Category Archives: Realism vs. anti-realism

Reality of the Supernatural

This brief post applies a post from May 2021, Truth of Spiritual Claims to my previous post of December 2021. Here, however, I write of supernatural reality instead of spiritual reality.

It is a fallacy to conclude from “Reality – what exists – is one” that “There is only one kind of existent in reality.” There are no rules of careful thinking which show that someone who thinks Luke’s account of the Annunciation is an assertion of what happened believes in a fiction. I think Luke’s account speaks of what was and how it was a couple of thousand years ago in Nazareth. To emphasize: I say “Luke’s account is true” to express my intention to endorse Luke’s account as a correct account of reality.

Of course, an angel speaking and a virginal conception are not normal or natural occurrences. So, careful critical thinking requires distinguishing then from the normal or natural. Depending upon a person’s intellectual standards and those of communities of people whose approval he wants, distinguishing these non-normal events from normal events requires careful distinctions which are probably of no interest to the vast majority of people.

A product of this careful thinking is to specify the distinction between what one asserts with religious faith from attempts to describe and explain what normally exists as a distinction between talking of supernatural instead of natural reality.

Careful critical thinking does not endorse presenting this distinction as between the real and unreal.

True as an Intention Marker

The intention of getting it right

“Getting it right” is a relational phrase because the phrase can, and unless context makes it clear, should be completed with a specification about what one intends to get it right. For instance, get it right about the theory of evolution, get it right about what Christians believe, get it right about the IRS rules on charitable giving, and get it right about what Alfred Tarksi and Donald Davidson wrote about truth. The list could grow very long. In am interested in two: getting it right about reality and getting it right in reasoning.

I cited Tarksi and Davidson in my sample list to provide an occasion to apologize for ignoring philosophical literature on truth. I am terrible at exegesis. To figure out why a philosopher wrote something on a topic I have to figure out why I would think what was written. To figure out what I think I need to develop my own theory of the topic. Because I assume the writer was trying to get it right about the topic, I assume the writer was trying to think as I do. The result is that I distort the writer as thinking my way. Of even more significance for dispensing with exegesis, I conclude that if I have to think the issue out for myself as a preliminary, why risk attributing to someone else errors of my own thinking.

As already indicated, the phrase designates an intentional activity. Usually, people simply speak without being clearly conscious of what they intend to accomplish by their speech acts. Of course, though, intending without an articulation of an intention is typical of intentional activity. Sometimes, though, the intention of speaking is indicated by a warning or emphasizing phrase.

For instance, phrase such as “once upon a time,” “according to what the Hindus belief” and “just possibly” indicate that the intention is not to tell truth. The phrases “true” indicates an intention to get it right about reality. Because “true” is an explicit indicator of an intention adding true to what we are saying adds nothing to what we say.
Thus:
To say “P is true” to say no more than P. Famously: “Snow is white” is true if and only if snow is white.

However, the word “true” is still very important for indicating the intention to say what is right about reality. As I have been arguing in several posts, the word “true” need not be interpreted as a designating a relational property of our sentence to reality.

I have shown that we can doubt our ability to think anything accurate about a reality apart from what we say. So why do I propose that there is an intention to get it right about reality? The list of topics about which we can want to get it right is immense. Usually when we want to get the truth, there are many topics in the context about which we need to get it right. To solve any problem involves solving many problems.

I grant that for a theoretical account of seeking to get it right we do not need to assume there is a reality beyond thinking and speaking. Theoretically, we can dispense with the unclear believe in such a reality – things in themselves. However, philosophy has existential interests as well as theoretical interests. Ockham’s razor need not be used in philosophy. A postulate – a faith – that there is something fundamental underlying all the other passing things about which we can get it right is legitimate provided that we do not accept any picture of its stucture as more than a heuristic for providing theories about it.

