Friday, May 27, 2016

Divine Freedom

If God was determined by his nature to create the world, then, for God to be God, he had to create the world. In that case, a reality where God does not create is a reality without God. On the other hand, if God was not determined by his nature to create the world, then, since he surely was not determined to create the world by anything else, it is unclear why God did create the world. It would seem odd, in that case, to praise God for creating the world, since, per hypothesis, God creating the world was not required for God to be God, and, given that to be God is to be morally and otherwise perfect, thus could not have increased his perfection.

The problem is this:
1. If God is determined by his nature to create, then there can be no God without the world.
2. If God is not determined by his nature to create, then there is no reason to praise God for creating.
3. God is not dependent on anything outside himself for his being as he is.
4. There is reason to praise God for creating (we seem to do it, and the psalms include praises of God for his deeds in general).

The problem is that we must take either the antecedent to 1. or the antecedent to 2. as true, and yet the consequent of 1. conflicts with 3., and the consequent of 2. conflicts with 4., and we tend to take both 3. and 4. to be true. There are, however, multiple possible solutions.

The easiest would be to deny that 1. and 3. conflict. Such a response would be to say that just because there can be no world where God exists and does not create does not make God dependent on the world. That is, God being dependent on X is a stronger notion than God logically entailing the truth of the proposition that X exists.

Another option might be to press the relation between 2. and 4., and affirm that God is not determined to create the world. This requires holding that, while the fact that God created increases his praiseworthiness, it does not increase his glory or holiness. One must then argue that praiseworthiness is a relational property, holding where God's glory or holiness are made evident, and thus that praiseworthiness is not applicable in the same way where no world exists. One must allow that the Son can praise the Father, etc., but this may be avoided by appeal to the idea that the Son already perfectly knows the Father's gloriousness and holiness, and so holds him infinitely praiseworthy without external evidences. We, however, praise God for his creative work because such work evidences his glory to us, where we require some amount of evidence in order to come to rightly see that God is praiseworthy. Here, then, that God created the world gives us reason to praise him, yet it does not increase his praiseworthiness as seen from within the Godhead.

I am inclined to think, however, that this second route won't hold up. I take it that praise for someone on account of their doing some action is based on the idea that the action is evidence for a praiseworthy characteristic about that person. It is evidence for this characteristic precisely because that characteristic had something to do with the person's performance of the action in question. It is, then, precisely insofar as creation evidences God's divinity that creation gives us reason to praise God.

If we desire to explain creation, then we must presume that God's character determined his creative work. Otherwise, creation will not actually be explained. Any explanation of why God created will be incomplete if God was not determined by his nature to create. It may explain the possibility of creation, how it was not contrary to God's nature to create, but it will not explain the actual fact of creation. If creation is left mysterious, on the other hand, it is just as mysterious what characteristic of God we might be praising God on account of in praising him for creation.

Therefore, if we are to praise God for creation, then we should grant that God's nature compelled him to create, and we should hold that this does not entail that he is dependent on creation for his divinity or existence.

Ordinarily God's being free in a libertarian sense is supposed to be strongly motivated by problems such as his otherwise dependency on the created world. I have argued in this post that we ought to reject God's libertarian freedom in this case, and instead pursue alternative conceptions of what is involved in the relation of dependency. If God is not free in the libertarian sense for creating the world, then it is reasonable to suppose that he is not libertarianly free for any other actions either.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Political Discourses

There are many political discourses. One is the expanding equality discourse: it is good if it increases equality in some sense. Another is the economic discourse: it is good if it improves economic welfare. Both of these, so described, are quite vague. They may well have originated in a less hasty form of discourse wherein the particular modes of equality, reasons for their being good, and interactions with other kinds of equality were fleshed out and well understood. Nowadays, however, at least with soundbites, the appeal to "increasing equality" or "being good for the economy" are flat and vague.

What is it for two people to be equal? Certainly, it would not be good if equality applied across all dimensions of personhood (there is another discourse, which ties into this one, of increasing diversity). What is it for something to be good for the economy? Such a complicated thing as an economy has many variables whose increase or decrease might be counted good, and which might not be mutually improvable.

There are at least two ways of thinking about equality. One is equality of state, the other is equality of potential. Equality of state means that people have equal socioeconomic positions. Equal with respect to sum function of the individuals' presently met needs, their current states. Equality of potential means that people have equal opportunities to reach various states.

As equality of state increases, the fungibility of persons increases with it. If we are all alike, we are all, in principle, interchangeable. If we are all interchangeable, then our work, in principle, has no reference to our person. What I make is essentially simply made, not relevantly made by me.

Increasing equality of potential is likewise problematic. For one thing, it is almost certainly biologically impossible. Another issue is determining how it could be made practicable--how does one distribute the resources which make certain kinds of actualization possible? Some potentials are in principle limited to certain people.

Both kinds of equality may be good to aim for with respect to particular goods. It depends on the good, however, and some goods may belong outside the realm of political dealings.

Economic welfare is equally complicated, but we encounter it more often: wages, employment, GDP, the value of stocks, etc., are all interrelated in complicated ways. What are we trying to increase? Average wage? The lowest wage of an employed person? Number of employed people? Number of people making more than $n? Or are we trying to reduce the gap in income between the richest and the poorest? Or... what is it to be doing well financially?

To get at what should actually motivate political decisions requires asking what politics and government are about.

One may argue that the job of government is to provide justice for its citizens. What is justice, though? And isn't part of the problem that we disagree about what is just, particularly for the government? There are things it might be just for the parents of a 3-year-old to do which the government would be unjust to do.

Again, the job of the government may be to protect its citizens (from aggressors, terrorists, etc.). This would make governance essentially about creating an effective war machine. Any act by government would then be for the sake of having an effective military and intelligence network. Taxes would be to fund it, but it is hard to see what role civic institutions might have.

Some kind of wellbeing of the people is to be aimed at be government, but this wellbeing is vague and complicated. My wellbeing may be best served by the government not doing something but some other institution doing it instead, so the doing of x being good does not entail that it is the government that should do it. How do we get at these sorts of complications? What is the scope of governmental authority?

