Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Paul Tillich's Ontology: Deep Structures

Image result for Paul Tillich
Tillich Levitating

Deep structures

That being has depth is a clue to the meaning of “the ground of being,” or “being itself.” The depth of being is also related to the notion of the “power of being.” These are all saying the same thing or very closely related things. To really understand what Tillich is saying we have to understand what the depth of being is and relate that to the power of being. The context of the phrase “depth of being” and the quotation above about that comes form Tillich’s sermon, converted into a small book, The Shaking of the Foundations (op cit). In the chapter entitled “the depth of existence,” Tillich tells us that he is using the term “depth” as a metaphor to indicate an attitude taken form spiritual experience. Depth symbolizes both special relation and spiritual quality. Deep implies a profundity (the opposite being “shallow”) and there is also a sense in which “deep” is used for suffering (the depths of despair for example). [1] I said above that being having depth means things are not merely as they appear on the surface, there’s more to reality than just the way things appear. In the Shaking of the Foundations Tillich confirms that this is what he had in mind:
All visible things have a surface. Surface is that side of things which first appears to us. If we look at it, we know what things seem to be. Yet if we act according to what things and persons seem to be, we are disappointed. Our expectations are frustrated. And so we try to penetrate below the surfaces in order to learn what things really are. Why have men always asked for truth? Is it because they have been disappointed with the surfaces, and have known that the truth which does not disappoint dwells below the surfaces in the depth? And therefore, men have dug through one level after another. What seemed true one day was experienced as superficial the next. When we encounter a person, we receive an impression. But often if we act accordingly we are disappointed by his actual behavior. We pierce a deeper level of his character, and for some time experience less disappointment. But soon he may do something which is contrary to all our expectations; and we realize that what we know about him is still superficial. Again we dig more deeply into his true being.[2]
Immediately before the statement about the depth of our being that I quoted above (en1) he says that depth psychology can help us understand our own depths but it can’t help us to find the depth and ground of our being. Immediately after that statement he links the depth of our souls to the social world, we can know our own souls through the mirror of community and others.[3] This ties us to the heteronomy and the question of the role of spirit in the creation of culture that was important to Tillich. He then makes another statement that is remarkably like the one above but this time focusing upon the social world:
The name of this infinite and inexhaustible ground of history is God. That is what the word means, and it is that to which the words Kingdom of God and Divine Providence point. And if these words do not have much meaning for you, translate them, and speak of the depth of history, of the ground and aim of our social life, and of what you take seriously without reservation in your moral and political activities. Perhaps you should call this depth hope, simply hope. for if you find hope in the ground of history, you are united with the great prophets who were able to look into the depth of their times, who tried to escape it, because they could not stand the horror of their visions, and who yet had the strength to look to an even deeper level and there to discover hope. Their hope did not make them feel ashamed. And no hope shall make us ashamed, if we do not find it on the surface where fools cultivate vain expectations, but rather if we find it in the depth where those with trembling and contrite hearts receive the strength of a hope which is truth.[4]
In this context he talks about Marxist analysis and social sciences and understanding of social situations with greater depth than one can gain from a mere surface perspective. He also grounds that perspective in first hand experience of social situations rather than just social sciences alone. Most modern thinkers would have a hard time seeing what has to do with God or how God could be the ground of history. But he connects God as the ground of history to the kingdom of God and providence (see quote above). It seems what he means by “being has depth” is a structure that permeates all that is. The depth of being is the unseen structure, the ontology of reality and its extension into social world through God’s providence. Thus he appears to actually be saying that God is the ground and end of the natural world and all that this entails. We can identify “depth” with ontology.
That being itself indicates the power of being is metaphorical, at the same time it is part of the concept of the depth of being. Being is not merely the fact of existence but it also contains the basis upon which all being is. That would correlate to God as creator. In MacQuarrie’s terms, “being let’s be.”[5] This may imply a more passive role than Tillich had in mind. He views God’s creative role from the standpoint of a check on nothingness, but what both are really talking about is an active force of creative power that brings more being out of being itself. Being let’s be is such a passive way to register the idea of “resisting” nothingness, but at the same time both are means of avoiding the direct statement, “God is the creator of all that is.” Nevertheless that’s obviously what they are saying, or trying not to say. Obviously, then Being is necessary and “the beings” (in McQuarrie speak) are contingencies. Being itself is necessary being, the beings are contingent being. This is another aspect of the depth of being. It’s not just so simple that all we need to do is to rattle off a list of concrete things we can observe in the world. There are two levels, necessity and contingency, or two modes of being. Within each role there are different roles. On the level of necessity being is eternal, on the level of contingency being is temporal. Tillich makes much of this distinction. The difference in the two and the sense of the numinous it evokes are very important for Tillich and will figure prominently in the arguments that can be made in terms of reasons to believe.
