Arimathea | Philosophy
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Tuesday, February 12, A.D. 2013
Omen Dei?

Agence France-Presse yesterday published a lovely photograph of lightning’s striking the cupola of Saint Peter’s Basilica hours after Pope Benedict XVI announced his forthcoming retirement: “Coup de tonnerre sur le Vatican.”

Several media outlets have covered it in tandem with their own papal retirement stories. As usual, I read the articles’ comments for the occasional amusing or insightful note. “Nick” commented on the Skye (AOL Weather) post:

It’s no coincidence that lightning struck the cross on top of the Vatican the day the pope announces his resignation. But people do not want to believe in a higher power so will do anything to write it off as coincidence. Even if God came down and sat on the roof they would say he was a cloud or something.

I smiled at the last line; it is true. Nick’s comment reminds me of “How the Dwarfs Refused to be Taken In” from The Last Battle. And the parable of the rich man and Lazarus makes the point more bluntly. My friend Andrew often refers to this vivid depiction of spiritual blindness by Lewis, and I think of it whenever I deal with skeptics. How many times have we heard atheists ridicule God as a groundless, superfluous fantasy? They are tragically like Lewis’ dwarfs (dwarves!) who cannot see the abundance of evidence all around them.

Concerning the lightning bolt at the Vatican yesterday, Humean skepticism has a point. Lightning happens, and men appear to impose interpretations on this rather regular occurrence when it is in their minds to do so. In other words, we only see meaning when we are looking for it. However, that does not rule out inherent meaning. If the world is intelligible, then I do not find it absurd that seemingly “independent” phenomena would intersect in ways that we recognize as “signs.” Coincidence? Well, coincidence is a way of describing events that appear unrelated to us, though no events are truly unrelated. It is just that our human perspectives are quite limited. I deal with a similar idea in “Meyer’s Intelligent Design,” and I elaborate further in “Is God an Accident?”:

I marvel at how clever creatures can draw explanatory principles from the empty well of chance. Chance does not explain; chance merely signifies the complicated levels on which intentional agents experience reality. With apologies to Aristotle, allow me to talk about my fictional pals, Bob and Matt. Bob the bartender owes Matt the Maytag repairman money that he intends to pay him when he sees him again. One day, Bob goes to Best Buy to buy his belle, Betty Sue, a microwave oven. Matt happens to be at Best Buy trying to catch up on the latest developments in the laundry machine trade. Bob sees Matt and pays him. We can say that Bob’s paying Matt when he did was the result of chance. There was agency by both men, but the result of their intended ends was not intended by either one of them. Chance explains an element in the story.

Yet, note that chance only indicates how the intended actions of two agents interelated in a wider theater than their own perspectives. When we consider a theater as wide as reality, what role does chance play? Is it not simply what we might call the order of being’s manifesting itself in motion? When people speak of chance, they often mean random and unpredictable. Yet, we observe everywhere the tendencies of nature and the probability of phenomena that betray an order. The universe has a structure that is intelligible. It has patterns that human reason perceives and understands. When we attribute causality to chance, we simply admit that we remain ignorant of the whole as was Bob of all the facts. Yet, Bob and Matt both acted as agents with will and ends, and they acted so in an orderly universe.

Coincidence, as a species of chance, is how we in our ignorance perceive simultaneous events when their relationship is not obvious.  However, if the ideas interrelate as the eternal intelligible structure of reality, in the mind of God, then the manifestations of those ideas in time and place—in becoming—would expectably interrelate on the “horizontal” level, as well. Moreover, everything that happens in time has a causal relationship with everything else on the timeline; everything is part of that river. I suspect that pagan divinization and astrology originate in recognizing this aspect of the world. It is a metaphysically respectable point that has been besmirched by soothsayers’ capitalizing on ignorant man’s desires and fears.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, February 12, Anno Domini 2013
Monday, December 17, A.D. 2012
Omniscience and Synchronicity

A few months ago, Kristor posted a short essay on The Orthosphere about “Omniscience & Synchronicity” that is worth your time and reflection.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, December 17, Anno Domini 2012
Tuesday, November 6, A.D. 2012
The Consolation of Bonald

It is election day in these United States of America. Over on the Orthosphere, Bonald has posted a consolation for those of us who find either electoral outcome depressing: “What consolation? An inner dialogue.” (Though, of course, I find one outcome far worse than the other—both for its near-immediate consequences and for what it implies about the nation). Bonald’s lament and hopeful rejoinder reminds me of Samwise Gamgee’s realization of transcendence in The Return of the King:

The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.

Though I agree with Bonald’s overall point, I disagree with his set-up. He finds the current nightmarish trajectory of the West sustainable. I find his pessimism ludicrous. The next post on the Orthosphere is Kristor’s correction: “Evil if Autophagous.” Wickedness devours itself; it cannot last.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, November 6, Anno Domini 2012
Wednesday, September 26, A.D. 2012
Does Quantum Physics Make It Easier to Believe in God?

I hope that our rabbinical friends have had an edifying Day of Atonement.

Over the summer, the Orthosphere’s Bonald wrote on contemporary physics and its underlying philosophical understanding: “Philosophy in physics: returning to measurement.” Bonald links to an essay by Stephen Barr on Big Questions Online wherein Barr argues that quantum physics undermines materialism: “Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God?” It is a short but fascinating read. Barr argues that a materialist who accepts quantum physics is forced to justify his materialism by adopting the “Many Worlds Interpretation” of quantum mechanics. He seems to think that the metaphysical stinginess of materialists will make them hesitate to adopt such an outlook to save their materialism, thereby undoing their materialism.

Bonald, however, considers the Many Worlds Interpretation a genuine threat to traditional understandings about man and, I suppose, to a particular cosmological “paving” argument for the existence of God. I disagree and commented so:

I wish that there were more article’s like Barr’s — it is intelligible by the “uninitiated” without being condescending. It is hard to find well written explanatory articles about math, science, or philosophy that speak toward a broad, educated audience outside the field. We have become a society of insular experts.

