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Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

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  1. Thoughtful Thug

    Thoughtful Thug Chieftain

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    I read Candide by accident when I was 15 years old at my local library. And I too did not understand first what Professor Pangloss was suppose to be, and then later discovered that he may have been a cariacuture Liebnitz, or just a personification of the principle of the Liebnitz's Optimism as you have said. I can't be sure on that.

    And about Voltaire, maybe he was only exercising his ability to write a parody about something that was probably in fashion in Paris during his time, or was it just an act of his usual contempt toward German-speaking people in general? Which I may add that he was not shy of showing it in his other works.
     
  2. Tabster

    Tabster Chieftain

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    Hi Plotinus,

    I did some pondering recently -

    Is there any connection between ascetism and the later idea of trial by ordeal? I mean that they both appear to suggest by enduring something unpleasant brings you to the attention of God.

    But from what I understand the roots of trial by ordeal were Germanic and the ascetics were influenced by ideas originating in Persia/the east, so it doesn't seem like there is, I know, but I'm only pondering after all...
     
  3. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    What can I say? I like quoting French. And as concerning reading Leibniz' Théodicée, it being rather dull, I think I'll stick to what he's written on mathematics. Candide then is a satirical work whose primary intent it is not to attack Leibniz' ideas, although Candide's tutor and fellow-traveller Dr. Pangloss, professor of "métaphysico-théologo-cosmolonigologie" and self-proclaimed optimist, may have been based on Luise Dorothea of Saxe-Meiningen, a Leibnizian with whom Voltaire corresponded regularly. Another character, Martin, a Manichean scholar whom Candide meets in Surinam, is based on the real-life pessimist Pierre Bayle, who is a chief opponent of Leibniz. Other inspirations are Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's travels, the 7 Years War and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Leibniz himself does not feature in the novella, though he's discussed at length. In the epilogue Candide responds to Pangloss's insistence that all turned out for the best by necessity, by saying that's all very well, "but we must cultivate our garden".

    Voltaire's represenation of Leibniz' ideas may be somewhat crude - perhaps he also did not care much for dull reading -, which is why we appreciate people who aptly summarize such reading. At any rate, arriving at a conclusion that this is "the best of all possible world" would seem to necessitate some extraordinary reasoning, seeing as we only know the one. It does not take a lot of effort though to imagine one with a litle more moral goodness. By the way, your example of compossible objects, "Peter, the tallest man in the world" is possible, and so is "Paul, the tallest man in the world", can both exist together if they're equally tall. Also, belief in the existence of God is not denied by the argument of "I'm not sure how Leibniz, in an attempt to reconcile evil, suffering and injustice with free will, God's own free will and God's apparent omnibenevolence, omnpotence and omniscience, can come up with the conclusion that we then must be living in the best of all possible worlds. Such a conclusion would such suggest something wrong with the premises." It merely suggests at least one of the premises is wrong. (And who is this Wolff you keep mentioning?)
     
  4. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Why the everloving crap would you want to read Leibniz's actual mathematical work and not just read a calculus (Or whatever) textbook?

    I can't think of any reason that does not reflect poorly on the person doing the reading.
     
  5. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Well, I'd say that the two can be sort of related. There can be both rational and emotional portions to an argument. So it's not simple mockery. Satire can have a rational argment at its core with emotional dressings.
    Why not? What makes you think that everything Dawkins says should be well reasoned argumentation?

    I'm still skeptical on your distinguishing here. For example how would Mackie incorrectly explaining someone else's view which he then defeats be different from a Dawkins strawman?

    Well, I haven't seen that so I will defer judgment until then.
     
  6. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Not following this at all, I'm sorry. What's your point exactly?
     
  7. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    It's not a point, it's a question.

    Why the poop are you reading Leibniz as opposed to a calc textbook?
     
  8. holy king

    holy king Chieftain

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    interested in the history of mathematics?
     
  9. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Then read a history of mathematics book! I mean if you're a mathematical scholar, then sure read the book, but JELEEN isn't one.
     
  10. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    No, I am not a mathematical scholar, nor a teacher for that matter. How is this related?

    I took it to be a rhetorical question.

