Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Brief Aside: Star Trek TNG's Captain Picard on The Essence of Human Passion

In Star Trek TNG, Picard delineates the essence of Being-Human quite well in this quote from Shakespeare:

Q: Perhaps maybe a little, uh, Hamlet?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Oh, I know Hamlet. And what he might say with irony, I say with conviction: "What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!"
Q: Surely, you don't see your species like that, do you?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: I see us one day becoming that, Q. Is it that which concerns you?

But what lies behind this vision?  Is there perhaps a flight from the boredom and tedium of the everyday?  Consider when Q transforms Picard's life into that of an ordinary person of no notable station: 

Lt. J.G. Jean-Luc Picard: You having a good laugh now, Q? Does it amuse you to think of me living out the rest of my life as a dreary man in a tedious job?
Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience: a second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?
Lt. J.G. Jean-Luc Picard: I can't live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion... and imagination! That is not who *I* am!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Exploring Heidegger (Nietzsche Interlude)

Before I get into Derrida's Interpretation of Heidegger in the 1964/65 lecture course "Heidegger: The Question of Being and History," I would like to make a few connections between what I have already posted on Heidegger's tragic interpretation of humans (Da-sein as Being-addicted) and the essence of Nietzsche's Philosophy.

Nietzsche wrote:

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” 
― Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

from Nietzsche's The Gay Science, s.341, Walter Kaufmann transl. 

What Nietzsche is trying to express here is the thought of The Eternal Return of the Same: the tragic thought that every new being we comport ourselves toward is just another being, something that will interest us for a time, and then fall out of our purview.  As Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun:

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes)

Nietzsche asks whether we are going to be devastated by the thought of The Eternal Return of the Same, or whether we will have a Yes and Amen attitude to all existence in the spirit of Amor Fati, and will that as The Eternal Return of the Same Difference.

For Nietzsche, this meant seeing behind the Herculean efforts of the aesthetes an intellectuals to satiate their terrible emptiness (lack of satisfaction with everyday things), and be satisfied with the simple things.  Heraclitus said, regarding the warmth of the hearth fire, "even here gods come to presence."  The flight into intellectualism so present in the modern age is born out of a fundamental lack of "being at home" with the Everyday.  Nietzsche comments that:

"Being Satisfied:  We show that we have attained maturity of understanding when we no longer go where rare flowers lurk under the thorniest hedges of knowledge, but are satisfied with gardens, forests, meadows, and ploughlands, remembering that life is too short for the rare and the extraordinary.  (Nietzsche, Human all too Human, 399)."

A quote I made in a previous post on this issue may be repeated here:

- Heidegger calls the quantification of beings and the forgetting of the question of Being Evil (Derrida, OS, 62-63), where every being is, in the end, simply another being that distracts us from our dark being-addicted for a while until the being slides out of view – like a warn out recording of a favorite song.  It is in this landscape that we see “the reign of the literati and the aesthetes, of what is ‘merely spiritual’ – in the sense of wit, of being clever (Derrida, OS, 64).”  Derrida points out “The degradation of the spiritual into the ‘rational,’ ‘intellectual,’ ‘ideological,” is indeed what Heidegger was condemning in 1935 (Derrida, OS, 96).”

I hope this aside regarding Heidegger and Nietzsche has helped to further illumine what the fundamental problem addressed in Heidegger's Philosophy was: The fundamental homelessness (deinon in Greek) of human kind, and the exacerbation of this problem by modernity since Descartes and the modern/contemporary age.

NB: This post on my blog also goes to the essence of humanity as outlined in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the episode where Q attempts to tempt Riker with the power of Q, Q says of humanity:
"You see, of all species, yours cannot abide stagnation. Change is at the heart of what you are."

This also fits in with the portrayal of the Q continuum Philosopher Quinn in Star Trek Voyager who became horribly bored with having to exist forever after having done and been everything numerous times and so just wanted the right to commit suicide and end the tedium.

PS: The Q saw the potential of humanity, but also the danger. In TNG, Q and Riker discussed that humanity would not tolerate stagnation - that change was fundamental to what humanity was. This flame would propel humanity indefinitely, even perhaps to a greater height than the Q themselves. But the Q saw the danger of humanity. At the end of the line, as we learned from the Q Philosopher Quinn in Star Trek Voyager, there was the potential for profound tedium where an omnipotent entity will eventually see everything and be everything countless times. The result? The Q Philosopher Quinn wanted the right to commit suicide. If humanity evolved as far as the Q or past the Q, how would humanity reconcile this boredom with their desire for change and novelty? Would humanity rather not exist in such a state, like Quinn? Or, out of anger at the tedium, would humanity rage and decide to annihilate reality and itself?

