To reject moral equivalentism is not to embrace 'Manicheanism.' To reject robust interventionism in foreign policy is not to subscribe to 'isolationism.' To think otherwise in either case is to make a mistake. Most leftists make the first mistake; many conservatives the second.
I am teaching chess to some women who have joined our club, "The Lost Knights of the Superstitions." Nice title, eh? At once both romantic and self-deprecatory with an allusion to the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine and Jacob Waltz, the 'Dutchman' himself who was not Dutch but Deutsch.
The following excerpt from an article by Lubomir Kavalek may help inspire the newly recruited distaff acolytes of the Royal Game.
Vera Menchik (1906-1944) was the first women's world champion who could play successfully against the best male players. She almost stirred an international conflict. Three countries claimed her: she was born in Moscow, played chess mostly for Czechoslovakia, married an Englishman and died in London.
Menchik won the first official women's world championship in London in 1927 and defended the title six times in tournaments with an incredible overall score of 78 wins, four draws and one loss. She also defeated the German Sonja Graf in two world title matches in 1934 and 1937. Menchik played positionally most of the time, but she could deliver a nice tactical blow.
21.Rd7! (A beautiful decoy. The rook deflects the queen, allowing a spirited queen sacrifice: 21... Qxd7 22.Qxh5! gxh5 23.Bh7 mate. White would have a decisive advantage after: 21...Qxh2+ 22.Qxh2 Nxh2 23.Rxe7 Nxf1 24.Bxg6! e5 25.Nxf7 Kg7 26.Nxe5+ Kf6 27.Rxb7.) Graf resigned.
The Czechs honored Menchik with a postage stamp designed by Zdenek Netopil. He could not make up his mind, but eventually let her smile. It was issued February 14, 1996. Menchik held her world title for 17 years, the longest of any woman. Last year, she was inducted into the Chess World Hall of Fame - the first woman among chess giants.
During the 1929 Karlsbad tournament, the Austrian master Albert Becker founded the Vera Menchik Club. He suggested that anyone who loses to the lady should become a member. He was the first victim, but there were others. Among her most famous casualties were dr. Max Euwe and Sammy Reshevsky. Out of 437 tournament games against male opponents, she won 147.
She didn't fare well against the very top players. She was hammered by Jose Raul Capablanca (9-0), Alexander Alekhine (7-0), Mikhail Botvinnik (2-0), Paul Keres (2-0), Reuben Fine (2-0) and Emanuel Lasker (1-0).
In 1921 Menchik's family moved from Moscow to England. Vera was 15. When she saw bottles of milk left outside of English homes, Menchik said: "In Russia, they would immediately be stolen." The quote didn't make it to Elizaveta Bykova's biography of Menchik. Bykova had a different idea of what should be taken.
In the mid-1960s the most celebrated folk musician of his era bought a house for his growing family at the southern edge of the Catskills, in the nineteenth-century painters’ retreat of Woodstock. He was a “protest singer,” to use a term that was then new. His lyrics—profound, tender, garrulous—sounded like they were indicting the country for racism (“where black is the color where none is the number”), or prophesying civil war (“you don’t need a weatherman to know the way the wind blows”), or inviting young people to smoke dope (“everybody must get stoned”). Fans and would-be acolytes were soon roaming the town on weekends, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Eccentric-looking by the standards of the day, they infuriated local residents. Nothing good was going to come of it. One of the town’s more heavily armed reactionaries would later recall:
[A] friend of mine had given me a couple of Colt single-shot repeater pistols, and I also had a clip-fed Winchester blasting rifle around, but it was awful to think about what could be done with those things. . . . Creeps thumping their boots across our roof could even take me to court if any of them fell off. . . . I wanted to set fire to these people. These gate-crashers, spooks, trespassers, demagogues were all disrupting my home life and the fact that I was not to piss them off or they could press charges really didn’t appeal to me.
The folk singer was Bob Dylan. The reactionary old coot with all the guns . . . well, that was Bob Dylan, too. At age 25, he was growing uncomfortable with the role conferred on him by the music he’d written at age 20. “I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of,” he would later write in his memoir Chronicles.
And it ends like this:
If Dylan was the voice of a generation, it was not of the generation we think. He belonged to the generation before the one that idolized him, as did The Band. For them, the pre-baby boom frameworks of meaning were all still in place, undeconstructed and deployable in art. One of history’s secrets is that revolutionaries’ appeal in the eyes of posterity owes much to the traits they share with the world they overthrew. They secure their greatness less by revealing new virtues than by rendering the ones that made them great impracticable henceforth. There is no reason this should be any less true of Dylan. His virtues are not so much of the world he left us with as of the world he helped usher out.
Some, like Jesse Jackson, are still stuck inside of Selma with the Oxford Blues again.
Oxford Town is both topical and timeless. It is about the enrollment of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1962. But neither Meredith nor Ole Miss are mentioned. This allows the song to float free of the events of the day and assume its rightful place in the audio aether of Americana.
π day is 3/14. But today is super π day: 3/14/15. To celebrate it properly you must do so at 9:26 A.M. or P. M. Years ago, as a student of electrical engineering, I memorized π this far out: 3.14159.
The decimal expansion is non-terminating. But that is not what makes it an irrational number. What makes it irrational is that it cannot be expressed as a fraction the numerator and denominator of which are integers. Compare 1/3. Its decimal expansion is also non-terminating: .3333333 . . . . But it is a rational number because it can be expressed as a fraction the numerator and denominator of which are integers (whole numbers).
An irrational (rational) number is so-called because it cannot (can) be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Thus any puzzlement as to how a number, as opposed to a person, could be rational or irrational calls for therapeutic dissolution, not solution (he said with a sidelong glance in the direction of Wittgenstein).
Yes, there are pseudo-questions. Sometimes we succumb to the bewitchment of our understanding by language. But, pace Wittgestein, it is not the case that all the questions of philosophy are pseudo-questions sired by linguistic bewitchment. I say almost none of them are. So it cannot be the case that philosophy just is the struggle against such bewitchment. (PU #109: Die Philosophie ist ein Kampf gegen die Verhexung unsres Verstandes durch die Mittel unserer Sprache.) What a miserable conception of philosophy! As bad as that of a benighted logical positivist.
Many people don't understand that certain words and phrases are terms of art, technical terms, whose meanings are, or are determined by, their uses in specialized contexts. I once foolishly allowed myself to be suckered into a conversation with an old man. I had occasion to bring up imaginary (complex) numbers in support of some point I was making. He snorted derisively, "How can a number be imaginary?!" The same old fool -- and I was a fool too for talking to him twice -- once balked incredulously at the imago dei. "You mean to tell me that God has an intestinal tract!"
Finally a quick question about infinity. The decimal expansion of π is non-terminating. It thus continues infinitely. The number of digits is infinite. Potentially or actually? I wonder: can the definiteness of π -- its being the ratio of diameter to circumference in a circle -- be taken to show that the number of digits in the decimal expansion is actually infinite?
I'm just asking.
Now go ye forth and celebrate π day in some appropriate and inoffensive way. Eat some pie. Calculate the area of some circle. A = πr2.
Dream about π in the sky. Mock a leftist for wanting π in the future. 'The philosophers have variously interpreted π; the point is to change it!'
UPDATE: Ingvar writes,
Of course the ne plus ultra pi day was 3-14-1592 and whatever happened that day
at 6:53 in the morning.
So we have one yearly, one every millennium, and one
I Ain't Superstitious, leastways no more than Howlin' Wolf, but two twin black tuxedo cats just crossed my path. All dressed up with nowhere to go. Nine lives and dressed to the nines. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Superstition. Guitar solo starts at 3:03. And of course you've heard the story about Niels Bohr and the horseshoe over the door:
A friend was visiting in the home of Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, the famous atomic scientist.
As they were talking, the friend kept glancing at a horseshoe hanging over the door. Finally, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he demanded:
“Niels, it can’t possibly be that you, a brilliant scientist, believe that foolish horseshoe superstition! ? !”
“Of course not,” replied the scientist. “But I understand it’s lucky whether you believe in it or not.”
It "drives him crazy" that people say 'at the end of the day.'
(Now why did I use double and then revert to single quotation marks? Because I went from quoting a particular person to mentioning a phrase in widespread use, but not quoting any particular person. There is no need for you to be so punctilious. Just don't call me inconsistent.)
I predict that the current controversy will soon be forgotten and Hillary will bounce back more formidable than ever. She looks tired, but she is as hungry as ever. She has Ambition written all over her. Do not underestimate her. The rumors of her imminent political demise are greatly exaggerated. Mark my words! I hope to hell and Hillary that I am wrong.
One of the reasons I gave this weblog the title Maverick Philosopher is because I align neither with the analytic nor with the Continental camp. Study everything, I say, and drink from every stream. Reverting to the camp metaphor, when did the camps become two? In dead earnest this occurred when Heidegger burst onto the scene in 1927 with Being and Time. I agree with Peter Simons: "Probably no individual was more responsible for the schism in philosophy than Heidegger." (Quoted in Overgaard, et al., An Introduction to Metaphilosophy, Cambridge UP, 2013, 110.) It is not as if Heidegger set out to split the mainstream whose headwaters were in Franz Brentano into two tributaries; it is just that he started publishing things that the analytic types, who had some sympathy for Heidegger's main teacher Husserl, could not relate to at all.
