Monday, February 3, 2020

Reading #47: Lucretius

Lucretius: Only Atoms and the Void:

Nothing Exists Per Se Except Atoms and the Void

But, now again to weave the tale begun,
All nature, then, as self-sustained, consists
Of twain of things: of bodies and of void
In which they're set, and where they're moved around.
For common instinct of our race declares
That body of itself exists: unless
This primal faith, deep-founded, fail us not,
Naught will there be whereunto to appeal
On things occult when seeking aught to prove
By reasonings of mind. Again, without
That place and room, which we do call the inane,
Nowhere could bodies then be set, nor go
Hither or thither at all- as shown before.
Besides, there's naught of which thou canst declare
It lives disjoined from body, shut from void-
A kind of third in nature. For whatever
Exists must be a somewhat; and the same,
If tangible, however fight and slight,
Will yet increase the count of body's sum,
With its own augmentation big or small;
But, if intangible and powerless ever
To keep a thing from passing through itself
On any side, 'twill be naught else but that
Which we do call the empty, the inane.
Again, whate'er exists, as of itself,
Must either act or suffer action on it.
Or else be that wherein things move and be:
Naught, saving body, acts, is acted on;
Naught but the inane can furnish room. And thus,
Beside the inane and bodies, is no third
Nature amid the number of all things-
Remainder none to fall at any time
Under our senses, nor be seized and seen
By any man through reasonings of mind.
Name o'er creation with what names thou wilt,
Thou'lt find but properties of those first twain,
Or see but accidents those twain produce.

A property is that which not at all
Can be disjoined and severed from a thing
Without a fatal dissolution: such,
Weight to the rocks, heat to the fire, and flow
To the wide waters, touch to corporal things,
Intangibility to the viewless void.
But state of slavery, pauperhood, and wealth,
Freedom, and war, and concord, and all else
Which come and go whilst Nature stands the same,
We're wont, and rightly, to call accidents.
Even time exists not of itself; but sense
Reads out of things what happened long ago,
What presses now, and what shall follow after:
No man, we must admit, feels time itself,
Disjoined from motion and repose of things.
Thus, when they say there "is" the ravishment
Of Princess Helen, "is" the siege and sack
Of Trojan Town, look out, they force us not
To admit these acts existent by themselves,
Merely because those races of mankind
(Of whom these acts were accidents) long since
Irrevocable age has borne away:
For all past actions may be said to be
But accidents, in one way, of mankind,-
In other, of some region of the world.
Add, too, had been no matter, and no room
Wherein all things go on, the fire of love
Upblown by that fair form, the glowing coal
Under the Phrygian Alexander's breast,
Had ne'er enkindled that renowned strife
Of savage war, nor had the wooden horse
Involved in flames old Pergama, by a birth
At midnight of a brood of the Hellenes.
And thus thou canst remark that every act
At bottom exists not of itself, nor is
As body is, nor has like name with void;
But rather of sort more fitly to be called
An accident of body, and of place
Wherein all things go on.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Plato: what is eternal?

"We must first investigate concerning [the whole Cosmos] that primary question which has to be investigated at the outset in every case, — namely, whether it has always existed, having no beginning or generation, or whether it has come into existence, having begun from some beginning." Plato: Timaeus, 35a.

Thursday, February 1, 2018


Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy

A type of theory in epistemology that holds that what qualifies a belief as knowledge or as epistemically justified is its reliable linkage to the truth. David Armstrong motivates reliabilism with an analogy between a thermometer that reliably indicates the temperature and a belief that reliably indicates the truth.  A belief qualifies as knowledge, he says, if there is a law like connection in nature that guarantees that the belief is true.  A cousin of the nomic sufficiency account is the counterfactual approach, proposed by Dretske, Goldman, and Nozick.  A typical formulation of this approach says that a belief qualifies as knowledge if the belief is true and the recognizer has reasons for believing it that would not obtain unless it were true.  For example, someone knows that the telephone is ringing if he believes this, it is true, and he has a specific auditory experience that would not occur unless the telephone were ringing.  In a slightly different formulation, someone knows a proposition if he believes it, it is true, and if it were not true he would not believe it.  In the example, if the telephone were not ringing, he would not believe that it is, because he would not have the same auditory experience.  These accounts are guided by the idea that to know a proposition it is not sufficient that the belief be "accidentally" true.  Rather, the belief, or its mode of acquisition, must "track," ""hook up with," or "indicate" the truth. . .

For example, beliefs produced or preserved by perception, memory, introspection, and "good" reasoning are justified, whereas beliefs produced by hunch, wishful thinking, or "bad" reasoning are unjustified.  Why are the first group of processes appropriate and the second inappropriate?  The difference appears to lie in their reliability.  Among the beliefs produced by perception, introspection, or "good" reasoning, a high proportion are true; but only a low proportion of beliefs produced by hunch, wishful thinking, or "bad" reasoning are true. . .

Reliabilism is a species of epistemological externalism, because it makes knowledge or justification depend on factors such as truth connection or truth ratios that are outside the cognizer's mind and not necessarily accessible to him.  Yet reliabilism typically emphasizes internal factors as well, e.g., the cognitive processes responsible for a belief.  Process reliabilism is a form of naturalistic epistemology because it centers on cognitive operations and thereby paves the way for cognitive psychology to play a role in epistemology.