Mention of theories provides an occasion for calling attention to another fudamental intention for getting it right. We want our thinking to get it right in reasoning by being in accord with he best – the clearest and most convincing reasoning. For better or worse, mathematical reasoning has frequently set the ideal for reasoning at its best. In philosophy the aim is to think in accordance with reason at its best; it is not to get it right about reality apart from reasoning. I call attention to this intention for getting it right to find a place for philosophic reasoning; especially the kind of high level metaphysics which develops theories about the Transcendent. Claims about the foundation of reality beyond reality will not be claims about reality. We intend our metaphysical claims to be in accord with best reasoning.

Skepticism About the Fact Value Distinction

At the beginning of my philosophy training, I was taught the basis for the sharp distinction between fact and value. The philosophy classes convinced me of the correctness of the fact/value distinction which seemed to be a dogma in my University of Minnesota humanities course. From David Hume I learned that we cannot infer and “ought” from an “is.” Statements of fact do not logically entail a claim about what ought to be done. From G.E. Moore I discovered that “good” cannot be defined with any factual characterization. We can always ask of any X allegedly defining “good” “Is X good?” The word “good” should add something to whatever else describes X. This open question shows that our language does not permit reducing the value good to any set of facts.

In my previous post, I made a case that we should not take seriously pictures of how reality gives us truth. I traced taking such pictures seriously back to an assumption that structural features of our thinking gives a picture of the structure of reality. Taking the fact/value distinction as reflecting a fundamental feature of reality is unnecessarily projecting a structural feature of our thought on reality. It’s unnecessary because we can believe there is a reality making our thoughts correct or incorrect without having any account of how this comes about.

There is a bias accompanying this assumption of thought’s fact/value distinction mirroring reality. The first statement of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus forcibly expressed our “fact bias.” Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist. Reality is everything which is the case. There is the vast domain of facts with values being projected upon the facts by humans. We do not have to take this metaphysical picture seriously as showing some fundamental feature of reality. Indeed, if we choose to talk of structural features of thought being projected upon reality, we could talk of the fact/value dichotomy as being a projection.

What is the significance of setting aside the fact/value distinction as reflecting a fundamental feature of reality? For me it increases immensely the intellectual respectability of moral and religious thinking. Of course, even if moral and religious thinking with the intention of “getting it right” is in principle as capable of “getting it right” as scientific thinking, there can be greater danger of being stupidly and dangerously wrong in moral, and especially, religious thinking. Religious thinking is always in danger of leading us into superstition and fanatism.

Perhaps, on another occasion, I will argue that the fact/beauty distinction is not fundamental. Perhaps, what is true, what is good, what is beautiful are all equally fundamental in reality although I could never picture how this could be the case.

I close with four remarks on what I am not proposing.

First, I am not proposing setting aside the law of non-contradiction as fundamental. For what, though, is it fundamental? Inconsistent thinking can never “get it right.” This is not because we project consistency on reality as a fundamental feature. Consistency is fundamental to our operation of thinking to “get it right.” Inconsistency frustrates our intentions to think we have truth because we deny we have a truth when we have one.

Second, I am not sure that the law of excluded middle is fundamental to our thinking.

Third, I am not recommending any changes in how we speak except for not speaking as if the fact/value distinction is a fundamental truth about reality. I prefer to say that a moral law is valid rather than true.

Finally, I am not totally dismissing the fact picture of truth conditions. I believe that the picture of reality as a vast domain of facts may be a valuable heuristic for scientific thinking. At least for me this fuzzy picture of reality layed out as objects and processes in a vast domain of which natural science keeps giving us an ever more clear picture is a valuable heuristic for believing natural science “gets it right.”

A Skepticism Which is a Genuine Antidote to Nihilism

This post reflects the thesis of an earlier post We Cannot Know that We Know

In the fifthteen and sixteenth centuries skepticism supported nihilism by undercutting religious beliefs. Twentieth and twenty first century nihilism is supported by dogmatic adherence to scientism. Traditionally skepticism removes knowledge to make room for faith. Skepticism can resume its traditional role by undercutting nihilism with skepticism about scientism.

