Saturday, March 04, 2006

Berkeley, Laws of Nature, and Occasionalism

It has been a while since I've said anything about this weblog's namesake, so I've decided to remedy that by presenting the following three passages from Berkeley's Siris, my favorite Berkeleyan work. Siris gives us a chance to see a side of Berkeley that is often neglected; it enables us to see the Berkeley who thought that Stoic and Platonic metaphysics, however speculative, were worth taking seriously, and were probably on to something. (This side peeps into his better known works, the Principles and the Three Dialogues, as well as into the also-neglected Alciphron, but is easily missed. It could hardly be missed in Siris, however, where it comes out in full, and somewhat overwhelming, array.) In a reversal from the usual usage on this site, my comments are in italics.
*****

1. The principles whereof a thing is compounded, the instrument used in its production, and the end for which it was intended, are all in vulgar use termed causes; though none of them be, strictly speaking, agent or efficient. There is not any proof that an extended corporeal or mechanical cause doth really and properly act; even motion itself being in truth a passion. Therefore, though we speak of this fiery substance as acting, yet it is to be understood only as a mean or instrument; which indeed is the case of all mechanical causes whatsoever. They are, nevertheless, sometimes termed agents and causes, although they are by nomeans active in a strict and proper signification. When therefore force, power, virtue,or action is mentioned as subsisting in an extended and corporeal or mechanical being, this is not to be taken in a true, genuine, and real, but only in a gross and popular sense, which sticks to appearances, and doth not analyze things to their first principles. In compilance with established language and the use of the world, we must employ the popular current phrase. But then in truth we ought to distinguish its meaning. It may suffice to have made this declaration once for all, in order to avoid mistakes. [Siris 155]

'Mechanical' here means roughly what we would call 'physical'. Berkeley's claim that motion is properly only a passion, something undergone, rather than a genuine action, is a common one in the period. The reference to 'this fiery substance' is a reference to what Berkeley has been discussing. Berkeley is much taken with the notion of a World Soul that is a 'pure aethereal fire'; and has been speculating (Siris is explicitly a speculative work, put forward not dogmatically but as food for thought) about its role in the functioning of the cosmos. This is part of the general drift of the work: from the properties of tar-water to the properties of mechanical causes to cosmic operations (the world soul) to minds to the divine mind to the Trinity. He has been treating the 'pure aethereal fire' (which he also calls 'light') as a cause, and is clarifying the sense in which he does not mean it.

2. The mind of man acts by an instrument necessarily. The το 'ηγεμονικον, or Mind presiding in the world, acts by an instrument freely. Without instrumental and second causes there could be no regular course of nature. And without a regular course, nature could never be understood; mankind must always be at a loss, not knowing what to expect, or how to govern themselves, or direct their actions for the obtaining of any end. Therefore in the government of the world physical agents, improperly so called, or mechanical, or second causes, or natural causes, or instrumetns, are necessary to assist, not the governor, but the governed. [Siris 160]

As we shall see in the next passage, there is more to this passage than meets the eye. The idea only hinted at here, that the laws of natures are rules we formulate to help us know what to expect, govern ourselves, and obtain our ends, is a key part of Berkeley's view of the laws of nature.

3. Mechanical laws of nature or motion direct us how to act and teach us what to expect. Where intellect presides there will be method and order, and therefore rules, which if not state and constant would cease to be rules. There is therefore a constancy in things, which is styled the Course of Nature (sect 160). All the phaenomena in nature are produced by motion. There appears an uniform working in things great and small, by attracting and repelling forces. But the particular laws of attraction and repulsion are various. Nor are we concerned at all about the forces, neither can we know or measure them otherwise than by their effects, that is to say, the motions; which motions only, and not the forces, are indeed in the bodies (sect. 155). Bodies are moved to or from each other, and this is performed according to different laws. The natural or mechanic philosopher endeavours to discover those laws by experiment and reasoning. But what is said of forces residing in bodies, whether attracting or repelling is to be regarded only as a mathematical hypothesis, and not as anything really existing in nature. [Siris 234]