Study Questions:

1.  What does reliabilism presuppose about thought and the laws of thought?
2.  What does reliabilism presuppose about experience, the self, and the material/external world?
3.  What is common sense realism? 
4.  The examples used above are about daily experience like a phone ringing, or memory of past similar experiences.  How does this apply to what cannot be experienced or to competing interpretations of experience? 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Natural Religion

Defining Natural Religion:

A term first occurring in the second half o the seventeenth century, used in three related senses, the most common being (1) a body of truths about God and our duty that can be discovered by natural reason.  These truths are sufficient for salvation or (according to some orthodox Christians) would have been sufficient if Adam had not sinned.  Natural religion in this sense should be distinguished from natural theology, which does not imply this.  A natural religion may also be (2) one that has a human, as distinct from a divine, origin.  It may also be (3) a religion of human nature as such, as distinguished from religious beliefs and practices that have been determined by local circumstances.  Natural religion in the third sense is identified with humanity's original religion.  In all three senses, natural religion includes a belief in God's existence, justice, benevolence, and providential government; in immortality; and in the dictates of common morality.  While the concept is associated with deism, it is also sympathetically treated by Christian writers like Clarke, who argues that revealed religion simply restorers natural religion to its original purity and adds inducements to compliance.

The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.  2nd ed.

1.  What is meant by "natural" and "revealed."  What do these imply about the distinction between reason and faith, between general and special revelation?
2.  In the first definition, what could be meant by "saved."  Saved from what?  And if Adam had not sinned why would there be a need to be saved?
3.  What do deists believe about God that distinguishes them from theists?  What is the purpose of creation and providence?
4.  What does Clarke's view imply is the goal of original natural religion?  What is needed to restore to this original condition?

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Scrooge, the senses, and belief formation

Scrooge, the senses, and belief formation

Jacob Marley: Why do you doubt your senses? 

Ebenezer Scrooge: Because a little thing can effect them. A slight disorder of the stomach can make them cheat. You may be a bit of undigested beef, a blob of mustard, a crumb of cheese. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"

"Man of the worldly mind!" replied the Ghost, "do you believe in me or not?"

"I do," said Scrooge. "I must.”

Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

Friday, December 8, 2017

Al-Ghazali: Deliverance from Error

Al-Ghazali: Deliverance from Error

Struck with the contradictions which I encountered in endeavoring to disentangle the truth and falsehood of these opinions, I was led to make the following reflection: "The search after truth being the aim which I propose to myself, I ought in the first place to ascertain what are the bases of certitude." In the next place I recognized that certitude is the clear and complete knowledge of things, such knowledge as leaves no room for doubt nor possibility of error and conjecture, so that there remains no room in the mind for error to find an entrance. In such a case it is necessary that the mind, fortified against all possibility of going astray, should embrace such a strong conviction that, if, for example, any one possessing the power of changing a stone into gold, or a stick into a serpent, should seek to shake the bases of this certitude, it would remain firm and immovable. Suppose, for instance, a man should come and say to me, who am firmly convinced that ten is more than three, "No; on the contrary, three is more than ten, and, to prove it, I change this rod into a serpent," and supposing that he actually did so, I should remain none the less convinced of the falsity of his assertion, and although his miracle might arouse my astonishment, it would not instil any doubt into my belief.
I then understood that all forms of knowledge which do not unite these conditions (imperviousness to doubt, etc.) do not deserve any confidence, because they are not beyond the reach of doubt, and what is not impregnable to doubt can not constitute certitude.
The substance of man at the moment of its creation is a simple monad, devoid of knowledge of the worlds subject to the Creator, worlds whose infinite number is only known to him, as the Qur'an says: "Only thy Lord knoweth the number of his armies."
Man arrives at this knowledge by the aid of his perceptions; each of his senses is given him that he may comprehend the world of created things, and by the term "world" we understand the different species of creatures. The first sense revealed to man is touch, by means of which he perceives a certain group of qualities---heat, cold, moist, dry. The sense of touch does not perceive colors and forms, which are for it as though they did not exist. Next comes the sense of sight, which makes him acquainted with colors and forms; that is to say, with that which occupies the highest rank in the world of sensation. The sense of hearing succeeds, and then the senses of smell and taste.
When the human being can elevate himself above the world of sense, toward the age of seven, he receives the faculty of discrimination; he enters then upon a new phase of existence and can experience, thanks to this faculty, impressions, superior to those of the senses, which do not occur in the sphere of sensation.
He then passes to another phase and receives reason, by which he discerns things necessary, possible, and impossible; in a word, all the notions which he could not combine in the former stages of his existence. But beyond reason and at a higher level by a new faculty of vision is bestowed upon him, by which he perceives invisible things, the secrets of the future and other concepts as inaccessible to reason as the concepts of reason are inaccessible to mere discrimination and what is perceived by discrimination to the senses. Just as the man possessed only of discrimination rejects and denies the notions acquired by reason, so do certain rationalists reject and deny the notion of inspiration. It is a proof of their profound ignorance; for, instead of argument, they merely deny inspiration as a sphere unknown and possessing no real existence. In the same way, a man blind from birth, who knows neither by experience nor by information what colors and forms are, neither knows nor understands them when some one speaks of them to him for the first time.
God, wishing to render intelligible to men the idea of inspiration, has given them a kind of glimpse of it in sleep. In fact, man perceives while asleep the things of the invisible world either clearly manifest or under the veil of allegory to be subsequently lifted by divination. If, however, one was to say to a person who had never himself experienced these dreams that, in a state of lethargy resembling death and during the complete suspension of sight, hearing, and all the senses, a man can see the things of the invisible world, this person would exclaim, and seek to prove the impossibility of these visions by some such argument as the following: "The sensitive faculties are the causes of perception. Now, if one can perceive certain things when one is in full possession of these faculties, how much more is their perception impossible when these faculties are suspended."
The falsity of such an argument is shown by evidence and experience. For in the same way as reason constitutes a particular phase of existence in which intellectual concepts are perceived which are hidden from the senses, similarly, inspiration is a special state in which the inner eye discovers, revealed by a celestial light, mysteries out of the reach of reason. The doubts which are raised regarding inspiration relate (1) to its possibility, (2) to its real and actual existence, (3) to its manifestation in this or that person.
To prove the possibility of inspiration is to prove that it belongs to a category of branches of knowledge which can not be attained by reason. It is the same with medical science and astronomy. He who studies them is obliged to recognize that they are derived solely from the revelation and special grace of God. Some astronomical phenomena only occur once in a thousand years; how then can we know them by experience?
We may say the same of inspiration, which is one of the branches of intuitional knowledge. Further, the perception of things which are beyond the attainment of reason is only one of the features peculiar to inspiration, which possesses a great number of others. The characteristic which we have mentioned is only, as it were, a drop of water in the ocean, and we have mentioned it because people experience what is analogous to it in dreams and in the sciences of medicine and astronomy. These branches of knowledge belong to the domain of prophetic miracles, and reason can not attain to them.
As to the other characteristics of inspiration, they are only revealed to adepts in Sufism and in a state of ecstatic transport. The little that we know of the nature of inspiration we owe to the kind of likeness to it which we find in sleep; without that we should be incapable of comprehending it, and consequently of believing in it, for conviction results from comprehension. The process of initiation into Sufism exhibits this likeness to inspiration from the first. There is in it a kind of ecstasy proportioned to the condition of the person initiated, and a degree of certitude and conviction which can not be attained by reason. This single fact is sufficient to make us believe in inspiration.
We now come to deal with doubts relative to the inspiration of a particular prophet. We shall not arrive at certitude on this point except by ascertaining, either by ocular evidence or by reliable tradition the facts relating to that prophet. When we have ascertained the real nature of inspiration and proceed to the serious study of the Qur'an and the traditions, we shall then know certainly that Mohammed is the greatest of prophets. After that we should fortify our conviction by verifying the truth of his preaching and the salutary effect which it has upon the soul. We should verify in experience the truth of sentences such as the following: "He who makes his conduct accord with his knowledge receives from God more knowledge"; or this, "God delivers to the oppressor him who favors injustice"; or again, "Whosoever when rising in the morning has only one anxiety (to please God), God will preserve him from all anxiety in this world and the next."

Study Questions:
1.  Why does he decide to doubt?
2.  Why does he believe certitude is necessary for knowledge?
3.  What steps of epistemic development does he describe from senses to reason to inspiration?
4.  Why is inspiration necessary?
5.  How do we know how to recognize a prophet?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Hawking: The Grand Design

"If the total energy of the universe must always remain zero, and it costs energy to create a body, how can a whole universe be created from nothing?  That is why there must be a law like gravity.  Because gravity is attractive, gravitational energy is negative: One has to do work to separate a gravitationally bound system, such as the earth and the moon.  This negative energy can balance the positive energy needed to create matter, but its not quite that simple.  The negative gravitational energy of the earth, for example, is less than a billionth of the positive energy of the matter particles the earth is made of.  A body such as a star will have more negative gravitational energy, and the smaller it is (the closer the different parts of it are to each other), the greater this negative gravitational energy will be.  But before it can become greater than the positive energy of the matter, the star will collapse to a black hole, and black holes have positive energy.  That's why empty space is stable.  Bodies such as stars or black holes cannot just appear out of nothing.  But a hole universe can.

Because gravity shapes space and time, it allows space-time to be locally stable but globally unstable.  On the scale of the entire universe, the positive energy of the matter can be balanced by the negative gravitational energy, and so there is no restriction on the creation of whole universes.  Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6.  Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.  It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

The Grand Design.  Bantam.  2012. 180.