Scientism is the faith that there is nothing but that whose order and connection is uncovered by the methods of natural science. The “stuff” of science is the “stuff” of reality. I characterize scientism as a faith to avoid distractions from attacking the roots of scientism with superficial attacks upon scientism as a knowledge claim or faith in a successful practice. Scientism is easily refuted as self-referentially inconsistent when characterized as the theory that we can know nothing but that which is known by the methods of natural science. Science does not address the truth or falsity of scientism.

Scientism is a temptation. Despite the critiques of scientism as a doctrine, I am tormented by a thought that if I were honest, I would not hope that reality be such that religious claims be true of it. A man betrays his wife if he hopes for a love with a woman which is higher, better, etc., than any love he can ever has with his wife.

What is that to which I ought to be faithful by not seeking more than scientism? It is not any scientific theory. For a principle of science is proposing all theories as in principle refutable. Science, so to speak, is not married to any theories. There actually is not any scientific community to which one can owe any deep loyalty.

I fear that I am betraying truth by hoping that more than what can be discovered by science is true. How might I be betraying truth? I have a picture of reality as that which provides truth conditions for what we think and say. This picture is of an immense plurality of separate things spread out in some spatial temporal order. It is a very fuzzy picture. Even fuzzier than my picture of the cosmos with galaxy upon galaxy. Nonetheless it is a significant aspect of my realism that there is a reality apart from sensing or thinking. As a beginning student of philosophy Wittgenstein’s Tractatus articulated this picture for me. It seemed to me to go to the heart of what philosophy should say.

I write “significant aspect” because my aim here is to use skepticism to separate a picture of truth conditions from belief in truth conditions. I do not betray truth by setting aside pictures of truth conditions. Indeed, I betray truth by fantasizing something else as showing me the truth about truth.

As fuzzy as this picture may be, it leaves no place for whatever it would be that makes religious accounts, such as Luke’s account of the Annunciation, true. Whatever makes claims true in this fuzzy picture is composed of, constructed from, stuff – the separate things. Reality, if such there be, that makes religious claims true is not built up from simpler components.

According to the picture underlying scientism the only real possibilities are those which are compositional. Thus on the realism which underlies scientism, God is not possible. And whether they admit or not, millions of educated people are realists about science and also hold something like that fuzzy pluralist picture of truth conditions. It is “the facts out there which show science gives the truth.” Thus for millions, nihilism threatens because of what I have called “modal atheism.” A modal atheist holds that God is not a real possibility. See my A Kantian Condemnation of Atheistic Despair, New York 1998

The faith I aim to undercut is faith in human thought as representing reality only if it represents reality as constructed from elements. Human thinking, though, is compositional. I do not want to cast total doubt about human thinking. I aim to cast doubt upon the associated belief that reality is structured as thought is structured. The scepticism which undercuts deep scientism is skepticism that the order and connection of reality is the order and connection of human thinking. I have called this the Parmenidean Postulate.

The standard philosophical problems provide enough evidence to cast doubt on this picture of truth conditions. An old, but classic, dismissal of this picture is the Appearance part of F. H. Bradley’s Appearance and Reality. A more recent critique is Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.

I do not want to cast doubt on one picture of reality to make room for faith in another picture of reality. The target of my skepticism is pictures of reality. I can have faith that there are truth conditions without any picture of truth conditions. I will not choose between pluralism and monism. I only cast doubt on the pluralistic compositional picture.

A corollary of dismissing attempts at an account of how descriptions are true of reality is that there is no epistemology that tells us how truth is attained from reality. Such an epistemology would be a theory about truth.

Epistemic & Metaphysical Transcendence, Religious Truth

Epistemic and metaphysical transcendence

This post is an effort to clarify to myself what I think and mean by transcendence. Also I want to point out that conceding transcendence over theoretical thinking does not need to paralyzing doubt about the reliability and accuracy of our thinking; especially about religious truth.

