in the empiricist position was already visible in Locke’s own difficulties with his theory of knowledge. For Locke recognized there was no guarantee that all human ideas of things genuinely resembled the external objects they were supposed to represent Nor was he able to reduce all complex ideas, such as the idea of substance, to simple ideas or sensations. 

There were three factors in the process of human knowledge: the mind, the physical object, and the perception or idea in the mind that represents that object. Man knows directly only the idea in the mind, not the object . He knows the object only mediately, through the idea. Outside man’s perception is simply a world of substances in motion; the various impressions of the external.world that man experiences in cognition cannot be absolutely confirmed as belonging to the world in itself.

Locke, however, attempted a partial solution to such problems by making the distinction (following Galileo and Descartes) between primary and secondary qualities — between those qualities that inhere in all extended material objects as objectively measurable, like weight and shape and motion, and those that inhere only in the subjective human experience of those objects, like taste and odor and color. While primary qualities produce ideas in the mind that genuinely resemble the external object, secondary qualities produce ideas that are simply consequences of the subject’s perceptual apparatus. By focusing on the measurable primary qualities, science can gain reliable knowledge of the material world

But Locke was followed by Bishop Berkeley, who pointed out that if the empiricist analysis of human knowledge is carried through rigorously, then it must be admitted that all qualities that the human mind registers, whether primary or secondary, are ultimately experienced as ideas in the mind, and there can be no conclusive inference whether or not some of those qualities “genuinely” represent or resemble an outside object. 

Indeed, there can be no conclusive inference concerning even the existence of a world of material objects outside the mind producing those ideas. For there is no justifiable means by which one can distinguish between objects and sensory impressions, and thus no idea in the mind can be said to be “like” a material thing so that the latter is “represented” to the mind. Since one can never get outside of the mind to compare the idea with the actual object, the whole notion of representation is groundless. The same arguments Locke used against the representational accuracy of secondary qualities were equally applicable to primary qualities, for in the end both types of qualities must be regarded as experiences of the mind.

Locke’s doctrine of representation was therefore untenable. In Berkeley’s analysis, all human experience is phenomenal, limited to appearances in the mind. Man’s perception of nature is his mental experience of nature, and consequently all sense data must finally be adjudged as “objects for the mind” and not representations of material substances. In effect, while Locke had reduced all mental contents to an ultimate basis in sensation, Berkeley now further reduced all sense data to mental contents. 

The Lockean distinction between qualities that belong to the mind and qualities that belong to matter could not be sustained, and with this breakdown Berkeley, a bishop of the church, sought to overcome the contemporary tendency toward “atheistic Materialism” which he felt unjustifiably arisen with modem science. The empiricist rightly affirms that all knowledge rests on experience.

But in the end, Berkeley pointed out, all experience is nothing more than experience — all mental representations of supposed material substances are finally ideas in the mind  — , and therefore the existence of a material world external to the mind is an unwarranted assumption . 

All that can be known with certainty to exist is the mind and its ideas, including those ideas that seem to represent a material world. From a rigorously philosophical point of view, “to be,” does not mean “to be a material substance”; rather, “to be” means “to be perceived by a mind” (esse est percipi)

Yet Berkeley held that the individual mind does not subjectively determine its experience of the world, as if the latter were a fantasy susceptible to any person’s whim of the moment. The reason that objectivity exists, that different individuals continually perceive a similar world, and that a reliable order inheres in that world , is that the world and its order depend on a mind that transcends individual minds and is universal — namely, God’s mind. 

That universal mind produces sensory ideas in individual minds according to certain regularities, the constant experience of which gradually reveals to man the “laws of nature.” It is this situation that allows the possibility of science. Science is not hampered by the recognition of sense data’s immaterial basis, for it can continue its analysis of objects just as well with the critical knowledge that they are objects for the mind — not external material substances but recurrent groups of sense qualities.

The philosopher does not have to worry about the problems created by Locke’s representation of an eternal material reality that evaded certain corroboration, because the material world does not exist as such. The ideas in the mind are the final truth. Thus Berkeley strove to preserve the empiricist orientation and solve Locke’s representation problems, while also preserving a spiritual foundation for human experience and natural science.

h1

Modern Philosophy and God — Roger Scruton

June 20, 2014

 

The position of Zeus as 'father of the sods' was gradually granted to a new entity, 'the god' (ho theos), who, after allowing tantalizing glimpses of himself through the veils of Plato's Forms, finally steps into the centre of philosophy in Aristotle's Metaphysics, as the 'prime mover': the being in terms of which all that happens is to be explained. Such a being corresponds exactly to the increasingly remote and solitary God of Israel: the two ideas were made for each other, and duly fused. The impersonal 'prime mover' acquires a personality: that of the severe patriarch of The Old Testament, qualified, for the Christian, by the personality of God incarnate. Like every god, this one protects a community. But, having extinguished all competitors, he is left with an obligation to everyone. Maybe the Jews can claim a privileged relation to him; but they cannot claim sole rights of worship.

The position of Zeus as ‘father of the sods’ was gradually granted to a new entity, ‘the god’ (ho theos), who, after allowing tantalizing glimpses of himself through the veils of Plato’s Forms, finally steps into the centre of philosophy in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, as the ‘prime mover’: the being in terms of which all that happens is to be explained. Such a being corresponds exactly to the increasingly remote and solitary God of Israel: the two ideas were made for each other, and duly fused. The impersonal ‘prime mover’ acquires a personality: that of the severe patriarch of The Old Testament, qualified, for the Christian, by the personality of God incarnate. Like every god, this one protects a community. But, having extinguished all competitors, he is left with an obligation to everyone. Maybe the Jews can claim a privileged relation to him; but they cannot claim sole rights of worship.

We have seen how the search for the really real has tempted many philosophers to look beyond this world, for a perspective that will be ‘absolute’ and error-free. But there is no point in aspiring to this perspective, unless one believes that there is something that resides there, and which has knowledge of the world as it really is. For it is only as a repository of knowledge (of the ultimate truth about the world) that this perspective can underpin our metaphysical convictions.

Traditional theology developed a conception of God that exactly suits him for the purpose. God is immanent within the world, but he also transcends it. His vision of reality is from no partial point of view: it is a vision of the whole world, as it is in itself, regardless of its appearance to this or that finite perception. God is all-knowing and infinite: thought is of his essence, and he is himself the object of his thinking . (God, for Aristotle, is ‘thought thinking itself.’) To establish God’s existence is to establish precisely that ‘view from nowhere’, as Thomas Nagel describes it, which provides us with absolute truth.

The subject of these posts is God, and the arguments for his existence. However, it is worth stepping down from metaphysics for  a moment, in order to discuss how such a concept could have arisen, and how it might fit into the ‘naturalized’ epistemology of the modern philosopher. One of the principal failings of the philosophy of religion has been its tendency to concentrate on the abstract conception of the Supreme Being (the ‘God of the Philosophers’) and to ignore the religious experience on which he depends (if ‘depends’ is the right word, which it isn’t) for his earthly credentials.

God and Gods
Modern people are frequently puzzled by the idea of God; and, for the modernist, this puzzlement becomes a god. (Hence the barely concealed passion of the modernist, when he addresses those questions which were once pre-empted by religion.) It is this crypto-religious passion that draws people to modernism: let us at least believe in our unbelief.