Also, I do not see what is so alarming about the “many worlds” theory. I have wondered about it, though not from knowing any discussion of it in physics — and certainly not to defend materialism. Rather, I wonder if our thinking that our world is “the world” is similar to our thinking that our present is “the present.” I call the latter temporal chauvinism. For our “now” is not God’s now any more than the moment when Heloise and Abelard first discovered their great love or some occasion in the thirty-fourth century of the Christian era. For God is beyond time, and thus past and future are causal directions in cosmic history relative to a given “present” moment on that timeline. Maybe, the same holds for multiple worlds. God surely knows every possible world, of which ours is one. But is it “the one” or simply one for us? Perhaps the structure of modal logic actually reveals something about reality — wherein the principle of plenitude may hold.

Moreover, wouldn’t the many worlds theory itself discredit materialism? For if certain features/elements/entities show up in many worlds, and if there is an identity among them, then what is that very identity? If a particular baseball exists in so many different worlds, what explains the correspondence? Any decent answer will eventually have to resort to the non-material — form, an assembly of certain qualities (again, form), a relationship of the parts to the whole (formal structure yet again), and so on. Of course, we need not many worlds to see the same argument against materialism (thinking about atoms will suffice), but I find it queer that materialists would latch onto such an obvious refutation of their world view as a defense for that view.

Materialism seems to be called into question by the very theory that is supposed to support it. In multiple worlds, there is some sort of identity among certain elements/parts/unities/entities in the worlds, and that identity cannot be material. If each thing is utterly discrete/different, then what’s the point of the many worlds? It would seem a huge con. If there is an identity, then the materialist must explain such identity in material terms. Bonald responded:

The idea that my consciousness might bifurcate is one that I find troubling. Either all the bonald-states with nonzero amplitude are one person or they’re separate people. Either way, I would have to weaken my concept of unity and self-identity to either

A) something that could simultaneously hold two incompatible conscious states

B) something nontransitive, since in which (bonald after measuring result a) = (bonald before measurement) and (bonald after measuring result b) = (bonald before measurement), but (bonald after measuring a) =/= (bonald after measuring b)

I find both alternatives distasteful.

I do not share Bonald’s angst because I am rather agnostic about the nitty gritty details of metaphysics. As I have written before, what really are we? If my true being is an idea in the eternal mind of God, then we may see how Bonald’s objections can be answered. For the instantiation of myself in one world is really myself, and the instantiation of myself in an alternative world is really myself, though they are not the same instantiations of myself. The same mystery of existence holds true in our own world through time. Identify persists through change because the identity is something other than the combination of the temporal-spatial facts of any given moment. Such is Plato’s affirmative path as opposed to Buddhist nihilism’s peculiar via negativa from old Parmenides’ house.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, September 26, Anno Domini 2012
Monday, September 17, A.D. 2012
Bonald on Love and the Other

As Orthodox Christians just began our new year a few days ago, allow us to extend such greetings and wishes to our rabbinical cousins who begin theirs today.

שנה טובה

Bonald has posted a reflection on love and what it means for Christian traditionalists and how it differs from love according to modern liberalism on the Orthosphere: “Christianity, Liberalism, and Love of the Other, Part I” and “Christianity, Liberalism, and Love of the Other, Part II.” Expanding Mark Richardson’s treatment in “Does liberalism allow group survival?,” Bonald defends the conservative insistence on differing levels of moral obligations against the Kantian universalism of liberalism, and he argues that such discrimination accords with the Christian understanding of love. Hence, he attacks liberal Christians’ position at its theological heart.

Even though I find Bonald’s general argument sensible, I have to ponder further Bonald’s assertion that one cannot love an essence. For he maintains that the object of love is always particular. Only with God—the ultimate object of love—does one love an essence, as God’s existence, in Thomist terms, is the same as his essence. I am uncomfortable with that Christian Aristotelian framework, though perhaps I would agree that such is true of God’s creative energies. I am too ignorant of Palamite wisdom, and I do not know how to reconcile or even to translate the Thomist understanding into a metaphysics where God is beyond being rather than being the beingness of beings. If the divine energies are the Thomists’ beingness of beings, then what is the relationship of God’s essence to his energies with respect to how we love God? What exactly is the “object” of that love? We love God, and I am not sure that we can move beyond that mystery. Metaphysics itself is perplexing enough; how are we to understand the unfathomable interactions between creator and creation?

Returning to Bonald’s assertion, is it true, then, that we cannot love justice itself? Or beauty itself? Or wisdom? Bonald argues that our appreciation of those qualities as manifested in men does not imply love for such men but rather esteem. But what about the qualities themselves? I do not think that men speak metaphorically when they state that they love justice. Bonald might be hesitant to accept such love because then he would then have to address the Left’s so called “love of man.” Yet, it seems right to acknowledge that we can love the essence of man. Indeed, if that essence is good, it must be loveable, and so we may not fault the Left for its love of man. Rather, we fault Leftists for their confusion about what that love entails.

What is love? Bonald offers two traditional definitions from the modern Christian debate—that of eros, which desires communion with the beloved, and that of agape, which desires the good of the beloved. It seems silly that one would will the good of an essence; its good is secure. However, one may will communion with that which he loves, and it is in this sense that one loves God, justice, beauty, and the like. Erotic love is a desire for union, which is why human sexual love is such an obvious and therefore useful carnal example of eros. Perhaps a broader, though maybe unhelpful definition of love is the appropriate reponse of a loving creature to that which is good. Love may then be desire disconnected from its self-centered, self-referencing nature.

