Category Archives: Ontology

Heterogeneity of truth conditions is Not an Ontological Thesis of Pluralism

Have I simply accepted a physical/spiritual dualism in a convoluted way by writing in my previous post that I now accept a thesis with the complex name “heterogeneity of truth conditions?” Am I only accepting what Descartes more clearly stated about 400 years ago when he posited two kinds of substances: the physical and the mental?

No! The thesis of heterogeneity of truth conditions is not about what is. It is not an ontological thesis. It is a thesis about our ways of representing what is.

A proof that I am not merely positing Cartesian dualism is that heterogeneity of truth conditions admits that there can be truth conditions for claims about the interaction of mind and body. It is logically consistent to say “I walked across the room because I wanted to get a book off the shelf.” So there can be truth conditions for this claim presupposing that there is mind/body interaction.

But what does the heterogeneity thesis tell us? I admit that its title suggests an ontological thesis. (I am not really satisfied with the title I have given it.) It suggests an ontological thesis of pluralism. It is primarily negative. I suppose that I could just leave it as rejection of homogeneity of truth conditions.

It must be understood in conjunction with the thesis I titled “inscrutability of truth conditions.”

To assert heterogeneity of truth conditions is to concede that there is an unspecifiable variety of ways what exists can form truth conditions. It dismisses all reductionist theses of the form: There is nothing but_______. The blank can be filled in with “physical,” “mental and physical,” etc.,. However, the heterogeneity thesis is not opposed to taking stances such as: There is nothing but _____ for the sake of investigations of _______. Here the second blank can be filled in with a term like “physical” where the physical would have to be defined as perhaps that which can be characterized using only notions of mass, space and time.

It is appropriate to close this short post by noting that heterogeneity of truth conditions is primarily a thesis dismissing all reductionism as misleading unless it is admitted that reductions are only “as if” hypotheses.

The Natural as a Blessing from the Transcendent!

As noted in the previous post, the natural is bipartite. One part consists of representations of things occurring in lawful predictable ways. The second part are the things in themselves on the basis of which those representations are correct or incorrect. Both parts are existents depending upon the Transcendent for their existence. The representational part has been developing for thousands of years as the human community struggles to understand and control its environment. The current results and methods of natural science are, in my opinion, one of the greatest achievement of the human community.

It is more than a mere logical possibility that people mix efforts to understand and control with beliefs that some events happen because of the purposes of non-human agents and human agents. It is more than a logical possibility because people have and still do believe that some events are brought about because human or non-human agents intended that they occur. It is almost impossible not to believe that some events result from human choices. For the most part such beliefs in events occurring for some agent’s purpose, seeking final causes, do not interfere with seeking for predictable explanations and control; they are just events “out of the ordinary.

However, a systematic effort for predictable events cannot really allow final causes because it leaves a place for systematic breakdown. There is a type of inconsistency in seeking predictable causes while allowing for the possibility of unpredictable causes. Hence, the gradual elimination of final causes from scientific method is preceding in the right direction for methodological consistency. It is methodologically proper to try to try to solve “the mind body” problem with elimination of the mental in scientific investigations.

Of course, never looking for final causes or always being on the look out for ways of explaining them away does not mean that there are not any. But here the message is that the human community has obtain much truth and control by ignoring final causes. This did not have to be so.

Scientific method did not have to give truth and predictable results. However, scientific method does work. It is a great blessing to humanity that it has the capacity to develop a scientific representation and there is a reality to make it work.

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.

The Transcendent Compared to Plato’s Model of the Sun as that On Which All Depends for Existence

In this brief posting, I write to correct one of my erroneous tendencies. When I argue for a transcendent beyond all ways of being and thinking, I tend to think of the transcendent as a blank – as actually nothing. Proper thought of transcendence would really be thinking of nothing. An empty mind would be accurate thought of transcendence. Attempts to characterize transcendence are, then, projections upon a blank slate. All characterizations are inherently inaccurate because they present transcendence as more than it should be.

This view of transcendence as beneath all representation is erroneous. For we posit transcendence as that on which everything depends for its existence. Thinking of that on which everything depends for its as existence as less than anything which exists is logically unsatisfactory.

Rather we should think of transcendence as more than anything which exists. It transcends our ways of thinking because it is more than anything we can represent. Our minds go blank when we try to represent it because it is way too much for our thinking.

I am thinking of Plato’s use of the sun as a model of the Good on which everything depends for its existence. We cannot see if we look at that which enables anything to be seen. We cannot see the sun because it is too much to see; not because it has too little to see.

We should understand our attempts to characterize the transcendence as inherently inaccurate because we are incapable of representing the excellence -the fullness of the Transcendent. The proper frame of mind when contemplating transcendence is not the dreamy state of having a blank mind but rather being animated and dazzled by so much.