When I write about getting the truth, I write as a representative realist. I write about our representations representing correctly or incorrectly a represented reality. Typically, the represented reality is thought of as not being a representation.

But what is the thought of not being a representation? A systemic feature of representative realism comes from it being reflective thinking, viz., thinking about thinking. In this theoretical thinking we are always thinking of representations. Consequently, while thinking as a representative realist, we cannot think of realities which are not representations. Thus, representative realists posit realities beyond thought as truth conditions for thoughts. This is epistemic transcendence.

However, acceptance of epistemic transcendence is a result from theoretical thinking about our thinking. It does not follow that when using practical reasoning we do not think directly about the realities which are beyond thought when using theoretical reasoning. For instance, when driving a car in traffic one is thinking directly about what is in the traffic; not representations of what is in the traffic. You are thinking about the car in front of you; not on how thoughts about the car can be correct.

A metaphysical argument for an ultimate reality on which all other realities depend is conducted in reflective theoretical thinking. A result is reached that an ultimate being is different from anything which can be thought. This theoretical result that there can be no thought of the Transcendent is metaphysical transcendence.

In both cases, we have theoretical claims that something cannot be thought in theoretical thinking. This concession should not lead to paralyzing doubt about our ability to think reliably and accurately.

First, it is almost impossible to separate our theoretical thinking, which is reflective thinking, from our practical thinking which, for all that we can say, deals directly with non-representational realities.

Even in the most austere theoretical thinking such as metaphysics and epistemology, we engage in the practical thinking of what words effectively express our thoughts and how to use technologies for writing those thoughts. Even in the most mundane technical projects such as washing dishes or painting a wall, we do the theoretical thinking of remembering what we have just done. For roughly the same reasons that we cannot think of things in themselves (non-representations), we cannot think of realities merely given to thought for practical reasoning. So, thinking which is totally theoretical and thinking which is totally practical probably transcend thought.

I take this as a basis for believing that for most of our thinking we do not need worry about the limitations of thought in epistemology and metaphysics.

Second, epistemic transcendence leads only to the mild skepticism that we cannot know that we know. See We cannot know that we know.

Third, metaphysical transcendence need only lead to decision that the “high metaphysical” thinking which posits the unthinkable Transcendent is not the only way to attain religiously significant truths. If the high metaphysics were the only way of attaining religious truths, true religion would be a mysticism indistinguishable from totally agnosticism or atheism.

There does, however, remain the problem of developing a religious epistemology showing how there can be truth conditions for religiously significant theories, such as a divine command moral theory, even if those truth conditions transcend our thought. These religiously significant propositions will be in that middle ground between purely theoretical thought and purely practical thought. We have noted that there is such a middle ground. It will be faith seeking understanding which motivates developing such a religious epistemology. And, yes, in this epistemology, we will concede for religious knowledge that we can never know that we know.

We Cannot Know that We Know

We Cannot Know that We Know

Before I move on to my main goal which is to present and support as a philosophical truth that moral laws are Divine Commands, it is appropriate to confess my skepticism. It is a healthy skepticism conceding only that we cannot know that we know.

From my realistic stance, I have to confess that I cannot compare the representation of a truth claim with the truth conditions it allegedly represents. As I have so frequently proclaimed: Truth conditions apart from our representing cannot be represented. Hence, truth conditions apart from our representations cannot be compared with our representations to determine how well, or poorly, they are represented.

This holds for even Descartes’ “I exist.” I know, of course, that I exist. I cannot, though, reflect upon my thinking that I exist in order to compare my thinking with what makes my thinking of my existence a true thought. Of course, our knowledge that we exist is of great importance for supporting realism. By knowing that we exist, we know that we are amongst the existents of which we want to have knowledge. We can have contact with existents because we are some of them!

