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.)
Starting now, I will unplug from this hyperkinetic modern world for a period of days or weeks. How long remains to be seen. I will devote myself to such spiritual exercises as prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, hard-core philosophy and theology pursued for truth as opposed to professional gain, and the exploration of nature.
I will avoid unnecessary conversations and their near occasion, socializing, newspapers, telephony, radio, television, blogging, facebooking, tweeting, and all non-essential Internet-related activities. In a word: all of the ephemera that most people take to be the ne plus ultra of reality and importance. (As for Twitter, I am and hope to remain a virgin: I have never had truck with this weapon of mass distraction.)
But I am no benighted neo-Luddite. The air conditioning will stay on in my abode in the shadows of the Superstitions.
I ask my valued correspondents to refrain from sending me any links to events of the day or commentary thereon. I am going on a 'news fast' which is even more salutary for the soul than a food fast is for the body.
From time to time we should devote time to be still and listen beyond the human horizon. Modern man, crazed little hustler and self-absorbed chatterbox that he is, needs to enter his depths and listen.
It is sometimes said that there are only two kinds of philosophers, Platonists and Aristotelians. What follows is a quotation from Heinrich Heine which expresses one version of this useful simplification. Carl Gustav Jung places it at the very beginning of his Psychological Types (Princeton UP, 1971, p. 2.)
Plato and Aristotle! These are not merely two systems: they are also types of two distinct human natures, which from time immemorial, under every sort of disguise, stand more or less inimically opposed. The whole medieval period in particular was riven by this conflict, which persists down to the present day, and which forms the most essential content of the history of the Christian Church. Although under other names, it is always of Plato and Aristotle that we speak. Visionary, mystical, Platonic natures disclose Christian ideas and their corresponding symbols from the fathomless depths of their souls. Practical, orderly, Aristotelian natures build out of these ideas and symbols a fixed system, a dogma and a cult. Finally, the Church eventually embraces both natures—one of them entrenched in the clergy, and the other in monasticism; but both keeping up a constant feud. ~ H. Heine, Deutschland
Plato, on the left carrying The Timaeus, points upwards while Aristotle, on the right carrying his Ethics, points either forward (thereby valorizing the 'horizontal' dimension of time and change as against Plato's 'vertical' gesture) or downwards (emphasizing the foundational status of sense particulars and sense knowledge.) At least five contrasts are suggested: vita contemplativa versus vita activa, mundus intelligibilis versus mundus sensibilis, transcendence versus immanence, eternity versus time, mystical unity versus rational-cum-empirical plurality.
Heine is right about the battle within Christianity between the Platonic and Aristotelian tendencies. Trinity, Incarnation, Transubstantiation, Divine Simplicity -- these are at bottom mystical notions impervious to penetration by the discursive intellect as we have been lately observing. Nevertheless,"Practical, orderly, Aristotelian natures build out of these ideas and symbols a fixed system, a dogma and a cult." But the dogmatic constructions, no matter how clever and detailed, never succeed in rendering intelligible the transintelligible, mystical contents.
Some opponents of the death penalty oppose it on the ground that one can never be certain whether the accused is guilty as charged. Some of these people are pro-choice. To them I say: Are you certain that the killing of the unborn is morally permissible? How can you be sure? How can you be sure that the right to life kicks in only at birth and not one minute before? What makes you think that a mere 'change of address,' a mere spatial translation from womb to crib, confers normative personhood and with it the right to life? Or is it being one minute older that confers normative personhood? What is the difference that makes a moral difference — thereby justifying a difference in treatment — between unborn human individuals and infant human individuals?
Suppose you accept the general moral prohibition against homicide. And suppose that you grant that there are legitimate exceptions to the general prohibition including one or more of the following: self-defense, just war, suicide, capital punishment. Are you certain that abortion is a legitimate exception? And if you allow abortion as a legitimate exception, why not also capital punishment?
After all, most of those found guilty of capital crimes actually are guilty and deserving of execution; but none of the unborn are guilty of anything.
My point,then, is that if you demand certainty of guilt before you will allow capital punishment, then you should demand certainty of the moral permissibility of abortion before you allow it. I should add that in many capital cases there is objective certainty of guilt (the miscreant confesses, the evidence is overwhelming, etc.); but no one can legitimately claim to be objectively certain that abortion is morally permissible.
I claim that the standard objections to the Potentiality Argument (PA) are very weak and can be answered. This is especially so with respect to Joel Feinberg's "logical point about potentiality," which alone I will discuss in this post. This often-made objection is extremely weak and should persuade no rational person. But first a guideline for the discussion.
The issue is solely whether Feinberg's objection is probative, that and nothing else. Thus one may not introduce any consideration or demand extraneous to this one issue. One may not demand of me a proof of the Potentiality Principle (PP), to be set forth in a moment. I have an argument for PP, but that is not the issue currently under discussion. Again the issue is solely whether Feinberg's "logical point about potentiality" refutes the PA. Progress is out of the question unless we 'focus like a laser' on the precise issue under consideration.
Of course, the removal of all extant objections to an argument does not amount to a positive demonstration of the argument's soundness. But at the risk of being tedious, the issue before us is solely whether Feinberg's objection is a good one.
The PA in a simplified form can be set forth as follows, where the major premise is the PP:
1. All potential persons have a right to life. 2. The fetus is a potential person. ----- 3. The fetus has a right to life.
What Feinberg calls the "logical point about potentiality" and finds unanswerable is "the charge that merely potential possession of any set of qualifications for a moral status does not logically ensure actual possession of that status." (Matters of Life and Death, ed. Regan, p. 193) Feinberg provides an example he borrows from Stanley Benn: A potential president of the United States is not on that account Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
It seems to me that Feinberg's objection, far from being unanswerable, is easily answered. Let me begin by conceding something that is perfectly self-evident, namely, that inferences of the following form are invalid:
4. X is a potential possessor of qualifications for a certain moral or legal status S ergo 5. X is an actual possessor of qualifications for status S.
This is a glaring non sequitur as all must admit. If x potentially possesses some qualifications, then x does not actually possess them. So of course one cannot infer actual possession from potential possession. A five-year-old's potential possession of the qualifications for voting does not entail his actually having the right to vote.
But what does this painfully obvious point have to do with PP? It has nothing to do with it. For what the proponent of PP is saying is that potential personhood is an actual qualification for the right to life. He is not saying that the fetus' potential possession of the qualifications for being a rights-possessor makes it an actual rights-possessor. He is saying that the actual possession of potential personhood makes the fetus a rights-possessor. The right to life, in other words, is grounded in the very potentiality to become a person.
What Feinberg and Co. do is commit a blatant ignoratio elenchi against the proponents of PA. They take the proponent of the PA to be endorsing an invalid inference, the (4)-(5) inference, when he is doing nothing of the kind. They fail to appreciate that the potentialist's claim is that potential personhood is an actual (and sufficient) qualification for the right to life.
Of course, one can ask why potential personhood should be such a qualification, but that is a further question, one logically separate from the question of the soundness of Feinberg's objection.
I have just decisively refuted Feinberg's "logical point about potentiality" objection. What defenders of it must do now, without changing the subject or introducing any extraneous consideration, is to tell me whether they accept my refutation of Feinberg. If they do not, then there is no point in discussing this topic further with them. If they do, then we can proceed to examine other objections to PA, and the positive considerations in favor of PA.
The owner's manual calls for a changeout every 30,000 miles or 3 years, whichever comes first. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. These off-road vehicles suck in a lot of dust off-road and plenty of dust on-road too in a dusty state like Arizona. And since air filters are cheap, and the installation easy, I thought I'd go ahead, invest a few dollars and minutes and change mine even though I am only about half-way to the 30,000 mile mark.
The STP filter cost me $13.89 plus tax at Auto Zone.
Well, the installation used to be easy on Jeeps: unsnap four clips with your fingers, lift up the plastic air box hood, remove old filter, insert new, reconnect clips. No tools needed.
So I unsnapped the four clips, but the hood wouldn't come off. So I got a flashlight and looked for a fifth clip. Didn't find one. Now I am sweating like a pig and cursing the recalcitrance of matter. Why is this simple job proving to be difficult?
To the Internet! One video was useless, and so was the Jeep Forum, but then I found this video in which the secret is revealed.
It was 31 years ago today, during a training run. Running pioneer James F. Fixx, author of the wildly successful The Complete Book of Running, keeled over dead of cardiac arrest. He died with his 'boots' on, and not from running but from a bad heart. It's a good bet that his running added years to his life in addition to adding life to his years. I've just pulled my hardbound copy of The Complete Book of Running from the shelf. It's a first edition, 1977, in good condition with dust jacket. I read it when it first came out. Do I hear $1000? Just kidding, it's not for sale. This book and the books of that other pioneer, George Sheehan, certainly made a difference in my life.
The atavism and simplicity and cleansing quality of a good hard run are particularly beneficial for Luftmenschen. Paradoxically, the animality of it releases lofty thoughts.
See here for a comparison of Fixx and Sartre. And here for something on George Sheehan. Now for some 'running' tunes.
Del Shannon, Runaway. Charles Weedon Westover was born 30 December 1934 and is best known for his 1961 #1 hit, "Runaway." Suffering from depression, Shannon committed suicide on February 8, 1990, with a .22-caliber rifle at his home in Santa Clarita, California. Following his death, the Traveling Wilburys honored him by recording a version of "Runaway".
Today, 20 July, is not only the 31th anniversary of Jim Fixx's death, but also the 50th anniversary of the release of Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone. Wikipedia:
The song had a huge impact on Bruce Springsteen, who was 15 years old when he first heard it. Springsteen described the moment during his speech inducting Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and also assessed the long-term significance of "Like a Rolling Stone":
The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind ... The way that Elvis freed your body, Dylan freed your mind, and showed us that because the music was physical did not mean it was anti-intellect. He had the vision and talent to make a pop song so that it contained the whole world. He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording could achieve, and he changed the face of rock'n'roll for ever and ever "
Dylan's contemporaries in 1965 were both startled and challenged by the single. Paul McCartney remembered going around to John Lennon's house in Weybridge to hear the song. According to McCartney, "It seemed to go on and on forever. It was just beautiful ... He showed all of us that it was possible to go a little further."Frank Zappa had a more extreme reaction: "When I heard 'Like a Rolling Stone', I wanted to quit the music business, because I felt: 'If this wins and it does what it's supposed to do, I don't need to do anything else ...' But it didn't do anything. It sold but nobody responded to it in the way that they should have." Nearly forty years later, in 2003, Elvis Costello commented on the innovative quality of the single. "What a shocking thing to live in a world where there was Manfred Mann and the Supremes and Engelbert Humperdinck and here comes 'Like a Rolling Stone'".
