Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 162, Notebook J, Aph. #168, hyperlink added!
As soon as he receives a little applause many a writer believes that the world is interested in everything about him. The play-scribbler Kotzebue even thinks himself justified in telling the public that he administered a clister [an enema] to his dying wife.
The extrovert is like a mirror: being nothing in himself, he is only what he reflects. A caricature, no doubt, but useful in delineation of an ideal type. This is why the extrovert needs others. Without them, he lacks inner substance. This is also why he is not drained by others, but drains them -- like a vampire. By contrast, the introvert, who has inner substance, loses it by social intercourse. He is drained not merely of physical energy, but of spiritual integrity, inner focus, his very self. The problem with socializing is not so much energy loss as self loss. But one cannot lose what one does not have.
The introvert cannot be himself in society but must sacrifice himself on the altar of Heidegger's das Man, the 'they self,' or social self. The extrovert can only be himself and come to himself in society. Whereas the introvert loses himself in society, the extrovert finds himself there.
If you infer the superiority of the introvert, I won't disagree with you.
UPDATE (11:55 AM): It occurred to me that 'superficial extrovert' might count as a pleonastic expression. Other polemical jabs: 'Extroverts are surface all the way down.' 'Extroverts aren't even shallow.'
I have been accused, on a forum, of being a second-class Christian because I have stated that I cannot understand Trinitarian doctrine [as presented in the Athanasian creed]. I have stated that I do accept the Apostles' Creed, but that is not seemingly good enough. So I have asked for clarification from forumites as to why they believe not only that the doctrine is true, but that believing it is a must for 'full fellowship'.
My reader goes on to say that the responses of his fellow forum members were unsatisfactory. His main question is: "What practical difference does a belief or non-belief in the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity make?" My reader accepts and tries to live by the the Apostles' Creed, but doesn't understand the Athanasian Creed. As well as he might not, given the logical difficulties of the doctrine.
To answer the reader's question: no practical difference to speak of.
The underlying problem, as it seems to me, is that of the relative importance of doctrine and practice. In every religion there is both. Are they of equal importance? Or is one more important that the other? I suggest that, while both are important,
1. Practice is more important than doctrine;
2. Theological doctrines are necessary makeshifts, feeble human attempts at conceptualizing what by its very nature must remain in the main beyond the human conceptual horizon in this life;
3. Doctrinal disputes can and often do lead to acrimonious controversies that are the exact opposite of conducive unto salvation.
The two central precepts of Christianity are: Love God with your whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. What exactly is enjoined by these two absolutely central precepts may be reasonably discussed, and ought to be. But we know more or less what they mean and require of us. And we know more or less what would be incompatible with their practical realization.
To love God is not to love one's ideas about God. For then one is loving, not God, but products of one's own ego. A theologian in love with his own pet formulations is arguably a high-level idolater. And analogously for the doctrinal formulations of one's church or sect.
And it would seem that bitter, rationally unresolvable dispute about exceedingly abstruse questions is not at all conducive to love of neighbor, and is in fact in many cases incompatible with such love. Consider some such theological nicety as the filioque clause. The question is whether the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son -- filioque means 'and the Son' -- or from the Father directly. Quite apart from the question of what practical difference this could make in the life of a believer, does the question have a sense clear enough to permit a rational solution?
The Athanasian Creed, quite unlike the Apostles' Creed, makes subscription to verbally precise Trinitarian and Christological doctrines a necessary condition of salvation. Their verbal precision, however, has not prevented centuries of debate as to their exact meaning and coherence. To hurl an anathema at anyone who fails to accept them on pain of damnation strikes me as nothing more than an expression of the human-all-too-human need for doxastic security. People have a terribly strong need to be secure in their beliefs even when the beliefs in question are plainly open to serious doubt.
On p. 176 of Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, a journal he kept from June 1958 to May 1959, Eric Hoffer complains that ideas do not gush from his mind, that his writing "lacks the quality of catharsis." "Yet only writing -- any sort of writing -- can justify my existence."
He was an amazing man, perhaps the purest example of the autodidact in the 20th century. He had no formal education whatsoever. His analysis of the true believer enjoys currency again, 60 years after his first book appeared, in the age of militant Islam, or rather the present age of militant Islam. Islam has been on the march before. The barbarians are once again at the gates. Is Rome the new Vienna?
Sex, drugs, and rock & roll without the drugs. In memory of the recently late Paul Revere of Paul Revere and the Raiders, a '60s outfit with a garage-band sound I never much liked, which had a hit with the anti-drug Kicks with which I shall kick off tonight's offerings.
No “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton?! That’s a huge and surprising omission, unless you don’t take it to be either pro- or anti-drug. Clapton himself calls it anti-drug, so perhaps a Sunday supplement should ensue. On the kudos side, I’m glad that you labeled “Puff” and “Lucy” as only dubiously classified as drug songs, as both songs’ authors have vehemently and repeatedly protested their songs’ innocence.
My title indicates that my focus is on anti-drug sons. J. J. Cale's tune "Cocaine" is pretty clearly pro-drug, as witness the lyrics:
If you wanna hang out you've got to take her out; cocaine. If you wanna get down, down on the ground; cocaine. She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie; cocaine.
If you got bad news, you wanna kick them blues; cocaine. When your day is done and you wanna run; cocaine. She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie; cocaine.
If your thing is gone and you wanna ride on; cocaine. Don't forget this fact, you can't get it back; cocaine. She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie; cocaine.
True, Clapton has claimed that the song is anti-drug, but the claim is simply not credible. Generally speaking, artists' opinions about their works are not to be given much credence. Dylan is an example of one who has spoken nonsense about the meaning of his own songs.
Just read the above lyrics. The meaning is clear. You need cocaine to 'hang out' and to 'get down.' The second phrase means to party, to have sex, to have a good time, to jump up and dance. It does not mean to bring yourself down either physically or mentally. But then why "down on the ground"? Because it rhymes, and this is just a popular song the lyrics of which were scribbled in a couple of minutes. To write a song like this you start with a chord progression and a guitar riff and then find some words to go along with them.
And then we are told that cocaine "don't lie"; she takes you away from the phony workaday world of the uncool and puts you in touch with reality. And in her embrace there is an escape from bad news and a cure for the blues. If you've lost your 'mojo' and its on the sag and your 'thing' is gone, you can get it back with this stuff. And "she don't lie!"
There is simply no way this song could be interpreted as anti-drug. It is pretty clearly, though not obviously, pro-drug.
Clapton ought to 'man up' and admit it. Arguing that it is anti-drug would be like arguing that the Rolling Stones' Let's Spend the Night Together is a stern warning against premarital sex, or that their Under My Thumb is a feminist anthem.
That's why I didn't include Clapton's "Cocaine" on my list of anti-drug songs.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollindale, New York Review Books, 1990, pp. 161-162:
We know with much greater clarity that our will is free than that everything that happens must have a cause. Could we therefore not reverse the argument for once, and say: our conception of cause and effect must be very erroneous because our will could not be free if our idea of cause and effect were correct?
This is essentially right and invites commentary. Which of the following propositions is better known, more evident, more credible, or more likely to be true?
1. With respect to some actions and omissions, the human will is libertarianly free, free in the 'could have done otherwise' sense.
2. Every event, including every action and failure to act of a human person, is the terminus of a causal chain extending into the past to times prior to the person's birth, and every event is as such necessary given what has gone before.
Given that the propositions cannot both be true, if (1), then ~(2). One can now argue either my modus ponens to (~2) or by modus tollens to (~1). Lichtenberg is suggesting in effect that the modus ponens argument is to be preferred.
I agree. For I know directly, in my own case, that I am morally responsible for some of my actions and failures to act, and that therefore I am free with respect to these actions and omissions. This is surely better known than that every event is necessitated by earlier events, and that nothing I do or leave undone is ever something for which I am morally responsible. The direct, first-person evidence trumps third-person considerations. If you balk at my use of 'know,' then I will say that it is more evident, clearer, more likely to be true, more credible, that I am free.
Think about it. How do you know that every event has a cause that necessitates it? It is not a conceptual or analytic truth like Every effect has a cause. That's true ex vi terminorum. But there is nothing in the concept event or the meaning of 'event' that warrants the inference that every event has a cause. Uncaused events are thinkable without contradiction.* Nor do you know the relevant principle by experience. Have you examined every event? No. But even if you had examined every cause-effect sequence in the universe, you could not find the necessity by experience. As Lichtenberg's man Kant famously said, "Experience teaches what is the case, but not what must be the case." For Kant, the causal principle is synthetic a priori. But now: how clear is the very concept of the synthetic a priori, first, and second, how clear is it that the causal principle is an instance of it? And third, how clear are the pillars of the Kantian edifice that undergird the synthetic a priori?
One might reach for inference to the best explanation. What is the best explanation of the success of the natural sciences in the explanation, prediction, and control of natural phenomena? That (macro)nature is deterministic. But the inference is shaky and less to be relied upon than the direct evidence that here and now I did something I (morally) should not have done, something I know I could have refrained from doing.
It is not absolutely self-evident that I am morally responsible and libertarianly free, but it is evident, and indeed more evident than the premises of any deterministic argument. That's enough.
One should never philosophize in such a way that one denies or discounts the very phenomenological evidence that got us philosophizing in the first place.
And if I have good reason to believe that something is the case, then I have good reason whether or not I can solve every puzzle to which the thing gives rise.
You say free will is an illusion? I say that that is nonsense and that you are playing fast and loose with 'illusion.'
*Of course I am not saying that my free actions are uncaused: an uncaused event is not eo ipso a free event. My free actions are caused by me, the agent. I am their creative source, their agent-cause. The idea is not entirely clear, granted. But it is even less clear that I am a deterministic system.
I own the 1953 first-edition Ace Books paperback depicted to the left. Price in 1953: 60 cents. I must have acquired my copy in the late '60s or early '70s for not much more than that. Originally published under the pen-name of William Lee, the "Old Bull Lee" of Kerouac's On the Road. The foreword is by Carl Solomon. According to the Wikipedia article just referenced, Solomon is also responsible for the Publisher's Note which serves in part as an apologia for the "sordid" narrative about to be put before the reader.
Remember, this is 1953, a time and place light-years from the present, culturally speaking. What would be celebrated as 'transgressive' today by our benighted cultural elites, was recognized then as trash whose publication had to be justified:
We realized that here was a document which could forearm the public more effectively than anything yet printed about the drug menace. The picture it paints of a sordid netherworld was all the more horrifying for being so authentic in language and point of view. For the protection of the reader, we have inserted occasional parenthetical notes to indicate where the author clearly departs from accepted medical fact or makes other unsubstantiated statements in an effort to justify his actions.
London Ed, taking a break from logic and philosophy of language, is now reading Burroughs:
I finished Junky, which was entertaining, and now onto Naked Lunch, which is terrible. Meanwhile, some extracts from Junky below, which challenge the idea that Burroughs was some kind of ‘gay writer’. Obviously he was gay, although he predates that term, and would have called himself ‘queer’. He alludes to his queerness in the book, but I find the passages below difficult to explain. They are surely not intended as ironic, there is a real hatred, possibly self-hatred there. I can find no critical study of Burroughs that mentions these passages.
The only equivalent I can think of for that period is Raymond Chandler. Supposedly Chandler was a repressed homosexual. But there is the same ‘homophobic’ streak in his work. You recall the Geiger character in The Big Sleep, who is characterised as both homosexual and unpleasant. Chandler writes somewhere about there being ‘no iron’ in a ‘fairy's’ punch, and about the vicious and unpleasant way that a ‘fairy party’ can end. I will try and find the quotes. In the same place I also have quotes from William Cobbett (supposed father of English socialism) which are virulently anti-semitic.