This claim about not knowing that we know is both individual and general. As a claim about the individual who I am, it says that I do not know that I know. As a general claim it is a claim that none of us know that humans have knowledge.

This is a healthy skepticism because there is no denial that humans can have knowledge but it leaves open the prospect of correcting all knowledge claims.

Also I think this skepticism is healthy because it allows setting aside efforts to define “knowledge” exactly. I can accept that knowledge is justified true belief plus meeting some fourth condition to accommodate examples dreamt up by epistemologists. If we cannot know that we know, we do not have to worry about knowing exactly what knowledge is. We are not required to have a complete concept of knowledge if we do not make a claim about having knowledge.

There Are Philosophic Truths

Philosophical Truths

I have worked in philosophy for over sixty years and implicitly never regarded philosophical claims as genuinely true, if true at all.

I started graduate study of philosophy in 1958 at the University of Minnesota. Logical positivism was the dominant philosophy. Herbert Feigl an Austrian refugee who had been a member of the Vienna Circle directed its Philosophy of Science Center. I had written an undergraduate honors thesis on Hume and the self. I was very upset with Humean skepticism; especially with philosophy’s apparent inability to say what made me who I am. I did not follow Hume’s recommendation to stop gloomy philosophical reflections and just go about the business of living. Perhaps, I hoped that I could find some solid results in deeper study of philosophy. I received a Ph. D. in Philosophy and Mathematics in 1962. At the end of graduate study, I could not answer the question: What philosophical truths did you learn in graduate study and Ph.D. research? I cannot say that I taught students any philosophical truths during forty years of teaching. What I wrote for journals was mostly criticism of what others had written. I published many truths about logic in a book on entailment systems. But those were mathematical truths.

I owe much to my instructors and the texts of classical philosophy for teaching me how to philosophize. However, I could not figure out how this disciplined thinking could lead to discovery of any truth. Early in graduate study, I read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. In the Tractatus, I met the only forthright philosophical truth claims I ever encountered. The Tractatus gave a bold statement of the metaphysics of logical positivism. I now reject a crucial truth claim of that metaphysics, viz., logical atomism. Atomism led to Naturalism. By implicitly hold atomism all of these years, I implicitly accepted the metaphysics that in fact there was and could be nothing but what provided truth conditions for the truth claims of natural sciences.

I sketch a diagnose why I gave up hope of there being genuine philosophical truth claims. Next, I point how I have now revived a belief that there can be genuine philosophical truth claims. I base my sketch on correcting the metaphysics of the Tractatuss.

A genuine truth claim is one that represents what exists as having certain features. If what exists has those features it is true. If what exists does not have those features it is false. The features attributed to what exists do not provide a picture of what exists. We cannot even think of what exists apart from features we attribute to it; let alone imagine it. Realism is holding that there are genuine truth claims. For positivism a genuine truth claim was cognitively meaningful.

Logical positivism, especially as expressed in the Tractatus, and the criticism of it have left a long legacy.

Here are core assumptions of logical positivism and results of he criticism of it which the Tractatus incorporated into positivism.
1. Realism: There are genuine truth claims
2. Atomism: Truth conditions are constituted by some basic elements whose existence or non-existence is independent of anything else.
3. The only necessity is logical necessity
4. A claim that realism and atomism are true is not a genuine truth claim. This comes from positivism’s self criticism.

I think Wittgenstein himself gave up realism because he came to think that there were non-logical necessities such as “No surface is uniformly red and green.” Non-logical necessities threatened atomism because there, then, might be connections which threaten the independence of the basic elements. He probably thought that there could not be truth conditions without independent existents.

I reject atomism because it is a claim about what truth conditions are like apart from our representation of them. Also atomism clashes with a thesis that the only necessity is logical necessity. It rules out the logical possibility of the interconnection of every existent. I accept realism as a philosophical truth claim. If nothing exists to make claims true, realism is false; otherwise it is true. Of course I cannot stand back an look at exists apart from my representing to verify that the claim of realism is true. So, I am content to class it as an ASSUMPTION OF A TRUTH.

