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7/24/2018 6:10 am  #1


Recent reading

I am currently reading Brian Davies The Reality if God and the Problem of Evil. I might blog about it time permitting:

It’s well written but duplicitous. Davies reminds me of exactly what I dislike about some forms of Thomism. Terms like ‘real’ and ‘nominal’ definition are thrown around, our supposed inability to know very much about what God is only what He is not is parroted with sickening false humility, classical virtue signalling appeals to Wittgenstein and Gilbert Ryle are made when faced with the spookscular awfulness of immaterial minds, and modern theism is represented in the most uncharitable way by Richard Swinburne (which is equivalent to only discussing Ockham or his more extreme disciples when presenting Scholasticism)..

This is one of the reasons why mainstream philosophers have paid relatively little attention to classical theism - it’s too often presented in a way which makes its proponents sound like dogmatic cranks.

Edit: it seems I had forgotten ‘Aristotle rides in on his chariot to save us all from Plato’ and ‘every substantial metaphysical statement I make about God is really negative theology ‘cause = ‘umility’ (even Thomists stopped this one after the death of logical positivism) from my How Not to be a Classical Theist bingo card. I doubt I’ll get ‘The Ontological Argument fails because [imcomprehensible rereading of Thomas]’ and ‘Duns Scotus molested Being whilst wearing a Nietzschean mustache’ but one can only live in hope.

Edit again: the Thomist account of essence and existence, property-identification accounts of divine simplicity and the like are highly sophisticated, nuanced metaphysical positions which need to be teased out and analysed, not least so people cannot dismiss them on strawman Kenney grounds. Mindlessly repeating ‘negative theology’ and how mysterious they are does not help. At all.
 

Last edited by DanielCC (7/24/2018 7:44 am)

 

7/24/2018 6:01 pm  #2


Re: Recent reading

What I find mystifying about a lot of these books is that Thomas' own writing is not that obscure and inaccessible, in fact as long as one puts in the time to learn a bit about the background and the scholastic terminology used it's far more accessible. Both of the Summa are quite enjoyable to read and even the more dense Disputed Questions on Evil or On the Power of God aren't too bad - even if one disagrees with some of Thomas' theories one at least learns something from it (it falls into the rank of serious contender).

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7/25/2018 4:36 am  #3


Re: Recent reading

Why is his appeal to humility so problematic to you ? Simply appealing to it isn't wrong , do you think his view contains more humility than rival hypothesis or something like that?  

 

7/25/2018 5:34 am  #4


Re: Recent reading

Calhoun wrote:

Why is his appeal to humility so problematic to you ? Simply appealing to it isn't wrong , do you think his view contains more humility than rival hypothesis or something like that? 

 
Because it's solely a rhetorical appeal. Even the sceptics give arguments for their position on why someone cannot know X or Y. Imagine someone claiming one cannot know whether not God exists because of 'humility' - I wouldn't give such a person the time of day. I don't think humility is some thing theories have either (one talks of a more modest hypothesis but that usually mean salvaging something from a more comprehensive hypothesis that has turned out to be inadequate as it stands – it doesn’t mean simplicity is a theoretical virtue like explanatory power or simplicity).
 

Last edited by DanielCC (7/25/2018 5:45 am)

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7/25/2018 9:26 am  #5


Re: Recent reading

Right, so his appeal to humility don't even reach the levels of some kind of Skeptical Theism( because they try give arguments for how we can't know what God ought to do) or do you find that problematic too? 

Last edited by Calhoun (7/25/2018 9:27 am)

 

7/25/2018 9:56 am  #6


Re: Recent reading

I recently read Stephen Mulhall's The Great Riddle: Wittgenstein and Nonsense, Theology and Philosophy. I thought it was an excellent little book, and it struck a chord with me, since one of my recent preoccupations has been the status of philosophical language and Thomists' (as well as lots of medieval philosophers') failure to take their qualifications about philosophical language seriously.

Mulhall's primary training is in Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. He just came across the grammatical Thomist tradition in the last several years and became curious about the claims, chiefly of David Burrell, to be the rightful inheritor both of Aquinas and of Wittgenstein. That project evolved into the 2013-2014 Stanton Lectuers, of which the book is a republication. It is both an updating of Burrell's work with superior Wittgenstein scholarship and a reading (or rereading) of Aquinas's Summa theologiae as articulating and meditating upon the grammar of the word 'God' ("Grammar tells what kind of object anything is. (Theology as grammar)," PI §373).

It makes use of the work of Cora Diamond, who (rightly) disputes whether 'nonsense' is always a term of opprobrium in Wittgenstein. (The philosophical understanding which the Tractatus helps one toward, for instance, is achieved only when its reader comes to understand that its sentences are nonsense.) The basic idea is that our language contains perfective terms which allow us to formulate riddles, to which God is the only answer--but our only way of expressing the way in which God is the answer is, as it were, by breaking our language and uttering the formulations of divine simplicity to which Aquinas is inclined. (It therefore rejects two major approaches in Wittgenstein-inspired philosophy of religion, the one to regard traditional formulations of divine simplicity as nonsense and therefore bad and useless, the other to deflate and domesticate religious language so that it is perfectly sensible if one understands the totally mundane language game of which it is a part.) So the book also makes use of Diamond's work on riddles, a riddle being a question which can only be understood when one has appreciated how its answer requires a projection of the familiar terms in which it couched into a new context: here analogy enters the picture (think of the Sphinx's riddle).

Diamond uses the notion of a riddle to give a sympathetic reading of Anselm's ontological argument, and Mulhall actually comes to see Anselm's argument and Aquinas's Five Ways as functioning in very similar ways (as what Diamond calls "great riddles").

