Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Some Observations on Being Itself.


As regular readers of my blog know I am very influenced Paul Tillich, the German-American Theologian. He held to the notion that God is being itself, to understand what that means one must understand the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Existentialism and phenomenology will both be very important to understanding. What follows are some observations I put out on CARM in an attempt to clarify the issues involved. that has been a useful exercise in that I see I need to clarify more the definition of Being.

I don't want this to be an argument about the truth of that concept. Several people have ask what it means, so this is a thread for clarification. I want to explain the concept and I want you guys to refrain from arguing about it reality this time and we can do that latter. Just do clarification questions now if you please.

Trying to summarize the idea in a quick one line is like asking someone to explain Quantum mechanics in one line. Tillich is very complex, he didn't invent the idea it's the very fabric of Christian thought going back to the early dark ages. This is the essence of Christian philosophy from its earliest times, and even before that in the intertestamental times.

I'm going to summarize by putting down a series of numbered observations. This is not a modal argument or any kind of argument. It's just a series of observations by way explanation.

(1) The basis of Christian mysticism is a dichotomy between experience and understanding: the way of negation and the way of union.

I say this because you are going to want to know a very detailed idea of Being Itself. Tillich resists that. He has a very complex world view, God as being itself is that entire world view, but it's the edges around things like "what is God exactly?" Because in Christian mysticism God is beyond our understanding. That doesn't mean we can't know anything about God, but what we know experiences. It's not knowledge on paper that counts it's experience.

Experience is beyond words. So it has to be loaded into cultural constricts and stated as a metaphor. The problem with fundies is they literailze the metaphors. It's takes a subtle mind to understand metaphor so the less subtle mind make it literal.

Talk of God can only be either analogical or negative. Negative meaning we say what God is not not what God is. But we make for this by experiencing God, and that means experiencing God's love. So the statements about love are not metaphors, but they filtered through human constructs of love. That's all we have. that's the only way we can think.

(2) The God beyond "God"

Tillich speaks of the God beyond God. That means the reality beyond he metaphor. The big man on the throne is the metaphor. There can't be a big man in the sky. This is one thing that stimulates atheist incredulity I think. The God beyond God is the reality that is beyond the analogical image of the big father/king figure. That figure merely serves to evoke the superego. So atheists are fighting the father figure, fighting their super egos. conversely fundies are serving their superegos.

(3) God is not a thing in creation or a fact added to the universe.

see I'm doing that negative theology thing here "God is not..." that's called "apophatic." God is not on a par with things. He's beyond a comparison with things in the universe.

the conventional wisdom would look at the existence of thing and that the fact of each thing as evidence or argument for the nature of reality. The universe is just a collection of these things, stars and planets things on the planets. God is more than the sum total or the whole, God is the basis of the nature of that it means to be. that includes the basis of all reality and al that there is, and all potential as well.

I'm getting started and it's already too long.

There is no "he" that's a metaphor. There is no big king on a throne, no gain brain. let's put it in analogy to something in science.

(4) Analogy

The universe is a collection of contingent things. But it's all held together by this mysterious sort of thing called "gravitational field." Now that's not just gravity, that's vaccum flux, it's the four dimensional coordinate system of space/time. When phsyicists say "nothing" they don't mean literally nothing at all, they mean vacuum flux.

The big bang emerged from the singularity but the image of it exploding is wrong. A better analogy would be bread baking. Matter is like the raisins and the bread itself, the dough is gravitational field. It doesn't explode out of a single point, it' sort expands like a balloon and "emerges."

God is analogous to gravitational field. The convention view of God as the big man or the gain brain is like a raisin. He may be the biggest raisin or the most powerful but he's still a "thing" alongside other things. But God in terms of being itself is like the dough that becomes the bread. ti's the fabric of the structure of what holds the raisins together and makes up the basis of the bread.

(5) Personal nature

This is going to be real complex. There are modern physicists who are not Christians, so you don't need to be afraid of them, who think that consciousness is more than just what goes on in your head. Consciousness is seen by many as a basic property of nature. If that's the case then it could as well be a basic property of being. After all Sartre talked about two basic aspects of being: en soi and por soi. En soi (in itself) is just inanimate objects. Por Soi (for itself) is consciousness. Consciousness is a basic aspect of being.

Some atheists have said "how can the basis of reality be conscious?" that's because you are trying to think of being as an impersonal force like magnetism. Vacuum flux is not a force. The dough in the bread is not a force.

Reducing God to impersonal force is just as anthropomorphic as making him a big man in the clouds. Because it's what we would expect if we are trying to come with an idea of something alien or scientific. Its' still a product of human though.

God's consciousness would be totally above our understanding. It would be something we cannot get, unless we experience it and then it can be communicated to us.

