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Tag Archives: Philosophy

philosophy historically and as distinct from other disciplines

Reality and belief

Reality precedes us: we discover it rather than invent it. Belief precedes knowledge, and metaphysics precedes epistemology. That is realism. Nevertheless, experience and thought can lead to revision of belief, which is the way of science.

Anti-realists make the mistake of limiting reality to what they know, and so limiting belief to knowledge. But they ignore their own prior beliefs and wrongly think of themselves as neutral observers and unbiased participants. They may retreat to a position of nonbelief, as if that is possible.

There is no knowledge without prior belief, at least provisionally. Prior belief may be like common sense or like a postulate or hypothesis. It must first be asserted to find its implications for inductive exploration. The conclusion of induction is new belief, expressed in definitions and principles, which forms the basis for deductive exploration.

There is no society without prior loyalties, such as blood and soil, language and custom. There is no religion without prior revelation, such as from a prophet or shaman or charismatic leader. There is no economy without prior exchange, such as between neighbors, extended family, or tribes.

Atheist illiteracy

Antony Flew was a leading atheist who came to the conclusion that God exists. What changed his mind? “The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical. The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins’ comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a ‘lucky chance.’ If that’s the best argument you have, then the game is over.” (How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind)

Robert Hutchinson writes: “Recently, I’ve begun to systematically record all of the debates on the Existence of God that I can lay my hands on and listen to them at my leisure, usually while driving.

In the process, I made a shocking discovery. It turns out that the atheists are really, really good at insults but are actually quite poor debaters. The atheists insult Christianity, Judaism and religion generally with a nastiness that is almost breathtaking. They belittle. They demean. They insinuate. But the one thing they don’t do is offer intelligent arguments that disprove the existence of God.

In fact, they don’t actually reason at all.

Reasoning, after all, is a systematic questioning of assumptions… a marshaling of evidence… a critical examination of arguments. It is not, primarily, name-calling. When I first started watching these debates, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I assumed the atheists would eventually put forward logical arguments that the Theists would be hard pressed to answer. What I wasn’t prepared for was that the atheists didn’t really marshal salient arguments at all: they merely sneered.”

Michael Egnor writes: “When I was becoming a Christian, I secretly feared reading debates about God’s existence. I feared that my growing faith would be shattered by some obvious logical flaw in theist arguments. I began to read, with trepidation, Christian vs. atheist debates (my first was Does God Exist? The Great Debate. by J.P. Moreland, Kai Nielsen and others).

I was astonished. The atheist arguments, rather than presenting formidable challenges to belief in God, were.. pitiful. The Christian arguments were well-structured logical demonstrations, basically rigorous extensions of common sense. The atheist arguments were tangential, ad hoc, absurd (‘the universe caused itself’, ‘everything came from nothing’). The best the atheists could do is play semantic games. In Does God Exist, the most capable atheist philosopher, Kai Nielsen, merely argued that ‘God’ was undefinable, and therefore arguments for His existence were nonsensical. That’s the best he could do.

As I’ve studied the arguments, my disdain for atheist arguments has grown exponentially. None of the New Atheist ‘intellectuals’ has presented an argument against God’s existence that would get a passing grade in a freshman philosophy course.

Bottom line: read good philosophers like Feser and Craig and Moreland, and you’ll see that reason and logic are Christian virtues, not atheist virtues. Atheist illiteracy on even rudimentary philosophical issues is astonishing.”

Principles of centrism

Previous posts on political centrism are here, here, and here. This post further develops what centrism is.

There are three principles of what centrism is:

(1) Centrism seeks balance in all aspects of the state and its relationship with individuals, society, and other states.

(2) Centrism is non-ideological because ideologies are imbalanced: what distinguishes one ideology from another is how each is imbalanced.

(3) Centrism seeks to ensure that all ideologies are countered by opposite ideologies in order to neutralism them. Because of this, centrism is often contrarian, going against the dominant ideology so that a contrary ideology is strengthened. The goal is to gain or regain balance.

