Category Archives: Ontology

“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.

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, 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 authoritative morality a divine command morality.

Human Thought as a Fundamental Reality

Here are some more observations about the universal collective consciousness I postulated as a fundamental reality presupposed in moral thinking – indeed in any thinking. This fundamental collective thinking is the location for objective moral laws.

For years I have been troubled by a jibe of Jeremy Bentham to the effect that a natural law moral theorist believe in the existence of heavenly law books wherein they can look up the moral laws. I hope to show that it is nothing mysterious because we all presuppose it, or better participate in it, in our daily lives. It is thinking which is active in all thinking. That is why languages can be translated. It is the thinking used by indigenous people of the Amazon to quickly learn how to use a motor scooter and cell phone.

It is the thinking with which we think that there are many different public opinions around the world.

Turn on the morning TV news to share in what is being thought around the world. It occurs in your thinking when you understand what has been gathered by this thinking used by reporters and also used by all of the technical people who make electronic media possible.

This pervasive underlying thinking is as much a part of our lives as planet earth. Indeed it is more familiar than planet earth. We use this common thinking to develop, or learn, a theory that we live on a sphere rotating on its axis as it revolves around the sun. We use this common thinking to worry that human action is upsetting this planet’s climate.

Am I laboring the obvious? Perhaps. But if I plan to argue that there is a moral order in which there is a place for what I have been calling “moral harm” I need to emphasize that there is a place for this moral order.

I should also note some of what I am not assuming.

I am not assuming that there is some common mind or agent who thinks these common thoughts. I am not sure that we need to assume that there is a “thinker” for there to be thinking. Hume noted that it is difficult to find in our own case any “thinker” for our thoughts.

I am not assuming that it needs living human beings to exist. But neither am I assuming that it could exist without living human beings. Like all that is mental, common human thinking is non-spatial. So, it was never anywhere for someone to start it. It is difficult to think how someone could think anything without intelligence. It is hard to think of intelligence empty of any thoughts. So, I do not think that we should talk of intelligence having a beginning.

I conclude, with some tricky” sentences, by pointing out that despite not being able to say intelligence began, we should not talk of intelligence beginning every thing.
From “We cannot now think of a past time with no human thinking without now using human thinking” we cannot conclude “There is no past time with no human thinking.”

But we can assert the following.

There will never be a time at which we can think without human thinking that there was a time without human thinking.

Collective Consciousness Fundamental in Ontology of Authoritarian Morality

A collective consciousness is a fundamental component in an immanent ontology of an authoritarian morality. The moral authority is immanent in this collective consciousness. It is in this collective consciousness where individuals receive the thinking of the moral authority.

This ontological presupposition goes beyond assuming that there is thinking over and above that of individuals. It assumes that there is one comprehensive collective consciousness which includes thoughts not produced by any specific individual or society.

This assumption is not my wild fantasy. It is called by many “human reason.” But because there is so much error, stupidity and malice in it, I prefer to think of it as human thought which is available to cave men and today’s geniuses. It is the medium by which individuals are linked in a web of meaning or intending with all other humans. For instance, it is in this web where we link ourselves with those who built the monuments of Stonehenge. We link with them by trying to figure out what they meant or intended.

We are so certain of the reality of this medium that we ignore it. Descartes was more certain of this medium than of his own personal existence. He simply took for granted the social reality of the thinking in his method of doubting. All the while he was searching for certainty, he was thinking about communicating his philosophy into this web of thinking.

I am only citing an item for an ontology. I am not presenting a systematic philosophy – a metaphysical theory. So, I am not saying that this universal thinking is all that there is. I am not proposing an idealistic metaphysics. I am not saying that this universal thinking is separate from the physical. There is no dualistic metaphysics. I am only claiming that a presupposition of our moral language is this universal thinking whereby thoughts about good and bad, obligations and duties are, at least potentially, available to all humans living, dead or yet to be.

Of course, there are proper subsets of this collective consciousness which are free from error, stupidity and malice. And some of these subsets seem not to be the construction of any individual or society. The rules of logic and mathematics are classic examples of subsets of human thought which seem not to be a human construction. Some have thought that fundamental claims about the physical structure of the universe are thoughts not created by humans. (I suggests that Kant’s question about the possibility of synthetic apriori judgments was how these judgments got into human thought without anyone inventing them.)

