Sunday, March 31, 2013

Philosophy of Language

Plato's Cratylus again Plato shows his uncanny aptitude for inovation by discussing a part of philosophy that is generally considered modern.  Once again, he's ahead of his time.  Here's the two primary lines of argument.  First, language is more or less arbitrary, words get their meaning based on arbitrary assignments or convention.  Second, language comes from a source like nature or god and our use of it is an imperfect reflection of true language.  In general, Plato, using Socrates' voice argues both sides of the issues and then ends up supporting neither.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I pretty much side with Plato on this one.  I don't think either side of the coin answers reality.  I mentioned this before, this is a stereotypical giraffe:

What if I told you I have a beautiful giraffe that has short legs and a short neck and looks like this:

So, what say you?  Is that a giraffe?  What if lots of people all started calling this a giraffe?  What if EVERYONE started calling this a giraffe? People in Korea call it a 기린 (gilin--kīrīn), people in China say 長頸鹿 (chángjǐnglù), people in Japan say キリン (kirin--kīrīn, not surprising that it's nearly identical to Korean), people call it kameelperd in certain versions of Afrikaans.  If we're to subscribe to a source for our language why don't we all call it a kameelperd?  We probably should, if there's some ethereal language source out there by which all languages are derived.  If language is completely subjective and reliant to what people prefer then it makes sense that we now call that first picture a giraffe at least in English speaking places.  Obviously it makes sense that that we use just the word giraffe rather than always saying, wow look at that nice long-necked, long-legged, 16-20ft tall, approximately 3,500lb, mammal, etc. etc. just to describe a giraffe.  Obviously it's much easier to just use the word which apparently comes from Arabic, zarafa (زرافة).

I believe that God created human and taught Adam and Eve how to speak.  Perhaps not the way we think of teaching per se, but rather like the Matrix where information is just uploaded into the subject's mind.  I think (just an assumption, since the Bible includes Adam and God communicating) that God must have made Adam and thereby Eve with language.  Though Adam may have taught Eve how to communicate.  So, I believe the answer is both, God taught Adam language and that language has changed over the years since.  Also, the verses in Genesis about the Tower of Babel are telling.  Obviously God saw fit to use the power of language to enact change.  Then, over the six thousand some odd years since language has changed.  It's interesting that we seem to be following a cycle.  According to biblical history humans all started out with the same language then everything changed so that there are many different languages but we seem to be heading towards globalization of a single language again.  That idea happens to be prophesied in the Bible as well, though it seems quite a long ways in the future.

What say you?  Is there some magical source of language?  Is it merely convention?  Is it both?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Favorite Modern Preacher/Teacher

I'm usually not a big fan of mainstream speakers/teachers/pastors etc., but I do have two favorites, Alistair Begg of Truth for Life and Ravi Zacharias.  I recently listened to a podcast from Pastor Begg and the first thing that hit me was how nice it was to be taught something or in other words I focussed on learning something not analyzing some philosophical treatise by someone that I don't agree with (on metaphysical issues) taught by someone that I totally disagree with on metaphysical issues.  It was nice to be able to just relax and learn from this eloquent man of God that I respect.

I don't really remember (now, it's been a few weeks and I haven't listened to him at all since) what the message was about, but it brought to mind how much I've been listening to stuff that I pretty much completely disagree with.  I like thinking about the deep subjects brought up by the various philosophy podcasts to which I regularly listen, but it's sometimes difficult to find the gems of truth that are sometimes buried in their texts.  I'm not so stubborn and close-minded to think that the Bible is the only source of knowledge and truth.  But sometimes it's nice return to the well of truth especially when it's expounded upon by such an orator as Pastor Begg.

Do you have a favorite teacher/speaker/pastor?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Update on New Year's Goals

In case you've forgotten or missed that entry here's my goals for this year:
  • Read through the Bible cover-to-cover and post about it on Facebook
  • Read 50 books throughout the year
  • Train for and complete at least a half ironman triathlon
Well, if you follow me on Facebook (there's only one Samuel Ronicker on Facebook, there's a Sam Ronicker but that's my dad) you'll know that I'm not really keeping up with my daily Bible reading and commenting on my progress, but I'm not too far behind and I'm fairly sure I'll be able to catch up completely soon and that I'll be able to finish the year.  Of course it's still early, but it's actually not that tough of a goal I don't know why I haven't done it before.  I've read all of the Bible at one time or another but never from cover to cover over the course of a year.

