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Friday, May 15, 2015


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Bill, thanks for the stimulating post.

It seems to me that if someone maintains the non-sequitur, then he presupposes the following:

1) a denial of epistemological realism (and perhaps a denial of the correspondence theory of truth); and
2) an affirmation of epistemological subjectivism.

In other words, he assumes that human minds cannot link with reality, but that we can only grasp our own representations. Or, at least he assumes this with regard to human thought about God.

If this assumption is false (and I believe it is), then the argument is unsound.

Julia Child (no "s")

You're welcome, Elliot.

Thanks for the correction, Judith.

I completely agree that this division between "the God of Abraham" and "the God of the philosophers" is superficial, at best.

Yet I'm not hearing what you're hearing in this Buber passage (maybe more context would help). I don't get the impression that his position is somehow that all ideas or thoughts lack mind-transcendent referents. Rather, since he seems to define "philosopher" as someone whose business it is to explain phenomena within the bounds of a conceptual system, his conclusion re: "the God of the philosophers" is that such attempted "explanations" have an imaginary object as a referent rather than God himself. Why? Because any "God" that doesn't transcend any and all explanatory systems exists only in the mind of the "philosopher."

Even if we read him this way, though, it doesn't get him off the hook; for his definition of "philosopher" is irresponsibly narrow and silly (Plato and Aquinas would fail to be philosophers, for example).


Being in a charitable mood of late, let me offer an analogy that may nudge us towards a better understanding of Buber's fideism.

Imagine that we ask a person, call him Frank, to provide us with a very detailed description of his most desirable ideal partner (soul-mate, if you like) complete with a physical description, psychological traits, and everything else that is important for Frank to find in his ideal partner. Call anything satisfying this description X.

Imagine further that we convince Frank that we are able to obtain a proof that X exists based upon a massive database we have about every human being on earth. Let us suppose that we do so and prove that there exists a unique, one and only one, person fitting all the components Frank listed in his description of an ideal partner. Of course, Frank never meets X eye to eye, flesh to flesh, mind to mind: i.e., in Russelian terminology, Frank never has any "knowledge by acquaintance" of X.

Does it make sense to say any of the following about Frank: "Frank passionately loves X"; "Frank is madly in love with X"; "Frank intensely cares about X"; "Frank misses X", etc,?

Of course, none of these things can be sensibly said about Frank's attitudes towards X; from Frank's point of view our proof, assuming he believes it, that X exists is internally (emotionally, etc.,) impotent. Frank's knowledge of X is (again in Russelian language) limited to "knowledge by description" only. And such knowledge is ineffectual to cause the above attitudes.

What Frank needs now is to actually meet X; i.e., to have knowledge by acquaintance of X; only then will he know whether X is indeed a suitable object of the above list of attitudes. In the absence of such an encounter, our proof that X exists will always remain, from Frank's point of view, a mere "idea" without concrete reality. This is not to say that Frank thinks that our proof is merely a proof of an idea. We can safely assume that Frank believes that we have proven that a unique X exists as a concrete and real person. Still, in the absence of a concrete encounter, of knowledge by acquaintance, X is neither real nor concrete from Frank's point of view. Hence, Frank cannot form any of the above attitudes towards X.

I think that Buber can be interpreted as saying that proofs for the existence of God, even if convincing and accepted as such, are ineffectual in inducing suitable attitudes towards God similar to the one's we listed regarding Frank because they only provide us with knowledge by description of God. Moreover, in the absence of such attitudes, belief in God is belief in an "idea"; to be sure an idea believed to be instantiated by a unique being, but nonetheless one which remains lacking in potency. What is needed for an all-embracing faith, so I suppose Buber maintains, is faith induced by knowledge by acquaintance.

Now, of course, the pivotal question arises: Can there be knowledge by acquaintance of God?

>> I don't get the impression that his position is somehow that all ideas or thoughts lack mind-transcendent referents.<<

Where do I say or imply that?


We have a detailed definite description D. D specifies the attributes of Frank's dream lover. We are able to show that there is an x such that x satisfies D. Furthermore, x uniquely satisfies D because D is a definite description.

Does Frank love x? No. We agree on this.

I would put it this way. To love the being-uniquely-instantiated of a set (possibly complete) of lovable attributes is not to love the person who uniquely instantiates these attributes. Why not? Because to love whoever uniquely instantiates the attributes is not to love the particular person who in fact uniquely instantiates the attributes.

Because the loving regard is routed through a definite description which is general, it fails to 'harpoon' the particular person in her haecceity and ipseity.

So if Aquinas argues to a First Cause, he argues to whatever it is that satisfies the job description 'unique cause of the universe.' He cannot in that way reach God in his singularity, haecceity, ipseity. And Aquinas was well aware of this.

So far, we are on the same page. Unfortunately, Buber confuses the point I just made with the absurd notion that if discursive reason fails to get God in his haecceity, then it doesn't reach reality at all, but stops short at a concept or idea.

>>Moreover, in the absence of such attitudes, belief in God is belief in an "idea"; to be sure an idea believed to be instantiated by a unique being, but nonetheless one which remains lacking in potency.<<

I don't think so. If 'belief in God' means 'belief that God exists' then believing that there is a first cause is not believing that an idea exists.

>>'I don't get the impression that his position is somehow that all ideas or thoughts lack mind-transcendent referents.' Where do I say or imply that?<<

Sorry if I missed you here. I got the impression from this sentence:

>>When I think about something I don't in thinking about it turn it into a mere thought.<<

I took this to be a rejection of a general claim that you take Buber to affirm.

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