Welcome to the latest incarnation of Maverick Philosopher. This post will remain at the top of the queue to give new and some old readers an idea of what this site is and isn't, what goes on here, and what is not permitted to go on here. Like the site itself, this introductory page is under permanent construction and reconstruction. It will take shape bit by bit over the coming weeks and months.
1. Why 'Maverick Philosopher'? Since I am a philosopher and what is done here is mainly philosophy, it is appropriate that 'philosopher' be in the title. As for 'maverick,' this word derives from the name of the Texas lawyer Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870) who for a time was a rancher who ran cattle that bore no brand. These unbranded animals of his came to be known as mavericks. The term was then extended to cover any unbranded stock and later any person who holds himself aloof from the herd, bears no 'brand,' resists classification, strives to be independent in his thinking or mode of living, is religiously or politically unaffiliated, and the like. (Cf. Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, p. 473.)
It doesn't merit a lot of attention, but I will mention two stupid moves that Jerry Coyne makes. Or if not stupid, then intellectually dishonest.
First, Coyne states that "We know now that the universe could have originated from 'nothing' through purely physical processes, if you see 'nothing' as the 'quantum vacuum' of empty space." By the same token, we now know that Jerry Coyne is a fool if you see 'fool' as equivalent in meaning to 'one who thinks that a substantive question can be answered by a semantic trick.'
Second, Coyne maintains that the belief that human beings have souls "flies in the face of science." In other words, the belief in question is logically inconsistent with natural science. Why? Because, "We have no evidence for souls, as biologists see our species as simply the product of naturalistic evolution from earlier species." The reasoning is this:
1. Biologists qua biologists see the human biological species as simply the product of evolution.
2. Biology uncovers no evidence of souls.
3. Biology rules out the existence of souls.
(1) is true. (2) is a very unsurprising logical consequence of (1). For biology, as a natural science, is confined to the study of the empirically accessible features of living things, including human animals. It is therefore no surprise at all that biology turns up no evidence of souls, or of consciousness or self-consciousness for that matter. By the same token, cosmology and quantum mechanics uncover no evidence that anything is alive.
The move from (2) to (3), however, is a howling non sequitur. (In plain English, (3) does not logically follow from (2), and it is obvious that it doesn't.) Biology is simply in no position to uncover any evidence of souls that there might be, and it shows a failure to grasp what it is that biology studies to think that such evidence would be accessible to biology.
To argue from (2) to (3) would be like arguing from
5. Mathematics rules out the existence of anything in nature that can be studied using complex (imaginary) numbers.
That too is a howling non sequitur: we know that alternating current theory makes essential use of complex numbers.
At the root of Coyne's foolishness is scientism, the view that the only genuine knowledge is natural-scientific knowledge. Scientism is the epistemology of naturalism, the view that reality is exhausted by the space-time system. Both are philosophical views; neither is scientific. There are powerful arguments against both.
Enough beating up of a cripple for one day. And that reminds me: Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols refers to Kant as a concept-cripple (Begriffskrueppel). What would that make Coyne? A stillborn concept-cripple?
More critique of Coyne here. The man should stick to biology. And the same goes for Dawkins.
Time is a goddess of healing -- for a time. She heals the wounds that come inevitably to those who must march to her beat. She brings us ill and makes us well again until such time as she does us in for good.
A: The law of noncontradiction (LNC) is a law of thought merely.
B: I dispute your claim. LNC is not a law of thought merely; it is also a law of extramental reality.
In this example, B disputes what A says by making a counter-claim, a counter-assertion. Both are asserting. It strikes me as foolish to ask who has the burden of proof (BOP). How decide such a question? I assume that in a dialectical situation like the above, if BOP considerations are relevant at all, then the BOP is on one side or the other, but not on both, and not on neither. But there is no non-arbitrary way to place the onus probandi on one side or the other. Therefore, BOP considerations are a useless detour. Why not go straight to the question and evaluate the arguments pro et contra?
Suppose you say that the BOP rests on the one who opposes the received or traditional view. Then the BOP would be on A. But if you say that the BOP rests on the one who makes the stronger claim, the more committal claim, then the BOP would be on B. I don't see how there could be a non-arbitrary assignment of BOP in a dialectical situation like this. Correlatively, I don't see how it could be non-arbitrarily claimed that there is a defeasible presumption (DP) in favor of A's assertion or of B's. So I suggest we drop the BOP talk!