1.  Has gravity always existed?
2.  What is gravity?  It it a thing?  A relation of things?
3.  What is matter?  What is energy?
4.  What is nothing?  What is non-being?
5.  What is causation?  What does it mean to have a cause?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017



1. What is piety?
2.  What are the implications if the gods disagree about what is pious?
3.  What did Zeus do to his father?
4.  What is the difference between being approved and getting approved?
5.  What is the goal of the gods in loving holiness and justice?  What benefit can there be for the gods?
6. What does it mean for something to have a nature, for there to be a nature to a thing?
7.  How do dualism and theism differ in their view of God? 
8.  In theism, what does divine sovereignty mean?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Reading #46: Dating Methods

Half-life and radioactive dating methods

Radioactive Decay Rates

Radioactivity is the property of certain nuclides of spontaneously emitting particles or gamma radiation. The decay of radioactive nuclides occurs in a random manner, and the precise time at which a single nucleus will decay cannot be determined. However, the average behavior of a very large sample can be predicted accurately by using statistical methods. These studies have revealed that there is a certain probability that in a given time interval a certain fraction of the nuclei within a sample of a particular nuclide will decay. This probability per unit time that an atom of a nuclide will decay is known as the radioactive decay constant, λ. The units for the decay constant are inverse time such as 1/second, 1/minute, 1/hour, or 1/year. These decay constant units can also be expressed as second-1, minute-1, hour-1, and year-1.

Variation of Radioactivity Over Time

The rate at which a given radionuclide sample decays is stated in Equation (1-3) as being equal to the product of the number of atoms and the decay constant. From this basic relationship it is possible to use calculus to derive an expression which can be used to calculate how the number of atoms present will change over time. The derivation is beyond the scope of this text, but Equation (1-4) is the useful result. (1-4) where:
N = number of atoms present at time t
N = number of atoms initially present o = decay constant (time )-1
t = time

1.  How long has radioactive decay been measured?
2.  How is the half-life determined?
3.  What is an average and what statistical methods are used to determine an average?
4.  What variables must be assumed in using a half-life to determine dates?
5.  In what way does this dating method assume uniformity?
6.  What changes or alterations might affect the variables of this equation and how might that affect dating methods?

Reading #45: Dawkins and Intelligent Design

Reading #45: Dawkins and Intelligent Design

What are the two times Dawkins is asked "how do you know" and what does he say?
How does he know there is no God?  What probability does he give for this and what is the basis for this probability?
How does he know people feel a release when they abandon God?  What does the scientific method require?  Is he acting as a scientist? What is the superstition that he wants to free people from and how is this different than his own appeal to informal evidence?
In what way does he appeal to intelligent design?  Does he solve or aggravate the problem of the odds of life from non-life by postulating an earlier and more advanced civilization that seeded life on earth?
What is the basis for his contempt of belief in God?  What does he think is meant by the term "God"? 

Dawkins says that life couldn't have come from nothing therefore it must have slowly formed through Darwinian means.  Are there other options?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Plantinga and Reid

Plantinga on Warrant and Evidentialism

"Even if we could give an argument to show that a given source of belief was, in fact, reliable, in making that argument we would be obliged to rely on other sources of beliefs.  In particular, we would have to rely on reason; but clearly we can't establish that reason is reliable without relying on reason itself; so beliefs that are produced by reason are uncredentialed (WCB 128)

the central truths of Christianity are not self-evident, nor, so far as anyone can see, are they such that they can be deduced from what is self-evident. (WCB 114)

I don't believe those latter on the evidential basis of any other proposition at all; instead, they are 'basic' for me.  I simply see that they are true, and accept them.  I accept many propositions this way: that there is snow in my backyard, for example, and that it is still white. (WCB 83)

By failing to know God, we can come to a vastly skewed view of what we ourselves are, what we need, what is good for us, and how to attain it. (WCB 214)

But sin is also a perhaps primarily an affective disorder or malfunction.  Our affections are skewed, directed to the wrong objects; we love and hate the wrong things.  Instead of seeking first the kingdom of God, I am inclined to seek first my own personal glorification and aggrandizement, bending all my efforts toward making myself look good. (WCB 208)

The sensus divinitatis is a belief-producing faculty (or power, or mechanism) that under the right conditions produces belief that isn't evidentially based on other beliefs.  On this model, our cognitive faculties have been designed and created by God; the design plan, therefore, is a design plan in the literal and paradigmatic sense.  It is a blueprint or plan for our ways of functioning, and it has been developed and instituted by a conscious, intelligent agent.  The purpose of the sensus divinitatis is to enable us to have true beliefs about God; when it functions properly, it ordinarily does produce true beliefs about God.  These beliefs therefore meet the conditions for warrant; if the beliefs produced are strong enough, then they constitute knowledge (WCB179)

The basic idea is this: our cognitive faculties have been designed for a certain kind of maxienvironment. Even within that maxienvironment, however, they don't function perfectly (they sometimes produce false beliefs), although they do function reliably. (WCB 158)

Put in a nutshell, then, a belief has warrant for a person S only if that belief is produced in S by cognitive faculties functioning properly (subject to no disfunction) n a cognitive environment that is appropriate for S's kind of cognitive faculties, according to a design plan that is successfully aimed at truth (WCB 156)

considering the arguments for and against the existence of God.  On the pro side, there were the traditional theistic proofs, the cosmological, teleological, and ontological arguments, to follow Kant's classification.  On the con side, there was, first of all, the problem of evil (construed as the claim that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of a wholly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God).  Then there were also some rather opaque claims to the effect that the progress of modern science, or the attitudes necessary to its proper pursuits, or perhaps something similar lurking in the nearby buses, or maybe something else that had been learned by 'man come of age'--the idea was that something in this general neighborhood also offers evidence against the existence of God.  And it was also clearly assumed that belief in God was rational and proper only if on balance the evidence, so construed, favored it.   (WCB 68)