As he goes on to note in section 235, this means that we can't suppose that there is any sort of real power in the particles composing bodies; so we come up here against Berkeley's occasionalism. Notice the emphasis again on the physical laws of nature being rules directing us with regard how to act and what to expect; on Berkeley's view, laws of nature are very closely analogous to grammatical rules. Like grammatical rules they are formulated after the fact, on the basis of the language they are interpreting; like grammatical rules they are pragmatically oriented, being primarily for use; like grammatical rules they are simply hypotheses that save the phenomena for practical purposes; and like grammatical rules we shouldn't take too seriously the fact that they posit something to exist. On the other hand, it must be understood that Berkeley is not, strictly speaking, an anti-realist about laws of nature, for he thinks there really are rules that constitute the 'course of nature': namely, the rules God uses in communicating to us the course of nature. This aspect of Berkeley's view goes back to some of his earliest thinking and is argued for in his first published work, the New Theory of Vision, when he argues that vision is, quite literally, a form of communication between the divine mind and the minds of creatures.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Aquinas on Spiritual Light

The following is one of my favorite articles in the Summa Theologiae, ST 1.67.1. I think that, among other things, it identifies a feature of language that is too often overlooked, namely, that some words can be taken figuratively or literally without change in their basic meaning if they are taken figuratively and literally in different senses. I also have a general interest in the theological theme of light.

The translation is mine, and thus rough (practice, one might say); it should be taken with a grain of salt. The Latin is here; the Dominican Fathers translation is here.

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Thus we proceed to the first.

It seems that light is properly said of spiritual things. Thus Augustine says (Gen. ad Litt. IV) that in spiritual things is a better and more certain light, and that Christ is not said to be light in the same sense that he is said to be stone, but the former properly, the latter figuratively.

Further, Dionysius (Div. Nom. IV) places Light among the intelligible names of God. But the intelligible names of God are properly said of spiritual things. Therefore light is properly said of spiritual things.

Further, the Apostle says (Eph. 5), all that is manifested is light. But manifestation is more properly in spiritual things than in corporeal things. Therefore so also with light.

But against this is the fact that Ambrose (De Fide) places splendor among those things that are said of God metaphorically.

I respond that it must be said that some names are appropriately said in two ways: in one way according to their first imposition, in another way, according to the use of the name. Thus it is clear in the word 'vision' that by first imposition it signifies the act of the sense of vision [ad significandum actum sensus visus]; but according to the dignity and sureness of this sense, this word is extended, according to spoken usage, to all the cognition of the other senses (thus it is said, "Seeing how it tastes" or "seeing how it smells" or "seeing how it is hot") and further to intellectual cognition, as in Matt. 5: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God." And similarly this must be said of the word 'light'. For firstly it is instituted to signify what makes manifest in the sense of vision; but afterward it is extended to signify what makes manifest according to any cognition. If, therefore, the word 'light' is taken according to its first imposition, it is said metaphorically of spiritual things, as Ambrose says. But if it is taken according to its spoken usage, extended to all manifestation, it is properly said of spiritual things.

And from this the response to the objections is clear.

UPDATE: Corrected several typos; and fixed a mistranslation of 'certior' and improved (although not entirely to my satisfaction) the translation of the above Latin phrase (thanks to Ocham for pointing out both of these weaknesses in the original post).

On Interpreting Scripture

The third Biblical Studies carnival is up at "ricoblog".

For the occasion I leave you with this tale from the Desert Fathers. Some of the elders once visited Saint Anthony the Great, and along with them came the abbot Joseph. Saint Anthony, having seen in his lifetime many men of very different qualities, decided to determine what manner of men had come to him. He proposed to them a passage of Scripture, asking for its meaning. One by one they gave their opinions; and to each of them, he said, "You have not found it." At last the question came to abbot Joseph.

"What is the meaning of this passage?" Saint Anthony said to abbot Joseph.

"I do not know," said abbot Joseph to Saint Anthony.

Then Saint Anthony turned to the elders and said, "Truly I say to you, the abbot Joseph has learned the only way in which Scripture can be interpreted. For when he does not know, he acknowledges his own ignorance."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Worth Remembering

I remember that, speaking of his fellow Americans, especially of American youth, a great friend of mine said to me one day: "They have no roots." The worst scoundrel in Europe has roots; there is some old human legacy to which he can stick, for better or for worse. Here there is, it seems to me, a certain instability, or fleetingness, in the life of individuals; one is less sure that "it will last," that they will carry through, I don't say with the job they are determined to do, I would rather say with the inner purpose they have formed as to the direction of their own personal life.