Burroughs quotations culled by Ed:
The hipster-bebop junkies never showed at 103rd Street. The 103rd Street boys were all old timers -- thin, sallow faces; bitter, twisted mouths; stiff-fingered, stylized gestures. (There is a junk gesture that marks the junky like the limp wrist marks the fag: the hand swings out from the elbow stiff-fingered, palm up.)
In the French Quarter there are several queer bars so full every night the fags spill out on to the sidewalk. A room full of fags gives me the horrors. They jerk around like puppets on invisible strings, galvanized into hideous activity that is the negation of everything living and spontaneous. The live human being has moved out of these bodies long ago. But something moved in when the original tenant moved out. Fags are ventriloquists' dummies who have moved in and taken over the ventriloquist. The dummy sits in a queer bar nursing his beer, and uncontrollably yapping out of a rigid doll face.
Occasionally, you find intact personalities in a queer bar, but fags set the tone of these joints, and it always brings me down to go into a queer bar. The bringdown piles up. After my first week in a new town I have had about all I can take of these joints, so my bar business goes somewhere else, generally to a bar in or near Skid Row.
I ordered a drink at the bar and looked around. Three Mexican fags were posturing in front of the jukebox. One of them slithered over to where I was standing, with the stylized gestures of a temple dancer, and asked for a cigarette. There was something archaic in the stylized movements, a depraved animal grace at once beautiful and repulsive. 1 could see him moving in the light of campfires, the ambiguous gestures fading out into the dark. Sodomy is as old as the human species. One of the fags was sitting in a booth by the jukebox, perfectly immobile with a stupid animal serenity.
I looked around and noticed how the hips stood out as a special group, like the fags who were posturing and screeching in one comer of the yard. The junkies were grouped together, talking and passing the junkie gesture back and forth, the arm swinging out from the elbow palm up, a gesture of separateness and special communion like the limp wrist of the fag.
I’m reading more than at almost any time in my life but spending less time reading online. The two facts have a common source – a festering impatience with shoddy writing. My literary gut, when young, was goat-like -- tough and indiscriminate. I read everything remotely of interest and felt compelled to finish every book I started. This makes sense: Everything was new, and how could I knowledgeably sift wheat from chaff without first milling, baking and ingesting? Literary prejudice, in a healthy reader, intensifies with age. I know and trust my tastes, and no longer need to read William Burroughs to figure out he wrote sadistic trash.
I've read my fair share of Burroughs and I concur that his stuff is trash: Junkie, Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, Exterminator. All in my library. But there is a place for literary trash. It has its uses as do the pathologist's slides and samples. But put on your mental gloves before handling the stuff.
Kerouac alone of the Beat Triumvirate moves me, though I surely don't consider him a great writer. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there really shouldn't be any university courses on Kerouac or Dylan or other culturally influential recent figures since their material is easily accessible and easily understandable. Universities ought not pander. They should remain -- or rather return to being -- institutions whose sacred task is the preservation and transmission of HIGH culture, great culture, culture which is not easily understood and requires expert guidance to penetrate and appreciate. The thought is extended in Inheritance and Appropriation.
We associate pieties with sentimental religion, holy medals and such, when in fact they often arrive in the form of sociopathic earnestness. Take Williams Burroughs – not the sort of fellow you would have wanted living next door. Burroughs was a deviant by any standard – a thief, a wife-killer, an Olympic-class drug abuser, a sexual pervert and a man who seldom failed to indulge any hateful impulse that entered the black hole of his egotism. As a writer, Burroughs celebrated his pathologies and never transcended his pulp origins – all good career moves in an age when professors and critics use “transgressive” as an accolade.
We are too open to social suggestions. We uncritically imbibe dubious and outright wrong views and attitudes and valuations and habits of speech from our environment. They don't appear wrong because they are in step with what most believe and say. 'Normal' beliefs and patterns of speech become normative for people. This is the way of the world. We are too suggestible.
Thus nowadays people cannot see that lust and gluttony are deadly vices. The weight of suggestion is too onerous. The counter-suggestions from a religious upbringing are no match for the relentless stuff emanating from the mass media of a sex-saturated, hedonistic society. For spiritual health a partial withdrawal from society is advisable. It needn't be physical: one can be in the world but not of it.
A partial withdrawal can take the form of a holding free of the early morning hours from any contamination by media dreck. Thus no reading of newspapers, no checking of e-mail, no electronics of any sort. Electricity is fine: you don't have to sit in the dark or burn candles. No talking or other socializing. Instead: prayer, meditation, spiritual reading and writing, in silence, and alone.
So for a few pre-dawn hours each day you are a part-time monk.
But society and technology are in conspiracy against you. Have you noticed that the newer modems are not equipped with on/off switches? A bad omen for the life of the soul and the care thereof. I cannot abide a wi-fi signal during my sleeping and monkish hours. So I bought an extra power strip and put that in series with the modem and the main power strip. Wifey is instructed to turn it off before she goes to bed. And of course all computers and cell phones are off during the night and the hours of monkishness.
I am nearing the end of Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square, and yesterday I began John Fante's Full of Life. D. G. Myers' review begins and ends like this:
In the Manchester Guardian’s book blog, Rob Woodard looks back at John Fante’s Ask the Dust, a 1939 novel which has been described as a masterpiece. Everyone seems quite taken by the novel’s influence upon Charles Bukowski, who called Fante “my God” and was single-handedly responsible for getting his work back into print. (The sorry thought that there would have been no Bukowski without Fante is almost enough to make you wish there had been no Fante.) Ask the Dust is the second volume of a trilogy—or perhaps a tetralogy, if his late-in-life novel Dreams from Bunker Hill, dictated to his wife four decades later, after Fante had gone blind from diabetes, is included—of vaguely proletarian novels about a second-generation immigrant’s struggle up from poverty and fight for a piece of the American pie.
[. . .]
Because of its artless candor, Full of Life is the most probing account I have ever read of the religious return. Fante is honest about his doubts, but he is equally honest about the highs and lows, the joy and tedium, of Catholicism. He does not withdraw from the religious experience into a well-armored skepticism. As a consequence, he finds himself surprisingly moved to tears by the ceremony in which Joyce is accepted into the Church.
The novel eschews any ambition to be “profound.” Its surface appears to be shallow, quick-paced, dialogic rather than discursive. It does not worry theological problems; it strokes the ordinary nap of domestic intimacy. But it also knows the depth of intimacy which religious feeling opens up and reveals. There are other reasons to prize the novel. Italian-American novelists like Mario Puzo, Hamilton Basso, and Paul Gallico may have achieved a larger readership, and poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Diane di Prima may have received more respectful critical attention, but no one has ever improved upon Fante’s portrait of the tension between two generations of Italian-Americans and the mixed-blessing debt that the second owes the first. Precisely because of its humor and lightness of tone, Full of Life is that unexpected thing—not The Power and the Glory, but a great religious novel that appears out of nowhere, while you thought you were watching Father Knows Best or I Love Lucy.
Doubt is to be deployed against the complacency of unbelief as much as against the complacency of belief.
A vital faith is never entirely free of purifying doubt which in some persons, at some times, extends to the brink of despair. Christ on the cross experienced the deepest depth of Incarnation in the feeling of being forsaken and abandoned by God. Can a Christian then expect his faith to be free of doubt?
A fruitful doubt is not a sterile skepticism but a questioning attitude that holds open the possibility that its questions be answered. If you cannot believe, then you cannot. The matter can't be forced. But the unbeliever oughtn't rest in the complacency of unbelief any more than the believer in the complacency of belief. Seek, and you may or may not find. But seek.
A hard-hitting piece by Joseph Curl exposes the PeeCee Prez for what he is: a disaster whose ever-increasing incompetence is about to turn deadly.
Someone should explain to Obama why we have borders and why they must be enforced. Is he really as stupid as his actions and inactions show him to be, or is he a hate-America leftist that does all he can to destroy the country?
Suppose Ebola spreads into Central America and Mexico. Where do you think people will flee to? But even if the Ebola virus does not penetrate Central America, refugees from those regions bring with them tropical diseases that we are not prepared for. Did Obama and his advisors give any thought to that?
Apparently not. The fool prefers to joke about the border problem. Contemptible! And of course nothing he says in that clip, except the alligators in moats joke, can be taken seriously since he lies about almost everything. Curl concludes:
The White House has repeatedly used one word to describe the administration's response to the Ebola crisis: "Tenacious."
The real word that applies though is "mendacious." Or "fallacious." Any other claim is audacious.
Here are four combinatorially possible ways truth and God could be related.
1. There is truth, but there is no God.
2. There is truth, and there is God, but God is not the ontological ground of truth.
3. There is truth, there is God, and truth ultimately depends on the existence of God.
4. There is no truth, and there is no God.
(4) is suggested by Nietzsche's perspectivism in tandem with his notion that the death of God brings in its train the death of truth. (4) is easily refuted. I will say no more about it in this entry. The other three (epistemic) possibilities are live options. My atheist friend Peter Lupu, at a conference at Glendale CC yesterday, espoused (1). He thinks, as I do, and as any intelligent person must, that truth is objective and absolute. We also agree on what we mean by 'God': roughly, the omniqualified supreme personal being of the Abrahamic religions.
Peter and I also agree that, in one sense of 'there is truth,' it means that there are truths, where a truth is a true truth-bearer. For Peter, and this is surely very plausible, truth-bearers are Fregean propositions. So for Peter there is a realm of objective truths, and one of the truths in this realm is that God does not exist. It obviously follows that for Peter what truth is, whether it is, and which truths there are, have nothing to do with God, with the sole exception of the truth that God does not exist and whatever it entails. There is a realm of Wahrheiten an sich, and they subsist in splendid Platonic independence of minds, their contents, and other concreta. Obviously, if there is no God, then he can play no role with respect to the existence of truth, the nature of truth, or which truths there are apart from the truth that he doesn't exist and its entailments.
As for (2), consider a theist who agrees with most of the foregoing but affirms that God exists. Then the dispute between this theist and Peter boils down to the question whether the Fregean proposition *God exists* -- which both admit exists in Frege's Third Reich (realm)-- is true or false. For a theist of this stripe, the existence of God has no bearing on whether truths exist or what the nature of truth is, but it does have a bearing on which truths there are. For example, given that God exists, then *God exists* is true, and if God creates a physical universe, then the truth of *A physical universe exists* depends on God and his free decisions.
I incline to position (3). The position I would defend is that if, per impossibile, God did not exist, then truth would not exist either. Why do I say per impossibile?
God has the Anselmian property: if he exists in one possible world, then he exists in all. Contrapositively, if God does not exist in all worlds, then he exists in no world and is thus impossible. So if God exists, then he exists necessarily. It is also easy to show that if some truths exist, then necessarily some truths exist. But despite the broadly logical equivalence of the existence of God and the existence of truths, despite the fact that in every possible world in which the one exists the other does too, and vice versa, there is an asymmetrical dependence relation of ontological grounding: the existence of truths depends on the existence of God, but not vice versa.
The theist above is committed to
A. Necessarily, truths exist if and only if God exists.
I affirm (A) but take it a step further:
B. Necessarily, truths exist because God exists.
The 'because' in (B) is not the causal 'because'; it expresses the asymmetrical relation of ontological (metaphysical) grounding. Anyone who balks at that relation does not understand what metaphysics is. (Some defense of the relation here.)
Peter must reject both of (A) and (B).
