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.)
Thoughts don't like to subside. One leads to another, and another. You would experience the thinker behind the thoughts, but instead you have thoughts about this thinker while knowing full well that the thinker is not just another thought. Or you lovingly elaborate your brilliant thoughts about meditation, its purpose, its methods, and its difficulty, thoughts that you will soon post to your weblog, all the while realizing that mental blogging is not meditation.
"Man is a stream whose source is hidden," said Emerson and you would swim upstream to the Source. So you make an effort, but the effort is too much for you. Perhaps the metaphor is wrong. One from al-Ghazzali might be better.
A cooling evening breeze is more likely to come to the desert dweller if he climb to the top of the minaret than if he stay on the ground. So he makes an effort within his power, the effort of positioning himself to receive, when and if it should come, a gust of the divine favor.
He waits for the grace that may overcome the gravity of the mind and its hebetude.
To meditate is to wait, and therein lies or sits the difficulty.
This morning's session (sitting in plain English) was good and lasted from 3:30 to 4:25. Fueled by chai: coffee is too much the driver of the discursive. But now the coffee is coming in and I'm feeling fabulous and the thoughts are 'percolating' up from who knows where.
I hesitate to call them philosophers. David Gordon serves up for our delectation and instruction the following tidbit of Continental balderdash (I quote the whole of Gordon's entry and then add a comment of my own):
The philosophy of Roy Bhaskar, who died November 19, would ordinarily hold little interest for readers of the Mises Blog. Bhaskar was a Marxist, who in his later years veered off toward a fuzzy spirituality. It is worth taking note of him, though, because he was an extreme example of a besetting sin of the contemporary academic world. His prose style made him unreadable; and one of his sentences was selected by the journal Philosophy and Literature as the winner of its 1996 Bad Writing Contest. This was the winning sentence:
Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal — of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic foundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of the will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psycho-somatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and its close ally, the epistemic fallacy with its ontic dual; of the analytic problematic laid down by Plato, which Hegel served only to replicate in his actualist monovalent analytic reinstatement in transfigurative reconciling dialectical connection, while in his hubristic claims for absolute idealism he inaugurated the Comtean, Kierkegaardian and Nietzschean eclipses of reason, replicating the fundaments of positivism through its transmutation route to the superidealism of a Baudrillard.
To call this 'bad writing' and 'unreadable' is unduly charitable. I am currently studying Erich Pryzwara's Analogia Entis, trs. Betz and Hart, Eerdman's, 2014. It is poorly written and deserves to be called 'unreadable.' I plan to post on it later. But if you really know your stuff and are willing to read and read and re-read and work very hard, you can more less follow what Pryzwara is saying. His book embodies real thought. The above passage, however, reads like a parody of Continental bullshitting. Continentals love to name-drop. But the above is name-dropping on stilts.
Their space is narrowly hodological: marked by paths along which merely practical needs are met and merely practical tasks discharged. What lies off these beaten paths is as good as nonexistent to them. As their space, so their lives. The pleasures of meandering the byways are foreign to them.
Regular readers of this blog know that I respect and admire Dennis Prager: he is a font of wisdom and a source of insight. But I just heard him say, "Egalitarians by definition lack wisdom." That is another clear example of the illicit use of 'by definition,' a mistake I pointed out in an earlier entry. Here are some examples of correct uses of 'by definition':
Bachelors are by definition male
Triangles are by definition three-sided
In logic, sound arguments are by definition valid. (A sound argument is defined as one whose form is valid and all of whose premises are true.)
In physics, work is defined as the product of force and distance moved: W= Fx.
In set theory, a power set is defined to be the set of all subsets of a given set.
By definition, no rifle is a shotgun.
Semi-automatic firearms are by definition capable of firing exactly one round per trigger pull until the magazine (and the chamber!) is empty.
In metaphysics, an accident by definition is logically incapable of existing without a substance of which it is the accident.
In astrophysics, a light-year is by definition a measure of distance, not of time: it is the distance light travels in one year.
By definition, the luminiferous either is a medium for the propagation of electromagnetic signals.
By definition, what is true by definition is true.
Incorrect uses of 'by definition':
Joe Nocera: "anyone who goes into a school with a semiautomatic and kills 20 children and six adults is, by definition, mentally ill."
Donald Berwick: "Excellent health care is by definition redistributional."