    Actually, I am - as I'm interested in the history of philosophy - which is why I greatly value Plotinus' contributions, both here and elsewhere, as well as Fifty's and any other's - as long as they are on those topics.
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I think your second thought is right and that there isn't really any connection between them. The idea with asceticism is not to punish the body or harm the self (although it may seem like it); rather it is to train the body and discipline the self. It is based on the fundamental belief that the body is important and what it does matters (although some gnostics apparently developed extreme ascetic practices on the basis of the opposite belief, that the body doesn't matter and should therefore be suppressed). It's not really about catching God's attention so much. With trial by ordeal, of course, the unpleasantness is the whole point. So I don't think there's really much connection between these things, quite apart from the very different historical origins that you mention.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "extraordinary reasoning", or why the fact that there is only one actual world is relevant; don't you think the argument I gave for it earlier is pretty straightforward?

    I would agree. Leibniz, I suppose, would reply in one of two ways. First, there may be possible worlds that contain more moral goodness, but they are deficient in other ways that cancel out that gain. For example, perhaps there is a possible world that contains more moral goodness, but in order to accommodate it, it has somewhat different laws of physics that are metaphysically inferior to those of the actual world (less fruitful, perhaps). Alternatively, Leibniz might say that in fact there is no possible world that contains more moral goodness than the actual one. We might think we can imagine one, but then we often think we can imagine all sorts of impossible things. Greater moral goodness than the actual world contains might simply be inconsistent with existence itself, for some reason that we do not know, for after all we don't really understand how the world works. All we can know is that God's moral perfection and perfect power entail that he has created the best world that could possibly exist, although we may not understand precisely what makes it better than others.

    I must add that Leibniz' optimalism also has a strong eschatological element. The world may not look so great right now, but if you take in the whole sweep of history, especially including the end times and the final end of the universe, it is overall better than any possible alternative.

    No, if they are equally tall then neither is the tallest (superlatives normally preclude any other objects sharing them). But if you dispute that it's no big deal - the example doesn't matter. Imagine instead Peter, the only man in the world, and Paul, the only man in the world. Both are obviously possible but they are equally obviously incompossible.

    Well, the only premises that the argument has are that (a) God is omnipotent and God is morally perfect, that (b) such a being would always bring about the best possible outcome, and that (c) God created the universe. I can't see how (b) could be disputed. That leaves only (a) and (c). But both of these are essential to theism. If you deny either of these, you are denying that God, as traditionally defined, exists. You might still be left with "a god" in some sense, but I would still call that a denial of God's existence in the usual sense of the word.

    Christian Wolff, one of the most prominent philosophers of the eighteenth century and a disciple of Leibniz. Unlike Leibniz, Wolff was very successful professionally and wrote large numbers of books, all in German (the first philosopher to do so, thereby turning German into a major philosophical language), which sold extremely well. He turned many of Leibniz' ideas into a more thoroughgoing system (although he dropped the monads), so it was via Wolff that most people knew about the principle of the best. When Voltaire attacked the principle of the best, as in his poem on the Lisbon earthquake, it was Wolff he was primarily thinking of. It was also via Wolff that Kant knew Leibniz' ideas; in his pre-transcendental period, Kant was a Wolffian.

    No, I don't see how an argument can have an emotional element - at least not if we are taking "argument" in the sense of a rational discourse intended to support a claim (as opposed to the sense of a shouting match). Certainly one may have emotional reasons for clinging to a particular argument or for wanting a certain claim to be true, but those are not elements of the argument. Similarly, a satire may be intended to drive home a point that is also established by argument, but still the satire and the argument are not the same thing and are not parts of each other. So I would still say that satire has no place in rational argument, although perhaps it may have a place once the rational argument is over. Satire by its very nature distorts, just as a drawn caricature distorts.

    I don't know what to say to that. If you think that there's a place in public discourse for poor reasoning, then good luck to you.

    It wouldn't. The difference is that Mackie doesn't do it, or at most does it occasionally. With Dawkins it seems to be one of the principal planks of his method.
     
  12. holy king

    holy king Chieftain

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    so if i am interested in the history of the gallic wars i am only allowed to read history books about it and not "de bello gallico" ?
     
  13. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Yay, a new word.

    I still don't get that. Haven't lots of people believed in a god or gods who were not omnipotent, or not morally perfect? If you mean specifically the God of the Abrahamic religions, I still don't see why it is a necessary part of the definition, even if both attributes are often taken for granted.
     