So, why does Bonald think that we may not love essences? I suspect that the metaphysical stumbling block here is understanding how we relate to essences and to their manifestations in particulars. Platonists and other realists do not understand an essence as simply a generic category into which we group various particulars. It has an integrity on a certain level of being, and it manifests in particular things (“of sights and sounds”), which are simply the showing up of essences in time and space—that rich tapestry of meaning and being that we call the world. Perhaps, Bonald as a semi-realist Christian Aristotelian considers an essence (“apart” from the substances that it informs) as a placeholder only, and, as such, we cannot love a generic man. Thus, Bonald’s contention that we cannot love men generically; rather we love particular men and communities of men whom we know.

Anyway, I recommend Bonald’s short essay. In addition to his points, I think marriage and the bond between parents and children illustrate well that our differing levels of obligation and love are divinely ordained. We human beings are limited in time and space; our attention and care have necessary bounds. Familial obligations are such that they could not survive a universal application. As the wise minds at Pixar stated, if everyone is special, then no one is. Similarly, if all space is treated as equally sacred, then every place will be seen as profane. Likewise, if you owe everyone your time and resources equally, then you will not give much of either to any one. Liberal universalism is a recipe for selfishness and atomism; the tragedy of the commons applies just as well to the human heart.

Last month, I watched the competitions at the London Olympics along with the games’ ceremonial pageantry. I was horrified and dismayed that the British showcased John Lennon’s “Imagine” as their post-Western anthem sung by ethnically diverse children in creepy, quasi-religious hallowed tones. I have a soft spot for Lennon, but “Imagine” is a repellant song. It gives voice to the murderous-suicidal creed of a monstrous ideology, yet its singers seem oblivious to the destructiveness of their words. “Imagine there’s no country.” Imagine that there is no unifying social reality to human life; all that remains is the self and the casual, temporary extensions of the self with other selves, based on nothing but the whim of the self. As I wrote in “Abortion as a Sacrament” and “Nominalism, Nihilism, and the Will,” “modernity is fundamentally an idolatry of the will.” Obligations and realities above the self curtail the absolute freedom of the ego, and, as such, are hated objects of repression for radical, consistent liberalism. Hence, imagine no country, no family, no marriage, no religion, no culture, no ethnicity, no civilization—those “divisive” concrete particularities that can actually serve as an environment within which selves can meet, live, flourish, and love. As Nietzsche noted in On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, men require a limited and limiting horizon in which to live. Such limitations are like biodomes that divide men from those in other domes, indeed, but they allow for men and their communities to breathe—to survive. Liberal universalism wants to fling every soul into lonely space—as isolated atoms swirling in the black void. All that then remains is the self and whatever adventure beyond solipsism the self happens to entertain—if the self is fortunate to be able to cross the threshold of distance even to encounter another soul. Lennon’s song and its ideology diminish civilization to the appetites of the individual and reduce all communal relations to the level of our decadent contemporary society’s “**** buddies.”

Posted by Joseph on Monday, September 17, Anno Domini 2012
Wednesday, July 25, A.D. 2012
Evolution Is Not a Reason

A few weeks ago, Kristor posted a brief but cogent piece on the Orthosphere: “Evolution Is Not a Reason.” Here is a selection:

But note that to say “X came about because of evolution” is only to say, “X came about because X came about.” “Evolution” in that sentence is not an explanation of what came about: it just is what came about, period full stop. Nor is the process of evolution capable of explaining anything; for “the process of evolution” is just another way of saying, “the way things happen.” It tells us nothing about why things happen, or happened. I.e., it doesn’t tell us the reasons that things happen, or happened; doesn’t tell us the logic that informs what happens. To say that X happened because of evolution is just to say that X happened because X happened. It’s obtuse.

This does not at all mean that the research programs of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are bootless. On the contrary: if there are certain things that seem to go along with the practice of being human, or of being human in society, that should indicate to us not that such practices are meaningless and unfounded, but precisely the contrary. If iterated natural selection is anything other than chaotic noise, it is a way of fitting humanity to the world by a procedure of trial and error. It is a method of learning; and learning is always about something, so that if natural selection is producing an actual order in humanity, that order addresses and responds appropriately to – i.e., is proper to – the nature of reality. When, e.g., evolutionary psychology tells us that women generally prefer to mate with men who show a good likelihood of being able to provide for them and defend them, we may infer that it is objectively better for men to support and protect their wives, than not; i.e., that the preference that men should be providers and defenders is built into the world.

Why does our society listen attentively at the feet of Paul Krugman, Malcolm Gladwell, and Fareed Zakaria but ignores unknown fringe commentators like Lawrence Auster, Lydia McGrew, Bill Vallicella, and Kristor himself? Even among noted academics, men like Alasdair MacIntyre, Roger Scruton, and Robert P. George get short shrifted, while the powerful turn their ears toward the soothsayers for the Zeitgeist. Such a pity.

Getting back to the argument, it has always annoyed me that seemingly intelligent people attribute intelligible causation to chance, by which they mean unintelligible randomness. I wrote in “Is God an Accident?”

I marvel at how clever creatures can draw explanatory principles from the empty well of chance. Chance does not explain; chance merely signifies the complicated levels on which intentional agents experience reality. With apologies to Aristotle, allow me to talk about my fictional pals, Bob and Matt. Bob the bartender owes Matt the Maytag repairman money that he intends to pay him when he sees him again. One day, Bob goes to Best Buy to buy his belle, Betty Sue, a microwave oven. Matt happens to be at Best Buy trying to catch up on the latest developments in the laundry machine trade. Bob sees Matt and pays him. We can say that Bob’s paying Matt when he did was the result of chance. There was agency by both men, but the result of their intended ends was not intended by either one of them. Chance explains an element in the story.

