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Ask a Theologian

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Feb 13, 2007.

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  1. pau17

    pau17 Chieftain

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    Sorry, that's what I meant; should have been more careful knowing that you would be answering with all your expertise. A lot of us on the board were contending that the idea that an enternal god that created everything and knew everything would necessarily put responsibility for your actions on it, not on you. There would be no way to escape the fact that it created you and knew exactly what you would do, and that for that being, the passage of time would be irrelevant, thus your life would be laid out like a picture and you'd really have no say in it despite the illusion of it being so. What is theology's simplest answer to this? Thanks a lot for your contributions.
     
  2. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    Plotinus do you think there are different rules with theology than there are with history or historical theology, if so what are they? I get the impression that it's very hard to discuss history with theology without looking at cases that don't refer to historical or evidential basis per se. Theology seems to me to be the only branch of wisdom where opinion means more than historicity or anything else, and I refer to Nicene councils and so on, they are after all matters of opinion about what they will consider right? Not about what actually happened, because the source is almost always removed from when it actually happened, and we know that leads to some sort of Chinese whispers, even if unintentional.

    Do you find yourself ever just going, damn, but what is better about this text, that doesn't rely on opinion or opinion at the time. And can you ever really get what is true from a subject based on discourse in context or the opinion?

    I mean from a purely logical aspect, is theology about who's got the best argument, or who's most convincing than who's got the "truth"? And if so is it actually being directed by God or by charisma at times? How do you sort out the wheat from the chaff, and isn't it a mine field of context, ie which is something people wanted to believe and which was something that actually happened? Propaganda isn't always true, but then it isn't always false in terms of the texts, and how do you tell?
     
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Sigmund Freud thought that - he argued that Moses was originally a priest of Aten. The problem with this theory is that there is absolutely no evidence for it. The monotheistic period in Egypt lasted only as long as the reign of Akhenaten, and that was many centuries before the Jews probably evolved their monotheism. And as far as I know there's no evidence that Akhenaten's views survived or influenced any later religion. Personally I think that if you're going to believe in gods in the first place, it's a fairly natural development to come to believe in only one; you can see a similar development in Greek philosophy. So I don't see any particular need to look for sources for the Jewish form of monotheism if none is obvious.

    The simplest answer is to agree, and many Christians have done so, mainly in the Protestant tradition. Both Luther and Calvin argued strongly that God determines everything that happens. But they rejected the notion that this means that we are not responsible for what we do, because they argued that responsibility has nothing to do with whether we are determined or not; it is to do with whether you wanted to perform the action or not. For example, if I choose to murder someone, this is because God chose to create me, knowing I would do this; I could not have chosen otherwise. However, I still intend and choose to do it. I'm therefore guilty of murder and justly condemned. Personally I would tend to agree with this view, that responsibility does not require indeterminism, but I would say that in this scenario, although I have responsibility, God does too.

    Catholicism teaches both that everything that happens does so in accordance with God's plan, and that we have free will in the sense of not being determined by God. It doesn't explain how, though. The most famous attempt to do so was that of Luis de Molina. We had a long discussion about this earlier in this thread, mostly on page 21, where I tried to defend a basically Molinist position, so rather than repeat myself I'll direct you there.

    These are lots of good questions and I'm inclined to agree with you. I take it you're referring to "theology" in the sense of dogmatic or systematic theology, that is, when someone tries to set out what they think is the truth about God (or whatever) - as opposed to historical theology, where you simply try to determine what people thought, without commenting on its truth value. Obviously theology in the latter sense is really just a sort of history, and no different from (say) historical philosophy, and it follows the same sorts of rules.

    When it comes to dogmatic theology, though, you're right that the normal methods of truth-determination seem not to apply. This is partly because theology of this kind is rather like analytic philosophy: you're trying to find out the truth of something where established methods such as the scientific method cannot be used, simply because of the subject matter. After all, you may hypothesise about (say) the divine attributes, but you can't really plan an experiment to test the hypothesis. That's not the fault of theologians, it's simply determined by the nature of the subject. I suppose what such theologians do is try to express the truth of the matter as it is reflected in their own experience. To that degree, yes, it is subjective. But of course they are operating on the assumption that what they are describing is some kind of objective reality. Suppose two people try to describe what love is all about. They, too, will base that on their own subjective experience; but because love is a real experience that people actually have, their descriptions will not be purely arbitrary, and they will probably match each other in various ways. In fact each person might recognise elements in the other's description that they hadn't thought of, but which they agree with; thus they each improve their descriptions by hearing the other's.