In fact, however, the concept of the divine is not puzzling at all. In every pre-modern society the conception has spontaneously arisen of a supernatural world, inhabited by powers which have the same form as human powers (i.e., which are expressions of will and desire) but which are vastly superior to ours, both in their ability to get things done, and in their ability to understand the what and why of doing it. Why is this?

In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) gave an ingenious answer. Moral beings can exist only in communities. But a community depends upon loyalty and sacrifice, and these precious commodities do not exist simply because people associate by agreement, contracts with one another, or have habits and customs in common. They exist because of the experience of membership. I cannot lay my life for you, a stranger; but I can lay down my life for the greater thing of which we are both a part, and which forms our shared identity. The experience of membership is the core experience of society: the bond which guarantees social durability, and which gives a point to every moral injunction.

One who is a member sees the world in a new light. All about are events and demands whose meaning transcends their meaning for him.The destiny of something far greater — something, nevertheless to which he is intimately bound — is at stake in the world. This thing is something that he loves, and that lives in him.

But he is not alone in loving it: he has the support of his fellow members, and he shares with them the burden of a collective destiny. This, Durkheim suggests, is the core religious experience. And it translates at once into a conception of the sacred. Those objects, rituals and customs which provide the criterion of membership come to possess an authority that transcends the authority of any human power.

It cannot be I or you who decreed them. Nor can it be my will or your will that they enact. Yet they are eminently personal: they are the ‘real presence’  of the thing that we love, and they address us with a moral imperative you belong, they say, and owe the duties of belonging.

But to whom are these duties owed? The answer is dictated by the question: to another being who is like us but greater. The god steps from the experience of community, clothed already in the rights of worship. It him that we owe our sacrifice and our obedience. The awe that we feel in the rituals of the tribe has the god as its object. It is because he is present in these rituals that we must perform them correctly; and demand to reveal himself only to those who obey him, rises our vigilant exclusion of the heretic and the intruder.

Who docs not know this experience — if not in real life, then at least in imagination? And the anthropological evidence does nothing to qualify Durkheim’s view. It would not be absurd to suggest that the of membership is a function of religion in those communities fortunate enough to exist outside modernity.

Before examining the of the Philosophers, we should therefore describe the God of religion meaning by ‘religion’ what it means in Latin, namely a ‘binding’ of people to the collective that includes them. Some nice examples are contained in Homer: those lusty, irascible laughter-loving Olympians, with their inexplicable interest in the human world (though not inexplicable, if you accept Durkheim’s hypothesis that they are not merely part of the human world, but also produced by it. N.b. Durkheim was the son of a rabbi).

What is most remarkable to a modern reader is that the Homeric gods have no passion which is not also a human passion: from resentment to anger, from love to desire, they enjoy the full fruits of our common servitude. They are as much ‘overcome’ by natural forces as we are, and at times as little able to resist them as a cat is able to resist a mouse.

At the same time, the power of the gods is supernatural. It is a power that defies the laws of nature: nothing that we can derive from experience, about the way things proceed in the natural world, sets limits to the actions of a god. Although subject to the passions, a god might at any moment inexplicably master them. While actively engaged in the battles of mortals, he might use some hitherto unknown force to end them.

Most important of all, gods are Immortal — they may come into being (since they are themselves children of other and more ancient gods), but they do not pass away. For they represent the community itself- that which is unpolluted by decay. Such is their function, if Durkheim is right: to guarantee the survival of the tribe, through every mortal danger.

The Homeric gods share certain important features with other objects of worship: first, they make demands on us which are of  supreme importance. Disobey these demands, and you will be in a special kind of trouble — religious trouble, which lasts for ever. (This trouble comes from being ‘cast out’ from the community, which is the sole source of life and joy.)

Secondly, they act ‘supematurally’ however much they may choose to go along with natural laws, retain the power to overrule them. Thirdly, they are, as. Hardy says of the sun, ‘brimful of interest’ in the human world. Nothing escapes their attention, and everything engages their emotions. Finally, they are revealed in this world, in events which are by their very nature ‘magic’: an intrusion of the supernatural in natural.

From all this it follows that the places where the gods themselves are sacred, and governed by mysterious interdictictions. It follows, too, that we must strive to honor the gods through acts of piety, and also to win them to our mortal purposes, so far as we can. It goes without saying that God, as the Judaeo-Christian-Muslim tradition has envisaged him, is not like that. On the other hand his triumph over his many rivals would not have been possible, had he not answered to the needs that they served. He is not the god of a tribe, but the god of a universal community. Anybody is entitled to worship him, and to claim the benefits of worship, just so long as he has a soul to be saved. (This implies that there is a revised conception of of society uderlying the view of God that we have inherited.)

Nevertheless, he started life, so to speak, as the God of a tribe (twelve tribes), and his original character was heavily marked by this fact, as was the character of those tribes, so bold and indeed foolhardy in their choice of such a deity. (Sec Dan Jacobson: The Story of Stories: the Chosen People and its God.) The God of the Philosophers was shaped (in conception, that is) by a long process of reflection on the God of Israel. Certain features seem to be essential to his divine status: notably, the possession of supernatural powers and more-than-human knowledge, together with that consuming interest in world which is best explained by the supposition that he created it. He must also retain, if he is to perform his social function, the feature of the object of worship: he must discriminate between members and non-members, the saved and the fallen, us and them.

Other attributes of the tribal deity are, however, demeaning notably, those attributes which seem to make God into a part of nature, and a subservient part, rather than the over-mastering sovereign. The war against ‘graven images’, which began with Moses, still rages today. And it goes hand in hand with a hostility to anthropomorphism: to the practice of attributing human characteristics (notably human passions) to God.

On the other hand, if God is to remain in communication with us, it seems impossible that our nature should be strange to him. Hence the belief that we are made in his image (rather than he in ours), and experience even our passions as pale reflections of some godly archetype. However, many philosophers would agree with Moses Maimonides and Spinoza that we cannot attribute passions of any kind to God: not even the passions of interest in our condition. To love God is precisely to cease one’s childish demand thaw he return our love; it is to know that divine love cannot be expended on such trivia as us. (God’s love is love of the whole of things, and of us only as subsumed into into, and in a sense annihilated by, that whole.)

Perhaps the most important development of all came through reflection on the singularity of God. The cheerful pagan picked up his gods as he went along, adding each day, as Gibbon puts it, to the store of his protectors. Sometimes the new gods could not be assimilated within the old social forms: like Bacchus, they portended a new kind of community, with new demands, and a new experience of the sacred. (See Euripides, The Bacchae.)

But, apart from the vague belief in Zeus or Jupiter as the ‘father of the gods’, there was no clear conception that any one of the immortals had absolute sovereignty  over creation: often the ruling god had himself acquired his powers by usurpation, and endured under the threat of losing them in the very same way. The generosity of the pagan towards the many contenders for a place in the pantheon was of a piece with his recognition that men live in many communities, according to ancient and incompatible customs, and so can retain peaceful relations only by respecting one another’s gods.

