. . . is like a mafioso's denying that there is a mafia. "Mafia? What mafia? There's no mafia. We're just businessmen trying to do right by out families." Our mafioso might go on to explain that 'mafia' is really just an ethnic slur used to denigrate businessmen of Italian extraction.
This an instance of a rhetorical pattern. Can we tease out the pattern and present it in abstracto? Roughly the pattern is this: A person who is something denies that there is that something. A proponent of a view denies that there is any such view as the one he proposes. A representative of an attitude denies that there is any such attitude as the one he represents. An employer of a tactic denies that there is any such tactic as the one he employs. A performer in a musical genre denies that there is any such genre as the one in which he performs. (I'll have to check, but I seem to recall that Dylan in his folk phase in an interview denied the existence of folk music.)
For instance, a person who is politically correct denies that there is political correctness. Note that only the politically correct deny that there is political correctness, just as only mafiosi deny that there is a mafia. Note also that the denial is not that there are politically correct people, but that the very concept of political correctness is misbegotten, or incoherent, or introduced only as a semantic bludgeon. The idea is not that a person who is something denies that he is that something, but that there is that something.
But we need more examples. Some of the people who are proponents of scientism deny that there is scientism. They may go on to reject the word as meaningless or impossible of application or merely emotive. But of course there is such a thing as scientism. Scientism, roughly, is the philosophical thesis that the only genuine knowledge is natural-scientific knowledge. Not only is there that view; it has representatives.
Suppose that some conservative denies that there is Islamophobia. Then I would have to object. There are a few people who have an irrational fear of Islam and/or of Muslims. They are accurately labelled "Islamophobes.' "Islamophobia' does pick out something real, a 'syndrome' of sorts.
But of course the vast majority of those who sound the alarm against radical Islam are not Islamophobes. For their fear of radical Islam and its works is rational.
Other examples that need discussing: white privilege, institutionalized racism, racial profiling. Could one reasonably believe in these three while denying that there is political correctness?
I'd like to go on; maybe later. But now I have to get ready for an 8 K trail run.
We'll start with murder. David Dalton (Who Is That Man? In Search of the Real Bob Dylan, Hyperion 2012, pp. 28-29, hyperlinks added!):
Most folk songs had grim, murderous content (and subtext). In Pretty Polly a man lures a young girl from her home with the promise of marriage,and then leads the pregnant girl to an already-dug grave and murders her. In Love Henry, a woman poisons her unfaithful lover, observed by an alarmed parrot that she also tries to kill. So it was a bit bizarre that these songs should become part of the sweetened, homogenized new pop music.
[. . .]
The original folk songs were potent, possessed stuff, but the folk trios had figured out how to make this grisly stuff palatable, which only proved that practically anything could be homogenized. Clean-cut guys and girls in crinolines, dressed as if for prom night, sang ancient curse-and-doom tales. Their songs had sweet little melodies, but as in nursery rhymes, there was a dark gothic undercurrent to them -- like Ring Around the Rosies, which happens to be a charming little plague song.
The most famous of these folk songs was the 1958 hit Tom Dooley, a track off a Kingston Trio album which set off the second folk revival [the first was in the early '40s with groups like the Weavers] and was Dylan's initial inspiration for getting involved in folk music. [I prefer Doc Watson's version.] And it was the very success of the syrupy folk trios that inspired Dylan's future manager to assemble one himself: Peter, Paul and Mary. They would make Dylan, the prophet of the folk protest movement, a star and lead to consequences that even he did not foresee. Their version of Blowin' in the Wind would become so successful that it would sound the death knell for the folk protest movement. Ultimately there would be more than sixty versions of it, "all performing the same function," as Michael Gray says, of "anesthetizing Dylan's message."
Be that as it may, it is a great song, one of the anthems of the Civil Rights movement. Its power in no small measure is due to the allusiveness of its lyrics which deliver the protest message without tying it to particular events. It's topical without being topical and marks a difference between Dylan, and say, Phil Ochs.
And now for some love songs.
Gloria Lynne, I Wish You Love. A great version from 1964. Lynne died at 83 in 2013. Here's what Marlene Dietrich does with it.
Ketty Lester, Love Letters. Another great old tune in a 1962 version. The best to my taste.
1. Keith Burgess-Jackson quotes Jamie Glazov on the hatred of Islamists and leftists for St. Valentine's Day. Another very interesting similarity between these two totalitarian movements. Recalling past inamorata of a Saturday night while listening to sentimental songs -- is this not the height of bourgeois self-indulgence when you should be plotting ways to blow up the infidel or bring down capitalism? But we who defend the private life against totalitarian scum must be careful not to retreat too far into the private life. A certain amount of activism and engagement is necessary to keep the totalitarians in check.
2. On Thomas Merton: “All the love and all the death in me are at the moment wound up in Joan Baez’s ‘Silver Dagger,’” the man wrote to his lady love in 1966. “I can’t get it out of my head, day or night. I am obsessed with it. My whole being is saturated with it. The song is myself — and yourself for me, in a way.”
For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.
Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity—and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion—has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.
With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.
That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.
The Right has not cornered the market on civility, not by a long shot. But in my experience, liberals and leftists are worse in the civility department than conservatives. If you don’t agree with me on this, then this post is not for you. To try to prove my assertion to libs and lefties would be like trying to prove to them that such major media outlets as the New York Times tilt leftward. To achieve either goal, I would have to possess the longevity of a Methuselah, the energy of a Hercules, and the dogged persistence of a Sisyphus – and I still would not succeed.
So, given that conservatives are more civil than libs and lefties, why is this the case? One guess is that conservatives, for whom there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional ways of doing things, are more civil due to a natural piety with respect to received modes of human interaction. Civility works, and conservatives are chary about discarding what works. They were brought up to be civil by parents and teacher who were themselves civil, and they see no reason to reject as phony or ‘precious’ something that is conducive to good living. They understand that since we live in a world of appearances, a certain amount of concern with them is reasonable. They also understand that by faking it a bit, one brings oneself to actually feel the emotions that one began by faking. For example, by saying ‘Good Morning’ when I don’t quite feel like it, I contribute to my own perception of the morning as good.
But leftists, many of whom are of a rebellious and adolescent cast of mind, have a problem with what they perceive to be phoniness. They are always out to unmask things, to cut through the false consciousness and the bourgeois ideology. Connected with this hatred of phoniness is a keen sensitivity to hypocrisy. So when Bill (William J.) Bennett was caught wasting money on the slot machines in Las Vegas a while back, the libs and lefties pounced and denounced: "Hypocrite!" they cried.
So pouncing and denouncing, they proved that they do not know what hypocrisy is. Although Mr. Bennett’s behavior was suboptimal, it was neither illegal nor immoral: he’s got the dough to blow if that’s his pleasure. Given his considerable accomplishments, is he not entitled to a bit of R & R?
A hypocrite is not someone who is morally perfect or who fails to engage in supererogatory acts. Nor is a hypocrite one who preaches high ideals but falls short. Otherwise, we would all be hypocrites. For if everyone is, then no one is. A hypocrite is someone who preaches high ideals but makes no attempt at living up to them. The difference is between failing to do what one believes one ought to do and not even trying to do what one says one ought to do.
The leftist obsession with perceived phoniness and perceived hypocrisy stems from an innate hatred of moral judgment, a hatred which itself seems fueled by a confusion of moral judgment with judgmentalism.
So perhaps the answer is this. Leftists are less civil than conservatives because they do not see civility as a value. They don't see it as a value because it smacks of a bourgeois moral ideology that to them is nothing but a sham. Adroit unmaskers and psychologizers that they are, incapable of taking things at face value, they think that none of us who preach civility’s value really believe what we are preaching. It really has to be something else, just as the desire for democracy in Iraq really has to be something else: a desire for economic and military hegemony.
It's a funny world. NBC anchor Brian Williams lied about a matter of no significance, in an excess of boyish braggadocio, though in doing so he injured his credibility and, more importantly, that of his employer, NBC. We demand truth of our journalists and so Williams' suspension is as justified as the Schadenfreude at his come-down is not.
Journalists are expected to tell the truth. President Obama, however, lies regularly and reliably about matters of great significance and gets away with it. Part of it is that politicians are expected to lie. Obama does not disappoint, taking mendacity to unheard-of levels. There is a brazenness about it that has one admiring his cojones if nothing else. Another part of it is that politicians are not subject to the discipline of the market in the way news anchors are. Loss of credibility reduces viewership which reduces profits. That's the real bottom line, not the expectation of truthfulness.
(By the way, that is not a slam against capitalism but against our greedy fallen nature which was greedy and fallen long before the rise of capitalism. Capitalism is no more the source of greed than socialism is the source of envy.)
Obama is a master of mendacity in the multiplicity of its modes. There is, for example, bullshitting, which is not the same as lying. Obama as Bullshitter explains, with a little help from Professor Harry Frankfurt.
I tend to look askance at petitionary prayer for material benefits. In such prayer one asks for mundane benefits whether for oneself, or, as in the case of intercessory prayer, for another. In many of its forms it borders on idolatry and superstition, and in its crassest forms it crosses over. A skier who prays for snow, for example, makes of God a supplier of mundane benefits, as does the nimrod who prays to win the lottery. Worse still is one who prays for the death of a business rival.
Perhaps not all petitionary prayer for mundane benefits is objectionable. Some of it simply reflects, excusably, our misery and indigence. (Did not Christ himself engage in it at Gethsemane?) But much of it is. What then should I say about the "Our Father," which, in the fourth of its six petitions, appears precisely to endorse petitionary prayer for material benefits?
The other five petitions in the Pater Noster are either clearly or arguably prayers for spiritual benefits. In a spiritual petition one asks, not for physical bread and such, but for things like acceptance, equanimity, patience, courage, and the like in the face of the fact that one lacks bread or has cancer. "Thy Will be done." One asks for forgiveness and for the ability to forgive others. One prays for a lively sense of one's own manifold shortcomings, for self-knowledge and freedom from self-deception. One prays, not to be cured of the cancer, but to bear it with courage. One prays for the ability to see one's tribulations under the aspect of eternity or with the sort of detachment with which one contemplates the sufferings of others.
The fourth petition, "Give us this day our daily bread," translates the Biblia Vulgata's Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie which occurs at Luke 11:3.
At Matthew 6:11, however, we find Panem nostrum supersubstantialem da nobis hodie, "Give us this day our supersubstantial bread." 'Supersubstantial' suggests a bread that is supernatural, beyond all sublunary substances, and beyond all creatures. To ask for this heavenly bread is to ask for a 'food' that will keeps us spiritually alive.
For a long time I perhaps naively thought that 'daily bread' had to refer to physical bread and the other necessities of our material existence. So for a long time I thought that there was a tension, or even a contradiction, between 'daily bread' and 'supersubstantial bread.' A tension between physical bread and meta-physical bread.
But this morning I stumbled upon what might be the right solution while reading St. John Cassian. The same bread is referred to by both phrases, and that same bread is spiritual or supersubstantial, not physical. 'Supersubstantial' makes it clear that 'bread' is to be taken metaphorically, not literally, while 'daily' "points out the right manner of its beneficial use." (Selected Writings, p. 30) What 'daily' thus conveys is that we need to feed upon spiritual bread every single day. On this reading, the fourth petition is as spiritual as the others, and the whiff of superstition and idolatry that I found offensive is removed.*
This reading also has the virtue of cohering nicely with Matthew 4:4 according to which man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Not by physical bread, but by meta-physical bread.
"Give us this day our daily bread" is thus a request that we be supplied on a daily basis with spiritual bread that we need every day. And since we need it every day, we must ask for it every day. But who needs it? Not the bodily man, but the "inner man" says Cassian. The inner man is the true man. 'Inner man' is a metaphor but it indicates a literal truth: that man is more than an animal. Being more than an animal, he needs more than material sustenance.
Addendum on the Literal and the Metaphorical
Here is a question that vexes me. Are there literal truths that cannot be stated literally but can only stated or gotten at metaphorically? Can we state literally what a man is if he is more than an animal? Or must we use metaphors?
"Man is spirit." Isn't 'spirit' a metaphor? "Man has a higher origin." 'Higher' is metaphorical. "Man is made by God in his image and likeness." Aren't 'made,' 'image,' and 'likeness' metaphors?
I once heard a crude and materialistic old man say that if man is made in God's image, then God must have a gastrointestinal tract. I tried to explain to the man that 'image' is not to be taken in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. But I got nowhere as could have been expected: anyone who doesn't understand right away the spiritual sense of 'made in God's image' displays by that failure to understand an incapacity for instruction. It is like the student who doesn't get right away what it means to say that one proposition follows from another, and thinks that it refers to a temporal or a spatial relation.
The question is whether the spiritual sense can be spelled out literally.
* For Simone Weil, "Christ is our bread." We can have physical bread without eating it; we cannot have spiritual bread without 'eating' it: the having is the 'eating' and being nourished by it. This nourishing is the "union of Christ with the eternal part of the soul." (Waiting for God, p. 146) The fourth petition of the Pater Noster, then, is the request for the union of Christ with the eternal part of the soul. It has nothing to do with a crass and infantile demand to be supplied with physical food via a supernatural means.
Some of you may remember the commenter 'spur' from the old Powerblogs incarnation of this weblog. His comments were the best of any I received in over ten years of blogging. I think it is now safe to 'out' him as Stephen Puryear of North Carolina State University. He recently sent me a copy of his Finitism and the Beginning of the Universe (Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2014, vol. 92, no. 4, 619-629). He asked me to share the link with my readers, and I do so with pleasure. In this entry I will present the gist of Puryear's paper as I understand it. It is a difficult paper due to the extreme difficulty of the subject matter, but also due to the difficulty of commanding a clear view of the contours of Puryear's dialectic. He can tell me whether I have grasped the article's main thrust. Comments enabled.
The argument under his logical microscope is the following:
1. If the universe did not have a beginning, then the past would consist in an inﬁnite temporal sequence of events. 2. An inﬁnite temporal sequence of past events would be actually and not merely potentially inﬁnite. 3. It is impossible for a sequence formed by successive addition to be actually inﬁnite. 4. The temporal sequence of past events was formed by successive addition. 5. Therefore, the universe had a beginning.