  14. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    It does seem a little add that he would say that, considering how he has previously argued that omnipotence was a quality of "the God of Philosophers" while "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"'s defining quality was love or loyalty (hesed), and many early Christians argued that God being "almighty" mean that he was more powerful than anything else but not that completely unlimited in what he is capable of doing.
     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Certainly lots of people have believed in all sorts of gods that have lacked those attributes or others. But then I wouldn't class such belief systems as "theism" (polytheism is not, to my mind, a subcategory of theism, but something distinct), and I wouldn't call the object of such belief "God" with a capital G. The reason is that I think that for something to count as God it really does need to be unsurpassably perfect. God is not just a very great being, or even the greatest being that happens to exist, but the greatest being that could exist. God is not simply the being that happened to create the universe that we happen to live in, but is the very ground of being of all that is, actual and even merely possible. And any being, real or imaginary, which lacks the traditional perfections seems to me not to match up to this description. A god which is not morally perfect or not as powerful as it is possible to be doesn't match up to what I regard as divinity.

    Of course one could dispute that. It all depends on what you take "God" to mean, of course. But to a certain extent this is only disagreement over what name to give a belief or an object of belief, rather than over anything substantial.

    Did I say that? Well, I'm not sure that love comes across very strongly in the characterisation of the God of the patriarchs, although perhaps it does somewhat more in (say) the Johannine literature. At any rate, I wouldn't say that there's any contradiction between these views of God. If there were then the church wouldn't have got very far.

    Did "many" of them argue that? The only one I can think of who explicitly argued for such a view is Origen (and even he didn't really argue for it, just asserted it in a particular passage of First principles, at least if memory serves). Of course most early Christians didn't really consider this question, at least not before the fourth or fifth centuries.
     
  16. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Entangled Retired Moderator Supporter

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    Bart Ehrman is a pretty interesting biblical scholar. Plotinus, have you read any of his books? His Youtube ad for his latest book is compelling. When can we expect yours?

    This link is to a debate between him and an evangelical over the resurrection.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pg-6oWca5qE&NR=1

    The video seems jumbled and I think it actually begins at minute 29:00, and then picks up at the beginning.

    His ad:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qADxEspNE-Q

    NPR interview:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3TPRonT9SQ&feature=related
     
  17. Tabster

    Tabster Chieftain

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    Thanks for answer, what I expected really. I have another question for you.

    The death penalty, for the crime of theft, was re-introduce to England in 1120. What was the Church's attitude at the time to this?
     
  18. Elrohir

    Elrohir RELATIONAL VALORIZATION

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    From the little I know about him, he seems to make some solid claims, but also a lot of questionable ones. For instance, according to this article, he believes that "At least 19 of the 27 books in the New Testament are forgeries." I'm not sure exactly what his criteria is, but that seems very, very high to me. (I'm guessing he's using forgery to mean "written by someone other than traditoinally ascribed," but I don't know for sure) I know many of the Pauline Epistles have come under scrutiny, and some have said to be by other people - but 19/27 in the NT? (I'm afraid I don't have the list of which books he thinks are real, and which are forgeries) Plotinus, are you at all familiar with Erhman's work, and do you know what he's talking about here?
     
  19. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Of course not! That book is a clearly presented history of the Gallic Wars that someone with general knowledge about that would find an interesting perspective. Leibniz's book is not a book on the history of math; it's a math book. If you have good general knowledge of the math inovlved and would like to see its development then sure Leibniz's book would be helpful, but I have no indication that JELEEN has any of that knowledge.

    Driving a point home isn't important when you're trying to make a point? You're treating Dawkins as if everything he did was an academic article where everyone is a highly interested, profoundly rational person trying to use the coldest logical reasoning to gather truth. That's not what Dawkins is doing; Dawkins is get people interested in atheism, and to use such theatrics as satire does work. To use satire to help drive home a rational argument or to make it more interesting isn't something that someone should be denigrated for!

    Oh for Pete's sake. Do you look at public discourse? It needs to be interesting and exciting to get public attention! It's not poor reasoning to dress your argument up to make it not boring, in fact it's good reasoning!
     
  20. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    Elrohir, I'm no expert, but biblical studies interest me. Anyways, to get nineteen, we absolutely have to include the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. I'd be hesitant to call them forgeries, but it's definitely accurate to say they weren't written by the men they were supposed to be.

    That gives us five. Adding in the epistles that were most likely actual forgeries (1st and 2nd Peter, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, Jude) nets us twelve. Throwing in the much debated Colossians and Second Thessalonians gives us fourteen. As for his last five, I'd have to look it up. Revelations and the three Johns would make four, but Revelations is the one most likely to have been written by a John, and the others are anonymous. And then add in Hebrews, which is the same, but attributed to Paul.
     
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