Sunday, May 31, 2015

Some Commonly Repeated Biblical Myths

Here are a number of urban legends that get repeated in sermons. Some are more pervasive than others, even appearing in commentaries and scholarly works.

1. The “eye of the needle” refers to a gate outside Jerusalem.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” says Jesus in Mark 10:25. Maybe you’ve heard of the gate in Jerusalem called the “eye of the needle.” The camel could pass through it only after stooping down and having all its baggage taken off.

The illustration is used in many sermons as an example of coming to God on our knees and without our baggage. The only problem is… there is no evidence for such a gate. The story has been around since the 15th century, but there isn’t a shred of evidence to support it.

2. The high priest tied a rope around his ankle so that others could drag him out of the Holy of Holies in case God struck him dead.

Various versions of this claim have been repeated by pastors, but it is a legend. It started in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. There is no evidence for the claim in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna or any other source. Furthermore, the thickness of the veil (three feet) would have precluded the possibility of a priest being dragged out anyway. [...]

6. Gehenna was a burning trash dump outside Jerusalem.
I’ve used this illustration many times. But there isn’t evidence to support this idea. Still, because it seems like a reasonable explanation for the origin of the Hinnom Valley as “hell,” commentators and preachers have accepted it. It’s possible that the verdict may still be out on this one, but not if Todd Bolen is right: 
“The explanation for the ‘fire of Gehenna’ lies not in a burning trash dump, but in the burning of sacrificed children. Already in Old Testament times, the Valley of Hinnom was associated with the destiny of the wicked.  That the valley was just outside the city of Jerusalem made it an appropriate symbol for those excluded from divine blessing.”

Source for the above: Trevin Wax, "Urban Legends: The Preacher's Edition," TGC, April 27, 2011, accessed May 30, 2015,


[Further information on Gehenna from various sources:]
“Gehenna is presented as diametrically opposed to ‘life’: it is better to enter life than to go to Gehenna. . .It is common practice, both in scholarly and less technical works, to associate the description of Gehenna with the supposedly contemporary garbage dump in the valley of Hinnom. This association often leads scholars to emphasize the destructive aspects of the judgment here depicted: fire burns until the object is completely consumed. Two particular problems may be noted in connection with this approach. First, there is no convincing evidence in the primary sources for the existence of a fiery rubbish dump in this location (in any case, a thorough investigation would be appreciated). Secondly, the significant background to this passage more probably lies in Jesus’ allusion to Isaiah 66:24.”
Source: Peter Head, “The Duration of Divine Judgment in the New Testament,” in The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology, ed. by K. E. Brower and M. W. Elliott (Leicester, UK: Apollos, 1997), 223.
Ge-Hinnom (Aramaic Ge-hinnam, hence the Greek Geenna), ‘The Valley of Hinnom,’ lay south of Jerusalem, immediately outside its walls. The notion, still referred to by some commentators, that the city’s rubbish was burned in this valley, has no further basis than a statement by the Jewish scholar Kimchi (sic) made about A.D. 1200; it is not attested in any ancient source. The valley was the scene of human sacrifices, burned in the worship of Moloch (2 Kings 16:3 and 21:6), which accounts for the prophecy of Jeremiah that it would be called the Valley of Slaughter under judgment of God (Jer. 7:32-33). This combination of abominable fires and divine judgment led to the association of the valley with a place of perpetual judgment (see Isa. 66:24) and later with a place of judgment by fire without any special connection to Jerusalem (see, for example, 1 Enoch 27:1ff., 54:1ff., 63:3-4, and 90:26ff).
Source: G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 376-377, footnote 92.
The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to Rabbi David Kimhi's commentary on Psalm 27:13 (ca. A.D. 1200). He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources (Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 5 vols. [Munich: Beck, 1922-56], 4:2:1030). Also a more recent author holds a similar view (Lloyd R. Bailey, "Gehenna: The Topography of Hell," Biblical Archeologist 49 [1986]: 189
Source: Hans Scharen, "Gehenna in the Synoptics," Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (January-March 1998) 328, footnote 17.
The traditional explanation for this seems to go back to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27 (around 1200 C.E.). He remarked the following concerning the valley beneath Jerusalem’s walls:
Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called ‘Gehenna.’
Kimhi's otherwise plausible suggestion, however, finds no support in literary sources or archaeological data from the intertestamental or rabbinic periods. There is no evidence that the valley was, in fact, a garbage dump, and thus his explanation is insufficient. [...]
Even after the valley ceased to function as a cult center, it continued to be regarded as the location of an entrance to the underworld over which the sole God was sovereign. This is clear from the following statements in the Babylonian Talmud: (Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar further stated:) Gehenna has three gates; one in the wilderness, one in the sea and one in Jerusalem. (According to Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai's school:) There are two palm trees in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and between them smoke arises..,. and this is the gate of Gehenna? (Babylonian Talmud, Erubin, 19a-see Slotki 1938: 130-31)
Source: Lloyd R. Bailey, "Gehenna: The Topography of Hell," Biblical Archaeologist 49, no. 3 (1986): 189, 191.
It seems that the location of the city-dump of the late Second Temple period in this particular part of the city had a previous long history in the late Iron Age II. The Book of Nehemiah mentions several times a gate called Saar ha-Aspot/Sopot (Neh 2, 13; 3:13-14; 12:31). This toponym is usually translated as ‘Dung Gate’, based on the analogy with 2 Sam 2,8 and Ps 113,7 (Simons 1952, 123). These verses mention the city’s poor people, who most probably were foraging the city dump for food. Even if we accept B. Mazar’s suggestion (1975, 194-95), to relate spt to tpt – the Tophet – which was an extramural high place in the Valley of Hinnom (2 Kgs 21, 6; 2 Chr 33,6), we remain in an area of dirt. This place involved an extensive use of fire, which produced burning waste such as ashes, soot and charred wood. Also the location of the Gate of the pottery sherds (Sa’ar ha-Harsit), in the south (Jer 19,2), might point to a pile of garbage (Simons 1952, 230), as pottery vessels were the type of household item broken and discarded in antiquity more than any other type of artifact.

