Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 1: Aquinas’s Importance and a Short Biography

Before I start to tackle summarizing this first lecture on Thomas Aquinas' philosophy I'd like to introduce the professor that's giving these lectures. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College, and he has written over fifty books.  He's a passionate fan of Aquinas' work and makes no apology for his passion.  It makes sense because, and I agree with this sentiment, one learns the most about someone or something from someone who passionately agrees with that subject.  The teacher that disagrees with what he or she is teaching will never give the topic a fair shake.

Introduction: Why is Thomas important?  Well, the answer is fairly easy, almost every philosopher agrees that in the almost two thousand years that passed between Aristotle and Descartes, he was the most influential philosopher.  The fact that Thomas was a Catholic theologian does nothing to lessen his impact as an influential philosopher.  Also, his philosophy and teachings don't just appeal to Catholics, I'm a protestant (an aint-a-baptist, but that's another story) and I'm a big fan of Thomas for his theology and his philosophy.  This course will be seeking to deal with his works from a philosophical perspective.

Prof Kreeft lists eight things that make Thomas a great philosopher.  First and most importantly is his inclusiveness.  I love this particular concept as I try to use the same methods in developing my own philosophy. Unfortunately in modern philosophy there are so many dividing lines: rationalist/empiricist, idealist/realist, ideologically Right/Left, but for Thomas everything was middle ground.  I (more or less) agree, there are so many things where it's best to take a stance somewhere in the middle.  Obviously, there is still right and wrong, and I believe that one needs to seek truth and stick with it.

Second and related to the first is Thomas' ability to show how faith and reason, religion and philosophy are all perfectly compatible, in fact they are mutually beneficial.  He's a master synthesizer of views philosophical and religious.  He draws from virtually every philosopher and the many different views of those philosophers and combined them together before the modern age came and divided the different philosophical pursuits again.  Prof Kreeft also admires Thomas' ability to write both profoundly and clearly, though I don't have any personal knowledge of that idea.  I will probably pick up and read some of Thomas' works as a result of listening to these lectures.

Thirdly, is Thomas' longevity in his philosophical works.  Not only was he able to combine all those that came before him, but he set up philosophical ideas that are still applicable and moldable today.  It's a living philosophy that is able to include "new" ideas and keep changing and yet stay the same.  Fourth, is his patients and ability to slowly process things and then give the best most practical answer without oversimplification or over-complication.  The fifth is related, in that he had so many practical answers and a strong grasp on common sense.  I love Thomas' cure for depression "three things: a hot bath, a large glass of wine, and a good night’s sleep." (Quote from the modern scholar lecture notes.)  That seems so practical to me, and for all his aloofness Thomas seems very down to earth at the same time.

I also like this quote from the lecture notes, "[T]here are only three meanings to the term “good,” only three kinds of things that are really good, and thus worthy of our desire and attention: the moral good, the useful good, and the delightful good. So if it doesn’t make you a more virtuous person and if it isn’t a practical necessity that you really can't do without, and if it doesn’t give you pleasure, fagettaboutit!"

Next (sixth) is his simple, clear arguments.  He speaks quite a bit in syllogisms, the most basic form of logic.  Seventh, is the profound topics Thomas deals with, now to be fair philosophers often think about profound topics and Thomas is no exception.  Topics that are prevalent throughout his works: "God, man, life, death, soul, body, mind, will, passions, good, evil, virtue, vice, truth, beauty, time, eternity, being itself."  Amazing to think he was able to take such deep concepts and put them into simple syllogisms.

I'm not going to include all the biographical information Prof Kreeft talks about but if you're interested, read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Thomas, Prof Kreeft's book Summa of the Summa, and/or G.K. Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas: 'The Dumb Ox'.

I'm really looking forward to continuing this lecture series!

Monday, July 29, 2013

New Series or What to do Next

In case you're just joining me, welcome, and we're just finishing up the Discovering the Philosopher in You lecture series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 13 response, 14) by Prof Colin McGinn.  My plan is to start a new series on the Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas by Peter Kreeft so far I've only listened to the first two episodes and I will write an entry about them as I have some time.