Concerning your dialogue: In my opinion, both A and B bear a burden of proof here. For that reason, it is an unlucky start of a dispute - because it is in fact the start of two disputes at once, and a dialectical confusion is likely to arise. In order that the dialogue be fruitful, B should not have put forward a negation of A's claim as his own claim, but simply refuse to accept A's claim until proved (this is the meaning of the rule Necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui dicit non ei qui negat - "negare" here has the technical meaning of "to refuse to concede until proved", according to the rules of disputation). If A failed to produce a proof, his case would fail. If he produced one, his case would succeed unless and until B attacked that proof, thus prompting another argument to "restore" the former one. And so on, until one of the parties failed to do their duty. Only if A was the one who so failed, would it be in place for B to state his opposite meaning as a claim, if he wishes, with the burden of proof incumbent on him
There are three, not two possible dialectical states of a proposition: (i) proved (ii) disproved (iii) neither. The "burden of proof" just means that the default state is (iii).
Perhaps our difference boils down to this: you think that a dispute is about truth or falsity of a proposition, whereas I think that it is about validity or invalidity of rational support of a proposition. Whereas from the former point of view the dialectical situation comes out as symmetric, in the latter view it is inherently asymmetric.
Reply to Novak
Part of our difference here may be due to a different understanding of 'dispute.' I think Lukas may be using it is a technical way similarly as he uses negare in a technical way. And perhaps these technical meanings are the same. When I used 'dispute' in the little dialog above I was using it to mean 'disagree with.' Lukas seems to be using it to mean 'refuse to concede until argument is provided.'
Lukas seems just to be assuming that the BOP rests on A who must "produce a proof" otherwise his "case would fail." I take that to mean that A is obliged to give an argument for the claim he has made. (In my book, an argument is not the same as a proof, although every proof is an argument.) But, by my lights, if so, then the same goes for B: he too must give an argument for his counterclaim. B cannot just cross his arms across his chest and say, "I don't have to give an argument for my assertion; it suffices for me to poke holes in your argument. The BOP is on you, not on me." This is precisely what I reject. Otherwise, there would be a presumption in favor of B's claim. But there isn't. And to insist that there is, is to beg a philosophical question.
I think Lukas is right when he says that, for me, the dialectical situation is symmetric, at least in the example given above, while for him it is asymmetric.
Lukas is also right when he says that, for me, the dispute (disagreement) is about the truth-value of a proposition: Is it true or is it false that LNC is a law of thought merely? He says that, for him, the disagreement is "about validity or invalidity of rational support of a proposition."
But this needs explaining. Validity and invalidity are technical concepts from formal logic. Our present topic, however, is not formal logic, but dialectics. Lukas seems to think that there are certain procedural rules that govern the conduct of a discussion, and that these rules induce certain rights and duties in the interlocutors. Thus, he who makes an assertion puts himself under a dialectical obligation to support his assertion with one or more arguments, while the one to whom the assertion is made is under no obligation to support the negation of the asserted proposition: he has the right to do no more than find fault with the arguments for the asserted proposition.
I am skeptical of this entire adversarial model which has its provenience in the court-room situation and makes perfect sense there, but seems to me not appropriate in philosophy which, by my lights, is not a matter of debate or disputation but one of dialogue in which the interlocutors are not out to prove propositions they antecedently accept and do not question, but who aim at arriving at the truth together, a truth that they do not claim to possess, but are seeking.
Robert Paul Wollf here replies with wit and lefty snark to a charming request by one Pamela N., a personal assistant, who wants to know who Immanuel Kant is referring to when he writes, "Caius is a man; man is mortal; therefore, Caius is mortal." Pamela confesses,
I will admit, I have not read Kant's works. I have, however, spent the last couple of hours combing through post after post after post about this particular quote from the book and cannot find a single soul who would say who they think Caius is.
In reading these many posts, I have come to the conclusion that Kant is probably referring to Pope Caius as he has been venerated by the Catholic Church as a Saint. Given that title, and the fact that Saint's [sic] are given to [sic] a quasi-immortal status [sic], I have ascertained that this is who Kant is most likely referring to. My question for you is, do you think that my assumption is correct? or do you have a deeper insight into who he is referring to?
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 204, Notebook K, Aph. #84:
To call a proposition into question all that is needed is very often merely to fail to understand it. Certain gentlemen have been all too ready to reverse this maxim, and to assert that we fail to understand their propositions if we call them into question.
. . . by my lights, parsimony might be a consideration that puts the burden of proof on the theist. Theories that multiply entities unnecessarily are less likely to be true and the theist's theory postulates an entity. Now, it may be that the theist will say that we need God as a first cause or something like that-- that could be enough to absolve him of the burden. But in the absence of other reasons for believing in God (known to the interlocutors), the burden of proof would be on the theist.
Let's think about this. I doubt the usefulness in philosophy of burden-of-proof considerations, at least when we are discussing such big questions as God, freedom, and immortality. I also doubt the usefulness in philosophy of considerations of parsimony. What is parsimony anyway?
Parsimony or Occam's Razor is a principle of theoretical economy that states or rather enjoins:
OR. Do not multiply entities beyond necessity.
