Monthly Archives: December 2020

Religiosity and the Transcendent

We talk of God, the Transcendent ,in both philosophy and religion, in speculation and in prayer. What is the best way?

Repetition of my philosophic recipe for constructing concepts of properties to project upon the Transcendent is useful for the following comparison of philosophic and religious ways of talking of the Transcendent.

1. Argue, or merely claim, that an immanent feature exists independently of anything else in what is immanent.
2. Argue, or merely claim, that this independent feature exists contingently.
3. From these two conclude that the existence of this immanent feature is directly dependent on the Transcendent.
4. Under the assumption “ if the existence of X depends directly upon Y, then we can characterize Y as having something analogous to the properties of X”, we modify descriptions of properties of the immanent feature to characterize the Transcendent.

Here I merely claim that the immanent feature of human religiosity meets the conditions for being directly dependent for its existence on the Transcendent. I use an elementary “World Religions Course” four Cs sketch of human religiosity. People seeking the meaning of life with a sense of the holy form Churches, formulate Creeds and Codes while having Cults or set of ritual practices. My elementary “World Religions” sketch of religiosity leaves so much undone because I want to move immediately to the relation between philosophic attempts to characterize the Transcendent and religious attempts to characterize the Transcendent.

Characterizing the Transcendent is an essential property of human religiosity. It is an essential property of religiosity, in the sense that at least the “seed” of a Creed is every religion. I think that it was the anthropologist, Evans Pritchard, who claimed that primitive religions are danced; not believed. But I think what is permissible and impermissible in the dancing -Cultic practice- would reveal some thoughts about the “whatever” which is holy.

From the philosophic perspective we say that religiosity is directly dependent upon the Transcendent. So, from the philosophic perspective we try to develop descriptions of properties applicable to the Transcendent from descriptions of properties of human religiosity. For instance, we may try to describe the holiness of the Transcendent from a modification of the human sense of holiness.

At first glance, philosophy’s role of developing characterizations of the Transcendent from religious ways of characterizing the Transcendent seems to put philosophy in a superior position with respect to characterizing the Transcendent.

But philosophy’s role is not superior and may even be dependent upon religiosity in characterizing the Transcendent. Religiosity leads philosophers to their attempts to characterize the Transcendent. It is leading me. When I work seriously at the first two steps of my recipe I may find that I cannot separate philosophy from religiosity. Creeds and codes (morality) lead to reflection, speculation, critical thinking and theology. Purely secular philosophy might be basically the intellectual tools for theology and moral theory. The independent immanent reality directly dependent upon the Transcendent for its existence might be human religiosity with human philosophic thinking as only a part. It is an open question as to whether a development of a way of thinking is superior in all ways to that from which it developed

Philosophers are in no position to say that philosophic characterizations of the Transcendent are better than non-philosophical religious characterization. We philosophers have reached the conclusion that the Transcendent is utterly unknowable by philosophical thinking. We philosophers establish skepticism about what we can discover by our philosophizing. For all that we know via philosophy, we may be acquiring truths about the Transcendental via non-philosophical religious thought, sentiment and prayer.

I should emphasize that when I refer to religious ways of thinking and feeling about the Transcendent, I am not writing as some secular philosopher imagining what some benighted religious people still believe. I reflect primarily on myself. I am a practicing Catholic. Weekly I publicly and sincerely profess the Nicene Creed. I believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. I find a great similarity in my philosophic thoughts about what I am here labelling “the Transcendent” and my religious thoughts about God Indeed it is hard to separate them. In both cases, I say words with various thoughts and images. Sometimes I think these thoughts and images are really stupid. On occasion I think they give insight and inspiration. But always, be it philosophy or prayer, I think that the thoughts and images are never correct; they do not give the truth. What we can rely upon are the words.

If you and I try to determine whether or not we hold the same belief, we do not try to decide whether we share the varying thoughts and feelings running through our minds. We discuss a variety of claims and facts until we can agree upon using the same words to express our beliefs. In actuality, the hammering out of an agreeable formulation of a creed occur amongst many people over a long period of time. It then becomes an item in a collective consciousness in human intelligence as would a poem or song. Through the ages many people find those words apt for professing what they belief

“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.

Morality and the Transcendent

In this post I outline characterizing the Transcendent as the moral authority. Sketching out the line of argument sets aside at the outset two connected standard objections to divine command morality.

The objections start from the dilemma question: “Does God command the rules because they are right or does God’s command make the rules right?” The answer that God commands the rules because they are right places a standard for rightness independent of God. The answer that God’s commands makes the rules right seems to leave open the prospect of all sorts of morally horrible deeds being commanded as right.