That is why, among the general features of American psychology, and despite many exceptions, of course, I think we can observe a certain proneness to a peculiar sort of impatience, and, as a result, a proneness also to quick discouragement. Let me make my thought clearer. I just said that the impatience in question is a peculiar sort of impatience. American crowds (when waiting for a train, for instance or inconvenienced by any of the multiple regulations of our modern life, or plagued by red tape) are incomparably more patient than French crowds. Men and women in this country confront suffering with great courage, and often a strange Stoic resignation. In emergencies they manifest admirable endurance. But they are not patient with life.

They are not patient with their own life, as a rule. And they get disturbed and discouraged very soon, if the work they have undertaken is slow to succeed. The American artist, the American painter, would like to have his work satisfy him rapidly and give immediate results, whereas a French painter, a C├ęzanne, a Rouault -- disregarded, spurned by all for perhaps thirty or forty years -- remains bent on working with furious patience. As a rule, I think, a young American would be afraid that such an attitude marked only presumptuous stubbornness. If he is not recognized, he starts doubting himself. He thinks he is a failure.


Jacques Maritain, following in the French tradition of Chateaubriand and Tocqueville, in Reflections on America. In context he is discussing weaknesses in American society. And there's no doubt that this is one.

UPDATE: Another great line. This time Maritain is discussing deep-rooted American illusions. The fifth is this:

Americans seem sometimes to believe that if you are a thinker you must be a frowning bore, because thinking is so damn serious.

This one's more serious, though. It's number seven:

A number of Americans seem to consider that marriage must be both the perfect fulfillment of romantic love and the pursuit of full individual self-realization for the two partners involved.

Hume on the Components of Causal Inference

What do we do when we engage in causal inferences? One of Hume’s important claims is that chains of causal inferences must be ‘fixed’ in some impression or memory. Hume establishes this by a regress argument. If Hume is right, any causal inference will involve the following:

(A) An originating impression of the thing
(B) A transition to the idea of the connected cause or effect
(C) The idea of this connected cause or effect

What is more, causal inferences can induce belief, and this is an important feature of them, given that they are only way (besides impressions) that we can gain the knowledge that something exists. Hume uses these insights to divide his discussion in the Treatise into the following parts:

1) The analysis
1a) The nature of the impressions (1.3.5)
1b) The nature of the inference (1.3.6)
1c) The nature of the idea or belief (1.3.7)
1d) How belief is induced (1.3.8)

5) Relevant objections
5a) How can Hume’s analysis distinguish causal inference from other inferences? (1.3.9)
5b) How can Hume’s analysis account for the immense and important effects of belief? (1.3.10)

6) Confirmation of Hume’s analysis by application to different types of causal reasoning
6a) ‘Probability of chances’ (1.3.11)
6b) ‘Probability of causes’ (1.3.12)
6c) ‘Unphilosophical probability’ (1.3.13)

At this point, Hume uses his analysis to return to his original question, namely, the nature of the necessary connection between cause and effect. One advantage of laying out the argument in this way is that it enables us to see just how beautifully organized the argument really is. It sprawls considerably, so on a first reading, or, for that matter, on multiple readings, it is very easy to regard it as one long ramble. In fact, it is a brilliantly organized argument, despite its apparent digressions. Hume has a particular analysis of causal inference, which is important for answering the question he wants to answer. He recognizes, however, that the analysis is likely to be controversial, so he does his best to show just how strong it can be by answering the chief objections and showing how fruitful it is. It is, if I may interject a personal note here, a breathtaking instance of one of the great rewards of doing history of philosophy; at times one comes across an argument, perhaps unclear or rambling or apparently confused, that, laid out correctly, shows itself to be truly beautiful. If this is rambling, would that more philosophers rambled!

Of course, I think for various reasons that Hume's analysis fails, particularly with regard to the induction of belief; but it's a genuinely noble attempt.

Champion of the Single Christ

One of the most important (post-NT) theologian in the history of Christianity is almost unknown in the West. St. Cyril of Alexandria died in 444. His thought dominated four ecumenical councils (Ephesus, Chalcedon, II Constantinople, and III Constantinople) and several of his letters are simply affirmed by these councils as orthodox.