It is sometimes formulated in Latin: Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. The principle or rather injunction is presumably to be interpreted qualitatively rather than quantitatively, thus:
OR*. Do not multiply TYPES or CATEGORIES of entity beyond necessity.
Thus it is not individual entities that are not to be multiplied, but types or kinds or categories of entity. To illustrate. Some criticized David Lewis' extreme modal realism on the ground that it proliferates concreta: there are not only all the actual concreta , there are all those merely possible ones as well. He responded quite plausibly to the proliferation charge by pointing out that the Razor applies to categories of entity, not individual entities, and that category-wise his ontology is sparse indeed.
'Multiply' is a picturesque way of saying posit. (Obviously, there are as many categories of entity as there are, and one cannot cause them to 'multiply.') And let's not forget the crucial qualification: beyond necessity. That means: beyond what is needed for purposes of adequate explanation of the data that are to be explained. Hence:
OR** Do not posit types of entity in excess of what is needed for purposes of explanation.
So the principle enjoins us to refrain from positing more types of entity than we need to explain the phenomena that need to be explained. It is obvious that (OR**) does not tell us to prefer theory T1 over theory T2 if T1 posits fewer types of entity than T2. What it tells us is to prefer T1 over T2 if T1 posits fewer types of entity AND accounts adequately for all the data. So there is a trade-off between positing and accounting.
Spencer tells us that "Theories that multiply entities unnecessarily are less likely to be true . . . ." I don't think this is right. Theories that posit entities or types of entity beyond the needs of explanation are uneconomical and to be rejected for this reason. We prefer simpler theories to save cognitive labor, not because simplicity is the mark of truth (simplex sigillum veri) or even because simpler theories are more likely to be true. Now it may be that simpler theories are more likely to be true -- how would one show this? -- but this is no part of the principle of parsimony as I understand it. It is a principle of Denkoekonomie.
The defeasible presumption in favor of parsimonious explanations is very much like the defeasible presumption of innocence (POI) in the law. The accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty even if the probability of his being innocent is low or even near or at zero. The presumption of innocence does not vary with the probability of innocence, and is in fact logically consistent wth guilt. And of course the presumption of innocence does not entail innocence.
POI is a procedural rule: we proceed in the law as if the accused is innocent even if it is evident that he isn't. (Suppose 100 reputable winesses observe a man in a non-self-defense situation bludgeoning a woman to death. There still has to be a trial, the accused will enjoy the POI, and the prosecutors will bear the burden of proof. It's just that this trial will be very short.) Similarly, the principle of parsimony is a principle of procedural presumption. (See N. Rescher, Presumption and the Practices of Tentative Cognition, Cambridge UP, 2006. p. 124 ff.)
Suppose everything could be explained just as well without God as with God. Then we would have no reason to posit God as playing an explanatory role. But it wouldn't follow that God doesn't exist, or even that it is unlikely that God exists. All that would follow is that we would have no reason to posit God as an explanation of the existence, order, intelligibility of the universe: The 'God hypothesis' would not be rationally motivated.
Now one point I want to make is that Parsimony is a fairly useless and trivial injunction. After all, who wants to posit types of entity in excess of what is needed for purposes of explanation? The real question is what is needed for explanation. Parsimony gives us no help with this question. I would argue that God is needed to explain the existence and the intelligibility of the universe. Now that is a meaty set of issues that cannot be resolved by brandishing the Razor. We all agree about the Razor. What we don't agree about is what is necessary for an adequate explanation of what needs explaining.
And so it would be a cheap shot for an atheist to claim that theists violate Parsimony by positing God. Spencer of course understands this. For again, the issue is whether the posit is necessary for explanation.
Burden of Proof
Who bears the burden? Theist or atheist? The question is senseless or else has a trivial answer: both bear it. For it is not evident that God exists, nor it is evident that God does not exist. Neither side can invoke a defeasible presumption.
But there is a defeasible presumption in favor of the reliability of memory as a source of knowledge; so it does make sense to place the burden of proof on one who denies it.
Finally, does parsimony put the burden of proof on the theist as Spencer claims? No and for two reasons. First, Parsimony is a trivial injunction that, by itself, cannot decide between theism and atheism. Second, it is either senseless or trivial to ask where the BOP lies in the atheism-theism dispute.
UPDATE (10/28): Spencer Case e-mails: "I think you should make clear to your readers that your post attributes views to me that I do not hold. The part you quote from me is given in a context that is meant to show how my view of burden of proof would apply to a particular dialectical situation where an atheist thought parsimony mattered for the reason I stated. I wasn't actually subscribing to that view of parsimony. My account of what philosophical burden of proof amounts to was the main point of my comments.