Centrism is the political philosophy of balance.

From natures to nature

This post follows on a previous post here.

How did we get from natures to nature? In a word, nominalism. The many natures of pre-modern science have been transformed into one nature or Nature, reified if not personified as a thing or force or being.

Nominalism is the teaching that universals or qualities or natures do not exist. Only particulars or quantities or individuals exist. And the result is that only one universal or quality or nature is acknowledged to exist, the somewhat mystical universal quality or nature of everything that underlies all the particulars and quantities and individuals.

We can see nominalism in physics and chemistry, with the rise of the atomic model of nature as composed of one kind of atoms, with only different quantities and configurations to differentiate them. We can see nominalism in biology, with the rise of the evolution model of nature as composed of one kind of life, with only different lines of descent to differentiate individuals. We can see nominalism in politics and economics, with the rise of the equalized person interchangeable with any other person.

By why should this one universal or quality or nature exist at all? Why not go all the way and deny any universal or quality or nature? Nominalism has no defense against such a move. And so we are seeing nominalism end in nihilism, the denial of nature altogether.

We are also seeing the rise of an opposite extreme: that every individual is a unique kind of person and that every individual life is a species. If there are no permanent kinds or species, then individuals are the only kinds. Every person has a right to a unique identity, unique treatment, and unique pronouns.

Nominal breakthroughs

Modern science is quantitative, not qualitative. The top breakthroughs in modern science have broken through traditional distinctions of quality or kind. Consider the following:

(1) Newton’s theory of gravitation broke through the traditional distinction between the sublunar and supralunar universe (e.g., the earth and the heavens). All motion is subject to the same laws.

(2) The atomic theory of matter broke through the traditional distinctions between different kinds of matter (e.g., water, earth, air, and fire). All matter is merely a combinations of atoms (or subatomic particles).

(3) Darwin’s theory of evolution broke through the traditional distinctions between different kinds of organisms (e.g., humans and animals). All species are merely variations of life (or genes).

(4) Einstein’s theory of relativity broke through the traditional distinction between space and time. All dimensions are subject to the same laws.

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Scientific nominalism

Nominalism has three senses:

  1. A denial of metaphysical universals.
  2. An emphasis on reducing one’s ontology to a bare minimum, on paring down the supply of fundamental ontological categories.
  3. A denial of “abstract” entities.

William of Ockham, the name most associated with nominalism, agreed with the first and second senses, and in a lesser way, the third sense. The scientific principle called “Ockham’s razor” (or “Occam’s razor”) focuses on the second sense.

Ockham’s “nominalism,” in both the first and the second of the above senses, is often viewed as derived from a common source: an underlying concern for ontological parsimony. This is summed up in the famous slogan known as “Ockham’s Razor,” often expressed as “Don’t multiply entities beyond necessity.” Although the sentiment is certainly Ockham’s, that particular formulation is nowhere to be found in his texts. Moreover, as usually stated, it is a sentiment that virtually all philosophers, medieval or otherwise, would accept; no one wants a needlessly bloated ontology. The question, of course, is which entities are needed and which are not.

What this means for science is not a vague simplicity but qualitative parsimony:

This distinction is between qualitative parsimony (roughly, the number of types (or kinds) of thing postulated) and quantitative parsimony (roughly, the number of individual things postulated). The default reading of Occam’s Razor in the bulk of the philosophical literature is as a principle of qualitative parsimony.

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The hierarchy of knowledge

The physical sciences, especially physics, are considered nowadays to be the pinnacle of knowledge. They are given credit for modern technology, which has far surpassed any other civilization. Maximum deference is given to the physical sciences, which then function as the paragon of all knowledge. “Physics envy” pervades the study of knowledge today.

But it is a mistake to put the physical sciences at the top of the hierarchy of knowledge. They are very limited in scope, and their methods are not appropriate for all disciplines. Instead, the most general disciplines should be at the pinnacle of knowledge. For secular universities this would be philosophy, and for religiously-affiliated universities this would be theology.