Yet, note that chance only indicates how the intended actions of two agents interelated in a wider theater than their own perspectives. When we consider a theater as wide as reality, what role does chance play? Is it not simply what we might call the order of being’s manifesting itself in motion? When people speak of chance, they often mean random and unpredictable. Yet, we observe everywhere the tendencies of nature and the probability of phenomena that betray an order. The universe has a structure that is intelligible. It has patterns that human reason perceives and understands. When we attribute causality to chance, we simply admit that we remain ignorant of the whole as was Bob of all the facts. Yet, Bob and Matt both acted as agents with will and ends, and they acted so in an orderly universe. Likewise, evolutionary biology does not show that order develops from chaos. Rather, evolutionary biology recognizes that the particular qualities—the particular structure of our universe—gives rise to the multiplicity of life as we know it. There is no way to pass the buck of design to nothing. As the ancients knew, there must be an uncaused cause. When, in thought, we encounter the wondrous beauty and unity of the intelligible world, we recognize such a source. For Bloom, this recognition is an illusion. It is strange to consider how much effort the blinded put forth in order to remain in darkness.

One cannot get one’s organizing principle from unordered chaos. The typical “orthodox” understanding of Darwinian evolution is metaphysical nonsense. I think that evolution occurs, but certainly not by “chance.” The following posts deal with similar topics:

“Meyer’s Intelligent Design”
“Nagel on Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion”
“Random Mutation Generator”
“The Hubris of Reductionism”

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, July 25, Anno Domini 2012
MetaphysicsPhysics • (1) CommentPermalink
Thursday, March 8, A.D. 2012
A Dollop of Good Sense

I have lessened my postings during lent to two a week instead of three. As such, I have been amassing a collection of articles to discuss, and the expanding list of links in my Firefox bookmarks has triggered some O.C.D. anxiety. So, I present you the posts without substantive commentary. The following are posts from View from the Right and The Orthosphere that I recommend.

“Replying to Richard Lynn’s argument that higher-IQ people are atheists” by Auster on View from the Right.

“Romney’s threatening whiteness” on View from the Right, wherein Auster discusses Lee Siebel’s “What’s Race Got to Do with It?” By the way, Siebel’s article was rather fancied by our new correspondent from the netherworld, Grünald.

“Only a mass apostasy from liberalism can save us” by Kristor on View from the Right.

“Are whites brain-dead—or toiling under the reign of fear?” by Auster on View from the Right. I note with interest how liberalism’s reign varies among different cultural (and likely class) backgrounds. It makes me appreciate having been born and bred in Cincinnati, where white guilt is noticeably lacking in a great portion of the population.

“Why whites allow blacks to get away with the racial double standard” on View from the Right, where Auster suggests how “right-liberal” whites who believe in a color blind society should respond to racially conscious tribal affirmations like the “African-Americans for Obama” campaign:

This is completely unacceptable. The rule that we all subscribed to coming out of the Civil Rights movement was that Americans must practice race-blindness and avoid race-conscious speech and behavior, at least in the public square. Whites have followed this rule religiously: they never speak about the collective interests of whites or make negative generalizations about people of other races. And when an occasional white person breaks that rule, he is instantly fired or otherwise ostracized. Yet blacks openly speak about the collective interests of blacks, and collectively blame whites for blacks’ problems. Blacks such as Cornel West address each other as “brother” in public settings where there are both whites and blacks, thus using an in-group identifier of a type that is totally forbidden to whites. Blacks have formed innumerable black-only professional organizations, which whites wouldn’t dream of doing. The government has created “African-American History Month,” and a vast system of special group recognition of blacks as blacks. And now President Obama forms a race-conscious black political organization to help in his election. And he does this, even while piously declaring that he supports an America where we “all play by the same rules”! And, by the way, that “we all play by the same rules” America is an America where (according to the Weekly Standard) blacks are admitted into elite colleges with SAT scores a standard deviation lower than those of whites and Asians.

Blacks cannot have it both ways: they cannot demand that whites be race-blind and race-neutral, while blacks continue to be aggressively race-conscious themselves and gain massive favors and privileges in this society by a race-conscious, pro-black double standard. Since blacks (along with their elite liberal facilitators) do not feel themselves bound by the race-blindness rule, then whites should no longer bound by it either.

“Streep looking like an empress” on View from the Right, where Auster writes of his admiration for Streep’s unmodern basking in pride after winning her Oscar. In an interesting tangent, Auster notes:

The demeanor and personality of people, both well known and not, are expressions of our culture, our way of being. Never to remark on these things—and mainstream conservatives virtually never remark on them—is to make oneself blind to the reality in which we live. That reality does not just consist in facts, principles, political positions, and statistics. It consists of qualities. Contemporary people are blind and indifferent to qualities. And maybe the reason they are indifferent to qualities, is that qualities cannot be equalized. They cannot be technically and rationally arranged. The modern mind says it’s best to deal only with that which can be technically and rationally managed, and to ignore everything else.

Here’s an example of this that I was discussing with an intelligent liberal acquaintance the other day. I said to him that it seemed to me that even as recording and playing technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, the actual quality of sound we hear is much worse, for example, iTunes. Confirming my subjective impression, he replied that iTunes only contain 60 percent of the sound data contained in CDs (and for course CD’s contain far less of the original sound than vinyl recordings). Further, he said, no one cares. No one is bothered by or even notices the poor sound quality of iTunes. People are so excited and satisfied by the technical aspects of iTunes—being able to have so many recordings in a portable format wherever you go, and so on—that the actual quality of the music they are hearing doesn’t matter to them.

“Credo: Before all Worlds” on The Orthosphere in which Kristor ponders eternity.

“The Good, the Real, & the Fake Economy” on The Orthosphere where Kristor examines the waste of regulatory regimes and offers a simple but powerful critique of libertarianism. Moreover, Kristor provides an excellent test for any public policy:

Where there is in respect to the finer points of policy any doubt remaining, a simple thought experiment can quickly tell us whether a given option ought to be ruled out. All we need to do is ask ourselves, as between two otherwise completely similar societies, and holding all other things equal, if one of them allows the behavior in question while the other does not, which of them will prevail. Such questions generally answer themselves.