On the second goal, here are some of the other ground rules I've added to just "read 50 books."  I won't count (nor read) books that I've read before unless I never read the whole book or it has been so long ago that I don't remember any of it.  I also won't count the children's books I read to the boys at night for their bedtime stories, I might in the future but in general I read things to them that I've read before so it's discounted by the first "rule."  I will attempt to read a wide(er) variety of works.  I generally read nonfiction, but there's some worth to some fictional works so I've tried to add some to my reading list.  If you look on the right border of my blog you'll see my current reading list.  It's in the order that I added them to the list so they're not in any real preferencial order or anything like that; basically, they have been added as I find them and decided to read each one.  Also, I won't quit reading any book I start.  I have only done that a few times anyways so it shouldn't be a problem.  I quit Hugo's Les Misérables because it was just too heavy and long, maybe I'll finish it someday.  I also quit Nabokov's Lolita because it made me sick to my stomach.  I DO NOT recommend that book to anyone.  It was sickening.  My progress is quite behind schedule on that front also.  I should be at about eleven books and I'm only at four!  I am about half-way through one other and I'm told Red Phoenix will be a quick read.

On the triathlon preparation...  This is turning out to be the most difficult one of all.  I know that may not be a surprise to most of you but that is a bit surprising to me.  I've done sprint-distance triathlons before (two of them, about four years ago) and I am an avid runner and I, prior to my trip to Southwest Asia, regularly rode with a serious biking club.  I couldn't keep up with the club, but I was working on it before my duty so rudely interrupted me.  Since I've returned little inconveniences have gotten in the way of me rejoining that club.  Namely, sleep and the desire to do sleep rather than ride on Saturday mornings.  I'm doing okay with my running preparations though I need to do more long runs.  My desire for sleep has hampered that as well.  Also, the club that I was meeting on Sunday mornings seems defunct.  I'm considering starting my own club or seeking out a new one.  I hope I can find one closer to home as the previous club was about a 30 minute drive (one way) to meet up for the run.  I'm signed up to do a half-marathon on 7 April, though I'm really not ready I'm sure I'll at least be able to complete it.  Though I'm intending to do it barefoot and that'll be the first time I've attempted that distance barefoot.  I've done as much of my training runs barefoot but unfortunately I can't run barefoot for official unit physical training because of the uniform rules.  Over this week I'll try to get in more barefoot time to be completely ready for the half in two weeks.

One last thing not really related to my goals for 2013.  I would like to start working on a book.  I've mentioned it before and I've been encouraged by my friend Steven Specht's success with Notes from Afghanistan.  I think I'd like to just start with writing about 100 words a day about learning a new language.  I'm a bit worried that it'll be very easy at first, then I'll completely run out of things to say long before I get anywhere close to enough to fill a book.  My attempts to work on updating that other book, How To Learn Any Language: Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably and on Your Own, have hit a dead-end.  That is, I have NEVER heard anything back from the author or publisher about my desire to write an update to that work.  So, I've decided that I'll just start work on my own book and with the goal of writing somewhere around 100 words a day hopefully I'll have something to start with next year sometime.

So there you have it, I'm doing okay on one of three of my new year's goals.  How are you doing?  Did you even make any goals?

This place has such beautiful flora

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Multi-Million Dollar Question

Matthew 16:15 "[Jesus] saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?"

I've recently read a couple blogs that mention making choices, but this is the only choice that really matters.  To buy this car, or that.  To take this job or that.  To live in this place or that.  Eggs over easy, sunny side up, over medium, scrambled, poached, etc.  Or like the quote from You've Got Mail:

"The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino."

So, you have so many decisions to make but this is the only one that really matters, what is Jesus to you?  So many people talk about Jesus as just a great moral teacher and about how the Bible is just a story made up about this teacher's life and how he went around teaching people to love each other and to all get along etc. etc.  My favorite answer to that idea comes from CS Lewis:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse." 
"You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

There are many answers to this trilemma and it doesn't really appeal to committed atheists/agnostics.  It's not really a powerful logical dilemma because there's so much riding on Jesus' claims.  So, the difficulty in this argument is that so many people take issue with whether or not Jesus actually claimed to be God.  I can understand that it's a complicated issue and not everyone agrees.  Even among people who are wholly committed to faithfully interpreting the Bible according to God's will, there's some disagreement as to Jesus actually claiming to be GOD.  I feel the issue is clear and that Jesus really does claim to be God.  However, I don't feel that a 100% strict interpretation of Jesus being God as opposed to Lord or having some other form of Godhood that gives Him the power and authority of God in certain aspects is somehow required to truly receive salvation through God's forgiveness.

Even after all that, the most important question in life still stands, "Who is Jesus to you?"  Whatever your choice, make sure you know what the repercussions are for that choice.  Think carefully about your choice and don't ever give up on pursuing why you believe what you believe.