Now what reason might one have to think that (B) is true? Different arguments can be given. Here is one by Anderson and Welty together with my additions and criticism. The gist of the argument is as follows. There are necessary truths, among them, the laws of logic. A truth is a true proposition, a proposition that has the property of being true. But nothing can have a property without existing, and nothing can have a property (in this instance, being-true) necessarily unless the thing in question exists necessarily. Now propositions are intrinsically intentional. But only thoughts are intrinsically intentional. So propositions are thoughts. (Here is where one can reasonably object.) Necessarily true propositions are necessarily true and necessarily existent thoughts. Thoughts, however, are necessarily thoughts of a thinker (subjective genitive). No thinker, no thoughts. The thinker of necessarily existent thoughts must be a necessarily existent thinker. "And this all men call God." This is but a sloppy sketch; bang on the above link for a more rigorous treatment.
In my critical comments on the Anderson-Welty argument, I claim that the argument is rationally acceptable, but not rationally compelling. But then no argument for any substantive metaphysical thesis is rationally compelling. And this extends to all the arguments of atheists.
Where does this leave us? The discussion will continue through a ramifying series of arguments and counterarguments, but I won't be able rationally to compel Peter to abandon his atheism, nor will he be able rationally to compel me to abandon my theism. There will be no progress toward the ultimate resolution of the question, but there will be progress in the elaboration and clarification of our respective positions.
In the end one must decide what one will believe and how one will live. And we must tolerate those with opposing views -- but only if they requite tolerance with tolerance.
My philo cronies and I were discussing this over Sunday breakfast. Why don't leftists -- who obviously do not share the characteristic values and beliefs of Islamists -- grant what is spectacularly obvious to everyone else, namely, that radical Islam poses a grave threat to what we in the West cherish as civilization, which includes commitments to free speech, open inquiry, separation of church and state, freedom of religion, freedom to reject religion, and so on? Why do leftists either deny the threat or downplay its gravity?
Here is a quickly-composed list of ten related reasons based on my own thinking and reading and on the contributions of my table mates Peter Lupu and Mike Valle. A work in progress. The reasons are not necessarily in the order of importance. ComBox open!
1. Many leftists hold that no one really believes in the Islamic paradise. The expansionist Soviets could be kept in check by the threat of nuclear destruction because, as communists, they were atheists and mortalists for whom this world is the last stop. But the threat from radical Islam, to a conservative, is far more chilling since jihadis murder in the expectation of prolonged disportation with black-eyed virgins in a carnal post mortem paradise. For them this world is not the last stop but a way station to that garden of carnal delights they are forbidden from enjoying here and now. Most leftists, however, don't take religion seriously, and, projecting, think that no one else really does either despite what they say and pretend to believe. So leftists think that jihadis are not really motivated by the belief in paradise as pay off for detonating themselves and murdering 'infidels.' In this way they downplay the gravity of the threat.
This is a very dangerous mistake based on a very foolish sort of psychological projection! Conservatives know better than to assume that everyone shares the same values, attitudes, and goals. See Does Anyone Really Believe in the Muslim Paradise? which refers to Sam Harris's debate with anthropologist Scott Atran on this point.
2. Leftists tend to think that deep down everyone is the same and wants the same things. They think that Muslims want what most Westerners want: money, cars, big houses, creature comforts, the freedom to live and think and speak and criticize and give offense as they please, ready access to alcohol and other intoxicants, equality for women, same-sex 'marriage' . . . .
3. Leftists typically deny that there is radical evil; the bad behavior of Muslims can be explained socially, politically, and economically. The denial of the reality of evil is perhaps the deepest error of the Left.
4. Leftists tend to think any critique of Islam is an attack on Muslims and as such is sheer bigotry. But this is pure confusion. To point out the obvious, Islam is a religion, but no Muslim is a religion. Muslims are people who adhere to the religion, Islam. Got it?
When a leftist looks at a conservative he 'sees' a racist, a xenophobe, a nativist, a flag-waving, my-country-right-or-wrong jingoist, a rube who knows nothing of foreign cultures and reflexively hates the Other simply as Other. In a word, he 'sees' a bigot. So he thinks that any critique of Islam or Islamism -- if you care to distinguish them -- is motivated solely by bigotry directed at certain people. In doing this, however, the leftist confuses the worldview with its adherents. The target of conservative animus is the destructive political-religious ideology, not the people who have been brainwashed into accepting it and who know no better.
5. Some leftists think that to criticize Islam is racist. But this too is hopeless confusion. Islam is a religion, not a race. There is no race of Muslims. You might think that no liberal-leftist is so stupid as not to know that Islam is not a race. You would be wrong. See Richard Dawkins on Muslims.
6. Many leftists succumb to the Obama Fallacy: Religion is good; Islam is a religion; ergo, Islam is good; ISIS is bad; ergo, ISIS -- the premier instantiation of Islamist terror at the moment -- is not Islamic. See Obama: "ISIL is not Islamic."
7. Leftists tend to be cultural relativists. This is part of what drives the Obama Fallacy. If all cultures are equally good, then the same holds for religions: they are all equally good, and no religion can be said to be superior to any other either in terms of truth value or contribution to human flourishing. Islam is not worse that Christianity or Buddhism; it is just different, and only a bigot thinks otherwise.
But of course most leftists think that all religions are bad, equally bad. But if so, then again one cannot maintain that one is superior to another.
Leftists are also, many of them, moral relativists, though inconsistently so. They think that it is morally wrong (absolutely!) to criticize or condemn the practices of another culture (stoning of adulterers, e.g.) because each culture has its own morality that is valid for it and thus only relatively valid. The incoherence of this ought to be obvious. If morality is relative, then we in our culture have all the justification we need and could have to condemn and indeed suppress and eliminate the barbaric practices of Muslims.
9. Leftists tend to deny reality. The reality of terrorism and its source is there for all to see: not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terroists at the present time are Muslims. Deny that, and you deny reality. But why do leftists deny reality?
A good part of the answer is that they deny it because reality does not fit their scheme. Leftists confuse the world with their view of the world. In their view of the world, people are all equal and religions are all equal -- equally good or equally bad depending on the stripe of the leftist. They want it to be that way and so they fool themselves into thinking that it is that way. Moral equivalency reigns. If you point out that Muhammad Atta was an Islamic terrorist, they shoot back that Timothy McVeigh was a Christian terrorist -- willfully ignoring the crucial difference that the murderous actions of the former derive from Islamic/Islamist doctrine whereas the actions of the latter do not derive from Christian doctrine.
And then these leftists like Juan Cole compound their willful ignorance of reality by denouncing those who speak the truth as 'Islamophobes.' That would have been like hurling the epithet 'Naziphobe' at a person who, in 1938, warned of the National Socialist threat to civilized values. "You, sir, are suffering from a phobia, an irrational fear; you need treatment, not refutation."
When a leftist hurls the 'Islamophobe!' epithet that is his way of evading rational discussion by reducing his interlocutor to someone subrational, someone suffering from cognitive dysfunction. Now how liberal and tolerant and respectful of persons is that?
10. Leftists hate conservatives because of the collapse of the USSR and the failure of communism; hence they reflexively oppose anything conservatives promote or maintain. (This was Peter Lupu's suggestion at our breakfast meeting.) So when conservatives sound the alarm, leftists go into knee-jerk oppositional mode. They willfully enter into a delusional state wherein they think, e.g., that the threat of Christian theocracy is real and imminent, but that there is nothing to fear from Islamic theocracy.
You have already guessed that it has something to do with flowers. By its etymology, a gathering of flowers, literary flowers. A florilegium, then, is an anthology, compendium, collection, miscellany, album of excerpts and extracts from writings of (usually) high quality by (usually) ancient authors. The Philokalia is a florilegium.
An album of pictures of flowers would also count as a florilegium, and, I suppose a book of actual dried flowers would as well.
I headed over to D. G. Myers' high-level literary weblog this afternoon only to find that its penultimate post, dated 22 July, was the last by Myers. The final entry, dated 29 September, by his sister-in-law, records his death.
And then I recalled that Myers had written some friendly but trenchant critiques of my amateur forays into his field. A search revealed that Myers had written five detailed entries addressing posts of mine. Did I ever thank him? If memory serves, I never did, and I deeply regret that now. I probably wasn't aware of some of them.
He finally went too far. For years he got away with vicious out-of-the-blue personal attacks on conservatives and white males, but when he turned on females, such as Prof. Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, the Left turned on one of its own. (Be sure and click on the link to get the full flavor of Leiter's thuggishness.)
See my Brian Leiter category for more on this sorry specimen. I wouldn't be mentioning this status-obsessed careerist and academic gossip monger at all if it weren't for his attack on me which you can read about, if you care to, in the category just mentioned.
Had enough yet? If not, there is more below.
UPDATE (10/11): You've read the September Statement. Here is the October Statement. What's needed is a November Statement the gist of which would be: forget the despicable Leiter and his antics, and all this rating and ranking nonsense, and the hyperprofessionalization and politicization of this noble and beautiful calling, Philosophy, and return, if you can, to meditation on the questions and problems that ought to have led you to philosophy in the first place -- assuming that your goal is wisdom and insight and not the life of a status-obsessed academic functionary like Leiter.
UPDATE (10/11):Here is a surprisingly detailed and regularly updated archive of Brian Leiter's ongoing collapse with links galore.
A commenter here penetrates to the essence of Leiter (emphasis added):
Her [Jenkins'] original post, which essentially celebrated her happy ascension to being a professor in a treasured field, was instantly stalked and trolled and attacked by a prominent professional in her field who put her on notice that nothing she wrote or published would happen without his eye falling on it, that whatever she wrote could be construed as legally actionable, that he would be watching her to make sure that she steered clear of the sin of ever impinging on his gaping wound of an ego. In other words: she’s minding her own business and an important, touchy, asshole turns out to be stalking her and turning her private and professional life into a legal cause of action.
In an instant she went from being a person celebrating and engaging with her field and her colleagues into, apparently, the enemy of a person with zero sense of proportionality and restraint–a person so narcissistic that they go out of their way [he goes out of his way] to threaten legal action against a perfect stranger for a perfectly innocuous post that doesn’t reference Leiter at all. [. . .]
That's exactly right. No reasonable and decent person could object to Jenkins' statement of her principles and ideals. And even if it is too earnest for the jaded, only a scumbag like Leiter would call her a "sanctimonious asshole" for writing it. And only an egomaniac like the Ladderman could take it as directed at him.
You see, the problem with Leiter is not that he responds uncivilly to people who attack him; the problem is that he initiates vicious attacks on, and threatens, people who haven't mentioned him at all simply for stating something with which he disagrees.
Leiter is a strange study in self-destruction: he craves status and recognition and yet behaves in a way that any fool can see will lead to his loss of reputation. Chivalry may be moribund, but it is not entirely dead. To attack a woman who has made it in a male-dominated field as an "asshole" for simply announcing her values and ideals is not only morally offensive but profoundly foolish for someone for whom status and standing are everything.
And how 'philosophical' is such behavior? How can one call a philosopher one who places a premium on status and standing? Leiter fancies himself a philosopher, the real thing, while I, according to him, merely "purport" to be a philosopher. But he does not enjoy an appointment in a philosophy department! So by his own entirely superficial criterion of what makes one a philosopher he himself is not a philosopher. His criterion, it goes without saying, is absurd on the face of it, excluding as it does Socrates and Spinoza and so many others as philosophers, including his master Nietzsche, another profile in self-destruction.