Your humble correspondent was lying in the sand at Huntington Beach, California, when the song came on the radio. It was like nothing else on the radio in those days of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. It 'blew my mind.' What is THAT? And WHO is that? I had been very vaguely aware of some B. Dylan as the writer of PPM's Don't Think Twice. I pronounced the name like 'Dial in.' That memorable summer of '65 I became a Dylan fanatic, researching him at the library and buying all his records. The fanaticism faded with the '60s. But while no longer a fanatic, I remain a fan, 50 years later.
I suspect that Vlastimil V's (neo-scholastic) understanding of potentiality is similar to the one provided by Matthew Lu in Potentiality Rightly Understood:
The substance view of persons holds that every human being either has the potential to manifest any and all properties essential to personhood or does actually manifest them. For the adherent of the substance view of persons, "potential" does not essentially refer to some possible future state of affairs. Rather, in this conception of what I will call developmentalpotential, to say that an organism has the potential to manifest some property means that that property belongs essentially to the kind of thing that it is (i.e., is among the essential properties it has by nature). Whether or not a specific individual actualizes the potentialities of its nature is contingent; but those potentialities necessarily belong to its nature in virtue of its membership in a specific natural kind.
I don't understand this. Let the property be rationality. Let organism o belong to the natural kind human being. We assume that man is by nature a rational animal. A human fetus is of course a human being. Suppose the fetus is anencephalic. It too is a human being -- it is not lupine or bovine or a member of any other animal species. But it is a defective human being, one whose defect is so serious that it, that very individual, will never manifest rationality. So how can every human being have "the potential to manifest any and all properties essential to personhood"? That is my question. Now consider the following answers/views.
A1: The anencephalic human fetus does not have the potentiality to manifest rationality. This is because it lacks "the largest part of the brain consisting mainly of the cerebral hemispheres, including the neocortex, which is responsible for cognition." (Wikipedia)
A2: The anencephalic human fetus does have the potentiality to manifest rationality because it is a member of a species or natural kind the normal (non-defective) members of which do have the potentiality in question.
A3: The anencephalic human fetus does have the potentiality to manifest rationality because the natural kind itself has the potentiality to manifest rationality.
I think (A2) is the most charitable reading of the above quoted paragraph considered in the context of Lu's entire paper. Accordingly, a particular anencephalic fetus has the potentiality to manifest rationality because other genetically human members of the same species do have the potentiality in question. This makes no sense to me. But perhaps I am being obtuse, in which case a charitable soul may wish to help me understand. To be perfectly honest, I really would like it to be the case that EVERY "human being either has the potential to manifest any and all properties essential to personhood or does actually manifest them." I would like that to be the case because then I would not have to supplement my Potentiality Argument against abortion with other principles as I have done in other entries.
What's my problem? Let's start with an analogy. It is narrowly logically possible and broadly logically possible that I run a four-minute mile. It is also nomologically possible that I run a four-minute mile. For all the latter means is that the laws of nature pertaining to human anatomy and physiology do not rule out a human being's running a four-minute mile. Since they do not rule out a human being's running that fast, they don't rule out my running that fast.
But note that the laws of human physiology abstract entirely from the particularities and peculiarities of me qua individual animal. They abstract from my particular O2 uptake, the ratio of 'fast twitch' to 'slow twitch' muscle fibers in my legs, and so on. And to be totally clear: it is the concrete flesh-and-blood individual that runs, 'Boston Billy' Rodgers, for example, that very guy, not his form, not his matter, not his nature, not any accident or property or universal or subjective concept or objective concept that pertains to him.
Now consider the question: do I, BV, have the potential to run a four-minute mile? No. Why not? Because of a number of deficiencies, insufficiencies, limitations and whatnot pertaining to the particular critter that I am. The fact that other runners have the potential in question is totally irrelevant. What do their individual potentialities have to do with me? The question, again, is whether I, BV, have/has the potentiality in question. It is also totally irrelevant that the laws of human physiology do not rule out my running a four-minute mile. Again, this is because said laws abstract from the particularities and peculiarities of the concrete individual. Surely it would be a very serious blunder to suppose that the nomological possibility of my running a four-minute mile entails the potentiality of my doing any such thing. That would be a two-fold blunder: (i) potentiality is not possibility, and (ii) potentiality is always the potentiality of some concrete individual or other.
Similarly, the anencephalic individual does not have the potentiality to manifest rationality. The fact that normal human fetuses do have this potentiality is totally irrelevant. What do their individual potentialities have to do with the potentialities or lacks thereof of the anencephalic individual? It is also totally irrelevant that man is by nature a rational animal, that the capacity to reason is 'inscribed' (as a Continental philosopher might say) in his very essence. For the question is precisely whether or not this very anencephalic individual has the potentiality to manifest rationality. My answer, as you may have surmised, is No.
I think I can diagnose the neo-Scholastic error, if error it is. (I hope it is not an error, for then the Potentiality Argument is strengthened and simplified.) Take a look at (A3):
A3. The anencephalic human fetus does have the potentiality to manifest rationality because the natural kind itself has the potentiality to manifest rationality.
This, I submit, is a complete non-starter. Whatever a natural kind is, it itself does not have the potential to be rational. It can no more be rational than humanity in general can run. (I once entered a 10 K event called 'The Human Race.' I did not compete against humanity in general, but against certain particular human critters.)
So it can't be the universal nature humanity that has the potential to be rational. What about the individual or individualized nature, the human nature of Socrates, of Plato, et al.? Could a particular individualized nature be that which has the potential to manifest rationality? No again. For it is but an ontological constituent of a concrete man such as Socrates. It is baby Socrates that has the potential to manifest rationality and excel in dialetic, not one of his ontological constituents. Socrates is more than his individual human nature; there is also the dude's matter (materia signata) to take into consideration. Our man is a hylomorphic compound, and it is this compound in which the potentiality to display rationality is grounded.
My diagnosis of neo-Scholastic error, then, is that neo-Scholastics, being Aristotelians, tend to conflate a primary substance such as Socrates with his individual(ized) nature. Since human nature in general includes the potential to be rational, it is natural to think that every individual(ized) human nature, whether normal or defective, has the potential to be rational. But surely it is not the individual(ized) human nature that has the potential to be rational, but the ontological whole of which the individual(ized) human nature is a proper part. In the case of the anencephalic fetus, this ontological whole includes defective matter that cannot support the development of rationality. Only if one confuses the individual(ized) human nature of the anencephalic individual with the concrete anencephalic individual could one suppose that it too has the potential to manifest rationality.
The fact that Lu's paragraph above is ambiguous as between (A2) and (A3) further supports my contention that there is a confusion here.
My view, then, is (A1). Abortion is a grave moral evil. The Potentiality Argument, however, does not suffice as an argument against every instance of it. This is not to say that the aborting of the anencephalic is morally acceptable. It rather suggests that the PA requires some form of supplementation.
You keep talking about the Benedict Option, but you never say what it is. Give us the formula.
I keep telling you that there is no formula! We are going to have to be experimental, because we have never faced a post-Christian culture. The first point is for Christians to wake up and face reality. There will be no “take back our country” moment, because we have lost, and lost decisively. We are rapidly de-Christianizing. True, we have a long way to go before we get to European rates of secularization and religious indifference, but the trajectory is the same. Rather than change the world, the world is changing the churches. The power of popular culture is overwhelming, and in ways that many Christians scarcely grasp — and this, as MacIntyre says, is part of our predicament.
Granted, there is no formula: there are different ways of implementing the Benedict Option. But there ought to be discussion -- not provided by Dreher in the above-referenced piece -- of a potential problem with one form of the Option's implementation.
Suppose you and yours join a quasi-monastic community out in the middle of nowhere where you live more or less 'off the grid,' home-school your kids, try to keep alive and transmit our Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman traditions, all in keeping with that marvellous admonition of Goethe in Faust:
Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast, erwirb es, um es zu besitzen!
What from your fathers you received as heir,
Acquire if you would possess it. (tr. W. Kaufmann)
So now you are out in the desert or the forest or in some isolated place free of the toxic influences of a society in collapse. The problem is that you are now a very easy target for the fascists of the Left. You and yours are all in one place, far away from the rest of society and its infrastructure. All the fascists have to do is trump up some charges, of child-abuse, of gun violations, whatever. The rest of society considers you kooks and benighted bigots and religious fanatics and won't be bothered if you are wiped off the face of the earth. You might go the way of the Branch Davidians.
Is this an alarmist scenario? I hope it is. But the way things are going, one ought to give careful thought to one's various withdrawal options.
It might be better to remain in diaspora in the cities and towns, spread out, in the midst of people and infrastructure the fascists of the Left will not target. A sort of subversive engagement from within may in the long run be better than spatial withdrawal. One can withdraw spiritually without withdrawing spatially. One the other hand, we are spatial beings, and perhaps not merely accidentally, so the question is a serious one: how well can one withdraw spiritually while in the midst of towns and cities and morally corrupt and spiritually dead people?
And then there is the vexed and vexing question of armed resistance. This is especially vexing for Christians. Should we meet violence with violence, or let ourselves and our culture be destroyed? On Christian metaphysics, this world is not an illusion. It is not a dream one can hope to wake up from. On the other hand, it is not ultimately real: it, and we who sojourn through it, are in statu viae. What then should be the measure and mode of our defense of it?
If you think violence is to be met with violence, then I advise you to remain in diaspora in the cities and towns, spread out, in the midst of people and infrastructure the fascists of the Left will not target.
