Monthly Archives: December 2021

True as an Intention Marker

The intention of getting it right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skepticism About the Fact Value Distinction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Skepticism Which is a Genuine Antidote to Nihilism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nihilism As an Antidote for Nihilism?

An antidote for nihilism is a complex of thoughts and intertwined sentiments which removes or alleviates the anxiety provoked by thinking and feeling life has no meaning – that which the theologian Paul Tillich called “the anxiety of meaninglessness.” A successful antidote to nihilism provides, I propose, what Tillich calls the “courage to be.” Use of the medical term “antidote” motivates using another medical term: homeopathic. In a homeopathic treatment we try to cure a diseased condition by actually producing that very condition.

What is the structure of antidotes to nihilism? Especially what is relation between soteriology and eschatology? Broadly speaking, soteriology is an account of how we can be saved from failure at life, viz., hell. Eschatology is an account of an afterlife in which we are saved or damned. My conjecture is that soteriology conceptually precedes eschatology in so far as eschatological theories are properly developed to accommodate how salvation is lived out. Historically, I suspect that eschatologies were invented along with, and perhaps before, clear thoughts about salvation were articulated.

Epicureanism an antidote which can be fairly labeled “nihilistic.” Bold admission that nothing matters and everything is permitted is prescribed as therapy for feeling downcast by such a predicament for humanity. That is the kind of bold “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” thinking condemned by the sage of the Book of Wisdom and developed by the Greek and Roman Epicureans: Epicurus, Lucretius et al. This, I believe, is the antidote against nihilism for millions of people in our current secular age, who are not blessed with distraction from nihilistic anxieties by cares of daily life and do not die from or with despair. From the Epicurean stance, dying with or from despair is losing at life which is hell.

The soteriology of Epicureanism is to be saved from physical and mental pain. The eschatology of Epicureanism is that there is no after life for any living individual. The Epicurean eschatology is supported by an atomistic metaphysics. Upon biological death an entity dissolves into the atoms which it consisted of while living. Or, better, those atoms of which it consisted at the moment of death.

There is no need to fear punishments of the gods after our biological death. We can be free from the pain of fearing pain after death because upon death we vanish.

In fact, Epicurean prescriptions for applying the soteriology, viz., prescriptions for salvation are far richer than “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” I use “In fact,” because there are most likely millions of people who are more or less Epicureans. Guidelines for prudent living might well include serving those less fortunate to avoid our own pain of feeling compassion for them. Also, prudential guidelines might well prescribe distracting oneself from thinking about suffering and dying, feeling guilt and wondering if there is a point to it all. In other words, distract yourself from thinking which leads to the anxieties Tillich identified as anxiety over fate and death, judgment and condemnation and meaninglessness. Only on rare occasions, might philosophically minded individuals explicitly admit Epicureanism.

Why accept Epicureanism? The strongest reason for accepting Epicureanism is the belief that the “atomistic” metaphysics underlying the eschatology is true. I put atomistic in scare quotes to indicate that the atoms of current natural science are not the simple solids of Lucretius’ On Nature. This contemporary atomism is scientism. Scientism is the belief that there is nothing but what is knowable by the methods of natural science.

If the reductive belief of scientism is true, then one might as well be an Epicurean if one wants to recognize the truth. Of course, once the truth of scientism is granted, then prudential guidelines might propose developing ideologies about God, freedom and immortality to distract oneself from the meaninglessness of life lived explicitly recognizing the truth of the pointlessness of living. Recognizing the truth at all times might be imprudent!

And Epicureanism offers salvation for only a fortunate few. For most, no prudential guidelines lead to a life with more pleasure than pain. Only a fortunate few live successfully – to hell with the rest.

The wheel of fortune revolves. For all, there is the risk of fall from fortune. For all, there is the risk of more pain than pleasure which is hell. So, Epicureanism does not really offer a firm conviction that a life well lived accomplishes anything.

An important point, though, has been brought out. To show that Epicureanism is not the only antidote for nihilism, it needs to be shown that scientism is not true. Metaphysics is needed to provide an effective antidote to nihilism.

Hell Saves Us From Nihilism

Hell is an Antidote for Nihilism.

If there is no hell, everything is permitted.
If everything is permitted, then nihilism is correct
So, if there is no hell, nihilism is correct.

At the conclusion of my post“Does Death Prove Nihilism?” I wrote ‘I cannot have a reasonable hope that life has meaning and a purpose unless I have a reasonable hope that I can go to hell!” Prima facie, my statement borders on the absurd.

Can one coherently believe we need to hope for that which we hope won’t happen? A little thought brings out its sober sense. Whenever we began a task or a game we hope for success. Success, however, requires the possibility of failure. There cannot be a successful completion if all outcomes are satisfactory.

Overcoming nihilism requires believing human life has a goal. A genuine goal is one we can fail to reach. So, overcoming nihilism requires believing that humans can fail at living. Failure at living is hell. Why? Our final thought is final for eternity. The last judgment is our final thought. If that judgment is “I failed at life; my life was a waste,”for eternity I judge myself a failure.
What is it, though, to fail at living?

Abstractly expressed, we fail at living if we fail to save ourselves from eternal failure – hell. I specify the details of successful living in terms of obeying and forming ourselves to obey the commands of the divine moral commander. My specific moralistic account of saving ourselves from failure in living is a theory of salvation or soteriology.