When I attempt to characterize the transcendent, I should worry about understating rather than overstating the excellence by which it surpasses everything.

We should not think of the Transcendent as unable to have any relation to and action within the immanent which depends upon it for existence and features. Rather we should think of ourselves as unable to comprehend how the Transcendent is related to and acts within the immanent.

“Is”/”ought” Gap in Support of Authoritarian Morality

The ontological importance of the gap between is and ought

I have finally appreciated the positive significance of Hume’s observation that we cannot logically derive an “ought” claim from an “is” claim; not even “is” claims about God. Even though this gap showed the independence of morality from facts, it still seemed mostly a troublesome problem of justifying moral claims. For it is deep seated in human moral reasoning to back-up claims about what ought to be done by reference to facts. However, now that I have begun the fundamental philosophic task of characterizing the Transcendent as the moral authority, I appreciate that the independence of morality from fact is of more value for metaphysics than it is a disvalue for epistemology.

I intend to use the structure of my model of morality as based on authority to rationalize characterizing the Transcendent as a moral authority. If I am successful, I propose that I have constructed a model of morality as being based on Divine Commands. As I noted in the previous post, a phase in this construction of a model of morality as based on the Transcendent is showing that morality, which is immanent, is independent of anything else in what is immanent. Showing independence from fact is the major step in showing independence of morality.

Showing this independence is required to establish that morality is directly dependent for its existence on the Transcendent. If morality is directly dependent on the Transcendent it becomes plausible that we can rationalize some characterizations of the Transcendent as what it would be like to be why such-and-such feature of morality exists.

I doubt that Hume would be happy with a philosopher using his logical observation that we cannot derive “ought” from “is” to make a case for Divine Command morality.
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Bridging the Gap Between Transcendent and Immanent

My approach to this issue has been totally wrong. Since my previous post that there must be transcendence upon which all we can represent depends but which depends upon nothing, I have been trying to answer the following questions. The starting question is “How can the transcendent be relevant to religious belief?” This quickly became the misleading question “How can we say, let alone think, of that we cannot represent in any way?” My struggle to avoid contradictions seemed like working on a mathematical problem of introducing new elements to avoid contradiction. However, the contradiction stands. We cannot say anything about that which about which we can say nothing. We cannot bridge the gap between the transcendent and the immanent. When proposed as a conceptual problem of how we can represent that which transcends what we can represent ,Wittgenstein’s last line in his Tractatus is correct “Whereof we cannot speak, we should remain silent.”

Perhaps silence is satisfying for mystics. But religious life is far more than mysticism. Details of daily life, and especially, details of religious practice and thoughts of religious creeds and codes matter religiously.

So, I should not be posing a conceptual problem of how we can think of what we cannot think. Our thinking must be confined to the immanent.

Everything depends up the transcendent. The transcendent bridges the gap between the transcendent by virtue of the dependence of everything upon it. Whether there is anything immanent which manifests the transcendent in religiously significant ways depends upon the transcendent. We should be looking at the immanent to find out whether and how immanent features manifest transcendence in religiously significant ways.

I am not proposing anything new. I am only expressing my realization of what has been done by religious philosophers through the centuries with proofs for God’s existence and provision of evidence for religious beliefs and practice. They draw attention to immanent features – dependencies- which are best understood as manifesting best, but necessarily not, perfect characterization of the transcendent.

In my next post, I will sketch out how some traditional arguments for God’s existence can be appreciated from this perspective.

A Proof of The Existence of God in the Transcendent Ontology of Human Intelligence

Transcendental ontology contains the most fundamental philosophical questions. Arguments for the existence of God are in transcendent ontology. I hope that my way of approaching the main question of transcendent ontology is not so idiosyncratic that no one else understands what I am asking.

In this post I intend to offer a proof for the existence of God!

Let us say that the world, reality or what is accepted in immanent ontology is that which can be represented by human intelligence. This conforms to the Parmenidean principle that what can be is what can be thought. An implication of the previous post’s recognition of the inconsistencies and incoherence of human representations is that our representations are not the reality we represent.

Here is the most fundamental philosophical question?

Must there be something unrepresentable upon which what can be represented depends for its existence and features, but which depends upon nothing else ?

The answer cannot be “no.” To say “no” implies that there could be nothing to represent. But we cannot think of there being nothing to represent. For our effort to think of there being nothing to represent provides us with something to represent. The previous post warns us against confusing representations with realities represented. But that is not a warning that representations themselves are not realities to be represented.

From the perspective of negative theology whose basic principle tells us that we can only say what God is not, the above could be called a proof of the existence of God.

I submit that this proof of the existence of God totally beyond representation is valid.
It provides a very “thin” abstract philosophical notion of God . Far more is needed to draw significant implications for morality and religion.

