Saturday, November 1, 2014

Love: Illusion, Disillusion, and Reason

Growing up in a family that harbored no shortage of brothers yet merely a sister, I recall how I failed to grasp what demon drove her into playing with baby dolls day and night. The rest of the world was trains, trucks, planes, etc; baby dolls: no. Nevertheless, my world expanded to welcome this oddity. After the birth of one of my cousins, however, my mother brought her to visit my aunt and newborn child. According to my mother, upon seeing her baby cousin lying in a crib, she dropped the dolls she was carrying to the floor.

St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P. was among the greatest philosophers and Theologians ever to preserve his considerations in ink. His memory and logical acumen exceeded all but a few (if any), and he was known to keep even three secretaries working at once. By the conclusion of his short life (only 48 or 49 years), his work was prolific: one edition of his Opera Omnia weighs in at 90 pounds. Yet, after having a mystical experience during the celebration of Holy Mass, he exclaimed, "mihi videtur ut palea: it seems to me as straw." After this remark he wrote no more.

Such is our condition. Something occupies us from within, fixes our attention, drives us outwards towards some object before the intellect or sensory imagination manages to conjure even a foggy notion of what that object is. Prior to being seen, it is loved in some way. Its very obscurity, instead of banishing its lover into inattention or despair, compels some to develop or mull through their own representations of that object. It is the doll to the newborn child, Theology to God Himself, the painting to beauty or to a person.
Yet once the object is encountered, the representations are neglected: they fall to ground or by the wayside. Only a fool would reject the beloved for his own sub-creation. These objects are called ends, and acting for its proper ends is intrinsic to the essence of any substance. A substance cannot detract from seeking its end without violating its integrity, without loosing or distorting, in a sense, a part of itself. 
These representations of ends foster a kind of illusion within the subject. He discovers the stirrings of hidden love buried within, integral to his being. In thinking about, creating, or playing with these representations, the lover clarifies and nurtures this hidden love and with it the illusion.
Here I do not mean delusion, as if he were deceived or some faculty of his were disordered. There is no room in illusion for falsities, for falsities and delusions hamper the illusion. On the other hand, an illusion can be lacking without hampering an agent's pursuit of the end.
Illusion lacking perfection involves the play of a child, a dance, a thinker when he becomes lost in thought, the rummaging of expectant parents through parenting books, setting up an unborn child's soon-to-be bedroom, or the flirtation of lovers. Perfected, illusion is the kiss or love-making of a married couple, the grasp of a newborn's tiny hand around your index finger as he rests peacefully in your arms, or the mystical vision of God. Illusion brings its possessor outside of himself. It plunges him into the world. It stirs in him a desire demanding satiation, a desire to burst through the prison of his own being so that he may be captive no more: no longer restrained from his love, that every fiber of his being might delight in it and rejoice!

If delusion is wayward or deceptive illusiondisillusion is the counterpart of illusion. Disillusion is a disinterested unbelief in the object. Such is the phenomenon experienced by the reader when he encounters inconsistencies in a story, an onlooker who sees the trick wielded by the magician, or the Philosopher who finds irresolvable problems in his philosophy: difficulties leading to contradiction. Such is discovery of a lover whose beloved merely feigned love. Disillusion is clearly a counteractive measure to delusion, but often with it comes despair as the subject retreats back into himself.
The subject who once was drawn outside of himself by illusion retreats back into the confines of his dark cell. He sees the child accompanied merely by the discomforts and the seeming superficialities that make them bearable. Romantic relationships and marriage are only maintenance and expenses: restrictions on personal freedom. Philosophy and Theology are circular and indefinite speculative endeavors deprived entirely of utility. Religion becomes superstition, merely the care of old women and gullible children, and a vehicle for intolerance and war. 
Often disillusion shrouds herself in the garments of a false realism, citing as purely imaginative or helplessly fantastic the deluded optimism that surrounds her. The disillusioned take a numbing comfort in surface joys around them, working into silence and shutting within a vault the pangs seeking to drive them with fervor to their proper ends. Their prudence is a deductive cleverness, incorrectly termed reason, taking as its point of departure the futility of the most profound longings of the human spirit. In the place of ends are the lifeless mechanisms akin to manmade machines, which largely govern the way the modern populus sees evolution.