To examine scope of authority of governments, given my context, demands distinguishing national and state and city levels of governance. Perhaps in another post. For now: there probably is no one size fits all account of how wide and deep the scope of governance is. It is probably a function of something like the scale of the domain it is over (states can probably be pickier than nations, and smaller states and nations can probably be pickier than larger ones).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

If God Did Not Exist, Would...?

A counterfactual is a truth claim about how the world would be if some state of affairs held.

If we use possible-worlds language, the counterfactual form 'if p were, then q' might be presented as: in every possible world where p, q. However, this bears poking. In ordinary conversation, counterfactuals are not so broad as to apply to all possible worlds. Rather, 'if p were, then q' may be interpreted as: in the nearest possible worlds where p, q. One might interpret counterfactuals as covering a spectrum, some being of the broadest form, as the first analysis presented it, others in the narrowest, as the second, and others as: in all possible worlds relatively close to this one, if p, then q.

Now, occasionally we use counterfactual questions like "If God did not exist, could there be truths of ethics?" This is a yes/no question, where the correct answer depends on the truth value of the counterfactual. If God is a necessary being, however, then there are no possible worlds where the antecedent is true, and so, in all possible worlds, whether or not ethics requires God's existence, the counterfactual holds good.

Nevertheless, such counterfactuals seem useful to inquiring as to how reality depends on God. In the realm of inquiry, however, we are not dealing with metaphysical realities, but with epistemological realities. We can then present the counterfactual in terms of what we would need to believe if the antecedent were true. Thus, 'if p were, then q' in the epistemological sense, means that where one believes p, one must also accept q. Here the problem arises that it is difficult to say whether such counterfactuals are true or not. If I accepted that God did not exist, I suspect I would still accept that there are ethical truths, even if I do not now accept that the ethical truths which do exist could exist if God did not. The change in views would require multiple changes in my views.

Instead, let us suppose that the question of 'if not-p were, then q' may be taken, in certain contexts, as a kind of bracketing, that is, it is a question of what supports remain to q when p is taken away. This requires, in the case where God's existence is the value for p, that we presume that something is left over. Even granting that all of reality depends on God for its existence, we may distinguish between how it is supported immediately by God's power and mediately, that is, by other things in reality. Thus, for instance, I am inclined to think that ethical realities are given by realities of how human beings work in interaction with the world, and so ethics has support other than immediate divine decree.

This is how we use the counterfactual as regards God's existence, I think. It is used to bracket God's existence, by itself, and leaves behind those aspects of reality which do not immediately require God's existence.

Problems rise again, here, however. Does the world require God's existence? I suppose so, yet I would assume we want to leave it behind when we bracket God. Some items may have their being in God (e.g., numbers and other universals are sometimes viewed this way).

What is involved in bracketing God in this way, then? We set aside truths whose validity we could not know without also knowing that God exists. Thus, we know the external world through our senses, other minds through our knowledge of the external world, numbers through mathematics, etc., but we leave off revealed truths and truths which we cannot argue for without arguing for the existence of God either equivalently or on the way.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I Beside the World

In ordinary life, we are in the world. However, we are capable of abstracting from the world presented to us, and imagine various what-ifs. These alterations may be more or less extreme, from the existence of unicorns to the non-existence of the world. What remains in any case, however, is the imaginer's awareness of what is imagined, that is, in all my imaginings, I remain. In imagination, then, I am completely separable from reality. I do not appear to be in reality, then, or at least I appear to be quite different from most reality. Because of this, I seem to come on the world as a quite different sort of thing, the world stands, as it were, opposite me.

I appear, from this angle, to be fixed, whereas the world about me appears malleable. I am therefore able to ask questions about comparisons between this way things are and other ways it could have been. This gives me access to modal terms such as possibility and necessity, as well as notions of ought, as I compare ways of acting in this world with one another.

On the other hand, my life may be determined in terms of the world's effects on me (granted that these effects are in interaction with my own effects on it). I am the person who has encountered this particular world in this particular way. My life, my consciousness, is essentially a consciousness in this world. I would, then, be a quite different individual had I been born into a different world. From this point of view, then, I seem to be, fundamentally, a product of the world, not co-equal with and opposite the world as in the above view.

The above seem quite contrary. One points out how much I can distance myself from the actual world, and how contingent it thus appears to be with respect to my own being.

One solution is to treat the first view about imagination as revealing nothing more than the extent of our imaginative powers. Thus, we would take my ability to imagine myself without the world but not the world without myself to be simply about my powers of imagination, and to have no relevance for metaphysics. Another solution is to take the second view as getting us wrong, and merely being about the connection between our experiences and the world our experiences take place in. Thus, in the latter solution, we would disconnect who I am from the life I have lived.

I do not particularly like either of these solutions. The first seems more acceptable than the second, however. The first threatens our modal concepts, suggesting that they are merely products of imagination. The second threatens our understanding of individuals as distinct, threatening to portray us each as fundamentally identical, empty selves over the world which possesses content. This is related to problems of free will. For any form of free will to work, various modal notions must be preserved, primarily the notion of ought. Most forms of determinism, likewise, treat our entanglement with the world as giving essential reasons to believe we are determined. Thus, any compatibilistic view of free will must preserve both points of view together in some way.

One way of doing this would be to argue that both views are equally right, and that neither is subsumable into the other. The most likely way of making this work would be to subsume both views under a third view. Perhaps we come upon the world already having our own, pre-experiential, content which then impinges upon our relation to the world and permits us to step back from it (that is, we may innately be a particular sort of person, independent of any physical existence). Perhaps, too, we are fundamentally linked to our experiences, but our experiences are less entangled with the reality out there than it seems, and more subject to our own creativity (to avoid LFW at all, this must be combined with pre-experiential content).