PPS:  CaptainJean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation) : "There's no greater challenge than the study of Philosophy."

Monday, October 15, 2018

Exploring Heidegger (Orienting Ourselves Toward Derrida's Interpretation)

I thought that before getting into Derrida's 1964-65 lecture course on Heidegger, it might help orientation toward Derrida's interpretation of Heidegger by exploring a few of Derrida's thoughts on Heidegger that Derrida wrote around 20 years later in his book "Of Spirit: Heidegger And The Question."

(1) Heidegger’s task, as I see it, was to illumine the Being of the human being with the notion of “Da-sein,” which can be translated as “Being-there,” as distinguished from “Not-being-there,” such as when we are not caught up in the circumstances around us and our mind wanders.  For Heidegger, our being-there is basically “being-addicted” to beings, where we escape our essential homelessness by losing ourselves in beings (a “being” meaning something that “is” in some way, e.g., a dog, videogame, happy thought, imaginary friend).  This problem is even more pronounced in modern time with things like cell phone addiction, especially in the young, that has led to increased rates of depression, suicide, etc.

(2)  In “Of Spirit,” Derrida discusses how, for Heidegger, modern time has lead to a “massification of man, the pre-eminence of the mediocre (46).”  Derrida cites Heidegger as commenting that “Dasein has begun to slide into a world without depth … All things are fallen to the same level … The predominant dimension has become that of dimension and number (60).”  Modernism/Cartesianism effected reducing the Being of beings to ultimately be something quantifiable.  This levelling of the Being of beings has resulted in an endless business the of ontic disciplines (physics, biology, etc) that endlessly pursue the beings under there purview, churning out articles, books, and graduates without end.  Heidegger calls the quantification of beings and the forgetting of the question of Being Evil (62-63), where every being is, in the end, simply another being that distracts us from our dark being-addicted for a while until the being slides out of view – like a warn out recording of a favorite song.  It is in this landscape that we see “the reign of the literati and the aesthetes, of what is ‘merely spiritual’ – in the sense of wit, of being clever (64).”  Derrida points out “The degradation of the spiritual into the ‘rational,’ ‘intellectual,’ ‘ideological,” is indeed what Heidegger was condemning in 1935 (96).”

Derrida points out Heidegger says our soul is a burning flame, but it is a fundamental sadness that fuels the passions of the soul in the beings it delights in.  Spirit is “never at home (80).”  Derrida quotes Trakl as saying “To spirit give up your flame, fervent melancholy (86) … Yes, the soul is a stranger upon the earth (87).”  The soul is intimately sad and melancholic (105-106)

(3) Derrida points out Heidegger produces, phenomenologically, what he sees as the essence of human spirit when it is contrasted with animals like dogs (103).  In his book on Schelling, Heidegger points out animals can never be thought ‘wicked’ in the same way humans can, regardless how cunning and malicious the animal might be.  Humans alone can, so to speak, sink lower than animals in their depravity. 

Humans, if they are not insane, have a pre-eminent understanding of responsibility, in that they attach themselves to all their actions.  You wouldn’t sue the dog or consider it unforgiveable that the dog chewed up the couch, because on some level we understand the dog is just an animal and hence doesn’t know any better - Animals also cannot properly question (57).  But you would sue a person for taking a knife to your couch because they are responsible for their actions. 


By exploring some of the ideas of Derrida on Heidegger in Derrida’s “Of Spirit,” I hope that by exposing the reader to some of Derrida’s thoughts they will feel comfortable to now approach Heidegger through Derrida in Derrida’s lecture course of 1964-65.  I will start with that next time!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Exploring Heidegger (Preliminary Remarks)

Exploring Heidegger (Preliminary Remarks)

By Heidegger

(FCM) Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Solitude, and Finitude, trns William McNeill, Indiana University Press; Reprint edition March 1, 2001
(FS) Four Seminars, trns Andrew Mitchel, Indiana University Press June 22, 2012
(O) Origin of the Work of Art in Poetry, Language, and Thought, Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Later Printing Used edition December 3, 2013
(Z) Zollikon Seminars, trns Franz May, Northwestern University Press; 1 edition September 12, 2001

(1) In his essay “Origin of the Work of Art,” Heidegger writes, concerning Van Gogh’s painting of a peasant’s shoes, that:

“From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth. In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw wind. On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field. This equipment is pervaded by uncomplaining anxiety as to the certainty of bread, the wordless joy of having once more withstood want, and trembling before the impending childbed and shivering at the surrounding menace of death. This equipment belongs to the earthy and it is protected in the world of the peasant woman. From out of this protected belonging the equipment itself rises to its resting within-itself … But perhaps it is only in the picture that we notice all this about the shoes. The peasant woman, on the other hand, simply wears them. If only this simple wearing were so simple. When she takes off her shoes late in the evening, in deep but healthy fatigue, and reaches out for them again in the still dim' dawn, or passes them by on the day of rest, she knows all this without noticing or reflecting. The equipmental quality of the equipment consists indeed in its usefulness. But this usefulness itself rests in theabundance of an essential being of the equipment. We call it reliability. By virtue of this reliability the peasant woman is made privy to the silent call of the earth; by virtue of the reliability of the equipment she is sure of her world. World and earth exist for her, and for those who are with her in her mode of being, only thus—in the equipment. We say "only" and therewith fall into error; for the reliability of the equipment first gives to the simple world its security and assures to the earth the freedom of its steady thrust. (Heidegger, Origin Of TheWork Of Art in PLT, 33-34)."

For Heidegger, the painting of the peasant woman’s shoes is a sign that points toward a system of more or less fixed signifiers that convey the unifying sense of the peasant woman’s world. To contextualize this, we can consider the phenomenological production of the Being of beings Heidegger engages in with Being and Time. In Being and Time, a network of signifiers and an overarching theme are disclosed by Heidegger (un-covered, aletheia, truth), for instance, in steresis (privation), like when the Ready-to-Handedness of equipment is dis-closed when you reach for equipment and it is missing. Or, when the Present-at-Handness of a being is re-vealed when a being is in dispute by two people as to whether it’s green or not, etc. – we resolve the dispute by appealing to the object “at hand,” just as our being-with-others is thereby always already projected in our dealing with beings.

Heidegger labels our being-caught-up in our network of concerns as Da-sein (Being-there), to distinguish it from the little bit of absent minded professor we all have in us from time to time, Nicht-Da-Sein (see FCM, 60). As Aristotle said, creative types are generally not caught up in the every day goings on of life, and so have a life of great melancholy, but also spurts of great passion. The difference between the work of art and everyday Dasein for Heidegger is that Dasein is a gateway to an interconnected network and overarching theme, but in such a way as this connection is not usually considered. The Being of this being must be forced out of hiding, a-letheia. On the other hand, the work of arts such as Van Gogh’s peasant shoes, is readily understood as a sign pointing to a world. For Dasein, the ultimate theme running through Being and Time is that we live “as though” the next moment won’t be denied to us, that death is always “not next,” and so we exist in a futural manner in all our dealings and concerns.

(2) Truth, aletheia, un-concealment, is of fundamental importance for Heidegger. Being loves to hide: Heraclitus reportedly said “Phusis kruptesthai philei.” Heidegger tries to recapture a more original conception of truth (than the one popular in his time) where the Being of beings was produced, such as the way the ready to handness of equipment is produced when the tool is missing. Heidegger points out truth as aletheia was re-interpreted in the history of thought to mean truth as certainty (freedom from doubt) as a Christian re-interpretation of truth, where truth was framed in the light of certainty (verum becomes certum), specifically certainty as freedom from doubt regarding the salvation of the soul (following Thomas and Luther). One had to be certain she was saved (free from doubt), so truth was disassociated from more originary senses like true friend (exemplary) and great truths of the human condition (essentiality), when Descartes canonized the interpretation of Truth as Certainty, free from doubt. 

Heidegger says we go to Phenomenological Kindergarten when we consider for the first time things like the idea that a torn sock is better than an untorn one.  In the tearing, the unity of a previously untorn sock is produced or disclosed (a-letheia, re-vealed), precisely as a lost unity.  Thus, the category of unity as a determination of the Being of a sock is not simply abstracted to, but is phenomenologically produced.  In this way, part of the Being (in this case, unity) of this entity (the untorn sock) is re-vealed (a-letheia, un-hidden) in the tearing. So, in “Four Seminars” Heidegger invites us to phenomenological kindergarten to consider how a torn sock is better than a mended one because in the tearing, the prior unity of the sock that we didn’t consider is brought to the stage, precisely as a lost unity (FS, 11).   Heidegger often makes the point of trying to show how we can encounter Being in a way that is direct and immediate. This is a living Philosophy, not just conceptual hairsplitting.  Heidegger lamented the time wasted with Husserl when the groups would sit around trying to intuit essences.  Heidegger's Philosophy was not that kind of Phenomenology.  In the Zollikon Seminars he gives the example of hearing a thing in the woods, and looking down to see that he had actually mis-taken rustling leaves for a living thing.  However, what this phenomenological privative shows is that something like the concept of "living thing" is given immediately in the experience, and not only abstracted to by eccentric philosophers for the sake of categorization.