Other than this promising looking philosophy series are you, my readers, interesting in hearing from me on a specific topic?  I've solicited recommendations before but that has always been one of the things that constantly disappoints me in these entries.  I know I have readers, people have told me that they read my stuff and Google tracks pageviews and it says I have just over 13,000 pageviews.  I've written on Medium.com about trying to earn money with my writing but I haven't made any headway on that front.  I'm not thinking that I can quit my job in the Air Force and write full time or anything, just that turning a hobby into a paying gig is one of my dreams.  Since I doubt anyone will pay to see this fat guy run, and I'm not good enough at chess or photography to get people to buy my services.  I think my best chances of selling my intellectual property comes through philosophy (and maybe a book on language learning).

I hope you'll stay with me for this next series because it looks to be very interesting.  Thomas Aquinas was undoubtedly one of the greatest philosophers and definitely the greatest of his own time period.  I look forward to sharing my thoughts on this great man's philosophy throughout the next few months.  As always, I appreciate your appreciation of my sharing on this simple blog.

A Screenshot of the Stats Page from Blogger.com

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 14: The Meaning of Life: What Gives Human Life Value?

As we move on from the discussion of the reasonableness of the existence of God.  We come, finally, to the summation of this lecture series, The Meaning of Life.  To me this is really what philosophy should be all about, trying to find meaning in life and it's appropriate that Prof McGinn saves it for last.  (Note: throughout this entry and the lecture I'll be using the ideas of meaning and value interchangeably, Prof McGinn used the terminology that way.  I understand that there can be a subtle difference but for my purposes I'll use them as the same meaning.)

There are two separate categories in the search for meaning in life, one says that meaning is only gotten from an external source, that is God.  Meaning in life cannot be found in doing or in gaining anything.  In this view, if there is no god then there is no meaning to life.  In opposition to this idea Prof McGinn tries to push the argument into an infinite regression.  If meaning can only be gotten from an outside source, then who/what gives god meaning, another god?  Obviously, that leads to infinite regression because the next question is obviously who gave that second god meaning?  (I was about to type a response but I'll save it for later.)  The argument might be that there is an internal source of meaning that god has, and the answer that Prof McGinn offers is that mankind also has internal sources of meaning in life so that there's no need for a deity to confer upon us meaning.  On the internal sources for meaning in life there are three different ideas: hedonism, virtue, and philosophic pursuit.

Hedonism is quite simple, pursue that which makes oneself happy.  Food, drink, sex, nice stuff, knowledge, money, etc. though there seems to be different levels of desires.  Like the base/natural desires of food, drink, sex etc. as compared to the higher desires knowledge, understanding, etc.  The hedonist sees meaning in these types of things.  One has meaning in life if one gains things and does or is able to do whatever one wants all the time.  Prof McGinn points out, and I'm sure you also see that this is an incredibly selfish view.  It cannot by itself provide for a meaningful life because there's something missing.  This kind of view leads to an evil life bent on only seeking one's own desires and has no problem squashing anyone that gets in the way.

Which then leads to the life of virtue.  This idea says that the meaning of life is in virtuous actions.  It's no doubt that virtue is a good thing, that's an obvious tautology.  But, is the meaning for life found in merely being virtuous?  This view is a pendulum swing on the complete opposite side from hedonism.  the meaning of life is in serving everyone else and putting down oneself.  This seems like a decent way to find meaning but also ends up oddly empty because if you spend your whole life seeking to serve others you'll never enjoy life yourself.

While those first two ways to seek meaning in life are obvious to many people, this last one is less familiar except to those that have studied philosophy.  It comes from Plato, that the highest meaning in life is the pursuit of and love of knowledge, and that the highest pursuit of knowledge is philosophy.  This type of meaning is found in seeking and loving knowledge.  Those this too has its problems, because it seeks meaning at the abandonment of living life.  This kind of meaning in life doesn't look at life itself just at the pursuit of knowledge.