The problem with the idea that we have pre-existential non-physically generated content (e.g., character, dispositions, etc., which cannot be traced back to anything apparently contingent about our lives) is that it basically returns us to LFW because it is essentially inaccessible. It would be as helpful to maintaining some variety of personal determinism as certain hidden variable interpretations of quantum mechanics are to maintaining that the universe is determined rather than chancy. On the other hand, should such an account work best, it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that we are, at one level at least, basically souls of some sort, though it at the same time risks reducing the self to a soul, and downplaying our nature as fundamentally embodied beings, and thus risks downplaying the necessity of the resurrection of the dead for beings like us. This issue with embodiment tends to arise with any view that requires souls, however, so it might not be much of a real problem, but rather a danger inherent in our being (assuming we are) body-soul amalgams. Note that, from a God's eye view, this would still be compatibilistic freedom, but with no hope of our ever being able to predict human actions even in principle, since certain variables (the pre-experiential content) would be available only to God.

An alternative might be to subsume our imaginative lives under our lives in the world, so that the experiences which constitute me include imaginative experiences which arise from my encounter with the world. This requires an account of why the notions which arise from purely imaginative thought should be regarded as having any weight. This might arise simply because we are capable of acting from the point of view which imagination provides, and thus are not constrained by actuality. The fact that only actuality is ever actual need not bother us so long as the awareness of alternatives plays a necessary role in explaining why this actuality was actualized rather than some other.

Subsumption, however, does not play very well with portraying a compatibilistic perspective from which one can act as an agent. It tends, instead, to present freedom as a permissible because unavoidable delusion.

One problem with taking the imaginative point of view too seriously is that we are incapable of imagining apart from a point of view, and thus the point of view which cannot be eradicated from imagining may simply be a feature of imagining. It need not be true that we really could not but exist, despite our inability to imagine such a state of affairs without our awareness, and so, apparently, ourselves, remaining. Nevertheless, such a viewpoint makes us feel as if we are somehow more stable than the fluctuating world around us. I do not essentially change along with the world, and it seems like I might have. Experiencing might have felt deeper, less malleable, than it does in imagination. If this had been the case, then we would have felt ourselves to change along with our representations of the world, and thus have felt ourselves as unstable as the world.

Perhaps this is the best solution: we actually can imagine the world without us, in spite of the fact that we remain looking at such a picture. The one who views the picture is not in the picture, and thus the picture can be a picture which does not include that one. The one we cannot remove is one who is not essential to the content of imagination, but to the act of imagining, just as one needs a thinker to think. In this case, imagining is a function of persons, who are conditioned. Imagination gives us access to alternative options for how the world may be, and thus spread options before us to choose from. In choosing from these options, we may be determined, yet this does not remove the fact that it is an agent choosing which takes place, and that the optionality of the options is relevant to what is going on. I suspect that the only way in which a determinism may contradict free will is if it removes any sense in which the options must be perceived as available options by the chooser at the time of choosing in order to explain what the chooser did on account of the choice.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Defining Grace

There are two extreme attitudes towards bad action. One is to condemn the action along with the agent. The other is to ignore the wrongness of the action. Between these, there is a spectrum of ignoring and condemning. The attitude which is probably most common is to allow for some wrongs as acceptable, to be overlooked, and others remain condemnable. Thus a spectrum of wrongs are introduced.

Grace is not on this spectrum. It is entirely condemnatory, and yet conserves the other side of the spectrum in that grace preserves the wrongdoer. Grace is, in fact, not grace unless the full force of the condemnation is preserved. Where the condemnatory attitude condemns the agent along with his action, grace condemns the action while preserving the agent by viewing the action as already condemned elsewhere, that is, by the hope that the agent will be found to be united with Christ, and thus their sins condemned in his death.

Christian grace, then, relies upon the hope of the union with Christ effected by the Spirit in the sight of the Father. It therefore relies on the triune God. Apart from the trinity, our sins are not condemned in Christ, nor do we live in Christ's resurrection. And apart from this there is no hope for a condemnation which rightly condemns our sins while preserving our selves. If Christ has not died for sins, then, we have only relative right and wrong, wronger and righter, and must make do with however right we can get.

Since Christ has died for the forgiveness of sins, however, there is a better way. We may, granting the wrongness of wrongs, nevertheless act in the hope and pursuit of the wrongdoer's being joined to Christ. Grace, then, acts in the hope of reconciliation. In some cases, this looks more like condemnation, and is condemnatory, but only because this is the means by which we hope to see them eventually reconciled to God. We condemn that they may see their sins, and thus see their need for grace. We give grace, in full recognition of the wrongness of the wrongs, in order to show them that, though they do deserve condemnation, that condemnation need not be suffered by themselves. The law is tightened, the bar raised, that we might see our need for a Savior.

Grace is action towards reconciliation, neither denying the divide nor allowing it to remain. It refuses to permit the wrong to have the final say, which would cast judgment on the agent without hope for their return to us, yet recognizes that it has had a say, which makes a return necessary, and thus seeks to void the wrong by swallowing it up in the death of Christ and thereby reconciling the human being made in the image of God to the God who judges justly.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Distinguishing Agency in Determinism

Any form of determinism which holds that we are responsible must articulate some distinction, however fuzzy, between factors which are relevant to responsibility and those which are not.

It seems obvious that one ought not be held responsible for things over which I have never had any control over. This thought needs to be refined, however, as it at first seems like the premise underlying libertarian free will.

I am constrained by certain factors external to myself. These include some factors of brain chemistry and bodily structure. My position is that only agential factors--for example, my intentions, desires, worldview--are relevant to responsibility. Our desires, etc., are subject to moral judgment because they are rightly part of our agential makeup.

The following is mostly a first attempt to deal with this--possibly a second attempt, but from a different direction from before. It is subject to revision in future posts or elsewhere.

What is it for something to be "rightly part of our agential makeup"? First, they must be the right kinds of things, that is, they must be mental. Second, they must be more or less well integrated into our whole agential makeup. Third, they must be basically stable.

The remainder of this post will serve to briefly elaborate and support these three criteria.


Only mentals may be agential in a morally relevant way.

I mean to be quite broad here. By "mentals" I mean whatever mental phenomena are, whether properties or things. The criteria excludes mere objects and merely physical properties. Non-subjective stuff is not subject to moral critique, except within the context of subjective relations. I think this criteria is obvious, but it is also important, since it keeps this account from being, at least flatly, materialistic.