If I were were to select two writings that best epitomize the depth of the Continental-analytic clash near the time of its outbreak, they would be Heidegger's 1929 What is Metaphysics? and Carnap's 1932 response, "On the Overcoming of Metaphysics Through the Logical Analysis of Language." (In fairness to Carnap, let us note that his Erkenntnis piece is more than a response to Heidegger inasmuch as it calls into question the meaningfulness of all metaphysics.)
To nail my colors to the mast, I take the side of Heidegger in his dispute with Carnap and I heartily condemn the knee-jerk bigotry of the thousands upon thousands of analytic types who mock and deride Heidegger while making no attempt to understand what he is about. The cynosure of their mockery and derision is of course the notorious sentence
Das Nichts selbst nichtet. (GA IX, 114) The Nothing itself nihilates.
This is the line upon which the analytic bigots invariably seize while ignoring everything else: its place in the essay in question and the wider context, that of Being and Time and other works of the early Heidegger, not to mention the phenomenological, transcendental, existential, life-philosophical, and scholastic sources of Heidegger's thinking.
Now, having called them knee-jerk bigots and having implied what is largely true, namely that the analytic Heidegger-bashers are know-nothings when it comes to Heidegger's philosophical progenitors, and thus having paid them back in their own coin, I will now drop all invective and patiently try to explain how and why Heidegger is not talking nonsense in the essay in question. This will require a series of posts. It will also require some attention and open-mindedness on the part of the reader as well as some familiarity with the two essays in question.
Heidegger's Alleged Violation of Logical Syntax
For Carnap it is obvious that existence and nonexistence are purely logical notions, more precisely, logico-syntactic notions. The sentence 'Cats exist,' for example, does not predicate existence of individual cats. It says no more than 'Something is a cat.' But then 'Cats do not exist' says no more than 'Nothing is a cat.' This sentence in turn is equivalent to 'It is not the case that something is a cat.'
'Nothing,' then, is not a name, but a mere bit of logical syntax. Carnap calls it a "logical particle." (71) And the same goes for 'something.' If I met nobody on the trail this morning, it does not follow that I met somebody named 'nobody.' (Bad joke: I say I met nobody, and you ask how he's doing.) If nothing is in my wallet, that is not to say that there is something in my wallet named 'nothing.' It is to say that:
It it not the case that something is in my wallet It is not the case that, for some x, x is in my wallet For all x, x is not in my wallet ~(∃x)(x is in my wallet) (x) ~(x is in my wallet).
The above are equivalents. It should be obvious then, that in its mundane uses 'nothing' is not a name but a logico-syntactic notion that can be expressed using a quantifier (either universal or particular) and the sign for propositional negation. By a mundane use of 'nothing' I mean a use that presupposes that things exist. Thus when I assert that nothing is in my pocket, I presuppose that things exist and the content of my assertion is that no one of these existing things is in my pocket. (Don't worry about the fact that it is never strictly true that there is nothing in my pocket given that there is air, lint, and space in my pocket.)
I think we can all (including Heidegger) agree that in their mundane uses, sentences of the form 'Nothing is F' can be translated, salva significatione, into sentences of the form 'It is not the case that something is F' or 'Everything is not F.' The translations remove 'Nothing' from subject position and by the same stroke remove the temptation to construe 'nothing' as a name. Not that Heidegger ever succumbed to that temptation.
But now the question arises whether every use of 'nothing' fits the deflationary schema. Is every meaningful use of 'nothing' the use of a logical particle? Consider ex nihilo, nihil fit, 'Out of nothing, nothing comes.' The second occurrence of 'nothing' readily submits to deflation, but not the first. Suppose we write
It is not the case that something comes from nothing.
This removes the quantificational use of 'nothing' in 'Out of nothing, nothing comes' but leaves us with a 'substantive' use. Of course, 'nothing' cannot refer to or name any being or any collection of beings. That is perfectly evident. And Heidegger says as much. But 'nothing' does appear to refer to, or name, the absence of every being. The thought is:
Had there been nothing at all, it is not the case that something could have arisen from it.
The 'at all' is strictly redundant: it merely serves to remind the reader that 'nothing' is being used strictly. Now could there have been nothing at all? Is it possible that there be nothing at all? More importantly for present purposes: Is this a meaningful question? 'Possibly, nothing exists' is meaningful only if 'Nothing exists' is meaningful. So consider first the unmodalized
There is nothing at all
These are perfectly meaningful sentences. That is not to say that they are true, nor is it to say that they are possibly true. Suppose they are not possibly true. Then they are necessarily false. But if necessarily false, then false, and if false, then meaningful. For meaningfulness is a necessary condition of having a truth-value. 'Nothing exists,' then, is a meaningful sentence, and this despite the fact that 'nothing' cannot here be replaced by a phrase containing only a quantifier and the sign for negation.
For Carnap, however, the above are meaningless metaphysical pseudo-sentences because they violate logical syntax. If you try to translate the second sentence into logical notation, into what Carnap calls a "logically correct language"(70) you get a syntactically meaningless string:
This is meaningless because 'exists' cannot serve as a first-level predicate in a logically correct language. Existence is not a property of individuals. 'Exist(s)' is a quantifier, a bit of logical syntax, not a name of a property or of any entity. Therefore, 'Nothing exists' is as syntactically meaningless as the ill-formed formula
~(∃x)(∃x(. . . x . . .)).
Two Interim Conclusions
The first is that Heidegger commits no schoolboy blunder in logic. He does not think that a use of 'Nothing is in the drawer' commits one to the existence of something in the drawer. He cannot be charitably read as assuming that every use of 'nothing' is a referring use. The second conclusion is that Carnap has not shown that every occurrence of 'nothing' can be replaced by a phrase containing a quantifier and the sign for negation. He has therefore not shown that a sentence like 'Nothing exists' is a syntactically meaningless pseudo-sentence.
Heidegger Partially Vindicated
But now the way is clear to ask some Heidegger-type questions.
I showed above that 'nothing' has meaningful uses as a substantive, uses that cannot be eliminated by the Carnap method. And I suggested that 'nothing' could name the total absence of all beings. If this total absence is a possibility, as it would be if every being is a contingent being, then Nothing (das Nichts) would have some 'reality,' if only the reality of a mere possibility. It could not be dismissed as utterly nichtig or nugatory. Nor could questions about it be so dismissed.
One question that Heidegger poses concerns the relation of negation (Verneinung) as a specific intellectual operation (spezifische Verstandeshandlung) to Nothing:
Gibt es das Nichts nur, weil es das Nicht, d. h. die Verneinung gibt? Oder liegt es umgekehrt? Gibt es die Verneinung und das Nicht nur, weil es das Nichts gibt? (GA IX, 108)
Is there Nothing only because there is the Not and negation? Or is it the other way around? Is there negation and the Not only because there is Nothing?
I grant that with questions like these we are at the very limit of intelligibility, at the very boundary of the Sayable. But you are no philosopher if you are not up against these limits and seeking, if possible, to transcend them.
The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe. - John Walter Wayland
A recent article bears the title, "The vast right-wing conspiracy is still real. Also, the media is really stupid." The first sentence reads, "Let me start by admitting, upfront, how truly fucking boring I find the Hillary Clinton e-mail story."
I stopped right there.
Suppose Mrs. Clinton broke no law. Her imprudence alone in conducting official business while Secretary of State using a private e-mail server is a strong argument against her. It smacks of an imprudence born of arrogance and of a sense of high entitlement as if nothing she does nor how she appears can impede her progress to her rightful place. If anyone understands that the world runs on appearances, it is the politician. What level of chutzpah does it then bespeak that she appears not to care that people find out what she must know they will find out?
UPDATE (3/11): Roundup of reactions to Hillary's press conference yesterday. The imperiousness of the lady may contribute to her undoing. That, and her naked ambition. With apologies to William Shakespeare, "Yon Hillary hath a lean and hungry look . . . ." She lusts after the title Hillaria Imperatrix. She would push further the executive overreach of Obama's imperial presidency.
But conservatives beware. Her egregious blunders if not illegalities may not sink her. Nor the vacuousness of her rhetoric. Nor the deviousness of her stealth leftism. The feckless Obama was elected and elected twice. Hillary is not to be discounted. Her base is large and will support her no matter what she does. The next election is not to be sat out. Politics is a practical business; it is always about the lesser or least of evils.
I prefer the more muscular 'lie.' Excerpts from a piece by John O. McGinnis:
Progressivism’s vision of the role of the state conflicts with the system of government envisioned by America’s Founders. The Founders wanted citizens to be free to pursue their affairs individually and in voluntary association; the powers of the federal state were to be tightly constrained. In contrast, the greatest political theorist of American progressivism, Herbert Croly, said that the nation’s “democracy should be focused on an equal sharing of wealth and responsibilities”—an enterprise that demands a larger and more intrusive federal state to enforce. Obama spoke from this tradition on the campaign trail in 2008—most famously, when he told Joe the Plumber that it was “good to spread the wealth around.”
[. . .]
Faced with these constraints, today’s progressives must resort to more misleading and sometimes coercive measures, as they seek to bring about equality through collective responsibility; they must rally support by looking beyond economics, to cultural and social identifications, in a bid to maintain the support of voters with little need for government intervention. They also want to limit the voices of citizens at election time, and thereby magnify the influence of the press and academia, which lean sharply in the progressive direction.