Prof McGinn's answer to the problems of each aspect is that one must have a balance in life of the three pursuits.  One should pursue pleasure but not at the expense of knowledge and virtue.  One should pursue virtue but not at the expense of the other two.  And, when the different pursuits are in conflict there is no wrong answer.  Everyone, has meaning this way.  Some are more virtuous than others, some more hedonistic, and some more philosophical, but everyone has meaning.

By way of rebuttal I'd like to point out a few things...  First, making the other side fall into infinite regress is not a valid argument.  He's misrepresenting the external source of value as only contingent on the existence of an outside source for meaning.  Meaning that is imbued upon creation is a natural side effect of being made by a loving creator.  It doesn't require the creator per se, it's just a side effect.  Just as God is the source of all creation, He's the source of all meaning otherwise meaning if you try to give yourself meaning it's hollow worthless meaning.  No matter how much a man insists he's important doesn't make it so.  True meaning can only come from the outside.  Parents give children some of their meaning but even without parents a child has meaning.

Secondly, all these examples cannot be universally applicable.  Here's a few examples:

For hedonism, what about the person born into poverty or born as a refugee?  That person, most likely, will never be able to enjoy any level of hedonistic pleasures.  Is that person no longer valuable?  With extrinsic value, yes he or she is still just as valuable as anyone else.

Take virtue, (this is the easiest one to deal with) in a humanist mindset there is no immutable standard for morality or virtue, so the goalposts are always moving.  Does that mean that different people are valuable at different times?  Also, how virtuous is virtuous?  Is Mother Teresa or Ghandi the only ones that measure up?  Is everyone else worthless?  Where's the line?  The rules are constantly subject to change and so is the line of who is virtuous enough to have meaning.

Now, philosophy.  This is the most difficult one to answer but it's still subjective.  Take the child born into a small primitive tribe in Papua New Guinea or someplace like that.  That child will probably never have the chance to study philosophy or science or any other learning outside that little tribe.  Does he or she have meaning?  Arguably not, at least according to these standards.

I think I know how Prof McGinn would answer these questions though, so I'll give his presumed answer and then respond to that as well.  I assume he would answer with some kind of reference to balance in life.  Like the child born into poverty, as long as he/she did his/her best to enjoy the pleasures available that's meaning, and if meaning found in a balance between all of these pursuits, perhaps that child could find meaning in life by doing his or her best on the other sources of meaning.  To the question of virtue he'd probably respond similarly, that as long as one does one's best in whatever situation they're in they'll find meaning in life.  Same with the pursuit of philosophy, as long as you do your best with what you have you'll live a meaningful life.

To which I'd respond, then Adolf Hitler lived a full meaningful life.  He did what he thought was right and he did it to the best of his ability.  So much so that he led his country in a victorious conquest of most of Europe and through his allies a large portion of the world in general.  He led the extermination of weaker people that didn't deserve to live (at least in his view).  He was also well read and his book is still read by many to this day.  So, by all accounts he lived a meaningful life.  Basically, by these arguments everyone lives meaningful lives.  Again, without an immutable standard of morality there's no such thing as a virtuous person.  And, nothing can give itself meaning without being completely selfish.  These anthropocentric sources of meaning and virtue ring hollow and even the most powerful rich and seemingly most meaningful lives are reduced to nought at the end.  As Alexander the Great's final orders clearly showed, even one of the most powerful, wise, hedonistic (after the higher pleasures), wealthy, and philosophical rulers of the world ended his life empty and meaningless.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 13: God: My Response

In my last entry I said that would respond to Prof McGinn's attempts at tearing down three prominent arguments for the existence of God.  I'm not certain how I want to organize this response so I apologize if this seems illogically arranged.  So here goes.

First, lets focus these arguments, Prof McGinn says at least a couple times in the lecture that these arguments are not intended to give cast-iron epistemological certainty that there is such a thing as God, just that the point is to test to see if the concept of god is logical.  One other key hole in his arguments is this, he says that the whole point of the discussion is to attempt to show if the concept of god is logical.  However, throughout his lecture he keep referencing the religious definitions of God.  Here's the way I see it, Prof McGinn is setting up a straw man in attacking each argument separately then offering red herrings in trying to make us chase after the traditional religious concepts of god rather than the basics of the argument.