You can rely on liberals to politicize race and racialize politics. But they also excel at the racialization of crime. Victor Davis Hanson has their number in Crimes of Exactly What? He discusses a number of examples besides Ferguson. Excerpts:
Racializing crime is a serious business, because it breaks society apart along tribal lines. It is all the more dangerous when elected officials like the president and attorney general are sometimes the worst offenders, given their racialist slurs like “nation of cowards,” “punish our enemies,” and “typical white person” and cheap editorializing in the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown cases. So on their cue, are we to look at lurid fatal crimes in the news and see them not as matters of individual evil acts, but rather as collective tokens of larger racial hatred? And are we to detect some sort of state culpability that suggests shared guilt for the violence?
[. . .]
If we were to embrace the abjectly racist worldview of Eric Holder or Al Sharpton, where would the racialization of crime end? Who would decide which interracial crimes illustrated premeditated racial hatred — or criminal laxity on the part of the state — and deserved national attention? Which adjudicator could or would declare that one interracial incident was idiosyncratic without transcendent significance, but the other typical and thus representative of collective pathology?
What exactly has this country stooped to, when our officials and public figures traffic in politicizing the end of human lives? We are becoming not just a sick country, but an amoral one as well. What Ferguson wrought will not end well.
Andrew Bailey sends the following quotations for our delectation:
"(When a philosopher says, "The burden of the proof lies on you", he means, "You must deduce your conclusion from the truths of immediate sensory experience by means of an argument that is formally valid according to the rules of elementary logic; I on the other hand may employ any dialectical tactic I find expedient".)"
-PvI, An Essay on Free Will, p.18
"Where does the burden of proof lie in a philosophical debate? In a debate of the type we are imagining, the answer is clear--in fact, trivial. The burden of proof lies on the person who's trying to prove something to someone."
-PvI, The Problem of Evil, p.46
Notice that the thesis encoded in the second is a little different (and much more plausible) than "he who asserts must prove".
I'd have to examine the context, but the second quotation seems to support what I was saying yesterday, namely, that burden-of-proof considerations have no non-trivial role to play in philosophical discussions.
It is quite otherwise in the law, which is where we get the notion of burden of proof (BOP) and the correlative notion of defeasible presumption (DP). As N. Rescher remarks (Presumption and the Practices of Tentative Cognition, p. 13), both are at root legal conceptions dating back to Roman law. Now court-room proceedings are essentially both practical and adversarial: what is in dispute is not a matter of theory, but a matter bearing upon such things as a person's wealth and liberty. Thus it makes perfect sense that the BOP should be placed on the plaintiff in a civil case and the state in a criminal case, which is equivalent to granting to the accused a defeasible presumption of innocence. The onus probandi rests on those who make allegations. Thus it makes sense within the law to maintain that
Necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui dicit non ei qui negat.
The need for proof lies with him who affirms, not him who denies.
Now to my way of thinking, philosophy-as-inquiry is never adversarial, and is primarily theoretical. This is part of my reason for thinking that the fundamentally legal notions of BOP and DP ought not be imported into philosophy-as-inquiry. It strikes me as very clear that one who makes an accusation bears the burden of proof. But it is not so clear that one who makes an assertion bears a burden of proof.
Indeed, it is either false or meaningless. For if van Inwagen asserts that there are no modes of being, and I assert that there are, then we both make assertions. So if he who asserts bears a burden of proof, then we both bear the burden of proof -- which trivializes the very notion of BOP.
So I am skeptical about the importation of the fundamentally legal concept of BOP from that essentially adversarial and practical dialectical context into philosophy-as-inquiry. But this is a complicated topic. I'll say some more tomorrow.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 223, Notebook L, Aph. #67:
If we did not remember our youth, we should [would] not be aware of old age: the malady of age consists solely in our no longer being able to do what we could do formerly. For the old man is certainly as perfect a creature in his own way as is the young.
1. The question this post raises is whether it is at all useful to speak of burden of proof (BOP) in dialectical situations in which there are no agreed-upon rules of procedure that are constitutive of the 'game' played within the dialectical situation. By a dialectical situation I mean a context in which orderly discussion occurs among two or more competent and sincere interlocutors who share the goal of arriving as best they can at the truth about some matter, or the goal of resolving some question in dispute. My main concern is with dialectical situations that are broadly philosophical. I suspect that in philosophical debates the notion of burden of proof is out of place and not usefully deployed. That is what I will now try to argue.