Only what is more or less well integrated into our whole agential makeup may be subject to moral critique.

This excludes phobias and other mental phenomena which neither support other aspects of our agentiality nor are so supported. A mental is supported by another agential feature when that agential feature provides a basis for the mental. Likewise, a mental supports another mental when it provides a basis for it. 'A is afraid of x because of agential feature y' is a case where y supports x, for example. This support only counts when the agent grants it, however. A must hold that y gives reason for the fear of x. That is, the support must be subjectively granted, it must exist as support within the agential makeup of the agent.

The question may arise as to how much integration there must be, and I doubt that answer can be clearly answered. Particularly given how non-differentiable mentals tend to be (that is, how hard it is to enumerate thoughts as distinct and fundamentally separate), it is hard to say how many links a given mental needs. It does seem like we can generally judge pretty well when something is anomalous in a person, however. The basic question is whether it fits into an outlook on the world which is perceived by the agent to be more or less coherent.

Some cases of irrationality may end up sneaking in, of course, but that seems like a point in favor of this theory, cf. Woody Allen. In these, the irrationality is seen as supporting aspects of the agential structure.


Only features whose form can be traced more or less clearly through time may be subject to moral critique. 

This may be considered as the diachronous version of integration. That is, where the above criteria holds that a mental must be supported or support, this criteria requires that a mental must have an origin which is not seen as an improper origin by the agent. Basically, this means that the agent must be able to maintain herself as a coherently storied being, and thus must be able to see herself as living out of or into a story.

Both this and the prior criteria have "more or less" in them, which permits for responsibility to admit of degrees.

Given these three criteria, agency may be distinguished from the ongoing flux of cause. I stand out by virtue of my being an integrated composition of mentals in an agential structure which develops organically through time.

N.B. On Agential Structure

I may return to this, but for now: agential structure includes more than mere mentals, for instance, action and unconscious tics may be agential when they exhibit other agential features (probably always including mentals). I am also inclined not to treat the category of "mental" as unproblematic, so this may turn out to be a major location for future revision.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Agency and Depression

In business, empowerment helps drive productivity. In politics, felt enfranchisement does similar, and prevents social unrest. My view is that these are the same dynamic in different areas of life. A similar dynamic plays itself out in health, economic well-being, moral life, etc., and my claim is that in each case the lack of a felt ability to effectively act produces something like depression.

The human being, as fundamentally a reflective agent in the world, must experience its own agency in the world. The alternative is for the person to give up on his own agency. This is felt as the death of responsiveness or feeling. It is a loss of hope for one's ability to live in the world. One no longer feels, because one feels consigned to thinghood rather than agency. One sees oneself as a mere object, unable to effectively respond, and thus becomes ever more like a thing, something which does not respond because it is unresponsive.

Yet some feeling always remains. As an agent, one remains responsive to one's being as an agent and the demand for action in the world is unavoidable. Acting as a thing, then, in its contradictoriness--one acts as what deos not act--is painful, even while it serves to protect one from the failure of ineffectual action. Stoicism and depression depression are aligned, if not identical. Stoicism advocates not caring about the outcome of one's actions, and yet one's actions are oneself in the world--one's placing of oneself into the world in concrete form. Empowerment thus encourages employees to take pride in their work because it allows them to see themselves in their work without pain. Empowerment is a response to the alienation from the products of one's labor which Marx critiqued. Stoicism, on the other hand, advocates self-alienation from one's actions.

Thus far, my analysis has been how the deprivation of agency moves toward depression. The same movement may be noted in reverse, however. Acting, and finding ways to effectively act, provides an antidote to depression. Acting towards a future opens up possible futures in which one may live, thus providing hope. Acting requires one to respond to something.

There are, however, two kinds of action possible. One may act towards life or towards death. One may act productively or destructively. Destructive action is an imposition on oneself which temporarily mitigates the loss of feeling, yet leaves one unaffected in the long term, leaves no real mark on the world one lives in. Productive action is action with a result one is glad to see oneself in. Destructive action is action which gives one a fleeting glimpse of the ability of action to effect things, yet does not produce such a change as one can identify with. Destructive action is action which embraces one's thinghood, that is, one's death.

Action which successfully places one--expresses one--in the world, in such a way that one can recognize oneself there, combats depression in whatever sphere that action takes place. Given that an agent is not seamlessly divisible, both depression and non-depression tend to spread, depending on what areas one takes to be important, or more relevant to one's agency.

Much of this could be construed as ad hoc rationalization of features we already knew, but the purpose of philosophical analysis of such things as depressions seems to me to lie more in placing the features in a coherent whole with respect to the rest of the world of experience for the person who experiences or otherwise has to deal with those things. We may know that getting up and doing things is helpful for those with depression recovering, but what this analysis gives is an internal view on depression which makes sense of this. Further, this analysis connects depression to other features of life and thought in ways I, at least, find interesting (the connections with Marx and felt enfranchisement).

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Dialectical Apologetics

For the purposes of this post, I define classical apologetics as apologetic argumentation which treats premises as neutral, that is, which treats the starting point for reasoning as unproblematically shareable between reasoning parties. Likewise, I define presuppositional apologetics as apologetic argumentation which recognizes that premises differ between reasoners, and regards its job as arguing for itself from within itself, and against the other from within the other. Dialectical apologetics is apologetic argumentation which recognizes that premises differ between reasoners, and which attempts to show why the other positions' own resources provide compelling reasons to adopt itself.

Thus, a Christian dialectical apologetic would endeavor to show that Christianity hits the mark which other views are implicitly aiming at. It would show how a variety of forms of life are best understood in the context which Christianity presents. It would take what others worship and show how they do what they are finally wanted for best when subjugated by Christ.

This approach requires a sensitivity to why people do what they do, why they are seeking what they are seeking which goes in detail enough to show--not merely tell--how people's aims are misdirected in being directed away from God, and to show how the form of life in which the fundamental desire is redirected back to God is more fulfilling. That is, we are trying to uncover the existentially affirmed premises which the others accept, and find in them some germ of truth, and then to show how the gospel speaks to that germ of truth which they existentially acknowledge.