The reason Tillich takes such a backwards way of expressing God’s creative force is to emphasize the distinction between being and nothingness. This is the primary first and original distinction in reality, the bottom line so to speak between something and nothing. The first distinction in existence is that between being and nothingness. The power of being to resist nothingness (God’s creative force) is the first basis upon which anything is at all. That means we can look at this creative force as the nature of being the basic bottom line of what it means to be and what being is. Thus if we choose for some reason to call this force “God” if we want to use that term, which Tillich says in the quotation above is the meaning of that term, we can say that God is “being itself.” God is this basic force that is the first indentation in all of reality. It is both first temporally (it would be the basis of time) it would be “fist” ontologically. Tillch is thinking in a way that modern scientifically ensorcelled people are not really able to think, and have never thought. McQuarrie puts it into a passive sense “let’s be,” for a different reason. He warns of Heidegger’s tendency to “stretch language” or the awareness of Heidegger (and himself) that to speak of being at an ontological level is a stretch beyond the confines of fact based conceptualism. For him being’s role is the fomentation of more being, or “the beings” is expressed in a passive sense to remove the emphasis upon the activity of a creative agent.
Tillich’s ontology as illustration of depth in being
Another aspect of the depth of being is the diversity of being. Tillich develops many themes of meaning, diversity, and historicity in laying out the Gospel framework and translating it into his phenomenological take on the diversity of being. Human being, fallen nature, sin, redemption, new being in Christ, these are standard Christian themes but a good deal of his Systematic Theology is devoted to exploring them from the perspective of their relationship to being. What he’s doing there is demonstrating the depth of being ontologically and in terms of human experience (vol II of Systematic Theology). Volume I of that work is about “Being and God.” Here he deals with topics of “The Question of Being: Man, Self and World.” “God is the answer to the question implied in being” he says. [6] He first deals with reason and revelation. Then he moves into the question of being and its meaning. He says that in coming to terms with reason and its take on existential conflicts, one is forced into asking the most essential question of all, why is there something rather than nothing at all?But I have given this in Heidegger’s terms. Tillich puts it a bit differently “why is there something, why not nothing?”[7] He points out that to ask “why is there not nothing?” is to attribute a kind of being to nothingness. Thus as he puts it “one cannot go behind being.” What he’s saying is, like trying to imagine one’s own non existence, it can’t be done. We cannot get under being itself, its’ the furthest we can go back in our understanding, and it eludes our understanding. Thought is based upon being and it can’t go beyond its base. One can imagine the negotiation of things, however, and it can “describe the nature and structure of everything that is the power of resisting non being.”[8] Ontological questions, he points out, are not tautologies because of this ability to mentally play with being and non being. We are not merely saying “being is being” when we try to define what it is, because there’s a possibility of negating any particular form of being. The possibility of universality and less than universal aspect of forms of being make ontology possible. There are concepts which are less universal than being but more universal than any concept about being, thus these are “categories” of thought.
/...These categories form the basis of theological significance. These are central concepts that make theology “go,” so to speak (not Tillich’s phrase). These are ontological concepts, ontology is not theology. One can be an atheist and totally secular and do ontology as part of philosophy, and such a thinker would have to deal with these concepts. But in like manner all theologians must deal with them as well. While they are not theology per se they are essential to theology. The concepts are: (1) the structure implicit in the basic ontological question (why is there something rather than nothing?); (2) the elements which constitute ontological structure; (3) characteristics of being which are the conditions of existence; (4) categories of being and knowing. [9] The structure (1) is that the question presupposes an asking subject, and an object being asked about. This is the subject/object structure that is presupposed and that in turn assumes the structure of world and self; this as the basic articulation of being. That the self has a world to which it belongs and from which it will deduce the nature of its being precedes all other structures and will be the basic analysis which precedes all other analysis. [10] The elements of the ontological structure he groups into three sets of pairs: individuality and universality, dynamics and form, and freedom and density. These are polarities and the first expresses self referential nature of being.