Premise (3) is open to a seemingly powerful objection. Puryear seems to hold (p. 621) that (3) is equivalent to the claim that it is impossible to run through an actually infinite sequence in step-wise fashion. That is, (3) is equivalent to the claim that it is impossible to 'traverse' an actual infinite. But this happens all the time when anything moves from one point to another. Or so the objection goes. Between any two points there are continuum-many points. So when my hand reaches for the coffee cup, my hand traverses an actual infinity of points. But if my hand can traverse an actual infinity, then what is to stop a beginningless universe from having run through an actual infinity of events to be in its present state? Of course, an actual infinity of spatial points is not the same as an actual infinity of temporal moments or events at moments; but in both the spatial and the temporal case there is an actual infinity of items. If one can be traversed, so can the other.
The above argument, then, requires for its soundness the truth of (3). But (3) is equivalent to
3*. It is impossible to traverse an actual infinite.
(3*), however, is open to the objection that motion involves such traversal. Pace Zeno, motion is actual and therefore possible. It therefore appears that the argument fails at (3). To uphold (3) and its equivalent (3*) we need to find a way to defang the objection from the actuality of motion (translation). Can we accommodate continuous motion without commitment to actual infinities? Motion is presumably continuous, not discrete. (I am not sure, but I think that the claim that space and time are continuous is equivalent to the claim there are no space atoms and no time atoms.) Can we have continuity without actual infinities of points and moments?
Some say yes. William Lane Craig is one. The trick is to think of a continuous whole, whether of points or of moments, as logically/ontologically prior to its parts, as opposed to composed of its parts and thus logically/ontologically posterior to them. Puryear takes this to entail that a temporal interval or duration is a whole that we divide into parts, a whole whose partition depends on our conceptual activities. (This entailment is plausible, but not perfectly evident to me.) If so, then the infinity of parts in a continuous whole can only be a potential infinity. Thus a line segment is infinitely divisible but not infinitely divided. It is actually divided only when we divide it, and the number of actual divisions will always be finite. But one can always add another 'cut.' In this sense the number of cuts is potentially infinite. Similarly for a temporal duration. In this way we get continuity without actual infinity.
If this is right, then motion needn't involve the traversal of an actual infinity of points, and the above objection brought against (3) fails. The possibility of traversal of an actual infinite cannot be shown by motion since motion, though continuous, does not involve motion through an actual infinity of points for the reason that there is no actual infinity of points: the infinity is potential merely.
We now come to Puryear's thesis. In a nutshell, his thesis is that Craig's defence of premise (3) undermines the overall argument. How? To turn aside the objection to (3), it is necessary to view spatial and temporal wholes, not as composed of their parts, but as (logically, not temporally) prior to their parts, with the parts introduced by our conceptual activities. But then the same should hold for the entire history of the universe up to the present moment. For if the interval during which my hand is in motion from the keyboard to the coffee cup is a whole whose parts are due to our divisive activities, then the same goes for the metrically infinite interval that culminates in the present moment. This entails that the divisions within the history of the universe up to the present are potentially infinite only.
But then how can (1) or (2) or (4) be true? Consider (2). It states that an infinite temporal sequence of past events would be actually and not merely potentially infinite. Think of an event as a total state of the universe at a time. Now if temporal divisions are introduced by us into logically prior temporal wholes such that the number of these actual divisions can only be finite, then the same will be true of events: we carve the history of the universe into events. Since the number of carvings, though potentially infinite is always only actually finite, it follows that (2) is false.
The defense of (3) undercuts (2).
So that's the gist of it, as best as I can make out. I have no objection, but then the subject matter is very difficult and I am not sure I understand all the ins and outs.
February brings to the Sonoran desert days so beautiful that one feels guilty even sitting on the back porch, half-outside, taking it all in, eyes playing over the spring green, lungs deeply enfolding blossom-laden warmish breezes. One feels that one ought to be walking around in this earthly heaven. And this despite my having done just that early this morning. Vita brevis, and February too with its 28 days. The fugacity of February to break the heart whose day is at its center. It's all fleeting, one can't get enough of it. Joy wants eternity.
And now, I head back outside, away from this too-complicated machine, to read simply and slowly some more from Stages on Life's Way and to drink a cup of java to stave off the halcyon sleepiness wrought by lambent light and long vistas on this afternoon in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains.
Horribile dictu, our president is a moral idiot. Dennis Prager makes the case clearly and convincingly.
Referring to Islamic violence, the president accuses anyone who implies that such religious violence "is unique to some other place" -- meaning outside the Christian West -- as getting on a "high horse."
Is this true? Of course, not. In our time, major religious violence is in fact "unique to some other place," namely the Islamic world. What other religious group is engaged in mass murder, systematic rape, slavery, beheading innocents, bombing public events, shooting up school children, wiping out whole religious communities and other such atrocities?
The answer is, of course, no other religious group. Therefore massive violence in the name of one's religion today is indeed "unique to some other place." To state this is not to "get on a high horse." It is to tell the most important truth about the world in our time.
[. . .]
Furthermore, it is difficult to see why comparing Muslim behavior today to Christian behavior a thousand or five hundred years ago provides a defense of Islam. On the contrary, isn't the allegation that Islamic evil at the present time is morally equivalent to Christian evil a thousand years ago a damning indictment of the present state of much of Islam?
And as regards the substance of the charge, this widespread use of the Crusades and the Inquisition is ignorant of the realities of both. The Crusades were Christian wars to retake territories in the Holy Land that Muslims had forcefully taken from Christians. Unless the question of "who started it?" is morally irrelevant, and therefore all wars are immoral, the Crusaders' war on Muslims in the Holy Land is a poor example of evil in the name of Christ.
[. . .]
We live in an age of moral idiocy. Moral equivalence is the left's way of resisting fighting evil. It did it during the Cold War when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were morally equated, and it is doing it now when it morally equates all religions and societies. Take, for example, this imbecilic equation by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, defending the president's comments on Islam and Christianity by invoking slavery: "Americans have done, on their own soil, in the name of their own God, something similar to what ISIS is doing now."
There is a major moral crisis in one religion on earth today -- Islam. To say so is not to get on a high horse. It is to identify violent Islam as the greatest evil in the world since Nazism and Communism.
The phenomenal Edward Feser. How does he do it? He teaches an outrageous number of courses at a community college; he has written numerous books; he gives talks and speeches, and last time I checked he has six children. Not to mention his weblog which is bare of fluff and filler and of consistently high quality, as witness his second in a series on sex. It concludes:
So just what is the deal with sex, anyway?Why are we so prone to extremes where it is concerned? The reason, I would say, has to do with our highly unusual place in the order of things. Angels are incorporeal and asexual, creatures of pure intellect. Non-human animals are entirely bodily, never rising above sensation and appetite, and our closest animal relatives reproduce sexually. Human beings, as rational animals, straddle this divide, having as it were one foot in the angelic realm and the other in the animal realm. And that is, metaphysically, simply a very odd position to be in. It is just barely stable, and sex makes it especially difficult to maintain. The unique intensity of sexual pleasure and desire, and our bodily incompleteness qua men and women, continually remind us of our corporeal and animal nature, pulling us “downward” as it were. Meanwhile our rationality continually seeks to assert its control and pull us back “upward,” and naturally resents the unruliness of such intense desire. This conflict is so exhausting that we tend to try to get out of it by jumping either to one side of the divide or the other. But this is an impossible task and the result is that we are continually frustrated. And the supernatural divine assistance that would have remedied this weakness in our nature and allowed us to maintain an easy harmony between rationality and animality was lost in original sin.
So, behaviorally, we have a tendency to fall either into prudery or into sexual excess. And intellectually, we have a tendency to fall either into the error of Platonism -- treating man as essentially incorporeal, a soul trapped in the prison of the body -- or into the opposite error of materialism, treating human nature as entirely reducible to the corporeal. The dominance of Platonism in early Christian thought is perhaps the main reason for its sometimes excessively negative attitude toward sexual pleasure, and the dominance of materialism in modern times is one reason for its excessive laxity in matters of sex. The right balance is, of course, the Aristotelian-Thomistic position -- specifically, Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical anthropology, which affirms that man is a single substance with both corporeal and incorporeal activities; and Aristotelian-Thomistic natural law theory, which upholds traditional sexual morality while affirming the essential goodness of sex and sexual pleasure.
A reader sent me an argument expressed in an idiosyncratic and unnecessarily technical terminology. But his idea is a very interesting one. I'll present and then evaluate my version of the reader's argument.
1. There are several actual and many possible positions on the nature and existence of God. Call them God-positions. One who occupies a God-position takes a stand on the existence of God, yes or no.
2. All but one of these God-positions are theistic: they affirm the existence of God, though they differ as to the divine attributes.
3. Only one of these God-positions is atheistic: only one affirms the nonexistence of God.
4. Exactly one of these God-positions is true.
5. The probability that one of the many theistic God-positions is true is much greater than the probability that the one atheistic God-position is true.
6. The claim that God exists is much more likely to be true than the claim that God does not exist.
I should think that the first three premises need no support: they are well-nigh self-evident. If support is wanted for (4), it can be found in logic. By Bivalence, there are exactly two truth-values. By Excluded Middle, every proposition is either true or not true.
But how is (5) supposed to follow from (1)-(4)? Here is where I think the problem lies. Intuitively, (5) does not follow from the premises.
Consider a parody argument. There are several actual and many possible positions on the nature and existence of the Lost Dutchman Goldmine. All but one of these LDM-positions are affirmative of the mine's existence; the remaining one is negative. But only one LDM-position is true. Therefore, it is more likely than not that the LDM exists.
This is obviously a fallacious argument. If it is, then so is the original argument. But this leaves us with the task of explaining why both are fallacious. This is not so easy.
Either the LDM exists or it does not. At most, these contradictory propositions are equiprobable. (Given my knowledge of the geology of the Superstition Wilderness, I would deny that these propositions are equiprobable; but let's assume that they are.) The number of different conceptions of the LDM has no bearing on the probability of its existence. One cannot raise (lower) the probability of the mine's existence by adding to (subtracting from) the conceptions of the LDM. Why not? Well, if the mine exists, then exactly one of the conceptions is instantiated, and all the other conceptions are uninstantiated. And it seems obviously true that the probability of some concept's being instantiated does not vary with the number of similar concepts that might have been instantiated instead.
The same goes for God even if the existence and nonexistence of God are equiprobable. There are many different conceptions of God even within a broadly Abrahamic ambit. On one conception, God is triune and simple; on another, triune but not simple; on a third, simple but not triune. And so it goes. Some hold God to be absolutely unlimited in power; others hold that logic limits God's power. And so on. Each of these conceptions is such that, if it is instantiated, then God exists. But surely the number of God-conceptions has no bearing on the probability of one of them being instantiated.
A review by Thomas F. Madden of Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. Some excerpts (bolding added):
It is generally thought that Christians attacked Muslims without provocation to seize their lands and forcibly convert them. The Crusaders were Europe’s lacklands and ne’er-do-wells, who marched against the infidels out of blind zealotry and a desire for booty and land. As such, the Crusades betrayed Christianity itself. They transformed “turn the other cheek” into “kill them all; God will know his own.”
Every word of this is wrong. Historians of the Crusades have long known that it is wrong, but they find it extraordinarily difficult to be heard across a chasm of entrenched preconceptions. For on the other side is, as Riley-Smith puts it “nearly everyone else, from leading churchmen and scholars in other fields to the general public.” There is the great Sir Steven Runciman, whose three-volume History of the Crusades is still a brisk seller for Cambridge University Press a half century after its release. It was Runciman who called the Crusades “a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost.” The pity of it is that Runciman and the other popular writers simply write better stories than the professional historians.
[. . .]
St. Paul said of secular authorities, “He does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.” Several centuries later, St. Augustine articulated a Christian approach to just war, one in which legitimate authorities could use violence to halt or avert a greater evil. It must be a defensive war, in reaction to an act of aggression. For Christians, therefore, violence was ethically neutral, since it could be employed either for evil or against it. As Riley-Smith notes, the concept that violence is intrinsically evil belongs solely to the modern world. It is not Christian.
All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction attacks against Christians or their Church. The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land. The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. The third was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.
[. . .]
And yet, so ingrained is this notion that the Crusades began the modern European assault on Islam that many moderate Muslims still believe it. Riley-Smith recounts : “I recently refused to take part in a television series, produced by an intelligent and well-educated Egyptian woman, for whom a continuing Western crusade was an article of faith. Having less to do with historical reality than with reactions to imperialism, the nationalist and Islamist interpretations of crusade history help many people, moderates as well as extremists, to place the exploitation they believe they have suffered in a historical context and to satisfy their feelings of both superiority and humiliation.”
In the Middle East, as in the West, we are left with the gaping chasm between myth and reality. Crusade historians sometimes try to yell across it but usually just talk to each other, while the leading churchmen, the scholars in other fields, and the general public hold to a caricature of the Crusades created by a pox of modern ideologies. If that chasm is ever to be bridged, it will be with well-written and powerful books such as this.
In the three and a half decades since the Iranian revolution, I have been watching my friends and neighbors (and distant neighbors) on the left struggling to understand—or avoid understanding—the revival of religion in what is now called a “post-secular” age. Long ago, we looked forward to “the disenchantment of the world”—we believed that the triumph of science and secularism was a necessary feature of modernity. And so we forgot, as Nick Cohen has written, “what the men and women of the Enlightenment knew. All faiths in their extreme form carry the possibility of tyranny.”1
BV: Two comments.
First, what might the triumph of science be if not the triumph of scientism, which is not science, but a philosophical view according to which the only genuine knowledge is natural-scientific knowledge? (I provide plenty of nuance as to the definition of 'scientism' in my Scientism category.) After all, if science triumphs, it triumphs over something, and what would that be? If you say 'religion,' then I will point out that science and religion are not in the same line of work and so not in competition; hence science cannot triumph over religion any more than religion can triumph over science. But scientism can triumph over religion because scientism and religions are worldviews. Scientism is logically incompatible with religion; this is particularly clear in the case of theistic religions. Scientism is the epistemology of naturalism, the ontological doctrine that reality is exhausted by the space-time system and its contents. If naturalism is true, then of course there is no God, and contrapositively: if there is a God, then naturalism is false. But there is nothing in science that rules out the existence of God. If you think there is, then you are confusing science with scientism.
Second, while it is true that most if not all religions in their extreme forms carry the possibility of tyranny, this is also true of non- and anti-religious ideologies such as communism. If one fails to point this out, as Walzer does fail to point it out, then then one can be suspected of a lack of intellectual honesty. Communist tyranny alone led to the deaths of upwards of 100 million in the 20th century.