This is decidedly not the purpose of reason, though it may be in the rhetoric of Dawkins and the secular movements. Reason's purpose cannot be to vanish and treat as myths the various ends toward which the heart naturally inclines but rather to render them lucid. It may be that love is accompanied by various hormones and mechanistic chemical reactions within the body, but such a conclusion that replaces "accompanies" with "is reducible to" comes only from an investigation that has not ad terminum suum adusque processit
Nor must the fears of self-discipline as a means to the acquisition of self-mastery hinder any into disillusion. We must stir ourselves on to what is most free and beautiful, what is best and most just. We must not be afraid to crush the distracting worries and concerns that stir within us, the wayward passions and malicious habits that seek to rob of our happiness and true delight. The will must seek the aid of reason by means of counsel, as any just ruler seeks the aid of counsel to save his people, or to parents seek counsel with one another for the benefit of their children. This must not crush its love, but bring it to fruition with greater urgency, mulling through difficult paths and warding of threats that seek to crush it.
Let us neither continue to dehumanize reason nor to empty it of its efficacy in human affairs. Let us cease using it to numb the wounds of error instead of remedying them. Let reason be a form of wisdom and a route to human flourishing, the healing of harmful divisions and violence, a cooling of pride that gives way to the generous outpouring of self that is charity or Divine Love. Only then are we free. Only then is there peace. Only then is there justice. Without these there is not love, nor its gifts that assume man into his true greatness as a creature of God.

Attachments and Logos

There is no sense in denying the role preference and emotions play in the dialectical realm, especially in moral arguments. It is the will that moves the intellect (as in a separate way the intellect moves the will), and it is impossible that the will's own attachments be relegated to an entirely different sphere.

I mean not to argue against the will's attachments in the intellect's business. On the contrary, there is one attachment of the will that should rule all, that should ever drive the intellect. This is the desire for happiness. Happiness is found in truth; wherever the truth of the person is found, the will should stir the intellect on with impartiality to that truth. Only in truth are we truly happy, are we truly free.

The intellect should seek the truth with rigor unhindered by lesser emotional attachments and biases, because these must not hinder the acquisition of our greatest desire: happiness. Lesser loves should not hinder the greatest love, and so passions should do their best not to hinder reason. Reason must uncover happiness, and so we must be ever sensitive to persuasions in the moral sphere which are fallacious or based upon other worries or fears. We have more to fear from these than we do from truth, from freedom, or from love.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Spectacle of the Dead

My first week or so in Bologna (Italy) did not disappoint. I do not feel this particular post to be the place to recount the sublime artistic feats especially of the cathedral, basilicas, and other churches here, the historic wall which is still in parts erected around the more ancient center of the city, the covered walkways, or the food whose reputation is assuredly merited. Much I am still learning; thus, a premature telling of such things concerning which my knowledge is yet still beginning to wax would not only spoil the novelty for any reader but also uproot a still budding expressive capacity fed by what I now see around me.

What I can say, without any such setbacks, is that this city is old. Its artistic wealth is inherited. While in one sense this allows us contact with those who preceded us, there is another where there is a richness in their cultures from which we are blocked. There is an obvious side to this, where most of us, touched though we might be by the beauty imbedded in these things, are oblivious to their meanings. Take a basilica for example. Here stands this massive organism of a church building, almost dormant, "posing" for the photos and plodding of tourists. Yet, it is still active.

One encounters this with a subtle profundity when in many of the churches there lies portion of the church, usually a side chapel, restricted to all save those entering to pray. This is generally the chapel with the universal red candle signifying the presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament. In one circumstance, in the Basilica di San Domenico, as the Arca di san Domenico was closed for the period of the time this Saturday for the beginning of the rosary and the vigil mass, a handful of tourists and their cameras attempted to plead with a custodian to let them in. Quite emphatically, he pleaded with them to understand that the Holy Mass was beginning, that this was a time of prayer. The building, the organism in a sense was no longer dormant, that again as for many centuries preceding our own was animated and living its inner life, the intimacy between Christ and His Bride. The time of the day for the spectacle of the dead was over, for now was beginning the spectacle of the living. Those who wished to suppress this reanimation were cut off.

For most of the us, viewing the traditions and rituals of the dead is akin to observing someone with untreated schizophrenia. We awe at their blindness in their sapiential darkness that we have now lit through scientific and humanistic progress. We either have compassion on or mock them on account of the phantasmic figures that appeared to them in that darkness, and now we wonder, with that same world illuminated before us, how any could ever see as they did. Friedrich Nietzsche, recounting a parallel story, wrote, "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music?" The music is phantasmic, and thus they are in some way beyond our understanding. The hallucination-caused antics of the dead inspire pity and fear of any attempting to quench the light of reason we have kindled to ward off such spectacles.

There is an ounce of truth in this, namely that the natural scientific and technological advances of the recent age have dispelled many demons of the past. What was unknown, and the superstitions employed attempting to control the unknown (without mentioning that most of these superstitions were held at bay by the Church, but another time) have hopefully been dismissed for good. This ounce of truth has led us into a conquest to sack all the reasonings of the ancients. Leading ourselves to deceivingly believe our natural science will replace all of that reasoning, we are in reality left with little if anything to replace it.