Faced with this impasse, I decided to compare belief in God with other beliefs, in particular, our belief in other minds . . . I claimed that the strongest argument for the existence of God and the strongest argument for other minds are similar and that they fail in similar ways.  Hence my 'tentative conclusion': 'if my belief in other minds is rational, so is my belief in God.  But obviously the former is rational; so, therefore, is the latter.' (WCB 70)

Evidentialism is the view that belief in God is rationally justifiable or acceptable only if there is good evidence for it, where good evidence would be arguments from other propositions one knows.  If it is accepted apart from such evidence or arguments, then it is as best intellectually third-rate: irrational, or unreasonable, or contrary to one's intellectual obligations. (WCB 70)

Let's say, a bit vaguely, that according to classical foundatonalists, a proposition is properly basic, for a person S, if and only if it is self-evident for S, or incorrigible for S, or evident to the senses for S." (WCB 85)

And his [Locke's] answer, as we have seen, is that a rational creature in our circumstances ought to govern his opinions by reason--that is, proportion his belief to what is certain for him.  But how are we to understand the 'may' and 'ought' and 'should' that Locke employs in stating his project? . . . his words ahve a deontological ring; they are redolent of duty, obligation, permission, being within your rights and the rest of the deontological stable. (WCB 86)

Aristotle: The Laws of Thought

In the following, Aristotle argues for the three laws of thought:

Identity: a is a
Non-contradiction: not both a and non-a
Excluded middle: either a or non-a

Part 4 "

"There are some who, as we said, both themselves assert that it is possible for the same thing to be and not to be, and say that people can judge this to be the case. And among others many writers about nature use this language. But we have now posited that it is impossible for anything at the same time to be and not to be, and by this means have shown that this is the most indisputable of all principles.-Some indeed demand that even this shall be demonstrated, but this they do through want of education, for not to know of what things one should demand demonstration, and of what one should not, argues want of education. For it is impossible that there should be demonstration of absolutely everything (there would be an infinite regress, so that there would still be no demonstration); but if there are things of which one should not demand demonstration, these persons could not say what principle they maintain to be more self-evident than the present one.

"We can, however, demonstrate negatively even that this view is impossible, if our opponent will only say something; and if he says nothing, it is absurd to seek to give an account of our views to one who cannot give an account of anything, in so far as he cannot do so. For such a man, as such, is from the start no better than a vegetable. Now negative demonstration I distinguish from demonstration proper, because in a demonstration one might be thought to be begging the question, but if another person is responsible for the assumption we shall have negative proof, not demonstration. The starting-point for all such arguments is not the demand that our opponent shall say that something either is or is not (for this one might perhaps take to be a begging of the question),but that he shall say something which is significant both for himself and for another; for this is necessary, if he really is to say anything. For, if he means nothing, such a man will not be capable of reasoning, either with himself or with another. But if any one grants this, demonstration will be possible; for we shall already have something definite. The person responsible for the proof, however, is not he who demonstrates but he who listens; for while disowning reason he listens to reason. And again he who admits this has admitted that something is true apart from demonstration (so that not everything will be 'so and not so').

"First then this at least is obviously true, that the word 'be' or 'not be' has a definite meaning, so that not everything will be 'so and not so'. Again, if 'man'has one meaning, let this be 'two-footed animal'; by having one meaning I understand this:-if 'man' means 'X', then if A is a man 'X' will be what 'being a man' means for him. (It makes no difference even if one were to say a word has several meanings, if only they are limited in number; for to each definition there might be assigned a different word. For instance, we might say that 'man' has not one meaning but several, one of which would have one definition, viz. 'two-footed animal', while there might be also several other definitions if only they were limited in number; for a peculiar name might be assigned to each of the definitions. If, however, they were not limited but one were to say that the word has an infinite number of meanings, obviously reasoning would be impossible; for not to have one meaning is to have no meaning, and if words have no meaning our reasoning with one another, and indeed with ourselves, has been annihilated; for it is impossible to think of anything if we do not think of one thing; but if this is possible, one name might be assigned to this thing.)

"Let it be assumed then, as was said at the beginning, that the name has a meaning and has one meaning; it is impossible, then, that 'being a man' should mean precisely 'not being a man', if 'man' not only signifies something about one subject but also has one significance (for we do not identify 'having one significance' with 'signifying something about one subject', since on that assumption even 'musical' and 'white' and 'man' would have had one significance, so that all things would have been one; for they would all have had the same significance).