Some opponents of the so-called “New Atheists”, such as Bishop Barron to whose “Word on Fire Institute” I belong, accuse the new atheists of assuming that believers represent God as an existing entity of immense powers and virtues. Believers reply that we believe God is transcendent beyond any representable entity , viz.beyond , what is in the immanent ontology of human intelligence. We believers have a point. But the point is only that serious discussion about theistic belief should not be about the existence of some unrepresentable foundation for all reality.

Serious discussion about the rationality, clarity, morality and religious adequacy of religious belief begins with what people believe. What people actually believe is expressed as if what is believed is in the immanent ontology of human intelligence.

Consider the first sentence of the Nicene Creed which I profess every Sunday: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” Unity is attributed to God. But unity and plurality are features of that which is representable. Agency is attributed to God but, again, agency is a feature of what is in immanent ontology.

In my next few posts, I plan to explore how philosophy is relevant to including theistic religious belief in belief about the representable even if “pure” philosophy tells us that nothing can be said or thought of God.

Some philosophical asides:

A quick way to dismiss the suggestion that there might be an infinite regress of such unrepresentable beings is to reply that infinite regresses are representable and representability has been ruled out for the transcendent.

Also note that this is not a proof of the existence of a necessary being. A being whose existence is necessary is too much like a being with some special feature, Beings with features are in immanent ontology. This argument establishes a de dicto necessity – necessity is the modality of what is proved. There is no proof of what is called de re necessity – necessity as a feature of some thing or entity.

Fragility of Immanent Ontology

The immanent ontology of human intelligence provides the beginning subject matter for philosophy. Unfortunately this subject matter makes all philosophy fragile or unstable.

Philosophy begins in wonder. But it is a peculiar type of wonder about how there can be anything represented by basic patterns of thought such as “How can Socrates standing be the same as Socrates sitting?” When we ask what are these presupposed realities of our ways of thinking, we encounter inconsistencies and incoherence. Long ago in the 5th century BC, Parmenides uncovered inconsistency in the notion of change. Zeno proposed paradoxes about the possibility of motion and the idea of truth was challenged with liar paradoxes. Plato’s Socratic dialogues revealed inability to define basic moral concepts.

There is a temptation to articulation a general characterization of all philosophical problems. I will not succumb to the temptation. I would encounter a philosophic problem of defining “philosophical problem.” Like all philosophical problems of defining a concept I would be unable to provide a definition necessarily immune to counterexamples.

Nonetheless, using “material” in a philosophically problematic way, I submit that the material of philosophical problems is the material with which we think. What I have been calling “the immanent ontology of human intelligence” is the material with which we think

The material with which we think is not split into thinking, sensing and feeling (emotional state) until we think about our thinking. It is thinking about our thinking-reflective thinking- which develops philosophical problems amongst which is the philosophical problem of how thinking, sensing and feeling are connected.

The reflective thinking of the philosophical style makes immanent ontology explicit only to destroy it as an accurate representation of reality. There is a merciless and unending use of this critical and analytic type of reflective thinking which can destroy all confidence in our ways of thinking and leave us in total skepticism.

Of course, not all use of this critical reflective thinking is totally negative. Most consists of finding inconsistencies or confusion in some basic concepts coupled with efforts to remove or clarify the concepts. Unfortunately, these revisionary efforts invariably fail. The allegedly defective basic concept is a cultural universal, or better an innate concept- while the philosopher’ revised concept is not.

Other philosophical reflection is reductive although constructive in so far as it organizes the immanent ontology. They plan to show how most of the elements in our immanent ontology can be constructed out of, or defined in terms, of some few basic elements. Materialism and nominalism are the major reductive efforts. There is no satisfactory reductions of these types.

There is also the type of effort I am making with the notion of moral harm. I am trying to show that it is indeed a basic notion in human thinking. My work has to be with this material for philosophical problems. So, there is no hope of complete success. Whatever I propose is subject to being torn apart by intense philosophical criticism. Nonetheless, to satisfy demands of philosophical thinking which I have internalized, I need to confront and set aside several philosophical challenges before making assumptions that the proposed notion of moral harm is good enough.

Good enough for what? Good enough to enrich the immanent ontology of human intelligence with existential significance and guide us in how to live in accordance with the truth about how reality apart from human intelligence tells us how we ought to act and to be.

We need to move on to transcendent ontology for human intelligence to enrich it with existential significance.

Banality of Immanent Ontology

The immanent ontology of human intelligence is existentially insignificant. A search through what we presuppose to exist in use of human intelligence does not uncover why we exist. Not even my focus on the presuppositions of moral thinking uncovers any purpose for human life. Use of moral language, which is a cultural universal, presupposes items I have uncovered as authoritative morality. Some of these are, the notion of authoritative commands, a sense of the transparency of moral and immoral choice, and I think the notion of moral harm which I am promoting as a cultural universal. For more detail see Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality.