The ontological concepts pertaining to number (3) (characteristics of being) “expresses the power of being to exist,” in Tillich’s own words, “and the difference between essential and existential being.” [11] There is a duality for Tillich between essential and existential thinking. One is inherent in the other, as existentialism is meaningless without an essentialism to play off it. No ontology can disregard these two aspects. [12] Existentialism is a revolt against the predominance of essentialism. Essentialism came to be identified in theology with “stasis” and existents with movement, or process theology. Tillich saw a unity between the two, one assuming the other. Tillich says essentialism is related to universalism, and we can’t deal with concepts in the world without universals. Thus existentialism has to assume essentialism and the two have to work together.[13] The fourth level deals with the categories of thought or the basic concepts. These he calls “structures of finite being and thinking.” I suppose the Kantian categories would be placed here. “If time and space are called ‘categories’ this is a derivation from the Kantian terminology which calls time and space forms of intuition. But the larger sense of category has been accepted generally, even in post Kantian schools.”[14] Tillich says that determining the exact nature and number of these categories is the on going and never ending task of philosophy. [15] He isolates four such categories: time, space, causality, and substance. These are categories that have the most theological importance. Quantity and Quality he says have less theological importance. He discusses other categories and their relation to the four points above, but I will forgo that as it really doesn’t have a direct bearing on the task before us here. He does focus on finitude at this point (p165) as having a major bearing on the ontological question of God.
....He’s going to argue that ontological concepts are a priori. What he means by a priori is not quite the same as most logicians understand it. We think of a prori as a tautological statement, a statement where we only need to know the meaning of the terms in order to understand the truth of the statement. Tillich makes it sound like the thinks a prori means empirical data. He says it’s ultimately a matter of experience. I don’t think he’s confusing it with empirical data. He is saying that the ultimate understanding of what terms mean is a matter of experience. In other words we think of a prori as statements like “all husbands are married men.” If we know what a husband is we know all of them are married men. Tillich is saying that the idea of husbands and marriage is not some eternal truth in a vacuum. We only have a concept of those terms because we live in a culture that has a convention of marriage. Thus in an ultimate sense the a priori concepts originate form the experience of a life world in which cultural constructs have a shared meaning. The concepts of Being, the categories, are a priori but in the same way rooted in our experience of being. As Tillich says “they constitute the very structure of experience itself.”[16] IF experience changes a new a priori will from. Tillich discusses process theology and the question of a static understanding of God. He identifies with a tradition from Scotus to Heidegger, picking up Bergson along the way, and moving toward indeterminacy in the ground of being. But it dose not remove a proristructure from ontology or Being.[17]
Still setting up the discussion of finitude and being, he moves to the prelude to that discussion, the self-world relationship. Every being participates in the structure of being, but man alone (in so far as we know) is aware of it. We are the only being we know that has alienation and estrangement. We can describe behavior but we do not know what the behavior means to others. We are the only being we know of that asks the ontological question (why is there something rather than nothing?) and the only one that can try to answer it. In Heideggerian terms, as Tillich puts it, we are only able to answer because we understand the nature of “being there.” Or Tillich speak, we experience “directly and immediately the structure of being and its elements. As stated above the ontological structure is the structure of the ontological question, the assumption and self and world, and that’s what we are moving to as a prelude of discussion of finitude. Then there is also no 2 from above the structure of being grouped into three sets of pairs: individuality and universality, dynamics and form, and freedom and density. These are polarities and the first expresses self referential nature of being. These are a prori concepts. Self and world is a basic part of this structure. Humanity is not merely a passive object of study, but a living consciousness in the process of learning and apprehending these structures first hand. Humanity cannot be turned into an object of study under the guise of making understanding easier. We are the student as well as the object, so to reduce humanity itself to an object is lose the phenomena of what it means to experience being the object or being thing studied. We can’t step outside of that experience and study it as an object dispassionately without changing our understanding of what that thing is we would study.[18] This leads into what Tillich discusses in The Courage To Be where speaks of the courage to be a part of and the courage to be apart from.[19]