"And it will not be possible to be and not to be the same thing, except in virtue of an ambiguity, just as if one whom we call 'man', others were to call 'not-man'; but the point in question is not this, whether the same thing can at the same time be and not be a man in name, but whether it can in fact. Now if 'man' and 'not-man' mean nothing different, obviously 'not being a man' will mean nothing different from 'being a man'; so that 'being a man' will be 'not being a man'; for they will be one. For being one means this-being related as 'raiment' and 'dress' are, if their definition is one. And if 'being a man' and 'being a not-man' are to be one, they must mean one thing. But it was shown earlier' that they mean different things.-Therefore, if it is true to say of anything that it is a man, it must be a two-footed animal (for this was what 'man' meant); and if this is necessary, it is impossible that the same thing should not at that time be a two-footed animal; for this is what 'being necessary' means-that it is impossible for the thing not to be. It is, then, impossible that it should be at the same time true to say the same thing is a man and is not a man.

"The same account holds good with regard to 'not being a man', for 'being a man' and 'being a not-man' mean different things, since even 'being white' and 'being a man' are different; for the former terms are much more different so that they must a fortiori mean different things. And if any one says that 'white'means one and the same thing as 'man', again we shall say the same as what was said before, that it would follow that all things are one, and not only opposites. But if this is impossible, then what we have maintained will follow, if our opponent will only answer our question.

"And if, when one asks the question simply, he adds the contradictories, he is not answering the question. For there is nothing to prevent the same thing from being both a man and white and countless other things: but still, if one asks whether it is or is not true to say that this is a man, our opponent must give an answer which means one thing, and not add that 'it is also white and large'. For, besides other reasons, it is impossible to enumerate its accidental attributes, which are infinite in number; let him, then, enumerate either all or none. Similarly, therefore, even if the same thing is a thousand times a man and a not-man, he must not, in answering the question whether this is a man, add that it is also at the same time a not-man, unless he is bound to add also all the other accidents, all that the subject is or is not; and if he does this, he is not observing the rules of argument.

"And in general those who say this do away with substance and essence. For they must say that all attributes are accidents, and that there is no such thing as 'being essentially a man' or 'an animal'. For if there is to be any such thing as 'being essentially a man' this will not be 'being a not-man' or 'not being a man' (yet these are negations of it); for there was one thing which it meant, and this was the substance of something. And denoting the substance of a thing means that the essence of the thing is nothing else. But if its being essentially a man is to be the same as either being essentially a not-man or essentially not being a man, then its essence will be something else. Therefore our opponents must say that there cannot be such a definition of anything, but that allattributes are accidental; for this is the distinction between substance and accident-'white' is accidental to man, because though he is white, whiteness is not his essence. But if all statements are accidental, there will be nothing primary about which they are made, if the accidental always implies predication about a subject. The predication, then, must go on ad infinitum. But this is impossible; for not even more than two terms can be combined in accidental predication. For (1) an accident is not an accident of an accident, unless it be because both are accidents of the same subject. I mean, for instance, that the white is musical and the latter is white, only because both are accidental to man. But (2) Socrates is musical, not in this sense, that both terms are accidental to something else. Since then some predicates are accidental in this and some in that sense, (a) those which are accidental in the latter sense, in which whiteis accidental to Socrates, cannot form an infinite series in the upward direction; e.g. Socrates the white has not yet another accident; for no unity can be got out of such a sum. Nor again (b) will 'white' have another term accidental to it, e.g. 'musical'. For this is no more accidental to that than that is to this; and at the same time we have drawn the distinction, that while some predicates are accidental in this sense, others are so in the sense in which 'musical' is accidental to Socrates; and the accident is an accident of an accident not in cases of the latter kind, but only in cases of the other kind, so that not all terms will be accidental. There must, then, even so be something which denotes substance. And if this is so, it has been shown that contradictories cannot be predicated at the same time.

"Again, if all contradictory statements are true of the same subject at the same time, evidently all things will be one. For the same thing will be a trireme, a wall, and a man, if of everything it is possible either to affirm or to deny anything (and this premiss must be accepted by those who share the views of Protagoras). For if any one thinks that the man is not a trireme, evidently he is not a trireme; so that he also is a trireme, if, as they say, contradictory statements are both true. And we thus get the doctrine of Anaxagoras, that all things are mixed together; so that nothing really exists. They seem, then, to be speaking of the indeterminate, and, while fancying themselves to be speaking of being, they are speaking about non-being; for it is that which exists potentially and not in complete reality that is indeterminate. But they must predicate of every subject the affirmation or the negation of every attribute. For it is absurd if of each subject its own negation is to be predicable, while the negation of something else which cannot be predicated of it is not to be predicable of it; for instance, if it is true to say of a man that he is not a man, evidently it is also true to say that he is either a trireme or not a trireme. If, then, the affirmative can be predicated, the negative must be predicable too; and if the affirmative is not predicable, the negative, at least, will be more predicable than the negative of the subject itself. If, then, even the latter negative is predicable, the negative of 'trireme' will be also predicable; and, if this is predicable, the affirmative will be so too.

"Those, then, who maintain this view are driven to this conclusion, and to the further conclusion that it is not necessary either to assert or to deny. For if it is true that a thing is a man and a not-man, evidently also it will be neither a man nor a not-man. For to the two assertions there answer two negations, and if the former is treated as a single proposition compounded out of two, the latter also is a single proposition opposite to the former. 