2. I will begin with the observation that the presumption of innocence (POI) in an Anglo-American court of law is never up for grabs in that arena. Thus the POI is not itself presumptively maintained and subject to defeat. If Jones is accused of a crime, the presumption of his innocence can of course be defeated, but that the accused must be presumed innocent until proven guilty is itself never questioned and of course never defeated. The POI is not itself a defeasible presumption. And if Rescher is right that there are no indefeasible presumptions, then the POI is not even a presumption. The POI is a rule of the 'game,' and constitutive of the 'game.' The POI in a court room situation is like a law of chess. The laws of chess, as constitutive of chess, cannot themselves be contested within a game of chess. In a particular game a dispute may arise as to whether or not a three-fold repetition of position has occurred. But that a three-fold repetition of position results in a draw is not subject to dispute. The reason there is always a definite outcome in chess (win, lose, or draw) is precisely because of the non-negotiable chess-constitutive laws. These laws, of course, are not inscribed in the nature of things, but are conventional in nature.
As I pointed out earlier, defeasible presumption (DP) and burden of proof are correlative notions. The defeasible presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty places the onus probandi on the prosecution. Therefore, from the fact that the POI is not itself defeasible in a court of law, it follows that neither is the BOP. Where the initating BOP lies -- the BOP that remains in force and never shifts during the proceedings -- is never subject to debate. It lies on the state in a criminal case and on the plaintiff in a civil case. If you agree to play the game, then you agree to its constitutive rules. Since these rules are constitutive of the game, they cannot be rejected on pain of ceasing to play the particular game in question.
3. But in philosophy matters are otherwise. For in philosophy everything is up for grabs, including the nature of philosophical inquiry and the rules of procedure. (This is why metaphilosophy is not 'outside of' philosophy but a branch of same.) And so where the BOP lies in a debate between, say, atheists and theists is itself a matter of debate and bitter contention. Each party seeks to put the BOP on the other, to 'bop' him if you will. The theist is inclined to say that there is a defeasible presumption in favor of the truth of theism; but of course few atheists will meekly submit to that pronunciamento. If the theist is right in his presumption, then he doesn't have to do anything except turn aside the atheist's objections: he is under no obligation to argue positively for theism any more than the accused is under an obligation to prove his innocence.
Accused to accuser: "I don't have to prove my innocence; you have to prove my guilt. I enjoy the presumption of innocence; you bear the burden of proof."
Theist to atheist: "I don't have to prove that God exists; you have to prove that God does not exist. Theism enjoys the presumption of being true; atheism bears the burden of proving that theism is not true." (This assumes that BOP and DP are legitimately deployed within broadly philosophical precincts -- which I am denying.)
Note that if the theist invokes the above presumption he needn't be committing the ad ignorantiam fallacy. He needn't be saying that theism is true because it hasn't been proved to be false. Surely the following deductive argument is invalid:
No one has ever proved that God does not exist ergo God does exist.
Just as the presumption of innocence does not entail that the accused is innocent, the presumption of truth does not entail that the proposition presumed true is true. So the mere fact that I have the presumption on my side does not amount to an argument that what I am presuming is true. If I have the presumption on my side, then my dialectical opponent bears the BOP. That's all.
4. Now we come to my tentative suggestion. There is no fact of the matter as to where the BOP lies in any dialectical context, legal, philosophical or any other: it is a matter of decision and agreement upon what has been conventionally decided. In chess, for example, the rules had to be decided and the players have to agree to accept them. No one thinks that these rules are inscribed in rerum natura. The same goes for BOP and DP. It had to be decided that in court room discourse and dialectic the accused enjoys the DP and the accuser(s) the BOP.
In philosophical discourse, however, there are no procedural rules regarding DP and BOP that we will all agree on.
For example, according to Douglas N. Walton, ". . . the basic rule of burden of proof in reasonable dialogue is: He who asserts must prove." (Informal Logic, p. 59) That is clearly false. If I assert that that you left the door open, there is no need for me to prove my assertion. A proof is an argument having premises and conclusion. Surely there is no need to argue for matters evident to sense perception. In fact, it would be unreasonable to do so. Or suppose I assert the Law of Noncontradiction. There is no way I can (non-circularly) prove it. So I cannot be under any epistemic obligation to prove it. 'Ought' implies 'can.'
And how would this work in a dispute between theist and atheist? I assert that God exists and you assert that God does not exist. We both assert. So we both bear the BOP, and we both enjoy DP? But then BOP and DP have no application in this area.
I have heard it said that the BOP lies on the one who makes a positive (affirmative) assertion. But surely both theist and atheist make positive assertions about reality. 'Reality is such that God exists.' 'Reality is such that God does not exist.' Both propositions are logically affirmative.
Suppose our atheist denies God by saying 'God is an unconscious anthropomorphic projection.' Logically, that is an affirmative proposition. Will you conclude that the BOP is on the atheist?