As the ontological question implies humanity understands itself as having selves that live in a world. This is the organically a priori set up of asking the question. The relationship between self and world is dialectical, we must be a part of, and we must be apart from. To study, to understand to live, to know, to remain true to what we understand we must go play this game of tag, now standing alone as apart from the world, now standing with the world as part of it. There is no question of the existence of the self, according to Tillich. The Postmodernists made a big deal out of the idea there is no core self. That is a somewhat different question, however, depending upon what is meant by “core,” but there is clearly some form of self since someone had to write those articles, and since even making the argument “there is no self” would require that one be a self and understand something about the concept. According to Tillich the question is self awareness of self relatedness.[20] This is a dialectical relationship in another way as well, in that the relationship of self and world is part of the larger dialectic of being and nothingness, because it is part of the depth of being and part of the basic categories that emerge from ontological structure. So the importance of this is going to be that in the discussion of finitude the apprehension of our own finitude and what we make of that vis a vi Being itself and it meaning in terms of the object of ultimate concern is hinged upon self understanding, and understanding of self in relation to the world as a crucial aspect of the depth of being; thus this will figure into understanding being itself as indicative of the object of ultimate concern. As shall be seen the object of ultimate concern is indicative of the divine aspect of Being itself, or “holy being.”
The self world polarity is the basis of the subject/object structure of reason, according to Tillich. [21] The world is seen as a structured whole, as such it is called “objective” because the many self-world relationships in being all relate more or less the same basic idea of a world. The self is a structure of “centeredness” in terms of awareness, for this reason it is termed “subjective.” In other words subjective refers to the center of awareness which takes in the sense data and relates itself to that which is beyond itself, the world. Objective refers to the single “outside” nature of that which is shared in this awareness by the many selves. Reason is actually makes these, that is it makes the self a “self” and the world a “world.” This is because it is through our constructs of reason that we attach meaning to these terms and understand them in relation to each other, which is a function of their structured relationship. Without the structuring aspect of reason being would be chaos. “Where there is reason there is a self and a world in interdependence.”[22] In cognitive terms anything toward which the cognition is directed is considered an object, be it God, or individual items in nature, attitudes, or ideas. We cannot resist making God an object for this very reason. If we think about the concept of God we make God an object. This holds a danger, however, in that we tend to objectify that which we hold in this act of cognition. “If God is brought into the subject-object structure of being he ceases to be the ground of being and becomes one being among others (first of all a being beside the subject who looks at him as an object). He ceases to be the God who is really God. “[23] Various theologies try to escape this problem in various ways. The prophetic tradition insists that we cannot see God; sight is the most objectifying aspect of cognition. Knowledge of God is reveled and understood through man, thus even when God becomes the object God remains the subject (this is just how Tillich puts it).[24]Mysticism attempts to overcome the problem by ecstatic union. In whatever way the resolution is achieved it must be to acknowledge that no language of God can make God an object. Thus language about God must be either negative, or analogical.
There is another sense in which something is made into an object, according to Tillich, that is in robbing it of all of its subjective elements. That is, to turn something into a “thing.” We resist calling human beings “things” because our subjective qualities lead us to disvalue mere things as inhuman, and to value humanity because of its subjective elements. [25] One of Tillich’s major concerns is that God not be treated as a “thing.” For those who believe that Tillich is reducing God to the level of an impersonal force or mere abstraction this is another rebuff. But atheists reduce God to the level of a thing, and turn God into another thing in creation alongside all the many things we see in the world. This has nothing to do with personality but it does mean God can’t be conceived as just an impersonal force or a mere abstraction without defeating Tillich’s purpose. He does not include this argument, but it seems rather clear from what he says. The reductionistic atheist reduces all things to the level of “a thing” devoid of subjective elements. Atheists greatly fear subjectivity. That’s always the bottom line in all of their refutations of God arguments, “that’s subjective.” The reductionist view-point treats all sense data as “information” and information is a collection of things, which can be homogenized and abstracted into “data” and “reduced” to it’s most basic level which of course would lose any subjective elements as it loses the phenomena that makes the aspect that which requires reducing to fit into the atheist world view. The reductionist sees human perceptive powers and thought as side effects of chemicals and brain function that makes thought “mere subjectivity” and that is among the phenomena to be lost in explaining human consciousness. To reduce humanity to “a thing” one must reduce human consciousness to a mere epiphenomenon. Parmenides saw the basic ontological structure as the unity of being and the word (logos) in which it is grasped. Thus from this Tillich draws the observation that subjectivity is not an epiphenomena but a primary phenomena although related in polar opposite to objectivity.[26] One cannot derive subjectivity from objectivity or vice versa. The attempt to do so has meant either the subjugation of humanity to numbers and to machines, or the romantic rebellion and undisclosed abandon which sacrifice reason. Tillich asserts that the basic ontological structure cannot be derived. The relation is one of polarity. “What precedes the duality of self and world, of subject and object,” he asks? His answer is that this is a question in which “reason looks into its own abyss—an abyss in which distinction and derivation disappear, only revelation can answer this question.” [27]