Nothing shows the progressive dependence on subterfuge more starkly than Obamacare, which, by imposing a personal mandate to buy insurance in an effort to bring health care to all, will restructure one-sixth of the American economy.
[. . .]
From its inception, progressivism has posed a threat to constitutional government. It has sought to replace limited and decentralized governance with dynamic, centralized authority in order to force some arrangement of equality on the nation. Because the world has a way of upsetting abstract designs, progressivism depends on empowering administrators to impose its frameworks while disempowering citizens from resisting these coercions. The Obama administration’s push for unilateral presidential authority to disregard the law is thus the logical extension of the progressive program. Opposition to this program requires nothing less than a rededication to our Founding ideals: our nation must be governed by the rule of law, not the rule of an elected monarch or of a legally privileged aristocracy.
While traipsing through the Superstition foothills Sunday morning in search of further footnotes to Plato, I happened to think of James Madison and Federalist #51 wherein we read, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." My next thought was: "Men are not angels." But I realized it could be the formal fallacy of Denying the Antecedent were I to conclude to the truth, "Some government is necessary." (I hope you agree with me that that is a truth.)
The first premise is a counterfactual conditional, indeed, what I call a per impossibile counterfactual. To keep things simple, however, we trade the subjunctive in for the indicative. Let this be the argument under consideration:
1. If men are angels, then no government is necessary. 2. Men are not angels. ergo 3. Some government is necessary.
A prima vista, we have here an instance of the invalid argument-form, Denying the Antecedent:
If p, then q ~p ergo ~q.
But I am loath to say that the argument (as opposed to the just-depicted argument-form) is invalid. It strikes me as valid. But how could it be valid?
One could take the (1)-(3) argument to be an enthymeme where the following is the tacit premise:
1.5 If no government is necessary, then men are angels.
Add (1.5) to the premises of the original argument and the conclusion follows by modus tollendo tollens.
Might it be that 'if ___ then ___' sentences in English sometimes express biconditional propositions? Clearly, if we replace (1) with
1* Men are angels if and only if no government is necessary
the resulting argument is valid.
One might take the (1)-(3) argument as inductive. Now every inductive argument is invalid in the technical sense of 'invalid' in play here. So if there are good inductive arguments, then there are good invalid arguments. Right? If the (1)-(3) argument is inductive, then I think we should say it is a very strong inductive argument. It would then be right churlish and cyberpunkish to snort, "You're denying the antecedent!"
The question arises: are there any good examples from real argumentative life (as opposed to logic text books) of Denying the Antecedent? I mean, nobody or hardly anybody argues like this:
If Jack ran a red light, then Jack deserves a traffic citation. Jack did not run a red light. ergo Jack does not deserve a traffic citation.
It's a movie I haven't seen. I have no strong desire see it. I understand the principle; why do I need to rub my nose in the details? I know what a sniper is and I know what he does. It is an awful world in which snipers are needed, but they are, and they do a job that few of us could do. Could you put a high-powered round through the head of a child who was about to be sent on a suicide mission? I am not referring primarily to the mechanics of getting off a good clean shot that hits its target from a great distance after you have been lying in the weeds for hours in a war zone. I am talking about bearing the psychological burden.
There are two extremes to avoid: the bellicose jingoism of the my-country-right-or-wrong types and the knee-jerk, hate-America mentality of moral equivalentists and blame-America-firsters. If the brunt of my scorn in these pages is aimed at the latter, it is because they are in the ascendancy and need it more.Think of it as akin to a quasi-Kierkegaardian 'corrective' to quasi-Hegelian excesses.
Actually, the preceding sentence is ambiguous. The thought is that at least one leftist understands that religion has far deeper roots in human nature than a typical leftist analysis can expose, let alone eradicate. The following quotation borrowed from the weblog of Keith Burgess-Jackson:
The left has always had difficulty recognizing the power of religion. Aren’t all religions the ideological tools of the ruling class? And aren’t all millenialist and messianic uprisings the ideologically distorted response of subaltern groups to material oppression? Religious zealotry is a superstructural phenomenon and can only be explained by reference to the economic base. These ancient convictions are particularly obfuscating today. Parvez Ahmed, a Florida professor who is fully cognizant of the “scourge” of Boko Haram, provides a typical example in a recent blog [sic]. He argues that “much of the violence [committed] in the name of Islam is less motivated by faith and more so by poverty and desperation.” Similarly, Kathleen Cavanaugh from the National University of Ireland, writing on the Dissent website, insists that “the violent and oppressive actions [of ISIS] have little to do with religion per se,” but rather are “underpinned” by material interests. But is this right? Why don’t poverty, desperation, and material interests produce a leftist rather than an Islamist mobilization? In fact, the religious revival, not only among Muslims but around the world, among Jews and Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, has enlisted supporters from all social classes, and the driving motive of revivalist activity seems, incredibly, to be religious faith (Fawaz Gerges’s Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy provides ample evidence of religion’s power).
(Michael Walzer, "Islamism and the Left," Dissent 62 [winter 2015]: 107-17, at 112-3 [brackets in original])
Although Walzer has a better understanding of human nature than most lefties, he betrays his residual leftism by his use of 'incredibly' in the last sentence above.
Why is it "incredible" that people should have religious faith? Only a benighted leftist, soulless and superficial all the way down, bereft of understanding of human nature, could think that human beings could be satisfied by a merely material life. Religion answers to real needs of real people, the need for meaning, for example. Some meaning can be supplied by non-exploitative, mutually beneficial social interaction. But not ultimate meaning, meaning in the face of death. To put it cryptically, an "existing individual" (Kierkegaard) standing alone before God and eternity is no Marxian Gattungswesen.
Whether any religion can supply ultimate needs for sense and purpose and transcendence is of course a very different question. Suppose that no religion can. It would be a mistake to conclude that the needs are not real. It would be even more of a mistake to conclude that something as paltry as the utopias envisaged by Marxists could satisfy religious needs. Supplying everyone with a overabundance of natural goodies will never sate the human spirit. But it takes spirit to understand this point.
Leftists, and atheists generally, typically have a cartoon-like (mis)understanding of religion.
No higher religion is about providing natural goodies by supernatural means, goodies that cannot be had by natural means. Talk of pie-in-the-sky is but a cartoonish misrepresentation by those materialists who can only think in material terms and only believe in what they can hold in their hands. A religion such as Christianity promises a way out of the unsatisfactory predicament in which we find ourselves in this life. What makes our situation unsatisfactory is not merely our physical and mental weakness and the shortness of our lives. It is primarily our moral defects that make our lives in this world miserable. We lie and slander, steal and cheat, rape and murder. We are ungrateful for what we have and filled with inordinate desire for what we don't have and wouldn't satisfy us even if we had it. We are avaricious, gluttonous, proud, boastful and self-deceived. It is not just that our wills are weak; our wills are perverse. It is not just that our hearts are cold; our hearts are foul. You say none of this applies to you? Very well, you will end up the victim of those to whom these predicates do apply. And then your misery will be, not the misery of the evil-doer, but the misery of the victim and the slave. You may find yourself forlorn and forsaken in a concentration camp. Suffering you can bear, but not meaningless suffering, not injustice and absurdity.
Whether or not the higher religions can deliver what they promise, what they promise first and foremost is deliverance from ignorance and delusion, salvation from meaninglessness and moral evil. No physical technology and no socio-political restructuring can do what religion tries to do. Suppose a technology is developed that actually reverses the processes of aging and keeps us all alive indefinitely. This is pure fantasy, of course, given the manifold contingencies of the world (nuclear and biological warfare, terrorism, natural disasters, etc.); but just suppose. Our spiritual and moral predicament would remain as deeply fouled-up as it has always been and religion would remain in business.
It helps to study history. The Communists slaughtered 100 million 'cows' in the 20th century alone. But where's the beef?
It could be like this. All religions are false; none can deliver what they promise. Naturalism is true: reality is exhausted by the space-time system. You are not unreasonable if you believe this. But I say you are unreasonable if you think that technologies derived from the sciences of nature can deliver what religions have promised, or any socio-political re-arrangement can.
As long as there are human beings there will be religion. The only way I can imagine religion withering away is if humanity allows itself to be gradually replaced by soulless robots. But in that case it will not be that the promises of religion are fulfilled by science; it would be that no one would be around having religious needs.
In soul-trying times, 'lead' joins gold as a precious metal.
Addendum on the Art of the Aphorism. Elliot comments,
Your aphorism sparked my thinking. After reading the aphorism, it occurred to me that there are at least two interpretations: one material and one spiritual.
The material interpretation is that 'lead' refers to the metal, symbol Pb, atomic number 82, which can be used to make bullets. This point may be why the aphorism is categorized in the ATF section. The spiritual interpretation is that 'lead' refers to the verb 'to lead' or 'to be led'. In soul-trying times, the presence of wise guidance to lead (or to be led by wise guidance) is more precious than gold. Images of leading out and being led out of Plato's Cave came to mind. Proverbs 8:10-11 and 16:16 came to mind as well. Both passages put wisdom and instruction above precious metals.
It's a wonderful aphorism!
Elliot's comment, for which I am grateful, shows that there is more to an aphorism than what the writer intends. There is also what the reader takes away from it.
The material interpretation is what I had in mind. Lead is not a precious metal. But lead is the stuff of bullets, and bullets -- or rather the rounds of which bullets are the projectiles - are precious as means for the defense of the Lockean triad of life, liberty, and property, including gold. So while lead is not a precious metal, 'lead' is precious.