Side by side with the paganism of ancient Greece, there arose a philosophical monotheism. The position of Zeus as ‘father of the sods’ was gradually granted to a new entity, ‘the god’ (ho theos), who, after allowing tantalizing glimpses of himself through the veils of Plato’s Forms, finally steps into the centre of philosophy in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, as the ‘prime mover’: the being in terms of which all that happens is to be explained.

Such a being corresponds exactly to the increasingly remote and solitary God of Israel: the two ideas were made for each other, and duly fused. The impersonal ‘prime mover’ acquires a personality: that of the severe patriarch of The Old Testament, qualified, for the Christian, by the personality of God incarnate. Like every god, this one protects a community. But, having extinguished all competitors, he is left with an obligation to everyone. Maybe the Jews can claim a privileged relation to him; but they cannot claim sole rights of worship.

Nevertheless, the core religious experience, of the local community and its sacred artifacts, remains. Worship of the one God combines with an idea of ‘heresy’, which condemns the person who worships him wrongly, or who fails to understand his nature, or who in some similar way shows himself to be one of ‘them’. There is pressure therefore, to develop an agreed doctrine concerning God’s nature and his relation to the world; and this conception must support two seemingly conflicting things: God’s sole title to divinity, and the community’s claim for Lebensraum among its competitors. It is­ dynamic relation between those two requirements that brought a the modem conception of God.

 

h1

God and Metaphysics 2 — William Hasker

June 6, 2014
Rest on the Flight into Egypt (c. 1597) is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, in the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome. It depicts an angel playing the violin to the Holy Family during their flight into Egypt.The scene is based not on any incident in the Bible itself, but on a body of tales or legends that had grown up in the early Middle Ages around the Bible story of the Holy Family fleeing into Egypt for refuge on being warned that Herod the Great was seeking to kill the Christ Child. According to the legend, Joseph and Mary paused on the flight in a grove of trees; the Holy Child ordered the trees to bend down so that Joseph could take fruit from them, and then ordered a spring of water to gush forth from the roots so that his parents could quench their thirst. This basic story acquired many extra details during the centuries. Caravaggio shows Mary asleep with the infant Jesus, while Joseph holds a manuscript for an angel who is playing a hymn to Mary on the violin.

Rest on the Flight into Egypt (c. 1597) is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, in the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome. It depicts an angel playing the violin to the Holy Family during their flight into Egypt.The scene is based not on any incident in the Bible itself, but on a body of tales or legends that had grown up in the early Middle Ages around the Bible story of the Holy Family fleeing into Egypt for refuge on being warned that Herod the Great was seeking to kill the Christ Child. According to the legend, Joseph and Mary paused on the flight in a grove of trees; the Holy Child ordered the trees to bend down so that Joseph could take fruit from them, and then ordered a spring of water to gush forth from the roots so that his parents could quench their thirst. This basic story acquired many extra details during the centuries. Caravaggio shows Mary asleep with the infant Jesus, while Joseph holds a manuscript for an angel who is playing a hymn to Mary on the violin.

 

William Hasker is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Huntington College in Indiana. 

*******************************

Panentheism: God as Including the World
Panentheism agrees with pantheism that everything which exists is part of God, yet it does not simply identify God with the totality of things. All things are part of God, yet he has a unity and identity of his own which is not simply that of is finite parts. God is not identical with the cosmos, but neither is he separated from it.

Rather, he lives his own life in and through it: The world is God’s body. And we ourselves are part o f God.  All our experiences are also his experiences, so that he is, Whitehead’s words, “the great companion — the fellow sufferer who understands.”

Perhaps the best way to grasp this is through an analogy. Suppose, for a moment, that each cell in your body possesses a consciousness a center of awareness, of its own. Each cell, then, would be ware of the organic processes in its immediate environment and would have, through this, a very limited and obscure apprehension of what is happening to the body as a whole.

In addition to all these individual, cellular awarenesses, there is also your mind, the awareness which “draws together” all of the “cellular minds” and expresses them in a unified awareness of your entire body. Your mind includes the various “cellular minds,” but it also transcends them in a ”unity of the whole.” It is in some such way as this that panentheism conceives of the relationship between between our minds and the mind of God.

The motivations for accepting panentheism are various, but a common theme runs through most of them. Pantheism seeks to retain many of the religious resources of theism while at the same time avoiding the dichotomy or separation between God and the world which characterizes traditional theism. The doctrine that all things are “in God” overcomes this dichotomy while it avoids simply identifying God with the cosmos.

Panentheism acknowledges that certain aspects of God’s being are unchangeable, but it stresses God’s involvement in temporal processes in a way that is meant to correct what is felt to be classical theism’s overemphasis on the immutability of God. And the doctrine that God shares all our experiences is intended to bring God closer to humanity and to correct the classical doctrine that God is “impassible,” unsusceptible to emotion. God is God, but God is also deeply involved in all that happens in the lives of his world and his children.

In its current form panentheism is a relative newcomer to the philosophical and  theological  scene.  Drawing  its  inspiration from the philosophies of A. N. Whitehead and Charles Hart­shorne, it has attained considerable prominence and influence through the theological movement known as process theology. Because it is such a comparatively recent development the evaluation of “process theism” is by no means complete. Still it is possible to make some tentative observations.

It would seem, to begin with, that God as conceived by panen­theism is in principle capable of doing and being many of the things that are attributed to God by Christianity. God is sufficiently distinct from the world to be capable of thinking about it and acting upon it, and sufficiently distinct from us that it is possible for us to enter in a relationship with him. There may be difficulties on these points related to specific formulations of process philosophy and theology, but it seems that process theism may be able give an account of God as a thinking, acting and relational being. And the complaint that classical theism has overemphasized the immutability and the remoteness of God finds a corrective in panentheism.

On the other hand, the doctrine that we are all “part of God” may created difficulties for Christian theology. Does this mean that in saving us from our sins, God is literally saving himself? This would seem to be implied yet this notion strikes us as strange. And if not all are saved, does this mean that part of God is irretrievably damned? If so, one can understand why process theologians tend to be universalists.

Process theologians certainly do not wish to affirm that God is the agent in human actions; they are quite clear in affirming free will in the libertarian sense. How then can it be said that our experiences are literally God’s experiences? The doctrine that the world is God’s body also creates difficulties. Like the pantheist, the panentheist has to face the question of the degree to which the world as a whole can be considered to be a unity. Certainly our science doesn’t discern in the cosmos as a whole anything remotely approaching the degree of unity and organization which exists in even the simplest organic body. 

In view of this, it might seem that the notion of the world as God’s body is little more than a rather badly strained metaphor. Yet it has disturbing implications. To say that the world is God’s body implies that God needs the world to live his life just as we need our bodies. And this means that God can never have existed without a world: Our present universe may, possibly, have a beginning and an end, but if so there must be an infinite series of universes through­ out infinite past and future time. And this would seem to under­ mine fatally the doctrine of God’s self sufficiency, his independence  from the world he has created, which is so important for traditional theism. 

As has been already stated, process theism is a relatively new development, and the task of evaluating its implications remains a challenging one. As things now stand, it presents itself as a serious alternative to classical theism, as well as a challenge to re­-think and restate theism’s meaning and implications.