The dismissal of atomism is a tremendous philosophical assumption. Atomism brings with it naturalism. For if anyone can think of elements whose order and connection provide truth conditions for natural physical science, those elements do not even provide truth conditions for claims about the mental; let alone religion.

It must be emphasized that setting aside atomism is not a accepting monism. i.e. what exists is a unity. There is no claim about what exists as a thing or things in themselves.

So, I close this post by finally proclaiming a philosophical truth. That philosophical truth is what I offered in my previous post. There is a vast diversity of genuine truth claims.

Realism and the Transcendent

Realism and the Transcendent

What exists, or so I say, are representations and things which are not representations. The world, or what is immanent, consists of representations and things which are not representations. That which exists depends for its existence on the Transcendent.

I use the Kantian phrase “things in themselves” to label things which are not representations. However, I am not interpreting Kant. I simply find the Kantian phrase expresses best what I am trying to articulate. For instance, “given” is too broad because many representations such as visual sensations are given. “Physical” is too narrow because I grant that there could be immaterial or spiritual entities which are non-representations which we represent. Because I realize that we have access to what is not a representation only by representing it, the phrase “things in themselves” seems most exact.

There is a proper subset of representations which are put forth as being true or valid. These are truth claims and categorical imperatives. (Again, I find a Kantian phrase most appropriate.) Broadly speaking truth claims express a thought that such-and-such is the case. Categorical imperatives express a thought that such-and-such ought to be the case.

Factual realism holds that there are conditions amongst things in themselves on the basis of which truth claims are true or false. It is true to say that such-and-such is the case if and only if that amongst things in themselves referred to by “such-and-such” exists in a way properly represented by “such-and-such.”

Moral realism holds that there are conditions amongst things in themselves on the basis of which categorical, or objective, imperatives are valid commands. A categorical imperative that such-and-such ought to be is valid if and only if amongst things in themselves there exists conditions properly represented as a command that such-and-such ought to be. (In an imperative, the reference is to things in themselves without using a referential phrase to pick out a referent.)

A full realist holds both factual and moral realism. I am a full realist. I should note that often there is no need to mark a distinction between a true factual claim and a valid norm. Frequently, I will write of true moral claims when “valid” would be more correct.

The main point of this post is that realism is not necessarily the correct philosophical position. As the controversy over realism and idealism shows things in themselves providing truth conditions need not exist. Plausible coherence theories of truth reveal the disturbing situation that “truth” can be interpreted as warranted assertions and hence the conditions for truth lie wholly within representations. Having the conditions for accepting a claim as true lie wholly within representations is to “explain truth way.”

Realization that the world, reality, the immanent is not necessarily the way realism holds is both a burden and a blessing for a realist. It is a burden because a realist must take a stance that there are things in themselves providing truth conditions. Realism cannot be proved. It is always a philosophic burden to posit a fundamental principle which is not self-evident or cannot be proved. Holding that there exists things in themselves which provide truth conditions is a philosophical blessing for realists For now the realist has a fundamental existent which depends directly upon the Transcendent. Having truth conditions directly dependent upon the Transcendent enables a realist to characterize the Transcendent as the author of truth and valid moral commands.*

*See Morality and the Transcendent to review how an independent feature of reality provides the basis for characterizing that on which it depends for its existence.

Sexual Nihilism and the Transcendent

Sexual Nihilism and the Transcendent

How has a series of blog posts to offer support traditional sexual morality as an antidote to nihilism led to speculation on a transcendent beyond all existence providing truth conditions?

In my book*, I argued for a fundamental moral principle for male sexuality. My argument made a persuasive case for accepting the principle. I admitted that it was not rigorous. I called it rhetorical. People who did not accept the principles of my stance on sexuality, would not be irrational. I wondered whether I could improve my argument.