We are indeed living in very interesting times. How can one be bored?
A reader sends me the following quotation from a Richard Mitchell:
I have never yet written anything, long or short, that did not surprise me. That is, for me at least, the greatest worth of writing, which is only incidentally a way of telling others what you think. Its first use is for the making of what you think, for the discovery of understanding, an act that happens only in language.
I agree with Mitchell's thought subject to a minor qualification. The achievement of understanding is not possible without language, but it does not, in every instance, require writing, or even speech. Nevertheless, the perfection of (discursive) understanding is possible only by writing.
Second to the careful articulation of one's thought in written language comes that rare event called 'dialogue,' in which two sympathetic minds use each other to arrive at a truth that transcends both.
Here is a simple version of the Potentiality Argument (PA):
1. All potential persons have a right to life. 2. The human fetus is a potential person. ----- 3. The human fetus has a right to life.
Does PA 'prove too much'? It does if the proponent of PA has no principled way of preventing PA from transmogrifying into something like:
1. All potential persons have a right to life. 4. Everything is a potential person. ----- 5. Everything has a right to life.
Probative Overkill I
One kind of probative overkill objection is easily sent packing, namely, the sort of objection that is based on the confusion of potentiality with the mere logical possibility of transformation. It is thinkable without contradiction that a pumpkin seed become a rabbit. Indeed it is thinkable without contradiction, and thus narrowly logically possible, that anything become anything. But of course a potentiality is something quite specific and has nothing to do with an empty logical possibility of transformation. After all, we know that (planted) pumpkin seeds do not become rabbits; they become pumpkins. Rabbits give birth to rabbits, not kangaroos or pumpkins. Nature is orderly.
If there are potentialities in nature, they are directed at specific outcomes. There are two points here. The first is that potentialities are directed; the second is that their directedness is to specific outcomes. They are like dispositions in this regard. Solubility is the disposition to dissolve, not the disposition to shatter or explode. Potentiality is interestingly analogous to intentionality. Necessarily, thoughts take objects. Necessarily, potentialities have outcomes. In both cases we can speak of directedness -- of thoughts to their objects and of potentialities and dispositions to their outcomes or realizations. In both cases the object/outcome enters into the individuation of the thought/potentiality. And in both cases the object/manifestation need not exist.
A potentiality can go unrealized without ceasing to be directed at an outcome. This is analogous to the situation in which one thinks of something but the thing does not exist. To say that a potentiality can go unrealized is not to say that the potentiality is not itself something real, indeed something actual. It is real analogously as a thought is real even when its object does not exist.
Anyone with an elementary grip on the notion of potentiality can see that the first kind of overkill objection fails. For it is based on a failure to see that (4) is false. If a thing has a potentiality, that is not a 'blank check' to become anything at all.
Probative Overkill II
According to a less crude objection, there is no principled way to ascribe potential personhood to a zygote without also ascribing it to spermatazoa, unfertilized ova, and pairs of sperm cells and egg cells.
Let's consider first the pair (S, O). Let S be one of my sperm cells and O an unfertilized egg cell of a nun in India. This pair exists because its members exist. But this pair is not a potential person. The very idea is incoherent. If a pair is a set or a set-theoretical construct, then it is an abstract object; but surely no abstract object has the potentiality to become a concrete individual person. But whether or not pairs are abstract objects, the notion that the pair in question is a potential person is absurd on the face of it. For a sperm cell out of all contact with an egg cell simply cannot develop into a person.
Now consider a sperm cell S. Given that there are potentialities in nature, S has the active potentiality to fertilize an egg. But as noted, potentialities are directed to specific outcomes and not others. The potentiality to fertilize an egg is not the potentiality to become a person. Surely, a sperm cell that has not fertilized an ovum does not have the potentiality to become a person.
Similarly with a an egg cell. It has the passive potentiality to be fertilized by a sperm cell. But this potentiality is not the potentiality to become a person.
It follows that the Potentiality Argument is not an argument against contraception. Contraception prevents sperm cells from 'hooking up' with egg cells, either by killing the former or by blocking their access to the ova they lust after. Thus a spermicidal jelly does not destroy potential persons.
It is worth noting that it would be the Fallacy of Division to argue that since the zygote is a potential person, each of its constituents is as well.
The Potentiality 'in Principle' Response to Probative Overkill II
"The egg cell does not have the 'ready' potential to develop into a person, but it has the 'in principle' potential because something can be done to it to give it the 'ready' potential, namely, it can be fertilized by a sperm cell. And the same goes for the sperm cell: it does not, by itself, have the 'ready' potential to develop into a person, but it has the 'in principle' potential because something can be done to it to give it the 'ready' potential, namely, it can be brought into contact with an egg cell."
"Therefore, your 'probative overkill' objection fails. If a zygote is a potential person, then so are sperm cells and unfertilized eggs. Since this is an absurd consequence, the Potentiality Argument proves too much and fails for this reason."
"The situation is really no different from that of the anencephalic fetus. It lacks the 'ready' potential to develop normally on its own into a person whose faculties are normal. But it has the 'in principle' potential for such development because something could be done to the fetus to get it to develop a normal brain."
"There is also the case of the comatose individual who will not emerge from his coma on his own, but can be made to emerge from it by special medical interventions. This individual lacks the 'ready' potentiality to emerge from the coma state, but possess an 'in principle' potentiality to do so."
"In sum, we need to distinguish between 'ready' and 'in principle' potentiality to account for cases like that of the comatose individual just mentioned. But then the distinction applies to sperm and egg cells prior to their union. Since anything with either kind of potentiality to develop into a person has a right to life, sperm and egg cells have this right as well. Herein lies the reductio ad absurdum of the Potentiality Argument."
Rejoinder to the Potentiality 'In Principle' Response
The above response eviscerates the concept of potentiality, stripping it of its usefulness. 'In principle' potentiality is intolerably latitudinarian. The idea is this:
X has the 'in principle' potentiality to develop into an F =df there is something that could be done to x to enable it to develop into an F.
But then a fetus born dead has the potentiality to develop into a normal human person because God or some other agent with superhuman powers could resuscitate it. That's possible! Or it is possible that in the future babies born without brains can be given brains, or certain pre-natal genetic interventions could be performed that would cause the fetus to develop a normal brain.
Cats cannot at present fly. But they would like to, the better to catch birds. So they have the 'in principle' potentiality to develop into airborne critters because they could be fitted out with wings.
I think this approach shows a failure to grasp the notion of potentiality. A potentiality is an intrinsic, actual, not merely possible, 'principle' in a thing that directs it toward a certain outcome. It is 'built-in.' It cannot be reduced to a possibility -- even a nomological possibility -- that the thing be modified ab extra in various ways.
So I reject 'in principle' potentialities and with them the 'probative overkill' objection to the Potentiality Argument which requires them. At the same time I issue a challenge to the partisans of 'in principle' potentialities: How do you rebut the probative overkill objection?
Or do you 'bite the bullet' and accept that human sperm and egg cells by themselves are potential persons?
What kind of country do we live in where law-abiding businesses are fined, threatened and demonized for refusing to bake gay wedding cakes, but barbaric baby butchers are hailed by feminists, Hollywood and a president who asked God to "bless" them?
God help us.
In Obama's Amerika, the state, among whose legitimate functions are the protection of life, liberty, and property, sanctions and profits from the taking of the lives of the unborn while violating the liberty of those who refuse, as a matter of conscience, to be complicit in ceremonies to which they have moral objections.
Only 100 semolians? Get out of here, and take your crappy journal with you.
If you need to pay to publish, then you shouldn't be publishing. It is not that difficult to publish for free in good outlets. If I can do it, so can you. Here is my PhilPapers page which lists some of my publications. My passion for philosophy far outstrips my ability at it, but if you have a modicum of ability you can publish in decent places. When I quit my tenured post and went maverick, I feared that no one would touch my work. But I found that lack of an institutional affiliation did not bar me from very good journals such as Nous and Analysis.
Here are a few suggestions off the top of my head.
1. Don't submit anything that you haven't made as good as you can make it. Don't imagine that editors and referees will sense the great merit and surpassing brilliance of your inchoate ideas and help you refine them. That is not their job. Their job is to find a justification to dump your paper among the 70-90 % that get rejected.
2. Demonstrate that you are cognizant of the extant literature on your topic.
3. Write concisely and precisely about a well-defined issue.
4. Advance a well-defined thesis.
5. Don't rant or polemicize. That's what your blog is for. Referring to Brian Leiter as a corpulent apparatchik of political correctness and proprietor of a popular philosophy gossip site won't endear you to his sycophants one or two of whom you may be unfortunate enough to have as referees.
6. Know your audience and submit the right piece to the right journal. Don't send a lengthy essay on Simone Weil to Analysis.
7. When the paper you slaved over is rejected, take it like a man or the female equivalent thereof. Never protest editorial decisions. You probably wrote something substandard, something that, ten years from now, you will be glad was not embalmed in printer's ink. You have no right to have your paper accepted. You may think it's all a rigged wheel and a good old boys' network. In my experience it is not. Most of those who complain are just not very good at what they do.
I'm a new reader of your blog and about two years into my own layman's study of philosophy. By that I mean I'm just reading whatever strikes my fancy as best as I can and building up a sort of mental repertoire. It's equally exciting and frustrating. Are there any so-called 20th century Continental philosophers you like?
Although some commentators would consider some of the following philosophers to belong to the 19th century, they and their influence extend into the 20th. Here then is my list of (some) 20th century Continental philosophers who are well-worth close study.
Franz Brentano, Alexius von Meinong, Kasimir Twardowski, Edmund Husserl, Adolf Reinach, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, Roman Ingarden, Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, Nicolai Hartmann, Gabriel Marcel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus.
What is a Continental Philosopher Anyway?
Note that the above are all Europeans. But that is not what makes them 'Continental.' Otherwise Gottlob Frege, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Rudolf Carnap would have to be lumped in with them. And of course there are Continental philosophers who do not hail from Europe. So what makes the above authors 'Continental' as opposed to 'analytic'?