All the various types of city-garbage (ashes, pottery shards, waste of human occupation, etc.) were moved and dumped at the southeastern side of the city of Jerusalem, in the Iron Age and Persian periods. This was the city dump to where also the debris of the smashed cult objects and related material that was created during the Josianic religious reform, were moved and dumped, mentioning particularly the Kidron Valley (2 Kgs 23,4,6,10,12)”
Source: Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, “The Jerusalem City-Dump in the Late Second Temple Period," Israel Exploration Journal 53 (2003): 17.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Markus Gabriel on Why the World Does Not Exist but Unicorns Do

I agree with certain versions of the famous Kantian line of thought according to which existence is not what I call a proper property. In the first step of the overall argument, by a “proper property” I mean a property reference to which puts one in a position to distinguish an object in the world from other objects in the world. Existence certainly is not a property that divides the world up into two realms: that of the existing things on the one hand and that of the non-existing things (things lacking the feature of existence) on the other hand. That would be a weird world-picture.

Against this background, Kant has argued that existence is world-containment, that is, the world’s property to contain spatiotemporal individuals. On this construal, existence is precisely not a proper property of individuals. To assert that some object x exists is to say something about the world, namely that x is to be found in the world. However, this immediately raises the question whether the world itself can exist on this model? Is the world contained by the world? What exactly is the relation of containment supposed to be? Is the world some kind of set or a mereological whole? Would it even make sense to say that the world is a spatiotemporal individual located within the world and to be met with in it? What kind of totality is the world? All of Kant’s answers hinge on his notion of the world as the “field of possible experience” (CPR, A 227/B 280f.).

This creates all sorts of problems. Yet, what is right about his view is that to exist is a property of a field or a domain and not an ordinary discriminatory property of objects we encounter within the domain. As I read him, Kant distinguished between questions concerning the existence of individuals (which he takes to be a function mapping individuals onto the field of possible experience) and questions concerning the world itself. The latter, metaphysical questions, for him, are famously unanswerable.

If this is right, the question is what we mean when in metaphysics we search for the furniture of reality or the fundamental structure of the world. If “the world” is explicitly or implicitly modeled along the lines of a huge spatio-temporal container inhabited by the totality of individuals, this creates the problem that it is entirely unclear in what sense such a container is supposed to exist. Kant thought that a realist container model – according to which the world is a big mind-independent object encompassing all entities – should be replaced by a transcendetanl idealist horizon model according to which the world is not an object of enquiry at all – neither a big container nor a “big physical object” (David Lewis) –, let alone one of the individuals to be met with within the world. This ultimately means that the world is not an extant entity grounding our claims to objectivity, realism etc., but a kind of necessary fiction or a “natural illusion,” as Kant puts it.

However, this only postpones the problem: if the world is a horizon, we might still wonder whether it exists and what this would mean. The problem is that Kant seems to be committed to a very substantive metaphysical account, namely a form of metaphysical fictionalism according to which the illusion of the existence of the world is a purportedly natural, that is to say, inevitable side-effect of human thought, a feature of conceiving of things “from the human standpoint” (CPR, A 26/B 42).

Even though I do not buy Kant’s own ontology (his transcendental idealist view of existence), I employ arguments found in the tradition of ontology or rather metaontology departing from Kant in order to argue against the coherence of metaphysics as a first-order investigation into the world in its entirety, reality as a whole, the universe as the place where everything takes place etc. Notice how sloppy most contemporary metaphysicians are when it comes to characterizing their subject matter: words like “the universe,” “the world,” “reality,” “the cosmos” are often used interchangeably and without further clarifications. In my view, those totality words do not refer to anything which is capable of having the property of existence.

In this context, I try to revive the tradition of metaontology and metametaphysics that departs from Kant. As has been noticed, Heidegger introduced the term metaontology and he also clearly states that Kant’s philosophy is a “metaphysics about metaphysics.” I call metametaphysical nihilism the view that there is no such thing as the world such that questions regarding its ultimate nature, essence, structure, composition, categorical outlines etc. are devoid of the intended conceptual content. The idea that there is a big thing comprising absolutely everything is an illusion, albeit neither a natural one nor an inevitable feature of reason as such. Of course, there is an influential Neo-Carnapian strand in the contemporary debate which comes to similar conclusions. [...]

Generally, I draw a distinction between metaphysics and ontology. In this context, metaphysics1 is the theory of absolutely everything there is, whereas ontology is the somewhat more modest systematic investigation into the meaning of “existence,” or rather into existence itself (among other things: by way of giving an account of the meaning of existence terms in various languages). Metaphysics1 has no object, it is an empty discipline in need of a suitable error theory. For this purpose I draw on ontological considerations and try to work out an ontology that does not require the existence of the world in the metaphysical1 sense of the term. Of course, there are other ways of looking at metaphysics. For instance, you might think that there is metaphysics2, a discipline which draws a broad distinction between how things really are and how they appear to us under species-relative conditions. As long as this does not lead back to metaphysics1, the theory of totality, I am fine with this. However, it is obviously not easy to draw the line between metaphysics1 and metaphysics2. There is also metaphysics3, where one is a metaphysician if one believes that physics is not a theory of absolutely everything because there are non-physical things. My ontology can be seen as contributing to metaphysics2 and metaphysics3 while constantly trying to be cautious not to get entangled in metaphysics1.

Not all forms of pluralism are alike. What matters here are the details. The brand of ontological pluralism I am advocating is realist in nature. There really is a plurality of domains regardless of the additional fact that we are able to epistemically individuate those domains (say by an adequate scientific division of labor, where each discipline attempts to carve some domains out of the plurality of domains at their joints). Concepts like “conceptual schemes,” “language games,” “world-making” play no role in my account. My name for domains is “fields of sense,” a term I mainly introduced to highlight their distinction from both sets and domains of objects where the latter can be understood in purely extensionalist terms as collections of objects such that for each of them we – or some ideal observer – can refer to it with a logical proper name. The “sense”-part in “fields of sense” stems from a realist interpretation of Fregean senses according to which Fregean senses are what we capture in a true thought which grasps that things are such-and-so. Things being such-and-so is generally as mind-independent, ontologically and epistemologically objective as anything could be.[...] Fields of sense are like domains of objects with the additional feature that they are intensionally individuated. What it is for something to exist in a field of sense is a function of the descriptions that objectively hold good of the objects to be encountered in the field. [...]