One last word on dogmatism.  If you have truly done this, made all the inquiries you can into your beliefs and searched out all avenues of your beliefs and the contrary beliefs, then you have every right to be dogmatic (to a point).  If you truly, I mean truly, believe what you believe after making every effort to seek out the truth from multiple points of view then you have every right to feel you're right.  I believe what I believe after years of inquiry into the Bible and various interpretations and alternate views.  I have every right to believe that what I believe is true.  Am I going to shove it in everyone's face all the time?  No.  I'm not rude.  I share my thoughts here because that's what this blog is about, my thoughts on various subjects relating to faith and philosophy and the like.  The problem I have is when people call me dogmatic as a slight.  I believe what I believe and you're welcome to believe what you believe, but don't hate me because I'm faithful to what I believe.  I certainly don't resent you your beliefs don't resent me mine.

Cape Hedo, the northernmost tip of Okinawa

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Aristotle on Logic

When it comes to learning logic Aristotle is one of the founding fathers.  If you want to study logic a great place to start is Aristotle's collective work called the Organon traditionally made up of 8 different books: The Categories, On Interpretation, Prior-Analytics, Posterior-Analytics, Topics, Sophistical Refutations, Rhetoric*, and The Poetics*.  The last two are the ones that many modern philosophy/logic students often don't consider logical works, and it seems like these last two were just kind of thrown into the mix.  Sophistical Refutations is kind of like a text on anti-logic, a kind of how to spot the sophistical, empty arguments.  Of course, these works cover a wide range of logic and Aristotle's works in general cover a very broadly defined concepts of logic and philosophy.  There's no way I or anyone else could even try to attempt to cover every bit of these works but I've been listening to the History of Philosophy podcast, and Professor Adamson gives a nice overview of these works.  He talkes about how ancient philosophy students would start their foray into logic and philosophy with these works.

So far the podcast, as I've been going through it, has only given a broad overview of the logical works. To me, the most interesting book is the first one listed, The Categories.  In general, it's about categorizing various things.  The categories for different objects are listed as: substance, quality, quantity, relation, place, time, position, state, action, and being acted upon.  How certain parts a thing are essential to that that thing, and some are accidental.  It may seem silly but there's a problem I have with this.  One of the concepts within the philosophy of language is that words are given their meaning through a somewhat arbitrary process.  Prof Adamson uses the example of a giraffe quite often, so I'll follow his example.  I'm assuming everyone of my readers knows what a typical giraffe looks like.  One of the examples is a giraffe painted blue, so we have a blue giraffe, but that's just an accidental characteristic of that particular giraffe, or if there was a giraffe with a broken foot.  Those are accidental characteristics of giraffes.  So here's my question, one would assume that a long neck and legs would be considered essential characteristics of giraffes.  However, what if I told you that I had a short-necked short-legged giraffe?  What makes what I'm calling a giraffe?  Me calling it a giraffe?  According to some concepts of linguistics that's part of what makes it a giraffe.

The next on the list, On Interpretation is also quite interesting.  To me, it has one of Aristotle's most important contributions to logic and philosophy.  I've always heard it called the "Law of Non-contradiction" though Prof Adamson doesn't specifically mention it.  In general, this particular text is about negation and how to make statements and syllogisms.  I don't have the space to explain all that but I would like to talk a little about non-contradiction.  According to the professor of the logic course that I was taking through negating a statement isn't as easy as it appears.  The most straightforward method is to append the statement with "it is not the case that..."  So, the non-contradiction idea is this: two statements that are contradictions of each other cannot both be true at the same time.  For example, the statements "giraffes exist" and "it is not the case that giraffes exist," cannot both be true at the same time.  Obviously, at some time in the future or in the past giraffes may or may not exist, but at the same time they cannot both exist and not exist at the same time.  Though according to Prof Adamson, it seems that Aristotle leaves an exception to this idea, namely, for statements about the future.  For example, the statement "I will win the lottery tomorrow" is about the future and it is both true and not true at the same time.  Tomorrow, when I'm taking a bath in gold and jewels like Scrooge McDuck, I still can't say that statement was true or false just because it ends up coming true doesn't mean that when it was made it was true.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Plato's Republic Book 10 and 11

Wait for it... oh sorry, you've been waiting for this for several weeks now.  It's my final entry at least for now, on Plato's Republic; specifically, books ten and eleven.  As before I have a couple caveats to my entry before I begin.  First, my thoughts that fall under the 'Book 10' portion of this entry aren't really a commentary on what that particular section is about, more like my thoughts on Plato and Socrates' concepts of God and my imagined response they might have had to Jesus.  Secondly, if you're reading these notes, I hope you understand that these are just my reactions to listening to Plato's work in audiobook format, NOT some in-depth study or analysis of Plato's works or philosophy.  I like to think I have some good insights into his work, but I'm probably just one of thousands of people (most of which are MUCH smarter and better read than I) that have said their opinions about what Plato meant when he wrote this work.