To be sure, in my book and in a recent post I proposed that duty for the sake of duty can be taken as a purpose for life. See: Gibt es kein Gott nur die Pflicht steht gegen das Nichts I admit, though, that living for the sake of doing one’s duty may seem to be a choice to be obsessive compulsive . What’s the point of it?

The existential insignificance of the presuppositions of use of human intelligence are the presuppositions of daily life. It is daily life about which we have existential anxiety. The rich complex of what is presupposed in daily life is simply part of what we worry about as being pointless – sound and fury signify nothing. If humans become extinct will what is presupposed vanish?

The presuppositions of daily life do not explicitly give an idealist ontology that everything is in some sense mental. A cultural universal, I submit, is a distinction between mind and body – the mental and material. At least, following Kant, there is always a distinction between human thinking and things in themselves apart from human thinking. But positing things in themselves apart from ourselves does not lend significance to ourselves.

I hope these remarks are not too obscure. I offer them as motivation to moving on to what I have called transcendent ontology in the philosophical struggle against nihilism. However, before moving on to transcendent ontology, we must appreciate the immanent ontology of human intelligence as the gold mine of philosophy.

See Immanent and Transcendent Ontology

Immanent Ontology of Moral Arguments is Only Human Intelligence

Choosing a title for this post was difficult because it brings out that arguing presupposes an immaterial reason. But what is presupposed is not some demi-god who guides human thought towards some goal it has.

I offer an overview of the realities presupposed when people present arguments; especially arguments that some moral claim is correct. This list, which is inevitably partial because of the complexity of human thinking, is part of the defense of arguments for an objective moral order.

It must be admitted immediately that the thinking presupposed by arguing is weird to those who hold that the only realities are items which can be referred to here and now. But this nominalism can be dismissed because thinking itself is weird for nominalists who nonetheless think that nominalism is true.

First what is presupposed about thinking? There is the thinking of individuals. There is also collective thinking, e.g. The opinion of Ohio about Trump on Oct. 2, 2020. In addition to the many collective thinking groups there is common collective thinking which is operative in all individual and collective thinking. This common collective thinking is human reason. Reason is that complex of cognitive abilities, attitudes, emotions and mechanical skills by virtue of which sapiens is added to homo for our species name. I suppose that some might prefer to call this simply human intelligence. But because this common thinking, or reasoning capacity, includes the laws of logic and semantic rules, I still call it reason.

So, arguing presupposes the reality of reason. But what is this reason? I offer some observations about what reason is and, importantly, what reason is not.

Reason is not the thinking of any individual or any specific collective thinking although in any individual or collective thinking reason is used. In the thinking of individuals and collectives, reason has a normative use. Individuals and collectives can think about their thinking. Hence, we can talk of individual and collective consciousnesses. Thinking about thinking is reflective thinking. As a result humans have discovered, and continually re-discover, obstacles to a special type of reflective thinking. This special type of reflective thinking is thinking that a claim we make is true or that a norm we proclaim is right. (Note that it is being presupposed that concepts of true and right are used in our thinking.)

Rules for avoiding these obstacles to thinking a claim to be true or a norm to be correct are rules of logic and mathematics. We can, and do, think illogically and contrary to mathematics. But we cannot think of such thinking as being correct. We can misleadingly assert that reason tells us that we cannot think of inconsistencies being true. This is in misleading because it leads us to think that reason is an authoritative thinking similar to the collective thinking of a group such as legislature of court. Also reason includes fundamental rules for speaking such as how to use tenses and for my purposes how to use language to express morality.

But reason is not the thinking of any individual or group. We can try to find out the thoughts and plans of individuals and groups We cannot clearly think of trying to find out the thoughts and plans of reason, viz., intelligence.

No strength is added to an argument by claiming that reason supports it. Reason is used in any argument because thinking is used. But the strength of the argument has to come from what is presented in the argument without violating rules of reason.

Admittedly, the giving of arguments makes a presupposition of the reality of reason contrary to an unreflective common sense which holds that only material items which can be referred to as here and now are real. However, reason presupposed for argument is not any type of demi-god simply by virtue of being immaterial.

Let me put these results in terms of ontology. The immanent ontology for arguing includes immaterial realities which have intentions, purposes, normativity and have a common normative core. Despite being immaterial, they are very ordinary realities. However, some when we move to the transcendent ontology for these realities we may see them in a different light.

My next post is on the transcendent ontology of moral thinking. Even if the immanent ontology of moral arguments contains only human intelligence, the transcendent ontology of moral arguments may warrant calling an autoreactive morality a divine command morality.