Today, every major world religion is experiencing a significant revival, and revived religion isn’t an opiate as we once thought, but a very strong stimulant. Since the late 1970s, and particularly in the last decade, this stimulant is working most powerfully in the Islamic world. From Pakistan to Nigeria, and in parts of Europe, too, Islam today is a religion capable of inspiring large numbers of men and women, mostly men, to kill and die on its behalf. So the Islamic revival is a kind of testing moment for the left: can we recognize and resist “the possibility of tyranny?” Some of us are trying to meet the test; many of us are actively failing it. One reason for this failure is the terrible fear of being called “Islamophobic.” Anti-Americanism and a radical version of cultural relativism also play an important part, but these are older pathologies. Here is something new: many leftists are so irrationally afraid of an irrational fear of Islam that they haven’t been able to consider the very good reasons for fearing Islamist zealots—and so they have difficulty explaining what’s going on in the world.
My main evidentiary basis for this claim is the amazingly long list of links that comes up when you Google “Islamophobia.” Many of them are phobic; I focus on the anti-phobic links, and so I have entered the online world of the left. It is a large and exciting world, highly diverse, inhabited mostly by people new to me. It’s also a little disheartening, because many of the pathologies of the extra-internet left haven’t disappeared online. Obviously, there is no left collective, on or off the internet, but the people I am writing about constitute a significant leftist coterie, and none of them are worrying enough about the politics of contemporary religion or about radical Islamist politics.
For myself, I live with a generalized fear of every form of religious militancy. I am afraid of Hindutva zealots in India, of messianic Zionists in Israel, and of rampaging Buddhist monks in Myanmar. But I admit that I am most afraid of Islamist zealots because the Islamic world at this moment in time (not always, not forever) is especially feverish and fervent. Indeed, the politically engaged Islamist zealots can best be understood as today’s crusaders.
BV: I wonder if Walzer's fear extends to every form of ideological militancy, including anti-religious militancy such as communist militancy. If not, why not? If not, why the double standard?
Walzer needs to be reminded that we conservatives also harbor a rational fear, a fear of leftists who have no problem with using the awesome power of the state to destroy the liberties of individuals.
There is also a distinction that needs to be made and I don't see Walzer making it. It is the difference between 'rampaging,' say, because your religion enjoins such behavior and 'rampaging' in defense of your life and livelihood and religion. Islamic doctrine enjoins violent jihad; there is no Buddhist equivalent. This distinction at the level of doctrine is crucial and must not be ignored. Doctrine is not mere verbiage; doctrine is at the root of action.
Walzer is equivocating on 'religious militancy.' If some Buddhist monks go on a rampage, then, that could be called religious militancy, but not in the same sense in which Muslim destroyers of Buddhist statuary or Muslim beheaders of Christians are religiously militant. For in the latter case the militancy flows from the tenets of their religion -- which is not the case in Buddhism.
Can Islamist zealots best be understood as today's crusaders? Hardly. For one thing, this ignores the fact that the Crusades were a response to Islamic jihad.
[. . .]
The Christian Crusades have sometimes been described as the first example of Islamophobia in the history of the West. The crusaders were driven by an irrational fear of Islam.
This is absurd. The Crusades were a defensive response to a Muslim land-grab. If someone grabs your land, is your fear of that party irrational? There is no point in going on with this. While Walzer is not a bad as the typical leftist loon, he has already made enough mistakes to justify my wishing him a fond fare well.
Here. (Link via Frank Beckwith's FB page. Interesting how many conservatives are Dylan fans. Lawrence Auster is another.)
It is a fascinating, rich speech by a living repository of musical Americana and without a doubt the most creative interpreter of our musical legacy, the "bard of our generation" as Auster puts it. One is moved by the gratitude and generosity Dylan displays toward the many people over the years who helped him and believed in him, but slightly put off by his digs at his detractors. He seems to think he has been uniquely singled out for criticism. "Why me, Lord?"
As I said, a very rich speech. But every Dylanologist knows that nothing Dylan says about himself or his music should be taken too seriously. He is a master of many personae and the man himself likes to hide. As he puts it in The Man in Me:
The man in me will hide sometimes to keep from being seen But that's just because he doesn't want to turn into some machine.
The best documentation of Dylan the shape shifter and one of the best all-around books on Dylan is David Dalton, Who is That Man? In Search of the Real Bob Dylan (Hyperion, 2012). If you were 'in there' with him in the heart of '60s you will delight in this well-written volume.
The speech ends on this note:
I'm going to get out of here now. I'm going to put an egg in my shoe and beat it. I probably left out a lot of people and said too much about some. But that's OK. Like the spiritual song, 'I'm still just crossing over Jordan too.' Let's hope we meet again. Sometime. And we will, if, like Hank Williams said, "the good Lord willing and the creek don't rise."
High Water comes to mind. This is a late-career Dylan gem from Love and Theft (2001). A tribute to Charley Patton. Demonstrates Dylan's mastery of the arcana of Americana. Our greatest and deepest singer-songwriter.
I got a cravin’ love for blazing speed, got a hopped-up Mustang Ford, jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties overboard. I can write you poems, make a strong man lose his mind, I’m no pig without a wig, I hope you treat me kind, things are breakin’ up out there, high water everywhere.
My favorite verse:
Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew You can't open up your mind, boys, to every conceivable point of view They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway 5 Judge says to the High Sheriff, "I want them dead or alive" Either one, I don't care, high water everywhere.
Nosiree, Bob, you can't open up your mind to every conceivable point of view, especially when its not dark yet, but it's getting there.
We Americans are forward-looking people, 'progressives' if you will. ("History is bunk," said Henry Ford.) Muslims, by contrast, live in the past where they nurture centuries-old grievances. This is part of the explanation of the inanition of their culture and the misery of their lands, which fact is part of the explanation of why they won't stay where they are but insist on infiltrating the West. Exercised as they remain over the Crusades, lo these many centuries later, it behooves us to inform ourselves of the historical facts. This is especially important in light of President Obama's recent foolish, unserious, and mendacious comments.
Herewith, then, a piece from someone who knows what he is talking about. I copied it from this location.
Jihad vs. Crusade
Bernard Lewis/Wall Street Journal, Sept. 28, 2001
U.S. President George W. Bush's use of the term "crusade" in calling for a powerful joint effort against terrorism was unfortunate, but excusable. In Western usage, this word has long since lost its original meaning of "a war for the cross," and many are probably unaware that this is the derivation of the name. At present, "crusade" almost always means simply a vigorous campaign for a good cause. This cause may be political or military, though this is rare; more commonly, it is social, moral or environmental. In modern Western usage it is rarely if ever religious.
Yet "crusade" still touches a raw nerve in the Middle East, where the Crusades are seen and presented as early medieval precursors of European imperialism -- aggressive, expansionist and predatory. I have no wish to defend or excuse the often-atrocious behavior of the crusaders, both in their countries of origin and in the countries they invaded, but the imperialist parallel is highly misleading. The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad -- a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war.
At the time of the Crusades, when the Holy Land and some adjoining regions in Syria were conquered and for a while ruled by invaders from Europe, there seems to have been little awareness among Muslims of the nature of the movement that had brought the Europeans to the region. The crusaders established principalities in the Levant, which soon fitted into the pattern of Levantine regional politics. Even the crusader capture of Jerusalem aroused little attention at the time, and appeals for help to various Muslim capitals brought no response.
The real countercrusade began when the crusaders -- very foolishly -- began to harry and attack the Muslim holy lands, namely the Hijaz in Arabia, containing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina where Muhammad was born, carried out his mission, and died. In the vast Arabic historiography of the Crusades period, there is frequent reference to these invaders, who are always called "Franks" or "infidels." The words "Crusade" and "crusader" simply do not occur.
They begin to occur with increasing frequency in the 19th century, among modernized Arabic writers, as they became aware of Western historiography in Western languages. By now they are in common use. It is surely significant that Osama bin Laden, in his declaration of jihad against the United States, refers to the Americans as "crusaders" and lists their presence in Arabia as their first and primary offense. Their second offense is their use of Arabia as a base for their attack on Iraq. The issue of Jerusalem and support for "the petty state of the Jews" come third.
The literal meaning of the Arabic word "jihad" is striving, and its common use derives from the Quranic phrase "striving in the path of God." Some Muslims, particularly in modern times, have interpreted the duty of jihad in a spiritual and moral sense. The more common interpretation, and that of the overwhelming majority of the classical jurists and commentators, presents jihad as armed struggle for Islam against infidels and apostates. Unlike "crusade," it has retained its religious and military connotation into modern times.
Being a religious obligation, jihad is elaborately regulated in sharia law, which discusses in minute detail such matters as the opening, conduct, interruption and cessation of hostilities, the treatment of prisoners and noncombatants, the use of weapons, etc. In an offensive war, jihad is a collective obligation of the entire community, and may therefore be discharged by volunteers and professionals. In a defensive war, it is an individual obligation of every able-bodied Muslim.
In his declaration of 1998, Osama bin Laden specifically invokes this rule: "For more than seven years the United States is occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its territories, Arabia, plundering its riches, overwhelming its rulers, humiliating its people, threatening its neighbors, and using its bases in the peninsula as a spearhead to fight against the neighboring Islamic peoples." In view of this, "to kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who can, in any country where this is possible, until the Aqsa mosque and the Haram mosque are freed from their grip, and until their armies, shattered and broken-winged, depart from all the lands of Islam, incapable of threatening any Muslim."
Muhammad himself led the first jihad, in the wars of the Muslims against the pagans in Arabia. The jihad continued under his successors, with a series of wars that brought the Middle East, including the Holy Land, under Arab Muslim rule and then continued eastward into Asia, westward into Africa, and three times into Europe -- the Moors in Spain, the Tatars in Russia, the Turks in the Balkans. The Crusade was part of the European counterattack. The Christian reconquest succeeded in Spain, Russia and eventually the Balkans; it failed to recover the Holy Land of Christendom.
In Islamic usage the term martyrdom is normally interpreted to mean death in a jihad, and the reward is eternal bliss, described in some detail in early religious texts. Suicide is another matter.
Classical Islam in all its different forms and versions has never permitted suicide. This is seen as a mortal sin, and brings eternal punishment in the form of the unending repetition of the act by which the suicide killed himself. The classical jurists, in discussing the laws of war, distinguish clearly between a soldier who faces certain death at the hands of the enemy, and one who kills himself by his own hand. The first goes to heaven, the other to hell. In recent years, some jurists and scholars have blurred this distinction, and promised the joys of paradise to the suicide bomber. Others retain the more traditional view that suicide in any form is totally forbidden.
Similarly, the laws of jihad categorically preclude wanton and indiscriminate slaughter. The warriors in the holy war are urged not to harm noncombatants, women and children, "unless they attack you first." Even such questions as missile and chemical warfare are addressed, the first in relation to mangonels and catapults, the other to the use of poison-tipped arrows and poisoning enemy water supplies. Here the jurists differ -- some permit, some restrict, some forbid these forms of warfare. A point on which they insist is the need for a clear declaration of war before beginning hostilities, and for proper warning before resuming hostilities after a truce.
What the classical jurists of Islam never remotely considered is the kind of unprovoked, unannounced mass slaughter of uninvolved civil populations that we saw in New York two weeks ago. For this there is no precedent and no authority in Islam. Indeed it is difficult to find precedents even in the rich annals of human wickedness.
Mr. Lewis is professor emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.
Perhaps you noticed this too. President Obama refuses to use 'Islamic' in connection with the Islamic State or 'Muslim' in connection with Muslim terrorists. But he has no problem with pinning the deeds of crusaders and inquisitors on Christians. This is a double standard.
Surely, if no true Muslim beheads journalists or crucifies children, then no true Christian commits deeds of equal moral depravity.
A while back Obama made the surprising statement that "ISIL is not Islamic." What was the reasoning behind Obama's statement? Perhaps this:
1. All religions are good. 2. Islam is a religion. Ergo 3. Islam is good. 4. ISIL is not good. Ergo 5. ISIL is not Islamic.
But then, by parity of reasoning,
1. All religions are good. 2*. Christianity is a religion. Ergo 3*. Christianity is good. 4*. The Crusades/Inquisition were not good. Ergo 5*. The Crusades/Inquisition were not Christian.
But far worse than Obama's double standard is his profound historical ignorance which any number of commentators have exposed, John Hinderaker, for example.
This is a revised post from September, 2009. Thanks to V.V. for his interest.
A great deal could be said on this topic. Here are a few thoughts that may be helpful. Test them against your own experience.
1. Make good use of the morning, which is an excellent time for such activities as reading, writing, study, and meditation. But to put the morning to good use, one must arise early. I get up at 2:00, but you needn't be so monkish. Try arising one or two hours earlier than you presently do. That will provide you with a block of quiet time. Fruitful mornings are of course impossible if one's evenings are spent dissipating. But it is not enough to avoid dissipation. One ought to organize one's evening so as to set oneself up for a fruitful morning's work. Alphonse Gratry makes some excellent suggestions in section V of his "The Sources of Intellectual Light" (1862), the last book of his Logic (trs. Helen and Milton Singer, Open Court, 1944). One of them is, "Set yourself questions in the evening; very often you will find them resolved when you awaken in the morning." (532) Gratry has in mind theoretical problems. His advice is compatible with Schopenhauer's: One should never think about personal problems, money woes, and other such troubles at night and certainly not before bed.
2. Abstain from all mass media dreck in the morning. Read no newspapers. "Read not The Times, read the eternities." (Thoreau) No electronics. No computer use, telephony, TV, e-mail, etc. Just as you wouldn't pollute your body with whisky and cigarettes upon arising, so too you ought not pollute your pristine morning mind with the irritant dust of useless facts, the palaver of groundless opinions, the bad writing of contemporary scribblers, and every manner of distraction. There is time for that stuff later in the day if you must have it. The mornings should be kept free and clear for study that promises long-term profit.
3. Although desultory reading is enjoyable, it is best to have a plan. Pick one or a small number of topics that strike you as interesting and important and focus on them. I distinguish between bed reading and desk reading. Such lighter reading as biography and history can be done in bed, but hard-core materials require a desk and such other accessories as pens of various colors for different sorts of annotations and underlinings, notebooks, a cup of coffee, a pot of coffee . . . .
