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.