This precisely does not mean that we construct the plurality of fields or that they are somehow essentially tied to features that only exist as a consequence of the existence of conceptual schemes brought about by intentionally gifted animals like us. Otherwise put: we do not make it the case that there is no all-encompassing domain or big physical object of which everything is a part. It is not that the world would have been just one unity or totality had we not divided it up in the course of history. There never was, is or will be an entity or domain corresponding to our “oceanic feeling” of belonging to a gigantic scene where absolutely everything is located or takes place.

Notice that I do not deny the existence of the universe, which I define as the object domain (the field of sense) investigated by the ensemble of our best natural sciences. The universe might very well be some kind of big physical object or a cosmos. However, it does not encompass absolutely everything there is (is not metaphysically maximal), as what it is for something to exist in the universe (to be physical, say) does not apply to lots of things that actually exist, such as numbers, unicorns in my dreams, witches in Faust, or the Federal Republic of Germany. To suppose otherwise is to engage in metaphysics1 in an objectionable sense, that is, to look not just for a formally unified (formally univocal) existence property, but to inflate it with properties specifically individuating objects in the physical universe. To borrow a nice phrase from Huw Price who defends what he calls a “functional pluralism” somewhat similar to some of the things I believe: the univocity of the logical device of quantification, the existential quantifier should not mislead into assuming that there is a “single arena, as it were, and a single existential quantifier, bullishly surveying the whole.” (Naturalism Without Mirrors, p. 13)

The ontology of fields of sense (OFS) is committed to a combination of ontological pluralism, ontological realism and metametaphysical nihilism. It is a view of reality according to which all sorts of things are real (in their respective fields of sense) without there being a single reality to which all real things belong.

As far as I can tell, all of this is far enough from Rorty and Goodman even though they sometimes say things which sound similar to what I am supporting. However, I totally reject the antirealist or constructivist ambitions clearly present in Rorty and in the metaphor of world-making in Goodman. Goodman defends a kind of anthropocentric irrealism. In Ways of Worldmaking he presents a picture of his view: “We are confined to ways of describing whatever is described. Our universe, so to speak, consists of these ways rather than of a world or of worlds.” OFS on the contrary neither states that we are confined to ways of describing nor offers a description of “our universe”. There is no sense in which I believe that our concepts are profoundly shaped by parochial features of our life form or our various cultures in such a way that we can never grasp things in themselves, but only “our universe”. I therefore disagree with a postmodern interpretation of Nietzschean perspectivism based on claims such as that “the human intellect cannot avoid seeing itself in its own perspectives, and only in these.“ (Gay Science 374) Rorty and Goodman, as I read them, would subscribe to the view that “we cannot look around our own corner.” (Gay Science 374) I wholeheartedly disagree. [...]

First of all, OFS is a form of deflationary ontological pluralism. This does not mean that only the existence of unicorns is deflated whereas hands or fingernails exist in a more full-blown sense. There just is no “full-blown sense” of existence, such as “physical existence” or “real existence”. Many ontologists in recent times held or hold that some version of ontological permissiveness is acceptable or even unavoidable (I am thinking of work of Kit Fine, Étienne Souriau, Jonathan Schaffer, Amie Thomasson, Graham Harman and Bruno Latour). Commitment to the existence of unicorns is just not as substantive or even outright crazy as it looks if we take it for granted that there really only are those things that the imaginary discipline of physics tells us exists. I am saying “imaginary discipline,” because there is no such thing as the single discipline of physics. “Physics” or “science” still often count among philosophers (particularly among metaphysicians) as empirically grounded forms of metaphysics that get to the bottom of things (the ultimate grounding level). This is neither clearly a consequence of any actual finding of physics to date nor could it be given that we are dealing with metaphysical interpretations of terms such as “particle” or “to consist of” when we claim, for instance, that tables consist of particles and then wonder whether tables even so much as exist. Of course, tables exist and, as far as I know, so do electrons. Reference to electrons might be crucial for an explanation of why we do not fall through tables. Electrons are an element in any account of the solidity of medium-sized dry goods. But none of this is any evidence for the view that existence is somehow primarily, exclusively or even paradigmatically a physical or more broadly natural feature. Unicorns really exist, for instance, in the coloring book Unicorns are Jerks some of my graduate students gave me as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. They even have a determinate shape: think, for instance, of the unicorn in the movie The Last Unicorn. God clearly exists in the Bible and there are many Gods in the Bhaghavad Gita. This does not mean, imply or entail that there is a “dude” out there in the universe, most of the time hidden from our view (why does he hide?) and endowed with magical noetic fingers he can use in order to build universes out of nothing, turn himself into a speaking burning bush or what have you. I call this view the religion of the additional dude. This religion (which I do not take to be identical with any of the traditional religions that were created before modernity) is indeed just outrageously crazy. No point arguing against it. The additional dude does not exist. God is nowhere to be found in the universe hidden behind the Milky Way or in a black hole.

Ontological permissiveness is often charged with overpopulation. Yet, it is misguided to quote Occam here in order to cut off Plato’s beard. Occam only said that we should not multiply what there is beyond necessity, not that we should define things out of existence because we prefer deserts to jungles or slums (as Quine’s unfortunate metaphors suggest). I do not see what is objectionable about admitting that there are citizens, numbers, Republics, dictators, movies, witches etc. It might be part of our epistemology of some of those entities that we realize that their existence somehow depends on our recognition, games of make-believe, deeply routed illusions or what have you. It is a plausible thesis of social ontology that there would have been no republics had no one ever been around to believe that there are republics. But this does not mean that there are no republics!

Of course, then, there are non-spatio-temporal objects. We might be wrong about which objects actually belong to this category and in many cases there is room for debate (are occurent thoughts spatio-temporal objects, such as certain neuronal patterns? What about ghosts in gothic novels, are they supposed to be spatio-temporal?). But I have never seen even a minimally convincing case to the effect that to exist is to be a spatio-temporal object. I believe the burden of proof is not on the ontological pluralist per se, but on the metaphysical monist, where metaphysical monism is the view that there is exactly one location for everything existing such that this rules out that there are numbers, unicorns, witches, and republics in one principled stroke. To conclude this answer with a nice paper title from Graham Harman (another ontological pluralist): “I am also of the opinion that materialism must be destroyed.” [...]