The notion of "showing" here is intentionally broad. It is meant to include a kind of lived apologetics, whereby ones life exhibits the truth of the gospel to a watching world. It is also meant to include the potential for a role for poetry and novels, film and music. It must include exhibiting the reasoning, the logic of the gospel, in such a way that it strikes. The gospel must not be left as a mere set of propositions, but must be presented as something from which to live, something to trust in. In some sense, then, I am arguing that the gospel must be made visible to the soul. This requires speaking in a variety of modes, of speaking almost bi-lingually, trans-lingually, as it were, between the speech of church and the speech of the street, the office, the home, and all those other forms of discourse about life.

On the one hand, I aim to speak after the Bible--I want to bleed Bible. On the other hand, I want to speak only in language which the unchurched person can understand. This latter requires that I make the gospel explicit. I cannot leave the gospel in terms of redemption, of reconciliation of God and humanity, or salvation, of sin, of sacrifice, of forgiveness. I must speak in those terms, yet I must make those terms sensible, comprehensible, to one who has not heard them, or who has assumed a distorted meaning for them. I must speak the gospel in the terms the Bible sets, and I must ensure that what I say is rightly understood, not mistranslated, and this must all be said in such a way that the hearer knows what it means, not only abstractly, but to their lives. The call to repent and believe in the gospel, that is, the call to follow this crucified and risen Lord must be a possible call, one which would be distinguishable from living on one's own. That is, in presenting the gospel, we must make it possible for others to enter into the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Grounding Logic

It is commonly held that deductive logic is properly basic, that is, that it does not need to be grounded in anything else. Thus, a fine response to "why does logic work" is held to be, "because it does, are you crazy?" I do not quite disagree with this position, but, while our belief in the propositions of basic deductive logic may be properly basic, our belief that our belief in those propositions is properly basic is not, itself, properly basic.

I am going after two questions which come out as one. Why does logic work? And, What makes something properly basic?

Logic may be considered as nothing more than a bunch of symbols and their rules of use, together defined to as to be tautologous. Thus, in symbolic logic, I am conjoining symbols which stand for possible truth values by means of operators which are defined in terms of what outputs they give for each set of input truth values. In this case, however, logic still rests on the principle of non-contradiction. In this way, it is, thus far, circular.

If I have a pair of propositions, p and q, and know their truth values--I know both p and q to be true, for example--then I also know the truth value of the conjunction p & q. The system is defined so that the conjunction is given by the truth-values of the input propositions p and q. In the system, it is a matter of definition that if p is true and q is true, then p & q is true. Likewise for any of the other symbols and their outputs.

Thus far, however, there is nothing grounding the correspondence of the system to the world. If the principle of non-contradiction does not hold in the world, then logic is useless. On what basis can we claim that the principle of non-contradiction, and thus logic in general, actually holds of the (messy) world?

If we lack logic, then most of this paper will turn out to be self-refuting, and we will be left with no reason not to hold that the principle of non-contradiction holds. A refutation of logic will have to rely on some kind of logic. However, a proof of logic, while it will involve logic, need not be useless. The grounding of logic will show why logic works for us, and thus may allow us to see what may be included in logic which has not, thus far, been included, or been included more warily, etc.

Essentially, the grounding of logic will be the grounding of a properly basic belief, viz., that the principle of non-contradiction applies to reality. It will thus, if successful, form a case-study for what makes something properly basic.

Suppose non-contradiction does not apply. If that is the case, then, besides the fact that we have as yet no reason not to hold that the principle also does apply, we also are left with no confidence on which to rest our actions. For any belief we might act on, we have no reason not to also hold of the belief that it is false. In order to go on with our lives, in order to live, we must act according to the belief that some proposition, or some category of propositions, is true rather than false. We must hold, that is, that we have reason to act in this way, and that it is not the case that we have no reason to act in this way.

This is not a logical argument per se. Although it does rely on a logical form. What the argument draws out, is, however, the basis proper: our inability to go on without this principle grounds our use of this principle. This is an experienced fact which does not rely on logical form. We are compelled to adopt this principle by nature, that is, by our very make-up, by our being agents who act for reasons. Our very need to act rather than merely happen to behave gives us a need for reasons which may be relied on. Thus, we need the principle of non-contradiction in order to be as humans.

Thus far, however, this basis lacks grounds itself. Before going on to ground it, however, I want to point out what this grounding is not: it is not a pragmatic grounding. I am not arguing that, because we cannot go on without this principle, we ought to treat the principle as true, but that, because we cannot go on without this principle, the principle is, in fact, true. This shows how much in need of grounding this basis, our inability to go on without the principle, needs to be grounded qua basis.

Essentially, the principle now in need of grounding is the movement from a human need for something to its existence. This is a far more disputed principle. We have gone from the more certain to the less certain, and are asking the less certain to ground the more certain. This would be a bad thing if we were trying to prove to each other that logic works, but the dispute in our actual case is over how we can know that logic works. I am trying to show that this is a solid basis for our trust in logic, and thus a place from which to appeal for beliefs being properly basic, rather than that for these reasons you should trust logic to work.

So, then, why should we hold that because humans need a certain belief in order to go on, that belief is true? I noted that this is not a pragmatic move. However, it is close, and we will move through the pragmatic point of view to arrive at the non-pragmatic acceptance.

First, because we need this principle in order to go on, we cannot but hold this principle. To dispute this principle in action is to give up agency. Our choice is between agency and giving up the principle of non-contradiction. We cannot give up agency, as that would be an act of agency, and thus self-refuting. We would be affirming by our actions that agency both exists and cannot exist. Insofar as agency relies on non-contradiction, and giving up agency violates non-contradiction, agency and non-contradiction rise and fall together.

We are stuck as agents, however. The only way to get rid of all our agency is to rid ourselves of life. Even in our most capricious moments, we exercise some degree of agency. Thus, giving up non-contradiction consigns us, or at least prompts us, to a final act of irrational agency into death--suicide.