    There are other constraints on theological discourse too, of course. For example, most Christians believe that the traditional sources of theology - the Bible, tradition, teachings of the church, and reason - are normative to varying degrees. So a conservative evangelical Protestant will believe that all theological truth is to be found in the Bible, and will try to make his theology only a restatement of the Bible's teachings (or some of them, at least). A Greek Orthodox theologian will try to avoid saying anything that contradicts the Bible, but will treat the writings of the church fathers and other great theologians of the past as more normative, and try to make his theology a restatement of what he thinks their general position is. And those who are more philosophically inclined have attempted to use reason to draw out consequences from their theological starting points, like de Molina in the issue already mentioned. And so on. And the communities for whom these people write will share their basic views about the sources of theology, and judge them accordingly. Of course, if they disagree, then there are problems. So you have someone like the Catholic theologian Hans Küng, who argued that the Pope is not infallible, and got into trouble not simply because he was rejecting a Catholic doctrine but because he was rejecting one of the accepted sources of doctrines in the first place. Or alternatively, consider the huge row in the Anglican churches about homosexuality. People disagree to a large extent because they don't agree on what the sources of theology should be: one lot think it's all about the Bible, and the other lot think the Bible shouldn't be followed in all things and one must also follow natural reason and culture. So when they argue about homosexuality, what they're really arguing about is what they should base their faith and practice on. Which is why these disputes can never be resolved.

    So it's a bit more complicated than simply a matter of who's got the best argument or who's the most charismatic at stating his or her opinions. In theory there are standards by which theologians are judged, but what those standards are will vary from church to church or even within churches. So you give the example of the Nicene council; there, the bishops didn't simply assert their views, but argued for them on the basis of what they all agreed on. For example, they all agreed that Christ saves; but many people believed that he could not save if he were not fully divine. That was the primary motivation for the council to teach that he is, and for theologians such as Athanasius and Hilary in the decades that followed to insist that Nicaea had been right and should be followed by everyone (the first Nicene council was effectively forgotten and overruled for the next fifty years). In general, when the church has decided that position X is orthodox and position Y is heretical, there have been reasons for that decision - usually pretty good ones too, assuming you accept the basic presuppositions about the sources of theology.

    I must say that I do find a lot of modern theology extremely annoying, which is why I don't read any of it any more. A lot of it does seem to be a stream of assertion without much argument or attempt to support it by evidence and example. But I don't think theology is alone in this. For example, a lot of sociology and anthropology is pretty similar; I'm especially thinking of the work of continental figures such as Bourdieu. And the same can be said for most continental philosophy too, which as far as I can tell is usually about the creation of sweeping systems of thought that don't seem to mean very much (to my analytically-trained mind).
     
  4. scy12

    scy12 Chieftain

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    (note i am not talking about your views as i am aware you express the different theological reasoning of various themes)

    The problem with this view is that if whatever happens is predetermined to happen by God while one could claim that you are absolutely free to act one as you wish , God does nothing to safeguard people from Evil . Because according to that reasoning it's inevitable that they would make the choice that would lead them to Evil unless God interferes. It's a predetermined future of evil consequences where God does nothing.

    I would be interested to see how they attempt to explain this problem if they actually do.
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm not sure I understand exactly what the problem is. If you believe that God predetermines everything that actually happens, then you must believe that it is better, overall, for what actually happens to happen. That is, if I murder someone, it is because God decrees it; and because God always acts for the best, it must be better for me to have committed that murder than not (for some reason). If, on the other hand, I do not murder someone, then that too is because God decreed it. Whatever happens is what God wanted to happen. So I don't see how one would conclude from this that God does nothing to safeguard people from evil - at least, I don't see how this conclusion would follow more from a doctrine of predestination than it would from a doctrine of no predestination. Perhaps you could explain in more detail why you think it would.

    Another point: the doctrine of predestination is, as far as I can tell, quite compatible with the doctrine of divine omnificence (the belief that God literally does everything: everything that happens is done by God). Someone who believed in both predestination and divine omnificence certainly wouldn't say that "God does nothing", but their position would not be incoherent. In fact one might say that the doctrine of divine omnificence is far more compatible with the doctrine of predestination than with its denial.
     