Illegal aliens are by definition Hispanic.
Bill Maher, et al.: "Taxation is by definition redistributive."
Dennis Prager: "Environmentalists are by definition extremists."
Dennis Prager: "Egalitarians by definition lack wisdom."
Capitalists are by definition greedy.
Socialists are by definition envious.
Alpha Centauri is by definition 4.3 light-years from earth.
The luminiferous ether exists by definition.
By definition, the luminiferous ether cannot exist.
I hope it is clear why the incorrect uses are incorrect. As for the first Prager example, it is certainly true that some environmentalists are extremists. But others are not. So Prager's assertion is not even true. Even if every environmentalist were an extremist, however, it would still not be true by definition that that is so. By definition, what is true by definition is true; but what is true need not be true by definition.
As for the second Prager example, it may or may not be true that egalitarians lack wisdom depending on the definition of 'egalitarian.' But even if true, certainly not by definition.
So what game is Prager playing? Is he using 'by definition' as an intensifier? Is he purporting to make a factual claim to the effect that all environmentalists are extremists and then underlining (as it were) the claim by the use of 'by definition'? Or is he assigning by stipulation his own idiosyncratic meaning to 'environmentalist'? Is he serving notice that 'extremist' is part of the very meaning of 'environmentalist' in his idiolect?
Similar questions ought to be asked of other misusers of the phrase.
It is quite unreasonable to suppose that the appeal to sweet reason is the best way forward in all of life's situations. The reasonable appreciate that the hard fist of unreason applied to the visage of evil intransigence is sometimes the most cogent of 'arguments.'
It is unreasonable to be reasonable in all things.
Soft determinism is still determinism. And it's really not a different type of determinism. It is, rather, drawing different conclusions from determinism, or rather, not drawing the conclusion that we are not free and not morally responsible for our actions.
A track star at the University of Southern California, Louis Zamperini was swept up like so many of his generation into World War II. Story and interview here.
In May 1943, his B-24 crashed into the Pacific. For 47 days, he floated on a raft in the ocean. He was then captured by the Japanese, who held him prisoner until August 1945. These experiences tormented Zamperini’s postwar life, but in 1949 things began to turn around for him. Zamperini forgave the men who held him prisoner, including the sadistic Japanese corporal, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who was known as the “Bird.”
Zamperini credits a young Billy Graham for bringing him to Christ and forgiveness.
I, or rather this site, experienced a surge yesterday: 4,207 pageviews. Why? Beats me. My traffic is usually in the 1600-2000 pageviews per day range. This, the TypePad version of MavPhil commenced operations on Halloween 2008. This third incarnation of MavPhil is closing in on the 3 million total pageview mark. That's nothing to crow about, I know, but I thought you might be interested.
I thank you for your 'patronage.' And remember: triple your money back if not completely satisfied.
Any complaints? Fill out the form below:
UPDATE. The day ended at 5 pm with 2, 298 pageviews.
A recent argument of mine questioning the coherent conceivability of the one person-two natures doctrine of Chalcedonian Christology begins with the premise
1. If N is a nature of substance s, then s cannot exist without having N. Natures are essential to the things that have them. In possible worlds jargon: If N is a nature of s, then in every possible world in which s exists, s has N. (The modality in play here is broadly logical or metaphysical.)
I pointed out that the argument's conclusion can be best resisted by denying (1). Professor Tim Pawl agrees. He comments:
I think the Aristotelian who wants to maintain Chalcedonian Christology could deny 1 and affirm a nearby proposition:
1’. For any one-natured substance s, if N is a nature of s, then s cannot exist without having N.
Adding the antecedent I’ve added to your 1 here allows for us to say that 1’ remains true in the case of Christ, since the antecedent is false. 1’ does all the work that the Aristotelian would want 1 to do, since every case we think of in mundane (non-christological) situations is a case where the thing in question is single-natured. I wouldn’t think the Aristotelian has any evidence for 1 that would not count as evidence for the revised 1’ as well.
The purpose of this entry is to evaluate Tim's response. But first some preliminaries.
Assumptions. Preliminaries, and Ontological Background
I am not questioning, let alone denying, the fact of the Incarnation. (To insert an autobiographical remark: I am inclined to believe it.) Thus I am not maintaining that there is no sense in which, in a sentence from the Angelus, 'the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." My question is whether the Incarnation is coherently conceivable within a broadly Aristotelian ontological framework. A negative answer, should one be forthcoming, does not foreclose on the question whether the Incarnation is coherently conceivable within some other ontological framework.
