Monday, September 10, 2007

One of the central problems here is that there is too much certainty among the believers

larvalsubjects Says: September 7, 2007 at 6:39 pm
I’m not endorsing the position of any particular philosopher, but trying to draw attention to a particular way of thinking. The reference to Descartes is only useful as a way of approaching the difference between how a philosopher might approach questions about divinity versus how notions of divinity are thought about in terms of the ‘revealed word of god’ (it’s notable, for instance, that Descartes’ God has no personal characteristics). Similar points could be made by appealing to Hume, who certainly is cynical about the possibility of certainty outside of mathematics, and who evaluates all judgments about the world in terms of probabilities. I’m not sure what you’re referring to as my use of Hegel. I refer to Hegel but I don’t take myself to be using Hegel or endorsing his positions.
The issue here isn’t one pertaining to an opposition between the universal and the particular, where the universal is mapped on to philosophy and the particular is mapped on to religion.
  • There are, of course, philosophers who endorse the existence of universals (Plato, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Husserl, and many others).
  • There are also philosophers that are highly skeptical of whether universals exist or whether we can know them (Hume, Dewey, Deleuze, and many others).

What is at issue is not the content of these various philosophical positions, but a particular way of approaching questions of morality or ethics, politics, aesthetics, being, knowledge, and so on. My tendency is to side with the Hume-Deleuze camp, emphasizing the singularity, inventiveness, and non-generalizable nature of emergences within being. The only rule of the game is that the philosopher cannot appeal to a myth or a story to develop his points. Other than that, the positions one takes, the sorts of ontological or metaphysical commitments one endorses (does God exist? Is everything individual? are there universals? is there a soul? is everything material? etc) are fair game.

  • For instance, based on the claim that all knowledge arises from sensation, Hume convincingly shows that we cannot have knowledge of universals or distinguish between genuine cause and effect relations (necessity) and mere habits. He shows how skepticism is internal to knowledge itself.
  • Kant then comes along and tries to show how our knowledge of necessity comes from something other than sensation or experience: the categories the mind imposes on sensation. No appeal to stories is made in either of these instances to ground these positions.
  • Similarly, when a hermeneut like Ricouer or Gadamer interprets a sacred text, they suspend all questions of whether the events depicted in these texts are true or metaphysically substantial, and instead simply examine the relationship of the text to other texts, history, internal sign-systems, etc. This too would be an example of one proposal of immanence.
larvalsubjects Says: September 7, 2007 at 6:54 pm
Or to clarify, skepticism is a philosophical position premised on immanence as well. The issue isn’t certainty versus uncertainty. Indeed, one of the central problems here is that there is too much certainty among the believers, based on a text alone. The skeptic, by contrast, would perpetually emphasize that what is epistemically available does not warrant such and such a set of conclusions. For instance, in the case of Hume, the fact that I once observed an egg turn hard when boiled (or always observed such a thing happening in the past) in no way establishes that it must happen this way for all times in the future. The reason for this is that I do not observe the relationship of necessity between these two events (the egg being placed in water and then the egg turning hard), rather I only observe one event following another. For this reason, from the standpoint of sensation, I am unable to ultimately distinguish between events that just happen to follow one another without any internal connection, and events that necessarily follow one another with an internal connection. Again, Hume, in his arguments, is appealing to nothing save what is given in experience. This is the real issue: what is given? It could also be said that the history of philosophy is a history of debates over what is given, with each philosopher making different proposals and drawing out the implications or consequences of those proposals. The referent of a story is not given, entailing that it has a rather low degree of epistemic warrant (hearsay).
larvalsubjects Says: September 7, 2007 at 8:17 pm
I think part of the issue also revolves around how stories are being used. Plato, for instance, constantly creates myths throughout his dialogues. However, it seems to me that Plato’s use of myth is closer to Jesus’ use of parable, than an appeal to a story to demonstrate the truth of a claim. That is, the myths function as an example that allow a particular structure or set of relationships to be discerned. The truth of the myth is irrelevant, in this usage. The activity is similar to, say, referring to Kafka’s Trial to illustrate a point about bureaucracy. We all know that Joseph K is a fictional character and that he exaggerates the functioning of bureaucracy, but nonetheless the Trial is able to illustrate certain things about the law, legal institutions, bureaucracies, how we experience guilt, and so on. Such an appeal is very different than appealing to Moses climbing a mountain and encountering God to ground prohibitions against homosexuality as issuing from god’s law.

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