The man is without substance, devoid of wisdom and decency, a two-bit self-promoter and academic functionary, in no way a Mensch, in some ways a Macher, and in most ways a blight upon academic philosophy. It is good that he has decided to self-destruct. May he complete the project and emerge with a metanoia, a change of heart and mind.
We who are now witnessing his self-induced unravelling may wish to ask ourselves: is this Schadenfreude, or righteous satisfaction at his comeuppance?
As to Professor Leiter himself, I wish to say as little as possible (we have had our run-ins, to put it mildly). But I think everyone should acknowledge that Brian Leiter is not solely responsible for Brian Leiter: he has been pandered to, encouraged, and enabled by large segments of the philosophy profession, especially in the United States. The reasons for this have been essentially corrupt. It is time for people to wake up to their own complicity. He has no more power than the power people have given him. I look forward to a post-Leiter age in philosophy.
Keith, one of Leiter's early victims, goes on to report his satisfaction at Leiter's humiliation.
Here's hoping that Leiter's self-defenestration does indeed usher in "a post-Leiter age in philosophy."
You wrote: ". . . one must turn their own Alinsky tactics against them . . . . Conservatives should not allow themselves to be hobbled by their own civility and high standards."
I completely agree which is why I support the ambush tactics of Jason Mattera (most recently of Lois Lerner fame). In my opinion the tactics are sleazy, but they are necessary as you note above. Mattera delivers to the left a taste of their own medicine. Moreover, in being slammed to a wall by Harry Reid's armed guard, Mattera does more to reveal the thuggish nature of the left than any polemic, no matter how well delivered.
As for all the criticism that Mattera has elicited, well, when one is getting flack one knows one is over the target.
In this video, Mattera responds to critics of his ambush of Lois Lerner, IRS chief. It is too bad that these ambush tactics are necessary, but when we are dealing with corrupt leftists who use the awesome power of the State to silence dissent, and who refuse to take responsibility for their actions or admit their wrongdoing, then tactics far more adversarial than those of the mild-mannered Mattera are justified.
We need less civility and more confrontation. The courageous Mattera is doing the job that journalists are supposed to do as members of the Fourth Estate, namely, monitor politicians and government functionaries such as Lerner in order to ensure that they don't violate their oaths of office or otherwise abuse the democratic process.
I speak as a conservative when I say that we need less civility and more confrontation. But of course there are leftists who say the same thing.
I think most of us will agree that confrontation and contention are not good and that peace is better than war. But how reduce the level of political strife?
There is a conceptually easy answer, but it won't happen. The Left has to back off. But the Left, being totalitarian, cannot consistently with it own nature back off or limit itself. Like Nietzsche's Will to Power it does not seek merely to preserve itself but always to expand and extend itself. (Here is a clue as to why leftists love Nietzsche; it is not because of his reactionary views.)
What we need is more federalism, less integration, and more voluntary segregation. I don't mean any of this racially. It is relatively easy to get along with one's ideological opponents if one limits contact with them. But this presupposes that they are willing to back off. If they don't, then war is inevitable.
The following quotation from Spinoza may serve as a sort of addendum to what I just posted anent Sam Harris and the idea of divine revelation.
Benedict de Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise, Ch. XIV, Dover, 1951, tr. Elwes, p. 182:
. . . a person who accepted promiscuously everything in Scripture as being the universal and absolute teaching of God, without accurately defining what was adapted to the popular intelligence, would find it impossible to escape confounding the opinions of the masses with the Divine doctrines, praising the judgments and comments of man as the teaching of God, and making a wrong use of Scriptural authority. Who, I say, does not perceive that this is the chief reason why so many sectaries teach contradictory opinions as Divine documents, and support their contentions with numerous Scriptural texts, till it has passed in Belgium into a proverb, geen ketter sonder letter -- no heretic without a text?
Eminently incorporable in a post contra fundamentalism.
Sam Harris is a liberal I respect and admire. He has not succumbed to the PeeCee delusion and he actively combats it. Although Harris is a contemporary, he is not a 'contemporary liberal' as I use that phrase: he is a classical or old-time or paleo or respectable liberal. But on religion and some philosophical topics he is out beyond his depth.
And just like moderates in every other religion, most moderate Muslims become obscurantists when defending their faith from criticism. They rely on modern, secular values—for instance, tolerance of diversity and respect for human rights—as a basis for reinterpreting and ignoring the most despicable parts of their holy books. But they nevertheless demand that we respect the idea of revelation, and this leaves us perpetually vulnerable to more literal readings of scripture. The idea that any book was inspired by the creator of the universe is poison—intellectually, ethically, and politically. And nowhere is this poison currently doing more harm than in Muslim communities, East and West. Despite all the obvious barbarism in the Old Testament, and the dangerous eschatology of the New, it is relatively easy for Jews and Christians to divorce religion from politics and secular ethics. A single line in Matthew—“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”—largely accounts for why the West isn’t still hostage to theocracy. The Koran contains a few lines that could be equally potent—for instance, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256)—but these sparks of tolerance are easily snuffed out.
Why does Harris think that the idea of divine (scriptural) revelation is intellectual, ethical, and political poison? Perhaps his reasoning is along the following lines.
1. In every extant scripture there are morally offensive prescriptions and proscriptions which, if followed, would be detrimental to human flourishing, and in that sense 'poisonous.' 2. If one believes that a given scripture is the Word of God, then one believes that everything in that scripture carries divine sanction (approbation): it proceeds from the ultimate moral authority in the universe. 3. If one believes that everything in a given scripture carries divine sanction, then one believes that one has an obligation to commit some morally offensive actions, namely, those enjoined in the scripture in question, actions detrimental to human flourishing. (from 1+ 2) 4. Actions detrimental to human flourishing are 'poison.' Therefore 5. The idea of divine revelation, if accepted, is 'poison.' (from 3 + 4)
I have just imputed to Harris an argument the reasoning of which is correct. Please recall the Logic 101 distinction between correctness/incorrectness of reasoning and truth/falsity of premises and conclusions. (If this argument, or something very similar, is not the argument at the back of Harris's assertion, then I have no idea what that argument would be).
But no defender of divine revelation need be troubled by the above argument. For such a defender may simply deny premise # 2. If a given scripture is the inspired Word of God, that doesn't change the fact that it is written down by men -- and we know what they are like: fallible, sometimes foolish, liable to embellish and distort, biased, limited in ever so many ways.
To put it very simply, I can accept a scripture as divinely inspired while rejecting parts of it as merely human accretions. Why not? There are things that St. Paul says, for example, that are pretty obviously nothing but reflections of his own personal preferences and biases, or else those of his time and place.
Notice that Harris is attacking the very idea of divine revelation: the acceptance of that idea is 'poison.' But he has given us no good reason to accept this wild claim. Of course, if there is no God, then there cannot be divine revelation. But the existence of God is not at issue here. The above argument is logically independent of the existence/nonexistence of God. Indeed, a theist could deploy the above argument.
And the issue is not whether particular portions of some scripture are credible or not. The issue concerns divine revelation as such and in general.
Harris may be assuming that anyone who accepts scriptural revelation must be a fundamentalist in the sense of someone who believes that everything in the Christian Bible, say, wears its meaning on its 'sleeve' and is literally true. But obviously, not everyone who accepts scriptural revelation need be a fundamentalist!
So much for the second of the two bolded sentences above.
The first sentence reads: But they nevertheless demand that we respect the idea of revelation, and this leaves us perpetually vulnerable to more literal readings of scripture. This sentence encapsulates an inference which, unfortunately for Harris, is a non sequitur. If one respects the idea of divine scriptural revelation, how is it supposed to follow that one is vulnerable to literalism? It obvously doesn't follow. And what exactly is literalism?
Harris ought to read Augustine on the interpretation of Genesis. Here is a sampler of some of the issues that arise.
As I said, Harris is way out of his depth when he enters these theological waters.
Last night on The O'Reilly Factor, the sharpest comedian out there uncorked the following:
He makes Narcissus look like he invented self-effacement.
In battling the Left, it is not enough to have facts, logic, and moral decency on one's side; one must turn their own Alinsky tactics against them by the use of mockery, derision, contumely, and all the weapons of invective to make them look stupid, contemptible, and uncool. For the young especially, the cool counts for far more than the cogent. This is why the quintessentially cool Miller is so effective. People of sense could see from the outset that the adjunct law professor and community organizer, associate of former terrorist Bill Ayers and the 'reverend' Jeremiah Wright, raised on leftist claptrap and bereft of experience and knowledge of the world, would prove to be a disaster as president -- as he has so proven, and as even Leon Panetta the other night all but admitted. But Obama came across as a cool dude and that endeared him to foolish voters.
Civility is a prized conservative virtue, and one wishes that such tactics would not be necessary. But for leftists politics is war, and it is the foolish conservative who fails to see this and persists in imagining it to be a gentlemanly debate on common ground over shared interests. Civility is for the civil, not for its enemies.
Some time ago I heard Miller quip, in reference to Melissa Harris-Perry, that
She is a waste of a good hyphen.
A nasty thing to say, no doubt, but not as nasty as the slanderous and delusional things she had to say about the supposedly racist overtones of the word 'Obamacare.'
Conservatives should not allow themselves to be hobbled by their own civility and high standards. As one of my aphorisms has it:
I now have in my hands Saul Kripke's Reference and Existence: The John Locke Lectures, Oxford UP, 2013. The lectures were given over forty years ago in the fall of 1973. Why did you starve us for 40 years, Saul? It is not as if you did much in those years to improve the lectures beyond adding some footnotes . . . .
I for one find this 'new' book more interesting than Naming and Necessity because of its fuller treatment of existence, the juiciest, hairiest, and deepest of philosophical topics.
But I hit a snag on p. 6.
On this page Kripke accurately explains the Frege-Russell view of existence, a view which in the terminology of Frege can be put by saying that existence is not a first-level but a second-level concept. What 'exist(s)' expresses is a property of properties or concepts, the property of being instantiated. 'Tigers exists' says that the concept tiger has instances; 'Round squares do not exist' says that the concept round square does not have instances. But what does 'Tony exists' say? Nothing meaningful! Kripke:
To deny that it [existence] is a first-level concept is to deny that there is a meaningful existence predicate that can apply to objects or particulars. One cannot, according to Frege and Russell, say of an object that it exists or not because, so they argued, everything exists: how can one then divide up the objects in the world into those which exist and those which don't? (6)
This exposition of the 'Fressellian' view conflates two different reasons for thinking that existence is second-level only. One reason is that first-level predications of existence involve a category mistake. Russell famously claimed that a first-level predication of existence is senseless in the way that a first-level predication of numerousness is senseless. To give my own example, 'Terrorists are numerous' is meaningful and true; 'Ahmed the suicide bomber is numerous' is meaningless and (presumably) without truth-value. (After he detonates himself he still won't be numerous, only his body parts will!)
The first reason that first-level predications of existence are meaningless is because existence is the property of being instantiated and no "object or particular" can be meaningfully said to be instantiated. But note that if this is right, then it makes no sense to say that everything exists. For among everything are "objects or particulars" and they cannot be meaningfully said to exist. So the reason cited in the Kripke passage above cannot be a valid reason for the view that existence is not a first-level but is instead the second-level concept of instantiation. The reason Kripke gives presupposes that existence is first-level!
I was disappointed to see that Kripke glides right past this difficulty. The difficulty is that Kripke and Russell conflate two different reasons for the view that existence is second-level only. The one reason is that since existence is instantiation, it is meaningless to say of an individual (an "object or particular") that it is instantiated. The other reason is that everything exists. But again, if everything exists, then individuals exist whence it follows that it cannot be meaningless to predicate existence of individuals.