By 'coherently conceivable' I mean 'thinkable without broadly-logical contradiction.' Coherent conceivability is a notion weaker than that of (real as opposed to epistemic) possibility. I am not asking whether the Incarnation is possible, but whether it is coherently conceivable (within a broadly Aristotelian framework). Conceivability is tied to our powers of conception; possibility is not.
Whatever is actual is possible. So if the Incarnation is actual, then it is possible whether or not we can coherently conceive how it is possible, whether or not we can render it intelligible to ourselves, whether or not it satisfies the exigencies of the discursive intellect. So if it should turn out that the Incarnation is not coherently conceivable, the defender of the Incarnation has a mysterian move available to him. He can say, look, "It's the case; so its possibly the case; it's just that our cognitive limitations make it impossible for us (in this life) to understand how it could be the case." The present topic, however, is not mysterianism.
My precise question is this: is it coherently conceivable that one person, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word of God, the Logos, have both an individual divine nature and an individual human nature? I will assume that a person, as per Boethius, is an individual substance of a rational nature. I will also assume the doctrine of the Trinity.
'Substance' is elliptical for 'primary substance' or 'individual substance' or 'first substance' (prote ousia). If abstract entities are entities that are non-spatiotemporal and causally inert, then individual or individualized natures are not abstract entities. Some of them are spatiotemporal, and all of them are causally efficacious. Thus the individual nature of Socrates is in space and time. (The individual nature of the Logos is not in space and time but it is causally efficacious.) What ties an individual substance to its individual nature is not the external asymmetrical nexus of exemplification: substances don't exemplify their natures; a substance is (identical to) its individual(ized) nature. (See Aristotle, Metaphysics, Z.6) Socrates is not a bare particular, and his nature is not a (conjunctive) property that he exemplifies. Of course, there is a sense in which Socrates and Plato are of the same nature in that both are human. This common humanity, however, has no extramental reality: it is not a platonic object exemplified by the two philosophers.
The nature or essence of an individual substance is the what-it-is of the thing or as Aristotle puts it, to ti ên einai, literally “the what it was to be” of a thing, essentia, quod quid erat esse. (Compare Hegel: Wesen ist was gewesen ist.) It follows that the nature or essence of Socrates is not accidental to him. The idea that the nature of an individual thing could be accidental to it is wholly un-Aristotelian, although it would make sense in an ontological scheme according to which Socrates is a bare particular and his nature is a conjunctive property the conjuncts of which are his non-relational properties. (We find such a scheme in D. Armstrong and R. Grossmann, et al.)
It also seems obvious to me that there is an important difference between the event or fact of the Incarnation and any theological doctrine about it. Theology, I take it, is a type of applied philosophy: it is philosophy applied to the data of revelation. The Incarnation is one such datum since it is God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. So it seems obvious to me that we ought to distinguish the datum from its doctrinal formulation. To repeat myself, I am concerned with the latter.
Evaluation of Tim Pawl's Response
Tim makes a time-honored move in alleviation of the contradiction that issues from my reductio ad absurdum argument: he makes a distinction. One can always avoid or remove a contradiction by making a distinction. He distinguishes between one-natured substances and substances that have more than one nature. He then restricts my (1) to one-natured substances. The result of the restriction is (1'). Accordingly, it is only one-natured substances that are under the requirement that their natures be had by them essentially. Now if we plug (1') into my argument in lieu of (1), no contradiction results. Although a one-natured substance has its one nature essentially (in every world in which the substance exists), a multi-natured substance may have a nature that it has accidentally (in only some of the worlds in which the substance exists).
Unfortunately, this trades one problem for another. For now the problem is to understand how an Aristotelian substance that has two natures can have one of them accidentally. The Logos exists necessarily. In the patois of possible worlds, it exists in every possible world. And it is divine (has the divine nature) essentially, i.e., in every world in which it exists. Since it exists in every world, it has the divine nature in every world. But it has the human nature only in some worlds. So the Logos has the human nature accidentally.