The humanities should be returned to their place of seniority above the sciences. Philosophy, great art and literature, classical studies, and mathematics should regain their seriousness and their cultural significance. To some extent mathematics still receives respect, but it is considered an arcane subject, which happens to be useful to arcane specialists.

The social sciences and history should be next in the hierarchy of knowledge. They are dependent on the higher disciplines but are more general than the physical sciences. They provide the context for the physical sciences, which has been weakened by over-reliance on physical knowledge. This extends to all studies of humanity, including those that intersect the physical sciences such as biology. We must never forget that we are humans first, and animals second.

The physical sciences and the practical arts such as business, engineering, medicine, and technology should complete the hierarchy of knowledge. There’s no discredit in coming at the bottom for that is where we mostly live our lives. We are accustomed to extensive physical knowledge as a resource for solving the complex problems of contemporary society.

This is a return to the old academic hierarchy. It was abandoned out of fear that narrow-minded clerics and philosophers would limit the ability of scientists to discover new realities. That is a lesson of history that bears remembering – but only as a genuine history, not as a prejudice against philosophy and theology. We should also be wary of the Whig histories of those who misread the history of ideas.

Temperament and explanations

The temperament of science exists within the typology of philosophy. Aristotle’s typology of causes (explanatory factors) provides a fourfold typology, which provides the basis for each twofold scientific temperament. The four causes/factors are the final, formal, efficient/mechanism, and material.

Final Cause or Teleology Formal Cause
Efficient Cause or Mechanism Material Cause

The scientific temperaments are:

hylomorphic – material and formal (Aristotle)

dynahylic – efficient/mechanism and material (lower; modern)

dynamorphic –and formal (design)

dynatelic – efficient/mechanism and final (transportation)

teleomorphic – final and formal (upper)

The teleomorphic is the inverse of the dynahylic. Each temperament is a explanatory axis of the full explanation.

These explanatory factors address why and how. There are also other factors to consider: who, when, and where.

General and special knowledge

General knowledge is based on common experience and is available to everyone. No special training or vocabulary are necessary for general knowledge. It is also called ‘general revelation’ and ‘common knowledge’. This is the knowledge that realist philosophy builds on.

General sciences are the areas of general knowledge. In philosophy these are metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Since the existence of God and creation may be demonstrated from general knowledge, there is a general science of theology. General creation is general knowledge of creation.

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Special knowledge is based on uncommon experience that is available only to those who make a special study of them and learn their special vocabulary. The special sciences such as chemistry and physics are forms of special knowledge. They begin with general knowledge but then add special studies of particular aspects of general knowledge. This is the knowledge that anti-realist philosophy builds on.

Special revelation is another form of special knowledge; it requires knowledge of revelatory texts and faith in their message. Special creation is special revelation or knowledge about creation such as the special status of humanity.

Special knowledge in the light of special revelation is different from special revelation in the light of special knowledge. Here is a diagram of their relationship:

General knowledge/revelation ⇒ special knowledge1 ⇒ special revelation2 vs.

General revelation/knowledge ⇒ special revelation1 ⇒ special knowledge2

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Examples of general revelation in the Bible:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1

Examples of special revelation in the Bible:

Genesis 1:2 – 3:24; Romans 16:25; I Corinthians 14; II Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 3:3; Revelation 1:1

Methodical Realism

Here are excerpts from Étienne Gilson’s Methodical Realism (Le réalisme méthodique), translated by Philip Trower (Christendom Press, 1990 / Ignatius Press, 2011):

The mathematician always proceeds from thought to being or things. Consequently, critical idealism was born the day Descartes decided that the mathematical method must henceforth be the method for metaphysics. p.11

Indeed, all idealism derives from Descartes, or from Kant, or from both together, and whatever other distinguishing features a system may have, it is idealist to the extent that, either in itself, or as far as we are concerned, it makes knowing the condition of being. p.12

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