[1] Tillich, Shaking…, chapter 7 quoted from online version, Website, Religion-online, URL: http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=378&C=72visted feb. 5, 2010.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid
[5] find
[6] Tillich, ST I, 163.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., 163-64
[9] Ibid, 164
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Tillich, History…, op cit, 541.
[14] Tillich, ST 1, 166
[15] Tillich, ST I, 164.
[16] Ibid, 166
[17] Ibid, 168
[18] Ibid., 169-170.
[19] Tillich, Courage…, op cit, find
[20] Tillich ST I 169.
[21] Ibid., 171
[22] Ibid, 172
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Tillich, System I, 173
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid, 174.

Monday, January 28, 2019

God Bestows Meaning

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Jason Thibodeau writes a long article, "Can Humans Create Meaning? Can God?" [1] I will concern myself  with only a  small part of the article, the argument that God cannot create meaning. Jason argues: "The conception of meaning is not altered by whether God, or any other supernatural entity, exists. Whether life is meaningful depends on whether there are, in our lives, things that matter." [2]
He sets up a dichotomy in arguing that God bestowing meaning is an ambiguous claim:
The claim that God makes life meaningful is ambiguous. There are two different things that it might mean:
(A) God creates the things in life that are valuable and worthwhile (and that, in virtue of being valuable and worthwhile, give our lives meaning).
(B) God makes it the case that the things in life that are valuable and worthwhile are valuable and worthwhile. Thus, by making these things valuable and worthwhile, God makes it the case that our lives are meaningful.
This is a false dichotomy and it is created to impose a sense of ambiguity where none exists. Notice that the only real difference in A and B is that A avoids naming the authority by which God says a thing is meaningful, B explicitly asserts that God makes it so. If we understand B as a further elaboration of A it makes perfect since given the nature of God. In other words both can be the case. Of course Jason is not attributing the value to God that a believer would do. That's the real issue left hidden,
Those who, like Carroll, think that our conception of meaning and purpose must change when we abandon theism are assuming (B). Any atheist who thinks either that humans can create their own meaning even in the absence of God or that, in the absence of God, life is objectively empty of meaning, are implicitly assuming (B) as well. And I think that many theists also believe that (B) is the case.

He's almost arguing what Sartre argued but no  reference is made to Sartre or any from of  existentialism. But I must also find fault with his
If you believe that God is the creator of Heaven and Earth, then you believe that (A) is true. In creating things like human beings, and the planets and stars, and natural landscapes, and plants and animals, and happiness and love, God creates things that have value. God, if he exists, creates the things that are worthy of pursuit, preservation, and appreciation; and, in doing so, he makes it possible for human lives to be meaningful. If God exists, then, because of God and his activity, there exists things such that we have object-given reasons to care about them. However, if (A) is true, God does not make any of these things valuable; he does not make it the case that these things are worthy of pursuit, preservation, and appreciation....
The reason for that is not hard to seek. It is because as I say above God is the basis of reality, he created all that is and serves as the source of the Good. We love,we find fault with and value things because we are made in God's image and God gave us the ability. Yet I think Jason equivocates on this point:
If life is meaningful, if there are object-given reasons to care about things, then, even on theism, the things that are valuable and worthwhile (the things that make life meaningful and worth living) must be valuable and worthwhile even if God does not exist. Now, it is always open for a theist to claim that, on her worldview, nothing can exist in the absence of God. Well, in that case, if God did not exist, life would not be meaningful but for the trivial reason that life would not be. I am not here trying to rule out or defeat the claim that all concrete things (including the things, like people, and nature, and happiness, and joy, that make life meaningful) depend for their existence on God. What I am trying to rule out is the claim that the value of these things depends on God.
Borrowing meaning from supposed Godless nature of our world. The world I live in is meaningful to me,I don't believe in God,  therefor, I don't need God to have meaning. The fallacy here is that one minds this meaning in a world where  one has ceased to recognized God because one is coasting upon God born memories of meaning. We don't have a control universe that we know was not inhabited by God that we can live and see if we  still find it meaningful. 

One problem with Jason's article is he doesn't seem  to distinguish between levels of meaning, He is clearly aware that there are different levels of meaning. There's private personal meaning,there's universal moral meaning. There are different modes of meaning. When he makes statements such that "God cannot create value and meaning" he does not say what type of meaning is being nixed.