The problem is: How can any substance have a nature accidentally? Don't forget: we are operating within an Aristotelan framework and our precise question is whether the one person-two natures doctrine is coherently conceivable within that framework. As I said above, the nature or essence of an individual substance cannot be accidental to it. (The connection between a substance and its nature cannot be assayed as the external asymmetrical nexus of exemplification.) The idea that the nature of an individual thing could be accidental to it is wholly un-Aristotelian.
To sum up. Professor Pawl makes a distinction between single-natured substances which stand under the requirement that their natures be had essentially by them and multi-natured substances that are not subject to this requirement. This distinction blocks the contradiction my reductio issued in. But Pawl's distinction does not succeed in rendering the Chalcedonian formulation coherently conceivable within the Aristotelian framework because it requires a notion that makes no sense within that ontological framework, namely, the notion that a substance can have a nature accidentally.
To modify the Aristotelian framework in that way is not to extend it or enrich it in the light of new data, but to destroy it. What the Christologist ought to do is reject the framework. He needn't abandon the Incarnation. There are other approaches to it. I hope to sketch one in a separate post.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 112, Notebook G, Aph. #24:
To make man as religion wants him to be resembles the undertaking of the Stoics: it is only another grade of the impossible.
I agree completely with Herr Lichtenberg that the Stoic ideal is an impossible one.
The Stoic sage would be as impassible as God is impassible. But here's something to think about: Jesus on the cross died in agony like a man, even though, if he was God, he could have realized the Stoic ideal.
What is the lesson? Perhaps that to be impassible is for us impossible, and so no ideal at all.
What Lichtenberg overlooks is that while Stoicism is a self-help therapeutic, religion, or at least Christianity, is not: no Christian who understands his doctrine fancies that he is able by his own power to effect genuine, deep-going, and lasting self-improvement.
What Lichtenberg fails to appreciate is that what is impossible for us, both individually and collectively, is not impossible with divine assistance.
If you deny the possibility of divine assistance, then you ought to abandon the project of ameliorating in any truly fundamental way the human condition: just accept it as it is, else you may end up like the Communists who murdered 100 million in the 20th century alone in quest of their u-topia.
The Man Who Wasn't There is one of my favorite movies, and the best of Ludwig van Beethoven is as good as classical music gets. So enjoy the First Movement of the Moonlight Sonata to the masterful cinematography of the Coen Brothers.
Here is the final scene of the movie. Ed Crane's last words:
I don't know where I'm being taken. I don't know what I'll find beyond the earth and sky. But I am not afraid to go. Maybe the things I don't understand will be clearer there, like when a fog blows away. Maybe Doris will be there. And maybe there I can tell her all those things they don't have words for here.
That is the way I see death, as an adventure into a dimension, into "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns," in which we might come to understand what we cannot understand here, a movement from night and fog into the clear light of day. It is a strange idea, I admit, the idea that only by dying can one come into possession of essential knowledge. But no more strange than the idea that death leaves the apparent absurdity of our existence unredeemed, a sentiment expressed in Peggy Lee's 1970 Is That All There is?
I am interested in your logical or linguistic intuitions here. Consider
(*) There is someone called ‘Peter’, and Peter is a musician. There is another person called ‘Peter’, and Peter is not a musician.
Is this a contradiction? Bear in mind that the whole conjunction contains the sentences “Peter is a musician” and “Peter is not a musician”. I am corresponding with a fairly eminent philosopher who insists it is contradictory.
Whether or not (*) is a contradiction depends on its logical form. I say the logical form is as follows, where 'Fx' abbreviates 'x is called 'Peter'' and 'Mx' abbreviates 'x is a musician':
LF1. (∃x)(∃y)[Fx & Mx & Fy & ~My & ~(x =y)]
In 'canonical English':
CE. There is something x and something y such that x is called 'Peter' and x is a musician and y is called 'Peter' and y is not a musician and it is not the case that x is identical to y.
There is no contradiction. It is obviously logically possible -- and not just logically possible -- that there be two men, both named 'Peter,' one of whom is a musician and the other of whom is not.
I would guess that your correspondent takes the logical form to be
LF2. (∃x)(∃y)(Fx & Fy & ~(x = y)) & Mp & ~Mp
where 'p' is an individual constant abbreviating 'Peter.'
(LF2) is plainly a contradiction.