Some say that presumptions are essentially conservative: there is a presumption in favor of the existing and the established and against the novel, the far-out, and what runs contrary to prevailing opinion. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Suppose I give the following speech:
There is a presumption in favor of every existing institution, long-standing way of doing things, and well-entrenched and widespread way of belief. Now the consensus gentium is that God exists. And so I lay it down that there is a defeasible presumption in favor of theism and that the burden of proof lies squarely on the shoulders of the atheist. Theism is doxastically innocent until proven guilty. The theist need only rebut the atheist's objections; he needn't make a positive case for his side.
Not only would the atheist not accept this declaration, he would be justified in not accepting it, for reasons that are perhaps obvious. For my declaration is as much up for grabs as anything else in philosophy. And of course if I make an ad baculum move then I remove myself from philosophy's precincts altogether. In philosophy the appeal is to reason, never to the stick.
The situation in philosophy could be likened to the situation in a court of law in which the contending parties are the ones who decide on the rules of procedure, including BOP and DP rules. Such a trial could not be brought to a conclusion. That's the way it is in philosophy. Every procedural rule and methodological maxim is further fodder for philosophical Forschung. (Sorry, couldn't resist the alliteration.)
My tentative conclusion is as follows. In philosophy no good purpose is served by claims that the BOP lies on one side or the other of a dispute, or that there is a DP in favor of this thesis but not in favor of that one. For there is no fact of the matter as to where the BOP lies. BOP considerations are usefully deployed only in dialectical situations in which there is an antecedent conventional agreement on the rules of procedure, rules that constitute the dialectical 'game' in question, and that are agreed upon by the players of the game and never contested by them while playing it.
Dave Bagwill referred me to this entry from Zen Habits:
If you feel overwhelmed, breathe. It will calm you and release the tensions.
If you are worried about something coming up, or caught up in something that already happened, breathe. It will bring you back to the present.
If you are moving too fast, breathe. It will remind you to slow down, and enjoy life more.
Breathe, and enjoy each moment of this life. They’re too fleeting and few to waste.
Much good comes from daily, mindful, deep breathing. It is essential as a preliminary to meditation, but is also valuable throughout the day. Just remember to do it. In these hyperkinetic times, it is important to have at the ready various techniques for slowing done. For more on this theme, see my category Slow Down!
One needn't subscribe to the metaphysics of Zen Buddhism to make good use of its techniques.
The public-health establishment has unanimously opposed a travel and visa moratorium from Ebola-plagued West African countries to protect the U.S. population. To evaluate whether this opposition rests on purely scientific grounds, it helps to understand the political character of the public-health field. For the last several decades, the profession has been awash in social-justice ideology. Many of its members view racism, sexism, and economic inequality, rather than individual behavior, as the primary drivers of differential health outcomes in the U.S. According to mainstream public-health thinking, publicizing the behavioral choices behind bad health—promiscuous sex, drug use, overeating, or lack of exercise—blames the victim.
We need ideological quarantine to keep sane but susceptible people from being infected by pernicious ideological viruses. I mean, how willfully stupid can a willfully stupid liberal be? And should we allow liberals around the impressionable and uncritical? We need to think about appropriate measures for social prophylaxis.
And what exactly is wrong with blaming the victim, within limits? As you might expect, I have written a post on this topic entitled, as again you might expect, On Blaming the Victim.
There are tough questions about the possibility and the actuality of divine revelation. An examination of some ideas of the neglected philosopher Josiah Royce (1855-1916) from the Golden Age of American philosophy will help us clarify some of the issues and problems. One such problem is this: How can one know in a given case that a putative piece of divine revelation is genuine? Before advancing to this question we need a few sections of stage-setting. (That's Royce on the right, by the way, and William James on the left. Surely it was degeneration when American philosophy came to be dominated by the likes of Quine and Rorty.)
1. Concern for Salvation as Essential to Religion. It is very difficult to define religion, in the sense of setting forth necessary and sufficient conditions for the correct application of the term, but I agree with Royce's view that an essential characteristic of anything worth calling religion is a concern for the salvation of man. (The Sources of Religious Insight, Charles Scribner and Sons, 1912, p. 8) Religious objects are those that help show the way to salvation. The central postulate of religion is that "man needs to be saved." (8-9) Saved from what? ". . . from some vast and universal burden, of imperfection, of unreasonableness, of evil, of misery, of fate, of unworthiness, or of sin." (8) In an earlier post on Simone Weil I spoke of generic wretchedness. It is that which we need salvation from.