4. If you read books of lasting value, you ought to study what you read, and if you study, you ought to take notes. And if you take notes, you owe it to yourself to assemble them into some sort of coherent commentary. What is the point of studious reading if not to evaluate critically what you read, assimilating the good while rejecting the bad? The forming of the mind is the name of the game. This won't occur from passive reading, but only by an active engagement with the material. The best way to do this is by writing up your own take on it. Here is where blogging can be useful. Since blog posts are made public, your self-respect will give you an incentive to work at saying something intelligent.
5. An illustration. Right now I have about a half-dozen projects going. One is an article for publication in a professional journal on the philosophy of Milton K. Munitz. What I have been doing very early in the morning is studying and taking notes on four of his books that are relevant to my project. I write these notes and quotations and criticisms into a journal the old-fashioned way. Like I said, no electronics early in the morning. Computer is off and internet connection as well. This eliminates the temptation to check e-mail, follow hyperlinks, and waste time. Later in the day I incorporate these hand-written notes into a long blog post I am writing. When that post is finished and published and I receive some comments, I will then write up the post as a formal article and send it to a journal.
The beauty of this is that one has something to show for the hours spent studying. One has a finished product in which one's thoughts are organized and preserved and to which one can refer later.
6. How keep track of a vast amount of resources? A weblog can be useful as an on-line filing cabinet. I also keep a daily journal.
But the West is in grave danger. Attacked from without, she is also collapsing from within under the weight of her own decadence. Can we and it survive? The short answer is that, while we are running on fumes, they are rich and voluminous and long-lasting. It will take some time before they and we peter out. So there is still time to take action. Decline is not inevitable. But do we have the will?
I suggested earlier that we think of abbreviations as a genus that splits into three coordinate species: acronyms, initialisms, and truncations with the specific differences as follows:
An acronym is a pronounceable word formed from either the initial letters of two or more words, or from contiguous letters of two or more words. For example, 'laser' is a pronounceable word formed from the initial letters of the following words: light, amplification, stimulated, emission, radiation. And Gestapo is a pronounceable word formed from contiguous letters of the following words: geheime, Staats, Polizei.
An initialism is a string of contiguous letters, unpronounceable as a word or else not in use as a word, but pronounceable as a list of letters, formed from the initial letters of two or more words. For example, 'PBS' is an initialism that abbreviates 'Public Broadcasting System.' 'PBS' cannot be pronounced as a word, but it can be pronounced as a series of letters: Pee, Bee, Ess. 'IT' is an initialism that abbreviates "information technology.' In this case 'IT' is pronounceable as a word, but is not in use as a word. You can say, 'Mary works in Eye-Tee,' but not, 'Mary works in IT.' The same goes for 'ASU' which abbreviates 'Arizona State University.'
A truncation is a term formed from a single word by shortening it. 'App,' for example is a truncation of 'application,' and 'ho' is presumably a truncation of 'whore' (in black idiom). 'Auto' is a truncation of 'automobile,' and 'blog' (noun) of 'weblog.'
Malcolm Chisholm in an e-mail comment objects to my taxonomy, claiming that the classification looks like this:
While my scheme probably has defects of which I am not aware, Dr. Chisholm's scheme is open to objection. He tells us that a truncation is "formed by taking the first part of each word." But then 'laser' and Gestapo are truncations, which can't be right. There is no word of which 'laser' is the truncation as there is a word of which 'hood' is the truncation ('neighborhood'). Chisholm also tells us that an acronym is "formed by taking the first letter of each word." But Gestapo and Stasi are not formed by taking the first letter of each word. Stasi is formed from the first three letters of Staat and the first two letters of Sicherheit. (By the way, the Stasi was much worse than the Gestapo, according to Simon Wiesenthal.) And what about 'sonar'? It takes two letters from 'sound' and one each from 'navigation' and 'ranging.'
What's more, I see no point in making acronym superordinate to pronounceable acronym. That strikes me as a distinction without a difference, i.e., a merely verbal distinction. As I see it, 'pronounceable acronym' is a pleonastic expression. But I will irenically grant that there may be no fact of the matter here and that we can slice this bird in equally acceptable ways. Those who classify the initialism 'SBNR' ('spiritual but not religious') -- the initialism that got me on this jag in the first place -- as an acronym are free to do so. But I prefer not to since every example of an acronym I can think of is pronounceable.
Perhaps I can appeal to parsimony. My scheme is simpler than Chisholm's. His Porphyric tree sports three branchings; mine only two.
But perhaps I am making some mistake here. What is wrong with my taxonomy if anything is wrong with it? But I'm no linguist; I'm merely a philosopher who thinks it wise to attend carefully to ordinary language while avoiding the aberration known as Ordinary Language philosophy.
Old Ed pulls no punches. In response to Peter Singer's claim that "sex raises no unique moral issues at all," Feser remarks, "I have long regarded this as one of the most imbecilic things any philosopher has ever said." I agree. Feser goes on to make a number of important points.
This from a graduate student whose paper I posted:
Shortly after you posted my paper, I got an email from a friend who also reads your blog. My friend wondered if this was, all things considered, bad for my chances on the job market. He thinks in this age of Google searches, having my name come up on your blog will be viewed negatively by some hiring committees, given that most are leftists. It is completely absurd to me that someone might chuck my application in the trash just because they see a serious metaphysics post on a blog that defends conservative views some of the time, and I'm quite happy to have my name associated with yours, but I was wondering what you thought.
Might it be better to change the post and title a little so it doesn't mention my full name? If it is indeed true that some departments would not hire me because of this post, there is a significant part of me that doesn't want to work with such people anyway, but then there is another part of me that loves teaching philosophy enough that I'd be willing to try to put up with such people, at least for a while. I don't know. I'm not terribly worried about it at this moment, since I won't be on the job market until fall of 2016.
I did remove the author's name out of concern for his prospects. I suspect his friend has a better understanding of how bad things have become than he does. The universities have become leftist seminaries. The few exceptions prove the rule. And where there are leftists there is political correctness and the party line. Anyone who refuses to toe it, anyone who thinks independently and critically and speaks out against leftist excesses and outright inanities runs a serious career risk. But even if one does not speak out, and is only tenuously associated with a website that publishes some conservative material, one is at risk.
I've made mine, so I can afford to speak the truth. A little courage is involved, but not much. I cannot recommend that people who are young or starting out take career-destroying risks. And I ought not expose them to danger. Never underestimate how vicious and vindictive leftists can be. The case of Brian Leiter is very instructive. Details of some of his recent antics here.
And don't ever underestimate the lengths of lunacy to which lefties will go. Recent example: CUNY. Morris Raphael Cohen must be rolling over in his grave.
Graduate students in a philosophy department somewhere in the English-speaking world did some online sleuthing about a job candidate for a position in their department, and learned that the candidate seems to hold views they find offensive. In particular, they found reports (including alleged quotes) that the candidate had expressed in online fora the view that homosexual acts and premarital sex are immoral.
It is a good thing Immanuel Kant did not apply to this department. He holds that "Every form of sexual indulgence, except in marriage, is a misuse of sexuality and so a crimen carnis." (Lectures on Ethics, tr. Infield, Hackett, p. 169.)
Intellectual and moral growth is not less indispensable than material amelioration. Knowledge is a viaticum; thought is of primary necessity; truth is nourishment as well as wheat. A reason, by fasting from knowledge and wisdom, becomes puny. Let us lament as over stomachs, over minds which do not eat. If there is anything more poignant than a body agonizing for want of bread, it is a soul which is dying of hunger for light. (Les Miserables)
I wanted to bring to your attention a passage I came across in Nicholas Rescher’s Philosophical Standardism (Pittsburgh, 1994):
“The old saying is perfectly true: Philosophy bakes no bread. But it is also no less true that we do not live by bread alone. The physical side of our nature that impels us to eat, drink, and be merry is just one of its sides. Homo sapiens requires nourishment for the mind as urgently as nourishment for the body. We seek knowledge not only because we wish, but because we must. The need for information, for knowledge to nourish the mind, is ever bit as critical as the need for food to nourish the body.” (p. 67)
I was struck by what I believed was the distinctively Vallicellan retort, “But it is also no less true that we do not live by bread alone.” I’m curious: Is this a well-known retort among philosophers? If not, did you get that from Rescher, he from you, or is this just an instance of great minds thinking alike?
To the philistine's "Philosophy bakes no bread" you should not respond "Yes it does," for such responses are patently lame. You should say, "Man does not live by bread alone," or "Not everything is pursued as a means to something else," or "A university is not a trade school." You should not acquiesce in the philistine's values and assumptions, but go on the attack and question his values and assumptions. Put him on the spot. Play the Socratic gadfly. If a philistine wants to know how much you got paid for writing an article for a professional journal, say, "Do you really think that only what one is paid to do is worth doing?"
I wouldn't say that the not-by-bread-alone retort is standard among philosophers, especially not now when Christianity is on the wane and one cannot assume that philosophers have read the New Testament. Professor Rescher, of course, knows the verse at Matthew 4:4.
I didn't get the retort from Rescher: Philosophical Standardism is not a book of his that I have read. The retort occurred to me independently as I am sure it has occurred independently to many of a certain age and upbringing.
And of course Rescher did not get the line from me since his book was published in 1994 long before the blogosphere.
And it is not a case of great minds thinking alike since neither of our minds are great. It is more like above-average minds thinking alike, though I concede his to be more above-average than mine.
Is there anyone in philosophy more prolific than Rescher? Here is a list of just his books. Forty years ago I heard the joke about the Nicholas Rescher Book-of-the-Month Club. And he is still happily scribbling away. Here is another Rescher joke:
A student goes to visit Professor Rescher. Secretary informs her that the good doctor is not available because he is writing a book. Student replies, "I'll wait."
Apparently, Paul does not understand the concept of hypocrisy.
After Jeb Bush admitted to smoking marijuana during his prep school days, Rand Paul called him a hypocrite on the ground that he now opposes what he once did.
But this accusation shows a failure on Paul's part to grasp the concept of hypocrisy. An adequate definition must allow for moral change. One who did not attempt to live up to the ideals he now espouses ought not be called a hypocrite; the term 'hypocrite' applies to one who does not attempt to live up to the ideals he now espouses.
See my category Hypocrisy for more on this philosophically juicy theme.
The curiosity to the left, sent to me without commentary by the inscrutable and seldom seen Seldom Seen Slim, raises a number of deep and fascinating questions.
The sentence to the left can be read either literally or metaphorically. My analysis in this entry is concerned with a literal reading only.
1. If nothing is written in stone, then no sentence is written in stone. But the sentence to the left is written in stone. Therefore, it is not the case that nothing is written in stone. Therefore, the sentence to the left, if true, is false. And if it is false, then of course it is false. (Our sentence is not like the Liar sentence which, if true is false, and if false is true.) Therefore, whether the stone sentence is true or false, it is false. Therefore, it is necessarily false, and its negation -- 'Something is written in stone' -- is necessarily true. (Bivalence is assumed.)
But this is paradoxical! For while it is the case that the sentence is false it could have been true. For it is possible that nothing ever have been written in stone. Therefore, it is not the case that the sentence in question is necessarily false. Something has gone wrong with my analysis. What has gone wrong, I think, is that I have failed to observe a distinction I myself have drawn in earlier entries between propositional self-refutation and performative self-refutation.
2. Consider 'There are no true propositions.' This is a proposition and it is either true or false. If true, then false. And if false, then false. So necessarily false. This is a clear example of propositional self-refutation. The proposition refutes itself by itself. No human act or performance comes into the picture. 'There are no assertions' is quite different. This is either true or false. And we know it is false as a matter of contingent fact. But it is not self-refuting because if it were true it would not follow that it is false. It does not refute itself by itself. For if it were true that there are no assertions, then it would be true that there are no assertions. (Compare: if it were true that that there are no true propositions, then it would be false that there are no true propositions.)
All we can say is that 'There are no assertions,' while it can be asserted, cannot be asserted with truth. For the performance of assertion falsifies it. We thus speak here of performative inconsistency or performative self-refutation. The truth of 'There are no assertions,' if it is true, is assertively inexpressible. It is impossible that I, or anyone, assert, with truth, that there are no assertions; but it it does not follow that it is impossible that there be no assertions.
'I do not exist' is another example of performative self-refutation. I cannot assert, with truth, that I do not exist. For I cannot make the assertion without existing. Indeed, I can't even think the thought *I do not exist* without existing. But the impossibility of my thinking this thought does not entail the necessity of my existence. Necessarily, if I think, then I exist. But the necessity of the consequence does not transfer to the consequent. Both of the following are true and thus logically consistent: I cannot think without existing; I exist contingently. I cannot use the Cartesian cogito to show that I am a necessary being. (Nor can you.)
And similarly with 'Nothing is written in stone' inscribed in stone. The 'performance' of inscribing in stone falsifies the sentence while 'verifying' its negation: if I inscribe in stone 'Something is written in stone,' I provide a concrete instance of the existentially general sentence. (Am I punning on 'concrete'?)
My point, then, is that our lapidary example is not an example of strictly propositional self-refutation but of performative self-refutation where the performance in question is that of inscribing in stone. But why is this so interesting?
3. One reason is that it raises the question of inexpressible propositions. Interpreted literally, though perhaps not charitably, our stone sentence expresses a proposition that cannot be expressed salva veritate in stone. For if we try to express the proposition by producing an inscription in stone, we produce a sentence token whose existence falsifies the proposition. This holds in every possible world. In no world in which nothing is written in stone can this proposition be expressed in stone.
But the proposition expressed by the stone sentence can be expressed salva veritate in speech. Consider a possible world W in which it is literally true that nothing is written in stone, i.e., a world in which there are no stone inscriptions, in any language, of any declarative sentence. If a person in W assertively utters the sentence 'Nothing is written in stone,' he expresses a proposition true in W.
'There are no sayings' cannot be expressed salva veritate in speech but it can be expressed in stone.
I conclude that there are possibly true propositions which, while they are expressible, are not expressible in all media. The proposition expressed by our stone inscription above is true in some possible worlds but not expressible by stone inscriptions in any possible world.
Note also that there are actually true propositions that cannot be expressed in some media. In the actual world there is no ink that is compounded of the blood of Irishmen, 5W30 motor oil, and the urine of my cat, Max Black. So it is actually true that there is no such ink. This truth, however, cannot be expressed in writing that uses the ink in question.