I start with the authoritarian or command morality as fixed in what is immanent.

Recall that in my terminology the immanent is everything humans can represent along with representations. The immanent is what there is – everything! But without the Transcendent, there would be nothing.

How are the objections set aside?

Using the metaphysical notion of “depends for its existence” I develop an admittedly imprecise characterization of the Transcendent as the source of morality and thereby the Divine moral authority. With respect to knowing right from wrong, the standards for, along with the content of, morality are fixed in the immanent. With respect to their existing at all in the immanent, the standards and the content of morality are in the Transcendent.

The dilemma question above cannot be asked about the Transcendent because in our thinking what morality commands is already settled before we think about the Transcendent as that on which its existence depends.

Philosophic thought forbids itself from making discoveries about the Transcendent.

The pattern of argument for the Transcendent as the existential source of morality is simple as A, B ,C below. But the outline but conceals the need for an immense amount of philosophical labor.

A. Show that morality is a basic feature of the immanent. (It does not depend upon anything else in the immanent.)

B. Show that morality is contingent.(Its existence is dependent.)

C. Because (A) and (B) show that morality is directly dependent upon the Transcendent for its existence, make a case that characterizations of the Transcendent can be constructed from modifications of features of immanent morality that are “good enough” for thinking of the Transcendent as the Moral Authority. I hate to say that we construct a characterization and project it upon the Transcendent. But that is what I do in my philosophy.

I add a few remarks about the underlying philosophical problems.

Under (A) I need to show that my authoritarian model of morality is a model of something immanent, i.e., an accurate representation of moral thinking. There is, then, a need to show that this way of moral thinking could not be explained as coming into existence from any other way of thinking; let alone being explained as coming into existence from neurophysiological factors. I could not live long enough to do (A). But I will make a few remarks on it

It might seem that (B) is easy once (A) has been established. However, in authoritarian morality, moral claims have a type of necessity. How can one show that what is allegedly presented with necessary truths need not exist?

I cannot infer from the Transcendent is the immediate foundation for something immanent having feature F that the Transcendent has feature F or even that the Transcendent has something analogous to feature F. Nonetheless, that is what I do under (C ). I differ from philosophers who develop theories of analogical predication. They argue that since the same terms can be meaningfully applied to both God and creatures there is an analogy between God and creatures which allows such predication. I try to show that there is an analogy between the immanent and the Transcendent which justifies applying terms to the Transcendent.

The task of (C ) is not rigorous. But one can get close to being right even when being unable to tell the exact truth – or, so, I believe.

Analogical Predication of God vs. Characterization of the Transcendent

It is helpful to compare my project of constructing a representation of the Transcendent as a Divine moral authority with the problem in philosophical theology for whose solution theories of analogical predication are developed. The problems are related but not the same.

A standard issue in philosophical theology arises from using the same terms to describe human beings and God. Theoretically, God is totally unlike any of His creatures. For instance, what is meant by saying that God is merciful if God is nothing at all like a merciful human judge?
There is a dilemma facing those who hold the same terms can be applied to God and creatures.

If terms applied to God and creatures are used univocally, then God is misrepresented by representing God as like His creatures.

If terms applied to God and creatures are used equivocally, then God is misrepresented by using language ambiguously.

Terms applied to God and creatures are used univocally or equivocally.

So, applying the same terms to God and creatures, misrepresents God.

Theories of analogical predication are offered to confront the dilemma by ”going between the horns of the dilemma” that terms are used univocally or equivocally. Theories show that there is a middle type of application of terms based on some type of similarity of, or analogy, between, that to which the terms are applied.

In religious practice this middle ground has been recognized implicitly. For centuries people have felt that their use of the same terms to talk of God and creatures made sense and was important although they would, I think, admit that what the terms designated were not the same in God and creatures.

The theories provide theoretical justification for this common practice. The theories go into human intelligence, collective consciousness, the archives or whatever one wants to call the repository of justifications. From that source, theories of analogical predication can be accessed by those who want to justify religious use of terms.

What am I doing when trying to show how terms can be applied to the Transcendent when by definition the Transcendent transcends any accurate application of terms?

My ultimate goal is a conceptual model of what it would be like for there to be a God who would sacrifice Himself to redeem humanity for its immorality. Crucial parts of this construction are construction of a model of morality based on authoritative commands and then construction of a model of this moral authority being God. I think that I have sketched a fairly complete outline of an authoritative morality. I want people to think that my model could represent the way things actually are. So I use the highly non-controversial notion of God, viz., the totally transcendent.