He is best known for being, as Patriarch of Alexandria, the opponent of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople. It was a very serious dispute, since the four major Patriarchs were split : Antioch (whose bishop was John) and Constantinople were Nestorian, Alexandria and Rome (whose bishop was Celestine) were Cyrilline. So serious was the dispute that, to keep the peace, the Emperor Theodoret had to call a council. The outcome was the Council of Ephesus, where Nestorius was deposed as bishop. The Antiochene delegation was delayed to the Council, and Cyril made the serious error of opening the council instead of waiting. In response, John and his supporters formed a counter-council that issued a declaration saying that Memnon (bishop of Ephesus) and Cyril were deposed. Eventually, the counter-council's deposition was considered invalid and John and Cyril were reconciled; Cyril's letter to John upon reconciliation was accepted by the Council of Chalcedon.

Thanks to the Internet you can have easy access to translations of the conciliar decrees and some of Cyril's most important works.

Council of Ephesus
Council of Chalcedon
II Constantinople
III Constantinople
Cyril of Alexandria
Cyril's writings at Early Church Fathers

Aquinas on Faith, Hope, and Love

Our blessings or goods consist especially in faith, hope, and the love of charity: for by faith we have a knowledge of God; by hope we are raised up to him; but by the love of charity we are united to him. As we read: “So faith, hope, love, abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

Aquinas, Commentary on Colossians (PDF)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

On Time Again

The recent discussion of eternity and time both here and at FQI has made it clear to me that a major issue in the debate is the question of what we should see a theory of time as doing. I would suggest the following considerations as food for thought. All of them are rough, and most of them are controversial.

(1) It's actually very difficult to distinguish the two major theories of time. Everyone agrees that time is characterizable in terms of past-present-future (tensed properties); and everyone agrees that time is characterizable in terms of earlier-later (the so-called 'tenseless properties). Thus, the usual way of distinguishing the two theories in these terms doesn't actually shed much light on the subject at all. Claims that the two forms of characterization are not intertranslatable have always turned out at some point to fail; and while this is not proof that the claim is simply false, it should make us very wary of people who attempt to do philosophy of time by way of grammar.

(2) It goes without saying that a theory of time can only tell us about temporal things. Thus, we cannot assume that someone with either theory will hold that his theory of time covers everything that exists, unless it can be assumed that everything is temporally conditioned. In some contexts -- like questions of divine eternity, or mathematical truths, for instance -- this cannot be assumed.

(3) The common idea that the Special Theory of Relativity can't be accepted in a realist way by a presentist is simply false, as can be seen in the case of process philosophers, who (universally) are presentists and (generally) accept the Special Theory of Relativity in a realist fashion, because they follow Whitehead's recognition that presentism doesn't require one to say there is only one privileged present -- in other words, you can be a presentist and hold that there are many privileged presents. The common claim assumes that to have a privileged present you can only have one present (otherwise it's not privileged); but the process view recognizes, rightly, that an A-theorist only has to view the present as privileged over the past and future. To put the matter crudely, an A-theorist can believe in a 'smeared' or even a disjointed present. An A-theorist does not require absolute simultaneity. And, strictly speaking, an A-theorist doesn't even have to privilege the present at all. Some A-theorists, e.g., growing block theorists, privilege the past as well as the present -- they simply deny privileges to the future. It is possible, as well, to have an A-theorist who doesn't do so, but grants privileges to all times. See the following paper by Dean Zimmerman on this point: The A-theory of time, the B-theory of time, and 'Taking Tense Seriously' (PDF). Most card-carrying A-theorists are presentists; but not all. This has to do with the problem of distinguishing the positions, which I discuss below.

(4) The idea, occasionally (but fortunately not commonly) found, that the B-theorist is somehow arguing that time is illusory is not even coherent. The B-theory is not an argument that there is no time; it is a theory of time, and thus presupposes that there is time.

