Saturday, August 31, 2013

Reading and Free Will

The internet has been down where I have been the past couple of weeks, or I probably would have written something. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, it is hard to evaluate what one does not have access to), I have no idea what it was I was going to write.

I tend to read philosophy even when the internet is fine, but over this summer I have noticed that I do not read fiction quite so much, and have the feeling that I do not know how to read fictional stories. I appreciate fictional stories as valuable. It is not a matter of not seeing fictional stories as valuable, but a matter of not knowing how to get the value out of it. This may well be the same as not having developed, or having lost, the taste for it.

The problem is that when I read, I tend to read the facts off the page, but that raises the question of what else there is to read. We often think as if the world consisted of the facts in the world, and those alone, but this deprives the world of meaning in the most basic sense. If we view the world as simply the facts, and not as having values, then the world is a very dull place. Thus, what I think I am missing in reading fictional stories as simply facts, is the implicit values of the world which the author is giving me.

To view the world as a person is to view the world as having values, or at least the possibility of value. Viewing the world as mere facts makes the idea of "value" inapplicable to the world (likewise, "interesting" or "dull"). Viewing the world as mere value thereby also removes any reasons for action. If there are no values in the world, then there is nothing to act on the basis of. To read fictional stories well, or any stories for that matter, then, it is necessary to view the world of that story as one to be acted from within.

How does one read a story, which will not change, as if one had to act in it? (This closely parallels the problem of free will: how is it right that I view the world as one I have to decide on a course of action within, when it appears as though what I do is simply part of how the world goes along?)

Monday, August 5, 2013

RE: Does it Show?

Imagine that you hear a sermon. A friend of yours was there as well, and says to you afterwards "he said 'such-and-such' but I have to ask myself 'does it show?' and I have to be honest and answer, to my shame, 'not really.'" How would you respond?

What is the relation between the truths of the Gospel and what we do?

Here is a truth: we are saved by grace. Here is a corresponding action: forgiving one another. Suppose you found yourself not forgiving others. What do you do with that? Do say "woe is me, I'd better try harder"? No, if the truth which forgiveness is supposed to show is God's grace, then if you are not showing it as much as you ought, it is because you do not understand it fully. Thus, if we sin, the solution is to seek the truths which we were supposed to be showing.

Now, where are those truths? Scripture. And how is it that we come to understand them? By God's revelation through his word by the Spirit. That is to say, they are there in Scripture, but we can only understand if God gives the understanding. Indeed, only in knowledge of God is there knowledge of Scripture, since that is what is involved when the Spirit reveals anything to us: The Spirit joining us to God in Christ.

But look at what this means: If we sin because we do not understand, but can only understand if God gives understanding, then we are totally dependent on God for any good we do. We are dependent on him, not only for life (Christ paying the penalty for us), but for living (Christ living the life for us). Thus if we sin, the response should be "God, please, show me what I do not understand for I am helpless to do good apart from you." Now, you may have all the factual understanding, but what we must have if we are to act on it is an experiential understanding. We must get it, or it will remain facts, like the times tables, to be merely spat out in answer to questions. We must understand it into our lives, so that we can live answers to the questions that we are asked in our living, but only God can effect this.

A Basic Ethical Disagreement

If we decided that to hate the sin necessarily involved hating the sinner, at least when the sinner held the sin as a good, then what would follow? First, such a position depends on a level of moral relativism if it is to be extended as far as murderers.

Let us suppose that we restrict the position to actions where there are no non-consenting persons directly involved. The idea, then, is that those persons form a closed moral system within which others are not allowed to judge because they are outside that moral system. If it were established that the moral system in question were closed, then this would hold, however the simple fact that the actions in any hypothesized "closed moral system" are to be observed by others "outside it" proves that it is not a closed moral system as those who observe it are affected by it. Thus, let us suppose that the argument is that only those who participate in a moral system can critique those who are part of it. This is effectively a return to moral relativism again, except that there are no non-consenting persons directly involved in what occurs.

Why not allow any action which directly involves only consenting persons? This is the basic issue of ethical philosophy which is being argued over in our culture at the moment. One side says that all actions affect the whole society, while the other side says that what happens between consenting adults stays between consenting adults (until they produce a child, and note that none of us ever consented to be born).

A useful argument here will not take that form "there are no actions which involve only consenting persons in the relevant way," since we disagree about how direct the involvement must be to count. The argument will need to take a different tack on it, not head on, but reaching the point about what actions should be permitted via a route which is not bound by this question.

The problem is with the question: "should actions where consenting people are the only people directly involved by allowed?" The side which has been answering "not necessarily" needs to stick to "not necessarily" and not diverge into "those don't exist" since our taxonomies of action and/or involvement are not such that we can talk at that level. "Not necessarily," here, it seems to me, means "well, it depends on the action. How much who is involved, at least at the human level, is not necessarily relevant."

How much who is involved may be relevant in some cases, but simply that no one else is involved is not necessarily enough reason to say that an act is to be permitted. Even if it were, the problem of saying who is relevantly involved means that an ethical system predicated on that assumption would still be incomplete.

Love Sinner/Hate Sin: A Defense

Sparked by this:

Given: All persons are to be respected as persons.
Given: There are actions which can be said to be bad, at least beyond a shadow of a doubt (e.g., killing another without just cause).

What is bad is to be regarded as something to be done away with. Persons, as persons, are not to be done away with. To regard the sin as to be done away with is good, but to regard the sinner as to be done away with is bad. Thus: love the sinner, but hate the sin.

This is a relatively simple proof of sorts for the principle, but for a proper defense I would like to show why the most obvious alternative is unworkable.

To regard persons as the sum of their actions and desires is to diminish them as persons. It is to say "you are nothing more than the one who did these things and wanted those things." Yet we want to add that persons are not only those who do and want, but also those who need. At our best, our desires match our needs. Very often, though, we want what is not good for us. To love the sinner we must hate the sin, because sin is bad. Sin is bad not only in itself, but for the sinner. If we ignored what people need, we could easily argue that to love a person we must endorse their choices as good. That was Sartre's philosophy--that what a person does is called good by them, and that, therefore, a person can always say "What I want is good." It is not, however, a livable philosophy. We all are aware of things we would change about ourselves. Thus, to follow Sartre's philosophy we must argue a sort of contradiction: I want to change my actions (I feel that other actions than those I do are good) and what I do is what I should do.