Consequently, I face the problem of pleading a case that from the bare metaphysical term “on whom everything depends for existence but which depends on nothing” we can provide “good enough” specifications of terms such as “omniscience” to say that this Transcendent is a God who is a moral authority.

I have to leave it to readers to judge whether I specify what is good enough.

Let me note also that I am addressing a problem which arises in 21st century arguments between some atheists and theists. The theists contend that atheists misunderstand theistic belief. The atheists allegedly are dismissing the existence of God as some super being amongst other beings. The theists claim that they are talking about something transcending all beings – what I have called the Transcendent. But most often theists are also religious as am I. In their religious practice they talk in a way suggesting that God is a super being. Theists should reconcile that discrepancy between their philosophical talk of God and their religious talk of God.

The Transcendent, Omniscience and Transparency

Transparency is one of the most significant features of a moral authority. The moral authority is aware of any thought, word or deed of moral significance. See Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality.

If we start with a traditional notion of God as an omniscient being, transparency is a corollary of divine omniscience. However, we are starting with the notion of God as total Transcendence about which we can form no adequate representations. We need the faith which seeks understanding. We need faith that we are able to form inadequate but approximate representations of Transcendence as provider of sufficient conditions for basic features of what we can represent such as motion, causality and intelligence. In other words, we need faith that we can attain some understanding of Transcendence by developing notions of what Transcendence has as sufficient conditions for basic features of immanence, i.e., what we can represent.

This is philosophical theology; not pure philosophy. Atheists who concede that arguments about the existence of God are not about the presence or absence of some “super being” in what we can represent – the immanent, can accept via arguments in pure philosophy the existential dependence of the immanent on transcendence. Their atheism consists of lack of faith that transcendence has any significance for human life: thought of transcendence is the same as thought of nothing which is the same as not thinking anything. See Proof of Transcendence for a discussion of the issue between “sophisticated” theists and atheists.

In future posts, I need to explore the sources of faith. Undoubtedly, faith is stimulated and formed by traditional religions. Also faith is suppressed in some because of traditional religions. I leave open, though, the prospect of some necessary conditions for faith in Transcendence.

Hereafter, I reveal my faith that we have an approximate notion of referring to Transcendence by writing “the Transcendent” instead of “Transcendence.” After all, having items on which we focus attention in the way we call “referring” is perhaps the most pervasive feature of the immanent. We use the definite article “the” in referring thought. So, Transcendence has sufficient conditions for there to be objects of referential thought. I dare to take these sufficient conditions for the existence of objects of reference as warranting thinking of Transcendence as analogous to an object of reference. Conceptually, this is very significant. It is objectifying Transcendence.

To establish something analogous to transparency to the Transcendent of our morality, I need to show that the sufficient conditions in the transcendent for intelligence are enough like omniscience to warrant claiming that any morally relevant thought word or deed is known by the Transcendent.

Are the sufficient conditions in the Transcendent at all similar to that for which they suffice? In the case of motion, the transcendent sufficient condition is unmoving. In the case of causality, the transcendent sufficient condition for causality, is uncaused. Thinking of it as uncaused differentiates it from any cause we can represent. Objects we represent as passively beginning an action by being a goal are not represented as being totally out of the cause and effect processes.

We need to use a metaphysical concept of sufficient condition for what it means for conditions of the Transcendent to be sufficient for basic features of the immanent. This is the concept of a sustaining cause or sustaining condition. To say that the Transcendent is a sustaining condition for an X which we can represent is to say that the Transcendent is necessary and sufficient condition for the existence of X.

I set aside the philosophic obligation to elaborate on this notion of sustaining condition. Yes, it does seem to treat “existence” as a predicate which can be applied to the description of a possibility depending upon whether or not the possibility is actual or merely still only possible.

It follows from the definition of the Transcendent that it is the sustaining condition for everything. In particular, the Transcendent is the sustaining condition for everything which is the case. In other words, the Transcendent is the sustaining condition for all conditions which would make a claim true. Also the Transcendent is the sustaining condition for all thoughts that such-and-such is the case. Putting together these propositions about the Transcendent, we can say that the Transcendent is the sustaining condition for all true thoughts. A thought being is true is also a fact. So, the Transcendent is the sustaining condition for all true thoughts as true.

I appreciate a demand for much, much more analysis. Still, I propose that the we attribute omniscience to the Transcendent because it is the sustaining condition for all true thoughts as true. The Transcendent holds in existence the truth of the thoughts of our most secret sins! Isn’t this transparency to the Transcendent?