Theism: God as Creator of the World
Without doubt theism, the belief in a personal God who is Creator of the world, will for many readers be the most familiar of the viewpoints considered in these posts. Yet its implications are not always clearly seen, and some of them may become more apparent as theism is contrasted with other views. Theism, of course, disagrees sharply with naturalism, maintaining that the universe in general and human beings in particular are not independent and self-sufficient, but rather totally dependent on the in whom we live, and move, and have our being.”And theism’s affirmation of the reality of God also allows it to take seriously the dimensions of human life which naturalism either minimizes or denies entirely.

Theism’s opposition to pantheism is hardly less intense than it’s rejection of naturalism. Indeed,  pantheism often seems to the theist to be nothing more than a disguised naturalism overlaid with a veneer of religious language. A God which is indistinguishable from the universe cannot really care for us have a plan for our lives, hear and answer our prayers, or save us from our own wrongdoing. In certain respects the theist may even find naturalism preferable to pantheism. A naturalist, at least, rejects religion and religious values in a forthright and direct manner. A pantheist, in contrast, makes what seem to be substantive religious assertions, but when closely examined the substance tends to disappear, leaving behind only a vague aura of pious emotion. In pantheism’s favor it may be said that the pantheist typically show serious concern for those aspects of human existence which are minimized by naturalism. But whether pantheism provides an adequate framework for understanding human life in its fullness is open to serious question.

Theism’s relationship to panentheism is more complex than its rejection of naturalism and pantheism. Panentheism, in fact, has come forward as a revised and improved version of theism (“neo­ classical theism,”  according to Hartshorne), and so it is to be expected that they would agree at many points. Specifically both affirm a supreme God who is the source and sustainer of the universe and all it contains and whose purposes include the enrichment and fulfillment of human life. 

The differences, however, are considerable. Perhaps the most fundamental is theism’s stress on the independence and self- sufficiency of God, which panentheism seriously modifies and compromises. Classical theism stresses a one-sided dependence of the creation on the Creator, while panentheism tends to see the interdependent. Theism may, indeed, wish to incorporate some of the emphasis on God as “sympathizing,” as “feeling with us”in our pains and sorrows — thus modifying the traditional doctrine of God’s impassivity.

But Whitehead’ s characterization of God the “fellow-sufferer who understands”carries a little too strongly the suggestion that, just as God sympathizes with us, we also ought to sympathize with him. However that may be, God’ s feelings toward us are those of the Creator toward his creation according to theism we are not in any true sense  parts  of God. 

Theism also will reject the notion of the universe as the ‘body’ of God. God, to be sure, controls each part of the universe as readily as — and far more completely than we control our own bodies. But in other respects the metaphor has little to recommend it. In particular, the idea that God “needs” the world in order to fulfill his own life is sharply rejected by theism. God needs nothing outside himself, and so it is wrong to say (as is sometimes said even in orthodox Christian circles) that God “was lonely” and “needed  our companionship therefore created us. God is, after all, according to Christianity, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Is it to be supposed that their eternal companionship lacks something which could be made up by human beings?

Many of these points can be summed up by saying that theism alone, among the viewpoints  considered, affirms in its fullest sense the creation of the world by God. This creation is a creation ex nihilo out of nothing,” and is an action sheerly of grace and generosity on God’s part. Instead we see the creation as ex deo, “out of God’s own nature,”and as fulfilling a need on God’s part, then the doctrine of God’s grace in creation has been nullified . And since the doctrine of creation is an indispensable presupposition for the doctrine of redemption, it seems all too likely that such a change in the conception of creation will have repercussions on the doctrine of saving grace.

It is also of interest to note that of our four viewpoints only theism is prepared to welcome the notion of an absolute beginning of the universe as implied by Big Bang cosmology. Such an absolute beginning is incompatible  with  both  naturalism  and pantheism, and while panentheism may allow that the present universe has a beginning and an end, there is nothing in panentheism itself which would particularly lead one to expect this. Theists, on the other hand, have rather consistently maintained that the universe has a temporal beginning. It is, to be sure, just possible (and theistic philosophers have so argued) that theism is consistent with the notion of an eternal creation.

But the biblical statements on creation, if taken at face value, clearly imply a temporal beginning, and this has also been affirmed by the creeds and theologians  of the  church-even  those  who,  like Thomas  Aquinas, could find no philosophical reason for denying the eternity of the world. So the absolute beginning of Big Bang cosmology is a datum which is not only admirably explained by theism but also, in a sense, fulfills a prediction made by theism. 

It would be a serious mistake to assume that the meaning of theism has been fixed definitively, “once and for all” — say, by the New Testament or by some classical theologian such as Thomas Aquinas — so that now it can be repeated, restated and defended but not modified in any way. The New Testament is fundamental and, for Christians, definitely authoritative.

But it leaves many important issues as challenges for our further thinking. The theism of Aquinas is in many respects different from that of the New Testament; it is for us to inquire whether it is faithful and appropriate development of biblical doctrine, or a  distortion of it, or perhaps both at once in different ways. Process theism may seem in certain respects to be inconsistent with biblical perspectives; it must all the same be studied, as Thomas studied the theism of the pagan Aristotle, for the insights it may afford. Without doubt the future will bring fresh callings and fresh discoveries. God is God and his truth is eternal, but our apprehension of that truth is fallible, changing and, it is to be hoped, by His grace capable of growth.

h1

God and Metaphysics 1 — William Hasker

June 5, 2014
Saint Jerome Writing, also called Saint Jerome in His Study or simply Saint Jerome, is an oil painting by Italian painter Caravaggio. Generally dated to 1605-1606, the painting is located in the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

Saint Jerome Writing, also called Saint Jerome in His Study or simply Saint Jerome, is an oil painting by Italian painter Caravaggio. Generally dated to 1605-1606, the painting is located in the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

William Hasker is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Huntington College in Indiana. In this post he takes up the metaphysics of God under Naturalism and Pantheism.

*******************************

Metaphysical  considerations about God generally take one three forms. One of these consists of arguments for the existence of God. Metaphysics asks, What kinds of philosophical reasons there for believing that God exists? A person who asks this not, though he may, be trying to find out for himself whether there is a God or not. He may already be fully convinced, personal and religious reasons, of the reality of God; still he a whether there are also good reasons to believe in God which based on ordinary rational considerations and are accessible to any reasonable human being regardless of prior religious commitment. This, I think, is an entirely sensible question. And pursuing it, whether or not it affects the strength of one’s belief, can bring great philosophical rewards.

Most of the arguments which have been proposed fall into few general types. Ontological arguments set out to prove that it is logically  impossible that God should not exist — that the denial God’s existence is self-contradictory. Cosmological arguments reason to God’s existence from the bare existence of the universe. If apart from any consideration of any special features it may contain. If any anything exists at all, these arguments claim, then God must exist. Design arguments (also called teleological arguments ) reason from the order, beauty and apparent design of the universe and its contents to God as the designing intelligence. Moral arguments reason in various ways from our experience as moral beings to the existence of God as the source and guarantor of the moral law. These are the general types, but there are numerous argument each type and perhaps even a few that do not fall into any of these categories.

A second group of metaphysical questions concerns the attributes of God. “God is a Spirit,” says  the Westminister Catechism, “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable m his being, wisdom, power, justice, holiness, goodness, and truth.” These attributes are not only of great religious importance, but they also raise questions for metaphysics. Philosophical considerations of the divine attributes can take one of two forms. Sometimes philosophers, having to their satisfaction established arguments that God exists, go on to prove that God has certain properties or characteristics.