2. The Need for Salvation. "Man is an infinitely needy creature." (11) But the need for salvation, for those who feel it, is paramount among human needs. The need for salvation depends on two simpler ideas:
a) There is a paramount end or aim of human life relative to which other aims are vain. (12)
b) Man as he now is, or naturally is, is in danger of missing his highest aim, his highest good. (12)
To hold that man needs salvation is to hold both of (a) and (b). I would put it like this. The religious person perceives our present life, or our natural life, as radically deficient, deficient from the root (radix) up, as fundamentally unsatisfactory; he feels it to be, not a mere condition, but a predicament; it strikes him as vain or empty if taken as an end in itself; he sees himself as homo viator, as a wayfarer or pilgrim treading a via dolorosa through a vale that cannot possibly be a final and fitting resting place; he senses or glimpses from time to time the possibility of a Higher Life; he feels himself in danger of missing out on this Higher Life of true happiness. If this doesn't strike a chord in you, then I suggest you do not have a religious disposition. Some people don't, and it cannot be helped. One cannot discuss religion with them, for it cannot be real to them. It is not, for them, what William James in "The Will to Believe" calls a "living option," let alone a "forced" or "momentous" one.
3. Religious Insight. Royce defines religious insight as ". . . insight into the need and into the way of salvation." (17) No one can take religion seriously who has not felt the need for salvation. But we need religious insight to show that we really need it, and to show the way to it.
4. Royce's Question. He asks: What are the sources of religious insight? What are the sources of insight into the need and into the way of salvation? Many will point to divine revelation through a scripture or through a church as the principal source of religious insight. But at this juncture Royce discerns a paradox that he calls the religious paradox, or the paradox of revelation.
5. The Paradox of Revelation. Suppose someone claims to have received a divine communication regarding the divine will, the divine plan, the need for salvation, the way to salvation, or any related matter. This person can be asked, "By what marks do you personally distinguish a divine revelation from any other sort of report?" (22-23) How is a putative revelation authenticated? By what marks or criteria do we recognize it as genuine? The identifying marks must be in the believer's mind prior to his acceptance of the revelation as valid. For it is by testing the putative revelation against these marks that the believer determines that it is genuine. One needs "a prior acquaintance with the nature and marks and, so to speak, signature of the divine will." (p. 25) But how can a creature who needs saving lay claim to this prior acquaintance with the marks of genuine revelation?
The paradox in a nutshell is that it seems that only revelation could provide one with what one needs to be able to authenticate a report as revelation:
Faith, and the passive and mysterious intuitions of the devout, seem to depend on first admitting that we are naturally blind and helpless and ignorant, and worthless to know, of ourselves, any saving truth; and upon nevertheless insisting that we are quite capable of one very lofty type of knowledge -- that we are capable, namely, of knowing God's voice when we hear it, of distinguishing a divine revelation from all other reports, of being sure, despite all our worthless ignorance, that the divine higher life which seems to speak to us in our moments of intuition is what it declares itself to be. If, then, there is a pride of intellect, does there not seem to be an equal pride of faith, an equal pretentiousness involved in undertaking to judge that certain of our least articulate intuitions are infallible?
Surely here is a genuine problem, and it is a problem for the reason. (103)
Is it a genuine problem or not? Can a church's teaching authority be invoked to solve the problem? Suppose a point of doctrine regarding salvation and the means thereto is being articulated at a church council. The fathers in attendance debate among themselves, arrive at a result, and claim that it is inspired and certified by the Holy Spirit. By what marks do they authenticate a putative deliverance of the Holy Spirit as a genuine deliverance? How do they know that the Holy Spirit is inspiring them and not something else such as their own subconscious desire for a certain result? But this is exactly Royce's problem.
UPDATE: Joshua Orsak responds:
It has been a long time since I've emailed anything to you. I recently read your post on the paradox of revelation. It is a subject I've thought a lot about, and one I've been particularly thinking about the last few days, serendipitously. It seems to me an intractable problem. One cannot claim to KNOW one has received a genuine revelation. One can, I think, only reasonably believe it.
It seems to me that when confronted with what appears to be a revelation from God, one is put in a position where one has to choose whether or not one believes. If the revelation is of what it appears to be, then one can believe that the God who has reached out to one has also put one in a position to be able to receive a revelation. But this kind of trust is invariably, to some degree, volitional. One of my favorite short stories, is Dostoevsky's THE DREAM OF A RIDICULOUS MAN. The main character seems to know it is 'ridiculous' to change one's entire life and worldview because of a dream, but I gather the point is, in essence, 'but let it happen to you and see what you believe.'
If one has the experience of being transformed in mind and spirit by the Holy Spirit, and also of being contacted in some way by the same Spirit, one can reasonably choose to believe that this experience, both partial regeneration and revelation, are genuine. But one cannot, I think, claim to ever know with certainty that this is genuine. For the very reasons you mention.
I think Rev. Orsak has given us the right answer to Royce's paradox.
Jack Kerouac quit the mortal coil 45 years ago today, securing his release from the wheel of the quivering meat conception, and the granting of his wish:
The wheel of the quivering meat conception . . . . . . I wish I was free of that slaving meat wheel and safe in heaven dead. (Mexico City Blues, 1959, 211th Chorus).
