Category Archives: Ontology

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.

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.

The Transcendent Does Not Transcend Practical Reasoning

The Transcendent Does Not Transcend Practical Reasoning

To establish this thesis I reconsider how I reasoned to postulating a Transcendent. I want to strengthen the reasoning. See A Proof of the Existence of God. But most of all I want to display that only theoretical reasoning is used. My argument in “high” metaphysics using only alleged principles of reason is definitely theoretical. Then I will note that this use of theoretical reasoning does not require postulating anything transcending practical reasoning. Indeed, we should not postulate that to which practical reason responds as transcending practical reason. For practical reason does not reflect upon itself and thereby separate itself from that to which it is responding.

I start with a review of my terminology of immanent and transcendent ontology.”
In “immanent ontology” we ask: What must exist for our basic beliefs about experienced reality to have truth conditions? A further question is to ask what must exist for these truth conditions to exist. This further question concerns what transcends facts, morality, goodness and beauty. It concerns what must be in order that there exist facts, morality, goodness and beauty. I call this further question the question of “transcendent ontology.” Note how these questions show how reason is here reflecting upon itself to ask how it can do what it does.

The world, reality, or what is accepted in immanent ontology, is that which can be represented by human intelligence. An implication of a previous post’s recognition of the inconsistencies and incoherence of human representations is that our representations are not the reality we represent. For reality is consistent. However, even if representations extend beyond what exists when they are inconsistent, the inconsistent representations themselves exist. I also assume that whatever exist can be represented. This is the Parmenidean Principle that it is one and the same which can exist and can be thought, i.e., representable. I use the Parmenidean Principle in the form: All possibilities are representable.

Here is the most fundamental philosophical question – the question of transcendent ontology.
Must there be something unrepresentable upon which what can be represented depends for its existence and features, but which depends upon nothing else ? I answer with an adaptation of Aquinas’ Third Way. I present my argument in two parts.

Part I

First, consider the the issue of dependence. I call what exists reality.
1. Reality is representations and what can be represented.
2. If it is possible that reality depends upon nothing for its existence then it is possible that reality not exist, viz., it is possible that there is nothing.
3. If it is possible that there is nothing, then it is possible that there are no representations.
4. If it is possible that there are no representations, then there is a possibility that there being no representations is represented. For according to the Parmenidean Principle, all possibilities including that of there being no representations, are representable.
5. But there cannot possibly be a representation of there being no representations. For the representation of there being no representations provides a representation showing that there is at least one representation.
6. Hence, it is not possible that reality depends upon nothing for its existence. (From (2) through (5) by a reductio argument.)

Incidentally, we have an answer answer to the question: Why is there something rather than nothing? The answer from the argument above is that there cannot be nothing. We reached that answer about why there is something in the course of an argument about the dependence of reality wherein we found that reality must exist. Now we consider whether that which necessitates the existence of reality transcends reality or is immanent, perhaps, reality itself.

Part II

1. That on which reality depends for its existence is immanent in reality or transcends reality
2. If it is immanent in reality, then it is a part of reality P or the whole of reality W.
3. If it is part of reality P, then there are parts of reality independent of P.
4. If there are parts of reality independent of P, then reality as a whole does not depend upon P for existence.
5. Hence, no part P of reality is that upon which reality depends.
6. If it is the whole of reality W, then W exists in the way as parts of reality exist or in a different way.
7. If W exists in a different way than parts of reality, then W is not immanent in reality.
8. Hence, W does not exist in a different way than parts of reality. For under the assumption in line (2) above, W needs to be immanent in reality.
9 If W exists in the same way as parts of reality, then W depends for existence on something else. For all parts of reality have dependent existence. Every part of reality exists contingently.
10. Hence from (8) & (9) W depends for existence on something else.
11. If the whole of reality W depends for existence on something else, then the whole of reality W is not that on which reality depends for existence.
12. Hence, from (11) and (1), that on which reality depends for its existence transcends reality.

What has been established? I have argued in Part II that what reality depends upon for existence transcends reality. Earlier, in Part I, I argued that reality necessarily depends upon something for existence and pointed out that there necessarily is reality. Necessarily, then, something transcends reality upon which reality depends for existence. Since reason, or at least theoretical reason, is for representing what exists, there is something which theoretical reason cannot represent.

There can be much debate about premises of my two arguments; especially (2) in Part I. Here, though, my interest on what must be accepted if the argument is accepted. Theoretical reasoning has been used to establish a theoretical point. The point is that in theory there is a realm about which theoretical reasoning can give us no information. My arguments guide us to a bifurcated picture -representation of everything, viz., what exists and that upon what exists depends. The picture is of a horizontal line below which there is that which exists – the immanent- and above which there is a blank which somehow sustains in existence everything below the line. Reasoning to unrepresentable limits is a practice of theoretical reasoning as is exhibited in reasoning to geometric points and lines.

However, the picture does not have to be accepted. Not being required to accept this picture of a bifurcation of everything is of major importance. It is not necessary to split everything into transcendent and immanent. It is only from the perspective of theoretical reasoning that we specify that there is something apart from what exists which sustains existence and transcends our theoretical reasoning. It has not been shown that our ways of thinking of obligations, our ways of reasoning to what we ought to do and ought to be, are separated from that on which everything depends for existence.

In my next post, I shall discuss how practical reasoning can bring us into contact with what is transcendent for theoretical reason.

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.