Imperishability of the Human Soul

The human soul makes a human animal a supernatural being as well as a natural being.

That which makes a human animal supernatural is its moral capacity to know the good and freely choose it. Knowing the good is bipartite. First, there is knowing the basic natural human goods, Second, there is knowing that which the basic human goods are good for. The natural goods are also bipartite. First, there are those conditions which make for human flourishing. Second, there is being the kind of person who freely chooses these conditions for human flourishing. Since basic human goods are goals as well as natural conditions, knowledge of goods as good give humans purposes. Purposes are goods which are intentionally sought. Knowing what basic human goods are good for gives humans a purpose for living itself. But purposes are not part of nature when we think of nature from the perspective of evolutionary theory as we are doing here. So, our having purposes makes us supernatural beings as well as natural beings even if most of our goods are natural conditions.

This capacity for knowing the good is a moral capacity because we can freely choose to act against attainment of what is good. But the fundamental law of morality is “Choose what is good!” With knowledge of what is good and free will comes obligation. We could say that it is having obligations which places us in both the natural and supernatural.

It must be emphasized that exercise of the capacity to know and pursue the good depends upon physiological states of an individual human but this moral capacity is not any physiological state or capacity. It is an additional feature that enables physiological states and capacities to be used in intentionally knowing and choosing what is good. Individuals with severe cognitive capacities still have this moral capacity although unable to exercise it. Individuals receive this moral capacity – the human soul – when they began to be human, which is at conception.

This moral capacity is essential to the human species even if it did not arise by natural selection. This means that in a thought experiment in which humans from the period when humanity began, off-spring of these ancient humans due to mating with contemporary humans would have all of the basic moral concepts we have now. See Natural and Supernatural Origin.

The soul of an individual human is that individual’s capacity to know and pursue what is good.

Why claim that the soul of a human is imperishable? Why claim that the soul of a human does not cease to exist at biological death. Why claim that the soul of a human does not cease to exist when there is no body to form into a moral agent? I give a Kantian answer.

A human being is morally perfect if that person becomes the kind of person who freely chooses the natural goods. Amongst these natural goods is being morally perfect.

Consider, now, these brief syllogisms. The justification for (1) is given above when it was pointed out that our natural goods are obligatory goods. Premiss (2) is an alleged truth of logic.

Syllogism I

1. A person ought to be morally perfect.
2. What ought to be can be.
3. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect ceased to be at biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Hence: (4) A person’s capacity to be morally perfect cannot cease to be at biological death.

Syllogism II

5. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect were never embodied after biological death, that person’s capacity to be morally perfect could never be exercised after biological death
6. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect could never be exercised after biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Hence: (7) If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect were never embodied after biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Using (1) and (2) above, we can conclude:
8. A person’s capacity to be morally perfect – a person’s soul- is embodied some time after biological death.

Note that if a person attained moral perfection that person cannot cease to be. For what ought to be cannot cease to be. If what ought to be ceased to be something which ought to be could no longer be.

The Supernatural Origin of Humanity

The following philosophical account of the supernatural origin of humanity exhibits a supernatural account consistent with a naturalistic evolutionary account of the origin of humanity. Admittedly, it is influenced by my Catholicism and the Divine Command moral theory I have been working towards in blog posts the past few years. In addition to consistency with natural science, I hope that it is also a true account of the supernatural origin of humanity. Before turning to the question of truth, though, I need to ask myself what do I think is true about the natural and supernatural origin of humanity. My post on evolution outlines what I think is true about the natural origin of humanity. This post outlines what I think is true about the supernatural origin.

We are animals with a moral capacity. Full natural and supernatural humanity began when God gave us this moral capacity. I conjecture that this happen roughly fifty thousand years ago when homo sapiens-sapiens was a small population in sub-Saharan Africa. Our moral capacity is correlated with the biological conditions for being a species. But our moral capacity is not the condition for being a natural species. There are natural cognitive, anatomical and physiological features which distinguish homo sapiens-sapiens from other animals. Because it gives us free-will, the moral capacity is not amongst our natural features. With morality humans are supernatural beings as well as natural beings.