(5) What, then, is the real difference between A-theory and B-theory? My suggestion is that there is no clear difference, has never been a clear difference, and that the distinction is just not a useful one to make because it can only be made in superficial, purely verbal, ways that have nothing to do with the price of potatoes. That's a highly controversial claim to make; but I've never seen any reason to think otherwise. The original distinction was made in terms of translation, which made sense: it was just a distinction between two views about whether 'past-present-future' (PPF) or 'earlier-later' (EL) were superior ways of talking about time. The A-theorists were ones who claimed that some facts characterizable in PPF format were not characterizable at all in EL format; and the B-theorists held the reverse. These were, it should be noted, not the only possible positions; it is also possible to hold to the position that PPF and EL are, given reasonable suppositions, perfectly intertranslatable, and the only translation difference between them is the commonplace one that for identifying some facts PPF is simpler and for identifying others EL is simpler; likewise, it is possible to hold that each is able to characterize facts that the other is not, and thus that neither was superior. But one can see how the distinction makes a certain amount of sense. If PPF is able to characterize facts EL is not, or vice versa, then those facts in contention could serve to distinguish the two theories. If people privilege PPF over EL in characterization, they are A-theorists; if the reverse, they are B-theorists.

At some point, however, probably with Mellor, it was recognized that, while the translation approach made sense, it couldn't do what it was supposed to do without begging the question. As Mellor noted, suppose we have a statement in PPF format that can't be translated into EL. What difference does it make? A statement that can't be translated into EL could still be made true by a fact that is more adequately characterized in EL format. In the same way, a materialist might hold that while first-person talk can't be adequately fleshed out by any translation into third-person talk of which we are aware, we nevertheless have good reasons to think that all first-person talk is made true by facts most adequately characterizable in a third-person way. In other words, an inability to translate everything sayable in PPF into EL could be due to a defect or limitation in the PPF format (vagueness, or simplification, or whatever). So the translation approach fails to give us an interesting distinction. However, what are we left with? Not much. For we need some non-question-begging way to identify whether a given fact that makes a statement true is more adequately characterized in PPF or EL, regardless of whether the statement (if in PPF format) is translatable into EL format, or vice versa. We have (let us face it) no way of doing this.

(6) The distinction, then, is one that deserves to die. But I don't expect many people will be rushing to kill it. Nonetheless, it is possible to work with it if we see the distinction not as a a theory of time but as a grammar of temporal existence. The difference will be this: The A-theorist holds that, for temporal things, those things are most properly said to actually exist or occur that are present. The B-theorist holds that all things at any time are equally properly said to actually exist or occur (with the understanding that they do so at the time they do). The difference is one of emphasis; the dispute is a purely pragmatic one; it has its uses, but let's not get very excited about it. It turns out to be entirely a matter of convenience of analysis.

Reading for Ash Wednesday

Remember that you are dust; to dust you shall return.

We are Dust! at "Rebecca Writes"

Ash Wednesday Notes at "Hugo Schwyzer"

Ash Wednesday: Practice and Meaning at "Mark D. Roberts"

Reflection on the Ashes at "Dappled Things"

Rend Your Hearts, Not Your Garments at "Flos Carmeli"

The First Day of Lent at "Magic Statistics"

Penitence, Fasting, and Pride at "GetReligion"

If you've come across any good and timely posts on the subject, let me know.

'Peer Review'

One thing that has recently come to bother me is that the public at large doesn't know what peer review is. (This becomes very clear in, for example, discussions of whether Wikipedia or blogs are peer-reviewed.) Most people think it means 'review by a peer', which is understandable; but, of course, no academic would consider the fact that their paper was looked over by a colleague, no matter how thoroughly or expertly, 'peer review'. Of course, such a thing is neither necessary nor sufficient for reasonable quality control. Academics, of course, always mean refereeing, where the contribution is officially referred to relevant experts for review in order to determine suitability for publication. It occurs to me that academics should drop the phrase 'peer review' altogether, despite how common it is, as a phrase that just confuses communication between academia and the larger public. (And if you think that it's a trivial issue, I remind you of just how much confusion is engendered in the public in the intelligent design controversy over whether an article was 'peer-reviewed'.)