Suicide is a negating of self and world in one act. It is a denial of the world's fit to me, and to accept that the world finally fails to fit me grounds such an act as, if not rational, at least no less rational than continued attempts to conform to reality. To deny that the world fits me, which is what is required by denying non-contradiction, is to give up the possibility of a rational existence in the world.

The choice, then, is between my basic fit to the world or death: to hold that I can live, or that I cannot live (though this degree of binarity is exclusive only from the side of basic fit). Thus, either non-contradiction holds, or humanity lives in a world which rejects it. In this latter case, we are no part of the world, but foreign to it. To hold that non-contradiction does not really hold, that it is a useful fiction, even, is to deny a fit between myself and the world which, if true, undermines my ability to make my way through the world. A pragmatic affirmation of non-contradiction does not leave me solidly enough fit to the world, but leaves the possibility of a final lack of fit somewhere down the line on precisely this point. It leaves life uncertain of itself.

To get to the solid truth of the principle of non-contradiction, then, it is necessary to exclude our own death from our choices. Essentially, what we have said is, however, precisely what is noted by most who hold that some beliefs are properly basic: you must be crazy, out of touch with the world, in order to deny these beliefs. Our options have been shown to be between absurdity or this properly basic belief.

There is a degree of circularity to my argument around the edges. I assume that neither death nor absurdity are live options for most of us, and thus that we must choose the principle of non-contradiction. Some will accept absurdity, however, particularly at the edges of their lives. I am arguing that the degree of absurdity here is one which reaches deeply into our lives, that to reject these beliefs in words can never square with our lives so long as we live. Thus, the degree of absurdity moves beyond words and into daily actions, and thus presses us toward death if we deny these basic beliefs.

I am confident that any who agree with my argument will not disagree with my choice in favor of non-contradiction and other properly basic beliefs, since, were they to choose otherwise, they would not remain long for this world. Is this not merely pragmatic? Perhaps it would be, except that I hold that the world must basically fit us. One may arrive at this from any number of directions, whether evolution or theism. It is another principle which is embedded in how we live.

Here I have not grounded the principle that what we need in order to go on exists on some further principle, but have simply laid out our choices as I see them, and thereby, likely, helped show what I mean by "go on." This is a basic principle in all my philosophy: that it is (always for everyone) possible to live, to go on, or, put another way, that suicide is, in every case, irrational given reality. I am not sure it is possible to fully ground it further, but it is the point at which epistemology and ethics become one in life as lived, and thus why I sometimes speak of my philosophy as existential.

Thus, my argument is:
1. There must be some way to tell what beliefs are properly basic,
2. Here is a basis for a properly basic belief (that non-contradiction holds).
3. This basis is satisfactory.
4. Thus, this basis may be appealed to in other cases.

If I am correct, then a certain kind of human need for a belief in order to go on grounds that belief. This does not mean that there can be no other bases for properly basic beliefs. If it is the only satisfactory basis, however, then beliefs will be properly basic if and only if humans have a need for them in this way.

I suspect, but will not show here (as the argument itself has been put forth by C. S. Lewis and others elsewhere), that one can reach a belief in something quite like heaven from this point. There is also only a slight stretch from here to reach the need of a salvation which is not by works but by grace. In brief, since: if it is by works, then we may reach a point of no return of failure--a final failure that is irremediable, and thus disfits us to the world. This latter relies on the "always for everyone" in my principle, and someone else may prefer a more restrained principle, but I see no reason to privilege some positions with respect to this principle over others. I do not doubt that the principle may be used wrongly, to reach false conclusions, wherein we may find us using the arguments in both directions: some as modus tollens, others as modus ponens. If you hold you need x to go on, and I hold that x is not available to you, then I will also hold that you do not, truly and deeply, need x in order to go on.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Abortion and Atomism

To start with, atomism here refers to making parts primary over wholes. There are two forms of atomism relevant to the abortion debate: social and medical. Social atomism holds the individuals in society as essentially independent. Medical atomism treats the parts of a person as essentially separable, and so as individually treatable. The former tends to view each person as prima facie on their own. The latter tends to do the same with various parts of a person. Parts of a person can be their eyes, their stomach, their heart, etc., or their blood pressure, their digestion, etc. Both are "parts" as opposed to a holistic view which assumes that the problem appearing in one part of the body may lie in a prima facie unrelated part.

Now, then, a fetus or unborn child tends to be regarded, by both sides of the debate, as separable from the mother in both of these ways. Certainly, they are distinct persons, but one is dependent on the other and they are organically and naturally linked to each other. The pregnancy produces changes in the mother's neurochemistry, and the child is affected by various conditions the mother may be put in, whether sickness, stress, or consuming various things. These are largely ignored by a medically atomistic view, particularly insofar as these relations might be seen to affect the morality of certain choices. Medical atomism tends to assume that, while drug A may have some bad affects, adding drug B can counter that, and so one just has to find the right combination of drugs. Thus, natural processes are seen as overcomeable, and thus as only relevant insofar as they are cheaper or more convenient ways of dealing with health conditions. This moves against the idea of natural law, which, in many forms, assumes we can, to some degree, read off morality from how things are put together.

Likewise, the unborn child or fetus is almost always regarded as separable from the mother socially. This is done when they are treated as equal bearers of rights which may come into conflict, and nothing more. The location of the child within the mother and essentially dependent on the mother for life and sustenance are largely ignored.

In our society, very little is made of rights and duties of parents to children and vice-versa, particularly after the child moves out. In a sense, the abortion debate raises the question of whether the rights and duties begin before a certain period.

Where does a right to provide for one's offspring originate from? If that question can be answered, then, it seems reasonable to think, we will be able to find when it originates. If it originates biologically, then, depending on how that is fleshed out, the duty will begin when those biological conditions are met. If the duty arises from an implicit promise made by parents in intentionally conceiving a child, then unintentionally produced fetuses will lack a right to sustenance in the womb--or out of it, for that matter, depending on whether failure to abort is then considered another way of implicitly promising continued care. There may be other ways of deriving the right, and the former needs more fleshing out. I actually suspect that most pro-life supporters are relatively speciesist, whether for theological or naive reasons, neither of which are helpful (even if right) in secular debates.