Another way of looking at the matter is that there are two senses of 'meaningless' in play and they are being confused. In the first sense, a meaningless predication is one that involves a category mistake. Thus 'Socrates is numerous' is meaningless in this sense as is 'Some triangles are anorexic.' In the second sense a meaningless predication is one that is true but would be pointless to make. If everything exists, then one might think that there is no point in saying of any particular thing that it exists. There is a failure of contrast. But since not everyone is a philosopher, there would be some point in saying of Anna-Sofia that she is a philosopher. (If, however, one were at a convention all of whose attendees were known to be philosophers, there would be no point in my introducing you to Anna-Sofia by saying 'Anna-Sofia is a philosopher.' Nonetheless what I would be saying would be true and free of category-error.)
We must distinguish between the following two claims:
A. 'Socrates exists' is meaningless because Socrates is not of the right category either to exist or not exist: Socrates is an individual, not a concept or property or propositional function.
B. 'Socrates exists' is meaningless because everything exists and thus to say of any particular thing that it exists is pointless.
Much of what it is pointless to say is meaningful, and true to boot. If I were to walk up to a woman on the street and exclaim, 'I exist,' and she didn't shrink back in horror, she might say 'True, but so what? Everything exists.' In the shallows of everyday life we don't go around saying 'I exist' and 'Things exist.' But 'I exist' and 'Things exist' are deep truths and the beginnings of the philosopher's wisdom. (For the religionist, however, the initium sapientiae is timor Domini.)
My thesis contra Kripke is this. One cannot give as a reason for the Frege-Russell doctrine, according to which first-level predications of existence are meaningless in the sense of involving category error, the proposition that everything exists and that predicating existence of any particular thing is meaningless in the sense of pointless. But that is what Kripke does in the passage quoted, which is why I call it confused. That everything exists is, pace Meinong, an exceedingly plausible proposition to maintain. But if so, then individuals exist and it must be possible to say -- meaningfully in the first sense -- of any given individual that it exists.
In short, 'Everything exists' is not a good reason to maintain that existence cannot be meaningfully -- in the first sense -- predicated of individuals.
Later in the Locke Lectures, at p. 37 f., Kripke points out that the Frege-Russell logical apparatus seems to allow for a definition of 'x exists' in terms of
1. (Ǝy)(x = y).
Kripke then remarks that "it is hard for me to see that they [Frege and Russell] can consistently maintain that existence is only a second-level concept (in the Fregean terminology) and does not apply to indivduals." (37) Kripke's point is that on the above definition 'exists' is an admissible first-level predicate contra the official 'Fressellian' doctrine according to which 'exists' is never an admissible first-level predicate.
Here too I think Kripke is missing something. What he misses is that existence defined in terms of (1) is not genuine existence, the existence that admits of a contrast with nonexistence, and that genuine existence is what Frege and Russell were trying to explicate, even though they failed quite miserably in my humble opinion.
I say that our logical luminaries, Frege and Russell, can consistently maintain that existence is exclusively second-level because defining 'x exists' in terms of (1), though extensionally correct, does not capture what it is for any existing item to exist. For all it says is that a thing that 'already' (in the logical not temporal sense) exists is identical to something. That's not exactly news. Given that Socrates exists, of course he is identical to something, namely, Socrates! That's utterly trivial. Frege and Russell were trying to get at something non-trivial when they kicked existence upstairs to the second level of concepts and propositional functions.
What were they trying to get at? They were trying to get at what one typically means when one either affirms or denies the existence of an individual that is not given in sense perception but for which one has a concept. God, for example. When the theist affirms the existence of God he does not say of something whose existence he presupposes that it is identical to something. Rather, he affirms that the attributes constitutive of deity are jointly exemplified when it is at least epistemically possible that they not be jointly exemplified. To put it in Fregean jargon, the theist affirms that the marks (Merkmalen) of the concept (Begriff) God are instantiated by one and the same individual when it is at least epistemically possible that the marks not be jointly instantiated. Quite simply, the theist affirms that the concept God has an instance. He does not affirm that God has a property (Eigenschaft). He speaks not of God, but of the concept God. The atheist's denial is then the denial that the divine attributes are jointly exemplified. He denies that the concept God has an instance. He does not deny that God lacks the property (Eigenschaft) of existence. There is no such property. And not because everything has it, but because (he thinks) the existence/nonexistence contrast would be inexplicable if everything had it. Existence that contrasts with nonexistence is instantiation. There is no existence/nonexistence contrast at the level of individuals, but there is such a contrast at the level of concepts with existence construed as instantiation and nonexistence construed as non-instantiation.
Or suppose I wonder at my sheer existence, my being 'here,' when as seems obvious I might never have been 'here,' might never have existed at all. So wondering, I am not wondering at my identity with something but at that which makes it possible for me to be identical to something, namely, the fact that I exist. If I exist, then necessarily I am identical to something, namely, myself. But what is it for me to exist when it is at least epistemically possible that I not exist? (I would say that it is really and not merely epistemically possible that I not exist, that I am really and not merely epistemically a contingent being; though how I know this is an interesting question in modal epistemology or rather the epistemology of modal knowledge/belief.) On the Frege-Russell approach, one is driven to posit some sort of individual concept or haecceity property the instantiation of which is the existence of me. But that leads to terrible difficulties (covered in mind-numbing detail in my existence book) that I can't rehearse now.
Frege and Russell were trying to explain how there can be a meaningful contrast between existence and nonexistence on the assumption that everything exists. (Given that everything exists, one cannot say that some items have the property of existence and some items do not. As Kripke puts it, p. 37, "Things are not of two kinds, existers and nonexisters.") Our logical grandpappies thought that to capture the contrast they had to kick existence upstairs to the second level, the level of concepts, properties, propositional functions and the like, and then reinterpret existence as instantiation or, in Russell's jargon, as a propositional functions' being "sometimes true."
My thesis has long been that this leads to disaster. See my "Existence: Two Dogmas of Analysis" in Novotny and Novak eds., Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, Routledge, 2014, pp. 45-75.
By making this ascensive move they removed existence from individuals and at the same time removed from individuals the distinction of essence and existence, Sosein and Sein, essentia and esse, pick your terminology. Having situated the existence/nonexistence contrast at the second level, no contrast remains at the first level, the level of individuals or particulars. Yet these individual must exist if they are to instantiate properties. But then either (i) each individual necessarily exists -- which is absurd -- or (ii) genuine existence cannot be noncircularly defined in terms of (1), in terms of identity-with-something-or-other.
Let's explore this a bit.
Kripke points out that 'Everything exists,' i.e. 'Everything is identical to something,' i.e.
2. (x)(Ǝy)(x = y)
is a theorem of quantification theory and thus necessarily true. (p. 37) But from
3. □(x)(Ǝy)(x = y)
one cannot validly infer
4. (x)□(Ǝy)(x = y).
That is, from 'Necessarily, everything is identical to something' one cannot validly infer 'Everything is necessarily identical to something,' i.e., 'Everything necessarily exists.'
Surely most individuals exist contingently: each of these individuals is possibly such that it does not exist. Socrates exists but is possibly nonexistent. The predicate 'possibly nonexistent' is first-level. It is true of Socrates because he is not identical to his existence (in the manner of a necessary being) but really distinct from his existence. Clearly, the possible nonexistence of Socrates -- a feature he actually possesses -- cannot be identified with his possible non-identity with something, namely, Socrates. Socrates is not possibly non-identical to Socrates. If existence is self-identity, then nonexistence is serlf-diversity, and possible nonexistence is possible self-diversity. But surely Socrates' possible nonexistence is not his possible self-diversity.
What this shows is that the definition of 'x exists' in terms of '(Ǝy)(x = y)' does not capture genuine existence, the existence that admits of a contrast with nonexistence. Because of this, Frege and Russell can contrary to what Kripke maintains consistently hold both that (a) existence is a second-level property and that (b) 'x exists' is definable in terms of '(Ǝy)(x = y).' They can consistently hold this because 'exists' so defined has nothing to do with genuine existence, the existence that admits of a contrast with nonexistence.
I have been and continue to be an avid reader of your wonderful blog ever since I stumbled upon your post on Wittgenstein’s anti-philosophy some years ago. And I must say that your assorted musings and reflections – even your polemical jabs - have given me many valuable lessons, even if I do not necessarily agree with every point and detail. For all that, you have the gratitude and admiration of this humble correspondent and junior fellow-traveler in philosophy (male, hailing from the Philippines, partly of Chinese descent through my father).
Now even though we do not stand on the same side with regard to several matters of value and praxis -- as I am far to your left and you are far to my right -– I nonetheless wish to civilly discuss some topics surrounding the more heated disputes. Specifically, there are some nagging political-philosophical questions in my mind that I happily share with you, and your thoughts on them (either as brief responses to each query or perhaps a sustained post or series of posts on a cluster of selected issues) would be very much appreciated. Pardon if it took me so long to reach the heart of the matter, of if I seem to ramble on too much, but here goes:
1. To what extent can one extend hospitality, generosity, or charity to the arguments and premises of one’s opponents or rivals in polemical situations? It seems to me that apart from the unflinching commitment of many of the parties involved to their respective positions despite the absence of perfect justification, there is also the issue of mutual misunderstanding and misrepresentation (unintentional or otherwise), exacerbated by the fog of war. For instance, many conservatives, libertarians, and socialists appear to be rarely acquainted with the intricacies of each other’s theoretical standpoints and values, even as they dispute about practices and proposals.
MavPhil: How far extend hospitality, etc. in a polemical situation? Not very far if the situation is truly polemical and one's interlocutor is an opponent or adversary. I make a sharp distinction between polemical discourse and strictly philosophical discourse, and I engage in both. I engage in both because both are needed in the world as it is. It is a mark of the conservative that he deals with the world as it is without illusions or evasions or escapes into u-topia (no place). In a phrase of Richard M. Weaver, the conservative stands on the "terra firma of antecedent reality," a reality logically and ontologically antecedent to one's hopes, dreams, wishes, and desires.
As I see it, philosophy ceases to be philosophy when it becomes polemical. That goes for political philosophy as well which ought not be confused with political discourse in general, most of which is, of course, polemical.
Philosophy is inquiry. It is inquiry by those who don't know (and know that they don't know) with the sincere intention of increasing their insight and understanding. Philosophy is motivated by the love of truth, not the love of verbal battle or the need to defeat an opponent or shore up and promote preconceived opinions about which one has no real doubt and refuses to examine. When real philosophy is done with others it takes the form of dialog, not debate. It is conversation between friends, not opponents, who are friends of the truth before they are friends of each other. Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas.
There is nothing adversarial in a genuine philosophical conversation. The person I am addressing and responding to is not my adversary but a co-inquirer. In the ideal case there is between us a bond of friendship, a philiatic bond. But this philia subserves the eros of inquiry. The philosopher's love of truth is erotic, the love of one who lacks for that which he lacks. It is not the agapic love of one who knows and bestows his pearls of wisdom.
What I have described above, however, is rare in this fallen world of contention and strife. No philosophy without spectatorship, but here below we are embattled spectators. Hence the necessity of self-defense in several forms, from verbal polemic to shooting wars. The spaces of civility, wherein philosophy, science, the arts, humane living, and everything civilized flourish have always been encircled by evil forces against which one must be prepared to deploy violent remedies. Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. (Cf. Plato, Laws, 628d) Civility is for the civil only. One must oppose and in extreme situations kill the enemies of civilization. Last century, Nazis among others; this century, radical Muslims.