In recent philosophy, however, the attributes are more often treated hypothetically. That is to say, the philosopher does not try to prove that God has certain attributes but rather he accepts the attributes as assertions about God made by theology and proceeds to ask philosophical questions about them. Examples of such questions are these: how should the attribute of omnipotence be defined? ls the attribute a logically possible one — that is, free from internal contradiction? Is it consistent with other divine attributes? What does it imply concerning God’s relationship with his creation? Such questions are of great importance for both metaphysics and theology.

A third group of metaphysical questions about God concerns the relationship between God and the world. The major views of God’s nature suggest different ways of conceiving this relationship. Theism conceives of God as the personal creator of the world, the source and sustainer of all things other than himself who is completely self-sufficient and independent.of the things he has created.

Pantheism, on the other hand, conceives of God and the world as identical — God and the universe are the very same thing considered from different points of view. Panentheism, in many ways a compromise or intermediate view between theism and pantheism, holds that all things that exist are “in God” and indeed parts of God, and yet God has a unity and identity of his own distinct from that of his finite parts. It is with these viewpoints, the similarities and contrasts between them, and their respective strengths and weaknesses, that these posts will be chiefly concerned: For the sake of completeness, however, we begin with a view which asserts at there is no relationship between God and the world: There is no God, and the world is complete and self-sufficient on its own.

Naturalism: The World Without God
Philosophical  naturalism insists that the natural world is complete in  itself,  self-contained and self-sufficient.  According  to naturalism everything which exists or occurs lies entirely within the domain of natural processes. Nothing comes into nature or influences it from outside. There is no “outside”; nature is all there is.

Naturalists in general are tremendously impressed with the progress and success of science, not least with its success in vanquishing superstition, including magic, astrology and religion. Naturalism’s strength, then, lies in its appropriation of scientific knowledge an scientific explanation as these apply to the natural world· God, since he does not exist, presents no problem for naturalism. Man, on the other hand, is naturalism’s greatest challenge. As we have noted several times already, up until now strictly scientific approaches to human life and behavior have been much less successful than those same approaches have been when applied to subhuman nature.

This is not to deny that many valuable insights have been gained. But the “grand synthesis” which will unify the sciences of man then in a way comparable to the “Newtonian synthesis in physics is not yet in sight. The naturalist will  respond that this is due primarily to the greater complexity of human phenomena; a contributing factor, he may add, is the resistance created by the prevalence of nonscientific (that is, non-naturalistic) ways of viewing human beings.

Naturalism typically  expresses itself in metaphysics through such viewpoints as behaviorism, mind-body theory and scientific determinism. The debates over these viewpoints are, at bottom, debates over the adequacy of a naturalistic understanding of human life. The naturalist is likely to feel that, whatever   the  difficulties and obscurities of particular points, the naturalistic understanding of man is obviously correct and the resistance to it is the result of sentimentality and superstition.

To the non-natural­ist, on the other hand, it may appear equally obvious that the naturalist is interpreting human life within a restricted and rather rigid conceptual scheme in spite of abundant evidence that the concepts are not adequate for the subject matter. The  deep feelings on both sides of this issue are one reason why philosophical agreement is so difficult to achieve.

Pantheism: God as Identical With the World
According to pantheism in its simplest form, God and the  universe are identical. Other formulations say that God is identical not with the totality of all beings but with the “ground of being, the “power of being,”or the basic structure of reality.

It is sometimes debated whether these doctrines should also be called pantheism or not, but for our purposes this is not a question of much importance. What is important is that in all of these versions the divine is identified not with some particular, concrete being or beings, but as a sort of universal presence somehow diffused throughout all things but nowhere existing as an individual entity.

It is important to understand some of the religious motivations for pantheism. Probably pantheism most often makes its appeal to persons who, have “grown beyond” popular, literalistic forms of religion, nevertheless do not wish to see the divine banished from their world entirely. So their religion becomes a kind of  general reverence for “the God in everything.” This is easier for some sophisticated persons to accept than the more concrete beliefs of theistic religions.

Typically the divine is seen as providing some sort of validation and support for values such as truth beauty and goodness. The most typical religious attitude for pantheist is one of resting in, and identifying with, the “universal presence.” Pantheism also readily lends itself to the forms of mysticism in which the individual is said to be submerged or swallowed up in the divine.

From the standpoint of theism, the religious deficiencies of pantheism are marked. The pantheistic God is the “power of being” in everything, but it cannot do any particular thing. It is thought of as the source of value, and yet its universality and lack of concrete individuality suggest that it cannot really discriminate between good and evil. Indeed, a common pantheistic tenet is that in God good and evil (or “what we call good and evil”) are ultimately  reconciled in a “higher harmony.”

And this is very nearly to say that God is indifferent to the distinction between good and evil. We may, if we will, pray to the pantheistic God, but not with the expectation that it hears our prayers or will do anything to answer them. It can be the object of human thoughts, attitudes and actions; but it never itself acts in any way.

From a philosophical standpoint, the first question to ask about pantheism is what it means. To put it bluntly, how is reality any different if pantheism is true than if there is no God at all? At least two claims are involved: (1) the universe is a unity, and (2) this unity  is divine. Are these claims defensible?

Considering what is known of the universe, it is hard to see how it is a unity in any stronger sense than that it is a single space-time continuum in which things are interrelated according to single set of natural laws. This kind of unity, however, does not seem to offer much support for the religious attitudes which pantheists wish to direct to their God. Spinoza, with his “intellectual love of God ” went about as far as anyone could in worshiping the system of nature as it is revealed to  by mechanistic  science.

But while many feel admiration for Spinoza and his philosophy, few have found it in their  hearts to worship his God. All in all, it would seem that pantheists need to be a good deal clearer than they have generally succeeded in being about what it mans to say that the universe is divine and why we should worship it, hold it in  reverence or adopt religious attitudes toward it.

h1

Introducing Metaphysics – William Hasker

March 21, 2014
What is there?" According to an eminent philosopher these simple words suffice to formulaic the central question of all metaphysics.' And his answer is even simpler: "Everything." Obviously this is correct; whatever there is, is included in "everything," while whatever doesn't exist is really "nothing."

What is there?” According to an eminent philosopher these simple words suffice to formulate the central question of all metaphysics.’ And his answer is even simpler: “Everything.” Obviously this is correct; whatever there is, is included in “everything,” while whatever doesn’t exist is really “nothing.”

William Hasker is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Huntington College in Indiana. This is short, punchy, to the point.

************************************

What is there?” According to an eminent philosopher these simple words suffice to formulate the central question of all metaphysics.’ And his answer is even simpler: “Everything.” Obviously this is correct; whatever there is, is included in “everything,” while whatever doesn’t exist is really “nothing.” But it’s also obvious that both question and answer need much more explanation. So, let’s break the question “What is there?” down into some more specific questions — questions to which metaphysics will try to give detailed answers.