I diagnosed why my argument could legitimately fail to be compelling. From that vast web of thoughts and sentiments I have called human intelligence, I pulled out bits and pieces which can be arranged into a persuasive argument. “Bits and pieces” is not really a good phrase to use because some of the thoughts placed in human intelligence which I used, have been put there by people as illustrious Plato, Aquinas and Kant. Nevertheless, other strands could have been selected which would have led to a persuasive argument against my principle for male sexual morality. This concession to moral relativity threatens to undercut my project of providing an antidote to realism. I needed something outside of human intelligence to justify my argument within human intelligence.

I cast around in the ideas I borrowed from human intelligence to see if some would lead me outside of human intelligence as a foundation for correct thought. An idea that seemed interesting, if not fruitful for my project was the idea of moral harm. The idea of moral harm was the idea of harm resulting simply by violation of a moral law. After floundering around trying to characterize such a harm, I found within human intelligence the thought that harm ought to occur as a result of violation of a moral law. Drawing out from human intelligence the pervasive acceptance of this moral notion of moral harm, I concluded that a fundamental strand in some human thinking about morality was this notion that actual ordinary physical harm ought to occur as a result of violation of a moral law. All ways of thinking morally which provide for retributive punishment use this moral notion of moral harm.

Articulation of these ways of thinking about morality, led to the conclusion that a fundamental way of thinking about morality is thinking of moral laws as commands of a more than human moral authority. I called this “authoritarian morality.” But for authoritarian morality does there exist a moral authority different from the thought of a moral authority?

If I could show that there is a God who is the moral authority, I would have found a way of giving a very compelling argument for a moral principle. Part of accepting a God would be accepting a compelling reason for obeying God’s commands. To be sure, much work in moral thinking is needed to show that God would command what I believe is commanded about, in particular, sexual morality. Still, with God as moral commander there is a basis for a objective morality.

I admit that the line of thought I use to show that there is a divine moral authority assumes realism. This realism holds that there exist conditions beyond human thinking on the basis of which human thinking can be evaluated for correctness. There are such conditions, so it is assumed, even if we can never be acquainted with them apart from our ways of thinking of them. The idealism which holds that human thought is only evaluated by other human thought is coherent but not as compelling as realism.

A persuasive argument against idealism comes from our ability to think about our thinking, viz., reflective thought. Truth claims in reflective thought are objectively true or false depending upon how it is with what is thought about. So, idealism shares a realistic structural feature with realism. Some thoughts are true or false on the basis of how it is with what is thought about and not on the thinking itself. For all practical purposes, the thought which is thought about is deactivated as thought and becomes an object for thought. Nonetheless, the idealist can still claim that there is nothing non-mental; there is nothing but mental processes and mental objects.

But, granted realism, how can there be a God? In an earlier book**, I called my atheistic temptation “modal atheism.” I do not know of anyone, besides me, who has used the phrase “modal atheism.” But a modal atheist claims that it is not possible for there to be a God: That on which everything depends for its existence while depending upon nothing else and exercising providential care for creatures. I am not a proponent of scientism who proudly proclaims that there is nothing but what can be known by the methods of natural science. Unfortunately, I am constantly tormented by the thought that scientism has to be true. Thus in my efforts to establish a divine command morality, which requires a God, I need to set aside modal atheism. That is why I am speculating about the immanent, transcendent, truth conditions etc.,.