(B) is false. And everyone, theist and atheist alike, should be able to agree that it is false. We know that God cannot create value and meaning because we know that there are some things that God cannot make valuable, worthwhile, or meaningful. And if there are some things such that God cannot make them valuable (etc.)
This is not because we lack the power to do so. It is not because humans are small and weak; even God cannot make things matter. God can make things that matter (but so can humans) but God cannot make the things that he makes matter. In the same way, humans can produce some of the things that matter in life (though not all of them and maybe not even the most important of them), but we cannot make these things matter.[5]

What he seems to be saying in all of this is that God can create things that we will find meaningful but he cannot infuse with intrinsic metaphysical meaning things that are not in them selves meaningful."God can provide humans with the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with a perfect being. If God does not exist, then such a relationship may not be possible. So, God can add meaning to our lives by creating or making possible things that matter a great deal, but God cannot create meaning."  He gives an  example of two planets one with God one with no God, The no God universe still finds things meaningful  but would they? How does he know? He doesn't have such a planet to do his test in, he's basing it on a planet in  which most everyone was raised with God ordained values,

I think he';s accepting that God can arrange for all kinds  of meaning except what one might call "Magic mushroom menacing." intrinsic cosmic meaning. That is conjecture. Jason is aware that God can do all other kinds:

He can also provide states of affairs and experience that are of significant value and such that, in the absence of God, would not be possible. For example, God can provide humans with the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with a perfect being. If God does not exist, then such a relationship may not be possible. So, God can add meaning to our lives by creating or making possible things that matter a great deal, but God cannot create meaning
First why is that not enough? Why do we need magic mushroom meaning? Secondly why can 't God supply it? He calls creation Good,who is to say it  is not good? The creature?  What does he know? Can God create a context in  which X is meaningful? What else is meaningful? There is no  private language, one cannot say "'boo boo boo' and have it mean 'I will go for a walk after dinner if it doesn't rain,'" Two guys go the pub after class. One says to the other "I say old chap what are you doing after dinner?" The other one says "boo boo boo." In creating all things God creates a context in which all things have meaning in relation to God and fulfilling his purpose,

In the comment section I made a similar point in that meaning is bestowed by function. Here I equate meaning with "point"  or purpose. The meaning of an ash try is to hold ashes.It can be used for other things but the nature of the implement is to hold ashes. Paul uses the metaphor of a pot. I said to Jason:
So Jason In his essay "Existentialism is a Humanism" Sartre talks about the difference in existentialism and essentially he uses the analogy of a created object, I think he uses a paper cutter,but an ash try or whatever... Some object is made for a given reason the meaning of the object is the function for which it was meant. Now Sartre asserts there' s no God we exist first then we decide the meaning of our lives. But if there is a God why would meaning not be bestowed by the purpose for which we were created?[3][4]
Jason answers:
Suppose, contrary to what you and I take to be fact, that the creator of the universe is an evil supernatural being (let's call him 'Asura'). Suppose that Asura created human beings for the purpose of suffering; he created us so that we we would suffer because he is amused by our suffering. I maintain that it would not follow that the meaning of our loves would be bestowed by the fact that we were created to suffer.The point generalizes. Since, in this possibility, the meaning of life is not provided by the purpose for which we were created, in general the meaning of life is not provided by the purpose for which we were created.
Sorry but to me this just looks like shear truth by stipulation. I don't see how his point is proven by his example. I guess we are suppose to think I don't want my life defined by suffering so it must not be, but how so? In the context of creaturehood it would be meaningful either way. It would just be horrible in one case and great in the other but how does that change the meaning?

recommended Reading:

This is a job for Kierkegaard. This is exactly what he was talking  about. The best source I found was Copeleston, his take on SK. We seek God to become truly ourselves,We find the path for which God created us we have meaning, [5]This source is truly outdated speaking of complementary  philosophy  and it has logical positivism. it's well worth reading, or the understanding of Kierkegaard.

[1] Jason Thibodeau "Can Humans create Meaning? Can God?" Secular Outpost blog. (June 11, 2018)

(accessed 6/13/18)

[2] Ibid. All quotes from this source unless otherwise noted
[3]  Jason Thibodeau, comment section, op cit http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2018/06/11/can-humans-create-meaning-can-god/#disqus_thread
[4] Joan Paul Sartre, "Existentialism is a Humanism"First Published: World Publishing Company in 1956;Translator: Philip Mairet; published under Fair use Poloicy ass intermnet aritcle. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm

From a lecture  given in 1946.