I am inclined to think that the latter, implicit promise, model is implicitly held by those who want abortion to be legal. Notably, it fits a social contract theory, which theories often strike me as socially atomistic.

One problem which faces the ongoing debate about this issue is a lack of depth. That is, while a pro-life advocate can provide an ethical theory of why they are right and pro-choice advocates are not, the same applies the other way around. Neither has been able to upset the others' meta-ethical positions. In order to do so, the pro-choice advocate needs to provide good reason for the pro-life advocate to give up her biologically rooted ethics (which, actually, should have been pretty easy, thus my suspicion of speciesism). The pro-life advocate, on the other hand, needs to dislodge a social contract point of view which is relatively well linked to notions of autonomy and democracy.

Returning to my points about atomism earlier, then, I want to persue the question of how a shift to a more holistic standpoint might affect our meta-ethical positions, and thus our views on abortion.

First, a holistic standpoint must recognize interdependencies between parts, and the way the parts form the whole. The fact that abortion is an induced miscarriage, and the trial which miscarriage is seen to be by virtue of biological processes which we do not understand well, leads us to view abortion as trialsome, whether or not we come to see it as justifiable in any particular case. This is medical holism, and can be continued in basically the direction of normal natural law arguments for a pro-life position. It will also be noted, however, how the pregnancy affects the mother besides eventually bearing a child, that is, particularly, how it may disrupt life plans. Within this perspective, I think, we would want children to be raised by their biological parents--as an ideal, not a requirement. Thus, giving up a child for adoption would be seen as a lesser of two evils. This shifts us towards a social holism. This does assume a humble holism which is thus wary of going outside the biological setup. Such could be justified either by reference to God's goodness in creation, or to epistemic humility.

Second, holism would force us to ask about what affects the laws might have beyond what they say simpliciter. Thus, for instance, does legalizing abortion tend to present children as a burden? Does not doing so present women as unneeded outside the home? Do the tendencies encouraged by these laws promote attitudes and behaviors we approve of or not? Do they encourage situations which are conducive to things we approve of? Thus, legal holism asks: What do these laws teach? What kinds of laws fit into the present structure of laws? Is that good?

Finally, we might also ask whether those presently making the laws concerning abortion are the right ones to be doing it, along similar lines: Should this body have this power? That is, independently of the decisions being made, should the power being exercised by this body belong to this body, or is this body taking power which rightfully should belong to another? Of course, this gets us a bit afield, asking what the purpose of various parts of government are, as well as the purpose of government as a whole (and how the parts interact, etc.).

On the other hand, we should try to show what the problem with social contract theory and its atomism is. Briefly, I would suggest that social contract theory tends toward political and ethical voluntarism, thus removing any solid root from which to argue ethically, and atomism tends to produce division in social bodies, as well as to ignore feedback loops, and unintended consequences. It thus oversimplifies reality, and removes us from each other. It thereby diminishes our ability to make progress in understanding one another and the world around us. While liberals tend to be the most outspoken about social injustices, it seems to me that they are also the least apparently embedded in those structures of society. Perhaps the one is on account of the other. Those embedded in structures are both most invested in their being good, but also possess the most power to do something about their being bad. Those who stand outside of them can only yell at those within them, and this, too, only creates division and polarization.

If we continue to advocate reform from without, we will continue toward revolution, the most extreme form of external "reform". If we desire change without unrest and disturbance, we must enter the very vilest of structures and change them from within. For this, a BenOpish solution may be necessary as a HazMat suit in order to resist the corrosive affects of those structures while we remove the corrosion.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hegel, de Tocqueville, and Government

Having completed Hegel's The Philosophy of History, I have come to see that the previous post was one-sided at best. Having begun Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, I suspect the latter will prove helpful to any project in the spirit of the former.

One of the main issues with the previous post was that it overlooked how the stages of States in Hegel go. In doing so, I overlooked how stages of unrest, as during the Civil Rights movement, and as are being capitalized on by Sanders and Trump currently, tend to precede the stage where the people comes into its own as a State. These stages of unrest are due to some part of the people realizing its weakness to oppression, and taking steps to gain a greater degree of security, ordinarily, if not always, giving rise, in the end, to greater enfranchisement, that is, their having a greater role to play in governing or ordering the state.

In the present presidential nominations we can see that both Trump and Sanders are appealing to a revolutionary, as Hegel would say, principle in the masses. Obama, too, appealed to this.

Since around Obama's election, I have been suspecting that this revolutionary principle will need to find resolution somewhere, and will quite likely result in a relatively violent (which is not to say bloody, but disruptive) change in systems of governance. That system which becomes stable at the end of this period will need to be such as to bring together both the Trumpies and the Sandersians (I indicate in this way how little attention I am actually paying to politics) together in a people where all feel themselves importantly and relevantly participant in the decisions of the government--which apparently is not the case currently.

What is interesting in Democracy in America, in this light, is that he suggests that part of the success of American democracy early on was how uncentralized we were administratively, while being centralized in governance. The decentralization encouraged what we would call entrepreneurship, as well as, by presenting various relevant offices at all levels of government--township, city, state, etc.--providing a sense of enfranchisement to whoever felt need of it. Whether the latter has failed due to the size of the population in comparison to the number of offices, or due to the reduction of power felt by state and town governments in relation to the national government.

This is not to favor small government absolutely, but rather the distribution of power to as close to their effects as possible, within reason. Thus, the power which has reference to the goings-on of cities should be allocated to cities, and the same, mutatis mutandis, to states etc., so that a relative similarity of power is provided at each level, over more territory but fewer or less intrusive issues as one goes up, over less territory but over more personal issues as one goes down.

Rather than positing division as the principle of the USA, de Tocqueville posits Equality, which gives rise--as, in fact, is usual in Hegel's system--to opposed principles towards unity and division. In some sense, we might see this in the opposition of atomistic and holistic medicine, of the extreme unity within parties, but polarization between them, as well as the force of the internet to unite groups around shared interests, yet thus allow the easy avoidance of those who differ ideologically.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hegel and America

Sometimes one reads something one expects to be basically wrong, and finds it provides an interesting perspective. Such is the case with Hegel's Philosophy of History. The interesting perspective is provided by the question: how would Hegel approach the USA as an embodiment of Spirit? That is, what results when one uses Hegel's template for talking about States on the United States?