  6. scy12

    scy12 Chieftain

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    First we must clear on what context we are theorizing. We make the agreement to speak in theological context else there is no reason to speak about God and predetermined future.

    I do not think that in the same theological context where we assume that we are having predetermined future we can assume that if a person murders someone is for the better. It may not make sense if this was just a discussion on predetermenism but if we argue based on one of the theological positions then we must have in context the other ones also.

    So did God want us to go in a path that leads away from him ? If it is our own free will why didn't God help us ? The logical position if we believe in only fate is what you said , if God willed it , meaning if it ever happened then it is for the better. According to that logic , it means there is not necessarily a moral system in the world which finds Murder as a bad thing. But then comes the problem. According to the same theological background which assumes predereminism , Murder is Evil.There is no way around it as morality plays a very serious role in theological positions. It is claimed that the purpose of life is God's Love . The question is , if God is good and the future is predetermined by him then wouldn't he have acted in ways to avert the evil ?

    I am wondering what solution does one offer to such question.
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    You might say that God allowed - or even decreed - something that is in itself bad because it led to a greater good. The classic example of that would be the death of Jesus: in itself, this was a very bad thing, because it was the execution of an innocent man. But of course in the grand scheme of things it was a good thing, because it allowed sinners to be saved. An apologist for predestination could say the same thing about any apparently evil action. Of course, in most cases it would be hard to specify what good comes out of a given evil; but one could argue that this is because the world is very complex and we don't understand it well. If we could see things from a God's-eye perspective, we'd realise that things are better as they are, even with the apparent evils.

    The most sophisticated attempt to set out this sort of view was Leibniz' Theodicy. Leibniz didn't believe in predestination, exactly, but he did believe that everything that happens is what God wants to happen, and he argued that the existing world is the best possible one. It may not seem like that to us, but that's because our understanding is limited and we see only a tiny portion of the whole. The point is that God is constrained by possibility. It might be ideal to have a world in which everyone does only what is right, and there is no suffering, but such a world is actually impossible - perhaps for reasons we don't really understand. The world we have is the best of those ones that actually could exist, and that is why God actualised it. You can see a much earlier, though less sophisticated, argument to the same effect here by Gregory of Nyssa. He was answering a question about why God allows infants to die prematurely:

    So, (a) the world is actually better with a few bad things in it, just as a meal is better with bitter elements to contrast with the sweetness; and (b) perhaps God makes this child die because he knows that if it were to live it would be very sinful, and that would be worse. Someone who believes in predestination can easily apply the same reasoning to evil acts performed by people.
     
  8. scy12

    scy12 Chieftain

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    Thanks for that insightful analysis.

    So the first answer why is Evill allowed to exist is that in the grand scheme of things that Evil exists so that the greater good can be achieved. An unconventional answer for sure that creates another problem. If Greater good is the most important can Human sin so that he can achieve a greater good ?
    Is he then sinning ?

    Then there is another similar problem that i kind of pointed in the second post. If every action done by humans is predestined and results to a greater good then no action a human can take can be characterized as evil. There are no morals. Everything is the same and good because is the will of God. So when the answer to why Evil exists is that there in the grand scheme of things there is no Evil anything is according to plan , then the theological position of human salvation by helping them self , by showing remorse and bettering oneself becomes useless. That is the problem of a theory that supports Moral relativism with a twist. As everything Evil is done for the good.


    If the existing world is the best possible then there are some serious question regarding the theological principle of sin. Apparently the world is an evil place because all humans are sinfull more or less and they should try to improve thereselfs. But if the world is the best there is then that would be impossible.

    On a non theological context without the idea of sin it also doesn't make sense. As long as there are moral systems which may or may not be based on religion then the world is not the best it can be.

    I do think that all of our thoughts and actions are greatly influence by our animal nature. The same way Humans are hard coded to show emotions around sex , they also have impulses about being selfish and act in evil ways. In a very distorted sense the argument that all humans are born sinners is actually truth. However it is very simple to imagine that there could be created Humans that weren't programmed to act in such Evil ways . Though as people we can be less Evil than each other then a world can in respect be more perfect. Which is also an idea that is found in Religions which generally claim a moral code while that position claims Moral relativism.

    In the computer age Human imagination has captured how such things can be possible. That is by creating a being that's it's nature prohibits it from being Evil. That doesn't mean it won't understand it. It just wouldn't want to do it in the similar way that a human may not want to do extreme good. Asimov's third laws of Robotics if put to practice could create such a character but it's future is either to become Evil or Slave of Humanity.