[T]he age of the world-picture for me is at least as old as the axial age, as Karl Jaspers has named the period from roughly 800 to 200 BC in which the major metaphysical concepts have been shaped in many parts of the globe. What clearly happened at that time was that the originally mythological idea of a totality of what there is was turned into a fruitful scientific concept. It was useful for humanity to figure out that what there is significantly transcends their home town, local culture and gradually: their continent, planet, our entire galaxy etc. We continually expanded our conception of what there is into the possibly infinite depths of the universe while at the same time exploring the equally infinite depths of other fields of sense (mathematics, literature, art, etc.).

The idea that there is an all-encompassing whole, a sphere of being (as Parmenides’ metaphor has it) in my view is a relic from the past. However, it shapes our understanding of the lines of conflict in the contemporary global order. Many would subscribe to the view that there is a scientific world-view in conflict with other world-views (in particular, in conflict with a religious world-view). In addition, many would also subscribe to the view that each of us has locally entrenched value systems ultimately harking back to world-views – think of expressions like “modern Western civilization,” “Asian values” etc. This does not automatically amount to problematic forms of relativism, as one might suspect. Nevertheless, I think all of this is profoundly ideological in a bad sense and mixed up with the metaphysical idea that there is a reality out there into which we humans are thrown at some point in the evolution of species on our planet. We seem to awake to a scene which is already out there. In my book Why the World does not Exist I call this the idea of “the world without spectators”. This gives rise to the idea that the world without spectators is the real world, the one we can only reach by erasing ourselves from reality as we know it, which trivially is the world as grasped by the spectators. [...]

There is a widespread, but misguided holistic assumption according to which we are introduced into the space of reasons from a parochial point of view (as Westerners, Chinese, Christians, Germans, Californians or whatever) such that we cannot help but adhere to some kind of overall world-view transmitted from generation to generation by institutions. I think that the reality of world-views is nothing but the ideological use made of the idea that there are many world-views which compete with each other. The struggle of world-views (the “clash of civilizations”) as a matter of fact exists, but here it is important to understand that its existence is ideological.

Beyond the technical details of the ontology I am still spelling out by defending it against objections coming from various directions in philosophy, I believe that the no-world-view (the view that the world does not exist) can also serve as a therapeutic tool in the context of ideology critique. [...]

I have no problem admitting that there are hard facts and I honestly try to steer clear of fictionalism in ontology. Let us say that a hard fact is a maximally modally robust fact where a fact is maximally modally robust if it had obtained (if the objects involved in it would have existed) had there never been epistemic agents at all, that is creatures endowed with the relevant capacities for truth-apt thought. There are many facts of this kind: that the sun is bigger than the earth is such a fact, and also that 2+2=4. Again, there is room for debate in specific cases, but no room for a general denial of the existence of maximally modally robust facts. The metaphysician (as in metaphysics1) would have to make a case to the effect that there really only are maximally modally robust facts or that there is a metaphysically1 relevant sense in which there is a totality of facts with a ground floor consisting of the maximally modally robust facts. There have been manifold attempts in the history of metaphysics to make such a case, but in my view they all fail in that that they reduce entities beyond necessity. In contradistinction to the current (mis-)interpretation of Occam’s razor we can sum this up by reminding ourselves that if Plato really had a beard (I do not know), then his beard certainly existed at some point. Accordingly, one can rephrase Plato’s beard and make it look more serious by attaching a pseudo-Latin slogan to it: entia nec sunt reducenda nec eliminanda praeter necessitatem (neither reduce nor eliminate entities without really good reasons!). The default position is one on which things we all take to exist really exist. The metaphysician1 is forced to make a revisionary case.

I believe that there are local cases which speak in favor of some forms of theoretical reduction and of straightforward elimination (some behavioral aspects of puberty can be theoretically reduced, better explained by, hormonal changes than by “folk psychoanalysis”; there have never been any witches in Germany outside of the Carnival season and even the Carnival witches did not have the magical powers Martin Luther famously attributed to them in his famous speech on Exodus 22:18: “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live”). The overall problem with metaphysics1 is that it typically ends in overgeneralizations such as: everything is water, deep down there are only elementary particles out of which everything is made; everything that exists can be discovered by idealized science; there are only mental contents; etc. Local reduction or elimination can be justified, but one must not overextend locally justified procedures. That color experience exists as an effect of electromagnetic waves stimulating photoreceptors should never motivate the conclusion that there are no tables and trees, but only elementary particles arranged table- or treewise. [...]

Yet, the biological preconditions of consciousness are not sufficient for a description of consciousness given that we are not brains in a vat (or brains in a skull for that matter). In the philosophy of mind, I argue that there is no adequate description of phenomenal consciousness that is not at the same time a description of intentional consciousness and the latter brings with it that thoughts, meanings (and many other things such as colors and republics) “just ain’t in the head,” to quote Putnam’s famous externalist credo.

According to OFS, though, the reason why we should be aware of the external contribution to internal happenings is not that they are literally coming from somewhere else (from outside of our ectoderm). I am currently spelling out a much broader form of externalism according to which everything about which we have truth-apt thoughts we can share with others just is not in the head where the reason for this is ontological and not metaphysical (it is not just because there are natural kinds out there that language is anchored in a non-subjective realm). By the way, Kant’s beautifully written book Dreams of a Spirit Seer is a real treasure for contemporary philosophy of mind. His own version of making fun of homuncularism deserves to be quoted at length here: “The soul of a man has its seat in the brain, and its abode there is indescribably small; there it exercizes its sensitive faculty, as the spider in the centre of its web. The nerves of the brain push or shake it, and cause thereby that not this immediate impression, but the one which is made upon quite remote parts of the body, is represented as an object which is present outside of the brain. From this seat it moves the ropes and levers of the whole machinery, causing arbitrary movements at will. Such propositions can be proved only very superficially or not at all”. In my view, there is no hard problem, but not because there are only easy problems, but because the entire setup of the questions driving the mind-brain-problem in its mainstream shape is indeed profoundly flawed. OFS is an important part of the cure, because it dissolves the idea that we have to fit everything that there is (all phenomena) into a single framework such as the framework of entities for which we legitimately assume that they are subject to push-and-pull-causation (if such there be). [...]