'Soul-trying times' is a compressed way of bringing the reader to recall Thomas Paine: "These are the times that try men's souls." So my first version went like this:
In these times that try men's souls, 'lead' joins gold as a precious metal.
But I changed it for three reasons. First, briefer is better when it comes to aphorisms. Second, the revision is less of a cliché. Third, while I insist on the propriety of standard English, I was not this morning in the mood to distract or offend my distaff readers, all five of them.
Is the final version a good aphorism? Logically prior question: is it an aphorism at all? Just what is an aphorism? R. J. Hollingdale:
In its pure and perfect form the aphorism is distinguished by four qualities occurring together: it is brief, it is isolated, it is witty, and it is 'philosophical.' This last quality marks it off from the epigram, which is essentially no more than a witty observation; the third, which it shares with the epigram, marks it off from the proverb or maxim . . . (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, p. x)
My effort is brief, and it is isolated. It is isolated in that it stands alone. But I don't take this to imply that an aphorism may consist of only one sentence. It may consist of two or more. But at some point it becomes what I call an 'observation.' Hence my category, Aphorisms and Observations. Another aspect of isolation is that an aphorism to be such must be bare of argumentative support. No aphorism can be split into premise(s) and conclusion. One does not argue in an aphorism; one states.
"What about Descartes' cogito?" If cogito ergo sum is an enthymematic argument, then it is not an aphorism.
I also take isolation to imply that an aphorism, in the strict sense, cannot be a sentence taken from a wider context and set apart. In a wider context that I don't feel like hunting down at the moment, Schopenhauer writes, brilliantly,
Das Leben ist ein Geschaeft das seine Kosten nicht deckt.
Life is a business that doesn't cover its costs.
That is not an aphorism by my strict definition. For it lacks isolation in my strict sense of 'isolation.'
Is my effort witty and 'philosophical'? It is witty and therefore not a proverb or maxim. These are competing proverbs, not competing aphorisms:
Haste makes waste.
He who hesitates is lost.
Is it 'philosophical'? Yes, inasmuch as it is more than merely witty for reasons that I think are obvious. It is not an epigram.
So my effort is an aphorism. But is it a good aphorism? It is pretty good, though not as good as this gem from the pen of Henry David Thoreau:
A man sits as many risks as he runs.
But my effort, like Thoreau's involves a 'twist,' which is part of what distinguishes an aphorism from a proverb or maxim and makes it witty. It is idiomatic that we run risks. We don't sit risks. The brilliance of Thoreau's aphorism resides in the collision of the hackneyed with the novel.
In soul-trying times, 'lead' joins gold as a precious metal.
My aphorism arranges a collision between the mundane fact that lead is not a precious metal with the less obvious fact that guns and ammo are necessary for the defense of life, liberty, and property. It also exploits an equivocation on 'precious metal.'
As for what occasioned this morning's aphorism, see here.
Innovations are guilty until proven innocent. There is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional beliefs, usages, institutions, arrangements, techniques, and whatnot, provided they work. By all means allow the defeat of the defeasible: in with the new if the novel is better. But the burden of proof is on the would-be innovator: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Conservatives are not opposed to change. We are opposed to non-ameliorative change, and change for the sake of change.
And again, how can anyone who loves his country desire its fundamental transformation? How can anyone love anything who desires its fundamental transformation?
You love a girl and want to marry her. But you propose that she must first undergo a total makeover: butt lift, tummy tuck, nose job, breast implants, psychological re-wire, complete doxastic overhaul, sensus divinitatis tune-up, Weltanschauung change-out, memory upgrade, and so on. Do you love her, or is she merely the raw material for the implementation of your currently uninstantiated idea of what a girl should be?
The extension to love of country is straightforward. If you love your country, then you do not desire its fundamental transformation. Contrapositively, if you do desire its fundamental transformation, then you do not love it.
Life prepares us for death whether we prepare or not. One way it does so is by weaning us of any over-estimation of the significance of the things of this world. For this weaning to take effect, however, one must take care to grow old. Disillusionment takes time. The passage of time, and plenty of it, will reliably reduce both the number of things that matter and the degree of the mattering of those that remain to matter.
Ageing may therefore be recommended as a way to wisdom, though it be a narrow gate thereto, trodden by few, the rest serving to show that there is no fool like an old fool.
In 1967, Benjamin Netanyahu skipped his high school graduation in Pennsylvania to head off to Israel to help in the Six Day War. That same year Obama moved with his mother to Indonesia.
When Obama suggested that Israel return to the pre-1967 borders, described by Ambassador Eban, no right-winger, as “Auschwitz borders,” it was personal for Netanyahu. Like many Israeli teens, he had put his life on hold and risked it protecting those borders.
In the seventies, Obama was part of the Choom Gang and Netanyahu was sneaking up on Sabena Flight 571 dressed as an airline technician. Inside were four terrorists who had already separated Jewish passengers and taken them hostage. Two hijackers were killed. Netanyahu took a bullet in the arm.
The Prime Minister of Israel defended the operation in plain language. “When blackmail like this succeeds, it only leads to more blackmail,” she said.
Netanyahu’s speech in Congress was part of that same clash of worldviews. His high school teacher remembered him saying that his fellow students were living superficially and that there was “more to life than adolescent issues.” He came to Congress to cut through the issues of an administration that has never learned to get beyond its adolescence.
Obama’s people had taunted him with by calling him “chickens__t.” They had encouraged a boycott of his speech and accused him of insulting Obama. They had thrown out every possible distraction to the argument he came to make. Unable to argue with his facts, they played Mean Girls politics instead.
Benjamin Netanyahu had left high school behind to go to war. Now he was up against overgrown boys and girls who had never grown beyond high school. But even back then he had been, as a fellow student had described him, “The lone voice in the wilderness in support of the conservative line.”
“We were all against the war in Vietnam because we were kids,” she said. The kids are still against the war. Against all the wars; unless it’s their own wars. Netanyahu grew up fast. They never did.
Netanyahu could have played their game, but instead he began by thanking Obama. His message was not about personal attacks, but about the real threat that Iran poses to his country, to the region and to the world. He made that case decisively and effectively as few other leaders could.
He did it using plain language and obvious facts.
Netanyahu reminded Congress that the attempt to stop North Korea from going nuclear using inspectors failed. The deal would not mean a denuclearized Iran. “Not a single nuclear facility would be demolished,” he warned. And secret facilities would continue working outside the inspections regime.
He quoted the former head of IAEA’s inspections as saying, “If there’s no undeclared installation today in Iran, it will be the first time in 20 years that it doesn’t have one.”
And Netanyahu reminded everyone that Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program would be backed by ongoing development of its intercontinental ballistic missile program that would not be touched under the deal.
He warned that the deal would leave Iran with a clear path to a nuclear endgame that would allow it to “make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal” in “a matter of weeks”.
Iran’s mission is to export Jihad around the world, he cautioned. It’s a terrorist state that has murdered Americans. While Obama claims to have Iran under control, it has seized control of an American ally in Yemen and is expanding its influence from Iraq to Syria.
Its newly moderate government “hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists.” It’s just as bad as ISIS, except that ISIS isn’t close to getting a nuclear bomb.
“America’s founding document promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Iran’s founding document pledges death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad,” he said. It was the type of clarity that he had brought to the difficult questions of life as a teenager. It is a clarity that still evades Obama today.
When the otherwise distinguished Robert Paul Wolff over at The Philosopher's Stone plays the stoned philosopher and quits the reservation of Good Sense, I call him 'Howlin' Wolff.' Hear him howl:
I need to say this. If anyone wants to call me a self-hating Jew, so be it.
Israel is far and away the militarily most powerful nation in the entire Middle East. It has a large, fully functional nuclear arsenal with appropriate delivery systems, and a well-trained army with a large Ready Reserve. If Israel wants to start a war with Iran, let it put its own young men and women at risk, instead of adopting a belligerant [sic] stance and inviting the United States to shed our blood and spend our treasure making good on Israel's threats.
Let me warm up with a bit of pedantry. 'Self-hating Jew' seems not quite the right expression. After all, a Jew who hates himself needn't hate himself because he is a Jew. He might hate himself, not in respect of his Jewishness, but in respect of some other attribute, say, that of being white. I recommend 'Jew-hating Jew.' On whether Wolff is one or not I have no opinion. You may also draw your own conclusions from Wolff's having penned Autobiography of an Ex-White Man.
But it is entirely typical of a delusional leftist to engage in the sort of Orwellian reversal expressed in the paragraph quoted above.
According to Wolff, Israel threatens Iran, and not the other way around. And it is Israel's "stance" that is "belligerent," not Iran's.
Israel is militarily supreme in the Middle East. It has nuclear war-making capacity. Iran doesn't, at least not yet. But so what?
I detect the typical leftist confusion of weapon and wielder, as if weapons themselves are the problem, not the character of their wielders. That, in tandem with some such silly equivalentism as that all actors are morally equivalent and that if one actor has nukes, then it is not fair that the others not have them. Should the U. N. provide them all around to 'level the playing field'?
I could go on, but my readers do not need their noses rubbed in the obvious.
Besides, some notions are beneath refutation. Their mere exposure suffices to refute them.