But why not stick to one's stoa and cultivate one's specialist garden in peace and quiet, neither involving oneself in, nor forming opinions about, the wider world of politics and strife? Why risk one's ataraxia in the noxious arena of contention? Why not remain within the serene precincts of theoria? For those of us of a certain age the chances are good that death will arrive before the barbarians do. Why bother one's head with the issues of the day? Many of us will most likely collapse before the culture that sustains us does.
We enter the arena of contention because the gardens of tranquillity and the spaces of reason are worth defending, with blood and iron if need be, against the barbarians and their witting and unwitting leftist enablers. Others have fought and bled so that we can live this life of beatitude. What has been passed on to us, we must passon. And so though we are not warriors of the body we can and should do our bit as warriors of the mind to preserve for future generations this culture which allows us to pursue otium liberale in peace, quiet, and safety.
While it’s willing to make investments, Mesa is also lean in ways that more bloated liberal cities can’t boast. Take the City Council. Despite Mesa’s hefty population, council members are part-timers who have day jobs in fields from education to copper mining. City leaders also pay themselves considerably less than those in other cities do. Mesa City Council members make only $33,000 a year, and the mayor is paid only $73,000. (And those salaries represent the fruits of a big raise: Before last year, city councilmembers made less than $20,000 a year and the mayor earned only $36,000.) By contrast, as of 2012, in similarly sized Fresno, the mayor made $126,000; city council members brought home nearly $65,000. In neighboring Phoenix, meanwhile, the mayor makes $88,000 and city councilmen earn more than $61,000.
A human life is too short for the acquisition by oneself of the wisdom needed to live it well -- or to end it well. And the same goes for the appropriation of the hard-won wisdom of one's predecessors: the brevity of life militates against the needed appropriation as much as against the needed acquisition. So wisdom must come from outside the human-all-too-human if it is to come at all.
Addendum . Dave Bagwill submits the following pertinent quotation from George MacDonald's Diary of an Old Soul for July 15th:
Who sets himself not sternly to be good,
Is but a fool, who judgment of true things
Has none, however oft the claim renewed.
And he who thinks, in his great plenitude,
To right himself, and set his spirit free,
Without the might of higher communings,
Is foolish also--save he willed himself to be.
William Voegli claims that the phrase 'political correctness' first entered the American vocabulary in 1991. I don't know about that, but I do know that the concept is much older: PC derives from the CP, as I explain in Dorothy Healey on Political Correctness.
I now refer you to what Bill Whittle has to say about the leftist narrative and political correctness. (HT: Monterey Tom)
Whittle refers to a man I blogged about on 30 August 2009:
The Gun-Totin' Obama Protester Was Black!
If a black man exercises his Second Amendment rights, is he really black? For liberals, the answer, apparently, is in the negative. For them, apparently, the only real black is a liberal black. Take a gander at this video clip. You will see an Obama protester with a semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, a pistol on his hip, and an ammo mag in his pocket. But the shot has been edited so that we cannot see that he is black. And you liberals have the chutzpah to tell me that the MSM does not tilt to the Left? To depict the man's color would not fit in with the leftist party line that opposition to Obama's policies has its origin in racism. Apparently, a black man who does not fit the leftist 'narrative' is not black, but a 'traitor to his race.' And the same goes, mutatis mutandis, for women who do not toe the party line.
In this clip you can see that the man is indeed black.
Here are two points that need to be made again and again in opposition to the willful moral and intellectual obtuseness of liberals and leftists.
1. Dissent is not hate. To dissent from a person's ideas and policies is not to hate the person.
2. As a corollary to #1, to dissent from the ideas and policies of a black man is not to hate the man. A fortiori, it is not to hate the man because he is black.
Here are ten things I have never done, but you probably have. I have never:
* taken a sleeping pill. * purchased a lottery ticket. * owned an umbrella. * as an adult worn pajamas, a bow tie, or suspenders. * owned or used a bathrobe. * owned or used an electric can opener. * as an adult attended a professional sporting event. * owned or used a Walkman, ipod, or any such contraption. * owned or used a laptop computer. * run credit card debt.
An earlier post addressed the nature of gluttony. One important point to emerge was that gluttony cannot be identified with the consumption of excessive amounts of food or drink. But what is wrong with it?
There are the worldling's reasons to avoid gluttony and there is no need to review them: the aesthetic reasons, the health reasons, and the safety reasons. These are good reasons, but non-ultimate.
The best reason to avoid gluttony, one that applies both to gluttony as excessive consumption and gluttony as inordinate concern for food, is that gluttony and other vices of the flesh interfere with the exercise of our higher nature, both intellectual and spiritual.
If you eat too much and die before your time you have merely shortened your animal life. Much worse is to blind your spiritual eye.
A lively 'conversation' about Islam. Affleck outs himself as a perfect idiot while getting slaughtered by the Maher-Harris tag team. Around 2:05 he starts to quote the Declaration of Independence (second paragraph) and the line about all men being endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and then 'corrects' himself substituting 'forefathers' for 'Creator.' Unbelievable. Does this idiot really believe that our rights come from the contingent decisions of certain fallible human beings?
Addendum 10/7: Affleck's view is not only stupid, but dangerous. But note that rejecting it leaves two options: rights come from the Creator; rights are simply part of the nature of things. What exactly the second option means, and whether it survives scrutiny, are nice questions.
Affleck is a representative instance of the HollyWeird liberal who has swallowed the leftist 'narrative' hook, line, and sinker. Pretty boy infidels like him would be among the first to have their throats cuts should the Islamists get their way. A useful idiot.
Addendum 10/8: Nicholas Kristof, another of the participants in the above-referenced 'conversation,' is also deserving of severe criticism for his mindless NYT-leftism. Dennis Prager does the job here. The column concludes:
But it was later in the dialogue that Kristof expressed the most dishonest of the left's arguments on this issue:
"The great divide is not between Islam and the rest. It's rather between the fundamentalists and the moderates in each faith."
"In each faith," Kristof?
Where, sir, are the Christian and Jewish jihadists? The only Jewish state in the world is one of the freest countries on earth, with protections for minority religions and women and homosexuals unknown anywhere in the Muslim world. And virtually every free country in the world is in the Christian world.
Presumably, these are just "ugly" facts.
This debate was valuable. Even more valuable would be if Maher and Harris came to realize that the death of Judeo-Christian values and their being supplanted by leftism is producing hundreds of millions of people who think like Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristof.
Big road trip last weekend: Phoenix, Barstow, Bakersfield, Santa Barbara and back by a different route. The Jeep Wrangler runs on unleaded regular. Paid $3.349/gal on 9/27 at Quartzsite, AZ off of I-10, one of the last Arizona gas-ups enroute to California. Wait 'til Blythe on the California side of the Colorado River and you will get 'hosed.' In Barstow, same day, I paid 3.579/gal at a Circle K. In Bakersfield on 9/30 paid $3.979 at a Shell station. Back home, yesterday, at Costco, $3.099/gal. Home, sweet home.
Jack Kerouac in a letter from 17 January 1962: "Everybody is making money off my ideas, like those "Route 66" TV producers, everybody except me . . . ." (Selected Letters 1957-1969, ed, Charters, Viking 1999, p. 326; see also p. 461 and pp. 301-302.) Here is the Nelson Riddle theme music from the TV series. And here is part of an episode from the series which ran from 1960-1964. George Maharis bears a striking resemblance to Jack, wouldn't you say? And notice Maharis is riding shotgun. Kerouac wasn't a driver. Neal Cassady was the driver.
Now dig Bobby Troup. And if that's too cool for you, here is Depeche Mode. Chuck Berry, the RollingStones, Dr. Feelgood, and others have covered the tune.
Allegedly, the New Atheism has a "shocking woman problem": Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are "misogynists." Thus Amanda Marcotte in Salon. (See also Kathe Pollitt in The Nation). This appears to be the latest PC purge.
It is true that the New Atheism is male-dominated. But why? According to Marcotte,
The reason has, in recent years, become quite apparent: Many of the most prominent leaders of the New Atheism are quick to express deeply sexist ideas. Despite their supposed love of science and rationality, many of them are nearly as quick as their religious counterparts to abandon reason in order to justify regressive views about women.
One such prominent leader is Sam Harris, a man of "knee-jerk Islamophobic tendencies" who has recently "added women to the category of people he makes thoughtless generalizations about."
Let's remind ourselves that a phobia is an irrational fear. Fear of radical Islam, however, is eminently rational, especially in the light of recent events. (You may wish to consult the Christians of the Middle East on this point.) It is obvious that 'Islamophobic' and cognates are semantic bludgeons used by leftists to silence and discredit their opponents by imputing to them a sort of cognitive/affective dysfunction. It's a shabby tactic and its says a lot about them.
As for "thoughtless generalizations about women," what does Harris actually say? From his weblog:
My work is often perceived (I believe unfairly) as unpleasantly critical, angry, divisive, etc. The work of other vocal atheists (male and female) has a similar reputation. I believe that in general, men are more attracted to this style of communication than women are. Which is not to say there aren’t millions of acerbic women out there . . . . But just as we can say that men are generally taller than women, without denying that some women are taller than most men, there are psychological differences between men and women which, considered in the aggregate, might explain why “angry atheism” attracts more of the former. Some of these differences are innate; some are surely the product of culture. Nothing in my remarks was meant to suggest that women can’t think as critically as men or that they are more likely to be taken in by bad ideas. Again, I was talking about a fondness for a perceived style of religion bashing with which I and other vocal atheists are often associated.
How can any reasonable person be offended by what Harris is saying above? He is giving an explanation of why men are 'over-represented' among active, or as I would call them 'evangelical,' atheists. Surely it is a plausible explanation and it may even be true. Anyone with any experience of life knows that there are differences between men and women and these are reflected in different styles of communication.
There is an interesting logico-linguistic question here. Is the sentence 'Women can think as critically as men' a modal statement? Note the modal auxiliary 'can.' The sentence is grammatically modal, but is it logically modal? Does the sentence express the proposition that it is possible that women think as critically as men? Or does it express a proposition about actuality? If the latter, then it is equivalent to 'Some women think as critically as men' which does not feature any modal words. The second sentence is clearly true, especially when spelled out as 'Some women think as critically as some men.'
Later in his post, Harris reports a dialog with an offended woman. Here is part of it:
She: [. . .] What you said about women in the atheist community was totally denigrating to women and irresponsible. Women can think just as critically as men. And men can be just as nurturing as women.
Me: Of course they can! But if you think there are no differences, in the aggregate, between people who have Y chromosomes and people who don’t; if you think testosterone has no psychological effects on human minds in general; if you think we can’t say anything about the differences between two bell curves that describe whole populations of men and women, whether these differences come from biology or from culture, we’re not going to get very far in this conversation.
The irate female is indisputably in the right if she is saying that some women think just as critically as some men, and that some men are just as nurturing as some women. But then she has no dispute with Harris who would not dream of denying these truths. The following, however, are false:
1. Every woman thinks just as critically as every man. 2. Every man is just as nurturing as every woman. 3. Every woman is possibly such that she thinks as critically as every man. 4. Every man is possibly such that he is as nurturing as every woman.
I leave undecided the following two de dicto claims:
5. It is possible that every woman think as critically as every man. 6. It is possible that every man be as nurturing as every woman.
Here as elsewhere many on the Left substitute the hurling of epithets for serious discussion. Why think carefully and responsibly when you can shout: sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, racist, bigoted, Islamophobic, etc.?
One of the basic errors of the Left is the assumption that we are all equal. It is is simply not the case. Men on average are taller than women on average. That's just the way it is. Now it is good to be tall, but it is also good to be nurturing, and women on average are more nurturing than men on average. No one can responsibly be labelled a sexist or a bigot for pointing out such plain facts as these.