A really interesting question is whether there are true propositions or possibly true propositions that are inexpressible salva veritate in every medium. I mean inexpressible in principle, not inexpressible due to our finite resources.
Buddhists typically say that all is empty and all is impermanent. Could it be true that all is empty despite the fact that this very thesis must be empty and therefore devoid of a determinate sense and a determinate truth value? Could it be true that all is impermanent despite the fact that this very thesis is impermanent?
Too many people use the word 'stuff' nowadays. I was brought up to believe that it is a piece of slang best avoided in all but the most informal of contexts. So when I hear a good scholar make mention of all the 'stuff' he has published on this topic or that, I wonder how long before he starts using 'crap' instead of 'stuff.' "You know, Bill, I've published a lot of crap on anaphora; I think you'll find it excellent." But why stop with 'crap'? "Professor Zeitlich has published a fine piece of shit in Nous on temporal indexicals. Have you read it?"
If you ask me to read your 'stuff,' I may wonder whether you take it seriously and whether I should. But if you ask me to read your work, then I am more likely to take you seriously and give your work my attention. Why use 'stuff' when 'work' is available? Do you use 'stuff' so as not to appear stuffy? Or because you have a need for acceptance among the unlettered? But why would you want such acceptance? Note that when 'stuff' is used interchangeably with 'work,' the former term does not acquire the seriousness of the latter, but vice versa: 'stuff' retains its low connotation and 'work' drops out. The net result is linguistic decline and an uptick in 'crudification,' to use an ugly word for an ugly thing.
No doubt there is phony formality. But that is no reason to elide the distinction between the informal and the formal. A related topic is phony informality. An example of the latter is false intimacy, as when people people address complete strangers using their first names. This is offensive, because the addresser is seeking to enjoy the advantages of intimacy (e.g., entering into one's trust) without paying the price.
'Ass' is another word gaining a currency that is already excessive. One wonders how far it will go. Will 'ass' become an all-purpose synecdoche? Run your ass off, work your ass to the bone, get your ass out of here . . . ask a girl's father for her ass in marriage? In the expression, 'piece of ass' the reference is not to the buttocks proper, but to an adjoining area. 'Ass' appears subject to a peculiar semantic spread. It can come to mean almost anything, as in 'haul ass,' which means to travel at a high rate of speed. I don't imagine that if one were hauling donkeys one could make very good time. So how on earth did this expression arise? (I had teenage friends who could not refer to a U-Haul trailer except as a U-Haul Ass trailer.)
Or consider that to have one's 'ass in a sling' is to be sad or dejected. Here, 'ass' extends even unto a person's mood. Robert Hendrickson (Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, p. 36) suggests that 'ass in a sling' is an extension of 'arm in a sling.' May be, but how does that get us from the buttocks to a mental state? I was disappointed to find a lacuna where Hendrickson should have had an entry on 'haul ass.'
'Ass' seems especially out of place in scholarly journals unless the reference is to some such donkey as Buridan's ass, or some such bridge as the pons asinorum, 'bridge of asses.' The distinguished philosopher Richard M. Gale, in a piece in Philo (Spring-Summer 2003, p. 132) in which he responds to critics, says near the outset that ". . . my aim is not to cover my ass. . . ." Well, I'm glad to hear it, but perhaps he should also tell us that he has no intention of 'sucking up' to his critics either.
In On the Nature and Existence of God (1991), Gale wonders why anyone would "screw around" with the cosmological argument if Kant is right that it depends on the ontological argument. The problem here is not just that 'screw around' is slang, or that it has a sexual connotation, but that it is totally inappropriate in the context of a discussion of the existence/nonexistence of God. The latter is no joking matter, no mere plaything of donnish Spielerei. If God exists, everything is different; ditto if God does not exist. The nonexistence of God is not like the nonexistence of an angry unicorn on the far side of the moon, or the nonexistence of Russell's celestial teapot. As Nietzsche appreciated (Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, sec. 27), the death of God is the death of truth. But to prove that Nietzsche was right about this would require a long article or a short book. One nice thing about a blog post is that one can just stop when the going gets tough by pleading the inherent constraints of the genre. Which is what I will now do.
I have nothing against slang as such, but there are contexts in which it does not belong. Here is a book by one Fr. Andrew Younan entitled Metaphysics and Natural Theology. One chapter is entitled "Aristotle and the Other Guys." Another "Thomas Aquinas -- A Bunch of Stuff." A third "God Stuff."
Disgusting. Either you see why or you don't. I can't argue you out of your low-rent sensibility. In matters of sensibility, argument comes too late.
Over at NRO, I found this in an otherwise very good column by Charles C. W. Cooke:
I daresay that if I had been in any of the situations that DeBoer describes, I would have walked happily out of the class. Why? Well, because there is simply nothing to be gained from arguing with people who believe that it is reasonable to treat those who use the word “disabled” as we treat those who use the word “n***er” . . . .
Isn't this precious? Cooke shows that he owns a pair of cojones throughout the column but then he gets queasy when it comes to 'nigger.' Why? Would he similarly tip-toe around 'kike' or 'dago'? I doubt it. It is clear that he is aware of the difference between using a word to refer to something and talking about the word. Philosophers call this the use-mention distinction. Call it whatever you like, but observe it.
True: 'Boston' is disyllabic. False: Boston is disyllabic. True: Boston is populous. False: 'Boston' is populous.
Consider the following sentence
Some blacks refer to other blacks using the word 'nigger.'
The sentence is true. Now of course I do not maintain that a sentence's being true justifies its assertive utterance in every situation. The above sentence, although appropriately asserted in the present context where a serious and important point is being made, would not be appropriately asserted in any number of other easily imagined contexts.
But suppose that you take offense at the above sentence. Well, then, you have taken inappropriate and unjustified offense, and your foolishness offends me! Why is my being objectively offended of less significance than your being merely subjectively offended? Your willful stupidity justifies my mockery and derision. One should not give offense without a good reason. But your taking inappropriate offense is not my problem but yours.
In this regard there is no substitute for sound common sense, a commodity which unfortunately is in short supply on the Left. You can test whether you have sound common sense by whether or not you agree with the boring points I make in such entries as the following:
Thomas Sowell points to central planning. I would add that the 'progressive' conviction that people are basically good along with the concomitant conviction that there is no such thing as radical evil is also deeply delusional, and also dangerously delusional.
Sowell also has wise things to say about 'under-representation' and 'over-representation.'
Do libertarians have a central delusion? I should think so. It is the tendency wildly to exaggerate the number of people who know their own long-term best interest. To properly qualify and explain this claim requires a separate entry.
Dylan talks about Clayton in the former's Chronicles, Volume One, Simon and Shuster, 2004, pp. 260-261.
Mark Spoelstra is also discussed by Dylan somewhere in Chronicles. While I flip through the pages, you enjoy Sugar Babe, It's All Over Now. The title puts me in mind of Dylan's wonderful It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.Bonnie Raitt does a good job with it. Or perhaps you prefer the angel-throated Joan Baez. Comparing these two songs one sees why Spoelstra, competent as he is, is a forgotten folkie while Dylan is the "bard of our generation" to quote the ultra conservative Lawrence Auster.
Ah yes, Spoelstra is mentioned on pp. 74-75.
About Karen Dalton, Dylan has this to say (Chronicles, p. 12):
My favorite singer in the place [Cafe Wha?, Greenwich Village] was Karen Dalton. She was a tall white blues singer and guitar player, funky, lanky and sultry. I'd actually met her before, run across her the previous summer outside of Denver in a mountain pass town in a folk club. Karen had a voice like Billie Holliday's and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed and went all the way with it. I sang with her a couple of times.
Every acronym is an abbreviation, but is every abbreviation an acronym? I just read something in which 'SNBR' was referred to as an acronym. 'SNBR' abbreviates the trendy phrase 'spiritual but not religious.' The phrase is foolish despite its currency, but that is not my present topic.
Call me pedantic, but 'SNBR' is so unlike 'laser,' 'sonar, 'radar,' 'Gestapo,' 'Stasi,' NASA,' and 'NATO,' that it ought not be referred to as an acronym. Call it an initialism. Think of it as a species of the genus, abbreviation, alongside acronyms and truncations.
What is the difference between an acronym and an initialism? Perhaps this: An acronym can be pronounced as a a word, whereas an initialism cannot be pronounced as a word, but only as a list of letters. Consider 'BBC' which abbreviates 'British Broadcasting Company.' One can pronounce, sequentially, the individual letters as Bee-Bee-Cee and thereby communicate something, but the sound you get from pronouncing 'BBC' as a word won't communicate anything except to yourself and your cat. Same goes for 'HTML,' the standard abbreviation for 'hyper text markup language.'
'App' is a truncation, most commonly of 'application' in the sense of 'computer program.' But just last night I saw a TV commercial in which 'app' was used as a truncation of 'appetizer.' I was led to believe that Appleby's serves up great 'apps.'
Acronyms and truncations are both pronounceable as words. What then is the difference between the two especially since acronyms involve truncations of words? For example, the acronym Gestapo derives from the phrase Geheime Staatspolizei which is composed of two words which are then treated as three words each of which is truncated down to its initial two or three letters. Thus: Ge-sta-po.
Perhaps we can say that a truncation involves the shortening of a single word whereas an acronym involves the shortening of two or more words.
'Arizona State University' is abbreviated as 'ASU.' Initialism or acronym? I said above that an initialism cannot be pronounced as a word. But 'ASU' can be so pronounced, and I do sometimes so pronounce it when I am talking to people associated with the university, e.g. 'I'll meet you at Ah-Soo by the fons philosophorum." (As I have said or written to Kid Nemesis.)
In this entry I expand on my claim that Peter van Inwagen's theory of properties commits him to bare particulars, not in some straw-man sense of the phrase, but in a sense of the phrase that comports with what proponents of bare particulars actually have claimed. I begin by distinguishing among four possible senses of 'bare particular.'
Four Senses of 'Bare Particular'
1. A bare particular is an ordinary concrete particular that lacks properties. I mention this foolish view only to set it aside. No proponent of bare particulars that I am aware of ever intended the phrase in this way. And of course, van Inwagen is not committed to bare particulars in this sense.
2. A bare particular is an ontological constituent of an ordinary concrete particular, a constituent that has no properties. To my knowledge, no proponent of bare particulars ever intended the phrase in this way. In any case, the view is untenable and may be dismissed. Van Inwagen is of course not committed to this view. He is a 'relation' ontologist, not a 'constituent' ontologist.
3. A bare particular is an ontological constituent of an ordinary concrete particular, a constituent that does have properties, namely, the properties associated with the ordinary particular in question, and has them by instantiating (exemplifying) them. This view is held by Gustav Bergmann and by David Armstrong in his middle period. Armstrong, however, speaks of thin particulars rather than bare particulars, contrasting them with thick particulars (what I am calling ordinary concrete particulars). When he does uses 'bare particular,' he uses the phrase incorrectly and idiosyncratically to refer to something like (1) or (2). For example, in Universals and Scientific Realism, Cambridge UP, 1978, vol. I, p. 213, he affirms something he calls the "Strong Principle of the Rejection of Bare Particulars":
For each particular, x, there exists at least one non-relational property, P, such that x is P.
(I should think that the first occurrence of 'P' should be replaced by 'P-ness' despite the unfortunate sound of that.) This principle of Armstrong is plausibly read as a rejection of (1) and (2). It is plainly consistent with (3).
But of course I do not claim that van Inwagen is committed to bare or thin particulars in the sense of (3). For again, van Inwagen is not a constituent ontologist.
4. A bare particular is an ordinary concrete particular that has properties by instantiating them, where instantiation is a full-fledged external asymmetrical relation (not a non-relational tie whatever that might come to) that connects concrete objects to abstract objects, where abstract objects are objects that are not in space, not in time, and are neither causally active nor causally passive.
What is common to (3) and (4) is the idea that bare particulars have properties all right, but they have them in a certain way, by being externally related to them. A bare particular, then, is nothing like an Aristotelian primary substance which has, or rather is, its essence or nature. The bareness of a bare particular, then, consists in its lacking an Aristotle-type nature, not it its lacking properties.
My claim is that van Inwagen is committed to bare particulars in sense (4). Let me explain.
Van Inwagen's Bare Particulars
Consider my cat Max. Van Inwagen is committed to saying that Max is a bare particular. For while Max has properties, these properties are in no sense constituents of him, but lie (stand?) outside him in a realm apart. These properties are in no sense at him or in him or on him, not even such properties as being black or being furry, properties that are plausibly held to be sense-perceivable. After all, one can see black where he is and feel furriness where he is. None of Max's properties, on van Inwagen's construal of properties, are where he is or when he is. As I made clear earlier, the realms of the concrete and the abstract are radically disjoint for van Inwagen. They are jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive realms: for all x, x is either concrete or abstract, but not both and not neither. So Max is here below in the realm of space, time, change, and causality while his properties exist in splendid isolation up yonder in the realm of abstracta.
Max and his properties are of course connected by instantiation which is a relation that is both external and abstract. In what sense is the relation external? X and y are externally related just in case there is nothing intrinsic about the relata that entails their being related. Max is two feet from me at the moment. This relation of being two feet from is external in that there are no intrinsic properties of me or Max or both that entail our being two feet from each other. Our intrinsic properties would be just the same if we were three feet from each other. But Max and his brother Manny are both black. In virtue of their both being intrinsically black, they stand in the same color as relation. Hence the latter relation is not external but internal. Internal relatedness is supervenient upon the intrinsic features of the relata; external relatedness is not.
Suppose I want to bring it about that two balls have the same color. I need do only two things: paint the one ball red, say, and then paint the other ball red. But if I want to bring it about that there are two balls having the same color ten feet from each other, I have to do three things: paint the one ball red, say; paint the other ball red; place them ten feet from each other. The external relatedness does not supervene upon the intrinsic properties of the relata.
Given that concrete particulars are externally related to their properties, these particular are bare particulars in the sensedefined in #4 above.
And What is Wrong with That?
Suppose you agree with me that van Inwagen's concrete particulars are bare, not in any old sense, but in the precise sense I defined, a sense that comports well with what the actual proponents of bare/thin particulars had in mind. So what? What's wrong with being committed to bare particulars? Well, the consequences seem unpalatable if not absurd.