War is peace. Slavery is freedom. Less liberty is more liberty. Defense is attack. Concern for one's survival in a situation in which one's adversaries have threatened one with nuclear annihilation is belligerence. The Orwellian template: X, which is not Y, is Y.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am not now and never have been a Jew either ethnically or religiously, nor an Israeli, nor do I have any intention of becoming the two of these three that it would be possible for me to become.
Lately liberalism has gone from psychodrama to farce.
Take Barack Obama. He has gone from mild displeasure with Israel to downright antipathy. Suddenly we are in a surreal world where off-the-record slurs from the administration against Benjamin Netanyahu as a coward and chickensh-t have gone to full-fledged attacks from John Kerry and Susan Rice, to efforts of former Obama political operatives to defeat the Israeli prime minister at the polls, to concessions to Iran and to indifference about the attacks on Jews in Paris. Who would have believed that Iranian leaders who just ordered bombing runs on a mock U.S. carrier could be treated with more deference than the prime minister of Israel? What started out six years as pressure on Israel to dismantle so-called settlements has ended up with a full-fledged vendetta against a foreign head of state.
In my various defenses of capital punishment (see Crime and Punishment category) I often invoke the principle that the punishment must fit the crime. To my surprise, there are people who confuse this principle, label it PFC, with some barbaric version of the lex talionis, the law of the talion, which could be summed up as 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.' The existence of this confusion only goes to show that one can rarely be too clear, especially in a dumbed-down society in which large numbers of people cannot think in moral categories. Recently I received the following from a reader:
If your argument is that the punishment must fit the crime, what about cases of extreme cruelty (Ted Bundy, e.g.)? Should the state have tortured him? Of course not, that would be inhumane. What makes this different from the death penalty?
This question shows a confusion of PFC with the 'eye for an eye' principle. Everything I have written on the topic of capital punishment assumes the correctness of Amendment VIII to the magnificent U. S. Constitution: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments imposed." (emphasis added).
The exact extension of 'cruel and unusual punishments' is open to some reasonable debate. But I should hope that we would all agree that drawing and quartering, burning at the stake, crucifixion, the gouging out of eyes, and disembowelment are cruel and unusual. And here in the West we would add to the list the stoning of adulterers, the cutting off the hands of thieves, the flogging of women for receiving a kiss on the cheek from a stranger, genital mutilation, and beheading.
So PFC does not require the state-sanctioned gouging out of the eye of the eye-gouger, or the raping of the rapist, or the torturing of Ted Bundy, or the beheading of the beheader, or the poisoning by anti-freeze of the woman who disposes of her husband via anti-freeze cocktails. ("Try this, sweetie, it's a new margarita recipe I found on the Internet!")
PFC is a principle of proportionality. The idea is that justice demands that the gravity of the punishment match or be proportional to the gravity of the crime. Obviously, a punishment can 'fit' a crime in this sense without the punishment being an act of the same type as that of the crime. Suppose a man rapes a woman, is caught, tried, convicted, and sentenced to a night in jail and a $50 fine. That would be a travesty of justice because of its violation of PFC. The punishment does not fit the crime: it is far too lenient. But sentencing the rapist to death by lethal injection would also violate PFC: the punishment is too stringent.
Now consider the case of the man Clayton Lockett -- a liberal would refer to him as a 'gentleman' -- who brutally raped and murdered a girl, a murder that involved burying her alive. His execution was supposdely 'botched' because ". . . lethal injection has becoming increasingly difficult after European pharmaceutical companies stopped exporting drug compounds used for the death penalty in line with the EU outlawing of executions . . . ." I am tempted to say: if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Death is surely the fitting punishment for such a heinous deed. If you deny that, then you are violating PFC.
But if death is the appropriate punishment in a case like this, it does not follow that the miscreant ought to be brutally raped, tortured, and then buried alive. That would be 'cruel and unusual.' Death by firing squad or electric chair would not be cruel and unusual.
Now either you see that or you don't. If you don't, then I pronounce you morally obtuse. You cannot think in moral categories. You do not understand what justice requires. End of discussion.
Related issue. Suppose you believe that we either are or have immortal souls. Would you still have good reason to consider murder a grave moral breach? See Souls and Murder.
A neighbor recently introduced me to 66 proof Fireball cinnamon whisky. Turns out the stuff contains propylene glycol, an ingredient used in anti-freeze and other industrial products. Well, as I told the twenty-something counterman at the liquor store, "Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger."
I rather doubt the kid could name the source of the line, and I didn't bother to offer enlightenment into Nietzsche's dark mind. He replied, "I like your attitude."
So we parted in generation-spanning solidarity, me with my whisky, cigars, and incense, but no peppermints.
Whisky is like socializing. A little is good from time to time, or at least not bad. But more is not better.
UPDATE (3/5): Bill H. writes,
Just some clarification, if you don't mind: propylene glycol is relatively nontoxic, and is an actual approved food additive.
Its chemical cousin ethyleneglycol is the quite poisonous one that is used in some antifreeze.
Keep up the good work, though.
I appreciate the clarification. It is true both that propylene glycol is relatively nontoxic and that it is an approved food additive. And it is true that ethylene glycol is used in some antifreezes/coolants. But according to this site, propylene glycol is also used in some antifreezes/coolants.
Another curious fact is that for those of you on a kosher diet, Propylene Glycol Kosher is available, and in quantity. You may purchase 326 gallons for a mere $4, 749.99 and in time for Passover. But hurry, this is a sale price.
 The new atheists rarely mention Friedrich Nietzsche, and when they do it is usually to dismiss him.  This can’t be because Nietzsche’s ideas are said to have inspired the Nazi cult of racial inequality – an unlikely tale, given that the Nazis claimed their racism was based in science. The reason Nietzsche has been excluded from the mainstream of contemporary atheist thinking is that he exposed the problem atheism has with morality.  It’s not that atheists can’t be moral – the subject of so many mawkish debates.  The question is which morality an atheist should serve.
Five sentences, five comments.
2. Granted, the Nazis claimed their racism was based in science. But this is consistent with their racism having other sources as well. So it doesn't follow that it is an "unlikely tale" that the Nazis drew inspiration from Nietzsche. I say it is very likely. See Nietzsche and Nationalism Socialism.
3. Spot on!
4. Agreed, atheists can be moral. Indeed, some atheists are more moral that some theists — even when the moral code is the Decalogue minus the commandments that mention God. The question whether an atheist can be moral, however, is ambiguous. While it is clear that an atheist can be moral in the sense of satisfying moral demands, it is not clear that an atheist can be moral in the sense of recognizing moral demands in the first place. It is an open question whether an atheist, consistent with his atheism, could have justification for admitting objective moral demands.
5. Before one can ask which morality an atheist should serve, there is a logically prior question that needs asking and answering, one that Gray glides right past, namely,
Q. Is there any morality, any moral code, that an atheist would be justified in adhering to and justified in demanding that others adhere to?
If a negative answer is given to (Q), then Gray's logically posterior question lapses.
Most of us in the West, atheists and theists alike, do agree on a minimal moral code. Don't we all object to child molestation, female sexual mutilation, wanton killing of human beings, rape, theft, lying, financial swindling, extortion, and arson? And in objecting to these actions, we mean our objections to be more than merely subjectively valid. When our property is stolen or a neighbor murdered, we consider that an objective wrong has been done. And when the murderer is apprehended, tried, and convicted we judge that something objectively right has been done. But if an innocent person is falsely accused and convicted, we judge that something objectively wrong has been done. Let's not worry about the details or the special cases: killing in self-defense, abortion, etc. There are plenty of gray areas. The existence of gray, however, does not rule out that of black and white. Surely, in the West at least, there is some moral common ground that most atheists and theists, liberals and conservatives, stand upon. For example, most of us agree that snuffing out the life of an adult, non-comatose, healthy human being for entertainment purposes is objectively wrong.
What (Q) asks about is the foundation or basis of the agreed-upon objectively binding moral code. This is not a sociological or any kind of empirical question. Nor is it a question in normative ethics. The question is not what we ought to do and leave undone, for we are assuming that we already have a rough answer to that. The question is meta-ethical: what does morality rest on, if on anything?
There are different theories. Some will say that morality requires a supernatural foundation, others that a natural foundation suffices. I myself do not see how naturalism is up to the task of providing an objective foundation for even a minimal code of morality.
But of course one could be an atheist without being a naturalist. One could hold that there are objective values, but no God, and that ethical prescriptions and proscriptions are axiologically grounded. (N. Hartmann, for example.) But let's assume, with Nietzsche, that if you get rid of God, you get rid of the Platonic menagerie (to cop a phrase from Plantinga) as well. It needs arguing, but it is reasonable to hold that God and Platonica stand and fall together. That is what Nietzsche would say and I think he would be right were he to say it. (The death of God is not an insignificant 'event' like the falling to earth of a piece of space junk such as Russell's celestial teapot.)
No God, no objective morality binding for all. Suppose that is the case. Then how will the new atheist, who is also a liberal, uphold and ground his 'enlightened' liberal morality? John Gray appreciates the difficulty:
Awkwardly for these atheists, Nietzsche understood that modern liberalism was a secular incarnation of these religious traditions. [. . .] Nietzsche was clear that the chief sources of liberalism were in Jewish and Christian theism: that is why he was so bitterly hostile to these religions. He was an atheist in large part because he rejected liberal values. To be sure, evangelical unbelievers adamantly deny that liberalism needs any support from theism. If they are philosophers, they will wheel out their rusty intellectual equipment and assert that those who think liberalism relies on ideas and beliefs inherited from religion are guilty of a genetic fallacy. Canonical liberal thinkers such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant may have been steeped in theism; but ideas are not falsified because they originate in errors. The far-reaching claims these thinkers have made for liberal values can be detached from their theistic beginnings; a liberal morality that applies to all human beings can be formulated without any mention of religion. Or so we are continually being told. The trouble is that it’s hard to make any sense of the idea of a universal morality without invoking an understanding of what it is to be human that has been borrowed from theism.