Here's a recap of the arguments, the argument from design, the cosmological argument, and the ontological argument.  I'd like to take these and turn them around like Ravi Zacharias does in The End of Reason; A Response to the New Atheists as he borrows from Prof Dallas Willard (now passed on, May 2013) and use a more complete and powerful argument for the existence of God than this strawman Prof McGinn has torn down.

First, comes the what is commonly referred to as the cosmological argument; the way Mr. Zacharias words the argument, "no physical entity explains its own existence."  Now, that could be confusing because I'm a physical entity and I can sit here and explain my existence.  Obviously that's not the way those terms are intended to be used, it's along the lines of, no physical entity contains a complete explanation for its own existence.  It makes sense to also word this part of the argument as, no physical entity can create itself.  Biological life can reproduce, but that's not itself, that's a copy of itself.  In the Google+ conversation about the last entry +James Hooks said it this way, "everything in the universe has a cause, or everything that begins to exist has a cause."  Those kinds of statements are backed up by empirical observation.  These theories of something from nothing are so wildly speculative it's laughable.  Again, this is NOT 100% mathematical proof of an uncreated creator (UCC), just a rational statement about the plausibility.  Here's another thing Prof McGinn does throughout his lecture, after he presents the cosmological argument he claims that it doesn't logically follow that this UCC somehow has the attributes often claimed in religion, namely omniscience, omnipotence, and goodness.  Prof McGinn is implying that those qualities are a non sequitur, and he'd be right if  the argument was solely based on cosmological cause.

The actual best answer is to follow the cosmological cause argument with another powerful argument for a god.  That is the argument from design.  In that aforementioned Google+ argument +Andreas Geisler asked if one could recognize the undesigned.  A valid question but one that seems obvious from common sense.  There are so many examples of design in the universe that for all of them to come together in exactly the right way would take odds that are beyond astronomical.  I've read that the odds were calculated somewhere around 10,000,000,0002,000+. That's ten billion to the two-thousandth plus power!  So, design is evident all around us and yet Prof McGinn throws evolution at the concept like it's the silver bullet that will slay this argument.  What he's failing to see is the most basic form of biological design, the DNA/RNA structure cannot be explained by evolutionary process.  So, the red herring Prof McGinn expects the creationist apologist to chase after in this argument is the design of life as it is right now.  That's not the basic design that we're looking at, though a committed Young Earth Christian would say that the literal six days of creation show God's handiwork in the complexities of life as we study it.  But, again... that's not the argument in question.  The question is, is there design evident in life as we see it?  It seems obvious that the resounding answer must be, YES.  Again, this does not get us to the Christian God, as Prof McGinn seems to want us to make that leap, though we do have some characteristics that fit, namely powerful omnipotence, that is powerful beyond all imagination the ability to will the material into existence.  It would require that kind of power to bring all the universe into existence and then order it into a coherent design and put together the incredible complexity that is life (even the most basic forms of life).  Which leads us to another characteristic of God, omniscience, that is all knowing.  A God that exists outside the influences and rules of this universe and orders the entire universe must have knowledge beyond all human imagination.

There are two incredibly powerful arguments that Prof McGinn has neglected that will flesh out the rest of the characteristics of God.  The first comes from one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis.  In Mere Christianity Lewis makes a powerful argument from morality that shows how just the idea that all cultures throughout the entire history of mankind have had a shared concept of morality.  That isn't to say that all cultures agree with what is right or wrong, but at least they all agree that there is such a thing as right and wrong.  In response to the Euthyphro problem, which is often thrown at this argument, I've answered it before twice, but this writeup puts it quite well, "Thus the dilemma can be shown to be a false one.  God indeed commands things which are good, but the reason they are good is because they reflect God’s own nature.  So the goodness does not come ultimately from God’s commandments, but from His nature, which then results in good commandments.  As Steve Lovell concluded in ‘C.S. Lewis and the Euthyphro Dilemma’ (2002)."  So, we have more attributes of God, on top of omnipotence and omniscience, we have goodness.