Book 10.  When listening to this section I wasn't really all that focused on Plato's idea of the "forms" (I'm going to dispense with the use of quotation marks to refer to Plato's idea that there's an ideal representative thing for everything that exists), as much as I was thinking about how Plato would have responded if he had met Paul or Jesus or C.S. Lewis or some other great Christian teacher/apologist.  Plato is expanding some of his concept of forms and all I can think is "the God of the Bible is the God that you're describing!"  If Plato had the chance to sit down with Paul and discuss theology and Paul had taught Plato about the God of the Bible, that I serve, and shared with Plato that which Jesus had taught him, I think Plato would have become a great apologist himself.  Plato already talks about a god that made the universe and made the forms of all things and then he goes astray from this great god and still believes in Zeus and Athena and the like.  If he could have dispensed with all that mythology and just stuck with the idea of one God that made all things including the ideal forms of all things then his theology and his philosophy wouldn't have been that far off the mark.  As his book affirms Plato was totally caught up in the Greek mythology of his day.  His concept of this originator god that created the forms of all things is novel and borderline blasphemous.  Sadly, Plato lived hundreds of years before Christ and it doesn't appear that he had any influence or interaction with any Jews or anyone else that believed or followed the biblical texts as they existed at the time.

Book 11.  This is the final section of the Republic and in some ways the most distressing.  He has mentioned a few times previously about the illegitimacy of poetry and various poets.  He even suggested that art and poetry be completely regulated and censored.  Then, after blasting the poets for making up fairy tales and twisting the truth.  What does Plato do in book 11?  He makes up a fairy tail mythology to support his concept of how the soul is immortal and how it pays to be a wise philosophical person, both for this life and the next.  One other thing I dislike about this last section, Plato makes it clear in his fairy tale that souls are immortal and just pass from this life into the next then come right back (a bit similar to Hindu reincarnation).  However, (unless I heard wrong) in book 10 he said that god creates souls.  So which is it Plato?  Are souls immortal or were they created by god?  It seems that he wouldn't have such a glaring internal inconsistency given that he's basically a genius and one of the greatest fathers of all western philosophy.

Alex whale watching

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Test Done!

Well, that's done!  At least until next year.  I'm assuming I didn't pass.  I studied some but I don't really think I studied near enough and the test is quite tedious.  I like my job in the military and I'm glad promotion is (at least) somewhat proficiency related.  I mean, in some jobs all it takes to gain a position of leadership is knowing the right person.  And, let's be honest that's not a good criterion for choosing a leader.  Now that I'm done with the test at least I'll have no excuses not to catch up on my Bible reading plan and my 50-books-in-a-year goal.  As I said before I have some topics for entries brewing/simmering, and I'll get them written up, hopefully, sooner rather than later.

These beautiful egrets are everywhere

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Faith and Philosophy Blog Carnival, Mar 2013, 2nd Edition

Jana presents DECIDING..And It's Significance To Creation and Manifestation::Because Life is Effortless::Wisdom Ink and The Good Stuff of Life both posted at

Ashley Reid presents two entries one, Lent 2013: Giving Up a Vengeful Spirit and Accepting Grace and the other, Lent 2013: Where are Your Accusers? both posted at The Real.

Rob Graumans presents A Defence of Relativism | The Young Socrates posted at The Young Socrates.

Joshua Tilghman presents Meditating into the God Within and Will the Esoteric Jesus Please Stand Up? both posted at The Spirit of the Scripture.

Jocelyn Crawley presents Some Suppositions on Spiritual Death posted at Jocelyn Crawley.

Terence Stone presents Realizing the Divine Within: embracing presence posted at urban spiritual.

Ron Moser presents The Key to Unlocking Bible Prophesy posted at Where Eagles Gather (and other sayings of Christ).

Jonathan Grant presents several entries, How Can I Know God’s Will?, The Secret to Never Being Wrong!, The Most Important Thing to Do in an Argument (which no one ever does), The truth behind global warming and climate change (It's not what you think), How to Stop Worrying, and Is the Church using brainwashing techniques? all posted at Questions & Answers About Life.

Ashumi Shah presents The Hero of our Age. (Part 1 of 3) posted at The Salty Sardines.

Byteful Travel presents Why Non-Attachment is my Key to Happiness posted at Byteful Travel.

John presents Honor God, Honor Others and Honor Yourself posted at Fearless Men.

Justin Allison presents Tech Thoughts on the “Religion of Innovation” posted at

These are the final entries for the second edition of the Faith and Philosophy blog carnival for March 2013. Any further entries will be added to the April edition.

Same caveat as last month's iteration of the blog carnival, I don't necessarily agree with everything said in the entries, in fact I outright disagree with some of them but as they are about having faith or some part of philosophy they met the criteria for inclusion in the carnival. One other note, future carnival editions will NOT include pictures from the various entries. That process makes the prep time for the carnival about double what it would be if I left the pictures off so next edition won't include any photos from the entries, though I might share one of my own photos just to liven up the edition. Thanks for all the submissions and all the future submissions; I look forward to more editions with many more entries about faith and philosophy.