Metaphysical Questions
First of all, what is real? We all distinguish between things that are real, that really exist, and things that aren’t real. We can apply this distinction to persons, such as Paul Bunyan and Wyatt Earp; to activities, such as beaming aboard the Starship Enterprise and flying at supersonic speeds from Paris to New York: or to places, such as the land of Narnia and the Grand Duchy of Monaco. The second member of each pair, we say, is real or really exists, while the first member isn’t and doesn’t. Other examples are controversial: Is the Loch Ness monster real or not? And what of the yeti, the abominable snowman of the Himalayas? Some people believe in the reality of one or both of these, while others deny it and still others reserve judgment.

These, however, are still not the sorts of cases to which philosophers apply themselves when they ask what is real. But consider these questions: Is there such a being as God? Is a human being endowed with an immaterial self or “soul” which survives bodily death? Is there such a thing as a person’s performing an act of free choice, an act which is not determined or controlled by anything at all except the person’s own decision? Such questions as these take us right to the heart of metaphysics, and we will be concerned with all of them later in this book.

Second, what is ultimately real? What are the basic constituents of reality? We are familiar with the idea that things can be broken down into their constituents — for instance, a lovely perfume can be analyzed as a mixture of various organic chemicals, and these in turn as combinations of atoms of the various chemical elements, and so on. We tend to feel as we work through such an analysis that we are gaining insight into the real nature of what we are studying, that we are finding out what is “really real” in it. And we could almost define metaphysics by saying that a metaphysician is someone who pushes this kind of question just as far as it can go — to find the “ultimate reals” out of which are constructed perfumes and skyscrapers and planets and social structures and indeed simply everything.

Often this analysis of real things into their constituents is carried on in scientific terms, but a metaphysician may want to ask whether the constituents identified by science are the “ultimate reals,” or whether they can themselves be analyzed in terms of something still more basic. Sometimes what seems to be a strange or even preposterous statement about what is real turns out, when properly understood, to be instead a claim about what is “ultimately real.”

Thus when a philosopher says that physical objects don’t exist, he probably doesn’t mean to say that there are no such things as trees, tables and baseball bats. It’s much more likely that what he means is that the “ultimate constituents” of such objects, what they really consist of, is something very different from physical objects as we ordinarily think of them. Perhaps trees and ball bats are ultimately made up of mental images, thoughts in people’s minds. Of course, this may still strike you as being strange and implausible, but it isn’t so obviously false and absurd its it would be to deny outright the existence of physical objects.

One may also ask whether the constituents identified by science are all of the “ultimate reals” that go to make up something. For instance, a physiologist can give an analysis of visual perception in terms of the focusing of reflected light by the lens of the eye, the reaction to this light by the rods and cones of the retina, the transmission of the visual information through the optic nerve and the processing of this information within the brain. But does this analysis include all of what is involved in seeing something? That is an important — and highly controversial — question of metaphysics.

Throughout these last paragraphs I have been assuming that we can indeed discover what is ultimately real by breaking things down into their constituents. But according to one group of philosophers this approach is fundamentally mistaken. The theory of wholism claims that wholes, complex entities, typically have a reality of their own over and above that of their constituents.

Thus, analysis of a whole into its parts always falsifies its nature by failing to capture this “something more.” According to extreme forms of wholism, the only ultimately correct answer to the question “What is there?” would be “everything.” Any other answer would distort the truth by failing to capture the indissoluble unity of the Real (or, as some would say, of the Absolute). In this book I shall assume that the process of analysis is valid and that we can find out what a thing is by determining what it consists of. But the reader should be aware of the existence of the wholistic viewpoint.

Finally, metaphysics asks, what is man’s place in what is real? Out of all the different sorts of beings in heaven and earth, there is no doubt that we have a very special interest in the creatures we ourselves are, namely, human beings. That concern partly, no doubt, expresses our self-centeredness, and it is tempting to wonder what philosophy would be like if it were written by an ant or an electron.

On the other hand, it just is a fact that in the world as we know it human beings are somewhat unique. Ants and electrons, after all, don’t write philosophy, and this is part and parcel of the reasons why both are several notches below humans in what has been called the “great chain of being.” If, on the other hand, we someday find that there really are extraterrestrial intelligences, their philosophical views will be of the deepest interest.

For the part of the universe we know, however, humans would seem to be either the highest, most complex and elaborate products  of nature, or else the visible link between nature and something  beyond nature: “mid-way between the brutes and the angels,” as Pascal put it. Which of these is true (or, conceivably, whether both might be true) is clearly a question of great importance.

It will have significance for what we sometimes call the meaning of life, for how we ought to live and for what (if anything) we ought to worship. Not all the questions in this area, to be sure, are questions of metaphysics; some belong to ethics, some to the philosophy of religion and some to still other disciplines. But metaphysical questions — questions about what there is — lie at the very core of these issues. They are among the enduring questions of philosophy because they are among the central –and ultimately inescapable — issues of human life.

h1

Time’s On Our Side — Matthew W. Maguire

January 27, 2014
Immanuel Kant (22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was a German philosopher who is widely considered to be a central figure of modern philosophy. He argued that human concepts and categories structure our view of the world and its laws, and that reason is the source of morality.

Immanuel Kant (22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was a German philosopher who is widely considered to be a central figure of modern philosophy. He argued that human concepts and categories structure our view of the world and its laws, and that reason is the source of morality.

A review of The Illusion of History: Time and the Radical Political Imagination by Andrew R. Russ. Matthew W. Maguire is associate professor of history and Catholic studies at DePaul University.

**********************************************

A century ago, Charles Peguy observed that self-consciously modern intellectuals “want for everyone to criticize everything. But they don’t want anyone to critique critique.” For Peguy and others, “critique” broadly designates thinking in which reflexive suspicion of truth and truth claims is assumed to be superior to any reasoned assent to those claims, and analyses of becoming and historical flux are increasingly assumed to be more powerful, more valuable, and more honest than thinking affirmatively about being, nature, truth, goodness, God, or any metaphysical term intimating abiding “essences” in the world and beyond it.

From early modernity forward, a doughty and eclectic succession of thinkers have criticized this kind of critique. Pascal, Johann Georg Hamann, Peguy, and many others have exposed its tendency to depend tacitly upon bold metaphysical commitments that it elsewhere decries.

That is, modern critical thought often loudly proclaims its radical skepticism and the need to take nothing from metaphysics — or nothing that it cannot establish entirely on its own — but then smuggles into its arguments and exhortations to readers a silent metaphysics of truth, of the good, the beautiful, and the ultimate nature of reality, all the while claiming to emancipate those same readers from metaphysical burdens. Critics observe that modern critical thinking is often rather amusingly inconsistent and — more seriously — threatens to deprive us of the metaphysical freedom that is indispensable to human flourishing, and with it our potential for living lives of purpose in the time available to us.

Yet the critique of critique can sometimes develop the destructive symptoms that it attributes to critique. For all its acute observations about critique’s shortcomings, it can include only tentative gestures toward affirmative metaphysical arguments about truth, goodness, or meaning, creating an amorphous protest against the presumptions of modern critique. The critique of critique can thus be parasitic upon the apparently parasitic tendencies of critique, and thus does not cure but intensifies the malady it encounters.

In The Illusion of History by Andrew Russ, the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant is the supreme transformative moment in modern critical thinking. Kant claimed that his philosophy defended (certain kinds of) metaphysics and constituted a refutation of David Hume’s radical skepticism. But for Russ, a lecturer at the University of Adelaide, Kant points the way toward an account of human being in which a radically autonomous will exists apart from creaturely history and the historical institutions that help to orient us in the world.