[5] Frederick Coplesdton, Contemporary Philosophy:  Studies of Logical Positivism and Existentialism.London and New York City:Continuum  2003.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Science and the Soul

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Dr. Jacobus Erasmus.[2] I will not concern myself here with that former discourse. My argument with Parsons here is simply that he rejects all belief in anything like soul or spirit based upon one basic idea of substance dualism and doesn't leave any room for theological development. in effect he;snot attacking a straw man per se but he's lumping all non phsyicalist belief into one pile and assuming that he's dealt with that because he argues against some philosophers. There are theological possibilities that would allow for more of a combined view between the scientific and the theological.
For reasons that are embedded in his previous discussion he presents as the bedrock of his arguments the authority of neuroscience to reduce mind to brain, He quotes Owen Flanagan’s conclusions in The Problem of the Soul. "Modern mind science regulates its inquiry by the assumption that mind is the brain in the sense that perceiving, thinking, deliberating, choosing, and feeling are brain processes…That the mind is the brain is thus a regulative assumption that guides contemporary mind science."[3] After a slew of quotes of this nature,all of the information gathered are assumptions not proven facts assumptions made by neroscinetistss reducing mind to brain. David Eagleman, "The strange computational machinery in our skulls is the perceptual machinery by which we navigate world, the stuff from which decisions arise, the materials from which imagination is forged. Our dreams and our waking lives emerge from its billions of zapping cells."[4] Perceptual machinery not exactly technical  scientific  term, one wonders might it also include a less tangible aspect as well? I guess that depends upon how "strange" it is. All of the quotes are like this. 

Parsons is arguing a long string of experts hold the to the same opinion so he is justified in assuming they are right. "These quotes should be sufficient to indicate that I was not making an idiosyncratic or groundless claim about the assumptions of neuroscience about the efficacy and sufficiency of the brain for the mental. Given more time and space, I am sure I could adduce quite a few more such quotes."[5]But all he's really saying when we come right down to it is he has a lot of quotes about the opinions of experts in  a field that has produced little in the way of basic knowledge. They understand a lot about the processes of the brain but but don't really understand enough to rule out the soul. Parson's asserts that we can because a lot of them say they think so. Those statements do not apply to reducing mind to brain as the first quote would have it. 

Classical psychological reductionism assumes the mind is essentially the brain. Mental behaviors are explained totally in terms of brain function. Mental states are merely reduced to brain states.(I also have my own sources:)

But while it may be true that certain psychological processes are contingent on some neurophysiological activity, we cannot necessarily say that psychological processes reduce to ‘nothing but’ that activity. Why not? – Because much of the time we are not dealing with cause and effect, as many neuroscientists seem to think, but rather two different and non-equivalent kinds of description. One describes mechanism, the other contains meaning. Understanding the physical mechanisms of a clock, for example, tells us nothing about the culturally constructed meaning of time. In a similar vein, understanding the physiological mechanisms underlying the human blink, tells us nothing about the meaning inherent in a human wink (Gergen, 2010). Human meaning often transcends its underlying mechanisms. But how does it do this?[6]

Reducing mind to brain confuses mechanism with meaning.[7]
            Raymond Tallis was a professor of Geriatric medicine at University of Manchester, and researcher, who retired in 2006 to devote himself to philosophy and writing. Tallis denounces what he calls “neurohype,”  “the claims made on behalf of neuroscience in areas outside those in which it has any kind of explanatory power….”[8]

The fundamental assumption is that we are our brains and this, I will argue presently, is not true. But this is not the only reason why neuroscience does not tell us what human beings “really” are: it does not even tell us how the brain works, how bits of the brain work, or (even if you accept the dubious assumption that human living could be parcelled up into a number of discrete functions) which bit of the brain is responsible for which function. The rationale for thinking of the kind – “This bit of the brain houses that bit of us...” – is mind-numbingly simplistic.[9]

Parson's states: "As for the piece by Manzotti and Moderato, it does not deny what I assert, namely that neuroscientists explicitly invoke assumptions about the mental arising from the physical." [10] But obviously they don't all agree, Nor do any of his quotes prove that they agree with Phsyicalism as metaphysics. 

Parson's first argument is what he calls "the interaction problem" On substance dualism  mind and matter are defended in mutually exclusive terms. Mind has no physical properties and is not composed of atoms.It is not physical and cannot be detected by the physical. Essentially it works by assumiomg that we know so much through science and yet science confirms nothing of substance dualism."With putative soul/body interactions there is a lot of speculation and hand-waving, but nothing definite—certainly nothing to compare to the detailed, coherent, rigorous, testable theories of fundamental physics. It is with justification that Flanagan says that dualists believe in psychokinesis." The real issue here reduces to believe the one with the empirically demonstrable properties. While that may be a good abductive reason to be a physicalist it;s not a disproof of soul by any means. In fact it's just  the argument  is really a bait and switch, it says these two positions are diametrically opposed. Matter is entirely empirically demonstrable and spirit has no physical substance and that's why the former  is provable the latter is not. Sp accept the former and pretend the latter is nonexistent, But since it's not amenable to empirical demonstration that it's not open to empirical disproof.