My analysis assumes that in the original sentence(s) the first USE (not mention) of 'Peter' is replaceable salva significatione by 'he,' and that the antecedent of 'he' is the immediately preceding expression 'Peter.' And the same for the second USE (not mention) of 'Peter.'
If I thought burden-of-proof considerations were relevant in philosophy, I'd say the burden of proving otherwise rests on your eminent interlocutor.
But I concede one could go outlandish and construe the original sentences -- which I am also assuming can be conjoined into one sentence -- as having (LF2).
So it all depends on what you take to be the logical form of the original sentence(s). And that depends on what proposition you take the original sentence(s) to be expressing. The original sentences(s) are patient of both readings.
Now Ed, why are you vexing yourself over this bagatelle when the barbarians are at the gates of London? And not just at them?
Or if not literally obsess, care deeply? Karl White passes on the following from one of his correspondents:
Why are we all so obsessed with infusing things with meaning anyway? Isn't this craving a mere artifact of being brought up under systems of belief that insist on the fact that life has to serve some purpose? Maybe if we hadn't been presented with such presumptions from the beginning, we wouldn't have such a hard time accepting existence?
These are reasonable questions. Perhaps we cannot be satisfied with finite meanings and relative satisfactions and cannot accept the utter finality of death only because we have have been culturally brainwashed for centuries upon centuries into thinking that there is some Grand Purpose at the back of things that we participate in, and some Final Redemption, when there is none. Perhaps we have been laboring under a God Delusion or a Transcendent Meaning Delusion for lo these many centuries. But now these delusions are losing their grip. One sort of person responds to the loss despairingly and pessimistically. Call it the Woody Allen response. Allen laments the absurdity of life and makes movies to distract himself and others from the dismal reality. Another sort of person digs in his heels and frantically tries to shore up the delusions by concocting ever more subtle metaphysical arguments when he knows deep down, as Allen would insist, that it's all "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
The cure for both is the same: drop the delusions. Stop measuring reality against a nonexistent standard. To paraphrase Nietzsche, when the supposedly Real World falls, then so does the Apparent World. (See The Twilight of the Idols.) The erasure of the Transcendent abrogates the denigration of the Immanent. The Immanent, now no longer immanent, is the sole reality. Live it, love it, affirm it. The finite suffices. Its finitude is no argument against this life if the only alternative is an Infinity that doesn't exist. Death is no argument against life if this is all there is. Drop the delusion and its hinterworlds and you will neither despair nor hope. You will learn to be true to the earth, your natural and only home.
The above considerations don't sway me.
What explains the origin of the systems of belief whose appropriation makes us hanker after Transcendence? Is the longing an artifact of the belief, or the belief an artifact of the longing?
I would say that the longing explains the belief. The belief cannot explain the longing since the belief had to first be there to explain anything, and what explains it is the longing. From time immemorial, people have experienced a deep dissatisfaction with the here and now and with it a longing for a better, truer, higher life. These experiences are real, though not had by everyone, and not equally by those who have them. Outstanding individuals translated these recurrent and widely-distributed experiences of dissatisfaction and longing into systems of belief and practice of various sorts, Buddhism being one example, with its sarvam dukkham. These systems were developed and passed on. They 'resonated' with people, all sorts of people, from every land, at every time. Why? Because they spoke to some real inchoate longing that people everywhere have. They answer to a real need, the metaphysical need. (Cf. Schopenhauer, "On Man's Need for Metaphysics" in WWR vol. II) So it is not as if people were brainwashed into accepting these symbolic forms; they express and articulate real dissatisfaction with the mundane and ephemeral and real longing for lasting beatitude.
In sum: the experiences of deep dissatisfaction and deep longing are real; they come first phylogenetically, ontogenetically, temporally, logically, and epistemically. They give rise to systems of belief and practice (and not the other way around). Both the experiences and the beliefs are evidence of a sort for the reality of that which could remove the dissatisfaction and assuage the longing. Of course, it takes some careful arguing to get from longing for X to the reality of X.
This leads us to the topic of Arguments from Desire, a topic to be pursued in subsequent posts.
Since I mentioned Nietzsche above, I will end with Zarathustra's Roundelay, which never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It shows that Nietzsche, though possessing the bladed intellect of the skeptic, had the throbbing heart of a homo religiosus. In his own perverse way he testifies to the truth above suggested. "All joy wants eternity, wants deep, wants deep eternity!"