Last but certainly not least is the argument presented in the life of Jesus Christ himself.  There are some that claim the life of Jesus is a myth.  People that claim that are intentionally turning a blind eye to more than enough evidence that Jesus really did live when the Bible claims He did, and the Bible itself has more than enough textual evidence to verify its trustworthiness.  Jesus' claim of divinity is unique among all religions, though I've seen arguments that say Jesus doesn't claim to be God, but I don't think they hold water.  I don't have time to go into that all right now, but suffice it to say, that Christianity is unique.  Our Lord is also our servant, and our sacrifice.  We cannot do anything to earn God's forgiveness or favor, all other religions have some form of working or doing something to gain forgiveness.  Not so with biblical Christianity; there are certain groups of people claiming to follow Jesus' teachings but they teach that you have to do this or do that contrary to biblical teaching, that's not the Christianity that Jesus died and rose again to create in us.

A word on Prof McGinn's use of the problem of evil as a counter argument to the existence of God.  First, it's a false pretence.  He claims to be arguing against the logical possibility of God, but in reality he's only arguing about one particular characteristic of a being that he doesn't believe exists.  As he's so fond of using to describe other philosophical ideas, now he's the one that's "putting the cart before the horse," and arguing about characteristics of a being that he hasn't shown to exist at all.  His argument about the existence of evil has been responded to in many ways but the best way I see to respond, is to call into the argument the idea that morality in general shows that we're designed by a moral being.  In the atheist purview there's no sanctity of life.  According to evolution and natural selection the weak are meant to die so that the strong can survive.  According to Peter Singer a pig is worth more than a disabled child; does that sound like morality can be found in science?  According to mathematics the world would be a much better place to live if there were about fifty percent less humans living here, according to that logic, we should initiate and promote holocausts to eliminate the weak, sickly humans.  The argument of the existence of evil doesn't work with purely scientific logic, because logic and science cannot tell you what is good/bad, right/wrong, good/evil, science just tells what is.

A word on Pascal's wager, I've never liked the idea, but Ravi Zacharias in the book I've already mentioned, puts it backwards from the typical reading of the wager.  It's not, you should believe because in the end if you're wrong what's the harm and if you're right you stand to gain tremendously.  I agree that's a hollow, relationally empty way to approach God.  Instead one should look at it like this, I believe and it enriches my life, if in the end I'm wrong and there is no God, what have I lost?  Nothing.

Lastly, I must say something about the ontological argument because that seemed to be Prof McGinn's favorite argument.  This seems odd to me, because though I can't point to any specific fallacy or flaw in the ontological argument, it seems like just wordplay.  A tautology of sorts, to say that the perfect conceivable being must exist because existence is more perfect than non-existence.  I don't think the argument is wrong to come to the conclusion that God exists, I just don't think it goes about it in a logical manner.

To sum up this incredibly long post (sorry about that):  I don't think this was Prof McGinn's intent but listening to this lecture actually made me more secure in my belief in God.  His futile attempts at breaking down these arguments only made me more sure that he's wrong and that it is logical to believe in a creator.  As it stands, his attacks at each argument doesn't really show anything, just that each argument has counter-arguments.  There isn't an argument out there that doesn't have a counter-argument (like that double negation?), there are skeptics for everything.  With the combination of all the arguments together it is easy to conclude that it is logical to believe that God created and cares for us, His creation.  Though that wasn't the original goal of the argument, all we wanted to prove was that it is indeed logical to believe that some form of creator being exists, and we've gotten so much farther than that when it's all said and done.

Another shot from Cape Zanpa

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 13: God: Can the Existence of God Be Proven?

Continuing the series second-to-last (sort of) for this interesting lecture series on the big questions of philosophy, can the existence of God be proven?  The reason I say sort of second to last, is I plan on writing at least one extra entry rebutting this lecture and possibly one to sum up the whole series.

One interesting note before I get into Prof McGinn's attempt at dismantling three arguments for the existence of god, I've been using the study guide to facilitate writing these essays and the "recommended reading" for this lecture is Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.  That kind of gives away what his conclusions will be right off the bat.  In this lecture Prof McGinn attempts to disprove the existence of god by arguing against three traditional arguments for god, the "argument from design," the cosmological argument, and the ontological argument.  Each one he takes in turn and goes through the basics of each one then pokes holes through their weaknesses.