It is absurd to state that progress in the realm of natural science has thrown into suspect not just the ancients' natural science, but all their philosophical and humanistic sciences as well, if not summarily dismissed them. It is absurd to claim that the ancient sapiential figures, most notably Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Anselm of Canterbury, Averroes, Avicenna, Albert the Great, Thomas of Aquino and his commentators, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham were so blinded by their ignorance of natural science that the whole of their metaphysical and ethical systems are debunked, save that which our modern empirical sciences alone can ratify.

It is reasonable to claim that what is empirically falsifiable will in part be falsified in a growing particularization of our understanding of such empirical natures of given objects. It is unreasonable, or more aptly, insane to claim that lacking the character of empirical falsifiability is equivocal to lacking the character of demonstrability. Demonstrability would imply empirical falsifiability, which not only is false, but misappropriates the terms. Perhaps such misappropriation may make a few chemists and physicist more secure in the stability and legitimacy of their disciplines (for if nothing else is (more) demonstrable, our own wisdom is most secure), but it wrecks the very foundation from which scientific disciplines are constructed. Despite being a misappropriation, it itself would need to be proven, and underscoring the current visible progress of natural science in order to render natural and philosophical sciences into a false dichotomy leads to hopeless non sequiturs grounded in a privation of natural and philosophical scientific erudition. If one misconstrues the relationship between his discipline and others, he misunderstands not only the other disciplines, but his own as well.

This anti-intellectual temper tantrum of an argument, this anti-intellectual disease whose symptoms clog man's natural capacities for reasoned dialogue, debate, and careful particularizations can on its own lead one to wonder if the worldview of the moderns is turned on its head. If the ultimate questions are being dismissed outright as invalid questions, all because their genre is not that of natural science, perhaps it should be suggested that the problem is not that the music is phantasmic, but rather that we have outshouted it.

None of this obviously demonstrates that the music is real, for any who engages these questions must deal with the intellectual giants following René Descartes, David Hume and Immanuel Kant especially. What it does demonstrate is the incapacity of this modern positivism to have reasonable dialogue outside of its own limiting, self-inflicted dogmas.

So in a way, the spectacle of the dead is but a spectacle, and the inner profundity and mystery of its intimate Divine life is shielded from the spectators. The modern world is privy only to a spectacle, a set of antics indiscernible as anything but antics on account of the moderns' own melodrama and self-inflicted, irrational limitations. J.R.R. Tolkien once said, "It is indeed an age of 'improved means to deteriorated ends,'" since we no longer use science to investigate ends, but only means, the material used to achieve an end. The ultimate questions of ends are dismissed. And so we are only tourists, coming in an out while an organism beyond our understanding sleeps, never partaking in the intimacy that would constitute eternal and impermeable bliss. The section with the red candle is roped off to those who would disturb that intimacy.
 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

On Anselm's "Proslogion" Argument for God's Existence

I.
Introduction. The argument for God’s existence in Chapter 2 of St. Anselm’s Proslogion may be one of the most elusive arguments on the subject, and attempts to validate or invalidate it are often akin to nailing Jell-O to a wall. The argument is also commonly classed with and is one of if not the most famous of the a priori arguments for God’s existence, viz. that God is per se nota (though one look at this elusive argument may force one to doubt even that!), as opposed to a posteriori arguments grounded in human experience or more traditionally reasoned from the effects to the cause. For the purposes of this paper, however, I intend to demonstrate that Anselm’s argument begs the question.
I first present Anselm’s argument and briefly explain it in Section II. Afterwards I distinguish between what I call a variable feature and what I call a definite feature of an object in Section III. Then I provide a critique of the argument premise-by-premise in Section IV and list objections to my critique in Section V. Following this I conclude in Section VI.
II.
The Argument. St. Anselm gives his argument in Chapter 2 of his Proslogion. Anselm writes,
So even the fool must admit that something than which nothing greater can be thought exists at least in his understanding, since he understands this when he hears it, and whatever is understood exists in the understanding. And surely that which nothing greater can be thought cannot exist only in the understanding. For if it exists only in the understanding, it can be thought to exist in reality as well, which is greater. So if that than which a greater cannot be thought exists only in the understanding, then the very thing than which a greater cannot be thought is something than which a greater can be thought. But this is clearly impossible. Therefore, there is no doubt that something than which a greater cannot be thought exists both in the understanding and in reality.[1]

Because elements in this argument can be difficult to follow, particularly with the references to something than which nothing greater can be thought, I will designate something than which nothing greater can be thought as S. Also important to note, S will refer to the something, not to the phrase: something than which nothing greater can be thought. I will refer to the phrase, “something than which nothing greater can be thought” as “S”, such as when Anselm says that the phrase “S” can be understood (even by the fool). This should also eliminate confusion when there are slight alterations to S. All of those instances involving alterations will be written out in full.
Here is a representation of Anselm’s argument with numbered premises:
1.     The phrase “S” can be understood, and because of this S can exist in the intellect (because S must be thought or referred to in order for one to make sense of “S”).