    Well since Gregory argues on what happens on this world i would just ignore altogether the after life implications. Gregory argues that always when Evil happens it is so that a Greater good may happen .

    Large parenthesis of logic on a topic having to do with theology
    Logically i find his argument to be the best argument against predetermination being a result of a good being which controls it.
    For example if your spouse dies because of cancer that means that she would have acted in ways that would cause great misery and it was for the best . But she may have shown signs that she would never act in such ways due to being kind or for example not having any intelligence to be evil. And when whole populations where taking the biggest hits from the plauge i can't see how that had any positive sideeffects.

    There are some paradoxes that i believe can not be solved only mutate into a different paradox if the original paradox was correct. I await for your reppy.
     
  9. Mknn

    Mknn Chieftain

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    Just a note on the monotheism thing. Be careful in assuming that religion "developed" into monotheism: this was a standard view among the early anthropologists of religion, but it has sense been completely discredited. In fact, there are many groups in West Africa for whom we have very good evidence of a progression the other way; that is, they were monotheistic (with an invisible omniscient sky God, the whole bit), and then evolved into a polytheism where the original supreme deity either disappeared entirely, or faded into the background.

    Also, the Egyptian solar Gods were not part of a monotheistic structure, despit Siggy's desires.
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Well, some theologians and philosophers alike would argue that the goodness or otherwise of an act lies in its consequences. On this view, if you do something normally considered wrong because you know that its good consequences will outweigh its bad ones, then it is a good act. So if a thug asks me where my friend is hiding so he can kill him, and I lie to him, that is a good act and I have not sinned. Many Christians have argued along these lines. But many others have not, and have insisted that such an act would indeed be wrong no matter how good its consequences seem: the end cannot justify the means. Kant famously gave this answer when the example of the thug and the friend was put to him. The Catholic Church teaches that consequentialism is mistaken and that certain acts are always sins, even if they might seem to bring about better consequences.

    Now the traditional Christian view about sinful acts is that the sin lies in the intention rather than the action; if I intend to do what is right but accidentally commit a sin then I haven't really sinned, and if I intend to sin but somehow fail to do it, then I have indeed sinned. This is the view of Augustine. On these grounds one might argue that a sin committed in order to prevent a greater sin isn't really a sin, but I think the church has generally avoided such an argument.

    In the context of predestination, it's important to recognise that one cannot know what God has planned. For example, right now I am considering whether to sin or not. I know that whichever choice I make, it will be the one that God has predestined for me (on the assumption that predestination is true). So I know that if I sin, it will be what God wants, but if I don't sin, that will also be what God wants. The problem is that right now I don't know which. So it is still my moral duty to try to avoid the sin. I can't say that God wants me to sin, therefore I should do it, because I don't know that that is what he wants. Of course, if I then commit the sin, I will know that I was right and it was what God wanted. But that doesn't change the fact that, at the time, I did not know this, and so I was not committing the sin in order to achieve whatever greater good God might bring out of it; I was committing the sin simply because I wanted to. If I really cared about God's plan I would have avoided the sin, because I would know that even though God can bring greater good out of sin, it is better to have no sin at all.

    Not necessarily, because we can distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic desirability. Say that sin X brings about greater good Y. If we know the whole situation, we can say that X is desirable, but it is desirable only because it brings about Y; it has "extrinsic desirability". If we look at X alone, without considering its role in bringing about Y, then it is undesirable. So it has extrinsic desirability but intrinsic undesirability. This ties in with what I suggested above: we don't know the whole context, because we cannot see all the effects of our choices. All we can be certain of is the intrinsic undesirability of sinful choices. When I am faced with the choice whether to sin or not, I can't know whether, from God's perspective, the sin has extrinsic desirability, because I don't know what all of its effects will be; I can't know if the good effects (if any) will outweight its intrinsic undesirability as a sin. All I can know is that intrinsic undesirability, which is why it is my duty not to do it, irrespective of whatever extrinsic desirability it might have. So in this way one can distinguish between right and wrong acts even when accepting that some - perhaps many - wrong acts are ultimately right because of their consequences.

