Wednesday, December 10, 2008
A friend of mine (a real one, as distinct from the virtual, facebooky kind) posted on his Facebook page the same Newsweek article I referenced here yesterday. His posting began an exchange that suggests that philosophy is not dead, just distracted on Facebook like the rest of us.
(Oh, and that's my own current Facebook picture.)
First response: Why use arbitrary BS to combat arbitrary BS? Its kinda like when creationists try to use pseudo-logical arguments to discredit logic. Reason to undo reason. The Bible should be having no place whatsoever in lawmaking. It shouldn't even be considered. Not in *any* rational discussion, let alone one pertaining to the legal rights of the individual. Ah, but then I'm just one of those crazy second class atheistic citizens.
Second response: Actually, my personal belief is that lawmaking necessarily involves making value choices, and to the extent that values choices are informed by religious and/or spiritual belief, that's fine. But when debating in the public square, one must attempt to translate value choices in universal terms. Of course, that could just be bullshit I'm spewing.
Third response: The problem for me is, I don't believe any value or moral "judgment" which is based on supernaturally given premises can have any standing or relevance in real life. I don't see how anything can be informed by the unknowable-by-definition. I'm not saying there aren't pieces of fair wisdom in the Bible, or any other religious text/philosophy... but so long as they are ultimately predicated upon supernatural (thus arbitrary) premises... then there is no universality to present. Unless you restructure said piece of wisdom in terms of reason based in reality - two things which *are* in fact universal to the human experience. Though whether or not those things are used or appreciated or respected remains another issue altogether.
Comic relief: My favorite approach/opinion piece as far as the Bible/homosexuality is the Jack Black video on funnyordie.com :)
Fourth response: ah, but then don't we have to ask what is meant by "reason," "rationality," and "universal"? On what basis do we make an appeal to such concepts which are themselves constructed in and by the domain of a certain western discourse? If that discourse cannot, itself, be authorized by an appeal to anything outside of itself (and thus, also, quite arbitrary), what then becomes of notions such as the "universal rights of man"? Indeed, what becomes of the concept of "man"? On what basis do we posit something like "rights" of this "man" that must universally be respected? Is not "might makes right" just as rationally justifiable as endowing individuals certain inalienable rights that must be universally respected without recourse to power and violence? ... just feeling a bit deconstructive this evening ... must be the wine.
Fifth response: well, ok. Reason is a process of integrating percepts by way of forming abstractions or concepts via a path forged by logic- which is a process of non-contradictory identification. Rationality is the recognition, acceptance of, and commitment to reason as one's only viable source of knowledge. Its a way of life. This knowledge, derived from our immediate experience of reality(perception) (the reality being the universal tidbit here...the thing that is common to all us folks inhabiting it)...from percepts to concepts and back, is what must necessarily form the basis of our judgments..which are the precursors to our actions...IF it is our goal to survive, let alone thrive in this reality. A reality which is *not* arbitrary... but has very specific and predictable patterns of cause and effect. The concept of arbitrariness is defined as a claim or approach which has no underlying logic, no evidence of any sort, no connection to reality.
So reason, as defined as a process of logic/non-contradictory identification and definition by *essential* characteristics, is the antithesis of arbitrariness. I think observation is the key here. Which only pertains to the natural, and not the supernatural, which is of course..."beyond" the natural. As it turns out, humans beings are not beyond the natural. We are very much held subject to her laws. Faith is the antithesis of observation.That which is "beyond" perception is also ultimately necessarily beyond conception (which does not of course mean you cannot conceive of things which aren't real...but those things are still rooted in conglomerates of percepts and concepts which *are* rooted in reality). Pick a scripture or god, they are not grounded in reality - so they are arbitrary and so have no place in the world of the rational person. Step off a 500 ft cliff and, all other things being equal, any person will effectively achieve the same result.
A god cannot have essential characteristics by which it can be known or defined. A god is, effectively, unknowable by definition. A human being does have essential defining characteristics. Also, some human characteristics are arbitrary because they are not essential to the definition of what it is to be a human being. Being black for example. Or gay. Or Blonde. Or 6'3". Or being religious. Volitional consciousness is, it turns out, an essential characteristic. We make choices, judgements - and more complex than which lever to press to get another pellet. What helps make the volition adaptive and productive? Reason. Reason is another essential characteristic. That ability to integrate those percepts into higher order relationships...concepts...its how we learn from our mistakes, handle novel situations, playfully manipulate popular terms of discussion in an effort to undermine the very idea of rational discourse, by ironically mocking rational discourse.
I'm not sure how a discourse can make an appeal with anything let alone itself, because a discourse is not an entity which makes appeals. A person is. What is a persons recourse to the western discourse of reason and rationality? Each their own senses and minds...and the results of the interactions of those minds via their actions with this reality. Unequivocal results which are quite unconcerned with whether you believe in them or not. I realize I'm going on an on here on what was probably a lighthearted devils advocation... but really... do we really want to tear down and reject the one great gift that god gave us to make us special?
Sixth response: I honestly feel out of my league in this conversation between the philosopher and the pastor-philosopher, but hopefully once I've had time to process everything up here I might respond. Hopefully David will respond with more, as I'm thinking this may be the beginning of what I will call the Cosgrove Forum on Religion and Politics. Take that, Pew Charitable Truss!!
Comic relief, two: That should be Pew Charitable Trust, of course. I wonder if anything can be read into that typo.
Seventh response: Ha. My first thought was actually that you were talkin gangsta. Anywho, upon reread I see I, towards the end of entry 7, subsection 3 paragraph 2 -- when I said that scripture or gods are not rooted in reality - thats not correct. Of course, everything a person can conceive of is ultimately constructed with elements of reality, the question being really whether the abstractions are plausible... whether you can actually trace your new abstraction back to observable percepts. My observation is that gods are generally either unobservable/unknowable by definition - because they are necessarily beyond our nature, and so, our knowing.....OR they are ALL observable...god is everything (in which case I'd ask why not just let everything *be*?). I'm agnostic, myself.
Some folks like to toss about the idea of miracles. I always find it interesting that people are so inspired by evidence, even in matters of what is supposed to be faith. Perhaps its that western civilization peer pressure..
Eight response: Well said ... but at 3:00 a.m.? That's Heidegger-reading time!
Or, better, sleep time ... which option seemed more reasonable or rational to me, and, as Husserl (or was it Mr. Spock) said, "it is rational to seek to be rational." Or, even, "reason has its reasons."
On the other hand, or, maybe, on the hand of the other, following this time Derrida, one might offer as a definition, or a meaning of "reason" or of that which is "reasonable" simply the reasoned and considered wager -- or bet, or leap of faith even -- of a "transaction between these two apparently irreconcilable exigencies of reason, between calculation (that which can be perceived and measured) and the incalculable."
At its worst, "faith" becomes religious and attempts to present itself as reasonable. But, as a devil's advocate (and as one who tries to follow Jesus), I would also point toward a faith without religion, what Derrida, again, once called "another way of keeping within reason, however mad it might appear."
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
In case you missed it, Newsweek's Lisa Miller offers a thoughtful, religiously based case for same-sex marriage.
Coincidentally, I ran across it the day after the December meeting of the board of People of Faith for Equality Virginia, where we planned a marriage action for February 13 -- the day before Valentine's Day.
If you're interested in the February event, give me a ring.