Notice that the question is not, what policy would be nicer or more fair, but what policy would be prudent – would, i.e., lead to the prosperity and prevalent success of society against its competitors, and vis-à-vis the challenges posed by the natural environment. Such questions of policy confront any form of government. The issue, then, is not whether legislative authority ought to be, or is optimally, vested in a monarch, an oligarchy, or a Parliament, or whatever; for any such authority would have to make the same decisions about policy. When we ask what form government should take, we should understand ourselves as asking which form of government would be most likely to make prudent policy – i.e., policy that leads us, individually and corporately, toward the Good.

To which I replied:

Your policy test is so obvious and self evident. Why is it never taken? Indeed, why is it so fastidiously ignored?

Has the success of the West made its people so stupid about reality? Just as trust fund babies need not develop virtue because their inherited money shields them from the consequences of their poor choices, our society’s wealth, bequeathed to us by our ancestors, has blinded us to necessity.

We are spoilt children of woe.

“Liberals’ new/old god: Moloch” on View from the Right where Auster considers the evil that surrounds us.

“Is it really true that feminists think pregnancy is an injustice to women from which society must rescue them?” by Auster on View from the Right with a link to the invaluable Mark Richardson of Oz Conservative: “Anna Smajdor: pregnancy is unjust.” Children of woe, indeed!

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 8, Anno Domini 2012
Thursday, March 1, A.D. 2012

Last week on View from the Right, Lawrence Auster mentioned Indian spiritual teacher Meher Baba’s ideas about evolution. Frequent commentator Laura Wood then criticized Baba’s views and noted how they contrast with her understanding of Christian doctrine. Wood comments:

Baba’s pantheism is as faulty and erroneous as Darwinism, and far more pernicious as few people truly believe that earth was created in a mindless, random process whereas many people believe in pantheistic creation and the idea that we have many lives in which we might gradually improve ourselves and correct our mistakes. The God Baba admits into the evolutionary scheme is superseded by his creation: the god-like evolving soul assured of ultimate union with its Creator, who is immanent in nature. In essence Baba says the soul creates itself, progressing from mindless matter into intelligence through its own seeking, its own internal purposiveness. You wrote: “[T]he soul is seeking ever greater intelligence, ever greater consciousness.” In other words, it possesses intelligence and consciousness even in inanimate forms. This entails some form of divinity in matter, a notion that in one sense is not all that different from the Darwinian idea that consciousness evolves from matter. The difference in the Baba view is that matter has been endowed by God with awareness from the beginning. But if a stone had a soul in the beginning, it would have a soul now. And if there is this spiritual kinship between human beings and all of nature then we must naturally identify with some of the passivity and indifference of non-human creation. Genesis is then entirely wrong in its distinction between human beings and the rest of nature.

Indeed, we do identify with the passivity and indifference of nature; I am often mindful of my animality. Moreover, that there is a distinction between man and the rest of creation does not equate the rest of creation’s utter lack of relationship with God. The Seraphic Doctor teaches that the world is God’s footprint (vestigium) and man is his image (imago); both bear a resemblance to God, though in different ways. Consider also psalm 148. It is poetry—but poetry that reflects the truth that all creation worships God in its proper manner—even a stone. Similarly, the Prophet Isaiah declares: “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Of course, those Hebrew prophets were known for their rampant pantheism.

Auster replies by noting how Baba’s teaching differs from pantheism:

However, Baba’s scheme is not pantheism. He does not say there is anything divine in matter. To the contrary, he says that the material universe, and all the living forms through which the soul passes, are God’s dream—a dream God experiences (in the form of evolving souls) in order to come to full consciousness. Also, the soul as he describes it not immanent in nature. To the contrary, the soul is beyond nature, beyond not only the physical body, but the astral and mental bodies. The soul, which he describes as an individualized drop in the infinite ocean which is God, takes on bodies and has experiences through them, but is beyond all bodies. The main point of Meher Baba’s teaching is that only God (and the soul which is a part of God) are real. The universe and all its phenomena and experiences are a dream or illusion through which the soul must past in order to come to the truth.

This is what you would expect from Ammonius were he to become a Hegelian. I suppose that we see something similar with Teilhard de Chardin, who seems to be a Hegelian Empedocles, though perhaps such is a bit redundant.

Anyway, Auster and Wood’s brief Babasque discussion reminds me of a quick note that I sent Andrew a few months ago:

When I first started delving into metaphysics and theology at college, I remember reading about panentheism. I think that [Bishop Timothy Kallistos] Ware brings it up as a possible Orthodox position. However, I recently realized that non-Platonists are incapable of understanding the transcendent/immanent relation of God to the world. For them, “panentheism” is how they interpret what we believe. They do not have the necessary metaphysical categories in their own world views. As such, non-Platonist Christians accuse us of paganism, which is what panentheism would imply, though perhaps the very best form of paganism. It’s another example of the flatland principle.

As hypothetical two dimensional intelligent beings would have much difficulty comprehending three dimensional reality, folks with a flat metaphysical horizon have trouble understanding any view that denies that God is a being among beings. Just ask John W. Robbins.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 1, Anno Domini 2012
Friday, February 17, A.D. 2012
Whence the Will?

The recent posts “Abortion as a Sacrament” and “Nominalism, Nihilism, and the Will” have elicited some interesting commentary. For today’s post, I offer Kristor’s comment about the unintelligibility of the undetermined will:

You write:

I find it difficult to understand anything undetermined. The world that we witness is one of intelligible causality, and it is bizarre to think of the will as free. Yet, we have the experience of a faculty that suggests uncaused action.

I sympathize. I don’t have any answers, but I do have a clue. It seems to me that the mystery of the freedom of the will is deeply linked to the mystery of the coming into being of novel entities. A being that is determined ex ante cannot be really said to come into being at the point when it attains actuality; for, really, it is not a separate entity at all, but rather a mere function of its factors, an *aspect* of its factors. It is not, apart from its factors; so, it is not. If we are to say then that we really do exist, it must be the case that we are undetermined ex ante, at least a little bit. And the “ex ante” refers to priority in the orders both of time and of logic. But this is to say that there is an element of our coming into being which is ultimately mysterious - which is, precisely, not intelligible.