I will not detail my soteriology in this post. It is scattered throughout my posts. The reason I introduce the notion of soteriology is that outlining it is a logical condition for making a persuasive case for some surivival after biological death – “immortality of the soul.” A case for the survival after biological death should be guided by an account of that for which we survive: the reward of successful life and fate of the unsuccessful. An account of the post-mortem reward and loss, can be called “eschatology.” Eschatology is best done when there is a understanding of that for which there is reward or loss.

I think that I am using theological terms correctly when I write: Soteriology theoretically precedes eschatology.

In my next post, I will outline my soteriology as a preliminary for an argument for immortality.

Does Death Prove Nihilism?

Does Death Prove Nihilism?

The honest answer “Yes! If biological death is total annihilation.”

In my bookConfronting Sexual Nihilism, I made a case that if there are categorical moral laws for controlling our sexuality life is not meaningless. We have something to live for. Our lifelong duty is to make ourselves the kind of person who conforms to these laws. Even more generally, throughout our whole lives we have the duty of making ourselves the kind of person who performs our moral duties.

However, the nihilist within me retorts “What does it matter that you have done your duty?”

The Book of Wisdom is an excellent source for reminding us what needs to be included in a strong philosophical antidote against nihilism. In addition to establishing the existence of a divine moral commander, there is a need to establish survival after biological death and the reality of postmortem reward and punishment. I quote extensively from the New American Bible because the Book of Wisdom expresses so elegantly the victory of nihilism if biological death is total annihilation.

I do not quote from Wisdom because it presents a philosophical antidote to nihilism. It does not. It expresses what I hope to justify philosophically. It expresses my religious dismissal of nihilism.

In Chapter Two, verses 1 – 9 the sage characterizes the nihilism of those believing death is total annihilation.
For, not thinking rightly, they said among themselves:
“Brief and troubled is our lifetime;
there is no remedy for our dying,
nor is anyone known to have come back from Hades.
For by mere chance were we born,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been;
Because the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason a spark from the beating of our hearts,
And when this is quenched, our body will be ashes
and our spirit will be poured abroad like empty air.
Even our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will recall our deeds.
So our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and will be dispersed like a mist
Pursued by the sun’s rays and overpowered by its heat.
For our lifetime is the passing of a shadow;
and our dying cannot be deferred
because it is fixed with a seal; and no one returns.
Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are here,
and make use of creation with youthful zest.
Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no springtime blossom pass us by;
let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
Let no meadow be free from our wantonness;
everywhere let us leave tokens of our merriment,
for this is our portion, and this our lot.

A significant case against nihilism requires a case for unending survival after biological death.

If however, in an after life the fate of the just and unjust are the same, then it does not matter whether we were just or unjust. In effect, there is still the nihilism of everything being permitted. Wisdom points out elegantly the hope of hell – damnation as part of the anti nihilistic stance. I quote a few passagesfrom Ch. 3 frequently read at funerals..

1.The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
2 They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
3 and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
7 In the time of their judgment* they shall shine
and dart about as sparks through stubble;
8 They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
9 Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with the elect.
10 But the wicked shall receive a punishment to match their thoughts,
since they neglected righteousness and forsook the LORD.
11 For those who despise wisdom and instruction are doomed.
Vain is their hope, fruitless their labors,
and worthless their works.
12Their wives are foolish and their children wicked,
accursed their brood.j

So a philosophical case against nihilism needs to include a case for hell.

I cannot have a reasonable hope that life has meaning and a purpose unless I have a hope reasonable that I can go to hell!

Invoking God to Confront Nihilism

I have changed the title of my blog site from “Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Notes on the philosophical foundations of sexual morality” to “Confronting Nihilism: Notes on the foundations of Divine Command Morality.” Why? There are several reasons.

My primary concern has always been exhibiting good reasons for thinking that nihilism is not a correct account of the human condition. This primary concern is to be distinguished from wanting good reasons, in the sense of motivation, for discovering good reasons for thinking that nihilism is not a correct account of the human condition. Aside from posturing hardheaded realism, clear headed thinkers dread nihilistic thoughts that nothing matters morally and ultimately human lives have no more significance than that which we attribute to mosquitoes and angle worms.

Unfortunately, the skeptical resources of philosophy have the power to cast doubt on any reasons for thinking that nihilism is false. Fortunately, the skeptical doubts do not show that the reasons for thinking nihilism is false are not good reasons. The skeptical arguments show only that the reasons against nihilism are not conclusive.reasons One can have good reasons for thinking nihilism to be false although the reasons do not warrant conviction that nihilism is false. That is why I write “confronting nihilism.” Reason can confront nihilism without defeat.although not without anxiety that nihilism is correct. But more than reason is is required for the victory of conviction that nihilism is false. Some factors different from reasons are needed to bring acceptance of good, but inconclusive reasons, to conclusive belief. Hence, I now write simply “notes on foundations”rather than “notes on philosophical foundations.” I will use more than philosophy to make a case that nihilism is false.

Sexual nihilism is the theory that nothing sexual matters. In principle, anything sexual is morally permissible. I have called this the moral neutrality of sexual morality. My strategy was to block total nihilism that there are no moral prohibitions by showing that there are some objective categorical sexual prohibitions. In my book, I made good, although not beyond all doubt, case that traditional sexual morality provided such prohibitions. However, my case was weak in so far as it made a case that the purpose of human life was to perform our duties for the sake of duty.

Life in accord with eternal moral laws which we are commanded to follow needed to be characterized as more attractive than resolutely making ourselves into people who obey these laws despite any and all inclinations to do otherwise. I was led, then, to religious reflections on what it meant to obey the moral laws. So, through a long series of posts on obeying a moral authority, I realized that we had to interpret moral laws as commands of God. Hence,I confront nihilism by making a case for Divine Command Morality.