    When I said "the world", I meant the whole thing in time as well as space: the whole history of the universe. To say that the actual world is the best possible is to say that the sum total of everything that happens is preferable to any other possible sum total that might have happened instead. It doesn't mean saying that the world as it is at this precise moment is as good as it could possibly be. In fact one might plausibly hold that this is the best possible world while also believing that the world is in a sorry state at the moment; one might also believe that it will get far better in the future, and it is this vast amount of future happiness which outweighs the current misery. Note that I'm not suggesting that happiness in heaven outweighs misery on earth, but that earth itself might get better - which is of course the traditional Christian view, at least if one believes in a future thousand-year reign of Christ on earth.

    On a non theological context without the idea of sin it also doesn't make sense. As long as there are moral systems which may or may not be based on religion then the world is not the best it can be.

    Right, and personally I think such a situation would be preferable, which is why I think that the actual world is not the best possible. Now Leibniz argued like this:

    (1) If God exists, then the actual world is the best possible.
    (2) God exists.
    (3) Therefore, the actual world is the best possible.

    I'd be inclined to accept his premise (1), but turn it around like this:

    (1') If God exists, then the actual world is the best possible.
    (2') The actual world is not the best possible.
    (3') Therefore, God does not exist.

    Of course I don't think that my (2') is really proveable, any more than Leibniz' (2) is (although he thought God's existence could be proven), so this is hardly a knock-down argument for atheism.

    Many people would argue that creatures following Asimov's laws of robots would not really be proper moral agents - a creature that doesn't have the option of doing evil cannot meaningfully be said to do good. And a world that contains genuine moral agents is intrinsically preferable to one that doesn't. So to create the best world, God has to create us with all our capacity for evil. Personally I don't buy into this argument, but I suppose really it's a matter of taste.

    The wife wouldn't necessarily have had evil intentions. Perhaps she would have done something quite accidentally that happened to have terrible consequences; perhaps she would have had a baby that would grow up to be the next Hitler. Of course that raises the question: why, then, did God not kill Hitler's parents before they had him? It's hard to imagine how there could be anyone much worse whose parents had to die when his were allowed to live. But then, for all we know, the world would have been much worse if Hitler hadn't lived; perhaps in his absence the Nazis would have been led by someone more competent who would have won, as in Stephen Fry's Making history. Someone who is committed to the belief that this is the best of all possible worlds would have to argue that this is true. Of course there is no way of showing that it's not true.

    The existence of big disasters claiming lots of lives is of course a traditional argument against this sort of theodicy. The classic example was the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which killed many thousands of people right as philosophers were insisting that this is the best possible world. Voltaire wrote a famous poem attacking Leibniz and his disciple Wolff on these grounds (they couldn't answer back, because they were both dead):

    If Leibniz had still been around, he would have said that in itself, the earthquake couldn't be proved to have been ultimately a good thing - after all, all the evidence would point to its being overall a bad thing (what good could come from it that would outweigh all that suffering?). But his argument that this is the best of all possible worlds was not based upon an examination of the evidence in the world, it was based upon the argument I gave above. If God can be proven to exist, and if the principle that God always does the best is accepted, then, he thought, this must be the best possible world, no matter what evidence appears to the contrary. When faced with events such as the earthquake we must simply bear in mind how little we really understand of how the universe works or what is going on elsewhere in its vastness.
     
  11. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    Plotinus I asked that exact same question as above of a PhD fellow in Theology and the answer I got was just vague, pretentious, dismissive and just full of waffle.

    That's about 100000000000% times better, and no doubt the reason why I've still been know to drop your pesonage in a conversation. Nothing to add, question answered. :D
     
  12. Humpty Dumpty

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    What does gnosis mean in Greek?

    What does science mean in Ancient Times during the Hellenistic Age?
     
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Sorry, I didn't spot that this had appeared when I posted before. Of course I didn't mean to suggest that monotheism represents some kind of more advanced state than polytheism, or that polytheism must inevitably develop into it. There are plenty of examples of monotheism going in a more polytheistic direction - they would include inter-testamental Judaism, when a whole panoply of angels and quasi-independent divine attributes became popular, or medieval Catholicism, with its saints. But in the case of Judaism before that period, and some strains of Greek philosophy, we can see monotheism developing out of polytheism, and I meant to suggest only that this is a fairly natural sort of development which one might expect to see arising independently in different contexts, not that it is an inevitable one or one which represents a progression.

    Thanks for that - perhaps that just illustrates what I said before about modern theology. The best theology was the kind done in late antiquity and the Middle Ages - it was rigorous! I'd be inclined to say the same of philosophy too, but perhaps that's an argument for another day.