2.     But if S can exist in the intellect, then S can be thought to exist as well.

3.     This then means that even if S does not exist (and so exists only in the intellect), nevertheless S can be thought to exist, which is greater than if S did not.[2]

4.     But if S does not exist, then S is something than which something greater can be thought (the fool can think of S as existing) which is a contradiction.

5.     Therefore, S exists in reality.

A few points of clarification are in order. First it is necessary to note Anselm’s claims about the fool’s understanding of S and of the “S” are minimal. When Anselm says that the fool can understand the phrase, “S”, Anselm means that the fool can see that the phrase syntactically makes sense and designates something that harbors no obvious contradictions. The phrase is not equivalent to phrases such as, the ran car alley sunset, which syntactically does not make sense, or the triangle with four sides, which harbors an obvious contradiction and cannot designate a real thing.[3]
Then, when Anselm claims that the understanding of the phrase “S” means that S can exist in the intellect, he does not mean to say that the fool can understand S, but rather that the intellect acknowledges S as something to make sense of the phrase, “S”. Thus S must exist in some minimal way in the intellect so that the fool can make sense of the phrase. I will further explain this in Section IV.
Lastly, this argument works as a reductio, which in my rephrasing of the argument is found in premise 4. If S did not exist, I could nevertheless think of S as existing, which would be greater. But if it is greater, then that means I can think of something greater than something than which nothing greater can be thought. So a denial of S’s existence leads to an absurd, contradictory claim.
III.
Definite Features and Variable Features. To argue that Anselm’s argument begs the question, I employ the use of two different terms: definite features and variable features. A definite feature is an aspect or attribute that is used in the act of designating a particular object. Let us suppose I looked into a crowd of four women with different hair colors: one blonde, one red, and two white, and I said to Henry, “Jane Seymour is the blonde in this crowd.” Blondeness taken in my reference into the crowd to Jane is a definite feature and cannot change without at best changing which thing I am designating and at worst failing to designate anything.
Thus if I change this definite feature to red hair, the statement changes to, “Jane Seymour is the redhead in the crowd.” Which person I designate as Jane changes entirely. Jane is no longer the same Jane I designated when I designated her as the blonde; Jane is now the redhead and thus someone else entirely. But now let us suppose I said, “Jane Seymour is the one in the crowd with white hair,” then not only does which object I designate change, but my statement also becomes ambiguous. Jane could be either one. But if I said, “Jane Seymour is the brunette in the crowd,” then I have a new problem: there is no brunette in the crowd. So now I do not designate anything, which is a problem because my statement assumes that there is someone with the definite feature I used in my designation.
Contrary to a definite feature, a variable feature occurs when an aspect or attribute of a designated object can be thought to change once the object is designated. Here I will switch and use hair color as a variable feature. Let us suppose I say, “Jane is the third wife of Henry VIII.” The definite feature is Jane’s relation as the third wife of Henry VIII. Now let us suppose we do not know her hair color: is she a blonde, brunette, redhead, etc.? I can think of Jane as being any of these without changing which object I have designated; otherwise it would seem that I would need to know this to make sense of the phrase, the third wife of Henry VIII. So here hair color is not used as a definite feature but rather is used as a variable feature. Once we already know that Jane is a blonde, we could still treat hair color as a variable feature and imagine or think of Jane as hypothetically having brown or another color hair without changing which object is designated. She could have dyed it or survived childbirth to live to a more advanced age. After all, if Jane’s hair color did change most would agree that she would remain the same woman or at least the same object of designation.
From this the definite/variable feature distinction I have made is inconstant and obviously not rigidly fixed to the designated object, since the same feature of the same designated object can go back and forth between being either kind of feature. The classification of these features depends on how the object is referenced, viz. how these features play their roles in the act of designating.
I would like to push this point a little, so now let us suppose that I again designate Jane as the blonde in the crowd. Now while it is true that I cannot change the definite feature, viz. I cannot designate Jane as having any other hair color without changing the designated object or failing to designate anyone, still once I have designated Jane as the blonde in the crowd I can imagine or think of Jane as hypothetically having red or brown hair instead of blonde without changing which person I am designating. I can do this because Jane’s hair color could conceivably change (e.g. she could dye it, it could turn gray, etc.) without Jane becoming a different person. When I make this move, I immediately make the switch from speaking of Jane’s blondeness as a definite feature to speaking of it as a variable feature. Which one is Jane? Jane is the blonde in the group, but what would Jane look like if she dyed her hair brown or was born with brown hair instead of blonde? Here, the switch was done in one breath. As things are, however, we cannot hypothetically designate her as the brunette, because then we designate nothing; neither can we hypothetically designate her as the redhead, because then we designate something else, as I have said.
Let us complicate things further by saying, “Jane would be prettier if she were a brunette.” Now my statement hinges on two variable features: hair color and prettiness, where the latter is contingent on the former. I can think of Jane as having brown hair, and I can think of Jane as being prettier than she already is.
But let us suppose I said, “Jane as a brunette would be prettier than Jane as a blonde.” Now my statement hinges on hair color as a definite feature, because I designate the hypothetical Jane as a brunette and compare it to the other designated hypothetical, viz. Jane as a blonde. Because the feature used to designate the objects changes, viz. hair color changes, the objects I’m designating must change somehow. I am now designating two different versions of Jane,[4] unlike the single version referred to in the above paragraph employing variable features, which are based on the same designated object.
These two different things (or versions of the same thing) do not need to exist nor does even one of them need to exist, because the statement could still be true if it read: existence or no, Jane as a brunette would be prettier than Jane as a blonde. In fact, there would still be no problem if the mood changed to indicative, with it reading: existence or no, Jane as a brunette is prettier than Jane as a blonde. Hypothetical brunette Jane does not need to exist for one to designate her by brown hair. What has been designated does not exist in reality, but it can still be thought.
Before I move on, I should briefly distinguish this definite/variable feature distinction from the substance/accident distinction. It should be clear that since accidents have been used throughout this explanation as both variable and definite features, the distinction between variable and definite features is not the same as the substance/accident distinction.