The argument from design.  The argument is pretty obvious, the earth and all life as we know it, has the features of design.  And if one were walking through the desert and found a watch, one would certainly assume there was a watchmaker somewhere that made this thing.  It would be foolish to assume that somehow the swirling atoms and molecules accidentally fell together in the intricate design of a watch.  The supposed weakness in this argument is the idea that natural selection can result in what appears to be design and that evolution has been proven and is a verifiable truth and that no one except devout creationists don't believe in evolution.

The second argument is often called the cosmological argument or first cause argument.  Aquinas was a prominent proponent of this type of argument.  Basically it goes like this, everything in the universe has a cause and its cause has a cause.  In order to avoid an infinite regress there must be a "first cause," or as Aquinas said, an "unmoved Mover."  Prof McGinn's response to this argument is the classic, "who made god?" argument.  He also points out that saying there's a first cause doesn't mean that it has to be god, it could very well be the Big Bang that is the first cause.  There's no need to postulate god as the first cause.

The third argument is new to me, it's called the ontological argument.  This is the most difficult one of all to spell out, and apparently the most difficult to refute.  Basically it goes something like this, the existence of god is proven in the very definition of god.  That is, god is the most perfect conceivable being, and a being that exists must be more perfect than one that doesn't exist.  McGinn claims that this is a beautifully deep and complex philosophical argument and he doesn't have too much to refute it.  Though he does talk about a way to refute this claim is to say, what makes existence "more perfect" than nonexistence?  Take a devil (interesting that he chooses something I'm sure he doesn't believe exists), is the existence of a devil better than the nonexistence of a devil?  Presumably not.  Also, he points out the difficulty of the term "perfect conceivable being."  Just what is the most perfect conceivable being?  We can't even use that terminology dealing with everyday things like mustaches (I beg to differ).

Photo credit here.

After poking holes in these three arguments Prof McGinn brings up his most powerful argument against the existence of god, the problem of evil.  The basic idea is this, if god exists, then why is there great suffering, death, and disasters in the world?  One of the arguments sometimes used against the problem of evil is the idea of free will like what was discussed in lecture eight.  This doesn't work in this argument because there are so many times when the suffering and death of innocent people has happened because of natural disasters.  If god is good, as the typical religious views claim, then why doesn't he step in and intervene.  We would never call a person good if they could easily intervene to save the life of an innocent child but by inaction let that child be killed.

Another point that Prof McGinn brings up is blind faith.  He claims that many who believe in god will answer contravening evidence by claiming faith.  That it doesn't matter what evidence there is, either for or against the existence of god, they just believe anyways.

The final point of the lecture goes into what is commonly referred to as "Pascal's Wager."  It's the idea that if believing in god won't hurt you, and you stand to gain eternal bliss then what's the harm?  There are two options here and the option of belief works out either way, either god exists or he doesn't exist, if he does then believing gains you eternal bliss if he doesn't you're not at any great loss.  So hedge your bets and believe so that it's a win-win situation.  One of Prof McGinn's answers comes from something he has said many times throughout these lectures, that one cannot force oneself to believe something that they know not to be true. I don't disagree with that particular statement and I said in a recent assignment for my apologetics class and I truly believe that "Pascal’s Wager is an intellectually void and relationally bankrupt reason for belief."

More on that in my next entry wherein I will rebut each of Prof McGinn's strawman and red herring arguments.  I have so much more to say in response to all these things but I'll save my responses for next time.

Such a Beautiful Sunset

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 12: The Self: Who Am I?

Continuing the series, twelve of fourteen... Who am I?  What is the "self"?  Either Prof McGinn prefers philosophy of the mind to other parts of philosophy, or these really are the most important questions of philosophy.  In a way I find it a bit off-putting that he only devotes one lecture to the question of God (that's next).