I am setting aside the issue of whether or not the moral capacity which gives the natural human species a supernatural dimension is a capacity unique to the human species.

Briefly, what is this moral capacity? It is the capacity to know what is the good for the exercise of our basic natural faculties plus the capacity to choose that good or some alternative inclination satisfaction in the exercise of a basic faculty. See Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality and Reconsideration of Justifying a Moral Principle for details about my moral theory and references to my book justifying the good of male sexuality used in the example below.

For instance, the good of a male’s sexual capacity is in coitus with a woman to whom he has lifelong marital commitment. These goods constitute what would be a happy human life.

They are attractive to humans when we think carefully. Nonetheless, despite their attractiveness, these goods have to be commanded because with free will humans can choose to evade them. So, the basic human goods are obligatory goods.

We are as we are by choice. Why say by choice? We are good and evil but we do not have to be the way we are with respect to evil. We know the good but we do not always choose it. We cannot think of humans without this capacity for good and evil. Acquiring the capacity to choose contrary to a way we ought to choose is the beginning of humanity as we know it. As we know humanity it is not as it ought to be. Since ought implies can, humans can be as they ought. So, our soul is immortal as I will argue in a later post.

God created humanity when humans had the capacity to know the good and choose it. When humans chose to know the good but choose contrary to the good: humanity as we know it began. Whose choice? When and where was the choice made? Questions about choices of individuals thousands of years ago are not questions answerable by natural science. Reflection on the supernatural provides no further data on these questions. The choice was made by both men and women. Moving from consideration of definite individuals, I think of the man and the woman making that fateful choice.

If I wanted a presentation of these thoughts about our beginning as moral beings in story form, the Genesis story of the fall of Adam and Eve would be just what I wanted.

The Natural Evolutionary Origin Plus Supernatural Origin of Humanity

It is logically consistency to accept a complete naturalistic evolutionary origin of homo sapiens or homo sapiens-sapiens and still posit a supernatural origin of humanity. I follow some in using homo sapiens-sapiens to admit the prospect of human intelligence itself needing an evolutionary account. I write of a complete naturalistic origin to emphasize that the supernatural origin is not introduced to fill any gaps in the naturalistic evolutionary account. The supernatural should not be introduced to answer any question which could be answered naturalistically. From here on, I will write simply of evolutionary accounts and not use modifiers such as “naturalistic” or “by natural selection.”

What do I accept by granting that there is a complete evolutionary account of the origin of homo sapiens? I give the answer of a non-scientist who sooner or later faces the question “What do you accept or reject by accepting or rejecting an evolutionary explanation of humanity?”

There are two parts to my answer. The first sketches a model which finds a place for empirical evidence to support theories that species, some still existing, evolved by natural selection. The second part presents an imaginary scenario of what it means for the species we are now to be the same species as one existing thousands of years ago.

Perhaps a million or more years ago one particular breeding population in the genus homo, which I label A, flourished and grew. Some members of A would mate with members of other homo populations, which I label B, C, D. Genetic and environmental factors were not favorable for the flourishing and growth of B, C, D despite interbreeding with A. B, C, & D gradually became extinct.

Of course, my sketch is very “sketchy.” Over the thousands and thousands of years B, C & D have had successor populations which have bred, more or less successfully, with other populations, including successors of A. In the end though, all but the successors of A have become extinct.

Only A still exists in the sense that a path down from the present through a tree structure of branches ending before the present, leads from the present to A. The nodes at base of branches on the tree are species; not individuals. It is a branch which has not yet reached its tip.

The genuine hard scientific work lies in tracing such a pathway in the fossil and archaeological data. It is not always clear when they are on the pathway. For instance, do these tool-like rocks clearly indicate A’s? Most likely there can be no specification of a definite time for the origin of A’s. Individuals but not populations have definite origin times. But there can be a bracket of, perhaps, a few thousand years before which there were no A’s but within which A’s appeared. Perhaps, the beginning point of the bracket was fifty to forty thousand years ago.