Now that I have distinguished between what is immanent and the Transcendent, I can be more precise about my inability to think of God as even possibly existing. With God as the Transcendent, God cannot be thought about at all; let alone as existing or not existing. So, my worry about the possibility of God, is a worry about the possibility of a supernatural realm. Truth claims of traditional religions, or historical religions as Kant called them, are truth claims about a supernatural realm immanent reality along side those conditions which make truth claims of natural science and daily life true or false. I cannot think of there being anything to make claims true or false besides those which make claims about nature true or false. This is not based on some naturalist ideology. It is a genuine disability in my thinking. I could only think of religious truth claims be evaluated in the way in which we evaluate claims about fiction. This means that for many claims about the topic in a religious claim there is no fixed answer if the answer is not provided by the story. For instance, consider the claim “The angel Gabriel told the virgin Mary that she would conceive and bear a son of the most high.” There is no answer to the question “Was Mary over thirteen years when Gabriel appeared to her?” For natural claims, there is, in principle, a definite answer in nature for every claim. The Law of Excluded Middle holds for nature.

But now with speculation about the Transcendent providing truth conditions for claims we make about the immanent, I am thinking about the truth conditions for religious claims as, indeed, truths about a story. However, the story teller is the Transcendent.

* Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism, Oklahoma City, 2014
** A Kantian Condemnation of Atheistic Despair: Declaration of Dependence, Lang Pub. NY 1997

The Supernatural is Not Transcendent!

The supernatural is not transcendent. The supernatural is immanent but has a special dependence upon transcendence.

An effort to explain rather than prove my thesis about the immanence of the supernatural, provides the opportunity to review two of my main objectives. I want to show that there can be objective conditions for the correctness of our religious and moral judgments. I focus on religious judgments.

By “objective” I mean conditions in reality apart from our thinking but on the basis of which our thinking about what is the case is true or false and thinking about what ought to be is a proper response. Reality includes all human thought and what is thought about*. I have called reality the immanent and that on which it all depends the Transcendent.

In this post, I assume a realism which holds that conditions exist beyond our thought which provide at least truth conditions for the truth claims of natural science. I accept the scientific picture of reality with its vast universe spread out spatially and temporally. As a realist, then, I accept that there are truth conditions apart from the scientific picture which the developers of the scientific picture try to represent accurately. Since we never have acquaintance with truth conditions as they are apart from our representations, we must be satisfied with getting closer and closer to truth.

Truth is representing the truth condition exactly as it is. I have no quarrel with saying that the test for being warranted to assert a proposition as true is being warranted as correct by careful investigators. I want only to emphasize that the goal of testing is to represent as accurately as possible the conditions apart from our representing.

In this twenty first century we can and should concede the term “nature” to secular reductionist stance frequently called scientism. Scientism holds that there is nothing but what can be discovered by the methods of natural science. We can make this concession because education for the past hundred years or so has led many people to understand nature this way. It is sometimes said that reality has been disenchanted.

We should make this concession because it opens a place for the supernatural along side the natural within the realty dependent upon the Transcendent.

In the immanent, then, we have truth conditions for the scientific representation and, of course, the scientific representation itself. In the immanent there could also be truth conditions for propositions about what transcends scientific representations. There could also be truth conditions for propositions founded in existential concern, usually implicit, about the purpose of human life.

What beyond anything we can represent gives purpose to human living? Such propositions would express attempts to tell the truth about what is totally transcendent – what I have called the Transcendent. The Transcendent could sustain in existence conditions for propositions which hopefully tell the truth about human relations to it. We would not know what these conditions are apart from our representations. But that is the case with any truth condition. We would, as with natural science, most likely always have only approximations to exact representations.

These truth conditions along side the natural ones constitute the supernatural.

Consider this conjecture about reality pictorially. Picture reality – the immanent- as a huge ellipse. Closely scattered throughout the ellipse there are green and red dots. Red and green can never overlap. The order and connection of the green are truth conditions for the natural. The order and connection of the red dots provide truth conditions for religious propositions. The green is the natural. The red is the supernatural. Both are immanent and dependent upon the Transcendent for existence and order.

This picture does not replace the difficult philosophical work of clarifying my proposal about the immanence of the supernatural. But it does suggest the strength of what I would like to clarify and justify.

*Philosophical thought about what cannot be thought, viz., the Transcendent and things in themselves, is about the limits of thought and not that beyond the limits.