So Descartes had apparently proven that the self exists with his, cogito ergo sum, but, there's still more to be said than just that 'I' exist.  Things like why does the self seem to change significantly over the course of one's life, but at the same time, it persists despite these changes.  What sort of thing can the self be?

According to the lecture there are three primary theories about the self.  The simple ego theory, which falls neatly within the dualist framework, says the self is like an indivisible immaterial mental substance not unlike the soul or spirit.  The self goes beyond the mind and the body, like the peg that your mental states and personality are hung on and taken off of at different times and ways.  Prof McGinn talks about the issues with this concept, how can the self be something that is nothing.  This thing that's not a thing at all, loosely related to the mind.  So, this thing that is quintessential to my existence is something about which nothing can truly be said, since it's some indescribable mental substance.

Then there's brain/body theory which falls within the materialist framework.  The self is nothing more than the brain which is a complex physical substance, not a simple immaterial substance as the dualist would hold.  Therefore, when a materialist refers to the self, it's just a part of the brain construct that retains one's identity.  There are many difficulties with this theory and several interesting thought experiments, many of which have been shown in various science-fiction movies/books.  Pretty much any way of transferring one's brain, memory, or thoughts into a different person or body.  Like in the third movie in the Matrix trilogy, the Neo character transfers his consciousness into the machine construct/computer.  Did that mean that he was dead?  What about if you could transfer all your memories and/or brain into an assembly-line body?  Is that no longer the same person?  Presumably yes that is now you.  So, the body is not the self and neither is the brain.  Based on these thought experiments, it seems clear that the self has little or no relation to the body or the brain.  The most difficult one is the idea of splitting your brain.  There is some interconnectedness in the brain hemispheres, suppose one could divide your brain between two bodies.  Would you cease to exist?  Presumably no, if anything it would be multiplying yourself.

Lastly, the mental connectedness theory, basically the idea that there is no self as a bearer of mental states, just the mental states themselves, a stream of consciousness.  There really is no continual self, it's an illusion borne of a flow of mental states.  This may seem to fit, but there are difficulties with this idea as well.  Like the previous example of splitting the brain, the same problems with the brain/body theory apply here, if this were possible it would show that there must be a self to experience the mental states that one has.  That's a complicated example of a breakdown in this theory.  A much simpler issue with the theory arises when one has no mental state going on at all.  During certain parts of the sleep cycle there's basically nothing going on mentally.  Or getting knocked out.  We're not talking brain-dead, I'm relatively sure everyone would agree that is death.  But, what about when the stream of consciousness is interrupted?  Is the person dead?  Presumably no.  Whatever the case, it doesn't seem like this is a sufficiently strong theory either.

So we're left with another deep mystery much like the mysteries of the mind-body problem and consciousness coloring our experience of the world around us.  As usual, I don't really have an answer to this problem.  I'm comfortable with the simple ego and it's consistency with dualism and theology, but I don't want to just cop out saying, "well, this is the way I believe even though there's no way to prove it."  Though, since there's no way to prove any of these theories that might be the answer everyone has to give.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Faith and Philosophy Blog Carnival, July 2013, 6th Edition

Not as many entries this month as last month.

Tom Parker presents Out of the Darkness posted at Surprising Joy.

Justin Allison presents When Old Tech Dies posted at bible-tech.com.

Joshua Tilghman presents A Simple Kundalini Meditation posted at The Spirit of the Scripture.

Personal Growth Project presents Optimism vs Idealism: Keeping Your Dreams in Touch With Reality posted at Personal Growth Project_PGP Blog.

AlexWagman presents The Little Things posted at thebucketlistblog.

As always I'll continue to update this edition as entries come in.  Also, the standard caveat applies, I don't necessarily agree with all the ideas presented but I hope you all enjoy reading the various perspectives regarding faith and or philosophy. Next month's edition will be posted here on the 6th of August.

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 11: Mind and World: Are Objects Really as They Appear?

After lecture ten I've pretty much burnt out on philosophy of the mind, but Prof McGinn keeps going so will I.  This lecture is about the relationship of reality and one's perception of it.  The goal (though I think it can never be attained) is to resolve the problem of appearance and reality.