The Last Interview, 12 October 1969. "I'm not a beatnik. I'm a Catholic." "I just sneak into church now, at dusk, at vespers. But yeah, as you get older you get more … genealogical."
As much of a screw-up and sinner as he was, as irresponsible, self-indulgent, and self-destructive, Kerouac was a deeply religious man. He went through a Buddhist phase, but at the end he came home to Catholicism.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 162, Notebook J, Aph. #168, hyperlink added!
As soon as he receives a little applause many a writer believes that the world is interested in everything about him. The play-scribbler Kotzebue even thinks himself justified in telling the public that he administered a clister [an enema] to his dying wife.
The extrovert is like a mirror: being nothing in himself, he is only what he reflects. A caricature, no doubt, but useful in delineation of an ideal type. This is why the extrovert needs others. Without them, he lacks inner substance. This is also why he is not drained by others, but drains them -- like a vampire. By contrast, the introvert, who has inner substance, loses it by social intercourse. He is drained not merely of physical energy, but of spiritual integrity, inner focus, his very self. The problem with socializing is not so much energy loss as self loss. But one cannot lose what one does not have.
The introvert cannot be himself in society but must sacrifice himself on the altar of Heidegger's das Man, the 'they self,' or social self. The extrovert can only be himself and come to himself in society. Whereas the introvert loses himself in society, the extrovert finds himself there.
If you infer the superiority of the introvert, I won't disagree with you.
UPDATE (11:55 AM): It occurred to me that 'superficial extrovert' might count as a pleonastic expression. Other polemical jabs: 'Extroverts are surface all the way down.' 'Extroverts aren't even shallow.'
I have been accused, on a forum, of being a second-class Christian because I have stated that I cannot understand Trinitarian doctrine [as presented in the Athanasian creed]. I have stated that I do accept the Apostles' Creed, but that is not seemingly good enough. So I have asked for clarification from forumites as to why they believe not only that the doctrine is true, but that believing it is a must for 'full fellowship'.
My reader goes on to say that the responses of his fellow forum members were unsatisfactory. His main question is: "What practical difference does a belief or non-belief in the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity make?" My reader accepts and tries to live by the the Apostles' Creed, but doesn't understand the Athanasian Creed. As well as he might not, given the logical difficulties of the doctrine.
To answer the reader's question: no practical difference to speak of.
The underlying problem, as it seems to me, is that of the relative importance of doctrine and practice. In every religion there is both. Are they of equal importance? Or is one more important that the other? I suggest that, while both are important,
1. Practice is more important than doctrine;
2. Theological doctrines are necessary makeshifts, feeble human attempts at conceptualizing what by its very nature must remain in the main beyond the human conceptual horizon in this life;
3. Doctrinal disputes can and often do lead to acrimonious controversies that are the exact opposite of conducive unto salvation.
The two central precepts of Christianity are: Love God with your whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. What exactly is enjoined by these two absolutely central precepts may be reasonably discussed, and ought to be. But we know more or less what they mean and require of us. And we know more or less what would be incompatible with their practical realization.
To love God is not to love one's ideas about God. For then one is loving, not God, but products of one's own ego. A theologian in love with his own pet formulations is arguably a high-level idolater. And analogously for the doctrinal formulations of one's church or sect.
And it would seem that bitter, rationally unresolvable dispute about exceedingly abstruse questions is not at all conducive to love of neighbor, and is in fact in many cases incompatible with such love. Consider some such theological nicety as the filioque clause. The question is whether the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son -- filioque means 'and the Son' -- or from the Father directly. Quite apart from the question of what practical difference this could make in the life of a believer, does the question have a sense clear enough to permit a rational solution?
The Athanasian Creed, quite unlike the Apostles' Creed, makes subscription to verbally precise Trinitarian and Christological doctrines a necessary condition of salvation. Their verbal precision, however, has not prevented centuries of debate as to their exact meaning and coherence. To hurl an anathema at anyone who fails to accept them on pain of damnation strikes me as nothing more than an expression of the human-all-too-human need for doxastic security. People have a terribly strong need to be secure in their beliefs even when the beliefs in question are plainly open to serious doubt.
On p. 176 of Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, a journal he kept from June 1958 to May 1959, Eric Hoffer complains that ideas do not gush from his mind, that his writing "lacks the quality of catharsis." "Yet only writing -- any sort of writing -- can justify my existence."
He was an amazing man, perhaps the purest example of the autodidact in the 20th century. He had no formal education whatsoever. His analysis of the true believer enjoys currency again, 60 years after his first book appeared, in the age of militant Islam, or rather the present age of militant Islam. Islam has been on the march before. The barbarians are once again at the gates. Is Rome the new Vienna?