Leftists often compound their error with a fallacious inference. They infer that since there is no equality of outcome, then there must have been sexism, or racism, etc. at work. Non sequitur!
Finally, if atheists draw their inspiration from natural science and oppose religion as superstition, then they ought to give some thought as to how they will ground empirically and scientifically key tenets of the leftist worldview. If you say that we are all equal, with equal rights, and equal dignity, and equal value as persons, etc. what is the basis of all that? Why isn't this just residual ideological claptrap left over after the death of God and the collapse of Christianity?
It was on this date in 1995 that the verdict in the O. J. Simpson murder trial came down: not guilty! To refer to this proceeding as the trial of the century ought to offend anyone with a modicum of historical sense and a concern for the English language. It is on a par with Tom Brokaw's silly reference to the World War II generation of Americans as the "greatest generation." Here is an example of what I am opposing:
We always hear phrases like "Fight of the Century" and "Trial of the Century" ... well, this really was the Trial of the Century. A Pro Football Hall of Fame running back might or might not have killed his wife and one of her male friends. All evidence pointed to him. No other suspects. No alibi. A disturbing history of domestic abuse. A motive. Blood splattered everywhere, including back at the suspect's house.
Nonsense! Irresponsible journalism of Brokavian proportions. If the Simpson double homicide trial was the Trial of the Century, then what were the following?
Scopes "Monkey" Trial (1925)
Nuremberg Trials (1945-49)
Alger Hiss (1949-50)
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (1951)
Adolf Eichmann (1961)
Clinton Impeachment (1999)
Most of the above were far more significant than the Simpson trial.
Who was Simpson? A guy who was uncommonly good at chasing a piece of pigskin around a field who one night gave vent to his murderous rage in a brutal double homicide. The only thing significant about that trial was that it exposed the tribalism among so many blacks, their incapacity to abstract from their racial identity and evaluate evidence rationally and objectively. This tribalism was again on clear display recently in the Trayvon Martin case. Except for a few black conservatives, black commentators on the trial displayed a depressing level of delusional thinking. Yes, you are delusional if you think there is a meaningful comparison between the Emmett Till case (1955) and the Martin-Zimmerman proceeding. Either that or you are contemptibly mendacious.
Whatever became of Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor in the Simpson trial? Her story here.
And no better way to kick off Kerouac month than with 'sweet gone Jack' reading from "October in Railroad Earth" from Lonesome Traveler, 1960. Steve Allen provides the wonderful piano accompaniment.
I have the Grove Press Black Cat 1970 paperback edition. Bought it on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, 12 April 1973. I was travelling East by thumb to check out East Coast graduate schools where I had been accepted, but mostly I 'rode the dog' (Greyhound bus), a mode of transport I wouldn't put up with today: two guys behind me chain-smoked and talked all the way from Los Angeles to Phoenix. New Orleans proved to be memorable, including the flophouse on Carondelet I stayed in for $2 a night. It was there that Lonesome Traveler joined On the Road in my rucksack.
I never before had seen Tabasco bottles so big as on the tables of the Bourbon Street bars and eateries. Exulting in the beat quiddity of the scene, I couldn't help but share my enthusiasm for Nawlins with a lady of the evening, not sampling her wares, but just talking to her on the street, she thinking me naive, and I was.
Here is a long excerpt (7:10), which contains the whole of the first two sections of the piece, pp. 37-40, of the Black Cat edition.
Chilly nights, good for sleeping with windows open, warm dry days of lambent desert light. October's sad paradise passes too soon but its dying light ushers in November, the month of gratitude in my personal liturgy.
Savor each day, each moment, each sunrise and moonset, moonrise and sunset. Drink green tea in the gloaming with Kerouac on your knee.
Enjoy each thing as if for the first time -- and the last.
A reader requests some help in a debate he is having with some atheists re: the problem of evil. My advice: don't debate atheists. Read their arguments and consider them carefully. Then think the problem through for yourself in as intellectually honest and existentially serious a manner as you can. Then decide whether to accept and practice a religion. Debate with atheists is like debate with leftists: it is unlikely to be fruitful.
But the following way of looking at the matter of God and evil may be of some help to my reader. In this entry I distinguish generic theism from specific theisms and then I claim that (i) the logical complexion and tractability of the problem of evil depends on the type of theism adopted, and that (ii) for something close to an orthodox -- miniscule 'o'-- Christian theism the problem of evil is more tractable than for generic theism.
Suppose we define a 'generic theist' as one who affirms the existence of a bodiless person, a pure spirit, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, and who in addition is perfectly free, the creator and sustainer of the universe, and the ground of moral obligation. This generic theism is common to the mainstream of the three Abrahamic religions. Most theists, however, are not 'generic' but adopt a specific form of theism. Christians, for example, add to the divine attributes listed above the attribute of being triune and others besides. Christianity also includes doctrines about the human being and his ultimate destiny in an afterlife. The (philosophical) anthropology and eudaimonology of Christianity is just as important to it as its theology. Generic theism is thus an abstraction from the concrete specific theisms that people accept and live. And let's be clear that while doctrine is essential to religion, pace Wittgenstein, or perhaps pace only certain epigoni of Wittgenstein, no religion is exhausted by its doctrine. Each concrete religion is a way of life and a form of life. Each concrete religion seeks an orthodoxy and an orthopraxy.
Now the point I want to make is that, just as we ought to distinguish between generic theism and specific theisms, we ought to distinguish between the generic problem of evil and specific problems of evil. The generic problem of evil is the problem faced by the generic theist of reconciling belief in a God possessing the standard omni-attributes with the existence of evil in the kinds and amounts encountered in the actual world. A specific problem of evil, on the other hand, is the problem a specific type of theist has in reconciling the existence of God with the existence of evil.
We need to examine whether the problem a theist of a specific stripe has in reconciling God and evil is easier to solve or perhaps harder to solve than the problem a generic theist has.
To see what I am driving at, imagine a version of theism — call it version A — that affirms God, immortal souls, and the eventual blissful communion of all souls with God. On this version of theism there is purgatory, but no hell defined as a state of everlasting separation from communion with God. Thus on this version of theism there is post-mortem evil, the pain of purgatory, but this purgatorial evil is instrumental for the achieving of a higher good and is to that extent redeemed by this higher good.
Now compare this theism-A with a theism-B which affirms God but denies post-mortem existence whether in the form of immortal souls or in the form of resurrected (ensouled) bodies. On this alternative the God of the generic theist (defined above) exists, but for human beings this life is all there is: at death a human being ceases to exist utterly. Now does it not seem that the theist-B faces a much tougher problem than the theist-A when it comes to reconciling a good God with the fact of evil? So it seems to me.
For the theist-B, the horrendous evils of this life are not compensated for by any life to come. One suffers pointlessly, meaninglessly. But for the theist-A, the transient evils of this short life are as nothing compared to the endless bliss of the soul's communion with God and with other purified souls. Thus gratuitous evil for the theist-A is a vanishing quantity. To appreciate this, you must understand that for the theist-A, God is Being itself in its full plenitude while this world, though real, is entirely derivative and entirely dependent, at each instant, on the divine Reality for its existence, nature, and intelligibility. The supreme Reality is like the sun outside of Plato's Cave; this world is the cave, its furnishings, and its benighted troglodytes.
[By the way, right here is a chief reason for the pointlessness of discussions with atheists. The typical atheist is a naturalist/materialist/physicalist for whom this physical world is the ens reallissimum. One cannot have a fruitful discussion with someone whose sense of reality and value is entirely different from one's own. Analogy with the political: if you have a traditional notion of justice you won't get far with someone who thinks of justice as 'social justice.' But I digress.]
Most atheists share the very strong intuition that the probability of this world's containing the amount of evil it does is much greater on the hypothesis that God does not exist than it is on the hypothesis that God exists:
Prob(E/~G) >> Prob(E/G).
They take this as evidence that there is no God. For if there were a God possessing the standard omni-attributes, why would there be the amounts of evil that we actually encounter? But to properly evaluate this inequality, how can one leave out the rest of what most theists believe? The amount and kinds of evil in this world enter the calculation, no doubt. But the absence of gratuitous evil, and the presence of unending bliss in the next world, are also relevant if the question concerns reconciling God and evil within theism-A.
Here is an analogy. Some of us had rotten childhoods but are enjoying very good adulthoods. Suppose Sam is such a person, now age 60. Up to age 23 Sam's life was on balance not worth living; after age 23 it became worth living. Suppose Sam claims that his life is overall rotten due to his lousy first 23 years. You would point out to him that his judgment is ridiculous and unjust. The quality of one's life overall depends on the whole of it, not just on part of it. There is also the consideration that there is a surplus of value due to the life's going from bad to good, rather than in the other direction (bonum progressionis.) Similarly, a just evaluation of the value of life in this world cannot be based solely on what goes on in this world, but must also take into consideration what goes on in the next.
To sum up:
1. Real live theists are not generic theists, but theists of some particular stripe or other. Generic theism is an abstraction. Real live theists hold specific doctrines that are embodied in specific practices. Among these doctrines will be a theory of the nature of man, his ultimate destiny, his final felicity, and his relation to God. Although the question of the existence of God is logically distinct from the question of the nature of man, in a specific theism such as Christianity, the theology and the anthropology are mutually influencing so much so that if there is no God, then there is no Man either. (If what distinguishes man from other animals is imago dei, then no God, no Man.)
2. The problem of evil, if it is to be a genuine existential conundrum bearing on how one lives one's life and not a mere logic puzzle, is the problem of reconciling the existence of the God of a particular religion with the fact of evil as evil is understood from within this particular religion.
3. A theism that affirms God, post-mortem existence, and the eventual unending blissful communion of all souls (or resurrected persons) with God does not face the same problem of evil as a version of theism which denies post-mortem existence. The problem of evil for the former type of theist is much less serious than it is for the theist of the latter type.
4. It is dialectically unfair for atheists to argue against all (classical) theists from the fact of the evil in this world when (i) not all theists are generic theists, and (ii) some theists believe that the transient evils of this short life are far outweighed by the unending bliss of the world to come.
5. It is arguable that there is no insoluble problem of evil for theists-A. Suppose this world is a "vale of soul-making" (the phrase is from John Keats) in which human beings, exercising free will, make themselves worthy, or fail to make themselves worthy, of communion with God. Combine this soul-making idea with post-mortem existence, and the existence of purgatory but not hell, and we have perhaps the elements of a solution to the problem of evil. (Cf. John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, Part IV)
Let me conclude by noting that a theism-C which holds to eternal damnation for some may exacerbate the problem of evil. Here I refer you to David Lewis' posthumous "Divine Evil" in Louise Antony, ed., Philosophers Without Gods, Oxford 2007, pp. 231-242. Lewis, may God rest his soul, maintains that the usual logical and evidential arguments from evil are a "sideshow" compared to a "simpler argument, one that has been strangely neglected" (p. 231) that focuses not on the evils that God fails to prevent, but on the one's he perpetrates. And then he goes on to speak of hell and eternal torment. You can guess what conclusion he comes to.
We shall have to examine Lewis' simpler argument from evil in a separate post. But I am happy that he in effect concedes one of my points, namely, that a serious discussion of the problem of evil must address the whole of a theistic position and not focus merely on God and his attributes.
The following portion of an interview by Richard Carrier of Susan Haack puts one in mind of Brian Leiter whose main disservice to academic philosophy has been his contribution to its hyperprofessionalization.
