Saturday, June 13, 2009

Revision:Transcendental Signifier Arument: Rational Warrant for Belief


I have said we don't need God arguments, but I didn't say I'm opposed to them. In looking back over the history of the blog I notice I've put this one up several times but in a truncated form. I've never put in the full version. So here it is.

If this is clear as mud to you and you want further background on the Derridian roots of the argument see these two articles:

Derrididan background part 1

Derridian Background part 2


(1)Transcendental Signifier (TS):

The signification mark (word) which refers to the top of metaphysical hierarchy; the organizing principle which makes sense of all sense data and groups it into a meaningful and coherent whole, through which meaning can be understood.The corollary, the thing the Transcendental Signifier signifies, is the "Transcendental Signifiered (designated as TSed)"

(2) Signifier:

The term used of written words in the linguistic theories know as "structuralism" and in the theories of French Linguist Ferdinand Saussure. A signifier is a "mark," that is writing, which designates a concept forming a word, that which points to an object as the thing that it is and no other. ie, a physical tree is the signified, the object of the signifier "t-r-e-e."

Preliminary Observations:

(1) Any rational, coherent and meaningful view of the universe must of necessity presuppose an organizing principle which makes sense of the universe and explains the hierarchy of conceptualization.

(2) Organizing principles are summed up in a single first principle which grounds any sort of metaphysical hierarchy, the Transcendental Signifier (TS)

(3) It is impossible to do without a Transcendental Signifier, all attempts to do so have ended in the re-establishment of a new TS. This is because we cannot organize the universe without a principle of organizing.

(4)TS functions Uniquely as Top of The Metaphysical Hierarchy.It's function is mutually exclusive.


P1) TS's function is mutually exclusive, no other principle can superceed that of the TS since it alone grounds all principles and bestows meaning through organization of concepts.

P2)We have no choice but to assume the reality of some form of TSed since we cannot function coherently without a TS

P3) We have no choice but to assume the reality of some form of TSed since the universe does seem to fall into line with the meaning we bestow upon it.

P4) The logical conclusion would be that There must be a TSed which actually creates and organizes the Universe.

P5) The signifier "God" is one version of the TS, that is to say, God functions in the divine economy exactly as the TS functions in a metaphysical hierarchy.

P6) Since "God" is a version of the TS, and since TS and God concept share a unique function which should be mutually exclusive, the logical conclusion is that: God and TS share "God" concept is discretion of the Transcendental Signified.

P7)Since the TS should be assumed as real, and TS and God share identity, we should assume that God is the Transcendental Signified, and thus is an actual reality.

rational warrant for belief in God's existence, QED.

B. Transcendental Signifier is the ultimate metaphysical principle which makes sense of the universe.

The transcendental Signifier (TS) is the mark that gives meaning to all the marks that make sense of the world; the "zeit geist," the "urmind", the "overself", the "object of ultimate concern", the "omega point", the "Atmon", the "one," the "Logos", "reason." all the major top ideas which bestow meaning upon the world are examples of the TS. People have always advanced such notions. (The word "G-O-D" is the Transcendental Signifier, the thing those letters refer to is the "transcendental signified")

1) All people have some notion the "big idea" which makes sense of everything else.

William James, Gilford lectures:

"Plato gave so brilliant and impressive a defense of this common human feeling, that the doctrine of the reality of abstract objects has been known as the platonic theory of ideas ever since. Abstract Beauty, for example, is for Plato a perfectly definite individual being, of which the intellect is aware as of something additional to all the perishing beauties of the earth. "The true order of going," he says, in the often quoted passage in his 'Banquet,' "is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which one mounts upwards for the sake of that other Beauty, going from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute Beauty, and at last knows what the essence of Beauty is." 2 In our last lecture we had a glimpse of the way in which a Platonist writer like Emerson may treat the abstract divisiveness of things, the moral structure of the universe, as a fact worthy of worship. In those various churches without a God which to-day are spreading through the world under the name of ethical societies, we have a similar worship of the abstract divine, the moral law believed in as an ultimate object."

2) All Metaphysical Constructs include a TS.

Metaphysics is not merely realms unseen, but the organization of reality under a single organizing principle (this definition comes form one reading of Heidegger). All systems and groupings of the world verge on the metaphysical. Derrida and Heidegger say that it is impossible to do without metaphysics since even language itself is metaphysical. Everything points to the Transcendental Signifier. ( see Heidegger, Parenthesis, and Introduction to Metaphysics, and Derrida, Margins of Philosophy and almost any Derrida book).

3) Science has TS

William James--Gilford lectures:

"'Science' in many minds is genuinely taking the place of a religion. Where this is so, the scientist treats the 'Laws of Nature' as objective facts to be revered. ..."