A major problem when it comes to taking a stance on the issues related to the family of terms “physicalism,” “materialism,” “naturalism” and their possible opposites, is that those terms are not clearly defined or rather that there is a vast plurality of views that count as “physicalistic” or “naturalistic”. What most of these terms when expressed by contemporary philosophers of the last hundred years or so have in common is a commitment to three ideas:

(1) the strictly metaphysical idea of the unity of reality (the world).
(2) the view that there should be a privileged form of knowledge carving the world at its joints.
(3) the identification of reality in its entirety/the world with nature.

Roughly, then, physicalism adds
(4) the privileged form of knowledge is (futuristic) physics.
and materialism commits to some version of
(5) whatever is natural is material/energetic.

On this construal, naturalism is the combination of (1), (2), and (3); physicalism of (1), (2), (3), and (4) and materialism of (1), (2), (3), and (5).

Of course, there are many other positions that go by these names and they are often logically independent from the ones roughly characterized here. For instance, “naturalism” typically also refers to one of the following two continuity theses:
(Biological continuity thesis) Human animals are entirely continuous with the rest of the animal kingdom. We have no feature that puts us outside of the realm described by biology.
(Epistemological continuity thesis) All knowledge is continuous with scientific knowledge (where the latter is understood as some way of construing theories on the basis of empirical input).

Again, there are more views out there than I could possibly cover here. For instance, Marx and Engels should certainly count as materialists, but their historical-dialectical materialism does not accept (5), which is why their view in the former country of East Germany was distinguished from “petty-bourgeois materialism (kleinbürgerlicher Materialismus),” which was widespread in Germany in the second half of the 19th century. The latter basically defended (1), (2), (3), (4), (5) as well as both continuity theses and therefore represents the most ambitious (and least coherent) form of materialism I can imagine.

In any event, for a position to count as “realist” it is not required that it is committed to any of these. In my work, in particular, I have been advocating the idea that one should strive to be a “realist in all departments” (as Davidson once put it) without believing that the realism-inducing features of our beliefs put us in contact with “the world” such that we need to understand this expression as a commitment to the unity of reality.

The claim that there are numbers, thoughts, republics and God (in the Bible or in people’s faith) and that this does not entail that they cannot be integrated into a single conception of reality as a whole because there is no such thing as reality as a whole is not supernaturalist. In order to see this, it might be crucial to remind ourselves of the history of the naturalism/supernaturalism-distinction which is really theological. There is an interesting (albeit controversial) book by Henri de Lubac Surnaturel. Études Historiques (1946) in which he reconstructs the history of the term natural and how it became opposed to supernatural within the history of theology. Even though there have been forms of materialism in Ancient Greek thought (and elsewhere, for instance, in India), which certainly denied the existence of Gods on the ground that they were made up by humans (Xenophanes, later echoed by Feuerbach etc.), these views do not seem to rely on the metaphysical idea of the unity of reality.

Some thinkers (I am thinking of Max Weber, Hans Blumenberg and Heidegger here) have argued that the modern naturalistic version of the unity of reality (the “disenchantment of the world”) actually has theological roots. They all see it as a result of first reserving magical powers to God (whereby the natural is disenchanted) and then by subtracting God from the world-picture. Naturalism would then only look like a plausible version of the unity of reality because we have pushed a lot of what actually exists into the mind of God and thereby made it look magical (famous candidate notions here are: freedom, pure reason, values, knowledge of things in themselves and so on). And what do we mean by “nature” anyway? If “the natural” is the unified category of what exists regardless of how we take it to be (the “mind-independent” to use an even more muddled notion), then a naturalist would be a crazy denier of the existence of what only exists because we take it to be a certain way (like republics, romantic love, maybe: qualia).

In one word: I reject the entire opposition of “naturalism” and “supernaturalism,” because this distinction is a piece of theology.
It is often overlooked here that Max Weber did not say that modernity is “the disenchantment of the world” and that this somehow relates to secularization or naturalism. On the contrary, Weber argues that the disenchantment of the world begins with the monotheistic rejection of magic. In a certain sense, many a diagnostic of modern nihilism (including Nietzsche) has made the point that the allegedly disenchanted conception of nature (naturalism in the vague sense in which some people declare to have respect for “science”) is a theological construction.

I would, therefore, like to think that OFS is neither naturalistic nor supernaturalistic, as I not only reject the unity of reality claim, but a fortiori the claim that reality is unified by there only being natural entities/facts (whatever “natural” might mean here). [...]

The human being, as we know it from its oldest extant texts, can be characterized as the “God-positing consciousness,” as Schelling puts it. By this he means that human beings have a conception of the whole that is at the same time a conception of how they fit into this whole. What a given culture or text presents as divine does not refer to a quasi-scientific posit introduced in order to make sense of natural phenomena. The divine is rather a name for a conception of the whole in which human beings do find a place. Our ancestors did not wonder whether thunder was caused by Zeus or was something else (like an electromagnetic meteorological phenomenon). They really were not like us in that the very notion of scientific explanation as we conceive of it had not been invented at all. Schelling wholeheartedly rejects the extremely naïve conception of mythology one can later find at the end of Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism according to which Homer’s Gods are “cultural posits” designed to establish cognitive order among the phenomena. They are not at all part of an empirical theory. The view that we are subjects that find themselves in opposition to a (natural) world order of which we try to make sense by any means is itself a mythological view. One way of looking at Schelling’s project of a history of self-consciousness is to read it as a genealogy of the very idea of such a distinction between mind and world. He argues that this distinction comes very late in the history of humanity and that it would be anachronistic to think of the forging of many of the concepts we owe to the longest past of human history in terms of a subject trying to make sense of nature by means of empirical theories. [...]