I have little inclination to affirm Hegel's views on progress, or even the direction History should go. I also have not actually finished The Philosophy of History. So what follows is highly tentative and exploratory. It might be classified as something like "Fictional Philosophy," more like tracing a great painting than actually painting one, and more interpretation than new theorizing. Still, it is interesting, particularly in light of "right side of history" arguments and the like.

Hegel begins with the origins of the State in question. As usual, there is a kind of mixing of peoples in the origin of the USA, both in the colonials and natives, as well as slaves, this continues in the US far more than in former States with the later immigrants. We must note at the outset, however, that the US begins with a separation from England and that the bulk of its population began, religiously, with a separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Thus the form of US thought is Analysis or Division of wholes into parts.

This Division is seen first in the form of its political system. In it, powers are divided among branches, and each individual is counted an individual first, rather than primarily a member of the State. The Each is dominant over the We. Nevertheless this form of political life does give rise to a State, that is, does unify a people into a whole, however it is a whole unified around divisions. This comes to the fore in its development into Statehood with its civil war, where the division of the USA into states provides for the fracturing of the USA in half. This event is perhaps the clearest time when the dominion of the majority over the minority, in the form of slavery, was shown as possible despite the divisions of powers in the government, which went so far as to divide the power of election of officials from the power of legislation, thus protecting against the tyranny of the majority which is possible in a simple democracy.

In this people the Spirit gains supremacy over Nature, with numerous conquests of what is by Spirit's movement toward Freedom: away from Necessity and toward Potential. Thus the people of the United States have often been known for their great ingenuity, that is, they are seen to be compelled to overcome Nature by the force of Spirit. To this may be attributed their expansion West, as well as their rise into space. In our own time, Transhumanism and the subjective accounts of gender and sexuality exhibit this same movement of Spirit to overcome Nature. Thus the USA solidifies its rise to superpower with the space program.

Hegel comments early in The Philosophy of History that the United States cannot form a true State until it has filled its available space and begins to press in on itself rather than outward. Yet the outward pressure has never ceased, rather, the USA has moved from an expansion in territory to an expansion over the whole world in influence and power. This shift begins when the Pearl Harbor attacks bring the US into WWII, thus bringing it into conflict with Hegel's final form of Spirit in the Germanic. It is with this event that the United States gains the ascendancy and becomes the form of Spirit in the world, and the completion of this war with the Nuclear Bomb evidences the United States power in ingenuity, bringing together the violence of division with the creativity found in the division of Subjectivity and Objectivity such that Spirit becomes lord over Nature.

It is quite hard to tell a State's history before it has fallen, yet we may expect the US to fall as her predecessors did: she will overshoot her principle. Analysis will give way to Synthesis, as Division goes too far, and so brings itself down. Contra Hegel, History is not finished. The Germanic was not the Best, nor is the United States, nor will any other, but each will continue to move to a closer approximation of Freedom and Spirit, until Spirit harmonizes perfectly with Nature, Subjectivity with Objectivity, that is, until all conflict between the duality is resolved into a harmony of Spirit: Freedom in Nature. True Freedom, for Hegel, is opposed to the caprice as much as blind obedience, yet this dominance of Subjective over Objective moves to caprice, though of a different sort than Hegel saw in India. It is on account of this caprice that we may expect the United States to fall, even as it is now a powerful State, yet beginning, perhaps, to wane.

Addendum: I am tempted to make suggestions as to what one might expect to follow this phase of Spirit, or where one might look for the next State. Hegel would likely suggest South America, or perhaps Space. With America, we have circled the globe, and Hegel made comments which he would have to go back on to suggest that History might go around again, for China and India--though they have changed--are not really supposed to change on his view. Wherever it may turn out to be, I doubt we can be too clear on what the principle will be, though it is likely to reassert the priority of the Objective again, as the two aspects of Spirit go back and forth like a see-saw, yet slowly getting closer to an equilibrium. What this will mean is not clear. Perhaps a revival of natural law thinking, but I am inclined to expect a shift from Analysis to Synthesis, from Atomism to Holism, as we are already beginning to see. How Synthetic thinking will come together with the rise of the Objective is unclear from here, and another spurt of creative philosophy would be needed to develop a conception of how they might come to form a single principle.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

To Be Put Into Question

To be a solipsist is to be unresponsive to others' reasons, intentions, desires, experiences and so on.

Let the sum of "reasons, intentions, desires, experiences, and so on" be referred to by the term 'subjectivity'. Subjectivity does not refer to the person who has these things, but is what such a person has.

What I mean when I say that someone is responsive to something is that it matters to them that it exists, they take it into account as they plan their way of living, or have reasons why they need not do so.

To communicate is to provide for another one's own subjectivity.

There are two options one has when another attempts to communicate with one. Either to be responsive or not.

One way to respond to someone's subjectivity is to hold that there is a problem with it. One way to be unresponsive to someone's subjectivity is to not care how it is one way or another.

For me to hold that my subjectivity is fine, whatever you or anyone says, is to hold that my subjectivity may not properly be responded to in any way which puts it into question. I therefore am forced to hold that it is improper for you to question my intentions and desire, etc., unless you are merely seeking information. What you may not do in this case is question because you find my position untenable for some reason, whether that be morally or logically.

When this is done, I effectively request that others treat me as nothing. That is, I request that others treat me as a solipsist would. Now, I may hold that I may yet put your views into question, but this would also be a kind of solipsism, as I would be unwilling to address as possibly legitimate the actual roots of your position, since I already know that I am right.

Now, to be intersubjective is the opposite of being solipsistic. It is to respond to others' subjectivities as important, and to recognize the potential error in each of our subjectivities, and to be willing to learn from one another. It is to allow one's own subjectivity to be in question at a certain level.

This does not mean withholding any degree of certainty about whether you are right about anything. We each hold certain things more or less strongly. The issue is to be willing to give an account as to why one holds one's views about things, that is, to be willing to answer questions.