Monday, July 20, 2015

The Trancendental Signifier Argument (2 of 5)


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I got the cart before the horse. Let me sort out definitions before moving on.


(1) God

We tend to think of God as a big man with a beard, or some sort of powerful "person" like a human being, although one who can do amazing things. This is just the childish version, it is conditioned in our thinking by a pedestrian approach to religion.

There are religions that don't have a "God" per se, such as Buddhism. Essentially, there is no reason to think of God as a person, certainly not one with a corporeal body. That image, which is hinted at in the Bible, is merely metaphor. Depending upon the religious tradition, however, one can have very abstract views of God which have nothing to do with a father figure or a mother figure.

There is a more abstract way to think about God: that is Transcendental Signifier, the notion of a metaphysical first principle that organizes everything into a metaphysical hierarchy. This is the more sophisticated view of God, and most of the works of the great Christian philosophers hint at notions of God in these abstract terms.

Anselm defined God as "that which nothing greater than can be conceived." He ended all of his arguments by saying "this thing we call God," as a means of keeping the exact nature of God open-ended. This is because God is beyond our understanding, as the Bible says, but we can leave a "place marker" for the concept of God by understanding that the ultimate logical function of the God concept is that of the transcendental signifier. I tend to think about God in terms of Paul Tillich's ground of being. For the purposes of God argument I use a list of attributes to keep it simple, but all are implied in this statement:The eternal and necessary foundational aspect of all being which creates all things and chooses to do so is compatible with the definition of "God" found in any major world religion, and therefore, can be regarded as God.

Divine attributes

necessary (ontologically)
ground of being1 I say God is not a person, that doesn't mean God has no consciousness. Personhood is a cultural construct and requires a psychology and that means hang ups God has no hang ups and God consciousness is as far above ours as we are above a single cell organism.

(2) Transcendental signifier (TS)

A theoretical construct, the signification mark (word) that refuers to the top of the metaphysical hierarchy; the organizing principle that makes sense of all sense data and groups it into a meaningful and coherent whole, through which meaning can be understood. The thing to which the TS refers is the transcendental signified, (or Tsed). The concept of the TS is not limited to just God but includes ideas such as “the life foece” reason, or mathematics. Though it is theoretical the argument asserts that the TS is real as deduced by organizing principles.

(3) Signifier

The term used in semiotic, of written words, and in the linguistic theories known as “structuralism,” such as the work of Ferenand Sassure. A signifier is a mark (that is to say—writing) designating a concept forming a word, that which points to an object as the thing it is and no other. For example “t-r-e-e” is the written word pointi9ng to the hunk of biomass made of wood. The word is the signifier, and the thing it points to is the signified. Thus “G-o-d” is the signifier, the actual creator of the universe is the signified.

(4) Organizing principle (OP)

The immediate top of the metaphysical hierarchy that determine the rest of the operation or meaning of a system. Examples include the laws of physics determine the workings of the physical universe, laws of linguistics determine the nature of grammar. The problem come in distinguishing that from the TS. The difference is that organizing principles are more or less excepted as facts while the TS is theoretical. The TS is bigger than the organizing principle. Laws of physics are the OP TS might be mathematics since mathematics is more basic than and determine the laws of physics and everything else.

(5) Metapysics

[forth coming]

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 hierarchies 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 an organizing principle, all attempts to do so have ended in establishment of a new TS or organizing principle. Example: Derrida sought to overturn hierarchy and wound up establishing difference as the principle. We cannot organize without a principle of organizing.

(4) Ts functions uniquely as the top of the metaphysical hierarchy, its function is all pervasive and mutually exclusive.


(1) The 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.

(2) We have no choice but to assume the reality of some form of Tsed since we cannot funjction coherently without a TS.

(3) therefore, 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.

(4) Thus it is logical to assume that there is a Tsed that creates and organizes the universe.

(5) The signifier “G-o-d” is one version of the TS. That is, God functions in the divine economy as the TS functions in the metaphysical economy.

(6) Since God is a version of the TS, and since the TS and the God concept share a unique function that is mutually exclusive, the logical conclusion is that God and Tsed share identity; God is the Tsed.

(7) since the Tsed must be assumed to be actual (real) and God shares identity with it, then God must be actual.