A. One consequence is that all properties are accidental and none are essential. For if Max is bare, then there is nothing in him or at him or about him that dictates the properties he must instantiate or limits the properties he can instantiate. He can have any old set of properties so long as he has some set or other. Bare particulars are 'promiscuous' in their connection with properties. The connection between particular and property is contingent and all properties are accidental. It is metaphysically (broadly logically) possible that Max combine with any property. He happens to be a cat, but he could have been a poached egg or a valve lifter. He could have had the shape of a cube. Or he might have been a dimensionless point. He might have been an act of thinking (temporal and causally efficacious, but not spatial).
B. A second consequence is that all properties are relational and none are intrinsic. For if Max is black in virtue of standing in an external instantiation relation to the abstract object, blackness, then his being black is a relational property and not an intrinsic one.
C. A third consequence is that none of Max's properties are sense-perceivable. PvI-properties are abstract objects and none of them are perceivable. But if I cup my hands around a ball, don't I literally feel its sphericalness or spheroidness? Or am I merely being appeared to spheroidally?
If I ought to do something, am I obliged to do it? And if I am obliged to do something, is it my duty to do it? I tend to assume the following principle, where A is an agent and X an act or rather act-type such as feed one's children.
P. Necessarily, A morally ought to X iff A is morally obligated to X iff A has a moral duty to X.
The necessity at stake is conceptual; so by my lights (P) is a conceptual truth. But, as if to illustrate that philosophers disagree about every bloody thing under the sun, a correspondent writes:
I don't see that "x is something I ought to do iff x is something I'm morally obligated to do" is a conceptual truth, or even true. [. . .] Non-consequentialist moralities allow room for good deeds that are not obligatory. If helping a stranger is a good deed and you are fully able to perform it without endangering others, then I am quite comfortable recommending to you that you ought to do it. But I am not suggesting you have any duty or an obligation to do so. [. . .] So, you ought to help does not imply you have a duty to help.
I will now try to show that you ought to help does indeed imply that you have a duty to help, assuming that one is not equivocating on 'ought' and is using 'ought' as it is used in (P).
I agree that there are good deeds that are not obligatory. Suppose my neighbor is away when an important-looking package is delivered to his door. I take it into my house for safekeeping until he returns. Surely I am under no obligation, moral or legal, to do such a thing. Yet it is a good deed.
But it does not follow that it is a deed that I ought to do, or that I have a duty to do; it is precisely a supererogatory action, one above and beyond the call of duty. (A supererogatory action can be something as trifling as this, and need not be grand or heroic, but more on this in a separate post on supererogation.) If I ought to X, and I omit to X, then I do something wrong. Therefore, if I ought to pick up my neighbor's package, but omit to do this, then I do something wrong. But obviously I do nothing wrong in leaving my neighbor's package where it lies. Hence it is not the case that I ought to pick up my neighbor's package. Nor do I have any duty to pick up my neighbor's package.
I suspect my correspondent is simply playing fast and loose with 'ought,' a word with several meanings in English. Some examples:
a. 'The car ought to start; I installed a new battery.' This looks to be a non-normative use of 'ought,' one with no relevance to moral theory.
b. 'If you want to get to Tucson from Phoenix by interstate highway, you ought to take I-10 East.' This sentence is a hypothetical imperative, and the subject-matter is morally indifferent.
c. 'If you want to be a successful hit man, then you ought to learn how to kill with a .22 caliber gun.' A second hypothetical imperative. Here the subject-matter is not morally indifferent, but the 'ought' has noting to do with a duty.
d. 'If helping a stranger is a good deed, and one wants to be helpful, then one ought to help.' Another hypothetical imperative, and close to what my correspondent said above. But this use of 'ought' is not the use in principle (P) above.
e. 'You ought to pay your debts.' A categorical imperative, and a morally relevant use of 'ought.' This is the use of 'ought' that is featured in (P) above.
In sum, (P) seems rock-solid and I will continue to adhere to it until someone can instruct me otherwise. But then I ask myself: Am I merely making precise how I shall use the relevant moral words? Is (P) above a merely precisifying, and thus partially stipulative, definition? If so, then ordinary language considerations won't tell against it.
Two reasons. The first is one I hope anyone can understand: although it has been the most rewarding experience in my writing career, I’ve now been blogging daily for fifteen years straight (well kinda straight). That’s long enough to do any single job. In some ways, it’s as simple as that. There comes a time when you have to move on to new things . . . .
And when a writer stoops to 'kinda,' that too is perhaps an indication that it is time to hang up the keyboard.
The second is that I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again. I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms. I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.
Sullivan here touches upon a serious problem, that of time apportionment as between serious writing and blogging, which tends to be scribbling of a more ephemeral sort. (If truth be told, almost everything that almost all of us will ever write is of no lasting significance; so it's almost all of it ephemeral scribbling.)
I think it is possible to balance the two if one is willing to write well and in depth about important topics that transcend the fads, fancies, and fatuities of the moment, and eschew the need to post many times per day or even daily. Some of what I write on this blog gets reworked for serious publication. In this way my blogging aids my serious writing. It also aids it by making it less 'academic.' The blogger is forced by his chosen medium to be pithy and direct.
I can't see myself quitting as long as health and eyesight hold out. Blogging is just too deeply satisfying.
For one thing it satisfies the need to teach of someone who hated most classroom teaching. Philosophy is a magnificent, beautiful, and noble thing, but it is wasted on the typical undergraduate. In a class of 35, five might be worth teaching. And I taught at good schools. That is one of the reasons I resigned a tenured position at the age of 41. If you are reading this, you want to be here, and I'm glad to have you.
Second, blogging attracts the like-minded. Isolation is relieved and friendships are made, the genuine friendships of spiritual affinity as opposed to the superficial ones of mere propinquity. Ralph Waldo Emerson would have been a blogger for sure. "The good of publishing one's thoughts is that of hooking you to like-minded men, and of giving to men whom you value . . . one hour of stimulated thought." (Bliss Perry, The Heart of Emerson's Journals, p. 94.)
Third, blogging is superior to private journal writing because the publicity of it forces one to develop one's ideas more carefully and more thoroughly.
Fourth, the blogger has a reach that far exceeds that of the person who publishes in conventional ways.
What follows is a paper by a reader, posted with his permission, together with some comments of mine. I will make my comments as time permits and not all in one session. Others are invited to add their comments in the ComBox.
On the Individuation of Tropes
Trope theorists see their view as a happy middle ground between nominalism and universalism. It is not too hot or too cold; it’s just right. It does not scandalously posit entities that are said to be simultaneously in multiple places, like universalism. And, at least at first blush, it does not seem to be plagued by an appeal to a primitive notion of resemblance, like some prominent versions of nominalism.
BV: 'Universalism' is used in more than one way in ontology alone. So I would like to see a definition of this term right at the outset of the paper. I take it that universalism as here intended is the doctrine that there are universals. But what exactly are universals? Here too a definition would be helpful. And please note that a commitment to universals does not bring with it a commitment to entities that are wholly present in multiple places. For example, van Inwagen thinks of properties as universals but, eschewing as he does constituent ontology, does not view them as present in the things that have them.
One distinction that needs to be made is that between transcendent and immanent universals. A transcendent (immanent) universal is one that can (cannot) exist unexemplified. A second needed distinction is between universals that enter into the structure of the things that have them and those that don't. Call the first constituent universals; call the second nonconstituent universals. The two distinction-pairs cut perpendicular to each other yielding four combinatorially possible views according to which properties are: (a) transcendent non-constituent universals (Peter van Inwagen, e.g., if we leave aside haecceities); (b) immanent non-constituent universals (e.g., R. Grossmann); (c) immanent constituent universals (e.g., G. Bergmann, D. Armstrong); (d) transcendent constituent universals.
1. One's right to express an opinion brings with it an obligation to form correct opinions, or at least the obligation to make a sincere effort in that direction. The right to free speech brings with it an obligation to exercise the right responsibly.1
2. Free speech is rightly valued, not as a means to making the world safe for pornography, but as a means to open inquiry and the pursuit of truth.
3. Although free speech and free expression generally are correctly valued mainly as means to open inquiry and the pursuit, acquisition, and dissemination of truth, it does not follow that some free expression is not a value in itself.
4. The more the populace is addicted to pornography, the less the need for the government to censor political speech. A tyrant is therefore well advised to keep the people well supplied with bread, circuses, and that 'freedom of expression' that allows them to sink, and remain, in the basest depths of the merely private where they will pose no threat to the powers that be.
5. One who defends the right to free speech by identifying with adolescent porno-punks and nihilists of the Charlie Hebdo ilk only succeeds in advertising the fact that he doesn't understand why this right is accorded the status of a right.
6. The free speech clause of the First Amendment to the United States constitution protects the citizen's right to free expression from infringement by the government, not from infringement by any old entity. My home is my castle; you have no First Amendment rights here, or at my cybercastle, my weblog. So it is no violation of your First Amendment rights if I order you off of my property because of your offensive speech or block you from leaving stupid or vile comments at my website. It is impossible in principle for me to violate your First Amendment rights: I am not the government or an agent thereof. And the same holds at your (private) place of work: you have no First Amendment rights there.
7. The First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press -- call them collectively the First Amendment right to free expression -- is not the same as the right to free expression. If the latter is a natural right, as I claim that it is, then one has it whether or not there is any First Amendment. The First Amendment is a codicil to a document crafted by human beings. It has a conventional nature. The right to free speech, however, is natural. Therefore, the First Amendment right to free expression is not the same as the right to free expression. Second, the right to free expression, if a natural right, is had by persons everywhere. The FA, however, protects citizens of the U.S. against the U. S. government. Third, the First Amendment in its third clause affords legal protection to the natural moral right to free expression. A right by law is not a natural right. Ergo, etc.
8. The right of free expression is a natural right. Can I prove it? No. Can you prove the negation? No. But we are better off assuming it than not assuming it.
9. To say that the right to free expression is a natural right is not to say that it is absolute. For the exercise of this right is subject to various reasonable and perhaps even morally obligatory restrictions, both in public and in private. There are limits on the exercise of the right in both spheres, but one has the right in both spheres. To have an (exercisable) right is one thing, to exercise it another, and from the fact that one has the right it does not follow that one has the right to its exercise in every actual and possible circumstance. If you say something I deem offensive in my house, on my blog, or while in my employ, then I can justifiably throw you out, or shut you up, or fire you and you cannot justify your bad behavior by invocation of the natural right to free speech. And similarly in public: the government is justified in preventing you from from shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater, to use the hackneyed example. You are not thereby deprived of the right; you are deprived of the right to exercise the right in certain circumstances.
10. The restraint and thoughtfulness exhibited in a responsible exercise of one's right to free speech is not well described as 'self-censorship' given the pejorative connotations of 'censorship.'
11. To suppose that government censorship can never be justified is as extreme as the view that the right to free speech is absolute.
12. It is silly to say, as many do, that speech is 'only speech.' Lying speech that incites violence is not 'just' speech' or 'only words.'
1If one cannot be obliged to do that which one is unable to do, then there cannot be a general obligation to form correct opinions.
I had a new thought this morning, new for me anyway. It occurred to me that the familiar use-mention distinction can and should be applied to images, including cartoons. I recently posted a pornographic Charlie Hebdo cartoon that mocks in the most vile manner imaginable the Christian Trinity. A reader suggested that I merely link to it. But I wanted people to see how vile these nihilistic Charlie Hebdo porno-punks are and why it is a mistake to stand up for free speech by lying down with them, and with other perpetual adolescents of their ilk. Those who march under the banner Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie) are not so much defending free speech as advertising their sad lack of understanding as to why it is accorded the status of a right.
So it occurred to me that the use-mention distinction familiar to philosophers could be applied to a situation like this. To illustrate the distinction, consider the sentences
'Nigger' is disyllabic. The use of 'nigger,' like the use of 'kike' is highly offensive. Niggers and kikes are often at one another's throats.
In the first two sentences, 'nigger' and 'kike' are mentioned, not used; in the third sentence, 'nigger' and 'kike' are used, not mentioned.
Please note that nowhere in this post do I use 'nigger' or 'kike.'
I chose these examples to explain the use-mention distinction in order to maintain the parallel between offensive words and offensive pictures.
Suppose someone asserts the first two sentences but not the third. No reasonable person could take offense at what the person says. For what he would be saying is true. But someone who asserts the third sentence could be reasonably taken to have said something offensive.
Jerry Coyne concludes a know-nothing response to a review by Alvin Plantinga of a book by Philip Kitcher with this graphic:
Coyne added a caption: AL-vinnn! Those of a certain age will understand the caption from the old Christmas song by the fictitious group, Alvin and the Chipmunks, from 1958. ( A real period piece complete with a reference to a hula hoop.)
Here's my point. Coyne uses the image to the left to mock Plantinga whereas I merely display it, or if you will, mention it (in an extended sense of 'mention') in order to say something about the image itself, namely, that it is used by the benighted Coyne to mock Plantinga and his views.
No one could reasonably take offense at my reproduction of the image in the context of the serious points I am making.
Likewise, no one could reasonably take offense at my reproduction of the following graphic which I display here, not to mock the man Muslims consider to be a messenger of the god they call Allah, but simply to display the sort of image they find offensive, and that I too find offensive, inasmuch as it mocks religion, a thing not to be mocked, even if the religion in question is what Schopenhauer calls "the saddest and poorest form of theism."
By the way, journalists should know better than to refer to Muhammad as 'The Prophet.' Or do they also refer to Jesus as 'The Savior' or 'Our Lord' or 'Son of God'?
Ready now? This is what CNN wouldn't show you. Hardly one of the more offensive of the cartoons. They wouldn't show it lest Muslims take offense.
My point, again, is that merely showing what some benighted people take offense at is not to engage in mockery or derision or any other objectively offensive behavior.
Suppose there are two groups, the As and the Bs. Some of the As are really bad actors. And some of the Bs are as well. But most of the members of both groups are tolerably well-behaved. Suppose there is a third group, the Cs. Some of the Cs comment on the bad behavior of the bad actors among the As and the Bs. But they comment in two very different ways. These commenting Cs attribute the bad behavior of the bad actors among the As to their being As,while they attribute the bad behavior of the bad actors among the Bs, not to their being Bs, but to factors that have nothing to do with their being Bs. The commentators among the Cs can be said to apply a double standard in respect of the As and the Bs as regards the etiology of their bad behavior. They employ one standard of explanation for the As, a different one for the Bs.
That's the schema, presented schematically. Instances of the schema are not hard to locate.