History Carnival #26

History Carnival #26 is up at "World History Blog". I found the post on Newfoundland vs. Iceland particularly interesting. Also recommended is When Scientists Dabble in History.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A New Poem Draft

Electakyria

the garden fountains pour
living streams refreshed by shower
greening leaf and blooming flower
around the lily white

fresh and dewy-petalled light
surrrounds her, silver scented
where God on earth is tented
spreading grace and fire
calming wrath and fear

see her many-gifted hand
spreading graces dear
granting merci to her knights
vital sips of paradise
vivid dreams of sainted lands
beyond the ken of learning wise

see how beneath the maddened moon
in lights bewitching to a swoon
she walks on rain-wet paths
through shades of minds demented
boiling with an inner wrath
calming with her touch and song
the ache of heart that, maddened, longs
for better world and wonder

as the mover moves the stars
as cloud to earth calls in thunder
she calls, she moves, she draws
the knight to learn of loving awe
making every heart renewed
a fresher flower touched by dew

inspires she to seek the true
by gentle kiss of breath
a wind outracing wings of death
bringing hoping heart to light
speaking troth and giving life

Ordinary Language

The Maverick Philosopher has had a series of posts on ordinary language philosophy. I'm in full sympathy with his position. It just reminded me, however, that some time ago I summarized Gilbert Ryle's article, "Ordinary Language," on this weblog, because I thought that it presented an interestingly different take on ordinary language philosophy than I had previously come across. The post originally also had an evaluation of Ryle's argument, but (for some reason) I put it in the comments. Since I have Haloscan Basic, the comments are long gone. I also must apologize for the many typos in the post.

I think Ryle's approach would lead to ordinary language philosophy meeting up in some ways with the sort of philosophical approach to which Vallicella is contrasting it. (Of course, there would still be legitimate questions. For example, is Ryle's characterization an idealized version of ordinary language philosophy, a sort of dream of what it might be or become; or was it a realized project, something ordinary language philosophers were actually and systematically doing? And in what ways does ordinary language philosophy, understood in this way, also suffer from limitations?)

For some reason I remember Ryle saying in this article that the phrase 'ordinary language' in 'ordinary language philosophy' meant not 'standard language' but 'language set in order'. This would be a fascinating take, if so; but as I can't find any hint of it in the summary, there's a good chance I'm misremembering.

Rethinking the World

"This is what you're to do," God said. "You will help humankind to survive its greedy, murderous, wasteful adolescence. Help it to find less destructive, more peaceful, sustainable ways to live."

Martha stared at him. After a while, she said feebly, "… what?"

"If you don't help them, they will be destroyed."

"You're going to destroy them … again?" she whispered.

"Of course not," God said, sounding annoyed.


From Octavia Butler, The Book of Martha

Monday, February 27, 2006

So That's What Leads to Philosophy Majors

The TWoP recap for last week's Battlestar Galactica had a hilarious passage in it that I just had to quote. Tom Zarek, of course, is talking to Gaius Baltar:

"You'd be surprised how many people crave the assurances of cold science, as opposed to the superstitious ravings of the Geminese," says Zarek, and sits, because if there's one thing anarchists know, it's that the quickest way to an atheist's heart is through his deep superiority to everybody else. "I know there's no Santa Claus! Everybody else in the whole first grade is stupid babies!" Which has a cuteness grace period of exactly one semester from starting college, and can sometimes lead to a Philosophy major, if not down the Ayn Rand road, which is like atheism squared in precisely this way.

The New Hume

One of the major disputes in Hume scholarship in the past twenty years or so has been the "New Hume" position. On the older reading of Hume, often called the 'Postivist' or the 'orthodox' view Hume denies that there are real causal connections among external objects. The New Hume interpretation is a popular counter-interpretation, which holds that Hume does not deny that there are real causal connections among external objects. Rather, he is a "Skeptical Realist" about them: real causal connections exist, but we 'cannot conceive them'. Part of the inspiration for this is that Hume does talk a lot about the 'hidden powers' of things, and one way to take these statements is to interpret them as affirmations that there are hidden powers.

I tend Old Hume myself, and in any case I think it matters less than most people seem to think; but one argument that can't be used against the New Hume interpretation is that, since Hume says we can't conceive of what real causal connections are, it makes no sense for him to believe there are real causal connections. What this overlooks is that Hume does on occasion allow that we can suppose things to exist that we can't conceive -- for example, we can't conceive of an exact standard of equality, but we can suppose one to exist.