Scientistic epistemology assumes that there is a domain of objects out there that we are trying to describe by building theories on the basis of the deliverances of our senses. While this may be a good enough characterization of something we sometimes do, it is a gross overgeneralization when it comes to knowledge-acquisition and justification on a more global human level. If we go to a museum and defend the knowledge claim that Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is a much better painting than the (admittedly amusing) veggie paintings of the Italian renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, we are not thereby trying to make sense of sensory input in the way envisaged if we take ourselves to be the kind of thought-mongering creatures confronted with glimpses of an external reality that still inhabit the grey zone in contemporary philosophy between epistemology, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of perception. Or if we defend the knowledge claim that liberal democracy is a better political order than North Korean dictatorship we do not thereby create models of a given reality out there on the basis of sensory input. The senses are entirely overrated in scientistic epistemology (not to speak of the problem that it is often based on problematic construals of what the senses and their deliverances are, construals to some extent corrected by McDowell and subsequent discussions). In my view, post-Kantian idealism argues that Kant overrated the role of sensory input for knowledge-acquisition or rather for the very concept of knowledge. Knowledge – post-Kantian idealism argues – is not paradigmatically represented by empirical knowledge of the external world. Isolating that part of our knowledge from our overall body of knowledge (to which knowledge about art, religion, politics, social facts in general etc. belongs) and privileging it in our epistemological account of our standing with respect to what there is is the mistake that post-Kantian idealism is trying to avoid.


Source: Markus Gabriel, interview by Richard Marshall, "Why the World Does Not Exist but Unicorns Do," 3:AM Magazine website, May 10, 2015, accessed May 30, 2015,

Repost: "Dogmatism Rightly Understood"

[...] Lewis’s elegant critique of the consequences of what we’ve come to call, somewhat oversimply, “relativism” culminates in this ringing sentence:
“A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not a tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”
One the surface this statement might seem contradictory, if not in a sense shocking.  Why dogmatic?  If moral truths have an objective basis in reason (that is, natural law), why any need for dogmatism?
To give an answer to that question, let’s turn for a moment to a similar “dogmatic” declaration from the canon: Leo Strauss’s remark in his essay “Liberal Education and Responsibility” that “wisdom requires unhesitating loyalty to a decent constitution and even to the cause of constitutionalism.”  So it’s loyalty oaths and dogmatism?

Explaining the reasons why these two seemingly shocking statements are not shocking at all but highly necessary in our time could require a whole book (or a semester in the classroom), though a short version might be found, oddly enough, in an unlikely place: Federalist Paper #31, which is ostensibly just about the taxing power.  But Number 31 begins with a long preface of moral philosophy that boils down to this central point: the objective basis of moral truth is like proofs in geometry: they are grasped intuitively by “antecedent evidence” in Hamilton’s words, and if someone “doesn’t get it,” no amount of rational argument can establish the existence of moral truths.  “Where it produces not this effect,” Hamilton writes, “it must proceed either from some defect or disorder in the organs of perception, or from the influence of some strong interest, passion, or prejudice.” Today the “strong interest, passion, and prejudice” of the liberal mind is the unlimited autonomy or will of the Self, which cannot abide any constraint rooted in human nature. It is but a step from this unarticulated premise to a philosophy of unlimited government.

The trick of democratic politics, Federalist #51 explained, was enabling the government to be powerful enough to control the governed, but able to control (or limit) itself—that is, not so powerful that it threatens the natural rights of the people.  For liberals, rights today aren’t based in nature, but on will: anything you want becomes a “right” that government must secure by taxing and/or coercing your fellow citizens. It is a formula for tyranny; just ask Christian-owned bakeries right now. This is why Lewis says belief in objective value is necessary; the need for it to be “dogmatic” arises from the corruption of the liberal mind that more and more often today rejects reason and objectivity tout court. Against this highly trained incapacity to think, dogmatism is necessary, lest civilization itself slip inexorably away beneath the waves of nihilism.

Likewise in the second half of Lewis’s sentence, the idea of objective value is the only basis on which to answer the first question of political obligation: why should you obey the law? Post-modern liberals cannot answer the “why” of this question, and openly say that law is based only on force. Most of the time I am tempted to respond by saying: “Fine—how many of you are members of the NRA?” That’s how I let my dogma run over their (smart)-karma.


Source: Steven Hayward, "Dogmatism Rightly Understood," Powerline blog, May 1, 2015, accessed May 30, 2015,

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ernest Hello on the Mediocre Man

It is said that the after reading the following passage by Ernest Hello in L'Homme, among others, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange left medical school and became a Dominican priest in order to dedicate his life to the highest excellence in pursuit of God.


Is the mediocre man silly, stupid, idiotic? Not in the least. The idiot is at one extreme of the world, the man of genius is at the other. The mediocre man is in the middle. I do not say that he occupies the center of the intellectual world, that would be quite another matter; he occupies a middle position.

The characteristic trait of the mediocre man is his deference for public opinion. He never really talks; he only repeats what others have said. He judges a man by his age, his position, his success, his income. He has the profoundest respect for those who have attained notoriety, no matter how, and for authors with a large circulation.

The mediocre man may have certain special aptitudes; he may even have talent. But he is utterly wanting in intuition. He has no insight; he never will have any. He can learn; he cannot divine. Occasionally he allows an idea to penetrate into his mind, but he does not follow its various applications, and if it is stated in different terms, he denies its truth.

The mediocre man may, and often does, respect good people and men of talent. He fears and detests Saints and men of genius--he considers them exaggerated.

Of what use, he inquires, are the religious Orders, especially the contemplative Orders? He approves of the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul because their work relates, partially at least, to the visible world. But the Carmelites, he says, what can be the good of them?

The mediocre man admires everything a little; he admires nothing warmly. If you confront him with his own thoughts, his own sentiments, expressed with enthusiasm, he will be displeased. He will declare that you are exaggerating. He prefers enemies, so long as they are cold, to friends who are warm. What he detests above all is enthusiasm.

To escape the reproach of intolerance aimed by him at all who think with consistency and decision, you would have to take refuge in absolute doubt; but even then you must be careful not to call doubt by its name. He considers every affirmation insolent, because every affirmation excludes the contradictory proposition. You must represent it as a modest opinion, which respects the rights of the contrary opinion, and appears to affirm something while affirming nothing whatever. But if you are slightly friendly and slightly hostile to all things, he will consider you wise and reserved. The mediocre man says there is good and evil in all things, and that we must not be absolute in our judgments. If you strongly affirm the truth, the mediocre man will say that you have too much confidence in yourself.

The mediocre man regrets that the Christian religion has dogmas. He would like it to teach only ethics, and if you tell him that its code of morals comes from its dogmas as the consequences comes from the principle, he will answer that you exaggerate. If the word "exaggeration" did not exist, the mediocre man would invent it.