Some physicists think that thought is the basis of reality, not matter. reality is based upon mind. That doesn't mean we can control it. We don't need to become mind science guys, but mind is a form of energy and matter is a form of energy. We know that energy is the basic substance or form of substance. But mind is a form of that. So why can't there be a transcendent mind thinking he universe?

Ok this doesn't even do it justice but it's getting there. So please bring clarification questions only ok? We can argue about it latter.

(6) things it is not

it's not a abstraction, it's supposed to be a real thing. that's what Tillich. Tillich answers the argument that Hans always makes by saying this. Being itself is the power of being to resist nothingness. that means it's a positive force that enables being to emerge from primordial being. So the beings, things in the world, come from the intial state of being.

here we could bring in the analogy of a string membrane.

Hans will say it's a just an idea in the mind. But the concept is real actual being. that is not a concept in the mind, it's a fact that fact is all around us.

look at a patch of empty sapce, look at a hard object. that's the difference. Its' not an idea in the mind its what the hard object is doing as it sits there existing.

Question time:

Originally Posted by Donald View Post
how do you define "being?"

(and thank you, BTW)
The primordial act that separates something form nothing. Tillich calls it the "power to resist nothingness." I though that is phrased so strangely it makes it sound like nothingness is running around trying suck people the drain or something.

Aquinas saw it as an act in the sense that it's something you engage in from moment to moment. It invovles the fact of existence but is more than jsut that by itself.

Originally Posted by Donald View Post
Okay, this leads me to a few more questions-

First, what does it mean, "being is an act?" How does one engage in being, apart from merely existing?

Meta: well for contingent things that's the primary thing, their existence is an extension of being. The fit into the structure and categorizes, self and world, finite and infinite and so on.

being as an act may be too scholastic for modern understanding. It's a really old way of looking at things. Just a way of saying that existing is an act, it's something you do. Not that you do it actively but you are existing form moment to moment.

And, second, to what does this apply? I assume that someone who has worked out such sophistocated issues is well aware of the problems of identity. So wouldn't it be true that the Theseus, to use a well known example, is not actually engaged in the act of being, as it is not the same entity from one moment to the next? IOW, in what sense is it "resisting nothingness," as it were- after all, that which it was a moment ago has ceased to be, and has been replaced by something else. So, my second question is, what aspects of nature engage in the act of "being?"

Meta:"process" or "becoming" Tillich addresses. That is a form of being it's part of the act that the beings do as they exist, the act of becoming. Part of the ontological structured. That's a really important conflict in the history of philosophy and religious thought. the conflict is between the static and the procession. Process theologians accuse the orthodox Platonist and Thomistic of holding a static view of God. God is perfect and unchaining. The process theologians see God as di polar and the consequent pole is in process with the universe, with everything. They go through the tradition of Scotus and the Nominalists.

Tillich was the man in the middle. He thought that existentialism was dependent upon essentialism for its base, and its not meaningful to talk about the existential without the essential. Stasis, Thomism, essentialist, those go together. Scotus, process, existential, those go together. Tillich as known as an existentialist and he had sympathies for pocess theology and he is admired by the process guys, but they seem him as stopping short of where he needed to be because he appreciated the essentialist side too.

Originally Posted by DrB View Post
What always confuses me Meta is how saying something has 'being' is any different to saying something simply exists.

Meta: Being is not merely the fact a thing existing. We speak of individual things as The beings." And God as Being Itself. In a sense analogous to the particulars and the Platonic forms.

But "the beings" are not just things that exist factually and that's all there is to say about their relation to being. They are also contingent beings. Tillich keeps that distinction by speaking of contingencies as "existing" and being as "Being." So he says God Doesn't exist, but he is being itself.

So to speak of things as "the beings" is to move beyond the facticity of there mere existence and place them in relation to being itself.

Originally Posted by HRG View Post
Should we say that once you realize that "being" is a trivial and shallow concept you can't be a theist `?

Meta: show me why it is? That's saying you are going to unlearn to read. Once you know Being has depth you can't take it back. Apparently you just don't know that it has depth.

Doesn't it ever occur to you that you just don't certain things?

In the mind of Tillich. Others realize that a grammatical structure (a gerund) has been artificially blown up to (alleged) actual existence; that's exactly what improper reification means.

Heidegger and MacQuarrie both admit that language is inadequate. that's the whole point of the bit about experience over lanague. Beyond understanding and all that. Something that words do not do justice.

Hans has learned a new word, reification, that's his gimmick for the week.

Tillich, like many Western philosophers or theologians, has been ensnared by the grammatical possibilities of Indo-European languages.
You are really reaching beyond your capacity of your knowledge I bet you can't give me an example that is not merely a matter of language itself being unequal to the task of describing the transcendent.

Look man you are not playing fair. I said this was for qualitification that doesn't mean make an argument and put it in a thin excuse for qualificiation.

so unsubtle you might as just go, "here's a question fo clarification: do you understand how stupid you are?"

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