It is not easy to say, which fact supplies a reason to not take too seriously talk of 'Continental' versus 'analytic.'
Note that all of the Continentals I mentioned engage in analysis, some in very close, very careful analysis. (Ever read Husserl's Logical Investigations?) And please don't say that they don't analyze language. Ever read Brentano? Gustav Bergmann accurately describes Brentano as "the first linguistic philosopher." (Realism, 234) Roderick Chisholm's paraphrastic approach was influenced significantly by Brentano.
Will you say that the Continentals mentioned didn't pay close attention to logic? That's spectacularly false. Even for Heidegger! Ever read his dissertation on psychologism in logic?
Perhaps you could say that the Continentals did not engage significantly with the ground-breaking work of Frege, undoubtedly the greatest logician since Aristotle. I think that would be true. But does it suffice to distinguish between Continental and analytic? I don't think so: there are plenty of philosophers who write in a decidedly analytic style who do not engage with Frege, and some of them oppose Frege. Take Fred Sommers. You wouldn't call him a Continental philosopher. And while he engages the ideas of Frege, he vigorously opposes them in his very impressive attempt at resurrecting traditional formal logic. And yet he would be classified as analytic.
A Matter of Style or a Matter of Substance?
According to Michael Dummett,
What distinguishes analytical philosophy, in its diverse manifestations, from other schools is the belief, first, that a philosophical account of thought can be attained through a philosophical account of language, and, secondly, that a comprehensive account can only be so attained.
[. . .]
On my characterisation, therefore [Gareth] Evans was no longer an analytical philosopher. He was, indeed, squarely in the analytical tradition: the three pillars on which his book [The Varieties of Reference, Oxford, 1982] rests are Russell, Moore and Frege. Yet it is only as belonging to the tradition -- as adopting a certain philosophical style and as appealing to certain writers rather than to others -- that he remains a member of the analytical school. (Origins of Analytical Philosophy, Harvard UP, 1993)
For Dummett, then, what make a philosopher analytic is not the style in which he writes: clear, precise, careful, explicitly logical with premises and inferences clearly specified, free of literary pretentiousness, name-dropping, rhetorical questions, and generally the sort of bullshitting that one finds in writers like Caputo and Badiou. Nor is it the topics he writes about or the authorities he cites. What makes the analytic philosopher are the twin axioms above mentioned.
The trouble with Dummett's criterion is that it is intolerably stipulative if what we are after is a more or less lexical definition of how 'analytic' and 'Continental' are actually used. An approach that rules out Gareth Evans and Roderick Chisholm and Gustav Bergmann and Reinhardt Grossmann and so many others cuts no ice in my book. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?)
A Matter of Politics?
I don't think so. Look again at my list. Sartre is a decided leftist, a Stalinist in his later phase. And Camus is on the Left. But everyone else on my list is either apolitical or on the Right. Latter-day Continentals, though, definitely slouch Leftward.
A Matter of Academic Politics?
This may be what the Continental versus analytic split comes down to more than anything else. As Blaise Pacal says, with some exaggeration, "All men naturally hate one another." To which I add, with some exaggeration: and are always looking for ways to maintain and increase the enmity. If you are entranced with Heidegger you are going to hate the Carnapian analytic bigot who refuses to read Heidegger but mocks him anyway. Especially when the bigot stands in the way of career success. Although so many Continentals are slopheads, there is no asshole like an analytic asshole.
A Matter of Religion?
No, there are both theists and atheists on my list. And of course there are plenty of analytic philosophers who are theists.
A Matter of Attitude toward Science?
This has something to do with the split. You can be a Continental philosopher and a traditional theist (von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, et al.) and you can be a Continental philosopher and a conservative (Ortega y Gasset), but is there any case of a Continental philosopher who is a logical positivist or who genuflects before the natural sciences in the scientistic manner? I don't think so.
Talk of 'analytic' and 'Continental' philosophy is not particularly useful. It would be better to speak of good and bad philosophy. But what are the marks of good philosophy? That's a post for another occasion.
This is a re-post with minor edits of an entry from March 1, 2012. I agree with it still. (Surprise!) I would like Vlastimil V., who is currently exercised by topics in this neighborhood, to tell me how much of it he agrees with, and what he disagrees with and why.
If you agree that infanticide is morally wrong, should you not also agree that late-term abortion is also morally wrong? Consider this argument:
Infanticide is morally wrong There is no morally relevant difference between infanticide and late-term abortion Therefore Late-term abortion is morally wrong.
To cast it in a slogan: Late-term abortion is pre-natal infanticide!
But of course the argument can be run in reverse with no breach of logical propriety:
Late-term abortion is not morally wrong There is no morally relevant difference between infanticide and late-term abortion Therefore Infanticide is not morally wrong.
To make a slogan of it: Infanticide is post-natal abortion!
Since the arguments and slogans 'cancel each other out,' the question arises whether we can move beyond a stand-off. The pro-lifer finds it evident that infanticide is morally wrong, violating as it does the infant's right to life, and extends that right to the late-term fetus, while the type of pro-choicer I will be discussing in this post finds it evident that late-term abortion is morally acceptable and extends that moral acceptability to infanticide.
My response to the problem makes appeal to two principles, the Potentiality Principle, and the Modified Species Principle. After I lay them out I will ask whether they help us avoid a stalemate.
The idea behind the Potentiality Principle (PP) is that potential descriptive personhood confers a right to life. In other words, the idea is that potential descriptive personhood entails normative personhood. For present purposes we may define a person in the descriptive sense of the term, a descriptive person, as anything that is sentient, rational, self-aware, and purposive. A person in the normative sense of the term, a normative person, we may define as a rights-possessor. We assume that actual descriptive persons are normative persons and thus have rights, including a right to life, a right not to be killed. Presumably we all accept the following Rights Principle:
RP: All descriptive persons have a right to life.
What PP does is simply extend the right to life to potential persons. Thus,
PP. All potential descriptive persons have a right to life.
I have undertaken the defense of PP in other posts and I won't repeat myself here. PP allows us to mount a very powerful argument, the Potentiality Argument (PA), against the moral acceptability of abortion. Given PP, and the fact that human fetuses are potential persons, it follows that they have a right to life. From the right to life follows the right not to be killed, except perhaps in some extreme circumstances.
It may be that the right to life has multiple sources. Perhaps it has a dual source: in PP but also in the Species Principle (SP) according to which whatever is genetically human has the right to life just in virtue of being genetically human. Equivalently, what SP says is that every member of the species homo sapiens, qua member, has the right to life of any member, and therefore every member falls within the purview of the prohibition against homicide.
The intuition behind SP is that killing innocent human beings is just plain wrong whether or not they are actual persons in the descriptive sense of the term. Now late-term human fetuses are of course human beings, indeed human individuals (not just clumps of cells or bits of human genetic material). And of course they are innocent human beings. it follows that they have a right to life.
Subscription to SP entails that a severely damaged infant, a Down's Syndrome baby, for example, would have a right to life just in virtue of being genetically human regardless of its potential for development, or rather its lack of potential. Some will object that SP is involved in species chauvinism or 'speciesism,' the arbitrary and therefore illicit privileging of the species one happens to belong to over other species. The objection might proceed along the following lines. "It is easy to conceive of an extraterrestrial possessing all of the capacities (for self-awareness, moral choice, rationality, etc.) that we regard in ourselves as constituting descriptive personhood. Surely we would not want to exclude them from the prohibition against killing the innocent just because they are not made of human genetic material." To deal with this objection, a Modified Species Principle could be adopted:
MSP: Every member of an intelligent species, just insofar as it is a member of that species, has a right to life and therefore falls within the purview of the prohibition against the killing of innocents.
The two principles (PP and MSP) working in tandem would seem to explain most of our moral intuitions in this matter. And now it occurs to me that PP and MSP can be wedded in one comprehensive principle, which we can call the Species Potentiality Principle:
SPP: Every member of any biological species whose normal members are actual or potential descriptive persons, just insofar as it is a member of that species, possesses a right to life and therefore falls within the purview of the prohibition against the killing of innocents.
Does the above help us move beyond a stand-off? Not at all. No committed pro-choicer will accept the principles I have articulated above. And of course I won't accept his rejection of them. For they are eminently rationally defensible and free of any formal or informal logical fallacy. And of course no empirical facts speak against them. Here as elsewhere, reason and argument can only take one so far. They are wonderfully useful in achieving clarity about what one's position is and the reasons one has for occupying it. But no argument will convince anyone who doesn't accept one's premises.
Here as elsewhere reason is powerless to decide the question even when informed by all relevant empirical facts. As I have maintained many times, there are few if any rationally compelling arguments for any substantive thesis in areas of deep controversy, this being one of them.
In the end it comes down to basic moral intuitions. Some people have moral sense and some people don't. I say: Can't you just SEE (i.e., morally intuit) that killing an innocent human being is morally wrong? And can't you just SEE that the location of that indivisual, its size, and its state of developement are morally irrelevant? If you say 'no,' then I call you morally obtuse or morally blind. I throw you in with the color-blind and the tone-deaf. And then I go on to call into question your motives for holding your morally outrageous view. I might say: "The real reason (i.e., the psychologically salient motive) for your support of abortion and infanticide is your desire to have unrestrained sexual intercourse without accepting any responsibility for the consequences of your actions. At the root of it all is your refusal to practice self-restraint, and your selfish desire to do whatever you please." But even in the cases where such a psychological explanation is true it will do nothing to convince the opponent.
Here is something to think about. Would the abortion/infanticide question be such a hot-button issue if it weren't for our innate concupiscence kept constantly aflame by a sex-saturated society? (Pardon the mixed metaphors.) Could it be that concupiscence unrestrained clouds our moral vision and makes us unable to discern moral truths?
The title leaves something to be desired as regards felicity of expression. 'Afterbirth' is either the process whereby the placenta is expelled from the uterus after the neonate has exited, or else the placenta itself. May I suggest 'post-natal'? And to call infanticide after-birth or post-natal abortion is an egregious misuse of language inasmuch as abortion in this context is the termination of a pregnancy by killing of the fetus. Infanticide is not the termination of a pregnancy. One cannot terminate a process that has come to fruition.