Kant’s philosophy of history posits an ultimate rapprochement between the autonomous rational will and human experience, but for Russ, these Kantian ends stand in remote repose, far from the institutional, continuous, and organically historical realities of human life. After Kant, these realities were diminished in both meaning and importance and left undefended before a fiercely historicizing skepticism.

For Russ, Kant created the space for the most radical forms of modern critique. Human being is separated from its indispensably embodied, temporal, and culturally instantiated conditions of experience. This separation produces seemingly liberated but thoroughly alienated modern persons, who are then compelled to protest their alienation in uncompromising terms, often by lurching toward still more radical forms of critique — attacking remaining claims about truth, purpose, goodness, and so on. It is this move that first appears by way of prolepsis in Rousseau and is transfigured by Marx and Foucault.

The audacity of this argument is not to be gainsaid: Russ claims that the philosophies of Rousseau, Marx, and Foucault are not, as conventional wisdom generally assumes, distinct movements toward a thoroughly historical understanding of human experience. Rather, they are three philosophies that tacitly rely upon an ahistorical dualism with profound Kantian resonances, in which the shared historical world we inhabit and the metaphysical traditions conveyed by our cultures are assumed to be lies.

To create their distinctive forms of radical critical distance from their places in a continuous history, Russ claims, Rousseau, Marx, and Foucault imagine three different stark, timeless, yet immanent metaphysical ideals that stand in perpetual critical judgment upon our experience. The fictive past of Rousseau’s state of nature and his selective account of life in ancient Sparta serve him as idylls.

Marx’s dialectical and universally valid “scientific” affirmation of use value, labor power, and the quotidian hunter, fisher, cattle-raiser. and critic of The German Ideology places his timeless yet historical ideal in the communist future. Foucault’s universal emptiness of historical time. at once “autistic” and without consciousness, allows the “imaginative critical individual” to survey history’s “species of thought” while remaining forever separated from history in an isolated present.

For Russ, these critical positions serve as implicit trans-historical standards: They are Rousseauian, Marxist, and Foucauldian illusions of history rather than engagements with history. Hence the pride that modern critique takes in its uncompromising historicism is also illusory.

That some of the most important thinkers and methods of modern critique rely upon a tacit, often Kant-inflected ideal of critical autonomy that is placed in time yet set apart from their putative historicism is a bold and important argument, and it is generally persuasive. Russ is also incisive when reading fiction preoccupied with modern critique; the pages devoted to literature are among the book’s best. For him, Camus and especially Kafka expose with uncanny clarity the dilemmas attending a culture in which critical imaginings begin to form the habitual ways of thinking.

Russ also alludes to a rich counter-critical philosophical history to affirm the importance of historical continuity and its institutions when modern critique has left us alienated and diminished by reflexive suspicion. He commends, for aid in responding to those he calls “historical institutionalists” who ask “not a what’ but a `why” when they investigate human experience, attention to Montesquieu, Jacobi, Hamann, Burke, Hegel, and Eugene Rosenstock Huessy. These philosophers sustain his critique of critique; they are “historical institutionalists” who ask “not a `what’ but a `why” when they investigate human experience.

While there is much to praise in The Illusion of History, there are dubious generalizations at work in its treatment of its major philosophers, especially Rousseau. Furthermore, while it is an author’s prerogative to identify unexpected correspondences, it does not require a scholarly obsessive’s party-pooping pedantry to observe that thinkers like Burke, Hamann, and Hegel are generally not identified as part of a single school of thought, and that there are important reasons for distinguishing among them.

Precisely which institutions do they variously affirm? As for why institutions are legitimate and important, is it because of their particular and organic duration that cannot be entirely subjected to reason (Burke), or as part of the universal, cumulative dialectical realization of the Absolute (Hegel)? Or are they best conceived by the continuous power of the Incarnation, through which eternity fuses sense and reason, matter and language (Hamann)? These differences are essential; here they are mentioned in passing or passed over in silence.

The subtitle of the book, Time and the Radical Political Imagination, offers the prospect of investigating time and imagination, but here that work is often left undone. There are interesting passages about Kant’s account of imagination, but the extraordinary importance of imagination in Rousseau’s philosophy — where it has an altogether different and often intensely political function — is simply absent.

Working with Rousseau’s earlier account of imagination’s power would have allowed Russ (in keeping with his own argumentative commitments) to write with greater sensitivity to history, rather than repeatedly enlisting Rousseau as an awkwardly anachronistic philosophical emanation of Kant.

Above all, Russ fails to reckon with the question of time, a preoccupation of both Christian and modern secular thought. In these pages, time is generally identified with history and the timeless with the trans-historical, but later sections of the book jettison this already debatable usage.

Russ claims there that the organic, “unbroken” trinity of past, present, and future has been shattered by modern critique, and he hopes to reveal “time in its Trinitarian unity.” The theological implications of sustained trinitarian language are undeveloped; they are abandoned abruptly in favor of “all four dimensions of time,” including eternity, which appears only as a posterity that permits institutions to perpetuate the vision of their founders. A book promising to explore time and the political imagination must take more care with its major terms.

The Illusion of History is an ambitious, original, and often truly insightful book. Its argumentative shortcomings leave the reader wondering whether critiques of modern critique would benefit from greater attention to their animating, positive commitments, whether those commitments are “historical-institutional” or philosophical.

The critique of a now-conventional critical habit of thought requires that its critics dare to know — and to explore openly with lucid, peaceful, and reasoned confidence — precisely where and how they have found themselves beyond the increasingly closed and institutionally fortified frontiers of modern critique, and how readers might find their way there too.

h1

A Note on God as Unmoved Mover — Douglas McManaman

November 8, 2013
Carl Bloch The Entombment of Christ. Danish artist Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890). Bloch was commissioned to produce 23 paintings for the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace. These were all scenes from the life of Christ which have become very popular as illustrations. The originals, painted between 1865 and 1879, are still at Frederiksborg Palace. The altarpieces can be found at Holbaek, Odense, Ugerloese and Copenhagen in Denmark, as well as Loederup, Hoerup, and Landskrona in Sweden. Carl Bloch died of cancer on February 22, 1890. His death came as "an abrupt blow for Nordic art" according to an article by Sophus Michaelis. Michaelis stated that "Denmark has lost the artist that indisputably was the greatest among the living." Kyhn stated in his eulogy at Carl Bloch's funeral that "Bloch stays and lives."

Carl Bloch The Entombment of Christ. Danish artist Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890). Bloch was commissioned to produce 23 paintings for the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace. These were all scenes from the life of Christ which have become very popular as illustrations. The originals, painted between 1865 and 1879, are still at Frederiksborg Palace. The altarpieces can be found at Holbaek, Odense, Ugerloese and Copenhagen in Denmark, as well as Loederup, Hoerup, and Landskrona in Sweden. Carl Bloch died of cancer on February 22, 1890. His death came as “an abrupt blow for Nordic art” according to an article by Sophus Michaelis. Michaelis stated that “Denmark has lost the artist that indisputably was the greatest among the living.” Kyhn stated in his eulogy at Carl Bloch’s funeral that “Bloch stays and lives.”