NB that this doesn’t make the world fundamentally unintelligible. It just means that the world is intelligible, through and through, *but only ex post.* [This is tantamount to saying that creatures are contingent, for an entirely perfectly completely predictable event would be, not contingent, but necessary - the two notions, of contingent being and of not completely intelligible being, have their source in the same wellspring.] Looking back, we can see the reasons for things. Looking forward, from within the moment of creation, the springs of our being are hidden from us. Where did this moment I am now “in” come from? It came, ultimately, from nothing, so far as we can tell. The mystery at the seed of each moment of our own becoming may be “what it’s like to be created ex nihilo.” Nothingness *just is* unintelligibility, no? In a world governed by a rational omnipotent God, there could be no such thing as an unintelligible actuality. So, what is, is ipso facto intelligible, through and through, at least in principle. What is not, and what is not yet, are not intelligible; if they were, they would already be (they would be past); but this is just the same thing, is it not, as to say, “what is not, and what is not yet, simply do not exist.”

If we do really exist, then, we were not completely determined ex ante. And this gap in intelligibility, this volume of as yet but partial existence, seems to be the playground of the will.

How fitting that Heisengberg should have discovered an irreducible uncertainty at the root of physics, that absolutely rules out prediction, even in principle. How fitting that the physicists who study consciousness generally locate human freedom in the ontological room opened up by that uncertainty.

I now recall that in our discussion last year of the Falls both of Adam and Lucifer we both took note several times of the sheer unintelligibility of evil. I recall also that the zero both of goodness and rationality (& ipso facto of intelligibility) is the zero of being.

So the mysteries at the roots of freedom, of being, and of evil may be all impenetrable because we and our acts come ultimately from nothing.

I never could understand how the uncertainty principle allowed for free choice. It always annoyed me when I heard it invoked in discussions about the will. However, Kristor’s point makes it defensible. How the study of being and the basics baffles me!

For instance, I often wonder just how—and what—we are in the mind of God. If creation is the unfolding of the divine ideas in time and space, then it seems that not only essences of kinds but also anything that is intelligible exists in the divine mind, including each “nexus” of intelligible universals that inform every moment of the world in motion. Any particular being in time and space manifests many forms in an orderly way; its peculiar appearance in the world at any given moment provides a meeting point of constituting ideas in the intelligible structure of being. Perhaps, there are threads of such nexus that correspond to particular things, and maybe there are forms for such relational patterns, like henadic strings in the fabric of reality.

I have never found the Aristotelian doctrine convincing that “matter” is the individuating principle, even if we interpret matter liberally as a potential time and space for being to manifest in some particular way. Each particular moment brings together a great host of formal input, and I do not see the need for a non-formal, receptive principle to render it understandable. However, as Parmenides understood, becoming suffers from a lack of intelligiblity. Each “snapshot” in time and space may instantiate formal reality, but what is the relation between such snapshots? Movement, change, and continuity therein appear to my metaphysically challenged mind to require some shady power that makes room for the odd dance between being and non-being—some additional stitching that accompanies those threads of particular beings that persist though change through time. Perhaps, Kristor’s point about every moment’s having an ex nihilo quality has something to do with the hazy truth to which the Peripatetics’ treatment of matter reaches.

In metaphysics, we deal with the most fundamental objects of the mind, and I do not expect to grasp much of the truth. I think that philosophical insights are mere glimpses, and we should remember that ontology is the map rather than the territory, to use one of Kristor’s images. If we commit ourselves too dogmatically to one particular map, we might fail to notice several aspects of the land. Of course, it is not always easy to figure out how different maps correspond, especially when we are traveling in unfamiliar country. Accordingly, I feel no shame in trying to harmonize Plato, Aristotle, Leibniz, Kant, and others even though I realize that their approaches differ radically. Consider our sense faculties as a metaphor; each power approaches an object in its own special way. The information collected by seeing will differ from that gained by hearing or touching. Yet, the object is the same. Likewise, I suspect that mechanistic physics and teleology understand different aspects of nature, and perhaps different philosophical schools also understand that which underlies nature complementarily.

Update: Kristor asks about henadic strings. Read the comments for a fuller explanation.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, February 17, Anno Domini 2012
Metaphysics • (4) CommentsPermalink
Monday, February 13, A.D. 2012
Nominalism, Nihilism, and the Will

For today’s entry, I wish to respond to a comment submitted by Tyler, a reader, on last Friday’s post, “Abortion as a Sacrament”:

As a someone who generally lines up with Right-libertarianism but has sympathy with neocon and Straussian thought, I appreciate the point you are making. I’m also an atheist (though I was a Protestant years ago as you may remember). So I guess my problem is that I don’t see how nihilism dictates worship of the will. If everything is meaningless, so is my will (and consistent nihilists like Alex Rosenberg would argue that the will is an illusion to begin with). From a godless viewpoint parts of your reactionary philosophy could be defended.

But my real question for you is how do you truly avoid worshipping the will? You are exercising your will by writing about your philosophy—if enough people come to agree with you, and your ideal society came to be, it would be an act of human will. The restrictions on human will that you like would come into being through human will, would they not?

I do not deny the existence of the will or that it has a proper place in human life, though I admit that I do not understand the faculty. My friend Andrew argues that there was no fixed understanding of the will as a special faculty before Augustine. If you look at ancient psychology, the consensus seems to be that the soul is a composite of different forces. Consider the numerous images of the soul in the Platonic corpus or the rational, animal, and vegetative parts of the soul in Aristotle’s De Anima. There are distinctions between voluntary and involuntary actions in the context of ethical discussions, but the driving force in the soul behind a man’s voluntary actions appears simply to be the strongest part of his particular soul. The good man’s reason leads him; his inner man rules the lions and the beasts of his thumotic and appetitive drives. The virtuous man’s practical reason determines his course of action. Hence, the Socratic tradition and its descendants stress the importance of moral education and the habitual exercise of virtuous deeds in order to shape the soul so that the rational element grows strong in its command over the irrational elements.