IV.
Critique. Now that this distinction has been made, I will take this argument premise by premise.

1.     The phrase “S” can be understood, and because of this S can exist in the intellect (because it must be thought or referred to in order for one to make sense of the phrase).

When Anselm writes, something than which nothing greater can be thought, the fool can understand the phrase because Anselm uses a definite feature to designate S (otherwise we would not know what he was talking about). What is the definite feature? The definite feature is that whatever S is, whatever properties S has, and whether or not S exists (all could be variable features), nothing greater than S can be thought. The fool understands that if he were to think of something T, and there were something else greater than T that could be thought, then no matter how great T is, T is not S.
As I noted in Section II, the fool’s understanding of the phrase ensures the existence of S in his intellect. Not that the fool understands S, but if the fool can understand the definite feature Anselm defines and uses to designate S, then the fool can be aware that there is something, namely S, that is being designated. For example I can point my finger into the woods and ask, “What is that?” I do not know or understand what that is, but I am aware that there is something (I know I am pointing to it!). So while I do not understand what that is, I am still aware of it and to a minimal degree possess it in my intellect. The fool may not even understand anything else about S, as Anselm gives the example that the fool may not even understand that S exists in reality. For our purposes then, this premise in not controversial.

2.     But if S can exist in the intellect, then S can be thought to exist as well.

Now that Anselm has designated S using a definite feature, Anselm proposes we discuss a variable feature, viz. existence. Without knowing whether S exists or not, the fool can nevertheless suppose that S exists or think of S as existing in reality. Anselm is not implying that S does exist or even that S can exist; rather he is merely asserting that from what the fool knows of S, he could think of S as existing.
This is akin to our Jane Seymour example. Let us designate Jane Seymour as the third wife of King Henry VIII: definite feature. Given this and without knowing her hair color, I could, without changing which thing I am designating, think of Jane Seymour as having blonde or brown hair: variable feature. Similarly Anselm has designated S as that than which nothing greater can be thought: definite feature. Then he says that the fool can think of S as existing in reality: variable feature. Like the first premise, this premise is for our purposes uncontroversial.

3.     But then this means that even if S does not exist (and so exists only in the intellect), nevertheless S can be thought to exist, which is greater than if S did not exist.

This premise is akin to our example of Jane when we already had the prior knowledge of her blondeness. Though Jane is a blonde, nevertheless I can think of Jane as having brown hair (e.g. she could dye it): variable feature. In a world where S did not exist, nevertheless, I could still think of S as existing in reality: variable feature.
The premise goes one further, however, when it mentions that existence would be greater for S. This is similar to our example: Jane would be prettier if she were a brunette. Here, as I stated in Section III, I juggle two variable features for my statement to work: hair color and prettiness. Thinking of Jane as a brunette (variable feature) allows me to think of her as prettier (variable feature) than she already is.
This parallels the premise. Supposing S did not exist, nevertheless, if S did exist (variable feature) then S would be greater (variable feature) than it already is. Like the first two premises, nothing in this premise then is controversial for our purposes.

4.     But if S does not exist, then S is something than which something greater can be thought (the fool can think of S as existing), which is a contradiction.