As I said last Friday, the last time I read anything by John D. Caputo was at the end of the '70s. His articles and books struck me as worth reading at the time. His recent work, however, appears to be incompetent rubbish. One could say of the latter-day Caputo what Searle of Derrida: he gives bullshit a bad name. The following from a review by Alan Worsnip:
This confusion recurs again and again. For example, Caputo treats the question of whether there is one god or many (or none) as a version of the question of whether there is “one truth or many.” But it is not. If there were to be two mayors of London instead of one, that would require a political rethinking but not a rethinking of the theory of truth. Likewise, if there were to be two gods instead of one, that would require a religious rethinking but not a rethinking of the theory of truth. Sometimes it feels like Truth is just Caputo’s vehicle to discuss the subject that really animates him—religion, and his own expansive, almost nontheistic account of it.
Caputo also persistently runs together the questions of truth with questions of knowledge of truth. For example, he complains that absolutism—the view that there are absolute truths—“confuses us [i.e. human beings] with God,” a being that can know every truth. Yet the claim that there is an (absolute) truth about some matter is entirely compatible with the claim that we may often be deeply ignorant about it. Presumably there is a true fact of the matter as to whether the number of blades of grass in the UK was either odd or even at the moment of New Year in 1972. But we will never know which it is. Indeed, it is precisely the areas in which it is appropriate to speak of ignorance that it is least plausible to claim that truth is relative to us or our perspective: being ignorant of a truth involves the capacity to be wrong about it, which means that there is some fact about it independently of what one thinks.
If the Left would cease to exist without its double standards, contemporary Continental philosophy would cease to exist without its trademark confusion of the ontological with the epistemological. I am exaggerating, of course, but in the direction of a truth which I will leave my astute readers to reformulate in more temperate terms if they care to.
I have gone over this ground many times, but apparently one cannot say it too often. The claim that truth is absolute, and cannot be relative to individuals or groups or historical epochs or races, or anything else, is a claim about the nature of truth. It is a claim about what truth is. One who insists on this obvious point is not laying claim to any absolute or god-like knowledge. I can know that truth is absolute without knowing which propositions are true. It is not polite to say it, but say it we must: the failure to grasp such a simple point is a mark of stupidity in someone like Caputo who has had plenty of time and opportunity to learn something about philosophy. He's committing a rookie blunder, a sophomoric mistake.
What is the difference between analytic and Continental philosophy?
In the standard story about academic philosophy—a story which nearly everyone acknowledges to be overly reductive, yet nearly everyone continues to repeat—there are two kinds of philosophy. On one hand there is “analytic philosophy”—according to its opponents, a kind of pedantic bean-counting that alienates philosophy from its project of understanding the deep questions of life, existence and the human condition, replacing them with self-satisfied distinctions such as that between three different uses of the word “so.” On the other hand, there is “continental philosophy”—according to its opponents, a vague and pretentious approach, expressed in unclear prose which conceals a mixture of banalities and blatant falsehoods. Think of it this way: whilst continental philosophy gets better as you get drunker, analytic philosophy gets worse.
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Brendan Eich resigned as the chief executive of Mozilla, a company he helped found, after gay rights activists launched a boycott against the company for placing him in a senior position. Eich's sin? More than five years earlier, he donated $1,000 to the campaign for California's Proposition 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in the state. It didn't matter that he'd explicitly assured employees that he would treat them fairly, regardless of their sexual orientation. What mattered was that Eich (like the 7 million people who voted in favor of Prop 8) had made himself a heretic by coming down on the wrong side of an issue on which error had now become impermissible.
Liberals indulged in a wildly overwrought reaction to the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, with seasoned journalists likening the plaintiffs to the Pakistani Taliban, and countless others taking to social media to denounce a government-sanctioned theocratic assault on women's health — all because some women working for corporations that are "closely held" by religiously conservative owners might have to pay out of pocket for certain forms of freely available contraception (as, one presumes, they currently do for toothpaste). Apparently many liberals, including the Senate Democrats who seem poised to gut the decision, consider it self-evident that these women face a far greater burden than the conservative owners, who would be forced by the government to violate their religious beliefs. One highly intelligent commentator, inadvertently confessing his incapacity to think beyond the confines of liberal dogma, described the religious objection as "trivial" and "so abstract and attenuated it's hard to even explain what it is."
Beyond the Beltway, related expressions of liberal dogmatism have led a Harvard undergraduate to suggest that academic freedom shouldn't apply to the handful of conservatives on campus — because their views foster and justify "oppression." In a like-minded column in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania argued that religious colleges should be denied accreditation — because accrediting them "confers legitimacy on institutions that systematically undermine the most fundamental purposes of higher education," one of which is to pursue "skeptical and unfettered" (read: dogmatically liberal and secular) inquiry.
We are makers. We make some things physically, other things conceptually. If I hanker after an ‘early undergraduate’ bookshelf, I fabricate it from bricks and boards. But I also make poems, puns, blog posts, and taxonomies. We undoubtedly have the power to make, and very considerable powers when we work in concert with intelligent others; but how far does this power extend?
Some say that it extends unto our being worldmakers. They think the whole world and everything in it is a conceptual fabrication both as to existence and as to essence. I find this sort of conceptual idealism preposterous. The world may be a divine artifact, but it certainly is no human artifact. (I speculate that it is because of the Death of God in Nietzsche’s sense that some philosophers recently have been toying with the wacky idea that we can take over a considerable range of divine tasks. But I won’t develop this speculation here.)
Consider the question whether New Jersey is an artifact. The example is from Robert Schwartz ("I am Going to Make You a Star," Midwest Studies in Philosophy XI (1987), pp. 427-439, p. 431 f.) Schwartz holds that "the world is a product of our conceptualizations. . . ." (427) If so, then New Jersey is a conceptual artifact. Consider
1. New Jersey is on the Atlantic.
As Schwartz points out, there is a sense in which the state of New Jersey is an artifact of legislative and other decisions by human beings. Had there been no human beings, there would have been no state of New Jersey, and had our forefathers decided differently (by drawing boundaries differently, etc.) then NJ would have had different properties than we presently take it to have. Obviously, the number of coal deposits, forests, lakes, etc. in the state of NJ depends on what the boundaries are. So it looks as if NJ is a conceptual fabrication both in its existence and in its properties.
But surely Schwartz makes things too easy for himself here. What we normally intend by (1) is something like
1*. The land mass denoted by ‘New Jersey’ abuts the Atlantic Ocean.
That is, when we assert (1) we have in mind the land mass, not the political entity. The former is not identical to the latter for the simple reason that the former can exist whether or not the latter exists. (Just ask the Indians whose ancestors were native to the region.). Now could it be true of the land mass that it is a conceptual fabrication?
Granted, the political entity exists only in virtue of conceptual decisions. No people, no polis. No polis, no political entities. But it is not the case that the corresponding land mass exists only in virtue of conceptual decisions. It does no good to point out that the phrase ‘land mass,’ the concept land mass, the units of measure (square miles, etc.) used to measure the area land mass, the equipment used by surveryors, etc. derive from us. I’m talking about the land itself, the topsoil, the subsoil, all the way down to the center of the earth. The existence of that chunk of land, pace Schwartz, is a state of affairs "untinged by cognitive intervention."(433) That chunk of land in no way depends on us for its existence. And the same goes for some of its properties. Or rather many of them, though not all. Of course, its being cultivated depends on us. But not so for the antecedent fertility of the land which allows its being cultivated so as to produce crops. By the 'antecedent' fertility,' I mean the fertility of the land prior to its being fertilized by humans.
Schwartz tells us that "the facts about New Jersey are dependent on our activities of categorization and classification." (433). In one sense, this is trivially true. For on one use of 'fact,' a fact is a true proposition known to be true. On this use of 'fact,' facts are mind-involving. But that is only one use of 'fact.'
On another use of 'fact,' a fact is a true proposition whether or not known or believed to be true. Such facts, like the known facts just mentioned, are facts about. For example, the fact that X exists is just the true proposition that X exists. Now if if you think of a proposition as a mental entity, then indeed the facts about NJ depend on minds and their conceptual activities.
But there is a distinction between facts that and facts about on the one hand, and truth-making facts on the other. I call the latter facts of. The fact of the earth’s being spheroid, for example, is not a representational structure. It is not about anything. It is not a truth-bearer but a truth-maker. It is that which makes-true the proposition expressed by ‘The earth is spheroid.’ And this is the case whether the proposition is a mental item or, as many would say, an 'abstract' or 'Platonic' item.
I submit that truth-making facts, facts of, are not, in general, finite-mind-dependent. If you think otherwise, then I humbly suggest that you have lost your mind. (You may want to make me a star, but I want to have you committed.) For then you would be committed (in a different sense) to such preposterous propositions as that the fact of the Moon's existence is dependent on the existence of human beings. One gets the distinct impression that ant-realists of the Schwartzian stripe are simply failing to make some elementary distinctions.
Now consider that we are categorizers and conceptualizers. Is my being a conceptualizer a product of someone’s conceptualization? If yes, then whose? Do I conceptualize myself as a conceptualizer, thereby creating my being a conceptualizer? Or would you prefer a vicious infinite regress: A’s being a conceptualizer derives from B’s conceptualizing A as a conceptualizer, B's from C's, et cetera?
It gets worse when we consider my existence. Does my existence derive from someone’s acts of conceptualizing? Do I ‘bootstrap’ my way into existence by conceptualizing myself as existent? Not even God could bootstrap himself into existence in this way: Causa sui cannot be plausibly interpreted to mean that God causes himself to exist; it is more plausibly taken to mean that God is not caused by another. And if God is not up to the task, then surely your humble correspondent isn’t either. Or would you rather bite into another vicious infinite regress?
If you say that we conceptualizers just exist, then you have an excellent counterexample to the claim that the world "is a product of our conceptualizations." (427) Or do you prefer to say that the world depends on us, but that we are not in the world?
The notion that everything is an artifact, some sort of human construct, whether individually or collectively (socially) is plainly absurd if you think about it carefully.