In the next several weeks I hope to return to the book and explore the details a bit more.

 

7/25/2018 9:59 am  #7


Re: Recent reading

Edit: let me quickly point out that I am not claiming some of the Thomists claims about God e.g. the analogical theory of predication or the Real distinction, are necesserily wrong (though in some cases I think they are). I do however absolutely decry philosophers who make them needlessly hard to understand - those who, for instance, express the analogy of beings with claims like 'God is not a being' 'We cannot say that God exists only that He is' or that God cannot be counted (what does that later even mean?),

Calhoun wrote:

Right, so his appeal to humility don't even reach the levels of some kind of Skeptical Theism( because they try give arguments for how we can't know what God ought to do) or do you find that problematic too? 

Yes, humility is treated as being indicative of religious virtue (of being virtues) rather than our being unable to formulate x due to some specific cognitive limitation. It stems, I am certain from the Thomist idea of the proper object of the intellect being the quidity of a material thing*, but Davies does not spell it out as such as it would suggest his argument commits one to a specifically Thomist theory of perception and epistemology that many would reject (on the grounds it doesn't do justice for our basic dependence of modal intuitions) or at least would not accept without hearty argument. 

(And I do think the CORNEA criterion Wyskstra appeals to in his original article is problematic)

*In which case I am with Scotus that the property object of the intellect is being itself.

Last edited by DanielCC (7/25/2018 10:05 am)

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7/29/2018 9:55 am  #8


Re: Recent reading

Ohh dear... my choice of reading materials is proving rather poor at the moment.

I recently finished Owell's 1984. Unfortunately I found it greatly disappointing. Orwell's depiction of a dystopian society was heavy-handed and his prose-style frankly rather ugly. It was Dickens does Stalinism but with a heavy element of Marxism still remaining. The worst thing was his depiction of the 'proles', a sort of fetished deception of the 'working class' as a group of lusty, foul mouthed Cockney speaking noble savages who are largely ignored and allowed to go about their business by the totalitarian government. Of course this group is looked on with envy and at one point taken as the only possible hope for the future. I really dislike this tendency of Anglo-Modernists to depict those of a certain economic station as representatives of some oppressed superior culture - noble savages or the meet who shall inherit the earth - as opposed to, you know, taking people as individual agents deserving of a basic quality of life regardless of their culture or background. Of course one has this in older writers, Dickens for instance or Tolstoy with his peasants (though Tolstoy does try to give a more nuanced picture), the prime difference with the modernists being that they look upon this group with a kind of resentful envy, a repressed hankering after crudity and righteous brutality.

Back to the novel - O'Brien's long speech about the ultimate purpose of the party would be extremely frightening were it not too drawn out and overdone (whole pages could have been abbreviated by Nietzschean slogans 'will to power! all that exists is the drive to power and the only point of power is as a means to obtain more power!)'. The state described, that of the subject who abolishes the concept of truth and external reality in a solipsistic rejection of anything beyond themselves, that which only exists in continued rejection and attack against anything independent of its own mind, is probably the most accurate psychological description of absolute evil. Unfortunately it is presented in far too crude a way and without the nuance required for one to appreciate it (likewise for Newspeak). It should be presented as the ultimate conclusion of an initially understandable but misguided positive ideal e.g. the desire to reign with absolute liberty, to build the kingdom of heaven on earth, to provide substitute for the absent or non-existent God or to achieve utter independence and self-reliance. In the case of 1984 we realize pretty early on that Party exists mainly to make people miserable (except the proles?) so there is no such frisson, no positive ideal Party members can believe that could ultimately lead to this. We have the police state aspect of totalitarianism but not the ideology that allowed totalitarianism to occur

Last edited by DanielCC (7/29/2018 3:51 pm)

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7/29/2018 4:38 pm  #9


Re: Recent reading

C. S. Lewis made the insightful point that 1984 was redundant. Orwell had said all he needed to say, more clearly and succinctly, in Animal Farm. It is the modern prejudice against animal fables that caused him to restate it all again in a different form. Not only that, but he included extraneous and questionable additions that distract from the main point, like the strange idea a totalitarian regime would be prudish.

A neglected dystopian work is Lewis's own space trilogy, specifically the final work, That Hideous Strength. They are not without their weaknesses, but each work is rather good, I think. That Hideous Strength is more or less his brilliant The Abolition of Man  in fictional form, and with an ending for the bad guys that reminded me of the Divine Comedy.

 

7/29/2018 4:48 pm  #10


Re: Recent reading

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

C. S. Lewis made the insightful point that 1984 was redundant. Orwell had said all he needed to say, more clearly and succinctly, in Animal Farm. It is the modern prejudice against animal fables that caused him to restate it all again in a different form. Not only that, but he included extraneous and questionable additions that distract from the main point, like the strange idea a totalitarian regime would be prudish.

A neglected dystopian work is Lewis's own space trilogy, specifically the final work, That Hideous Strength. They are not without their weaknesses, but each work is rather good, I think. That Hideous Strength is more or less his brilliant The Abolition of Man in fictional form, and with an ending for the bad guys that reminded me of the Divine Comedy.

Animal Farm had the advantage in that it tried to depict the trust and faith subjects still invested in the Party even when it tyrannised them. I read Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward a few months before 1984 and I don’t think words can convey how superior a work it was, both as an anti-Stalinist polemic and as a literary work.
 
Ironically I wrote in response to someone else that it's hypocritical for those who champion 1984 to critise Tolkien's fiction as being too dualistic and naive in its view of evil, since it's exactly the same psychology of evil at work with Melkor and Sauron albeit spelled out slightly more obliquely.

 

Last edited by DanielCC (7/29/2018 4:53 pm)

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