Gray is right. Let me spell it out a bit.
Consider equality. As a matter of empirical fact, we are not equal, not physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, socially, politically, economically. By no empirical measure are people equal. We are naturally unequal. And yet we are supposedly equal as persons. This equality as persons we take as requiring equality of treatment. Kant, for example, insists that every human being, and indeed very rational being human or not, exists as an end in himself and therefore must never be treated as a means to an end. A person is not a thing in nature to be used as we see fit. For this reason, slavery is a grave moral evil. A person is a rational being and must be accorded respect just in virtue of being a person. And this regardless of inevitable empirical differences among persons. Thus in his third formulation of the Categorical Imperative in his 1785 Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant writes:
Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only. (Grundlegung 429)
In connection with this supreme practical injunction, Kant distinguishes between price and dignity. (435) "Whatever has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; on the other hand, whatever is above all price, and therefore admits of no equivalent, has dignity." Dignity is intrinsic moral worth. Each rational being, each person, is thus irreplaceably and intrinsically valuable with a value that is both infinite -- in that no price can be placed upon it -- and the same for all. The irreplaceability of persons is a very rich theme, one we must return to in subsequent posts.
These are beautiful and lofty thoughts, no doubt, and most of us in the West (and not just in the West) accept them in some more or less confused form. But what do these pieties have to do with reality? Especially if reality is exhausted by space-time-matter?
Again, we are not equal by any empirical measure. We are not equal as animals or even as rational animals. (Rationality might just be an evolutionary adaptation.) We are supposedly equal as persons, as subjects of experience, as free agents. But what could a person be if not just a living human animal (or a living 'Martian' animal). And given how bloody many of these human animals there are, why should they be regarded as infinitely precious? Are they not just highly complex physical systems? Surely you won't say that complexity confers value, let alone infinite value. Why should the more complex be more valuable than the less complex? And surely you are not a species-chauvinist who believes that h. sapiens is the crown of 'creation' because we happen to be these critters.
If we are unequal as animals and equal as persons, then a person is not an animal. What then is a person? And what makes them equal in dignity and equal in rights and infinite in worth?
Now theism can answer these questions. We are persons and not mere animals because we are created in the image and likeness of the Supreme Person. We are equal as persons because we are, to put it metaphorically, sons and daughters of one and the same Father. Since the Source we depend on for our being, intelligibility, and value is one and the same, we are equal as derivatives of that Source. We are infinite in worth because we have a higher destiny, a higher vocation, which extends beyond our animal existence: we are created to participate eternally in the Divine Life.
But if you reject theism, how will you uphold the Kantian values adumbrated above? If there is no God and no soul and no eternal destiny, what reasons, other than merely prudential ones, could I have for not enslaving you should I desire to do so and have the power to do so?
Aristotle thought it natural that some men should be slaves. We find this notion morally abhorrent. But why should we if we reject the Judeo-Christian God? "We just do." But that's only because we are running on the fumes of the Judeo-Christian tradition. What happens when the fumes run out?
It is easy to see that it makes no sense, using terms strictly, to speak of anything or anybody as a creature if there is no creator. It is less easy to see, but equally true, that it makes no sense to try to hold on to notions such as that of the equality and dignity of persons after their metaphysical foundations in Christian theism have been undermined.
So there you have the Nietzschean challenge to the New Atheists. No God, then no justification for your liberal values! Pay attention, Sam. Make a clean sweep! Just as religion is for the weak who won't face reality, so is liberalism. The world belongs to the strong, to those who have the power to impose their will upon it. The world belongs to those hard as diamonds, not to those soft as coal and weak and womanish. Nietzsche:
Here one must think profoundly to the very basis and resist all sentimental weakness: life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation - but why should one for ever use precisely these words on which for ages a disparaging purpose has been stamped?
Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 9, What is Noble?, Friedrich Nietzsche Go to Quote
The following is an excerpt of an e-mail from the Barcelona lawyer, Daniel Vincente Carillo. As I mentioned to him in a private e-mail, I admire him for tackling these great questions, and doing so in a foreign language. The pursuit of these questions ennobles us while humbling us at the same time. Carillo writes,
In the contest between theism and metaphysical naturalism we have only four possible scenarios:
1st.An uncaused and necessary universe: It doesn't exist by another being and it cannot cease to exist (absolute and eternal universe).
BV: This is indeed a doxastic possibility. (By calling the possibility doxastic, I leave it open whether it is a real possibility.) But one ought to distinguish between omnitemporality and eternality. The omnitemporal exists at every time, and is therefore 'in time.' The eternal does not exist 'in time.' A universe that cannot cease to exist is in time and therefore not eternal. This could be a merely terminological matter.
2nd. A caused and necessary universe: It exists by another being but it cannot cease to exist (infinite series of universes).
BV: It is true that what is caused to exist is caused by another, since nothing can cause itself to exist, not even God. To say that God is causa sui, then, does not mean that he causes himself; it means that he is not caused by another. 'Causa sui,' shall we say, is a privative expression. So far, so good.
But Carillo may be conflating the necessary with the omnitemporal. To say that a universe is necessary is to make a modal claim, one that is much stronger than the merely temporal claim that the universe in question exists at every time. Suppose time is actually infinite in both past and future directions and that the universe (or a universe) exists at every time. Then the universe is omnitemporal: it exists at every time. But it doesn't follow that the universe is necessary. Metaphysical necessity is a modal, not temporal notion. The necessary is that which cannot not exist. An omnitemporal universe could well be contingent, i.e., possibly nonexistent.
In the jargon of 'possible worlds,' a necessary being is one that exists in all possible worlds. An omnitemporal being is one that exists at every time in a world in which there is time. Clearly, if x is omnitemporal, it does not follow that x is necessary.
3rd. An uncaused and contingent universe: It doesn't exist by another being but it can cease to exist (universe from nothing).
BV: But even if an uncaused universe could NOT cease to exist, it might still be contingent. Suppose that there is an uncaused universe U which is such that: if it exists, then it cannot cease to exist. U's being contingent is not ruled out. If it is necessary that U continue to exist if it does exist,it does not follow that U necessarily exists. For there might not have been that universe at all.
4th. A caused and contingent universe: It exists by another being and it can cease to exist (created universe).
BV: But again, if U exists ab alio, this is logically consistent with U's never ceasing to exist. Suppose God creates a universe which has the essential property of being omnitemporal. He creates a universe out of nothing that exists at every time. Since it exists at every time, there is no time at which it does not exist. And because there is no time at which U does not exist, it never ceases to exist. (If x ceases to exist, then there are two times, t and t*, t < t*, such that x exists at t but does not exist at t*.) So a universe can depend for its existence on God even if it cannot cease to exist.
The first three options characterize atheism/naturalism, while the last one is peculiar to theism. But are they equally rational? Definitely not.
BV: A minor point is that atheism and naturalism are not the same. The latter entails the former, but the former does not entail the latter. (The case of McTaggart, atheist but non-naturalist).
Despite my criticism above, the three naturalist options Carillo lists do seem to exhaust the possibilities if we assume that a metaphysical naturalist is also a metaphysical realist, an assumption which is quite 'natural.' But if one were a naturalist and some sort of anti-realist or idealist, that would be a further option.
Now how does Carillo exclude the third option? He writes:
It looks like the 3rd possibility is the weakest, since nothingness cannot create anything at all. The act of creation, like any other act of producing something, presupposes that the creator and the creature exist simultaneously at least in some moment. However, by its very notion, nothingness cannot exist simultaneously with the universe at any moment. Therefore, a universe from nothing is impossible . . . .
This is entirely too quick. True, nothingness cannot create anything. But someone who holds that the universe just exists as a matter of brute fact, i.e., contingently without cause or reason, is not committed to maintaining that nothingness has creative power. As I recall from Russell's debate with Copleston, Russell ends up saying that the universe just exists and that is all! That is not a good answer, in my opinion, but one cannot refute it by pointing out that nothingness cannot create anything. The whole point of naturalism is that there are neither creatures nor creator.
The question was put to atheist A. C. Grayling. His response:
No, my views will not change; I am confident in the rationalist tradition which has evaluated the metaphysical and ethical claims of non-naturalistic theories, and definitively shown them to be vacuous in all respects other than the psychological effect they have on those credulous enough to accept them.
In 1963. Or at least so we hear from Philip Larkin in his Annus Mirabilis. It was indeed a wonderful/remarkable year. I was but a boy in grade school, but old enough to remember all those wonderful songs and not so wonderful events such as the Profumo scandal in Britain. What ever happened to sex kitten Christine Keeler, by the way? Brace yourself.
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.
Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.
Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,A quite unlosable game.
So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.
I have long enjoyed the writings of Camille Paglia. But while C. P. is a partial antidote to P. C., the arresting Miss Paglia does not quite merit a plenary MavPhilindulgence endorsement. One reason is because of what she says in the following excerpt from The Catholic Pagan: 10 Questions for Camille Paglia (via Mike Valle):
You grew up as an Italian-American Catholic, but seemed to identify more strongly with the pagan elements of Catholic art and culture than with the church’s doctrines. What caused you to fall away from the Catholic Church?