With Augustine, however, we get a faculty that appears to be the desk on which the buck of volition stops. For the Hellenic tradition makes it difficult to see men as ultimately responsible for their actions. Virtue is largely the result of being well reared. Yet, we might wonder how we can justly blame a man for his own upbringing that corrupted him and set him on a wayward path. Political necessity requires judgment and punishment, but such penalties are more practical in character; they make no claims on the ultimate origin of good or bad behavior. By contrast, Augustine the Christian worries about the divine justice in the judgment and punishment of a higher court. Augustine’s attempts to address that problem set the stage for the Western debate on the will, from De libero arbitrio to his later anti-Pelagian writings, which inspired Calvin’s predestination doctrines a millennium afterward.

I have no settled opinion on the matter. Last year at this time, frequent View from the Right commentator Kristor and I had an exchange that resulted in several posts where I stated my perplexity and my commitments regarding the will, mainly in the context of the problem of evil. I find it difficult to understand anything undetermined. The world that we witness is one of intelligible causality, and it is bizarre to think of the will as free. Yet, we have the experience of a faculty that suggests uncaused action. It is therefore understandable that Descartes and other moderns find the imago dei in the will, which seems a fitting image for the uncaused cause. Perhaps, Kant’s distinction of the noumenal from the phenomenal realm offers the best way possible to approach the mystery of the will.

The point of my last post stands regardless of our precise understanding of the will—namely, that the reduction of reality to the will is the wicked seed from which modern madness has grown. I suggest that the previous philosophical tradition is the correct one, where volition, however we conceive of its exercise, occurs in a world that has meaning apart from the will . . . and where will finds its appropriate exercise in conformity to our knowledge of the good. I proposed that modern confusion resulted from a bad turn in late medieval theology. Nominalism—the rejection of formal reality beyond a tool of human thought—was championed by religious men who thought that essences restricted the dominion of God. Their concern has its roots in a prior theological mistake that separates God’s will from God’s knowledge. For only by introducing such divisions in God may one conclude that essences threaten divine omnipotence. Yet, it is perverse to separate God’s will from his knowledge and his goodness. Though we do not know God’s essence, the divisions in being and in the faculties of our soul that relate to being do not apply to God, where the transcendentals exist in a unity, or at least in a state that transcends our understanding of unity. For us, truth and goodness—being as known and being as desired—remain distinct. Moreover, our faculties that deal with truth and goodness—our intellect and our will (however it is understood)—are distinct from each other and from their objects. Our divisions do not apply to God. There is no divine will separate from divine knowledge or divine goodness or divine love or divine power. The cruder Mohammedans and Calvinists err when they consider essences or an eternal standard of goodness an impediment to God’s omnipotence. For they make God into a divided being like us rather than the source of all being.

Historically, this theological error corrupted natural and moral philosophy, as well. Reality was reduced to will. Nominalism ultimately undermines all knowledge save the brute, irreducibly felt presence of the self. A brilliant and decent man like Descartes may recover enough ground to reconstitute some edifice of knowledge after having wrecked our cognitive abilities to understand the world as intelligible, but the worms of this reductionism would not rest. Yet, the slide toward more reductionism was not justified. Take Hume, for instance, who by all accounts was an intelligent and observant fellow. In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, the Scotsman fails to account for our knowledge of “mathematical facts,” and his nominalist epistemology cannot explain how our minds associate “similar” ideas without admitting the metaphysical system that he wishes to reject. Even with a sincere philosopher like Hume, obstacles and snags to his project are curiously overlooked and forgotten. Likewise, the long march of Western philosophy from the love of wisdom to the dejection of nihilism is accompanied by thousands of such moments wherein men of genius continue to build their castles upon clouds while ignoring foundational problems that just happened not to be their problems.

“All reality is simply the stage upon which the self wills to act.” “But, Herr Doktor, are you proposing solipsism?” “No, not at all, for you are another self” “But we share the same stage?” “Indeed!” “But how does your self recognize my self as distinct from your self and from the world that it evidently creates?” “It is in the nature of the self’s free positing of itself to recognize the free self positing of other selves.” “But if the self can detect independent selves and is aware of the nature of these selves, at least in this respect, why can’t we affirm that we might understand the nature of the world in which the selves meet? After all, the world is the context of the self, and a shared world between multiple selves seems more independent than a projection of the selves.” “Achtung! You risk caving to the transcendent temptation! Don’t you realize that we abandoned all that superstitious, unfounded medievalism centuries ago? After all, it’s 1804!”

Such is not really that much of an exaggeration. Instead of picking on German idealism, we could consider any modern philosophical current where its claims about the limitations of knowledge undermine its own philosophical endeavor. See “The Necessity of Knowledge” for a fuller treatment of this story. Ockham’s parsimony has resulted in systems so niggardly that they cannot afford the mental resources to see the world as it is or even as they dare argue it to be. They make lavish claims about the world like the prodigal son, but they have rejected traditional approaches to the world that affirm man’s ability to know and the world’s ability to be known just as that self exiled youth rejected the household and ways of his father. In this, they just do not notice their ideas’ inadequacy because their attention is turned to their pet questions. I suspect that my fellow Cincinnatian Thomas Kuhn described intellectual labors within world views correctly. Though his concern was natural philosophy rather than metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, I think that the same human tendency prevails in all disciplines. Men often see only what interests them; they ignore or disregard tangential matters that do not relate to their current obsession.

What has concerned Western man for centuries has been power. Interest in nature for reasons other than mastery has been a minority position for ages. Knowledge of formal causes would not help us build more effective rockets or washing machines. Such knowledge might even cause us great inconvenience; it is a costly enterprise to consider natural ends. Just dealing with Kantian liberals and their moral hangups with autonomous wills really takes its toll on the bottom line. Do we really want to open up Aristotle’s long buried box?