The mediocre man, in his distrust of all that is great, maintains that he values good sense before everything. But he has not the remotest idea what good sense is. He merely understands by that expression the negation of all that is lofty.

The man of intelligence looks up to admire and to adore; the mediocre man looks up to mock. All that is above him seems to him ridiculous; the Infinite appears to him a void.

The mediocre man appears habitually modest. He cannot be humble, or he would cease to be mediocre. The humble man scorns all lies, even were they glorified by the whole earth, and he bows the knee before every truth.

The mediocre man is much more wicked than either he himself or anyone else imagines, because his coldness masks his wickedness. He never gets in a rage. He perpetrates innumerable little infamies, so petty that they do not appear to be infamous. And he is never afraid, for he relies on the vast multitude of those who resemble him.

When, however, a man mediocre by nature becomes a true and sincere Christian, he ceases absolutely to be mediocre. He may not, indeed, become a man of striking superiority, but he is rescued from mediocrity by the Hand that rules the world. THE MAN WHO LOVES IS NEVER MEDIOCRE.


Source: Ernest Hello, Life, Science, and Art, trans. by E. M. Walker (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1912), 112–115.

Ernest Hello on the Spirit of Contradiction

As long as I can remember, I have noticed that men are continually disputing together, and doubtless you too have noticed it. Universal contradiction is a universal fact. Division covers the earth. It is not between enemies that we find the deepest division; it is between friends....

The intellectual condition of the human race is a masterpiece of division....

The fact is, there is in the world a monster called the Spirit of Contradiction.

Everything I consider in the world, I can consider under several aspects, and so can you. Paul sees a thing on a certain side; it looks to him white. Peter sees the same thing on the other side; it looks to him black. Both are right, both are wrong, for the thing is white on one side and black on the other. "It is white!" cries Paul. "It is black!" cries Peter. And behold two enemies! The Spirit of Contradiction shuts their eyes and embitters their hearts and blinds and separates their souls.... They were two intelligent men, made to understand each other. Now they are two enemies, stupidly obstinate, stupidly blind, all because the Serpent of Contradiction has raised his head between them....

If Peter is to show Paul to any good purpose the black side which he sees, he must first perceive as clearly as Paul the white side which Paul sees, and he must tell him so. If he does not frankly tell him so, each will hopelessly entrench himself behind his individual point of view.

This is why kindness of heart has such an immense role to play in the reconciliation of minds. If you are irritated with your enemy, who perhaps, after all, is your friend, you will never convince him.... I have seen clearly that the Spirit of Contradiction is Satan himself, the father of all lies.

Father Faber holds that we shall never convince a man unless we first prove to him that we have thoroughly grasped all his objections and entered into his point of view. Nothing is more true.

Father Faber also says that there is one thing in the world which can never, in any case, do any good. This unique thing is sarcasm. You have an antagonist. Laugh at his point of view: he will never see yours. Never! You have shut off from this man the sources of Life. Father Faber further says that if a man were suddenly to begin to look with friendship on all other men, and to put a favorable construction on their conduct, this man would find existence as completely altered as if he had been transported to another planet....

St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi adopted the following for her rule of life: Never refuse anybody anything, unless it be an absolute impossibility to grant it. Here is the spirit which is the exact opposite to the Spirit of Contradiction.

The experience of centuries teaches that men need consoling first, instructing afterwards. They do not understand the instruction until they have received the consolation. The Spirit of Contradiction violates this law. It will begin by speaking of the cause of irritation; it puts the obstacle in the foreground. It sets out by a reproach. It irritates before it tries to pacify. That is why its teaching is sterile and fatal, even were it a hundred times in the right. Begin with argument, and all will be sterile. Begin with love, and all will be fertile.

The Spirit of Contradiction resides in the soul and gives the man who speaks a certain tone.... Tone indicates the attitude of the mind. The tone is more important than the words used. Let us suppose that Father Faber's hypothesis has been realized, and that this very day men have adopted kindness as the principle of all their actions.... We shall be astounded if we one day see the small proportions to which [our differences] are reduced.


Source: Ernest Hello, Life, Science, and Art, trans. by E. M. Walker (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1912), 73–78.

Repost: "Marriage, a History"

Through most of Western civilization, marriage has been more a matter of money, power and survival than of delicate sentiments. In medieval Europe, everyone from the lord of the manor to the village locals had a say in deciding who should wed. Love was considered an absurdly flimsy reason for a match. Even during the Enlightenment and Victorian eras, adultery and friendship were often more passionate than marriage. These days, we marry for love—and are rewarded with a blistering divorce rate.


What's love got to do with it? In early history, politics and money trumped emotions.

Ancient Greece: Love is a many-splendored (manly) thing. Love is honored—especially between men. In marriage, inheritance is more important than feelings: A woman whose father dies without male heirs can be forced to marry her nearest male relative—even if she has to divorce her husband first.

Rome: Wife-swapping as a career move—Statesman Marcus Porcius Cato divorces his wife and marries her off to his ally Hortensius in order to strengthen family bonds; after Hortensius dies, Cato remarries her.

6th-century Europe: Political polygamy—The Germanic warlord Clothar, despite being a baptized Christian, eventually acquires four wives for strategic reasons, including his dead brother's wife, her sister and the daughter of a captured foreign king.
12th-century Europe: Marriage is good for loving...someone else—Upper-class marriages are often arranged before the couple has met. Aristocrats believe love is incompatible with marriage and can flourish only in adultery.
14th-century Europe: It takes a village—Ordinary people can't choose whom to marry either. The lord of one Black Forest manor decrees in 1344 that all his unmarried tenants—including widows and widowers—marry spouses of his choosing. Elsewhere, peasants wishing to pick a partner must pay a fee.
16th-century Europe: Love's a bore—Any man in love with his wife must be so dull that no one else could love him, writes the French essayist Montaigne.
1600s-Victorian Era