Now Anselm makes a move comparable to our phrase, Jane as a brunette is prettier than Jane as a blonde. As I said in Section III, hair color is now used as a definite feature. But as we noted earlier as well, we could say, existence or no, Jane as a brunette is prettier than Jane as a blond. The prettier version of Jane is designated as the brunette, not as a thing that exists, so even if it does not exist, we can still designate brunette Jane. This version of Jane does not exist, but it is still prettier than blonde Jane.
Let us try to do the same thing with S: existing S is greater than inexistent S. But can we say: existence or no, existing S is greater than inexistent S? If S does not exist, however, then I do not designate anything at all when I say existing S.[5] Existence is here being used as a definite feature. Anselm is free to say, “If S existed then it would be greater than it would be in a hypothetical scenario of S not existing.” He is also free to say, “If S did not exist then S would not be as great as it would be in a hypothetical scenario where S existed.” He is however not free to say, “if S does not exist then I can think of something greater: S existing,” because if I think of S existing, I designate a version of S by means of existence, a definite feature. But if S does not exist, then I am not designating anything at all. If this is the case, then Anselm does not have anything to compare with inexistent S without assuming (another) S’s existence. This is closer to the example where I tell Henry, “Jane Seymour is the brunette in the crowd” (a crowd with no brunettes!). I do not designate anything here. So if S does not exist, then I cannot think of anything greater. I can acknowledge that S has room for improvement, but that does not constitute thinking of a greater version of S.
Then to designate anything at all in order to compare it with inexistent S, Anselm must assume that (an) S exists. If S does not exist after all, then Anselm is no better than when I pointed into a crowd with no brunettes and whispered to Henry, “Jane is the brunette in the crowd.” But S’s existence is exactly what Anselm is trying to prove, so Anselm is begging the question.



V.
Objections. One could object saying that Anselm is really designating S existing in a hypothetical world. That way, Anselm designates something to compare with inexistent S without assuming the existence of S in the real world.
To this I would reply with the following question: is S existing in a hypothetical world really greater than S assuming S does not exist? Neither of these actually exists, so assuming S did not exist, S existing in this hypothetical world would only be greater than inexistent S if inexistent S did not exist in this other hypothetical world (and only then in that particular hypothetical world!). If S does not, then S is not S, but that does not bring us any closer to saying this S existing in a hypothetical world exists in reality. The solution to the dilemma, if there is a dilemma, is to say that whether or not S actually exists, S must exist in every hypothetical world with room to suppose the existence of (any) S. This still does not help Anselm.
One could also object that Anselm really means that the version of S which is greater than S if S does not exist is the version with the variable feature of existence, viz. thinking of S as hypothetically existing would make it greater than S if S did not exist. The version of S that I can think about that would improve on S if S did not exist, namely, my ability to think of S as existing assuming S did not, is greater than S if S did not exist.
To this I would reply with the following. What does it mean to say that I can think of a version of S that hypothetically exists? To say that I can think of S as existing is different than to say that I can think of an S that exists. So what does it mean to say that I can think of an S that hypothetically exists? This is to say that either I can think of S as existing or that there is some hypothetical world where S exists. I just dealt with the latter, and I already dealt with the former in Section IV.
There I stated that I can think of S as existing, but this is not equivalent to thinking of an S that exists. I could think of a version of Jane with brown hair, but that is because her definite feature is not existence. Inexistent Jane with brown hair still has brown hair: I still designate something by that phrase, even if that something does not or no longer exists. The phrase, inexistent S that exists, harbors a contradiction and does not point to anything real.[6] Inexistent S that I think about as existing is still inexistent S.
To be further exhaustive, what would it be like to think about the fact that I can think of S as existing (variable feature), which would be greater? This, after all, is not thinking of an existing S, but rather thinking of the thought where I think of S as existing. In this case, however, I am thinking about an activity of the mind (which is why, might I add, the wording sounds so backward), not a something. But thinking of the activity of the mind where I can think of S as existing if S does not exist is not itself a greater thing to be thought.
One may further object that I have imposed a structure on Anselm which begs the question and that no begging of the question is inherent in the actual argument. This is so since by reframing Anselm’s argument in terms of variable and definite features, I have imposed an alien interpretation on an argument that would otherwise commit no logical fallacies (or at least would not beg the question in the manner I have suggested).
To this I reply that while it is true that I have explained a certain theory that I think helps us better understand what is going on in Anselm’s argument, I have not altered Anselm’s actual argument nor added anything to it. There are neither extra nor altered premises. Now I have used this framework to ask what this or that premise means (e.g. what does it mean to say that I can think of S as existing if it in fact does not exist?). To ask this question, however, one at least needs to use some framework, whether it is my own or someone else’s. What framework is appropriate to Anselm’s argument is a legitimate matter of dispute, and while I may have gone into more detail in explaining the premises’ meanings than what is intuitively grasped from reading the text, this can hardly on its own constitute an objection to my method without the aid of pious but nevertheless unmerited scruples or other substantive objections.
Neither is there evidence that I have imposed this fallacy on Anselm. If there were something inherently erroneous in the framework without which this fallacy would not be present, then the fallacy would be imposed. But again I claim to not have added anything to the argument itself but rather to have tried to explain what this or that premise means.