Often people ask: “If God created everything, then who created God?”  Of course no one created God. For if God was created, He’d be a creature (created), and so He wouldn’t be God. His creator would be God. But then who created His creator? If He too was created, then He isn’t God, but a creature of God.

To be God is to be the creator of all creatures. So God is not Himself a creature. He is uncreated.  He always existed. He cannot not exist. And so He did not come into existence, nor will He go out of existence.

But I can’t imagine that! How is that possible?  It is true that you and I cannot imagine that. For everything in our experience has had a beginning. And our imagination is limited to what can be imagined, and what can be imagined are material things and their movements.

Material things have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But God is not a material and created thing. And so He cannot be imagined. And as for your second question (How is that possible?), it is impossible for it to be any other way. There must be a First, uncreated and uncaused cause of all other things. Let me go over a concept first employed by Aristotle and later developed by St. Thomas Aquinas, the proof from motion.

St. Thomas begins by pointing out that nothing moves itself from potency to act, except by something already in act. For instance, a piece of chalk on a slate will not move itself to another position on the slate except by something already in the act of motion. The piece of chalk is actually stationary, but potentially moving. It is potentially in another place on the slate. In order for the chalk to acquire that new position, it will have to be moved to that new position by something already moving.

Another way of putting this is to say that ‘nothing can give to itself what it does not possess’. If the piece of chalk is at rest, it is not moving. It does not have motion. If it does not have motion, it cannot give itself motion. It must receive motion from another that is actually moving. Note: Living things do not move themselves in a primary way. A living thing, as a whole, does not move itself from potency to act. Rather, one part moves another part, and in this way the whole thing moves.

regress

Now, St. Thomas points out that there cannot be an infinite or unlimited series of causes.  Consider the arrow above.  The arrow is finite.  When it moves, it moves a finite distance in a finite time.  But if the arrow was infinite, it would move an infinite distance in an infinite time.  Every movement of it would cover an infinite distance, and every movement would occur in an infinite duration of time.  Moreover, an arrow that is infinite could not acquire more distance.  It would not have the potentiality to move further ahead of itself.

Consider now the series of movers in color above.  The red ball (extreme left) is moved by the green, but the green in turn received its motion from the blue ball, and the blue ball received its motion from the purple (fourth from the left), etc.,.  The red ball on the left could represent anything, such as a dry leaf blowing in the wind that comes to rest at your feet on a fall day.  The motion has come to an end, the leaf is at rest next to your left foot.

Hence, its movement is terminated.  It has come to an end.  It is finished, or finite.  If the series of causes preceding the motion of the leaf is infinite, then the motion of the leaf or red ball on the left would never be terminated (finished, finite).  The leaf moved by virtue of the motion of certain atoms in the air, and those in turn are moving by virtue of the motion of something else, etc.  The series must be finite.  Why?  Because the motion of the leaf came to an end (finished).

First, if the series of movers were infinite, the series would stretch back to infinity.  Now, since all the things moved and moving are necessarily bodies, they must form a single moving object, the parts of which are in contiguity (in contact, or touching) or continuity.  But if the whole single series is infinite, then when it moves, it moves an infinite distance in an infinite time.  But it is impossible to move an infinite distance.

Think about this for a moment.  To move is to acquire something, such as a new location.  But an infinitely long stick, for example, cannot move forward to acquire a new location, since it covers an infinity.  There is nothing ahead of it to acquire, for it occupies every location ahead of it.

But the red ball has moved a finite distance and its movement has terminated.  It moved a finite distance in a finite time.  No matter how long the series preceding it is, if it is finite, it moves a finite distance in a finite time.  But if it is infinitely long, it moves an infinite distance in an infinite time.  But this is absurd.  The very fact that the motion of the leaf has come to an end shows that the series is finite.

A Series of Essentially Subordinated Movers
Let’s consider this from another angle.  There are two types of series of movers.  The one is a series of essentially subordinated movers.  The other is a series of accidentally subordinated movers.  Let’s take the latter first.  In a series of movers that are only accidentally subordinated to one another, an actual infinity is possible.

For example, a chicken comes from an egg, an egg from another chicken, and the other chicken from still another egg.  There is no reason why such a series, stretching backward through the past, cannot be unending.  In this kind of a series, the movers are operating in succession, not together.  And so a parent chicken need not be here and now influencing the hatching of an egg.  It may in fact be dead.

This is not the kind of series St. Thomas is referring to.  He is referring to a series of essentially subordinated movers.  In movers essentially subordinated to each other, one mover is here and now influencing another, like the hand moving a piece of chalk.  Without the causality of the first, there is no movement in the second. 

Note the color series above.  This represents a series of essentially subordinated movers.  A series of essentially subordinated movers cannot be infinite for the reasons given above.  Treating it as a single thing, it would cover an infinite distance in an infinite time.

Also, the red ball received its act of motion from the green, which in turn receives its act of motion from the blue, and so on.  If this “and so on” proceeds ad infinitum, then the red ball will never receive the act of motion. The red ball is moved by the green, the green receives its actual movement from the blue, etc.  The moved effect and the mover, in any motion, are simultaneous.  The hand moves the stick, which moves the eraser on the slate, which moves the chalk on the slate, and as soon as the hand stops moving the stick, the stick stops being moved.  When the carpenter stops bulding the house, the house stops being built.

Now, yellow moves teal, and teal moves red, and red moves brown, and brown moves green, and as soon as yellow stops moving, teal ceases to be moved.  If teal moves red, then as soon as teal stops being moved by yellow, red stops being moved by teal.  In a series of movers, however long, all of the members must be operating in some kind of simultaneity.  As strictly physical and hence dependent on quantity, our series of causes must be stretched out so that one is outside the other, like the stick that is touched by the hand and in turn touches the eraser.

Physical causes are in contiguity with each other.  Now whatever is quantified is hemmed into itself and cannot influence other things without contacting them directly or through a quantitative medium.  An infinite series of physical causes, one placed outside another, would fill an infinity of space.

But finite causes cannot be strung together to form an infinityNumber is only potentially infinite, not actually infinite (there is no actually infinite number).  And more, if our series of physical causes were truly infinite, the causality would take an infinite time to “pass” through it from one member to another into infinity.  Hence, the leaf would not move, or the red ball would not move.  In fact, no thing on the series would move, if it is preceded by an infinite series.

Hence, the series must be finite.  It follows that there must be a First Mover.  But this First Mover must be unmoved, otherwise we are back to positing preceding causes.  But this cannot go on to infinity, so there must be a First Unmoved Mover, if anything in the universe moves.

Now, since motion is an act that is received by something potentially moving (but actually stationary), the Unmoved Mover must have no potentiality to receive anything, but can impart the act of motion.  As we will see later, this can only mean that the Unmoved Mover is God, who is Pure Act, without any admixture of potentiality.

We can even look at this vertically (below):

uncausedcause

Why is it that if the series (green “causes”) was infinite, the meteor would never have been moved? Because the cause of its motion, i.e., another meteor (the green “cause” just above it), would never have been moved. The reason is that it would take an infinity to move the meteor. The series prior to it is infinitely long, and the causes would churn for infinity. The effect would never reach the meteor.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 272 other followers