Say with sight, I'm seeing a table.  Am I seeing it as it is?  Or, is it colored or altered by my mind.  The question is not if the table exists, as the skeptic would ask.  The question is how it appears to me in my senses.  It is actually there but how do I perceive it?  The first argument is from illusion.

In this argument, one person is actually seeing a black table, and a second person is seeing an illusion of a black table.  The person "seeing" the illusory table is not really seeing a table he/she is seeing the sense datum of a table, and the assumption that the person seeing the actual table is actually seeing the table.  The problem is, that the person that is actually looking at the table, is also only able to see via sense data.  There are a couple attempts to answer this problem.  One says that the person experiencing the illusion of the table, is seeing nothing.  This cannot be the case, because to see nothing would mean that he/she isn't seeing a table, he/she is seeing nothing and nothing cannot be seen.  The second (and better answer to my mind), is that the person experiencing an illusion is seeing an object that doesn't exist.  One issue in this is just in terminology.  The person isn't actually "seeing" a non-existent object, it could be said that the person is experiencing the illusion of seeing a non-existent object.

After talking about that argument, Prof McGinn moves on to a secondary argument within the concept of the relativity of sensation.  He uses two specific examples, sugar being sweet/bitter, and the color being red/green.  Is there a case such that sugar can be bitter to a specific person/sense-group?  It seems plausible that scenario could exist.  So, we have to revise how we say, such and such is sweet.  We must say, such and such is sweet to me.  Tastiness is a much easier issue.  One person may say that a particular dish is tasty, and another may take the exact same dish and say it's disgusting.  Obviously there is a relativism in the perception of taste.

Next, color.  Take the color red.  "This ball is red."  Say a particular set of people (Prof McGinn uses martians for both of these arguments) see red as green.  Again, it ends up saying, such and such looks red to me/us.  They're relative to the observer.  This isn't an attack on truth, it's not making truth relative, it's just pointing out that certain properties are relative to the perceiver.  Prof McGinn sums colors are response-dependent properties.

NOT all properties are response-dependent.  His example is shape.  Round vs. square, that cannot be a subjective property.  To accept this as a response-dependent property, we'd also have to give up on the notion that objects have particular properties.  So, we have to divide different properties into categories of response-dependent and objective properties.  Flavor and taste is obviously response dependent, as is attractiveness/sexiness, what about humor?  These all seem obvious to me that they are completely response-dependent.  Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

This distinction is often called primary qualities as opposed to secondary qualities.  Secondary qualities are like color, taste, sound, beauty, smell, etc.  The primary qualities are in the realm of physics, shape, mass, size, number/quantity, etc.  This is basically the same concept as what are manifest images or conceptions verses the scientific images or conceptions.  The way we can think about this is to imagine what the universe looked like before anyone or anything was around to perceive the universe.  IF color is a mind-dependent quality then the universe would be shades of gray or the abstract conception of the universe without a perceiver to give it the mind-dependent qualities.

Two polarizing views, realism-the universe is real as it is but it doesn't have perception-dependent qualities and idealism-objects are not these abstract images that we think they might be they are actually ideas within the mind of God and we receive them in our mind.  All of these discussions concerning the mind and it's relationship with the universe and perception all lead up to the next lecture on what is the self.  Because all of these issues with the mind revolve around the idea of there being a self to experience these things.

That's what Prof McGinn said (at least as I understand it), now for what I think about it...

First off, I want to clarify that I don't know for sure anything that I'm about to say, but it seems much more logical to me than how Prof McGinn describes the different types of perceptions and their categories.  The biggest issue I have with Prof McGinn's delineation of senses (and I'm sure others would agree with him) is color.  We might all perceive colors differently.  We definitely name colors differently between different people.

Does that change the differences in light wavelength that makes different colors in the first place?  Colors should not be put on the relative side of the perceived properties scale.  Color is subjective in that it's a specific wavelength of light.

From Wikipedia, 1 Million colors
One possible arrangement of some primary and secondary qualities:

Primary Qualities
Secondary Qualities
Goodness of sound
Feel (smooth, rough, etc.)
Atomic makeup
Everything else…