VI.
The Ongoing Debate. I do not have such an outrageously high opinion of myself as to have finally put the matter to rest. At best I have contributed to the ongoing controversy of Anselm’s argument ignited by Gaunilo of Maurmoutiers and continuing to this day. At the worst (and the more likely scenario), I have contributed to the many silly and trivial things written concerning Anselm’s ontological argument.
In either event, what I have tried to show is that using this definite/variable feature distinction that I have attempted to outline, it is possible for us to see that Anselm’s argument begs the question.




[1] Anselm, “Proslogion,” Anselm: Basic Writings, ed. and trans. Thomas Williams (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2007), 82.
[2] In this paper I interpret this to be saying that S would be greater if it existed, not S would be greater if it were thought to exist.
[3] My use of the term real thing is not to be confused with an existing thing. By my use of the terms, all existing things are real, but not all real things exist. By a real thing I mean an object that has an inner consistency in its designated features.
[4] I use the term two different versions instead of two different people to make my comment feel more agreeable. The mind does not want to agree with my saying, “two different people,” because the only difference between the two Janes is hair color. But if I designate and compare two versions of Jane differing only in hair color (blonde Jane is prettier than brunette Jane), my reference if taken literally should designate two different hypothetical people identical in all features but hair color. Often the phrase is used analogically to mean the same person at two different instances (Jane after her hair is dyed brown versus before), but this is not necessarily the literal meaning.
[5] This statement is probably possible if I am designating something as existing in a hypothetical world, just not in a strictly literal sense. I treat of possible or hypothetical worlds in Section V (objections).
[6] See an earlier footnote (3).

Monday, January 20, 2014

Natural Science and the Existence of God


In an era where dialectical disputes display greater rhetorical flourish than terminological and logical precision, it is little wonder that controversies steeped in religious, ethical, and political significance are relegated from their proper metaphysical disciplines to scientific ones. Too often, questions in the domain of Philosophy of Nature are relegated to Natural Science and Laws of Physics. There may perhaps be no greater exemplar than the question of the existence of God.

Let me relay an encounter I had with an atheist in a secular group. In this instance, I attempted to explain to her the difference between the teleological arguments in Aquinas's Quinque Viae and William Paley's Watchmaker Analogy and the greater argumentative efficacy of the former (I will explain this later). Before I could make this attempt, she interrupted me to assert that Paley's argument is more convincing because it is more "scientific" and is based on evidence. But as I will show, Paley's argument fails precisely because he attempts to use natural scientific reasoning and concedes to most of the baggage of preconceptions that many thinkers bring to natural science about the philosophy of nature. Other arguments in league with Paley's include the modern fascinations with arguments about the fine tuning of the universe and others which are so bad that they are vulnerable even to the fumbling attacks of a Richard Dawkins.

I need to first clarify that this is different from the a priori / a posteriori distinction. A priori arguments attempt to argue that God is per se nota, videlicet that God's existence may be demonstrated from nothing but His substance. A posteriori arguments argue for the existence of God from from the effects (of God) to their cause. It is evident then that a posteriori arguments do make use of evidence and experiential data, but that does not mean that they necessarily rely on the natural scientific presuppositions on which Paley's Watchmaker relies. So contrary to one of the claims of my atheistic interlocutor, a posteriori arguments for God's existence based on Philosophy of Nature and not Natural Scientific presuppositions are reliant upon evidence: only the methodology is different.

So what is the difference? Paley's argument from design begins by stating that if I ran into a stone I could assume its existence came from natural causes. If I came upon a watch on the other hand, it would be ludicrous to posit natural causes: au contraire there must be some intelligent watchmaker about. The works of nature are no different: the complexity and teleology apparent in each work of nature are too complex to posit natural causes. There must exist some designer, etc.

The problem? For one, this tells us very little of the designer, much less whether he (it?) exists or not. Secondly, this hypothesis is very tentative, or was anyways. All one needs to do is posit some other cause, viz. evolution and natural selection. Now one could go further and posit Intelligent Design theories, that somehow God got the process going and guided it (which seems to speak very little about His initiation of the process), but this remains conjecture and still tells us very little about God.

Now, this argument, for all I know, could be salvageable, but a look at some of these problems tells us that despite how easily his argument is grasped, the work ahead is much more difficult and more likely founded in conjecture. And, not to mention, this argument presumes the entirety of mechanistic scientism. The watch, after all, has a time-telling function that is imposed on it, not intrinsic to the being's nature. I will get to this.