Incidentally, you can get back issues of Hume Studies online; the newer issues are restricted to members of the International Hume Society, but the older ones are public. (If you do work in Hume or involving Hume and are not a member of the Hume Society, you need to be; it's a great group.)

Twelve Tribes Wandering in the Desert

An interesting article at Beliefnet.com tries to divide up the complicated American religious-political landscape (HT: GetReligion). Using poll results relative to the last election, it divides Americans into twelve tribes. I've arranged them from smallest to largest. My summaries may be a little misleading in parts, due to diversity in the groups; see the article for further details.

Jews (about 1.7% of the voting population)
46% liberal, 36% moderate, 68% Democrat. Heavy emphasis on foreign policy.

Muslims and Other Faiths (about 3% of the voting population)
Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, and other smaller groups. 46% moderate, 44% liberal, 55% Democrat. Heavy emphasis on the economy.

Spiritual but not Religious (about 5.3% of the voting population)
Most report spiritual beliefs--85% believe in God and more than half are sure there is some kind of life after death--but they don't much like houses of worship or organized religion. They report no formal religious affiliation and a majority report seldom or never attending worship services. 47% are under age 35. 49% moderate, 37% Independent, 35% Democrat.

Latinos (about 7.3% of the voting population)
Majority Catholic, but with a large Protestant minority. Fairly conservative in practice (53% report attending worship once a week or more) and belief (60% of the Catholics agreed with papal infallibility; 58% of the Protestants are biblical literalists). 45% moderate, 54% Democrat. Heavy emphasis on the economy, but also a strong emphasis on the importance of faith to politics.

White Bread Protestants (about 8% of voting population)
The core members of the Protestant "mainline" churches-- United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church in the USA, American Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and so forth. About one-quarter report regular church attendance and just 19% are biblical literalists; 47% agree that "all the world's great religions are equally true and good." 43% moderate, 37% conservative, 46% Republican, 33% Democrat. Liberal on social issues, conservative on economic issues; heavy emphasis on the economy.

Convertible Catholics (about 8.1% of voting population)
The core of the white Catholic community, they outnumber conservative Catholics by nearly two to one. Religiously moderate in practice (42% claim to attend worship weekly) and belief (less than one-half agree with papal infallibility). 52% agree that "all the world's great religions are equally true and good." 49% moderate, 47% Democrat, 34% Republican. Heavy emphasis on the economy.

Black Protestants (about 9.6% of the voting population)
Fairly conservative in practice (59% report attending worship once a week or more) and belief (56% are biblical literalists). However, the experience of slavery and segregation has produced a distinctive theology. 48% moderate, 71% Democrat. Heavy emphasis on the economy, but highly conservative on social issues, and comfortable with religious involvement in politics.

Seculars (about 10.7% of the voting population)
Non-religious, atheists, and agnostics. 48% moderate, 35% liberal, 47% Democrat. Liberal on social issues; 47% young.

Moderate Evangelicals (about 10.8% of voting population)
These white evangelical Protestants hold less conservative religious beliefs (54% are biblical literalists) and don’t show up in church quite as often as the "religious right" (35% go weekly or more often), but they belong to evangelical churches and regard themselves as born-again Christians. 48% conservative, 47% Republican, 31% Democrat. Heavy emphasis on economic issues. Support religious involvement in politics, but tend not to say that their faith is important to their politics.

Heartland Culture Warriors (about 11.4% of voting population)
Conservative Catholics and conservative mainline Protestants, Latter-day Saints, and other smaller groups. Slightly less conservative than the Religious Right (54% of the Protestants are biblical literalists; 60% of the Catholics agree with papal infallibility) and more theologically diverse. But they are regular churchgoers (three-quarters report attending worship service weekly or more often). 50% conservative, 41% moderate, 54% Republican. Heavy emphasis on social issues.

Religious Left (about 12.6% of the voting population)
Theologically liberal Catholics, mainline and evangelical Protestants. Less church-bound (less than one-quarter report weekly worship attendance) and pluralistic in their beliefs (two-thirds agree that "all the world's great religious are equally true and good".) 50% moderate, 51% Democrat. Liberal on social issues; tend to oppose religious involvement in politics.