    It means "knowledge", but it's sometimes pointed out that it's more like knowledge by acquaintance than knowledge of fact. In French there are two verbs for knowledge - savoir and connaître - and they don't mean quite the same thing. "Savoir" means knowing a fact to be true, but "connaître" means knowing a person. These are obviously quite different sorts of relations, but we miss this in English because we have only the one verb. I don't know enough Greek to say whether "gnosis" always has the same meaning as "connaître", although I don't think it does, but there are certainly lots of words for "knowledge" in Greek (the language has rough synonyms for everything, and every word has lots of meanings, which makes learning it a pain). So in a religious context, to have "gnosis" can mean to have personal knowledge or acquaintance, rather than simply intellectual knowledge of facts. You find this sense of the word in some gnostic texts.

    However, it can also mean knowledge in the sense of full understanding. Clement of Alexandria uses it in this sense. He thought that the spiritual life has three stages - faith (defined as a sort of knowledge: the kind where you become aware of the truth), gnosis (defined as real understanding of why the truth is true), and love (where you become united to the truth):

    If you mean the word scientia, that just means knowledge, I think generally in the sense of the sum of what is known, or in the sense of a skill. Obviously the English word "science" has acquired the sense of a particular kind of knowledge, or the discipline that produces it, but originally it meant the same thing as scientia.
     
  14. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    Knowledge? Thus agnostic, without knowledge. Or the Gnostics, who believed they had the knowledge to know God existed without any proof whatsoever, albeit that their knowing was esoteric and based on scholarly pursuits.

    Science didn't exist back then as we know it but if it existed as a word I have no idea?
     
  15. Fifty

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

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    :eek: Let me know when that other day comes, it's an argument I'd be interested in seeing! I think philosophical methodology is the best its ever been, at least for people following the Fregean methodological tradition.
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Maybe that's an argument we should have, in the noble pursuit of knowledge (I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong). There are certainly elements of philosophical method and logic today that were not available to the medievals, the prime one (in my view) being modal logic; medieval philosophers simply did not have the same conceptual distinctions between different kinds of possibility and necessity that we do, for example (although Duns Scotus was one of the key people who began to develop them). Other than that I'm not convinced that there's a whole lot in Frege-Russellian logic that wasn't already available to medieval philosophers, given that it's basically a formalisation of Aristotelian logic; what was new was the notion of algebraising arguments so you could study their form more clearly. But that was a refinement rather than something really new, I think.
     
  17. scy12

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    In all my usage of the word knowledge and the word gnosis and their verbs i didn't notice any difference in meaning with how i would have used Γνωσίς or knowledge instead. It means having the information to deduct something.


    That is the daily use of gnosis. There is also another meaning which is closer to wisdom i guess and isn't used often on daily speach. It is a word that is used in Greek philosophy and is often more fashionable to be used in the same meaning as the word that means wisdom (sofia). Ofcourse anything of these is just my interpretation of things and i could be wrong.

    And then there may be the meaning you propose in relations to the gnostics. And this is more than likely related to my above example.



    So i think there are two meanings of the word the one is knowledge and the other is how it is expressed by gnostic philosophy.
     
  18. Fifty

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

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    Well my point wasn't so much the tools, but the method. From what I've read of pre-Frege philosophy (which is almost nothing compared to what you've read, I'm quite sure! And I've read almost no medieval philosophy), it was much more about building big philosophical systems than the clear, careful, and incremental method of modern post-Frege philosophy. I mean, when you read Uber Sinn und Bedeutung you get the impression that Frege is taking his sharp analytical toolset and attacking a small problem with a clear methodology and with much care put into making clear definitions, clear statements of arguments, and clear use of examples. I guess the main difference is the scope of the issues addressed. After Fregean methodology was accepted, when you write a paper its not like "I'm going to build a complete system of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics from foundations that nobody would doubt using steps that nobody can challenge" but rather "In On Denoting, Russell attempts to argue for a semantic analysis of proper names in which they can be analyzed into definite descriptions. I'm going to argue that Russell's account fails when confronted with [some cases], and argue for a Kripkean causal theory instead."

    I think that the difference between those two methods of doing philosophy is where the difference lies.

    By the way, this is a cool paper on methodology (by Timothy Williamson).
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That is an interesting paper! Thanks for the link.