Consider Alpha Centauri, 4.3 light-years from earth. Schwartz’ claim implies that this star is a product of a conceptual (not physical) making by human beings. We make it have the properties it has, and we make it exist. Schwartz writes, "Whether there are stars, and what they are like, are facts that can emerge only in our attempts to describe and organize our world." (435)
Read in one way, this sentence is trivially true; read in another way, it is clearly false. The plausibility of Schwartz’s conceptual idealism, I contend, rests on the conflation of these two readings. This is a very common pattern in philosophy. One makes an equivocal statement bearing in its bosom two senses, one that makes the statement appear clearly true, the other that makes it appear informative and substantial.
Reading 1: Whether there are stars, and what they are like, are facts that can BE KNOWN only in our attempts to describe the world and organize our thoughts about it.
Reading 2: Whether there are stars, and what they are like, are facts that can EXIST only in our attempts to describe thre world and organize our thoughts about it.
Now (1) is clearly, indeed trivially, true. That Alpha Centauri exists, and that it is 4.3 light-years from earth, could not possibly be known unless there are beings who desire to know, and prosecute the requisite investigations. (2), however, is a stellar falsehood; or at least there is no reason to believe it.
One problem, of course, is the weasel word (fudge word?) ‘emerge’ that Schwartz employs in the preceding quotation. Being ambiguous, it can mean come to light, come to be known, but also, come to exist. Thus the Schwartzian thesis is fueled by an equivocation.
I cannot know something except by knowing it. I cannot talk about anything except by talking about it. I cannot think about anything except by thinking about it. I cannot refer to tables in English except by using 'table.' But these tautologies and near-tautologies give no aid and comfort to anti-realism. What I refer with is a bit of language, but what I refer to is extralinguistic. The same goes all the more for reference to non-artifacts. This platitude must be upheld at the price of loss of sanity no matter how puzzling the phenomena of linguistic and mental reference.
A second problem is one I mentioned already. A fact that is a true proposition. For example, ‘It is a fact that Chomsky teaches at MIT’ is equivalent in meaning to ‘It is a true proposition that Chomsky teaches at MIT.’ A proposition, however, is a representational entity: it represents something, in the typical case, something distinct from itself. Now propositions can be reasonably viewed as mental entities, entities that exist only ‘in’ minds, i.e., only as the accusatives of mental acts. (Beware the treacherous word ‘in.’) So of course facts require minds if by ‘fact’ is meant ‘fact that.’ But there is another, more robust, notion of fact. Facts in this second sense are not propositional representations, or any kind of representation, but truth-makers of propositional representations. These are not facts that, but facts of. For example, the fact of Chomsky’s being a leftist. It is even clearer if we omit the ‘of’ which here functions as a mere device of apposition rather than as a genitive: the fact, Chomsky’s being a leftist. This concrete fact composed of Chomsky and the property of being a leftist is the truth-maker of ‘Chomsky is a leftist.’
So although it is reasonably held that facts that (i.e., true propositions) are mind-involving or mind-dependent, it does not follow that facts of (truth-making facts) are mind-involving.
When are people serious? When money is involved — their money.
My mind drifts back to faculty meetings in which half-listening colleagues doodled and dozed. But when salary considerations came to the table, the dullest among them pricked up their ears. Suddenly they became sharp and serious.
Since his baptism in medieval times, Aristotle has served many strange purposes. None have been odder than this sacramental alliance, so to speak, of Aristotle with Adam Smith. The extraordinary virtues Miss Rand finds in the law that A is A suggests that she is unaware that logical principles by themselves can test only consistency. They cannot establish truth . . . . Swearing fidelity to Aristotle, Miss Rand claims to deduce not only matters of fact from logic but, with as little warrant, ethical rules and economic truths as well. As she understands them, the laws of logic license her in proclaiming that “existence exists,” which is very much like saying that the law of gravitation is heavy and the formula of sugar sweet.
One of the few things that almost all professional philosophers agree on is that Ayn Rand makes mischief with the Law of Identity.
But the estimable Professor Hook makes a mistake above. It is of course true that the law of gravitation is not itself subject to the law of gravitation: it is not heavy or the opposite. This comparison would be apt, however, only if Rand thought that existence is something distinct from existents. But when she says that existence exists, she does not mean that there is something called 'existence' which is distinct from existing things and that it too exists. She is using 'existence' as a term that refers to existents collectively, similarly as when we use 'humanity' to refer collectively to human beings, as opposed to using it to refer to the being-human of human beings.
When Rand says that existence exists, what she means is that each existing thing exists and has the nature it has independently of any consciousness, including divine consciousness. She is thus an extreme metaphysical realist.
Unfortunately, Rand tries to squeeze this extreme thesis from the logical truth, A = A. And so Hook and almost all professional philosophers are right to critize her for her metaphysical chutzpah.
It is important not to confuse the question of the fallibility of our cognitive faculties, including reason in us, with the question whether there is truth. A fallibilist is not a truth-denier. One can be -- it is logically consistent to be -- both a fallibilist and an upholder of (objective) truth. What's more, one ought to be both a fallibilist about some (not all) classes of propositions, and an upholder of the existence of (objective) truth. Indeed, if one is a fallibilist, one who admits that we sometimes go wrong in matters of knowledge and belief, then then one must also admit that we sometimes go right, which is to say that fallibilism presupposes the objectivity of truth.
Just as a fallibilist is not a truth-denier, a truth-affirmer is not an infallibilist or 'dogmatist' in one sense of this word. To maintain that there is objective truth is not to maintain that one is in possession of it. One of the sources of the view that truth is subjective or relative is aversion to dogmatic people and dogmatic claims.
But if you reject the objectivity of truth on the basis of an aversion to dogmatic people and claims, then you are not thinking clearly.
John D. Caputo has recently made the fashionably outlandish claim that "what modern philosophers call 'pure' reason . . . is a white male Euro-Christian construction." Making this claim, Caputo purports to be saying something that is true. Moreover, his making of the claim in public is presumably for the purpose of convincing us that it is true. If so, he presupposes truth, in which case truth cannot be a social construct, as I said in my critique. A commenter responded:
To say that Caputo "presupposes truth" is not to say that he presupposes some sort of absolutist notion of truth. Why is the latter a necessary condition for the activity of "trying to convince"?
The short answer is that there is no notion of truth other than the absolutist notion. Truth is absolute by its very nature. The phrase 'relative truth' names a confusion. I won't go over this ground again, having trod it before. But there is a wrinkle, and that is what I want to explore in this entry. Is absolute truth the same as objective truth? Perhaps not. It might be like this. If there is truth, then it is the same for all cognizers: it is intersubjectively binding on all. It is in this sense objective. It does not vary from person to person, social class to social class, historical epoch to historical epoch, race to race, etc. But how can we be sure that truth in this objective sense is not a mere transcendental presupposition of intelligible discourse and rational debate? If truth is a mere transcendental presupposition, then it is not absolute. For what 'absolute' means is: not relative to or dependent on anything at all. Of course, if truth is absolute, it follows that it is objective in the sense of intersubjectively binding on all. But there is a logical gap in the converse. If truth is objective, it does not straightaway follow that it is absolute. For it might be transcendentally relative: relative to beings like us who cannot think or judge or speak intelligibly without presupposing truth. It might be transcendentally realtive while remaining the same for all in such a way as to exclude as meaningless such phrases as 'proletarian truth,' bourgeois truth,' 'Protestant truth,' 'Catholic truth,' 'White man's truth,' 'black female's truth,' and other similalry nonsensical constructions.
I will return to the objective-absolute distinction near the end of this entry.
While there may be a problem in showing that truth is more than a transcendental presupposition, and thus absolute, it is fairly easy to show that truth is objective. And so it is easy to show that Caputo presupposes objective truth when he makes his fashionably outlandish PoMo claims.
But what do I mean when I say that truth is objective? I mean that there is a total way things are, and that this total way things are does not depend on the beliefs, desires, wishes, hopes, etc. of finite rational beings like ourselves, whether human or extraterrestrial or angelic. So what I mean by 'Truth is objective' is close to what John Searle means by external realism.
According to John Searle, "external realism [ER] is the thesis that there is a way that things are that is independent of all representations of how things are." (The Construction of Social Reality, p. 182) Is it possible to prove this attractive thesis? And how would the proof go?
We will recall G. E. Moore's attempt to prove the external world by waving his hands. His idea was that it is a plain fact, as anyone can see, that his hands exist, and so it straightaway follows that external objects in space exist. This sounds more like a joke than a philosophical argument. Or if not a joke, then clear proof, not of the external world, but that Moore did not understand the issue. But let's leave Moore to one side for the space of this post. See my aptly entitled Moore category for more on Moore.
The realism issue really has nothing to do with spatially external objects. There unproblematically are such objects whatever their ultimate ontological status. Note also that ER can be true even if there are no spatially external objects. ER is simply the claim that there is a way things are independent of us: it says nothing specifically about spatial individuals.
As Searle interprets it, ER sets forth a condition on the intelligibility of discourse and thought rather than a truth condition of discourse and thought:
There are conditions on the intelligibility of discourse . . . that are not like paradigmatic cases of truth conditions. In the normal understanding of discourse we take these conditions for granted; and unless we took them for granted, we could not understand utterances the way we do . . . . (181)
Among these conditions on intelligibility is ER. It is a necessary presupposition of a large chunk of thought and discourse. What Searle is doing is giving a transcendental argument for ER. He takes it as given that a sentence like 'Mt Everest has ice and snow near the summit' is intelligible. He then inquires into what must be presupposed for it to be intelligible. For the sentence to be true, Mt. Everest must exist, and it must have ice and snow near the summit. But for the sentence to be intelligible, it is not necessary that Mt. Everest exist, or if it does exist that it have ice and snow near the summit. What is necessary is that ER be true: that there be a way things are independent of human representations. If the mountain exists, then that is (part of) the way things are, and if it does not exist, that too is (part of) the way things are. The way things are, then, is not a truth condition of any such statement as 'Mt Everest has ice and snow near the summit.' It is a condition of the intelligibility of such statements and their negations. So even if every statement asserting or implying the existence of a physical object is false, and there is no spatially external world, it is still the case that ER is true. For it is still the case that there is a way things are independent of human representations. The way things are would include the nonexistence of a spatially external world.