Religious Right (about 12.6% of the voting population)
Religiously conservative white evangelical Protestants: 88% believe the Bible is literally true; 87% report attending worship once a week or more; 44% live in the South. 66% conservative, 70% Republican. Strongly supportive of religious involvement in politics. Heavy emphasis on social issues.

Of course, as one might expect with this sort of thing, it's entirely possible to criticize various aspects of the division. But it's an interesting thing to think about, and is much better than the simplistic dichotomies that are usually used. (One of my particular frustrations with the usual ways of classifying this sort of thing is that Latino Christians and Black Protestants tend to drop out of consideration entirely, despite the fact that they are essential for understanding the interaction between religion and politics in the U.S.)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Time and Eternity

I'm in a discussion at Fides Quaerens Intellectum about what the relation is between the two following positions:

(1) God is atemporal.

(2) A tenseless theory of time is true.

Johnny-Dee had suggested that they are biconditional (assuming we are talking about theists): God is timeless if and only if time is tenseless. I disagreed since I don't think (1) commits one to any particular theory of time, and this is being discussed in the comments. I'm having difficulty with the comments over there today, however, so I thought I'd put my comment here as well, just in case. It's almost long enough for its own post, anyway.

"God exists now" is not the same proposition as "God's existence is tensed". The former only implies that "God exists" is true now. The latter implies that God's existence exhibits the same limitations in virtue of tense that the existence of temporal things does. Atemporalists shouldn't have any problem with saying that God exists now, any more than they should have a problem with saying that God exists with regard to any creaturely feature. God's existence is logically and metaphysically prior to the existence of anything He creates, so no matter what the difference between God and creatures may be, God exists. To suggest that God's duration is measured out according to a privileged temporal present, however, is a very different thing, requiring a very different (and rather difficult) set of arguments before it can be established.

As Xavier implies, it's fairly common among atemporalists to deny that the relation of creatures to God is perfectly symmetric with God's relation to creatures: in a sense the relations of creatures to God all partake of the limits and nature of creatures, whereas the relation of God to creatures partakes of the attributes of God. Or, in other words, creatures are related to God in a creaturely way (tensed, if creatures are tensed) and God is related to creatures in a divine way (eternal, if God is eternal).

Incidentally, with regard to Johnny-Dee's original point, I think there is a significant issue on which tenseless vs. tensed theory of time will affect one's view of God and time: someone who believes in a tenseless theory of time will see eternity as a rigorous analogue of omnipresence, while someone who believes in a tensed theory of time will at most consider it analogous in a more loose and indirect way.

Propositional Modality vs. Predicate Modality

Need these two be interpreted in the same way?

(A') I could believe that a unicorn exists on the Mongolian plains.

(B') It is possible that I believe that a unicorn exists on the Mongolian plains.

Now, as a matter of fact, (B') is false given that I believe no unicorns exist, and recognize that this implies that none exist on the Mongolian plains, and don't believe explicitly contradictory things. But (A') is true, because I could believe it, even granted that (in fact) I believe no unicorns exist and recognize that this implies none existing on the Mongolian plains and don't believe explicitly contradictory things. For (B') to be true on the suppositions, there must be a possible world in which the suppositions are true but "I believe that a unicorn exists on the Mongolian plains" is also true. For (A') to be true it simply has to be true, in this actual world, that it would be possible for me to believe that a unicorn exists on the Mongolian plains even though the suppositions are true. Indeed, the fact that we are able to make sense of this 'even though' shows that we have to be able to distinguish (A') and (B') in some cases.

(A') basically says: With regard to me this is not impossible: believing that p. (B') basically says: This is not impossible: I believe that p. Colloquially we can treat them the same, but when we are more precise the two are not really the same, and they don't combine with other propositions in the same way. There is a set of propositions S such that S + (B') leads to a contradiction, but S + (A') does not.

Presumably there is some connection between (A') and (B'). But it isn't, I would suggest, equivalence. If this is true, it would seem to be quite general.

Gipsy-Cursed Bunny Slippers

A great slapstick parody of Angel:

Cherub: The Vampire with Bunny Slippers

They've put up three episodes; another comes out March 6. There will be twelve episodes in all for the first season; each episode is about 4-7 minutes. But beware that dark force of evil, Johnny Mildly-Irritating.