Many have also thought that some basic moral judgments are in this subset of thoughts which are universal in all sets of thinking but are not the invention of any humans. They are given to be discovered.

I am one of those who regard certain moral thoughts as given; not constructed. I cannot here make any effort to show how it is possible for there to be such thoughts.

My goal here has only been to show that this assumption of a collective consciousness with a subset of imperative thoughts from an outside source provides objective truth or assertion conditions for our moral thoughts. Our moral thoughts are correct when they are the same thoughts as those from this special subset.

Immanent and Transcendent Ontology

In my previous post I characterized ontology as follows.

Ontology is the effort to articulate and justify the composition and structure of what there is-reality- so that our beliefs can be true, proper or apt. Broadly speaking, ontology is a theory on what would constitute truth conditions for beliefs.

I do not use “assertion conditions” instead of “truth conditions” because the conditions have to be in reality apart from human conventions which might warrant making an assertion.

What I characterized above as ontology is not the final step in determining the composition and structure of reality. I call this first step “immanent ontology.” In immanent ontology we ask: What must exist for our basic beliefs about the reality which we experience to have truth conditions. A further question is to ask what must exist for these truth conditions to exist. This further question is about what transcends facts, morality, goodness and beauty. It is what must be so that there can be facts, morality, goodness and beauty.

I illustrated these two steps in my post on an ontology for secular naturalism. There the immanent ontology was that only the objects and processes of natural science, which regarded all talk of purpose or goals as eliminable, needed to exist for truth conditions. As a transcendent ontology for secular naturalism, I went on to propose how analogues of theistic arguments could be used to show that an ultimate moving and causing must exist for there to be the truth conditions for natural science. I did not propose that the foundations for natural science truth conditions constitute God. There needed to exist nothing like mentality -having a purpose or exercising intelligence-in these foundations.

In my construction of the philosophy of secular naturalism as the philosophical opponent of my stance, I do not include a move to transcendent ontology. I am constructing this philosophy from the anecdotal evidence collected over years of working on the immanent ontology of secular naturalism. Just citation of the name of W.V. Quine with his aphorism “To be is to be the value of a variable” should indicate that in the second half of the twentieth century an immanent ontology for a very narrow naturalism was a significant philosophical activity.

I am embarrassed to confess how many hours I spent hoping to write something significant about the ontological investigations of the the Ideal Language methodology led by Gustav Bergman. To myself, I used to mock the methodology of Quine, Bergman et al. by attributing to them a belief that God created the world in the image and likeness of a first order predicate calculus. Presumably we could find the basic items of reality by developing a formal language in which all of the truths of science could be expressed. The basic items would be those in the domain of the existential quantifier (Quine) or the referents of the constants (Bergman). This was all fantasy. There was nothing approaching such a language beyond the mathematical portion..

But a genuine naturalist would never ask a question which could lead to acceptance of anything transcending the natural. They begin with a bias which limits possible results. For instance, a genuine naturalist would never ask: What must there be for there to be that which justifies claims about the big bang?

This brings us to an important methodological principle for ontology. It’s Occam’s Razor: Do not multiply entities beyond necessity. Since there was no intelligence in the truth conditions for the ontology of secular natural science, there was no need to find some ultimate foundation for intelligence. Similarly, if you do not have truth or assertion conditions for normative statements in your ontology, you will find no need to find an ultimate foundation for the truth conditions of normativity.

Before I close this post in order to make a few posts on the immanent and transcendent ontology for a divine command morality, I offer a caution about use of Occam’s Razor. Once you uncover ontological assumptions for your beliefs, you should analyze your assumptions to see whether you need assume all of them or if some are based on others. In ontology we are looking for what is fundamental.

For instance, I needed to assume as a foundation of my notion of moral harm, particular norms that harm ought to be done upon violation of a moral law. But analysis led me to see that I did not need to assume the type of harm or the victim of the harm.

But what should not be done to follow Occam’s Razor is to begin with some assumption about the basic items in reality and then dismiss as unnecessary anything which cannot be shown to be dependent upon those basic items. A classical example of this reductionist misuse of Occam’s Razor in nominalism which begins with the assumption that everything is unnecessary except individuals which can be designated with “this here now.”