It should be emphasized that the scientific program is not for explaining the origin of individual members of a species. If one accepts evolution, as I do, it is tempting to believe that there is a “family tree” tracing me back to a breeding pair of humans at a definite time before which there were no humans. But the scientific program is guided by a model of a “species tree.”

Also, it should be emphasized that evolutionary accounts face all of the mind-body problems of any scientific study of contemporary humans. The relation of human thought and feeling, collective as well as individual, to their physiological correlates in the nervous system of individuals, are unexplained in any study of humans.

There is a sexual or reproductive dimension to believing that a species long ago is the same species as ours. This is the requirement that, in general, individuals can reproduce fertile offspring if and only if they are of the same species. There is no way that such a test can be conducted with individuals thousands of years apart. So, I will indulge in a thought experiment.

Suppose somehow a male and female of ancient A had been frozen or preserved in some fashion so that they can now be revived and be sexually active here and now in the twenty first century. Let’s call them Ancient Man and Ancient Woman. They should be able to have offspring by mating with people of the twenty first century. Suppose Ancient Man mates with a contemporary woman Mary and she gives birth to a daughter Clara. Clara should grow up to have all of the cognitive abilities and technical skills of any other child of our century. This means, amongst many other things, that Clara could learn to speak English. Suppose further, Ancient Woman mates with a contemporary male Dick and Ancient Woman becomes pregnant and bears a son Tom. Just like Clara, Tom would be born with the ability to learn the cognitive and technical skills of the twenty first century. To be sure, there would be physical features which set Clara and Tom apart from typical twenty first century people. Almost certainly, they would have smaller body size. Over the centuries, natural selection changes many features of a species without leading to a new species. However, in this thought experiment the prediction is that if Clara and Tom breed with typical twenty first people and then the offspring of these children mate with typical twenty first people the physical differences will be significantly modified to match human features of our century.

The above is my attempt to specify what I admit when I claim to accept that the scientific community has the correct research program for giving a naturalistic explanation of the origin of the human species, indeed for the origin of any species.

The question of whether or not members of this species have been given a purpose or goal for their lives is not, and ought not be, even raised in the evolutionary account. So, it is consistent with this naturalistic account to claim that humans as beings with a purpose began when God specified that each man and woman has the goal of living to know, love and serve Him while living so that they can be happy with Him after biological death.

Of course, consistency is far from significant, let alone true. So, the further questions concern motivation and justification for supernatural claims.

No Truth Conditions for Claims About the Natural and the Supernatural

Most of the claims that I will make about the supernatural are also claims about the natural. For instance, Luke’s account of the Annunciation is about a young virgin and the angel Gabriel. Claims of a miracle are at least claims that something with a supernatural feature acted in the natural world. I will argue that a complete understanding of the origin of homo sapiens requires interpreting human beings as beings who are both natural and supernatural. Roughly: certain homo hominids with a supernatural soul were the original humans. In a way, the origin of humans is miraculous!

What is it like, though, for claims about such radically different kinds of things to be true? For two reasons, which I have elaborated on in previous posts, I will not answer this question.

First, the challenge to provide an analysis of how elements of reality can be combined to make truth conditions for a claim is a challenge to show that what is claimed to be is really possible, viz., a possible combination of realities. This challenge can be set aside because of an assumption that whatever is consistently describable is really possible.

Second, the challenge asks for an account of how reality makes a claim about reality true. It asks for the truth about truth. This is analytic philosophy which I am abandoning.

So, I set aside an impossible task which I am strongly tempted to begin. I would like to begin with an inventory of the basic individuals, properties, relations and atomic facts of the supernatural and then the natural. Then guided by some hopefully noncontroversial rules on combination of facts, construct combinations of atomic facts, i.e., molecular states of affairs, which correspond with claims about the natural and the supernatural. If the molecular state of affairs obtains, the claim is true; otherwise, false.