    Well, you've clearly read a lot more Frege than I have, although you could have achieved this by reading any Frege. But I would dispute the claim that careful analysis of fairly small problems - as opposed to wildly ambitious system-building - is a modern innovation. In fact it's a very medieval way of going about things. I said something about quodlibets earlier so I can refer you back to that - basically, the standard way of philosophising in the later Middle Ages was to focus on very small technical questions and try to resolve them exhaustively, looking at every possible opinion and adjudicating between them. Most of the medieval philosophical works consist of "questions" such as this, and some of them are extremely narrow and technical in scope; Scotus' various works are probably the best example of this kind of thing. When people wanted to write something more systematic they did it by sticking lots of questions together. This is the format of Aquinas' Summa theologiae, for example. Now in early modern philosophy this approach tended to be lost, and people did go more for the "great big system" sort of thing, the prime examples being, perhaps, Descartes' Principles of philosophy and Spinoza's Ethics - although, perhaps ironically, these works tried to use more scholastic methods of reasoning, if not of scope, than was fashionable at the time.

    I'd say that the key difference between modern analytic philosophy (which is what you're talking about - bear in mind that continental philosophy still goes in for the "great big system" approach - see people like Habermas and so on) and medieval philosophy is more the kinds of questions being considered, or at least the style in which they are considered. For example, the medievals were very interested in epistemology, but it is very hard to find many points of contact between their discussions of it and modern ones because they were couched in such different terms (intelligible species and the like, which are quite unintelligible by modern standards). They were very interested in philosophy of language, perhaps just as much as modern philosophers, but the questions they were asking about it were different; they were interested in what gives sentences meaning, but they didn't spend much time wondering what meaning actually is, for example.

    It's also worth mentioning that the piecemeal approach of modern analytic philosophy is also closely associated with the system of publication in journals. Modern scientific journals were only invented in the seventeenth century and didn't really take off until the late nineteenth century. Before then, most philosophers did most of their important work either in letters - which functioned pretty much like threads just like this one, allowing people to have big discussions but which did not help with systematic or detailed formulation of their positions - or in books, which obviously encouraged the "big system" approach. It's hard to set out a big system in a journal article (although some people have tried!). So compare, for example, Russell's article "On denoting", which you mentioned, to the Principia mathematica - they're both analytic but the latter is closer to being a "system"; at least, it attempts to create a pretty ambitious explanation of an entire body of knowledge. So the same philosopher might be more piecemeal in articles and more overarching in a book. And today, as I'm sure you know, the pressure upon academics to publish more and more, and to do so at the highest level of accreditation, means that articles are seen as ever more important and books as ever less so: if you write articles then (a) you have a greater number of publications, because they're shorter, and (b) people regard them as more prestigious, because everyone knows how difficult it is to publish an article, whereas books are not so hard to publish. Which I suppose is true, since I myself have published six books to date but only three articles. Enterprising PhD students today plan their theses as a series of articles, so they can get a whole bunch of publications with no extra work, and some PhD courses now have even abandoned the traditional thesis and have students write a few articles instead. So quite apart from whatever purely philosophical developments there may be, the very nature of academia itself, and the ever more difficult struggle for jobs means that philosophy is being done in a more and more piecemeal fashion. That's true now in a way that it certainly wasn't in Russell's day.
     
  20. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    Just as a sense of closure this is a discussion which prompted me to ask you the question above about historical theology and theology:

    I claimed that the Gospels were propaganda pieces, since they were not written at the time the events happened. And by propaganda I meant as a means to spread the faith, not a comment on their veracity and got this answer in response.

    Post doctoral fellow of theology at I think Oxbridge:

    I don't know about you but this could have been summed up in one sentence, and even then it would have been wasted, no the Gospels are not propaganda pieces per se, of course the question why followed? Thus I asked you the question about what I say as the opaqueness of the modern theologian, this went on for several pages with him not providing any sources except for a vague mention of Aguinas, and arm waving before I gave up trying to get a straight answer and locked the thread. :)

    Then I came here. Historical account of where my question came from.

    Is it just me or is this really, really annoyingly vague and is he just avoiding the question? Just wondering because that's the impression I got. You speak theologian, what do you think he's trying to say? :undecide:

    By the way in relation to his response I never suggested they were to keep people in line, I'm not sure what that even means in context with what I asked. I also never suggested they were edited exactly either only that they had some notable inconsistencies in relation to each other, which to be frank aren't that surprising, given they were written as much as hundreds of years apart or as little as possibly a hundred or so. Is this waffle? :D
     
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