The object is to show rational reason to believe not to prove that God actually exists. God is too big and too basic to reality, too far removed from our epistemic space to be obvious, except when made obvious by the divine itself. I once wrote a little analogy to illustrate the point. My basic assumption in writing this parable is that of Paul Tillich, that God is being itself.8

A fish scientist was hired by the high council of Tuna to find the strange substance humans believe in called “water.” The fish had never seen any water so they wanted to know what it is. The fish scientist was told that water collected in depressions in the ground, so he examined every hole and depression he could find but found no water. He eventually concluded that humans are deluded about water because he could find no examples of it. It never occurred to him it was the medium in which he lived, through which he gazed, and from which he took every breath. As a fish empiricist our scale clad investigator was certain that what he was looking for had to be an object that he could see, he forgot to look at the substance he was always looking through. So it is with being, we write it off as “just what is” and go on looking for this “God” who can’t be found because we don’t understand he’s nearer than our inmost being. Such is the pitfall of scientific empiricism.

The point of course is that God is too basic to our being, too much a part of the existence we share that we don't see any indications of presence. We take for granted the aspects of being that indicate God's reality. Some of the indications might be physical or cosmological, such as fine tuning or modal necessity. Others are experiential. The atheists pointed out that water is physical and can be detected. It's only an analogy and all analogies break down at some point. Analogies are not proofs anyway. I don't offer this as proof but as a clarification of a concept. In so clarifying we find a link to being; the connection between God and Being itself.

Heidegger approaches being in its ready-to-hand aspect. In other words like a carpenter using tools we find being as so inherently part of our experience, so ready-to-hand that we don't notice it. This is the point of the parable; we are too close to being, it's fundamental to what we are to realize that our place in it is to be contingencies based upon the reality of God. God is also "detectable" but of cousre, not in the sense that water is. Given certain assumptions we can understand the correlation between experience of presence and the nature of eternal necessary being. When we experience the reality of God through the presence of holiness we experince the nature of being as eternal and necesary. All we need to do is realize the necessary aspect of being to realize the reality of God. This is why Tillich says:

The name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not."9

"Depth of being" and being itself are synonymous. Depth just means that there's more to being than appears on the surface. The surface is the most obvious aspect, that things exist. The existence of any given thing is the surface level. If we go deeper to probe the nature of being that entails the realization of the eternal necessary aspect of being and thus being has depth. Then we realize our own contingent nature and thus, we are at one and the same time realizing the reality of God (that is after all the basis of the cosmological argument and the ontological argument as well)

This is why God appears to be hidden. It's not that he's hidden. It's not that God is hiding himself. According to Hartshorne, "only God can be so universally important that no subject can ever wholly fail or ever have failed to be aware of him (in however dim or unreflective fashion)."10 Now the issue of why God doesn't hold a "press conference" has do do with the fact that God does not communicate by violating normal causal principles. In process terms, the "communication" of God must be understood as the prehension of God by human beings. A "prehension" is the response of an occasion to the entire past world (both the contiguous past and the remote past.) As God is in every occasion's past actual world, every occasion must "prehend" or take account of God.

It should be noted that "prehension" is a generic mode of perception that does not necessarily entail consciousness or sensory experience. There a two modes of pure perception --"perception in the mode of causal efficacy" and "perception in the mode of presentational immediacy." If God is present to us, then it is in the presensory perceptual mode of causal efficacy as opposed to the sensory and conscious perceptual mode of presentational immediacy.11 That is why God is "invisible", i.e. invisible to sense perception. The foundation for experience of God lies in the nonsesnory non conscious mode of prehension. So now, there is the further question: Why is there variability in our experience of God?. Or, why are some of us atheists, pantheists, theists, etc.? Every prehension has an initial datum derived from God, yet there are a multiplicity of ways in which this datum is prehended from diverse perspectives.

I agreed with Hume that sense perception tells us nothing about efficient causation (or final causation for that matter). Hume was actually presupposing causal efficacy in his attempt to deny it (i.e., in his relating sense impressions to awareness).12 Causation could be described as an element of experience, but as Whitehead explains, this experience is not sensory experience. From Hume's own analysis Whitehead derives at least two forms of non-sensory perception: the perception of our own body and the non-sensory perception of one's past. But this is at an unconscious level. However, in some people, this direct prehension of the "Holy" rises to the level of conscious experience. We generally call theses people "mystics". Now, the reason why a few people are conscious of God is not the result of God violating causal principle; some people are just able to conform to God's initial datum in greater degree than other people can. I don't think that God chooses to make himself consciously known to some and not to others. That would make God an elitist. Now, the question as to why I am a theist as opposed to an atheist does not have to do with me experiencing some exceptional religious or mystical experience. Rather, I believe that these extraordinary experiences of the great religious leaders are genuine and that they do conform to the ultimate nature of things. It's not necessarily a "blind leap" of faith, as my religious beliefs are accepted, in part, on the basis of whether or not they illuminate my experience of reality.