"Again, either the theory is true in all cases, and a thing is both white and not-white, and existent and non-existent, and all other assertions and negations are similarly compatible or the theory is true of some statements and not of others. And if not of all, the exceptions will be contradictories of which admittedly only one is true; but if of all, again either the negation will be true wherever the assertion is, and the assertion true wherever the negation is, or the negation will be true where the assertion is, but the assertion not always true where the negation is. And (a) in the latter case there will be something which fixedly is not, and this will be an indisputable belief; and if non-being is something indisputable and knowable, the opposite assertion will be more knowable. But (b) if it is equally possible also to assert all that it is possible to deny, one must either be saying what is true when one separates thepredicates (and says, for instance, that a thing is white, and again that it is not-white), or not. And if (i) it is not true to apply the predicates separately, our opponent is not saying what he professes to say, and also nothing at all exists; but how could non-existent things speak or walk, as he does? Also all things would on this view be one, as has been already said, and man and God and trireme and their contradictories will be the same. For if contradictories can be predicated alike of each subject, one thing will in no wise differ from another; for if it differ, this difference will be something true and peculiar to it. And (ii) if one may with truth apply the predicates separately, the above-mentioned result follows none the less, and, further, it follows that all would then be right and all would be in error, and our opponent himself confesses himself to be in error.-And at the same time our discussion with him is evidently aboutnothing at all; for he says nothing. For he says neither 'yes' nor 'no', but 'yes and no'; and again he denies both of these and says 'neither yes nor no'; for otherwise there would already be something definite.

"Again if when the assertion is true, the negation is false, and when this is true, the affirmation is false, it will not be possible to assert and deny the same thing truly at the same time. But perhaps they might say this was the very question at issue.

"Again, is he in error who judges either that the thing is so or that it is not so, and is he right who judges both? If he is right, what can they mean by saying that the nature of existing things is of this kind? And if he is not right, but more right than he who judges in the other way, being will already be of a definite nature, and this will be true, and not at the same time also not true. But if all are alike both wrong and right, one who is in this condition will not beable either to speak or to say anything intelligible; for he says at the same time both 'yes' and 'no.' And if he makes no judgement but 'thinks' and 'does not think', indifferently, what difference will there be between him and a vegetable?-Thus, then, it is in the highest degree evident that neither any one of those who maintain this view nor any one else is really in this position. For why does a man walk to Megara and not stay at home, when he thinks he ought to be walking there? Why does he not walk early some morning into a well or over a precipice, if one happens to be in his way? Why do we observe him guarding against this, evidently because he does not think that falling in is alike good and not good? Evidently, then, he judges one thing to be better and another worse. And if this is so, he must also judge one thing to be a man and another to be not-a-man, one thing to be sweet and another to be not-sweet. For he does not aim at and judge all things alike, when, thinking it desirable to drink water or to see a man, he proceeds to aim at these things; yet he ought, if the same thing were alike a man and not-a-man. But, as was said, there is no one who does not obviously avoid some things and not others. Therefore, asit seems, all men make unqualified judgements, if not about all things, still about what is better and worse. And if this is not knowledge but opinion, they should be all the more anxious about the truth, as a sick man should be more anxious about his health than one who is healthy; for he who has opinions is, in comparison with the man who knows, not in a healthy state as far as the truth is concerned.

"Again, however much all things may be 'so and not so', still there is a more and a less in the nature of things; for we should not say that two and three are equally even, nor is he who thinks four things are five equally wrong with him who thinks they are a thousand. If then they are not equally wrong, obviously one is less wrong and therefore more right. If then that which has more of any quality is nearer the norm, there must be some truth to which themore true is nearer. And even if there is not, still there is already something better founded and liker the truth, and we shall have got rid of the unqualifieddoctrine which would prevent us from determining anything in our thought. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Reading #39: Geertz and Defining Religion

Clifford Geertz.  The Interpretation of Cultures.  Basic Books, New York.  1973.

As interworked systems of construable signs (what, ignoring provincial usages, I would call symbols), culture is not a power, something to which social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed; it is a context, something within which they can be intelligibly--that is thickly--described . . . Understanding a people's culture exposes their normalness without reducing their particularity (14).

A good interpretation of anything--a poem, a person, a history, a ritual, an institution, a society--takes us into the heart of that of which it is the interpretation.  When it does not do that, but leads us instead somewhere else--into an admiration of its own elegance, of its author's cleverness, or of the beautifies of Euclidean order--it may have its intrinsic charms; but it is something else than what the task at hand calls for (18).

Cultural analysis is (or should be) guessing at meanings, assessing the guesses, and drawing explanatory conclusions from the better guesses, not discovering the Continent of Meaning and mapping out its boldness landscape (20).

For an anthropologist, the importance of religion lies in its capacity to serve, for an individual or for a group, as a source of general, yet distinctive, conceptions of the world, the self, and the relations between them, on the one hand--its model of aspect--and of rooted, no less distinctive "mental" dispositions--its model for aspect--on the other.  From these cultural functions flow, in turn, its social and psychological ones.  Religious concepts spread beyond their metaphysical contexts to provide a framework of general ideas in terms of which a wide range of experience--intellectual, emotional, moral--can be given meaningful form.  The Christian sees the Nazi movement against the background of The Fall which, though it does not, in a causal sense, explain it, places it in a moral, a cognitive, even an affective sense (123).