Science is very Metaphysical. It assumes that the whole of relaity and be organized and studied under one central principle, that of naturalism.

"For essential reasons the unity of all that allows itself to be attempted today through the most diverse concepts of science and of writting, is in principle, more or less covertly, yet always, determined by a an historico-metaphysical epoch of which we merely glimpse the closure." [Derrida, The End of the Book and the Begining of Writting, trans. Gayatri Spivak 1967 in Contemporary Critical Theory, ed. Dan Latimer, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovonovitch, 1989, p.166]

MetaListon Scinece and religion
Stephen Hawking's

"In his best-selling book "A Brief History of Time", physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that when physicists find the theory he and his colleagues are looking for - a so-called "theory of everything" - then they will have seen into "the mind of God". Hawking is by no means the only scientist who has associated God with the laws of physics. Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, for example, has made a link between God and a subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson. Lederman has suggested that when physicists find this particle in their accelerators it will be like looking into the face of God. But what kind of God are these physicists talking about?"

"Theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg suggests that in fact this is not much of a God at all. Weinberg notes that traditionally the word "God" has meant "an interested personality". But that is not what Hawking and Lederman mean. Their "god", he says, is really just "an abstract principle of order and harmony", a set of mathematical equations. Weinberg questions then why they use the word "god" at all. He makes the rather profound point that "if language is to be of any use to us, then we ought to try and preserve the meaning of words, and 'god' historically has not meant the laws of nature." The question of just what is "God" has taxed theologians for thousands of years; what Weinberg reminds us is to be wary of glib definitions."

C. Attempts to Deconstruct TS lead to abyss of Meaninglessness, and back to TS.

1) Derridian Deconstruction.

The French Post-structuralist Jaque Derrida seeks to explicate the end of Metaphysics which is the final project of Western philosophy. His technique of deconstruction aims at undermining any logos or first principle that would give rationality to the universe by unseating the privileges of reason which under gird all such projects. Even logic itself is undermined.


"Are we obeying the principle of reason when we ask what grounds this principle [reason] which is itself a principle of grounding? We are not--which does not mean that we are disobeying it either. Are we dealing here with a circle or with an abyss? The circle would consist in seeking to account for reason by reason, to reason to the principle of reason, appealing to the principle to make it speak of itself at the very point where, according to Heidegger, the principle of reason says nothing about reason itself. The abyss, the hole, ..., the empty gorge would be the impossibility for a principle of grounding to ground itself...Are we to use reason to account for the principle of reason? Is the reason for reason rational?"

Derrida in Criticism and Culture, Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schlefflier, Longman 1991, 20.

Derrida's argument amounts to saying, "logic does not endorse itself." The point of the quotation above seems to be that logic is in a dilemma. If one tries to prove logic by its own terms, one is merely arguing in circle. But, if one does not do this, there is no foundation upon which one can base logic, because logic is the foundation.

[Quotes from Derrida from "The University in the Eyes of It's Pupils" Diactricits]

2) Into the abyss and back out to TS.

Many critics of Deconstruction have noted that if we take this principle seriously we would wind up unable to speak or think, even language requires an organizing principle which orders the world of our thought and speech (of course the basic thrust of Postmodern thought understands us to be trapped in, as Jameson said, "the prison house of language" unable to get at the real things of the world and their understanding because all we can really ever think through is language). But in opening this abyss Derrida creates a safe bridge over it as well, although that is not his intention. He uses the principle of difference (which he spells as "differance" to indicate that meaning is both differing and differing) but difference becomes the organizing principle of a Derridian universe. IT not only explains how meaning is derived from signifiers, not only does it tear down the meaning of all hierarchies, but it actually builds new ones because it becomes the foundation of value in valuing difference.

"The constant danger of deconstruction is that it falls into the same kinds of hierarchies that it tries to expose. Derrida himself is quite aware of this danger--and his response--which is really a rhetorical to multiply the names under which deconstruction traffics..." [--Con Davis,Culture and Critique 178-179]

D. unavoidable nature of TS indicates God is a priori.

Either way, heather we try building a reductionist notion of the universe or heather we tear down the hierarchies of reason that implies a TS, we can never escape the TS. This inescapable nature of the transcendental signifier points to the a priori nature of the God concept. That reality is ordered by a single principle which gives meaning and rationality to all other principles is inescapable, but humanities multifarious attempts to understand that principle, and the frightening conclusion that the principle leads to a creator God is the logic inference. All of the many signs which have been used to understand this uber-sign imply an intelligent ordering rationality which makes sense of the universe, and therefore, logically must have created it in the first place.

1) Transcendental Signifier is unavoidable.