The experience of no one single witness is the "the final proof," but the fact that there are millions of witnesses who, in differing levels from the generally intuitive to the mystical, experience must the same thing in terms of general religious belief, the argument is simply that God interacts on a human heart level, and the experiences of those who witness such interaction is strong evidence for that conclusion. This does not, however, remove the usefulness of deductive argument. The argument could be made as an inductive argument based upon religious experiences, yet with greater uncertainty. While deductive veracity is assurance of the truth of a statement, that assumes the premises are true, that's hard to establish with no basis in the empirical. that's hard tov If one finds it hard to believe that deduction can prove God we don't need to argue that. It can establish a rational warrant. For example we can't prove by observation weather the moon was a fragment of Earth or a captured meteorite, Until we invent time travel we can't know empirically but we deduce deduce a theory that makes sense. We might never know with certainty but we can have an indication that makes sense. So with deductive argument and God belief. Deductive argument can give us rational warrant for belief. The difference in warrant and proof is the difference in really knowing how the moon came to be and reaching a rational conclusion based upon deductive reasoning. One might ask “where does warrant get us in terms of belief in God?” It doesn't prove but may clear away the clutter so that we can come to terms with God on an existential level.

The four preliminary observations

Then let us examine the logic of the deductive version of the argument. I begin with four 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 hierarchies 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 an organizing principle, all attempts to do so have ended in establishment of a new TS or organizing principle. Example: Derrida sought to overturn hierarchy and wound up establishing difference as the principle. We cannot organize without a principle of organizing.

(4) TS functions uniquely as the top of the metaphysical hierarchy, its function is all pervasive and mutually exclusive.

This first observation has been challenged by atheists in online dialogue. One atheist who is a physicist argued that science recognizes no organizing principles. That is not true. They don't call them by that label but clearly they have them. They are called “laws of physics.” Or another version is evolution. As for number two, the TS is not accepted by all, its theoretical. Yet it can be seen that the all pervading nature of organizing principles, implies a single TS to organize the organizing principles. This going to be the major issue in debating the TS argument. If it cannot be established, there is no argument. Thus I will devote an entire chapter to answering the argument. It might also be said that this observation (indeed all four) assume the existence of the TS. No, they speak of the concept of the TS theoretically. This is like saying “if it does exist, here is how it will be.”

The third observation (it is impossible to do without an organizing principle or a TS) uses the two phrases TS and OP and this may lead one to ask “which is it?” Due to the factual nature of the OP there might be a lesser tendency to impose new ones. Yet there are examples. The example I give of Derrida trying to break down ethics leading to the establishment of a new OP for ethical paradigm, i.e., “differance”13 The goal of difference as the answer to hierarchy becomes the new principle around which the ethical paradigm is structured. An example of imposing a new OP in science would be the paradigm shift. An example of imposing a new TS is the atheist abolishing God talk from her vocabulary and putting science in its place. Or Marx with the same motivation makes ideology his version of God, or TS, the top of the metaphysical hierarchy.

The fourth observation (TS is the top of the metaphysical hierarchy) is rooted in the definition of the word. That is the concept of the term. It may be something of a tautology. It's also true and since there is new information the observation itself is not a tautology. That it is all pervasive and mutually exclusive is not necessarily part of the definition but it flows out of the nature of being the top of the metaphysical hierarchy. It is clear that for some examples of the TS it is exclusive, such as God, but not all are necessarily so. Math and reason could both be example and can both exist without mutual exclusion, Out of these four observations the argument itself is grounded.


8 Paul Tillich. The Shaking of the Foundations. Eugene Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012, 57. also ______________Systematic Theology, Vol.I.: University Of Chicago Press ( 1973), 197

9 Ibid., Shaking...

10 Charles Harthorne, The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of God, New Haven: Yale University press, 1982, 70. >br>
11 Jon Mills. “Harthorne's Unjconscious Ontology,” oneline,URL: accessed,7/3/15. Jon Mills is mental health care professional with an interest in philosophy.

12 This is common knowledge of Hume's take on causality that we don't see causes at work. This is the pojnt of the billiard balls. t

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