For Searle, then, external realism (ER) is a transcendental condition of the intelligibility of large portions of public discourse. He is aware that to have shown this is not to have shown that ER is true. (194) Speaking as we do, we are committed to its being true, but that is not to say that it is true. That there is a way things are independent of human representations is presupposed by the intelligibility of much of what we think or say, but it doesn't follow that it is true.
Why not? Because its truth is conditional upon the fact that our thought and speech is intelligible. If ER is true, then it is true whether or not human representations and their intelligibility exist. But if ER is argued to transcendentally as a condition of intelligibility, then ER's truth is conditional upon the existence of human beings and their representations. So we cannot say that ER is true, but only that we must presuppose it to be true. This is not to say that without us it would be false, but what without us it would be neither true nor false.
Is Searle's position satisfactory? I'm not sure. I want to be able to say that ER is true simpliciter, or true unconditionally (i.e., not conditional upon the fact of the intelligibility of our discourse.)
But does my desire to be able to say that ER is true unconditionally make sense? Maybe not. We cannot not presuppose that there is a way things are assuming that we continue to think and talk as before. But is there a way things are? Yes, it might be said, in the only sense in which it would make sense to assert it, namely, as a presupposition of our thought and talk. That is, what we as rational beings must presuppose as being the case IS the case. The 'possibility' that it not be the case is unmeaning. No sort of wedge can be driven between the presupposing and the being. But this seems to land us in a form of transcendental idealism.
A fascinating labyrinth, this. Collateral reading: Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, section 44 (c), Die Seinsart der Wahrheit und die Wahrheitsvoraussetzung.
The main thing, however, is that Caputo presupposes objective truth when he makes his ridiculous PeeCee assertions.
This wonderfully creative but rarely played song by The Lovin' Spoonful dates from 1966. Six O'Clock is one of the songs that captures for me the 'magic' of those fabulous and far-off days. Same goes for Van Morrison and Them's Here Comes the Night (1965). It still sounds as raw and fresh as it did in '65. Tender and yearning, but with the metallic clang of the Dionysian.
Anyone who reveals what he’s learned, Chris told me, is not by his definition a true hermit. Chris had come around on the idea of himself as a hermit, and eventually embraced it. When I mentioned Thoreau, who spent two years at Walden, Chris dismissed him with a single word: "dilettante."
Again I am astonished by the wild diversity of human types as between, say, Zelda Kaplan and Dolores Hart. Who or what is man that he should admit of such wide diversity?
I read John D.Caputo years ago, in the late '70s, in connection with work I was doing on Heidegger. I read a couple of his early Heidegger articles and a couple of his books. One of them, The Mystical Element in Heidegger's Thought, is in my library. Caputo seemed worth reading at the time. But he appears to have gone off the deep end. This from a New York TimesOpinionator interview entitled "Looking White in the Face":
John D. Caputo: “White” is of the utmost relevance to philosophy, and postmodern theory helps us to see why. I was once criticized for using the expression “true north.” It reflected my Nordo-centrism, my critic said, and my insensitivity to people who live in the Southern Hemisphere. Of course, no such thing had ever crossed my mind, but that points to the problem. We tend to say “we” and to assume who “we” are, which once simply meant “we white male Euro-Christians.”
Postmodern theory tries to interrupt that expression at every stop, to put every word in scare quotes, to put our own presuppositions into question, to make us worry about the murderousness of “we,” and so to get in the habit of asking, “we, who?” I think that what modern philosophers call “pure” reason — the Cartesian ego cogito and Kant’s transcendental consciousness — is a white male Euro-Christian construction.
White is not “neutral.” “Pure” reason is lily white, as if white is not a color or is closest to the purity of the sun, and everything else is “colored.” Purification is a name for terror and deportation, and “white” is a thick, dense, potent cultural signifier that is closely linked to rationalism and colonialism. What is not white is not rational. So white is philosophically relevant and needs to be philosophically critiqued — it affects what we mean by “reason” — and “we” white philosophers cannot ignore it.
This is truly depressing stuff. It illustrates the rarefied, pseudo-intellectual stupidity to which leftist intellectuals routinely succumb, and the level to which humanities departments in our universities have sunk. We speak of 'true North' in distinction from 'magnetic North,' which is what a compass needle points to. The difference in location between the two is called declination and must be taken into account for accurate navigation. The phrase 'true North' has nothing to do with Nordo-centrism or insensitivity to those who live in the Southern Hemisphere. It is just a physical fact that compass needles track magnetic North, and that magnetic North is not the same as true North.
I feel as if I should apologize for pointing out something so obvious, but in the lunatic precincts of the postmodern, the obvious gets no respect. Does Caputo perhaps imagine that the Earth and its magnetic properties are social constructs? I hope not. One wonders what is going on in his head. Perhaps he is afraid of hurting the feelings of people who live in the Southern Hemisphere by his use of 'true North.' But for them to take offense at that phrase would be like a black person taking offense at 'black hole,' which, mirabile dictu, has actually happened. The phrase is from cosmology. Roughly, a black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing can escape including no form of electromagnetic radiation such as light. Black holes have nothing to do with people of African-American descent or with black whores: 'hos' in black street idiom. And this is the case even when 'black hole' is used metaphorically to refer to, say, a windowless office.
It is the same with 'true North.' If used literally, it does not mean that the North is 'true' and the South 'false' or any such nonsense. And the same goes for the phrase used metaphorically.
People with basic common sense know that there is such a thing as taking inappropriate offense and that one should not cater to the whims of the absurdly sensitive. In this connection I remind you of the case of the poor schlep who lost his job because of his use of the perfectly innocuous English word 'niggardly,' which, of course, has nothing to do with 'nigger.' By the way, I just mentioned the word 'nigger'; I did not use it. I said something about the word; I did not apply it to anyone. (Is your typical Continental philosopher aware of the use-mention distinction?)
The purveyors of POMO need to be reminded that thinking is not association of ideas: if you associate 'niggardly' with 'nigger,' that is your problem and no basis for an argument to the conclusion that a user of 'niggardly' is a racist.
Should we question our presuppositions? Of course. That is essential to the philosophical enterprise. But one ought to do this without absurd exaggerations ("the murderousness of 'we' ") and double standards. I say we ought to question our presuppositions. Who am I referring to with my use of 'we'? To those of us who aspire to be reasonable and to seek the truth. I am afraid I don't see the "murderousness" of that. And I don't see how a white person is barred from referring to rational truth-seekers by his use of 'we' just because he or she is a white person.
Now to our title question. Is pure reason a white male Euro-Christian construction? This is just nonsense and is really beneath refutation. But given the sorry state of things, refutation is needed. Caputo is alluding to Kant's 1781 (2nd ed. 1787) Critique of Pure Reason. And Caputo must know that for Kant 'pure' means: free of empirical elements (CPR B 3) and that pure reason is the faculty that "contains the principles whereby we know anything absolutely a priori." (CPR A 11 B 24) This has nothing to do with racial purity.
Caputo is here instantiating the role of Continental mush-head: he is not thinking but engaging in argument by association, which is not argument at all, any more than another Continental favorite, argument by incantation, is argument at all.
But it is worse than this because Caputo is engaged in a sort of philosophical smear job. Here we have a great philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who is undertaking to evaluate the cognitive 'reach' of pure reason. His project is to assess the capacity of reason unaided by sensory input to secure knowledge in special metaphysics (metaphysica specialis) whose main objects are God, the soul, and the world as a whole. Corresponding to these objects are the highest concerns of humanity: God, freedom, and immortality.
And what does Caputo do? He conflates the purity that Kant speaks of with racial purity and then goes on to associate, scurrilously and irresponsibly, pure reason with "terror and deportation" and "colonialism." This of course is right out of the cultural Marxist's playbook.
For a leftist, anything a reasonable person says is 'code' for something else. The leftist cannot take anything at face value as meaning what it obviously means. He is out to debunk and deconstruct and unmask. As cultural Marxists, they are out to cut through 'false consciousness' and 'bourgeois ideology.' Theirs is the hermeneutics of suspicion. So 'pure reason' cannot mean what Kant says it means; it has to mean something else: it is a "cultural signifier" for terror and deportation and what all else. Or if I speak of truth and of seeking truth, then my use of 'truth' really signifies power and white privilege and what all else.
And when I refute the POMO nonsense and show that it is self-contradictory, that too cannot be taken at face-value as meaning what it manifestly means and showing what it manifestly shows; it has to be 'deconstructed' as masking some sort of power play or re-affirmation of 'white privilege.'
Is Caputo trying to convince us of certain truths? Then he presupposes truth, in which case truth cannot be a social construct. It is not that there are no social constructs; the point is that not everything can be. Truth, for example. Who constructs it? White males collectively? But if this is so, then that is the case beyond all constructions, in which case truth cannot be a white male construction or a construction by any person or persons. Truth is absolute by its very nature.
Could reason be a social construct? When Caputo tries to convince us of something he appeals to our reason to convince us of what he takes to be reasonable and true. He gives arguments and adduces various considerations. He makes assertions that purport to be true. (And, of course, in purporting to be true, they purport to be objectively and absolutely true, which is to say: not merely true for me or for us or for this social class or that historical epoch.) But how can Caputo, who is a white male who enjoys all sorts of perquisites and privileges, appeal to reason if reason is a white male Euro-Christian construct?
Of course, it may be that Caputo has no intention of appealing to reason. It could be that his POMO verbiage is nothing but obfuscatory rhetoric that masks a bid for power for him and his ilk. I prefer not to believe this, if possible; I met the man once and he seemed like a decent human being.
Is Caputo appealing to a 'true reason' that is not a white male Euro-Christian construct? But he can't do this by his own constructivist, relativist principles. For then he would have to put a different construct in its place, say reason as a black female Afro-Islamic construct. But then he won't be able to convince us or himself of anything rationally. For that different construct would just be another contingent, unbinding framework. If there is a 'true reason,' then it cannot be any sort of contingent human construct vriable across races andf sexes, regions and religions.