Consider cops, Muslims, and lefties. (Some leftists will complain about 'leftie' which I admit is slightly derisive. But these same people do not hesitate to refer to conservatives as teabaggers, right-wing nutjobs, etc., terms which are not just slightly derisive. Here then is another double standard. "We can apply any epithet we like to you, but you must always show us respect!" But I digress.)
So you've got your cops, your Muslims, and your lefties. The behavior of bad cops -- and there are such without a doubt -- is said by many lefties to derive from something 'institutional' or 'systemic' such as 'systemic racism.' Cops are racists qua cops, if not by nature, then by their professional acculturation in 'racist Amerika.' But the bad behavior of some Muslims, such as committing mass murder by driving jumbo jets into trade towers, or slaughtering those, such as the Charlie Hebdo porno-punks, who 'diss' their prophet, does not derive from anything having to do with Muslims qua Muslims such as their adherence to Muslim beliefs. A spectacular example is the case of Nidal Malik Hasan, the 2009 Fort Hood shooter who killed 13 people and wounded many more. His deed was dismissed by the Obama Administration as 'work place violence' when it was quite clearly a terrorist act motivated by Islamist beliefs. Wikipedia:
Once, while presenting what was supposed to be a medical lecture to other psychiatrists, Hasan talked about Islam, and said that, according to the Koran, non-believers would be sent to hell, decapitated, set on fire, and have burning oil poured down their throats. A Muslim psychiatrist in the audience raised his hand, and challenged Hasan's claims. According to the Associated Press, Hasan's lecture also "justified suicide bombings." In the summer of 2009, after completion of his programs, he was transferred to Fort Hood.
So here we have a double standard, an unjustified double standard. (Are double standards by definition unjustified? This is something to explore.)
Of course, there is a lot more to be said on this delightful topic. For example, police brutality does not derive from the professional training that cops receive. They are not trained to hunt down and kill "unarmed black teenagers" who are harmlessly walking down the street or "children" on the way to the candy store. But Muslim terrorism does derive from Muslim teachings. Not all Muslims are terrorists, of courses, but the terrorism of those Muslims who are terrorists is not accidental to their being Muslims.
Note the difference between
A Muslim who is a terrorist is not a true Muslim
A cop who is corrupt is not a true cop.
The first sentence is a clear example of the the No True Scotsman Fallacy. The second is not. Why not? Well, there is nothing in the cop-role that requires that a person who plays that role be corrupt. Quite to the contrary. But there is something in the Muslim-role, or at least the Muslim-role as presented by many teachers of Islam, that requires that players of this role make jihad against the infidel.
In Chapter 42 of his Essays, Montaigne remarks that
We praise a horse for its strength and speed, not on account of its harness; a greyhound for its swiftness and not its collar; a hawk for its wing and not for its jesses and bells. Why then do we not value a man for what is his? . . . If you bargain over a horse, you remove its trappings, you see it bare and uncovered . . . . Why, when estimating a man, do you estimate him all wrapped and muffled up? . . . We must judge him by himself, not by his attire. (Tr. E. J. Trechmann)
I am tempted to agree by saying what I once said to my mother when she told me that clothes make the man, namely, that if clothes make the man, then the kind of man that clothes make is not the kind of man I want to be. (Women are undeniably more sensitive than men to the fact that the world runs on appearances. They have a deep intuitive understanding of the truth that the Germans express when they say, Der Schein regiert die Welt.)
But there is another side to the problem, one that the excellent Montaigne ignores. A horse does not choose its bit and harness, but has them imposed on it. A man, however, chooses how he will appear to his fellows, and so choosing makes a statement as to his values and disvalues. It follows that there is some justification in judging by externals. For the externals we choose, unlike the externals imposed on a horse, are defeasible indicators of what is internal. In the case of human beings, the external is not merely external: the external is also an expression of the internal. Our outer trappings express our attitudes and beliefs, our allegiances and alignments.
But enough philosophy! On to some tunes. We get things off to a rousing start this fine Saturday evening with
ZZ Top, Sharp-Dressed Man. This one goes out to Mike Valle who is definitely strutting his sartorial stuff these days.
This entry is a summary and critique of Peter van Inwagen's "A Theory of Properties," an article which first appeared in 2004 and now appears as Chapter 8 of his Existence: Essays in Ontology (Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 153-182.) Andrew Bailey has made it available on-line. (Thanks Andrew!) I will be quoting from the Existence volume. I will also be drawing upon material from other articles in this collection. This post is a warm-up for a review of the book by me commissioned by a European journal. The review wants completing by the end of February. Perhaps you can help me. Comments are enabled for those who know this subject.
1. The Abstract and the Concrete.
Platonism is "the thesis that there are abstract objects." (153) Van Inwagen uses 'object' synonomously with 'thing,' 'item,' and 'entity.' (156) Everything is an object, which is to say: everything exists. Thus there are no nonexistent objects, pace Meinong. There are two categories of object, the abstract and the concrete. These categories are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. Thus for any x, x is either abstract or concrete, but not both, and not neither. Van Inwagen is a bit coy when it comes to telling us what 'abstract' and concrete' mean; he prefers a roundabout way of introducing these terms. He stipulates that the terms and predicates of ordinary, scientific, and philosophical discourse can be divided into two mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive classes. The denotata of the members of these two classes of terms and predicates, if they have denotata, are concrete and abstract objects. Thus 'table,' 'God,' and 'intelligent Martian,' if they pick out anything, pick out concreta, while 'number,' 'the lion,' (as in 'The lion is of the genus Felis') and 'sentence' (as in 'The same sentence can express different propositions in different contexts'), pick out abstracta. (154) (See footnote * below)
Van Inwagen holds that platonism is to be avoided if at all possible. On platonism, there are abstract objects. This characteristic thesis does not entail, but it is consistent with, the proposition that there are also concrete objects. Van Inwagen is a platonist who accepts both abstract and concrete objects but thinks we would be better of if we could avoid commitment to abstract objects. Why? Well, apart from considerations of parsimony, the difference between members of the two categories is abysmal (my word): "the differences between God and this pen pale into insignificance when they are compared with the differences between this pen and the number 4 . . . ." (156) Such a radical difference is puzzling. So it would be preferable if the category of abstracta were empty. That the category of concreta cannot be empty is obvious: we know ourselves to be concreta. (157) Van Inwagen goes on to belabor the point that the things we can say about concrete things are practically endless, while little can be said about abstracta.
In short, reality, unlike ancient Gaul, "is divided into two parts . . . ." (158, emphasis added). The two parts of reality are radically disjoint. Everything is either abstract or concrete, nothing is both, and nothing is neither. Among the abstracta are instantiated properties. Instantiation or 'having' would seem to forge a connection between the disjoint realms. But the instantiation relation is "abstract and external." (206, 242) So it too resides in the realm of abstracta and hence (as it seems to me) does nothing to mitigate the radical dualism or span the abyss that yawns between reality's two parts. So if we could eke by without abstracta, that would be preferable. But we cannot manage without them, says van Inwagen. (158)
2. Why We Need Abstract Objects.
The short reason is that we need them because we need properties, and properties are one sort of abstract object, along with propositions and "proper relations." (240) A proper relation is a relation whose adicity is two or more; van Inwagen thinks of properties as one-place relations and propositions as zero-place relations. Every abstract object is a relation (a relation-in-intension) in the broad or improper sense, and everything else is a substance, a concrete object. (239)
But why do we need properties? We need properties because things have common features. The class of humans, for example, has something in common. This appears to be an existential claim: there is something, humanity, that the members of this class share. Platonists take the appearance at face value while nominalists maintain that the appearance is a mere appearance such that in reality there are no properties. How do we decide the issue that divides the platonists and the nominalists? Here van Inwagen is referring to what he calls "austere" nominalists, the nominalists more standardly called extreme: those who deny that there are properties at all. There are also the nominalists van Inwagen calls "luxuriant" nominalists, the ones more standardly called moderate: those who admit the existence of tropes or individual accidents or particularized properties. (203, 203 fn 5) The extreme nominalist denies that there are properties at all -- a lunatic view if I may inject my opinion -- while the moderate nominalists admit properties but deny that they are universals. Platonists are not austere nominalists because they accept properties; they are not luxuriant nominalists because they accept universals.
3. Van Inwagen's Method.
The method derives from Quine. We start with the beliefs we already have, couched in the sentences we already accept. We then see if these sentences commit us to properties. We do this by translating these sentences into "the canonical language of quantification." (160) If we need to quantify over properties for the sentences we accept as true to count as true, then we are ontologically committed to the existence of properties. If, on the other hand, we can 'paraphrase away' the apparent reference to properties in the sentences we accept that appear to refer to properties, then the ontological commitment is merely apparent.
Van Inwagen's main idea here is that our discourse commits us to quantification over properties, and thus to the existence of properties. We deduce the existence of properties from certain sentences we accept. The argument is not epistemological: it does not seek to provide evidence for the existence of properties. Nor is it transcendental, or an inference to the best explanation. (167) The operative methodological principle, if there is one, is only this: "if one does not believe that things of a certain sort exist, one shouldn't say anything that demonstrably implies that things of that sort exist." (167)
Example. We accept 'Spiders share some of the anatomical features of insects.' (159) This says nothing different from 'There are anatomical features that insects have and spiders also have.' This then is translated into canonical English. I will spare you the rigmarole. The upshot is that there are anatomical features. Hence there are properties.
The most promising way of rebutting platonism so derived is by finding a paraphrase of the original sentence that says the same thing but does not even seem to commit its acceptor to properties. (The nominalists would of course have to do this for every sentence proposed by platonists that supposedly commits its users to abstracta.) Van Inwagen, predictably, argues against the paraphrastic way out. Nominalist paraphrases are not to be had. (164-167)
4. Van Inwagen's Theory of Properties.
Given that there are properties, what are they like? What are the properties of properties? To specify them is the task of a theory of properties. What follows is my list, not his, but gleaned from what he writes. Properties are
a. abstract objects, as we have already seen. As abstract, properties are non-spatiotemporal and causally inert. (207) Better: abstract objects are categorially such as to be neither causally active nor causally passive.
b. universals, as we have already gleaned, with the exception of haecceities such as the property of being identical to Plantinga. (180) Van Inwagen has no truck with tropes. (241) See my Peter van Inwagen's Trouble with Tropes.
c. the entities that play the property role. And what role would that be? This is the role "thing that can be said of something." It is a special case of the role "thing that can be said." (175) Properties are things that can be said of or about something. Propositions are things that can be said, period, or full stop.
d. unsaturated assertibles. Things that can be said are assertibles. They are either unsaturated, in which case they are properties, or saturated, in which case they are propositions.
e. necessary beings. (207)
f. not necessarily instantiated. Many properties exist uninstantiated.
g. not all of them instantiable. Some unsaturated assertibles are necessarily uninstantiated, e.g., what is said of x if one says 'x is both round and square.'
h. such that the usual logical operations apply to them. (176) Given any two assertibles, whether saturated or unsaturated, there is 'automatically' their conjunction and their disjunction. Given any one assertible, there is 'automatically' its negation.
i. abundant, not sparse. There is a property corresponding to almost every one-place open sentence with a precise meaning. The 'almost' alludes to a variant of Russell's paradox that van Inwagen is fully aware of but that cannot be discussed here. (243) Thus, contra David Armstrong, it is not the task of what the latter calls "total [empirical] science" to determine what properties there are. Perhaps we could say that properties for van Inwagen are logical fallout from one-place predicates. (My phrase) But since properties are necessary beings, there are all the properties there might have been; hence they 'outrun' actual one-place predicates. (My way of putting it.)
j. not parts or constituents in any sense of the concrete things that have them. Indeed, it makes no sense to say that an assertible is a part of a concrete object. And although properties or unsaturated assertibles are universals, it makes no sense that such an item is 'wholly present' in concrete objects. (178) Concrete things are 'blobs' in David Armstrong's sense. They lack ontological structure. "Their only constituents are their parts, their parts in the strict and mereological sense." (243)
k. not more basic ontologically than the things whose properties they are. A concrete thing is not a bundle or cluster of properties. The very suggestion is senseless on van Inwagen's scheme. A property is an unsaturated assertible. It is very much like a Fregean (objective) concept or Begriff, even though van Inwagen does not say this in so many words. (But his talk of unsaturatedness points us back to Frege.) Clearly it would be senseless to think of a dog as a bundle of Fregean concepts. That which can be truly said of a thing like a dog, that it is furry, for example, is no part of the critter. (178-79)
I should point out that while talk of saturated and unsaturated assertibles conjures the shade of Frege, van Inwagen has no truck with Frege's concept-object dichotomy according to which no concept is an object, no object is a concept, and the concept horse is not a concept. You could say, and I mean no disrespect, that he 'peters out' with respect to this dichotomy: "I do not understand the concept-object distinction. The objects I call properties are just that: objects." (206, fn 11)
l. are not objects of sensation. (179) To put it paradoxically, and this is my formulation, not van Inwagen's, such perceptual properties as being blue and being oval in shape are not perceptible properties. One can see that a coffee cup is blue, but one cannot literally see the blueness of the coffee cup.
My readers will know that almost everything (of a substantive and controversial nature) that van Inwagen maintains, I reject and for reasons that strike me as good. Ain't philosophy grand?
I'll begin the critique with the last point. "We never see properties, although we see that certain things have certain properties." (179) If van Inwagen can 'peter out,' so can I: I honestly don't know what to make of the second clause of the quoted sentence. I am now, with a brain properly caffeinated, staring at my blue coffee cup in good light. Van Inwagen's claim is that I do not see the blueness of the cup, though I do see that the cup is blue. Here I balk. If I don't see blueness, or blue, when I look at the cup, how can I see (literally see, with the eyes of the head, not the eye of the mind) that the cup is blue?
'That it is blue' is a thing that can be said of the cup, and said with truth. This thing that can be said is an unsaturated assertible, a property in van Inwagen's sense. Van Inwagen is telling us that it cannot be seen. 'That the cup is blue' is a thing that can be said, full stop. It is a saturated assertible, a proposition, and a true one at that. Both assertibles are abstract objects. Both are invisible, and not because of any limitation in my visual power or in human visual power in general, but because abstract objects cannot be terms of causal relations, and perception involves causation. Both types of assertible are categorially disbarred from visibility. But if both the property and the proposition are invisible, then how can van Inwagen say that "we see that certain things have certain properties"? What am I missing?
