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Thursday, May 14, 2015


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Another fascinating post, as usual. Thanks for it.

When you say you are certain that "I exist" is true, does that mean you are certain about what 'I' and 'exist' mean? Surely this can't be the case, because the meanings of terms like 'I' and 'exist' are two of the deepest and most difficult philosophical issues around. But if you are not certain about what those terms mean, then in what sense are you certain of the proposition?


I tend to agree with your assessment of this footnote. However, I think that Soloveitchick's point can be made somewhat stronger if situated within the central theme of this particular book. So let me try this on you.

Soloveitchick's book can be located within the genre of the Phenomenology of Religion. Within the Phenomenology of Religion he attempts to identify a certain type of experience of God that is linked to an intimate awareness of the divine in reality. For instance, the content of what he calls the "cosmic experience" is the divine presence in the physical surrounding of the experiencer. Let us assume that such experience exists for some people and lacks for others. Then, Soloveitchick's point can be restated as follows:

those who have experienced the "cosmic experience" of the divine, the Cosmological Argument, even if it were successful, is useless and offers no further conviction;

those who never felt the "cosmic experience" of the divine, the Cosmological Argument, even if it were successful, can neither produce the cosmic experience nor can it be a suitable substitute.

You're welcome, Josh. >>When you say you are certain that "I exist" is true, does that mean you are certain about what 'I' and 'exist' mean?<<

No, I pretty much said the opposite. That I now exist is certain, but what or who I am, and what it is to exist, are far from certain. Am I a thinking substance, or a momentary item, or a bundle of perceptions, or the eternal Atman? Not clear.

To give a quick answer to your puzzle: When I directly intuit my own existence, I do not grasp a proposition at the level of sense but intuit a reality. So I don't need to know the sense of 'I' or the sense of 'exist.'


Similar considerations as stated in my previous comment may be brought to bare concerning your critique of his claims regarding the "I exist"; "the world around me exists." I agree with you that the *cogito* I cannot be doubted. But Soloveitchick may not be talking here about the *cogito* I, but rather about what may be termed (I believe he himself uses this very term somewhere) the "creedal I". The creedal I is the awareness of God's spirit in us. The claim can be now restated as the claim that the existence of the "creedal I", unlike the cogito I, cannot be ascertained in the absence of an awareness of the reality of God.


What you say is exactly what Soloveitchik means. One who experiences God in nature has no need of any shaky inferences from nature to God.

But the typical atheist experiences nature as Godless. So if we go by phenomenology alone, we won't be able to resolve the issue.

If A experiences nature as godless and B experiences nature as divine creation, they cannot both be right, and each has a good reason to doubt whether he is right given the other guy's view. Each side ought to admit that there is a legitimate question about the veridicality of his experience of nature. This ought to push both beyond mere phenomenology into metaphysics with its abstract arguments.


I'll write more tomorrow, but there's an old song in which Lina Romay sings "I can't bear/bare it without you; I don't get around much any more." How would you disambiguate her meaning?


This is a great post, thanks for introducing Soloveitchik. I hate to ask a question about something completely unrelated, but I'm trying to find a book that you recommended years ago about philosophical argument. It is a very short book, maybe 30 to 40 pages, with a purple cover. The core of the book breaks down philosophical argument into just three methods, discussing the "skeleton" of an argument, using a single point in an argument in an argument the original person would disagree with, and one other. Those are the details I remember. You recommended it in a blog post years ago, do you remember what that book might be?

In any event, thanks for all the arguments and entertainment over the years. Look forward to more in the future.


I hunted for "creedal I" in S. but found nothing. Do you have a page reference for me?

>>The creedal I is the awareness of God's spirit in us. The claim can be now restated as the claim that the existence of the "creedal I", unlike the cogito I, cannot be ascertained in the absence of an awareness of the reality of God.<<

True by definition! But why should we think that 'creedal I' applies to anything?

Suppose someone argues: Creation proves the existence of God because there cannot be creation without a creator.

As an atheist you will have no trouble spotting the fallacy.


Thanks very much for the kind words.

You may be thinking of Jay F. Rosenberg, The Practice of Philosophy: A Handbook for Beginners.

It has a mostly purple cover, but it doesn't fit your description all that well.


Let me know if this is the book you had in mind.


I certainly agree with your reservations regarding the limits of Soloveitchick's treatise. However, let me highlight how I understand his writings.

Soloveitchick's purpose is not to persuade or cajole an atheist or even agnostic. He clearly and explicitly discloses the framework in which he operates and the purpose for which he writes. He admittedly writes within a theistic framework, particularly within the Jewish worldview. Therefore, he assumes the broad theistic metaphysics derived from the OT and Halakich texts. His purpose is to articulate and explicate what it means for a man of faith to relate to his committments within a modern world. In other words, his obsession is to triangulate a man of faith with the Halakhic commitments and the modern world.

However, despite the fact that Soloveitchik operates within a Judaic framework, I am completely convinced that he conveys a profound insight to all of us. This including atheists who have an open mind and genuinely wish to explore and understand a well articulated, clear, and visionary message about the depths of a spiritual existence and its meaning.

In light of the above, your comparison between Paul (Romans 1: 18-20) and Soloveitchick may not be apt. Paul's appeal is primarily to those who deny God; his argument is that since the divine is omnipresent and apparent in all of reality and the deniers are aware of this presence, their denial must be intentional, deliberate, and stems from an evil core. Soloveitchick, by contrast, does not address himself to atheists or agnostics (deniers), nor does he claim that God's omnipresence can be discerned by anyone but those who have faith. Moreover, even those who have faith may not be consistently aware of the divine omnipresence.

See: "The Halakhic Mind: An Essay On Jewish Tradition and Modern Thought", Rabbi Joseph B. Solovitchick; (1986) Seth Press.

I am not sure that the reference to "creedal I" is in "The Lonely Man of Faith, which you own, or on of the other books I read or reading.


I am getting near the end of *Lonely Man of Faith* and I agree that the book contains many profound insights. But was it really necessary for S. to denigrate the role of reason as a secondary support of faith? That denigration might be detachable from the rest of what he says.

You are right to point out a difference between Paul and S.

We'll talk more about this over breakfast.

That's not the book I'm thinking of, will have to keep searching. Just goes to show that when you find a good book from the library you need to buy it, memory alone will not do over the years.

Thanks for the suggestion.


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