A perspective is a mode of seeing, in that extended sense of "see" in which it means "discern," "apprehend," "understand," or "grasp."  It is a particular way of looking at life, a particular manner of constructing the world, as when we speak of an historical perspective, a scientific perspective, an aesthetic perspective, a common-sense perspective, or even the bizarre perspective embodied in dreams and in hallucinations (110).

The view of man as a symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking animal, which has become increasingly popular both in the social sciences and in philosophy over the past several years, opens up a whole new approach not only to the analysis of religion as such, but to the understanding of the relations between religion and values.  The drive to make sense out of experience, to give it form and order, is evidently as real and as pressing as the more familiar biological needs.  And, this being so, it seems unnecessary to continue to interpret symbolic activities--religion, art, ideology--as nothing but thinly disguised expressions of something other than what they seem to be: attempts to provide orientation for an organism which cannot live in a world it is unable to understand. (140)

A people's ethos is the tone, character, and quality of their life, its moral and aesthetic style and mood; it is the underlying attitude toward themselves and their world that life reflects.  Their world view is their picture of the way things in sheer actuality are, their concept of nature, of self, of society.  It contains their most comprehensive ideas of order.  Religious belief and ritual confront and mutually confirm one another; the ethos is made intellectually reasonable by being shown to represent a way of life implied by the actual state of affairs which the world view describes, and the world view is made morally acceptable by being presented as an image of an actual state of affairs of which such a way of life is an authentic expression. . . .

Whatever else religion may be, it is in part an attempt (of an implicit and directly felt rather tan explicit and consciously thought-about sort) to conserve the fund of general meanings in terms of which each individual interprets his experience and organizes his conduct.  (127)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reading #38: Babylonian Theodicy and Job

The Babylonian Theodicy and Job

Compare this to the book of Job.  

1.  What is the difference in the sufferers and the comforters?  
2.  What does the Babylonian sufferer want out of life?  What does Job want?
3.  What does Job conclude about his condition, God, and good and evil?  
4.  What does the Babylonian Job conclude about his condition, the gods, and good and evil?
5.  How is God different than the gods?  How do the works of God the Creator differ from the works of the gods?  In what way do all mankind see these works and what is the consequence for having failed to understand them?

Sufferer VII
33~Can a life of bliss be assured? I wish I knew how!
67~Your mind is a north wind, a pleasant breeze for the peoples.
68~Choice friend, your advice is fine.
69~Just one word would I put before you.
70~Those who neglect the god go the way of prosperity,
71~While those who pray to the goddess are impoverished and dispossessed.
72~In my youth I sought the will of my god;
73~With prostration and prayer I followed my goddess.
74~But I was bearing a profitless corvée as a yoke.
Friend VIII
78~My reliable fellow, holder of knowledge, your thoughts are perverse.
79~You have forsaken right and blaspheme against your god’s designs.
80~In your mind you have an urge to disregard the divine ordinances.
135~I will ignore my god’s regulations and trample on his rites.
219~Follow in the way of the god, observe his rites,
244~The god does not impede the way of a devil.
251~How have I profited that I have bowed down to my god?
255~In your anguish you blaspheme the god.
264~Though a man may observe what the will of the god is, the masses do not know it.
Friend XXVI
276~Narru, king of the gods, who created mankind,
277~And majestic Zulummar, who dug out their clay,
278~And mistress Mami, the queen who fashioned them,
279~Gave perverse speech to the human race.
280~With lies, and not truth, they endowed them for ever.
281~Solemnly they speak in favour of a rich man,
282~"He is a king," they say, "riches go at his side."
283~But they harm a poor man like a thief,
284~They lavish slander upon him and plot his murder,
285~Making him suffer every evil like a criminal, because he has no protection.
286~Terrifyingly they bring him to his end, and extinguish him like a flame.
295~May the god who has thrown me off give help,
296~May the goddess who has [abandoned me] show mercy,
297~For the shepherd Šamaš guides the peoples like a god.

Job 28:28 (Job)

And to man He said,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.’”

Job 32:26-28 (Elihu)

"Then that person can pray to God and find favor with him, they will see God's face and shout for joy; he will restore them to full well-being.  And they will go to others and say, 'I have sinned, I have perverted what is right, but I did not get what I deserved.  God has delivered me from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light of life'."

Job 35:9-13 (Elihu)

"People cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful.  But no one says, 'Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?'  He does not answer when people cry out because of the arrogance of the wicked."

Job 36:24-26 (Elihu)

"Remember to extol his work, which people have praised in song.  All humanity has seen it; mortals gaze on it from afar.  How great is God--beyond our understanding!  {follows a consideration of God as creator}

Job 38:1-5 and 38 (God)
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
 “Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
 Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.

 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
 Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Who has put wisdom in the mind?
Or who has given understanding to the heart?

Job 42: 1-6

Then Job answered the Lord and said:
 “I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.

You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
 Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.

Therefore I abhor myself,

And repent in dust and ashes.”