The problem, very simply, is that if reason is culturally or racially or in any way relative, then there is no such thing as reason. Reason is like truth in this respect. Truth is absolute by its very nature; talk of relative truth is nonsense. Similarly, reason is normative and impartially adjudicative by its very nature. Talk of reason as reflective of class interests or racial biases is nonsense. So either there is no reason or it is not a social construct. And if it is not a social construct, then of course it is not a white male Euro-Christian construct.
One who lies on occasion is not a liar; a liar is one who habitually lies. Is Mrs. Clinton a congenital liar as the late William Safire claimed in a 1996 NYT opinion piece? That's rather a stretch: surely the multiple modes of her mendacity are not innate in her. She is better described as a strategic liar: lying is part of her strategy of self-advancement. She will lie whenever it is in her interest to do so. The end justifies the means.
But there is nonetheless something in her pattern of mendacity that smacks of pathology. Why did she lie about her ancestry given how easy is the exposure of such a lie? That suggests either pathology or an overweening hubris, as if she can get away with anything. She is naked AMBITION in a pants suit she fancies is bullet-proof. We shall see. Just don't underestimate her and the machine behind her.
It has been said of Bill Clinton that he'd rather climb a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth. Hillary continues the family tradition. One of her latest untruths is that all four of her grandparents came to the U.S. as immigrants when only one of them did. She lied, brazenly, about something easily checked. To prolong the arboreal metaphor, why would she perch herself far out on a limb so easily sawn off? Beats me.
I reviewed A Most Unlikely God in Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review (vol. XXXVIII, no. 3, Summer 1999, pp. 614-617). Prof. N.M.L Nathan expressed an interest in reading it, so here it is.
A Most Unlikely God: A Philosophical Enquiry into the Nature of God. By Barry Miller. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996, viii + 175 pp. $27.00.
This is the sequel to Professor Miller's From Existence to God: A Contemporary Philosophical Argument (Routledge, 1992). (See my review in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, vol. LXVII, no. 3, Summer 1993, pp. 390-394.) In that book he presents a version of the cosmological argument for the existence of God that does not rely on the principle of sufficient reason in any of its forms. A central upshot of that argument is that God as uncaused cause of the universe must be Subsistent Existence, i.e., a being not distinct from its existence. The notion that anything whatever could be non-distinct from its existence is of course an exasperatingly difficult one, and is rejected as incoherent by many, along with the doctrine of divine simplicity of which it is an integral part. An ontologically simple God is a most unlikely God since he is one in whom there is no real distinction between form and matter, act and potency, essence and existence, or individual and attribute. Since Miller's theistic argument terminates in the affirmation of a simple God, it is essential to his overall project to show the coherence of the very idea of a simple God and to rebut the numerous objections that have been brought against it. That is the task of the book under review.
Chapter 1 contrasts Miller's approach with the 'perfect-being theology' of the Anselmians. For the latter, God's perfection is construed as his possession of a maximally consistent set of great-making properties or perfections. Omnipotence is an example of a great-making property, and is taken by Anselmians as the logical maximum of a property that can be had by creatures. Thus Socrates is powerful, but God is maximally powerful. Miller rejects this approach to divine perfection in that it implies that such terms as 'powerful,' 'knowing,' 'loving,' etc., can be used univocally of God and creatures. (p. 2) On the Anselmian approach, the gulf between God and creatures is not an absolute divide, and thus God on this approach fails to be absolutely transcendent. The God of the Anselmians is thus "discomfitingly anthropomorphic." (p. 3)
Miller's alternative is to think of the greatest F not as a maximum or limit simpliciter in an ordered series of Fs, but as the limit case of such a series. (p. 4) Whereas the limit simpliciter of an F is an F, the limit case of an F is not an F. Consider, for example, the series: 3-place predicable, 2-place predicable, 1-place predicable. Since a predicable (e.g.,'___is wise') must have at least one place if it is to be a predicable, a 1-place predicable is a limit simpliciter of the ordered series of predicables. Although talk of zero-place predicables comes naturally, as when we speak of a proposition as a zero-place predicable, a zero-place predicable is no more a predicable than negative growth is growth. 'Zero-place' is thus an alienans adjective like 'negative' in 'negative growth' and 'decoy' in 'decoy duck.' Zero-place predicable is thus not a limit simpliciter of the series in question, but a limit case of this series: it is not a member of the series of which it is the limit case. It nevertheless stands in some relation to the members of the series inasmuch as they and the way they are ordered point to this limit case. (p. 8)
The idea, then, is that God's power is not the maximum or limit simpliciter of an ordered series of instances of power, but the limit case instance of power. This implies that God's power is not an instance of power any more than a zero-place predicable is a predicable. No doubt this will shock the Anselmians, but in mitigation it can be said that God's power, though not an instance of power, is that to which the ordered series of power-instances points, and is therefore something to which the members of that series stand in a definite relation.
Chapters 2, 3 and 4 engage the problem of how it could be that God is his existence. If sense can be made of this identity, the problem of how God can be identical with his non- existential properties should present no special difficulty. The story begins with Socrates who is spectacularly distinct from his existence. Of course, Socrates can be distinct from his existence only if there is some sense in which existence is a property of him. Since Frege, Russell and their epigones deny this, holding instead that existence is always a property of concepts or propositional functions, Miller devotes Chapter 2 to showing that there are first-level uses of '___exists' and thus that existence is a first-level property of contingent individuals. Miller makes a strong, and to this reviewer's mind convincing, case for this view.
But given that existence is a first-level property, it does not follow straightaway that it is a real (non-Cambridge) property. One is tempted to wonder what existence could 'add' to Socrates, and tempted to conclude that it could 'add' nothing and thus that existence is a Cambridge property. But so to conclude would be to labor under a false assumption as to how an individual is related to its existence. Chapter 3 argues that Socrates is not related to his existence in the way he is related to his wisdom. His wisdom inheres in him as subject; but it makes no sense to think of his existence as inhering in him as subject: "Socrates' existence could not inhere in him unless there was a sense in which he himself was real logically prior to his existence." (p. 30) And there is no such sense, as Miller goes on to argue. Plantinga's haecceities come in for a drubbing (pp. 31-32), and in general it is plausibly argued that individuals are inconceivable before they exist. That is, before Socrates came to exist, there were no de re possibilities involving him.
So although Socrates individuates his existence, i.e., makes his instance of existence distinct from every other such instance, Socrates cannot actualize his existence in the way he actualizes his wisdom: Socrates is logically posterior to his existence in respect of actuality. (p. 33) This seems right: Socrates' existence is what 'makes' him exist. But how can Socrates be logically posterior to his existence in respect of actuality and also logically prior to his existence in respect of individuation?
This question has an answer if Socrates is related to his existence, not as subject to what inheres in it, but as bound to what it bounds. A bound is logically posterior to what it bounds in respect of actuality, but logically prior in respect of individuation. Consider two blocks of ice cut from the same larger block. The two blocks are individuated by their bounding surfaces, which are logically posterior in respect of actuality to the blocks they bound. Bounds are parasitic on what they bound. But the bounding surfaces are logically prior in respect of individuation to the blocks they bound. This is a creative, if not wholly unproblematic, solution to what I am convinced is a genuine problem, namely, the problem of how existence can belong to an individual without being related to it as to a subject.
We are now in a position to understand the notion of Subsistent Existence as an identity of limit cases (Ch 4). Having seen that Socrates is the bound rather than the subject of his instance of existence, we form the notions of the limit case instance of existence and of the limit case bound of existence. "The notion of Subsistent Existence, then, is the notion of the entity which is jointly and identically the limit case instance of existence and the limit case bound of existence." (67) But doesn't this amount to the self-contradictory claim that some bound of existence is identical with the instance of existence which it bounds? No, because 'limit case' is an alienans adjective; a limit case bound of existence is not a bound at all, nor is a limit case instance of existence an instance of existence.
The rest of the book is an elaboration of this basic idea. Chapter 5 shows how God can be identical with his non-existential properties. Chapters 6 and 7 discuss the bearing of the simplicity doctrine on divine cognition, willing, and causation. Chapter 8 addresses the possibility of literal talk about a simple God. Miller attempts to show that on the limit case account of God's simplicity, "...absolute transcendence does not entail total ineffability..." (p. 154) Chapter 9 concludes the work.
There are some minor errors in the book, one of which should be mentioned. On p. 1, n. 1, Miller ascribes to Alvin Plantinga the view that God has no nature. This is a mistake, as Miller readily conceded when I pointed it out to him in correspondence. Plantinga of course holds that God has a nature; what he denies is that God is identical with his nature.
Minor errors aside, this work is the best defense of the divine simplicity to date. Anyone who thinks that this doctrine is obviously incoherent or easily dismissed should read this book -- and think again.
The Founding Fathers of America knew that liberty was necessary to avoid tyranny and stagnation. In order to obtain liberty without intolerable disorder they adopted a federal structure. Those 18th century men discovered, far in advance of computer scientists, the concept of a sandbox, a method of controlled experimentation.
For those who have never heard of it, a programming sandbox  ”is a security mechanism for separating running programs. It is often used to execute untested code, or untrusted programs from unverified third parties, suppliers, untrusted users and untrusted websites … In the sense of providing a highly controlled environment, sandboxes may be seen as a specific example of virtualization. Sandboxing is frequently used to test unverified programs that may contain a virus or other malignant code, without allowing the software to harm the host device.”
The states function as political sandboxes. They are places where ideas can be tested in relative isolation from the national current. Back in the 1960s, the Bay Area functioned as a sandbox for ideas that are themselves now attempting to abolish sandboxes. One of the genuine paradoxes of decisions like Obergefell is that they could not have philosophically survived themselves.
"Your country's PC crap has come to my home town!"
I am sorry to hear that, but I would point out that it is not my country's PC crap, but the PC crap of the hate-America leftists who are destroying a great country. And yes, they do hate America because America is an idea before all else and these slanderous race-baiters hate the principles that articulate the idea.