Second argument:

My second argument against souls is that soul-theory thinks of the self as a simple, abiding, spiritual entity that constitutes our personal identity. This is the theory of the self as a Cartesian Ego. I opposed to this theory a version of what is normally called the “Bundle” theory of the self, which is traced back to Hume, but which also has roots in Buddhism. On this theory, personal identity is not constituted by a spiritual essence or entity, but is a nexus of heterogeneous experiences and traits.

That is basically a straw man argument. There are other versions of soul or spirit that do not require a ghost in the machine. The mind itself,or consciousnesses, can be equated with spirit. In God and the new Physics[11] Paul  Davies (an atheist at the time) argued that theoretically God could change Constantine for the electrical pattern firing across the synapse and thus transfuse our consciousness to other bodies. Why can't that constitute a soul  if it could mean  eternal life? 

Third Argument

My third objection to souls begins with the simple and undeniable observation, backed by enormous empirical research, that non-human animals have minds, that is, they are capable of quite sophisticated acts of cognition and intelligence and display many of the emotions that we do. Soul-theory holds that we think, feel, etc. with our souls. So, do animals have souls? If we say “no,” then we admit that the brain is sufficient for the mental life of non-human animals. At what level of cognition or consciousness, then, are brains no longer sufficient and why? How do we give a principled, non-arbitrary answer here? If brains can do that much, then why not more?

First of all Argument 3 begs the question in assuming animals have no soul-like quality. Moreoever,a second problem is that the argument turns on a stark dichotomy creating a sharp division between body and soul. He assumes that the soul  given all the heavy lifting of personality and decision making and that brain is just housing. In so assuming he is asserting the Greek understanding of soul. Apparently that is the tradition  among philosophers m to take theirs ques fro Aristotle rather than the Bible. We see this is true from Parson's historical account of the subject: 

...the historical context needs to be considered. For Homer, the soul is that animating or vitalizing principle that accounts by its departure at death for the transformation of an active hero into a motionless corpse. Seemingly, Hector's body is still there after he has been slain by Achilles, but obviously something essential has departed. You can then follow the development of thinking about the soul to the explicit dualism of the Pythagoreans and Plato, to Aristotle's complex treatment in De Anima. The upshot is that my remarks about what is "obvious" were not historically sensitive. Indeed, many things we now think of as obvious were not at all to ancient people, who were not thereby simply being obtuse. For instance, hard as it is imagine today, until early modern times fossils were not recognized as the records of living things. So you are quite right that my remarks were ahistorical and your remarks are a needed corrective. One really does need to be aware of the cultural and historical context before making pronouncements about obviousness![12]

The problem with the Greek understanding is that they assume an estrangement between body and soul They saw the soul as using the body like a vehicle, like a man sailing a ship or using a tent, but the Hebrews understood a more unified relationship. The more apt image here would be marrow in the bone rather than a man in a tent, as the Hebraic author  illustrates.[13] The upshot being that a more unified view would see the soul less as a smaller self inside the body but as a more organic  part of the whole person thus sharing more activity with the brain. Consciousness as soul (or spirit) fits here. It would allow us to see the soul  as consciousness not as a ghost in the machine, and it would leave something  for life after death,

[1] Keith Parsons, "Response to Dr. Jacobus Erasmus on the Soul, " Secular Outpost (Jan 10, 2019)
(accessed 1.22.2019)
[2] the two previous arguments:
He gives his reply at:
[3] Owen Flanagan quoted in Parsons, "Response to Dr. Jacobus Erasmus" Op Cit, Original  in Flanagan  The Problem of the Soul., 2002, pp. 77-78
[4]David Eagleman, quoted in Parsonis, "Response to Dr. Jacobus Erasmus" Op Cit
[5] Parsons, "Response..." Op Cit
[6] A. N Schore, Affect regulation and the origin of the self: The neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (1994).
See also: Siegel, D. J. The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. New York, NY: Guilford Press. (1999).

[7] K. Gergen, The accultured brain. Theory & Psychology, 20(6), (2010).  795-816.

[8] Raymond Tallis New Haumanist.org.uk Ideas for Godless People (blog—online researche) volume 124 Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2009) URL: http://newhumanist.org.uk/2172/neurotrash  visited 5/9/12

[9] ibid

[10] Parsons, "Response..." Op Cit
[11] Paul Davies,  God and the new Physics, Hew York, NY: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition October 16, 1984.

[12] Parsons, "Response..."  comment section

[13] Hebrews 4:12
"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."