As has been pointed out above, there is no possibility of holding a rational view of the universe without an organizing principle, a "thing at the top." This indicates the ultimate necessity of a TS. In other words, the fact that we cannot get away from the TS indicates that there must really be one.

2) God is the ultimate Transcendental Signifier.

"Without God, who has been the ultimate Transcendent Signified, there is no central perspective, no objective truth of things, no real thing beyond language." [Nacy Murphy and James McClendon jr." Distinguishing Modern and Postmodern Theologies." Modern Theology, 5:3 April 1989, 211]

E. God is the ultimate unifying principle.

1) Coincidence of Opposites.

Nicholas of Cuza's concept that God's infinity is a universal set subsuming all finite sets of opposites. (See Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology)

"The universe of Nicholas of Cusa is an expression or a development, though of course necessarily imperfect and inadequate, of God--imperfect and inadequate because it displays in the realm of multiplicity what in God is present in an indisputable and intimate unity (complication) a unity which embraces not only the different but even the opposite, qualities or determinations of being. In its turn every single thing in the universe represents it--the Universe-- and thus also God in its own particular manner; each in a manner different from that of all others, by contracting the wealth of the universe in accordance with its own unique individuality."[--Alexandre Koyre' From Closed World to The Infinite Universe, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University press, 1957, 8-9.]

Cuza's vision of a universe taken up metaphysically in God in an undifferentiated unity is grounded in the paradoxical nature of geometry. One example Cuza gives is of the dichotomy between straightness and curvilinear. But if one was dealing with an infinite circle, from every point along the circle it would appear that the circle was a straight line. Or another example; large and small are opposites in a finite perspective, but in dealing with the infinitely large circle and the infinitely small one the center loses its special qualities, both are at the same time both nowhere and everywhere, and thus equally meaningful and meaningless.This may not seem like a particularly Christian notion of God, but Paul Tillich remarks that Martin Luther embraced it," one of the most profound conceptions of God ever developed." Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought.

2) God as Being itself.

As being itself God is Metaphysically above the level of existing things in the universe and constitutes all the potentiality and all actuality. This the nature of God is to order and to bring to concreteness potentialities. The signifier 'G-o-d' universally signifies and therefore takes up into itself all concepts and principles of rationality.

3) All people seek TS, therefore, this reflects innate sense of God.

Not only do we seek it, we cannot avoid it. The alternative is a meaningless universe, and more than that, a universe without coherence to reality. Of course we have the rules of logic, and we have science to tell us facts, but those move toward the TS becasue they are both predicated upon organizing reality under a logos, a rationale.

F. Objections.

1) Deconstruction and Postmodernism.

The climate of opinion today is that all metaphysical structures are merely constructed hierarchies of meaning and we can simply deconstruct them by reverse the terms, bringing out the contradictory elements in a text, or unbracketed that which is silenced by the text. But the move of Derrida to the metaphysical level form the linguistic level is totally unwarranted.The deconstruction of metaphysical hierarchies is nothing more than arbitrary. Moreover, Derrida simply makes his own TS through the concept of "difference" (he even spells it with an "a" to show that it is more than mere "difference" but induces differing and differing meaning. Yet this principle comes to define the universe, to set all values, to play the ultimate arbitration; in effect it has become its own TS.

2) We merely impose meaning upon a randum and cold universe.

We imposes meaning upon the universe as part of the brains innate pattern making ability, which is an evolutionary deposit allowing us to determine what to eat in the world and to recognize danger, remember where the good mushrooms are ect.and as cultural deposit owing to our need for security in a cold universe. Answer: While this is going to be the commonplace assumption in the current climate of opinion, and while it is no doubt true in general, even the "objective" "proven" "advocate of human knowlege" science must be nothing more than the imposition of a pattern of meaning upon nature to make us feel better in a cold universe. Of course the skeptic will break down the dichotomy between metaphysical meaning and "objective fact" about the workings of the universe. But science no less than religion transforms itself into metaphysical organization in dictating its materialist assumptions about ultimate reality. While it is true that we imposes patterns and read in meaning this in no way proves that there is nothing "out there" and the fact that it seems to be a natural inclination of humanity to find it implies that there is an innate sense of it laid upon our being as a divine program, to find the mark that gives meaning to all other marks.

3) This is an attempt to squre the circle.

Answer: This criticism has been made of the use of Nicholas of Cuza. Note, Cuza's argument does not mean that the square and the circle change shapes, it is not saying that sureness is really roundness. It is saying that in infinity all distinctions between binary opposition become meaningless. The shapes are the same, but from the view point of a finite observer in infinity the distinctions are meaningless.


Kristen said...

I think this time I really managed to follow this. Really fascinating! :D

J.L. Hinman said...

good! thanks;-)

J.L. Hinman said...

I think that Derridian background really helps