It's a family affair: Married love gains currency, but for intimacy and passion, people still turn to family, lovers and friends.
1690s U.S.: Virginia wasn't always for lovers—Passionate love between husband and wife is considered unseemly: One Virginia colonist describes a woman he knows as "more fond of her husband perhaps than the politeness of the day allows." Protestant ministers warn spouses against loving each other too much, or using endearing nicknames that will undermine husbandly authority.
18th-century Europe: Love gains ground—In England and in the salons of Enlightenment thinkers, married love is gaining credibility. Ladies' debating societies declare that while loveless marriages are regrettable, women must consider money when choosing a partner.
1840, England: Virgin lace—Queen Victoria starts a trend by wearing virginal white, instead of the traditional jeweled wedding gown. Historically thought of as the lustier sex, women are now considered chaste and pure. As a result, many men find it easier to have sex with prostitutes than with their virtuous wives.
Mid 19th-century U.S.: Honeymoon suite for three—Honeymoons replace the older custom of "bridal tours," in which the newly married couple travel after the wedding to visit family who could not attend the ceremony. Even so, many brides bring girlfriends with them on their honeymoons.
20th Century-Today
We worship the couple. Intimacy shrinks to encompass just two, and love becomes the only reason for marriage.
1920s U.S.: How Saturday night began—Dating is the new craze—in restaurants and cars, away from the oversight of family. Popular culture embraces sex, but critics fear that marriage is on the rocks.
1950s U.S.: Marriage is mandatory—Marriage becomes almost universal, and the nuclear family is triumphant: Four out of five people surveyed in 1957 believe that preferring to remain single is "sick," "neurotic" or "immoral."
1970s U.S.: All you need is love?—Self-sufficient women and changing social rules mean marriage is no longer obligatory. Quarreling couples split up rather than make do, and the divorce rate skyrockets.
Today: Bride pride—Marriage is the ultimate expression of love, leading gays and lesbians to seek the right to marry, but also encouraging couples to cohabit until they're sure about their "soul mate." Marriage rates fall—but the fantasy of the perfect wedding is ubiquitous.
Based on research from Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz.


Source: PT Staff, "Marriage, a History," Psychology Today, May 1, 2005, accessed May 28, 2015,

Fr. Alexis on Our Father Who Art in Heaven

Having warned His disciples about the pitfalls of praying for the wrong things with vain repetitions, having cautioned them about the dangers of praying for the wrong reasons such as being seen by others, our Lord then directs His disciples about the way they should pray giving as an example the most widely known prayer in Christendom, the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. Many times, we may say it without fully appreciating the significance of each phrase or how every sacred vessel of meaning orients us towards God, towards life, and towards each other in ways that can transform us, purify us, and ultimately make us a bit more like Christ. To help their fellow believers appreciate the treasure of the Lord’s Prayer, some of the Church Fathers have written beautiful commentaries that suggest not only what the petitions in the prayer mean, but how they should be reflected in our lives.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with pure revelation from on high. There is a God in heaven and He is our Father. Saint Augustine notes that the word “father” calls forth from within the soul both love, “for what is dearer to sons than a father,” and the sentiments of a humble petitioner [supplex affects] (Sermon on the Mount, book 2, chapter 4, PL 34.1276). The words “Our Father” should bring to mind immediately the parable of the prodigal son, which assures us that “He never turns away from us, but it is we who distance ourselves from Him” (Saint John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore After His Fall, Letter 1). Saint Augustine further notes that just saying the words, “our Father” we have received the greatest possible gift, to be sons and daughters of God (Sermon on the Mount, book 2, chapter 4, PL 34.1276). Thus, love, humility, and gratitude are set before us as prime virtues with the mere utterance of the first words of this most holy prayer. Those words tell us not only who God is, but who we are and where our home lies. And this should warm our hearts, comfort our souls, and cause our spirit to leap for joy.

That this Father is “our Father” also means that we “belong to a great family” (Augustine, Sermon 9) and despite the vast inequality among fathers on earth, we are equal in the sense of having the same Father in heaven. That we say “our Father” and not “my Father” means that we share the same Father and that “we do not look for our own best interests, but for those of our neighbor.” This in turn “takes away hatred, quells pride, casts out envy, and brings in love, the mother of all good things. It eliminates the inequality of human things, and shows how far the equality reaches between the king and the poor man, if at least in those things which are greatest and most indispensable, we are all of us brethren” (Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on Matthew, PG 51.45). In other words, we learn that we are all brothers and sisters, children of a single of Father, children of heaven, and equal in the one honor that really matters, our relationship with God.

Finally, if our Father is in heaven, then our place is in heaven as well. But how are we to be in heaven while yet on earth? Saint John Chrysostom answers, “The distance between heaven and earth is even greater if we are negligent, but if we do our best, we shall find ourselves at its gates in a single moment, for these distances are not determined by the interval between places, but by the quality of one’s frame of mind [οὐ γὰρ μήκει τόπων, ἀλλὰ γνώμῃ τρόπων]” (Homily 1 on Matthew, PG 56.23). And this is precisely what the “Our Father” said from the heart does. It “lifts us up,” “gives wings to our mind,” (Homily 14 on Ephesians, PG 62.105) teaching us to “set our mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth” (Colossians 3:20). In so doing, we find not only stability and permanence (Discourse 6 to the Newly Illumined), but “goodness itself, sanctification, rejoicing, strength, glory, purity, eternity,… and as much can be conceived concerning the divine nature by the divine scriptures and our own thoughts” (Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Discourse 2 on the Lord’s Prayer). “Our Father which art in heaven!” What a treasure this is for those who know it to be true!


Source: Fr. Alexis Trader, "Our Father which Art in the Heavens," Ancient Christian Wisdom blog, February 27, 2015, accessed May 28, 2015,

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The True Self

Here's an excellent essay:

I had a realization: when one realizes that "just be yourself" doesn't mean anything, and even if there were some static "true self," most people lack the self-reflection and sensitivity to even know what that true self entails. Why else do we have to "find our passion," as though passions are pre-packaged dimensions of our selves and not reactions to experience? If I already have a set of passions, shouldn't I already know what those are?

From where does the static notion of the self arise? Why do we speak of the majority of social or intellectual traits as being genetic, inborn, innate, "natural" rather than learned, studied, trained, practiced? Why do we possess down to the dot a complete package that is unalterable and to which we must be true? Do we?

It will further be interesting to consider Kierkegaard's definition of the self as a relation relating itself to itself in light of semiotics.