S.H.: I had begun to express concern about the condition of professional philosophy well before 2001; and I’m sorry to say that our profession seems to me in even worse shape now than it did then. It has become terribly hermetic and self-absorbed; bogged down in pretentious and pseudo-technical jargon; in the thrall of those dreadful “rankings”; and splintered into narrow specialisms and—even worse—cliques identified, not by a specialty, but by a shared view on a specialized issue. A friend of mine put it in a nutshell when she described professional philosophy as “in a nose-dive.”
The reasons for the over-specialization are no doubt very complicated. But one relevant factor, I’m sure, is departmental rankings by area; and another is the ever-increasing pressure to publish, now extending even to graduate students. And behind this, there’s that ever-growing class of professional university administrators who have long ago put their academic work on permanent hold and, unable to judge a person’s work themselves, can only rely on surrogate measures like rankings, “productivity,” grant money brought in, citations, and such. Inevitably, many professors and would-be professors soon internalize the same distorted values; and many soon realize that a relatively easy way to publish a lot, fast, is to associate yourself with some clique, to join a citation cartel, to split your work into minimally publishable units, and of course to repeat yourself.
Here is essential reading if you want to understand the nature of Islam and its threat to the West and its values. If Schall is right, the Obama administration understands nothing about either and is putting us in grave danger in consequence of its (willful?) misunderstanding. Schall is of course too 'measured' and 'gentlemanly' in his use of language to put things as plainly as I just did, which is why he needs the assistance of bloggers like me. Excerpt:
The Islamic State and the broader jihadist movements throughout the world that agree with it are, I think, correct in their basic understanding of Islam. Plenty of evidence is found, both in the long history of early Muslim military expansion and in its theoretical interpretation of the Qur’an itself, to conclude that the Islamic State and its sympathizers have it basically right. The purpose of Islam, with the often violent means it can and does use to accomplish it, is to extend its rule, in the name of Allah, to all the world. The world cannot be at “peace” until it is all Muslim. The “terror” we see does not primarily arise from modern totalitarian theories, nationalism, or from anywhere else but what is considered, on objective evidence, to be a faithful reading of a mission assigned by Allah to the Islamic world, which has been itself largely procrastinating about fulfilling its assigned mission.
It is important that people read the entire piece.
I have found that it is dangerous to assume that others are essentially like oneself.
Psychologists speak of projection. As I understand it, it involves projecting (etymologically, throwing outward) into others one's own attitudes, beliefs, motivations, fears, emotions, desires, values, and the like. It is classified as a defense mechanism. To avoid confronting an unsavory attitude or trait in oneself, one projects it into another. Suppose one is stingy, considers stinginess an undesirable trait, but doesn't want to own up to one's stinginess. As a defense against the admission of one's own stinginess, one projects it into others. "I'm not stingy; you're stingy!"
I once had a superficial colleague who published a lot. He was motivated more by a neurotic need to advance himself socially and economically, a need based in low self-esteem, rather than by a drive to get at the truth or make a contribution to his subject. He was at some level aware that his motives were less than noble. Once, when he found out that I had published an article, he told me that my motive was to see my name in print. It was a classic case of projection: he could not understand me except as being driven by the same paltry motives that drove him. By projecting his motives into me, he warded off the awareness of their presence in him, or else excused their presence in him on the spurious ground that everyone has the same paltry motivations.
Most of the definitions of projection I have read imply that it is only undesirable attitudes, beliefs, and the like that are the contents of acts of projection. But it seems to me that the notion of projection could and perhaps should be widened to include desirable ones as well.
The desire for peace and social harmony, for example, is obviously good. But it too can be the content of an act of psychological projection. A pacifist, for example, may assume that others deep down are really like he is: peace-loving to such an extent as to avoid war at all costs. A pacifist might reason as follows: since everyone deep down wants peace, and abhors war, if I throw down my weapon, my adversary will do likewise. My adversay is histile out of fear; if I remove the reason for his fear, he will be pacified. By unilaterally disarming, I show my good will, and he will reciprocate. But if you throw down your weapon before Hitler, he will take that precisely as justification for killing you: since might makes right on his neo-Thrasymachian scheme, you have shown by your pacific deed that you are unfit for the struggle for existence and therefore deserve to die, and indeed must die to keep from polluting the gene pool.
Projection in cases like these can be dangerous. One oftens hears the sentiment expressed that we human beings are at bottom all the same and all want the same things. Not so! You and I may want
Harmony and understanding Sympathy and trust abounding No more falsehoods or derisions Golden living dreams of visions Mystic crystal revelation And the mind's true liberation
as expressed in that characteristic '60s song, Aquarius, but others have belligerence and bellicosity hard-wired into them. They like fighting and dominating and they only come alive when they are bashing your skull in either literally or figuratively. People are not the same and it is a big mistake to think otherwise and project your decency into them.
I'll say it again: people are not the same. We are not 'equal.' Or do you consider yourself the moral equal of Chechen Muslim ingrates who come to our shores, exploit our hospitality, go on welfare, rip us off, and then detonate explosives at the finish line of a great American event that celebrates life and self-reliance? I am referring to the Boston Marathon.
I said that the psychologists classify projection as a defense mechanism. But how could the projection of good traits count as a defense mechanism? Well, suppose that by engaging in such projections one defends oneself against the painful realization that the people in the world are much worse than one would have liked to believe. Many of us have a strong psychological need to see good in other people, and this can give rise to illusions. There is good and evil in each person, and one must train oneself to accurately discern how much of each is present in each person one encounters.
Our humanities and social science departments are filled with scholars and pseudo-scholars deemed to be experts in terrorism, religion, Islamic jurisprudence, anthropology, political science, and other diverse fields, who claim that where Muslim intolerance and violence are concerned, nothing is ever what it seems. Above all, these experts claim that one can’t take Islamists and jihadists at their word: Their incessant declarations about God, paradise, martyrdom, and the evils of apostasy are nothing more than a mask concealing their real motivations. What are their real motivations [according to these experts]?
Insert here the most abject hopes and projections of secular liberalism: How would you feel if Western imperialists and their mapmakers had divided your lands, stolen your oil, and humiliated your proud culture? Devout Muslims merely want what everyone wants—political and economic security, a piece of land to call home, good schools for their children, a little leisure to enjoy the company of friends. Unfortunately, most of my fellow liberals appear to believe this. In fact, to not accept this obscurantism as a deep insight into human nature and immediately avert one’s eyes from the teachings of Islam is considered a form of bigotry.
Harris has put his finger on a mistake that too many in the West, whether you call it psychological projection or not make, namely, the mistake of assuming that everyone, deep down, cherishes the same values and has the same motivations. This mistake is one of the planks in the platform of political correctness.
And as we should have learned by now, political correctness can get you killed.
What's the reasoning behind Obama's statement? Perhaps this:
1. All religions are good. 2. Islam is a religion Ergo 3. Islam is good 4. ISIL is not good. Ergo 5. ISIL is not Islamic.
This little argument illustrates how one can reason correctly from false/dubious premises.
Are all religions good? Suppose we agree that a religion is good if its contribution to human flourishing outweighs its contribution to the opposite. Then it is not at all clear that Islam is good. For while it has improved the lives of some in some respects, on balance it has not contributed to human flourishing. It is partly responsible for the long-standing inanition of the lands it dominates and it is the major source of terrorism in the world today. It is an inferior religion, the worst of the great religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam). Schopenhauer is surely right that it is the "saddest and poorest form of theism." See article below. Its conception of the afterlife is the crudest imaginable. Its God is pure will . See Benedict's Regensburg Speech. It is a violent religion scarcely distinguishable from a violent political ideology. Its prophet was a warrior. It is impervious to any correction or enlightening or chastening from the side of philosophy. There is no real philosophy in the Muslim world to speak of. Tiny Israel in the 66 years of its existence has produced vastly more real philosophy than the whole of the Muslim world in the last 400 years.
So it is not the case that all religions are good. Some are, some are not. This is a balanced view that rejects the extremes of 'All religions are good' and 'No religions are good.'
. . . if Islam is intrinsically flawed, then the assumption that religion is basically a good thing would have to be revisited. That, in turn, might lead to a more aggressive questioning of Christianity. Accordingly, some Church leaders seem to have adopted a circle-the-wagons mentality—with Islam included as part of the wagon train. In other words, an attack on one religion is considered an attack on all: if they come for the imams, then, before you know it, they’ll be coming for the bishops. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t provide for the possibility that the imams will be the ones coming for the bishops.
Note that the following argument is invalid:
6. Islam is intrinsically flawed 2. Islam is a religion Ergo 7. All religions are intrinsically flawed.
So if you hold that Islam is intrnsically flawed you are not logically committed to holding that all religions are. Still, Kilpatrick's reasoning may be a correct explanation of why some want to maintain that all religions are good. Kilpatrick continues (emphasis added):
In addition to fears about the secular world declaring open season on all religions, bishops have other reasons to paint a friendly face on Islam. It’s not just the religion-is-a-good-thing narrative that’s at stake. Other, interconnected narratives could also be called into question.
One of these narratives is that immigration is a good thing that ought to be welcomed by all good Christians. Typically, opposition to immigration is presented as nothing short of sinful. [. . .]
But liberal immigration policies have had unforeseen consequences that now put (or ought to put) its proponents on the defensive. In Europe, the unintended consequences (some critics contend that they were fully intended) of mass immigration are quite sobering. It looks very much like Islam will become, in the not-so-distant future, the dominant force in many European states and in the UK as well. If this seems unlikely, keep in mind that, historically, Muslims have never needed the advantage of being a majority in order to impose their will on non-Muslim societies. And once Islamization becomes a fact, it is entirely possible that the barbarities being visited on Christians in Iraq could be visited on Christians in Europe. Or, as the archbishop of Mosul puts it, “If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”
If that ever happens, the bishops (not all of them, of course) will bear some of the responsibility for having encouraged the immigration inflow that is making Islamization a growing threat. Thus, when a Western bishop feels compelled to tell us that Islamic violence has “nothing to do with real Islam,” it’s possible that he is hoping to reassure us that the massive immigration he has endorsed is nothing to worry about and will never result in the imposition of sharia law and/or a caliphate. He’s not just defending Islam, he’s defending a policy stance with possibly ruinous consequences for the West.
Of course, presidents and prime ministers say the same sorts of things about Islam. President Obama recently assured the world that “ISIL speaks for no religion,” Prime Minister David Cameron said that the extremists “pervert the Islamic faith,” and UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond asserted that the Islamic State “goes against the most basic beliefs of Islam.” They say these things for reasons of strategy and because they also have a narrative or two to protect. In fact, the narratives are essentially the same as those held by the bishops—religion is good, diversity is our strength, and immigration is enriching.
Since they are actually involved in setting policy, the presidents, prime ministers, and party leaders bear a greater responsibility than do the bishops for the consequences when their naïve narratives are enacted into law. Still, one has to wonder why, in so many cases, the bishop’s narratives are little more than an echo of the secular-political ones. It’s more than slightly worrisome when the policy prescriptions of the bishops so often align with the policies of Obama, Cameron, and company.
Many theologians believe that the Church should have a “preferential option for the poor,” but it’s not a good sign when the bishops seem to have a preferential option for whatever narrative stance the elites are currently taking on contested issues (issues of sexual ethics excepted). It’s particularly unnerving when the narratives about Islam and immigration subscribed to by so many bishops match up with those of secular leaders whose main allegiance is to the church of political expediency.
When the formulas you fall back on are indistinguishable from those of leaders who are presiding over the decline and fall of Western civilization, it’s time for a reality check.