Italian Catholicism remains my deepest identity—in the same way that many secular Jews feel a strong cultural bond with Judaism. Over time I realized—and this became a main premise of my first book, Sexual Personae (based on my doctoral dissertation at Yale)—that what had always fascinated me in Italian Catholicism was its pagan residue. I loved the cult of saints, the bejeweled ceremonialism, the eerie litanies of Mary—all the things, in other words, that Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers rightly condemned as medieval Romanist intrusions into primitive Christianity. It's no coincidence that my Halloween costume in first grade was a Roman soldier, modeled on the legionnaires' uniforms I admired in the Stations of the Cross on the church walls. Christ's story had very little interest for me—except for the Magi, whose opulent Babylonian costumes I adored! My baptismal church, St. Anthony of Padua in Endicott, New York, was a dazzling yellow-brick, Italian-style building with gorgeous stained-glass windows and life-size polychrome statues, which were the first works of art I ever saw.
After my parents moved to Syracuse, however, I was progressively stuck with far blander churches and less ethnic congregations. Irish Catholicism began to dominate—a completely different brand, with its lesser visual sense and its tendency toward brooding guilt and ranting fanaticism. I suspect that the nun who finally alienated me from the church must have been Irish! It was in religious education class (for which Catholic students were released from public school on Thursday afternoons), held on that occasion in the back pews of the church. I asked the nun what still seems to me a perfectly reasonable and intriguing question: if God is all-forgiving, will he ever forgive Satan? The nun's reaction was stunning: she turned beet red and began screaming at me in front of everyone. That was when I concluded there was no room in the Catholic Church of that time for an inquiring mind.
Serendipitous that I should stumble this morning upon Mike V.'s Facebook linkage to the America interview, what with my recent thinking about Luther and Kierkegaard's Lutheranism and both of their opposition to what they take to be musty Medieval monkishness and mysticism and monasticism with its asceticism and emphasis on works in general, when justification is by faith alone, as they see it. This led to such abuses as the sale of indulgences. (Later, perhaps, I will quote the relevant S. K. passage.)
But for now a quick poke or two at Paglia. You know about Kierkegaard's three stages or existence-spheres. Paglia seems stuck in the first of them, the aesthetic. The second poke is that she quit Catholicism for a very bad reason, because "there was no room in the Catholic Church of that time for an inquiring mind." And how did Paglia get to that conclusion? From a possibly overtaxed nun's impatience with what might have been a smart-assed question from a very bright but also very rebellious and willful girl, who might have given the overworked nun trouble in the past. (I speculate, of course, but not unreasonably.) I should think that SEX and the desire to indulge in it had a lot more to do with the quittage than any process of reasoning, however non-sequiturious. Here is an excellent account of the three spheres of (personal, subjective) existence in Kierkegaard by the late D. Anthony Storm:
Kierkegaard posited three stages of life, or spheres of existence: the esthetic, the ethical, and the religious. While he favored the term "stages" earlier in his writings, we are not to conceive of them necessarily as periods of life that one proceeds through in sequence, but rather as paradigms of existence. Moreover, many individuals might not traverse a certain stage, for example, the religious. The esthetic sphere is primarily that of self-gratification. The esthete enjoys art, literature, and music. Even the Bible can be appreciated esthetically and Christ portrayed as a tragic hero. The ethical sphere of existence applies to those who sense the claims of duty to God, country, or mankind in general. The religious sphere is divided into Religiousness A and B. Religiousness A apples to the individual who feels a sense of guilt before God. It is a religiousness of immanence. Religiousness B is transcendental in nature. It may be summed up by St. Paul's phrase: "In Christ". It consists of a radical conversion to Christ in the qualitative leap of faith. Kierkegaard also mentions intermediate stages, each of which he calls a confinium, or boundary. Irony lies between the esthetic and the ethical, and humor lies between the ethical and the religious.
There are three existence spheres: the esthetic, the ethical, the religious. The metaphysical is abstraction, and there is no human who exists metaphysically. The metaphysical, the ontological, is, but it does not exist, for when it exists it does so in the esthetic, in the ethical, in the religious, and when it is, it is the abstraction from a prius [prior thing] to the esthetic, the ethical, the religious. The ethical sphere is only a transition sphere, and therefore its highest expression is repentance as a negative action. The esthetic sphere is the sphere of immediacy, the ethical the sphere of requirement (and this requirement is so infinite that the individual always goes bankrupt), the religious the sphere of fulfillment, but, please note, not a fulfillment such as when one fills an alms box or a sack of gold, for repentance has specifically created a boundless space, and as a consequence the religious contradiction: simultaneously to be out on 70,000 fathoms of water and yet be joyful. Just as the ethical sphere is a passageway—which one nevertheless does not pass through once and for all—just as repentance is its expression, so repentance is the most dialectical (Stages On Life's Way, p. 476f.).
D. F. Swenson, as quoted by W. Lowrie, defines Religiousness A and B.
Religion A is characterized by a passive relation to the divine, with the accompanying suffering and sense of guilt. But it is distinguished from religion B, or transcendent religion, in that the tie which binds the individual to the divine is still, in spite of all tension, essentially intact.... The distinctive feature of transcendent religion can be briefly stated. It consists in a transformation or modification of the sense of guilt into the sense of sin, in which all continuity is broken off between the actual self and the ideal self, the temporal self and the eternal. The personality is invalidated, and thus made free from the law of God, because unable to comply with its demands. There is no fundamental point of contact left between the individual and the divine; man has become absolutely different from God (A Short Life of Kierkegaard, p. 173f.).
I plan to spend a few days next month at a Benedictine monastery in the desert outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The suggestion was made that I give some of the monks a little talk. I think "A Philosopher Defends Monasticism" would be an appropriate title. So I have been reading up on the subject.
This morning I looked to see what Kierkegaard has to say on the topic of monks and monasteries in his late works For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourself! They are bound together in an attractive English translation by Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton University Press, 1990).
Of course I did not expect old Kierkegaard to have anything good to say about the monastic ideal, but I was slightly surprised by the harshness of his tone.
I myself am highly sympathetic to the ideal. Had I been born in the Middle Ages I would have been a monk for sure. I fantasize my having been Thomas Aquinas' amanuensis and intellectual sparring partner. And although I love to read Kierkegaard and about him and have been doing so all of my philosophical life, there are two things about him that put me off. One is his anti-mysticism, which is of course connected with his anti-monasticism. The other is his anti-rationalism. But these two add up to a third, his fideism, which I also find off-putting. Well, more on all of this later. Now let's look at some quotations.
One of S.K.'s objections, perhaps his main objection, to monks and monasteries and 'popery' is straight from Luther: it is to the idea of earning merit before God by good works:
To want to build upon good works -- the more you practice them, the stricter you are with yourself, the more you merely develop the anxiety in you, and new anxiety. On this road, if a person is not completely devoid of spirit, on this road he comes to the very opposite of peace and rest for his soul, to discord and unrest. No, a person is justified solely by faith. Therefore, in God's name, to hell with the pope and all his helpers' helpers, and away with the monastery, together with all your fasting, scourging, and all the monkey antics that came into use under the name of imitation. (Judge for Yourself! 193, emphasis added)
You cannot justify yourself before God by your own efforts: "a person is justified solely and only by faith." (193) In these later works of direct communication, S. K. speaks in his own voice and is here clearly endorsing the thought of Luther on justification.
A few pages earlier S. K. speaks of the highest life:
No, it is certainly not the highest to seek a solitary hiding place in order if possible to seek God alone there. It is not the highest -- this we indeed see in the prototype [Christ]. But although it is not the highest it is nevertheless possible . . . that not a single one of us is this coddled and secularized generation would be able to do it. But it is not the highest. The highest is: unconditionally heterogeneous with the world by serving God alone, to remain in the world and in the middle of actuality before the eyes of all, to direct all attention to oneself -- for then persecution is unavoidable. This is Christian piety: renouncing everything to serve God alone, to deny oneself in order to serve God alone -- and then to have to suffer for it -- to do good and then to have to suffer for it. It is this that the prototype expresses; it is also this, to mention a mere man, that Luther, the superb teacher of our Church, continually points our as belonging to true Christianity: to suffer for the doctrine, to do good and suffer for it, and that suffering in this world is inseparable from being a Christian in this world. (169)
S. K. here sounds his recurrent theme of Christianity as heterogeneity to the world. The heterogeneity to the world of the monastic life, however, does not go far enough. A more radical heterogeneity is lived by one who remains in the world, not only living the doctrine, but suffering for it. No doubt that is how the Prototype lived, but he was and is God. How is such a thing possible for any mere mortal?
If true Christianity requires suffering for the doctrine, if it requires persecution and martyrdom, then true Christianity is out of reach except for those who, like present-day Christians in the Middle East, are even as we speak having their throats cut for the doctrine by radical Muslim savages as the rest of the world looks on and does nothing. In the Denmark of Kierkegaard's day (1813-1855), when Christianity was the state religion and the object of universal lip-service, true Christianity was out of reach for S. K. himself by his own teaching. The true Christian must be prepared for persecution and martyrdom, but it is difficult to see how they can be "inseparable from being a Christian in this world."