Of course, a further challenge is to develop an epistemology on how one can determine whether or not a mixed natural and supernatural state of affairs occurs. Theoretically, on this analytic approach, I am setting aside, the truth of claims about molecular facts can be determined once the truth of the claims about atomic facts has been determined. Still, there is the problem of how to determine truth of atomic supernatural claims. I suspect it would be ad hoc in the way indicated below.

So, I set aside the task of a philosophical analysis of how we can talk of the natural and supernatural. I simply start talking about the supernatural under the assumption that such talk can be intelligible. I use an ad hoc epistemology which means that each claim I make has to be discussed on its merits with intelligent people of good will and at least a mildly skeptical temperament.

Distinguishing the Supernatural From the Natural

In distinguishing the supernatural from the natural I am making truth claims. However, my truth claims are about our ways of thinking and speaking about what is real and unreal. They are not directly about the realities we might call the natural and supernatural. For instance, I am not talking directly about the truth of a claim such as “Her cure was miraculous.” I am talking about what I mean by saying her cure was miraculous. In short, I am talking about conceptual schemes as opposed to what the schemes are used to represent. Sometimes talking about thinking is called second order thinking as opposed to first order thinking which is saying of what is that it is a certain way.

These second order claims can be true or false. But their truth is not so directly dependent upon realities as that of first order thinking. Truth of second order claims is filtered through human consensus. Second order claims are offered to human thinking as proposals on the best ways to think directly about reality. In short, they are claims describing and correcting, if necessary, the fundamental human conceptual scheme, viz., the way of thinking to distinguish between the real and unreal. If in the opinion of those who think in this second order way about realities my characterizing this way of thinking aptly characterizes their way of distinguishing real from unreal, then there is support for my truth claims about the way of distinguishing real from unreal. Note that support for me would come not only from the consensus. Support comes from other’s agreement that these are appropriate ways of thinking about the reality with which they are acquainted. Reality is not ignored in the forming of the consensus.

It needs to be emphasized that agreement with my proposed conceptual scheme for distinguishing real from unreal need not be agreement on what I think is real and unreal. For instance, someone could agree with me that I have characterized a supernatural reality properly. Some might well agree that if there were supernatural realities, they would be as I have said they would be. However, they might go on to argue that their experience and efforts to explain how things happen and what there is show them that there are no supernatural realities. They would claim that the supernatural is an empty category. They might add that they can understand acquaintance with supernatural realities as natural mental occurrences. However, they should not proclaim that the notion of “supernatural” is meaningless or that it is impossible there be anything supernatural. I am working under the assumption that the only impossibility is logical impossibility; there cannot be anything whose description is logically inconsistent.

I, though, believe that there is a supernatural reality. But what is it? Here are some of my beginning speculations.

First: supernatural realities are dependent upon the Transcendent for their existence. Of course, then, the Transcendent is not a supernatural reality. Fundamental metaphysics is not an investigation of the supernatural. However, realities dependent upon the Transcendent which are clearly not any kind of natural reality would be supernatural realities.

At this point, I am using “natural” in the broad sense in which it is opposed to the supernatural. I am not here using “natural” in the narrow sense in which it designates the material or physical in naturalism as a philosophy.

The supernatural realities are those which are not any kind of natural realities. What, though, are the natural realities? I characterize the natural epistemically. Natural realities are those humans develop beliefs about with use of human empirical reason. Supernatural realities are those human beings develop beliefs about with faith. Faith is itself a supernatural reality. So, only with faith can one develop beliefs about faith! (This role I attribute to faith may require correction as I go forward.)

Human empirical reason is that which we use in developing beliefs about the physical, mathematical, social and moral.

So, a first outline of my conceptual scheme for distinguishing the real from the unreal is as follows. There is the supernatural and everything else is natural. The categories of the natural are the moral, mathematical, social, mental, physical and material.

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.

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.
Thus:
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.