Another argument from design is more ancient (and a version is found in Aquinas's Quinque Viae). (This is brief, but the point of this argument is to relay the distinction between it and the Watchmaker analogy.) Part of every object observed is a potentiality or immanent finality, which is why we can observe change. If there is nothing in an object, after all, that has the capacity to bring about the change that ensues from it (change involves actualizing a potency: if no potency, then there can be no change), then we cannot posit that object as a cause (since it has no power, after all, to cause anything). Each object that brings about change, then, possesses intrinsically some immanent finality, or a potentiality.

Now in a being with intellectual faculties, this potentiality can in a sense be pre actualized by the intellectual faculty. For the intellect is the immaterial faculty capable of receiving the form (or substantive actus essendi) of an object conceived. Thus the potentiality of the effect exists in the acting subject, since it exists in a kind of actuality conceived by the subject through his intellectual faculty.

(NB this faculty is different the mental faculty exercised by the brain; the faculty exercised by the brain includes phantasms [or formations/mental and sensory images of an object], step-by-step reasoning, and other functions studied in neuroscience. The intellectual faculty receives the form (or the substantive act) of an object in the intellect. Note too that this is a faculty and not an organ [as the brain is] directly exercised by the human agent: we are not dualists. A person does not have a spiritual part and a bodily part. He has material and immaterial faculties exercised by a single substance.)

This teleology exists, however, in beings without intellectual faculties as well, e.g. an ice cube is predisposed to melt when exposed to above freezing temperatures (as opposed to other effects), a match is disposed to ignite when struck, a seed to sprouting into a tree, etc. Obviously, there exists natural scientific explanations (studying the being's matter or raw potency is sufficient in doing this), however, this potency does not preexist in act without an intellectual faculty, so this actuality must be bestowed on it from elsewhere (or else it cannot produce its effect and be predisposed to anything!). This something else, however, must have the actualizing capacity to give these unintelligent beings their final causality, which means it must be an intellectual being. The argument proceeds then and easily captures some of the classical qualities of God.

The latter argument is more difficult to grasp, but has many obvious benefits. Even though the argument is founded in evidence, because the methodology is philosophy of nature, no new discovery in science will disrupt the argument's flow (as evolution did with Paley's). Natural science is built on these principles after all. The argument is more firmly based on first principles, and thus the conclusion is surer. The former's causal series is also per se rather than per accidens, thus the cause must continually exist and continually give each object its teleology. The intelligent cause is also most evidently transcendent in some fashion, because at least one component of each being (and other arguments will show that this is true of every component of each being) is due to this intelligence.


Another example of this can be found in many arguments from motion. Most modern arguments seem to ask the question of what got the ball rolling? More sophisticated versions point to the fact that all energy seeks entropy, viz. eventually all energy will be heat, but if the universe's past were infinite (no beginning), this would already be the case. This argument is not bad, but again we're left with virtually no information about the cause. The result winds up involving wacky multiverse theories and with them alternative possibilities of time, matter, and their dimensions, and well… the argument grows unintelligibly complicated before it becomes lucid (if it ever does!). This is also a result of the argument working with a causal series ordered per accidens (father begets a child who begets a child is per accidens: get rid of a cause and the effect remains; a stone being moved by a stick being moved by a hand being moved by the mind is per se: get rid of any cause and the effect simultaneously disappears). We are forced to work back in time, and the further back we work the more in the dark we work, the less we know, and the more we're forced into conjecture (which makes any positing of the existence of God suspect in this climate).

A better argument from motion works from a causal series ordered per se. All material beings are composed of act and potency, and change constitutes a potency actualized by something already in act. Pure potency cannot actualize itself, but rather must be actualized by something already in act (such as the stone-stick-hand example). But if we look a cause composed of act and potency (material), its own change necessary to initiate its effect must come from something else already in act, and so the causal series proceeds until one posits a cause which is pure actuality (immaterial, since matter is potency [matter is a being's composition from parts, and those parts can corrupt]). And so the argument can continue to display the classical attributes of God.


These arguments are challenging, but they are substantive and less vulnerable to rebuttals and uncertainty (not that they rely on any credo quia ad absurdum nonsense). The metaphysical arguments are somewhat abstract and sometimes difficult to comprehend, but they are not beyond the reach of the average individual (though, sadly my rendition is brief and may be difficult to follow). This political climate seems to quell difficult and rigorous thought, which is what presents the challenge. Everyone knows everything after all, and anything that is beyond one's immediate intellectual grasp is nothing but idle speculation and arrogant, overeducated nonsense.

The fact is that nobody understands these arguments in their first utterance without the proper metaphysical background. These arguments must be carefully thought through and followed. If anything, my reply to the atheist in the secular group should have been, "No, both arguments are based on evidence; Paley's is simply easier to grasp immediately."