How can he say that we don't see the property but we do see the proposition? Both are abstract and invisible. How is it that we can see the second but not the first? Either we see both or we see neither. If van Inwagen says that we don't see the proposition, then what do we see when we see that the cup is blue? A colorless cup? A cup that is blue but is blue in a way different from the way the cup is blue by instantiatiating the abstract unsaturated assertible expressed by 'that it is blue'? But then one has duplicated at the level of abstracta the property that one sees at the concrete cup. If there is blueness at the cup and abstract blueness in Plato's heaven, why do we need the latter? Just what is going on here?
To van Inwagen's view one could reasonably oppose the following view. I see the cup (obviously!) and I see blueness at the cup (obviously!) I don't see a colorless cup. To deny the three foregoing sentences would be to deny what is phenomenologically given. What I don't literally see, however, is that the cup is blue. (Thus I don't literally see what van Inwagen says we literally see.) For to see that the cup is blue is to see the instantiation of blueness by the cup. And I don't see that. The correlate of the 'is' in 'The cup is blue' is not an object of sensation. If you think it is, tell me how I can single it out, how I can isolate it. Where in the visual field is it? The blueness is spread out over the visible surfaces of the cup. The cup is singled out as a particular thing on the desk, next to the cat, beneath the lamp, etc. Now where is the instantiation relation? Point it out to me! You won't be able to do it. I see the cup, and I see blue/blueness where the cup is. I don't see the cup's BEING blue.
It is also hard to understand how van Inwagen, on his own assumptions, can maintain that we see that certain things have certain properties. Suppose I see that Max, a cat of my acquaintance, is black. Do I see a proposition? Not on van Inwagen's understanding of 'proposition.' His propositions are Fregean, not Russellian: they are not resident in the physical world. Do I see a proposition-like entity such as an Armstrongian state of affairs? Again, no. What do I see?
Van Inwagen claims that properties are not objects of sensation; no properties are, not even perceptual properties. I should think that some properties are objects of sensation, or better, of perception: I perceive blueness at the cup by sight; I perceive smoothness and hardness and heat at the cup by touch. If so, then (some) properties are not abstract objects residing in a domain unto themselves.
Van Inwagen's view appears to have the absurd consequence that things like coffee cups are colorless. For if colors are properties (179) and properties are abstract objects, and abstract objects are colorless (as they obviously are), then colors are colorless, and whiteness is not white and blueness is not blue. Van Inwagen bites the bullet and accepts the consequence. But we can easily run the argument in reverse: Blueness is blue; colors are properties; abstract objects are colorless; ergo, perceptual properties are not abstract objects. They are either tropes or else universals wholly present in the things that have them. Van Inwagen, a 'relation ontologist' cannot of course allow this move into 'constituent ontology.'
There is a long footnote on p. 242 that may amount to a response to something like my objection. In the main text, van Inwagen speaks of "such properties as are presented to our senses as belonging to the objects we sense . . . ." How does this square with the claim on p. 179 that properties are not objects of sensation? Can a property such as blueness be presented to our senses without being an object of sensation? Apparently yes, "In a noncausal sense of 'presented.'" (243, fn 3)
How does this solve the problem? It is phenomenologically evident that (a definite shade of) blue appears to my senses when I stare at my blue coffee cup. Now if this blueness is an abstract object as van Inwagen claims then it cannot be presented to my senses any more than it can be something with which I causally interact.
2. But Is This Ontology?
Why does van Inwagen think he is doing ontology at all? It looks more like semantics or philosophical logic or philosophy of language. I say this because van Inwagen's assertibles are very much like Fregean senses. They are intensional items. (As we noted, he reduces all his assertibles to relations-in-intension.) Taking his cue from Quine, he seeks an answer to the question, What is there? He wants an inventory, by category, of what there is. He wants to know, for example, whether in addition to concrete things there are also properties, as if properties could exist in sublime disconnection from concrete things in a separate sphere alongside this sublunary sphere. That no property is an object of sensation is just logical fallout from van Inwagen's decision to install them in Plato's heaven; but then their connection to things here below in space and time become unintelligible. It does no good, in alleviation of this unintelligibility, to say that abstract blueness -- the unsaturated assertible expressed by 'that it is blue' -- is instantiated by my blue cup. For instantiation is just another abstract object, a dyadic external relation, itself ensconced in Plato's heaven.
But not only the formulation of the question but also the method of attack come from Quine. Van Inwagen thinks he can answer what he and Quine idiosyncratically call the ontological question by examining the ontological commitments of our discourse. Starting with sentences we accept as true, he looks to see what these sentences entail as regards the types of entity there are when the sentences are properly regimented in accordance with the structures of modern predicate logic with identity.
The starting point is not things in their mind- and language-independent being, but beliefs we already have and sentences we already accept. The approach is oblique, not direct; subjective, not objective. Now to accept a sentence is to accept it as true; but a sentence accepted as true need not be true. Note also that if one sentence entails another, both can be false. So if sentences accepted as true entail the existence of properties in van Inwagen's sense, according to which properies are unsaturated assertibles, it is logically possible that there be no properties in reality. The following is not a contradiction: The sentences we accept as true entail that there are properties & There are no properties. For it may be -- it is narrowly-logically possible that -- the sentences we accept as true that entail that there are properties are all of them false. Not likely, of course, and there may be some retorsive argument against this possibility. But it cannot be ruled out by logic alone.
So there is something fishy about the whole method of 'ontological' commitment. One would have thought that ontology is concerned with the Being of beings, not with the presuppositions of sentences accepted as true by us. To put it vaguely, there is something 'transcendental' (in the Kantina sense) and 'subjective' and 'modern' about van Inwagen's Quinean method that unsuits it for for something that deserves to be called ontology.
This is connected with the point that van Inwagen's assertibles, saturated and unsaturated, are hard to distinguish from Fregean senses. They are denizens of Frege's Third Reich or Third World if you will, not his First Reich, the realm of primary reference. To illustrate: Venus is an item in the First World, while the senses of 'Morning Star' and 'Evening Star' and the sense of the sentence 'The Morning Star is the Evening Star' are three items all in the Third World. Senses, however, are logico-semantic items: their job is to mediate reference. Van Inwagen is arguably just hypostatizing items that are needed for us to secure reference -- whether thinking reference or linguistic reference -- to things that truly exist extramentally and extralinguistically.
Again, this is vague and sketchy. But good enough for a weblog entry! Is think my Czech scholastic friends will know what I am driving at.
3. Van Inwagen's Ostrich Realism and Commitment to Bare Particulars
Van Inwagen rejects both extreme and moderate nominalism. So he can't possibly be an ostrich nominalist. He is, however, as he himself appreciates, an ostrich realist or ostrich platonist. (214-15)
Suppose Max is black. What explains the predicate's being true of Max? According to the ostrich nominalist, nothing does. It is just true of him. There is nothing in or about Max that serves as the ontological ground of the correctness of his satisfying the predicate. Now 'F' is true of a iff 'a is F' is true. So we may also ask: what is the ontological ground of the truth of 'Max is black'? The ostrich reply will be: nothing. The sentence is just true. There is no need for a truth-maker.
The ostrich realist/platonist says something very similar except that in place of predicates he puts abstract properties, and in place of sentences he puts abstract propositions. In virtue of what does Max instantiate blackness? In virtue of nothing. He just instantiates it. Nothing explains why the unsaturated assertible expressed by 'x is black' is instantiated by Max. Nothing explains it because there is nothing to explain. And nothing explains why the saturated assertible expressed by 'Max is black' is true. Thus there is nothing concrete here below that could be called a state of affairs in anything like Armstrong's sense. There is in the realm of concreta no such item as Max-instantiating-blackness, or the concrete fact of Max's being black.
Here below there is just Max, and up yonder in a topos ouranos are 'his' properties (the abstract unsaturated assertibles that he, but not solely, instantiates). But then Max is a bare particular in one sense of this phrase, though not in Gustav Bergmann's exact sense of the phrase. (Bergmann is a constituent ontologist.) In what sense, then?
A bare particular is not a particular that has no properties in any sense of 'having properties'; a bare particular is a particular that has properties, but has them in a certain way: by being externally related to them. Thus bare particulars, unlike Aristotelean substances, have neither natures nor essences. Indeed, the best way to understand what a bare particular is is by contrast with the primary substances of Aristotle. These concrete individuals have natures by being (identically) natures: they are not externally related to natures that exist serenely and necessarily in Plato's heaven.
In this sense, van Inwagen's concrete things are bare particulars. There are no properties 'in' or 'at' Max; there are no properties where he is and when he is. What's more, on van Inwagen's scheme -- one he shares with Chisholm, Plantinga, et al. -- Max can only be externally related to his properties. This has the consequence that all of Max's properties are accidental. For if x, y are externally related, then x can exist without y and y can exist without x. So Max can exist without being feline just as he can exist without being asleep.
Could Max have been a poached egg? It is narrowly-logically possible. For if he has all of his properties externally, then he has all of his properties accidentally. Even if it is necessary that he have some set of properties or other, there is no necessity that he have any particular set. If properties are externally related to particulars, then any particular can have any set of properties so long as it has some set or other.
If you deny that concrete things are bare in the sense I have explained, then you seem to be committed to saying that there are two sorts of properties, PvI-properties in Plato's heaven and 'sublunary' properties at the particulars here below. But then I will ask two questions. First, what is the point of introducing PvI-properties if they merely duplicate at the abstract intensional level the 'real' properties in the sublunary sphere? Second, what justifies calling PvI-properties properties given that you still are going to need 'sublunary' properties to avoid saying that van Inwagen's concreta are bare particulars?
One can say of a thing that it might not have existed. For example, I can say this of myself. If so, it must be possible to say of a thing that it exists. For example, it must be possible for me to say of myself that I exist. As van Inwagen remarks, "it is hard to see how there could be such an assertible as 'that it might not have existed' if there were no such assertible as 'that it exists.'" (180) Existence, then, is a property, says van Inwagen, for properties are unsaturated assertibles, and 'that it exists' is an assertible.
There are many problems with the notion that existence is a first-level property on a van Inwagen-type construal of properties. Instantiation for van Inwagen is a full-fledged dyadic relation. (It is not a non-relational tie or Bergmannian nexus). He further characterizes it as abstract and external as we have seen. Now it is perfectly obvious to me that the very existence of Socrates cannot consist in his instantiation of any PvI-type property, let alone the putative property, existence. For given the externality of the instantiation relation, both Socrates and the putative property must 'already' exist for said relation to hold between them. So one moves in an explanatory circle of embarrassingly short diameter if one tries to account for existence in this way.
This circularity objection which I have developed in painful detail elsewhere will, I expect, leave van Inwagen stone cold. One reason is that he sees no role for explanation in metaphysics whereas I think that metaphysics without explanation is not metaphysics at all in any serious sense. This is large topic that cannot be addressed here.
I'll mention one other problem for van Inwagen. I'll put it very briefly since this entry is already too long. Van Inwagen is a Fregean about existence; but on a Fregean view existence cannot be a first-level property. For Frege, 'x exists' where 'x' ranges over individuals is a senseless open sentence or predicate. There is no unsaturated assertible corresponding to it. I have a number of posts on van Inwagen and existence. Here is one. My latest published article on existence is "Existence: Two Dogmas of Analysis" in Novak and Novotny, eds., Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, Routledge 2014, 45-75.
Among the properties, van Inwagen counts haecceities. They are of course abstract objects like all properties. But they are not universals because, while they are instantiable, they are not multiply instantiable. The property of being identical with Alvin Plantinga is an example van Inwagen gives. (180) This property, if instantiated, is instantiated by Plantinga alone in the actual world and by nothing distinct from Plantinga in any possible world. Plantingitas -- to give it a name -- somehow involves Plantinga himself, that very concrete object. For this property is supposed to capture the nonqualitative thisness of Plantinga. (Haecceitas is Latin for 'thisness.')
I submit that these haecceity properties are metaphysical monstrosities. For given that they are properties, they are necessary beings. A necessary being exists at all times in all possible worlds that have time, and in all worlds, period. Plantinga, however, does not exist in all worlds since he is a contingent being; and he doesn't exist at all times in all worlds in which he exists, subject as he is to birth and death, generation and corruption. I conclude that before Plantinga came into being there could not have been any such property as the property of being identical to Plantinga. I conclude also that in worlds in which he does not exist there is no such haecceity property. For at pre-Plantingian times and non-Plantingian worlds, there is simply nothing to give content to the unsaturated assertible expressed by 'that it is Alvin Plantinga.' (Alvin Plantingas hung out at those times and in those worlds, but not our Alvin Plantinga.) Plantinga himself enters essentially into the very content of his haecceity property.
But this is absurd because PvI-properties are merely intensional entities. No such entity can have a concrete, flesh and blood man as a constituent. Just as a PvI-property cannot be a constituent of a concretum such as Plantinga, Plantinga cannot be a constituent in any sense of 'constituent' of a PvI-property.
But if Plantinga hadn't existed, might it nonetheless have been true that he might have existed? (180). Van Inwagen says yes and introduces haecceities. Plantingitas exists in every world; it is just that it is instantiated only in some. I say no, precisely because I take haecceities to be metaphysical monstrosities.
I am not out to refute van Inwagen or anyone. Philosophical theories, except for some sophomoric ones, cannot be refuted. At most I am out to neutralize van Inwagen's theory, or rather his type of theory, to explain why it is not compelling and how it is open to powerful objections, only some of which I have adduced in this entry. And of course I do not have a better theory. I incline toward constituent ontology myself, but it too is bristling with difficulties.
As I see it, the problems of philosophy are most of them genuine, some of them humanly important, but all of them insoluble.
*At this point I should like to record a misgiving. If sentences (sentence types, not tokens) are abstract objects, and abstract objects are necessary beings as van Inwagen holds (cf., e.g., p. 242), then sentences are necessary beings. But sentences are tied to contingently existing languages and cannot exist apart from them. Thus 'I am hungry' is a sentence of English while 'Ich habe Hunger' is a sentence of German, and neither sentence can exist apart from its respective language. A natural language, however, would seem to be a contingent being: German came into existence, but it might never have come into existence. Given all this, a contradiction appears to follow: Sentences are and are not necessary beings.
His latest NRO column. Spencer tells me that "I've been mulling writing something like this for a very long time. I think this is reasonably good at expressing what I want to express, but I wouldn't have picked the title and sub-head."