So add this persecution extremism to the off-putting factors already listed: the anti-mysticism, the anti-rationalism, and the extreme fideism.
But what a prodigiously prolific writer he was! What a genius, and what a fascinating specimen of humanity.
Thank you for continuing to examine the important topic of "daily bread." I don't know of any other philosophy blog writer who combines depth, significance, and clarity like you do!
I agree that spiritual needs are primary, that our world is a vale of soul-making, and that there need not be a disjunction between the spiritual and physical aspects of human nature. Passages such as Mt. 4:4, Jn. 4:10-14, Jn. 6:35, Prov. 4:7 and 16:16, and 2 Peter 1:4-15 seem to emphasize spiritual needs over material needs. Jn. 4:10-14 is particularly interesting.
Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?" Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (Jn. 4:10-14)
Notice that Jesus states a counterfactual. The woman interprets the statement in material terms. Jesus responds by contrasting the transience of material water with the permanence of spiritual water.
Jesus goes on to say:
"A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." (verses 23 and 24) Meanwhile his disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." (verses 31 and 32)
These passages seem to prioritize spiritual development, and to support your spiritual interpretation of "daily bread."
 The word generally translated “daily” is indeed an unusual one – epiousios, which is apparently found nowhere else in scripture or anywhere in Greek literature.  Even so, the idea that this is spiritual and not physical bread is very much a minority theory, one that’s generally not accepted by contemporary translators.  Maybe it isn’t impossible, but feeling compelled to accept such an interpretation to “purify” prayer seems mistaken to me. We are embodied beings, not angels, and God’s creation of the physical world was a good thing and not a Manichean mess to be overcome. Asking God to supply not only our spiritual needs but our physical needs as well seems appropriate. (If God cares about sparrows and the lilies of the field, it isn’t too much trouble for him to be concerned for our general physical well-being as well.) Moreover, the act of praying for our daily “bread” is a way of acknowledging that even in that respect we are dependent on God. The God of the Bible is not the hands-off god of Plato, Aristotle, and the deists. God is not like the petty deities of the Greek pantheon, but to divest the biblical God of the sort of personal care and love expressed in books like Hosea and in passages like Luke 13:34 and good old John 3:16 misses something important – something literally crucial. Of course, my objections here don’t mean that we should view God as a cosmic ATM. That would be idolatrous. Even so, the possibility of going too far in one direction doesn’t mean that one can’t also go too far in the opposite direction as well.
Ad . Agreed. As I wrote a few years back:
The Greek word translated as quotidianum in the Luke passage and as supersubstantialem in the Matthew passage is epiousios. I am not competent to discuss the philology of this Greek word, which may be a hapax legomenon. (Nor am I competent to assess the correctness of the two Wikipedia entries to which I have just linked; so caveat lector!)
Ad . Dennis may be right about this. I don't know. But if I'm right, then my being in the minority, the default position for a maverick, is no problem at all.
Ad . Agreed, we are embodied beings, not angels. (It may even be that we are essentially embodied, or if not essentially embodied, then incapable of a complete existence without a body.) But while we are not angels, we are not mere animals either. The main point for present purposes, however, is simply that, as physically embodied beings, we need food and water and other material things for our maintenance if we wish to continue as physically embodied beings.
We are further agreed that matter is not evil, and Manicheanism is out. A physical universe created by a good God is itself (derivatively) good. (Of course, there are deep and vexing questions that lurk below the surface. For example, if ens et bonum convertuntur, then evil is privatio boni, and that raises some serious questions.)
So Dennis and I agree on two key points: that (i) we are embodied (and thus in need of ongoing material sustenance) and that (ii) being embodied is not an evil condition as such. How is it supposed to follow from these two premises that it is appropriate to ask God to supply our physical needs, needs that we have the power to supply for ourselves?
It doesn't follow. We can and must supply our physical needs as best we can by our own efforts. That is our job, not God's. God has a role to play, but it concerns our spiritual development.
Here is my take on the Christian message. We are here below to achieve spiritual individuation. Spiritual individuation, unlike physical individuation, is a task, not a given. It is a task we freely undertake or fail to undertake. We are here to spiritualize ourselves, to actualize ourselves as spiritual individuals. This is a process of theosis, of becoming god-like. God is the Absolute Individual. Our task is to become genuine spiritual individuals by participating in the divine Individuality. This material world is a vale of soul-making (John Keats), a place where we either work at this spiritual individuation or fail to do so. In this life we are always only 'on the road,' in statu viae. We are not here to enjoy material goods as ends in themselves as if this world were our final destination.
In this transient life we must work at supplying our material needs as best we can by our own individual and collective human efforts, not by praying for miracles. I am not saying that miracles are impossible. And I am not saying that anyone who, in extremis, a theist in a foxhole, for example, cries out to God for material assistance is doing something morally wrong. In my original entry I conceded that not all petitionary prayer for mundane benefits is objectionable, and that some of it simply reflects, excusably, our misery and indigence. My point is that, insofar as we can (individually and collectively) do for ourselves we must do for ourselves, relying on God not for our material needs (except insofar as he created the physical universe within which alone material needs can be felt and met) but for our spiritual needs.
And so I do not see that Monokroussos has given me good reason to alter my interpretation:
"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.
It is also worth noting that the materialist interpretation of the daily bread petition plays right into the hands of religion's detractors who see religion as a childish and superstitious thing. There is also this to consider: are there any well-documented cases of people who were miraculously supplied with physical food after they prayed for it? But there are countless cases, some in my own direct experience, in which spiritual assistance was provided as a result of prayer.
If you love something, would you want fundamentally to transform it?
A man meets a woman, gets to know her, and they decide to get married. On the eve of the nuptials, he announces to her that she is on the brink of a fundamental transformation. Would you say that he loved her or rather some idea of what he could make her into?
Now take a gander at this minute-and-a-half video clip.
Man is a metaphysical animal. We philosophers ought to encourage this tendency in our fellow mortals. This morning's mail brings me a long disquisition by a Spanish lawyer (abogado), Daniel Vincente Carillo, entitled "A New Argument on the Existence of God." It consists of numerous definitions, axioms, and theorems. I don't have time to comment on the whole thing, which can be found here, but I will remark critically, and I hope helpfully, on his modal axioms.
An opposite of what is impossible is either possible and not necessary, impossible or necessary (what is impossible is opposed to everything).
Better: What is not impossible is either possible but not necessary, or possible and necessary.
Example: I am not impossible because I am possible but not necessary. God and the number 7 are possible and necessary.
An opposite of what is possible and not necessary is either possible and not necessary or impossible (what is possible is opposed to everything, except to what is necessary).
Incoherent as it stands.
The possible is the opposite of the impossible. That is, x is possible iff x is not impossible. The possible divides into the necessary and the contingent. The contingent divides into the actual but possibly nonexistent and the nonactual but possibly existent.
For example, I am contingent and so is a talking donkey. The difference is that I am actual but possibly nonexistent while the talking donkey is not actual but possibly existent.
Of course, the modality in play here is broadly logical or metaphysical.
An opposite of what is necessary is impossible (what is necessary is concomitant with what is possible and what is necessary, and only is opposed to what is impossible).
Incorrect. What is not necessary is either impossible or contingent. Possibility and impossibility are opposites. Necessity and impossibility are not opposites. Why not? Because the contingent is neither necessary nor impossible.
In the patois of 'possible worlds': the contingent is that which exists (or is true in the case of propositions) in some but not all possible worlds, whereas the necessary exists or else is true in all worlds and the impossible in none.
This patois is a very useful façon de parler for rendering modal relationships graphic.
What is not necessary is contingent.
Incorrect. What is not necessary is either contingent or impossible. For example, I am not necessary because I am contingent. A round square is not necessary because it is impossible.
What is contingent is either possible or impossible.
Incorrect. What is contingent is possible but not necessary. The impossible exists or else is true in no possible world whereas the contingent exists or else is true in some but not all possible worlds.
Or think of it this way. The contingent is either actual or unactual, and if actual, then possibly nonexistent, and if unactual, then possibly existent. For example, your humble correspondent is contingent and actual, hence possibly nonexistent, while a flying armadillo is contingent and unactual, hence possibly existent.
What is not impossible is possible.
Everything that exists does so by itself or by another being.
God, the universe, and nothingness, if possible, are the only possible beings.
Incorrect or at least highly controversial. Many philosophers maintain, with good reason, that there are so-called 'abstract objects,' all or most of which are necessary beings. (Candidates: properties, propositions, numbers, sets.) Now everything necessary is possible. So these abstract objects are possible beings. Therefore, there are possible beings that are distinct from God and the universe.
Second, nothing is in no sense a being. Hence it cannot be a possible being. It is, however, at least a question whether there could have been nothing at all. I examine this question in the entry referenced below.
UPDATE 2/26: David Gordon writes,
You are of course right that nothing is both contingent and impossible; but this does not show that Axiom 5 is incorrect. "What is contingent is possible" is true; and from this "What is contingent is either possible or impossible" follows. If, as I gather from your account, Carillo denies that the class of impossible contingent things is empty, he is mistaken, but his axiom isn't. One can object to it that it isn't an axiom, as its truth depends on the truth of "What is contingent is possible." This is probably too trivial a point to have written to you about, but I pass it along anyway.
The problem is the ambiguity of Carillo's formulation. I took him to be saying that some contingent beings are possible while other are impossible -- which is surely false.