Nominalism thus prevails not due to its rational superiority but because it facilitates increasing human power and because nominalists have failed to ask fundamental philosophical questions for the past seven hundred years. Ask a materialist basic metaphysical questions about matter, about the structure of an atom, about the identity of atomic structures, and you will bore him, anger him, or convert him. With apologies to Cardinal Newman—to be deep in metaphysics is to cease to be a nominalist.

Our reduction of all reality to the will, which is the consequence of nominalistic reasoning whereby our knowledge of the world continually diminishes as we rob ourselves of the ability to look at the world with our full intellectual faculties, eventually leads to chaos. I hold that our political disorder has its origins in the misplaced supremacy of the will, which has resulted in an endless rebellion against authority of any kind, whether ancestral, natural, or divine. If there is no natural value—no true hierarchy of goods—then everything is arbitrary. Everything becomes a projection of the will, and authority becomes simply an opponent in the struggle of wills. Yet, for what do these wills struggle if nothing else can be known—if nothing else matters? It is an absurdity that leads men to misology and nihilism. As Tyler notes in his comment, true nihilism entails the rejection of the will itself, but that rejection can only be theoretical. If a man lives, he necessarily affirms his will’s existence (however the will is conceived) by undertaking any act. So, having rejected God and reason, modernity becomes the idolatry of the will, disconnected from other aspects of reality that impinge upon boundless freedom. We might call modernity’s intellectual destination “dishonest nihilism”—an inconsistent rejection of being.

Andrew suggests that modern thought consists chiefly of philosophers with daddy issues who assume that no one ever had insight until them—a sort of adolescent intellectualism that refuses to grow up. When such spiritual immaturity informs—or fails to inform—political life, we get modern politics, wherein the most rebellious of the rebels (and all modern men are rebels) rejoice in their Satanic rejection of good. Accordingly, Lawrence Auster of View from the Right often calls leftism the political expression of evil:

. . . because people become immoral and unworthy of love, people stop caring for each other. And since, as I’ve often said, leftism is the political expression of evil,—more particularly, since leftism is the political expression of the rebellion against God and goodness of which Jesus speaks—under leftism people become increasingly unlovable and turn coldly away from each other. The forces of cohesion that hold a society together, die.

What is leftism? The deliberate destruction of the forces of cohesion—namely, goodness and love—that hold human society together.

It is not by coincidence that the Anton LaVey and his band of liberals, hedonists, and Nietzscheans chose to honor evil when they founded the “Church of Satan” in the 1960’s—that decade of tacky rebellion. For Satan is the ultimate rebel. Two of their “Pentagonal Revisionism” objectives are:

4. Development and production of artificial human companions—The forbidden industry. An economic “godsend” which will allow everyone “power” over someone else. Polite, sophisticated, technologically feasible slavery. And the most profitable industry since T.V. and the computer.

5. The opportunity for anyone to live within a total environment of his or her choice, with mandatory adherence to the aesthetic and behavioral standards of same—Privately owned, operated and controlled environments as an alternative to homogenized and polyglot ones. The freedom to insularize oneself within a social milieu of personal well-being. An opportunity to feel, see, and hear that which is most aesthetically pleasing, without interference from those who would pollute or detract from that option.

Ours is an age of autonomy, of empowerment, of freedom, of choice! At least, the self proclaimed Satanists understand the true nature of modernity. It is an exultation of the will divorced from any other considerations; it is praise of Adam’s sin wherein he placed his ego above God in his ranking of goods. Of course, these latter day Satanists eschew the traditional understanding of the demonic, at least at first. They worship themselves, not the devil, but the turn from God and toward nothingness is the same. I think of Screwtape’s seventh letter to Wormwood:


I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics. At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, belief in us, (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force”, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work—the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits”—then the end of the war will be in sight. But in the meantime we must obey our orders. I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.

Lewis well recognized that the forces of hell are cunning.

Tyler’s point about nihilism is a personally moving one for me. In my entry, “Criterial Argument for the Existence of God,” I copied an exchange wherein I admitted to having a “nihilistic temptation.” Since my first year in college, I have had a nagging suspicion that every absurd claim might be true, even though such fails the obvious retortion test and removes the possibility of further thought. Yet, it appears that our freedom for foolishness is so great that our minds are able to entertain, at least in a suggestive way, any ludicrous proposition. In response, Kristor notes:

As to the temptation of nihilism, I feel it, too. But is not this the same thing as to say simply that I feel temptation? Temptation to any sin, however trivial, is a temptation to some turn or other toward nothingness. Followed persistently, all sins lead ultimately to the outer darkness.

Nihilism offers no truth, of course. Yet, we are agents of truth. We are agents of action. We are. Nihilism is the purest Satanic stance, though it is a path that we cannot tread. We cannot live according to nothingness. We inevitably must affirm goods in order to live. Even the simple act of brushing one’s teeth or drinking a glass of water necessarily implies goods that we have claimed to exist. To be a human being is to act, and to act is to proclaim a moral dimension to the universe. Dionysius notes that even the demons, insofar as they exist, are good. Similarly, insofar as we remain men, we manifest the goodness of existence and, perhaps unwittingly and even, ironically, unwillingly, we thereby acknowledge the falsehood of nihilism in deed.

Update: Kristor adds the following comment on the original post:

The mere exercise of the will is not tantamount to the worship thereof, particularly when it is constrained by an intellectual knowledge of truth. By the same token, to say that the will ought to be subordinated to the intellect is not at all to denigrate the will, but only to coordinate it to its proper role in the economy of the person.

Rosenberg is quite right in saying that if there is no truth then the will is an illusion. If there is no truth, then “the will exists” is false. But then, so is “there is no truth.”

Posted by Joseph on Monday, February 13, Anno Domini 2012
AnthropologyEpistemologyEthicsMetaphysicsPhysicsPolitics • (8) CommentsPermalink
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