This theory of signs and meaning by Heidegger also help us to understand Heidegger’s approach to modern malaise. One of Heidegger principle concerns was the fundamental homelessness of modern life.  Heidegger said people needed to discover what things pertain to them, and learn to become engrossed in them. In the Zollikon seminar, Medard Boss and Heidegger say

Medard Boss: Our patients force us to see the human being in his essential ground because the modem neuroses of boredom and meaninglessness can no longer be drowned out by glossing over or covering up particular symptoms of illness. If one treats those symptoms only, then another symptom will emerge again and again ... They no longer see meaning in their life and ... theyhave become intolerably bored 

Heidegger: ... To be absorbed by something ... [means] 'to be totally preoccupied by something , as for instance, when one says: He is entirely engrossed in his subject matter. Then he exists authentically as who he is, that is, in his task ... Da-sein means being absorbed in that toward which I comport myself... To be absorbed in beholding the palm tree in front of our window is letting the palm tree come to presence, its swaying in the wind, is absorption of my being-in-the world and of my comportment in the palm tree. (Z, 160-161)

This theme of boredom is another way to produce meaning: to let the sense produced “ground and shine” through an entire analysis. For instance, classicist Jacob Burckhardt argued that the ancient Greeks were more unhappy than most people realize. A young Nietzsche attained an auditor’s transcript of this lecture by Burckhardt and treasured it as his most valuable possession. At his death, for instance, Socrates said to offer up a rooster to the god Asclepius for the poisonous hemlock he was about to receive (pharmakon, both cure and poison) – as Nietzsche pointed out, Socrates wanted to die.

Heidegger took this tragic understanding of the Greeks one step further and opposed the Greek notion of parestios, “the one who is satiated within the sphere of the warmth of the hearth fire,” with deinon, “the uncanny/unhomely, das Unheimlische / das Unheimische.” Heidegger’s tragic interpretation of the Greeks is enacted by casting the dark light of deinon as the hidden core behind all of Greek existence. For instance, consider how the way the pessimistic Greeks view the afterlife would have cast a pall over their existence: Homer says the great Achilles would rather “live working as a wage-labourer for hire by some other man, one who had no land and not much in the way of livelihood, than lord it over all the wasted dead” (Homer, 11.380, 624-28).  Analogously, I had a friend once who was convinced she was going to Hell because she had an abortion, and this interpretation cast a shadow over her entire life.  Most of her time was spent in and out of psyche wards, miserable and suicidal.

(3) The type of being-absorbed in one’s things that most appealed to Heidegger was the task of thinking. In the lecture course on the essence of truth, Heidegger talks about what Plato has in mind the Republic when Plato discusses the thinker encountering a surplus (epekeina tes ousias, a phrase from Plato's Republic 509b) that her guiding perspective can't appropriate, and so experiences thaumazein (wonder) that she must question the assumptions of the guiding perspective that led to this block in the path (aporia), and rethink the guiding perspective and start out on another more originary path. An example of this might be a Christian theologian who is compelled through study to give up being a conservative Biblical Inerrantist and become a liberal Christian or secular.  Plato calls this wonderful surplus that is the genesis of all original thinking the idea of the good (idea to agathou, Republic 508e2–3).

Heidegger was a great advocate of the exemplar model of creating meaning. In his writing he wanted to show how the great philosophers reasoned through arguments, so students could pick up on their good habits. Using exemplars, along with underlying criteria that the exemplars point to, is a vivid way of promoting understanding. For instance, for a creative writing short story assignment, an instructor can begin the process by showing students examples of prior student stories that received grades of A, B, C,D, and an analysis of why each paper received the grade that it did. The instructor can then share (or create with the students) a rubric of criteria explaining what the student need to do to achieve the grade they desire in terms of such categories as Voice, Ideas, Presentation, Conventions, Organization, Word Choice, and Sentence Fluency. The combination of the exemplars and the rubric are intended to help create a vivid picture for the student in order to facilitate the student in making sense of what the different grade levels look like.

Concluding Preliminary Remarks

In Philosophy before Heidegger (up to Hegel,) Being was traditionally divided into the essential/existential, and referred to the Being of a being.  So, for instance, a chair might be brown and hard in its Essential Being (What-Being), and "poorly positioned" in its Existential Being (How-Being)Being was identified by Hegel as a Concept, and in fact the most all encompassing concept-and hence also the most empty.  Heidegger will propose a deconstruction of traditional ontology to get at what lies hidden in the traditional understanding of the Being of Beings, and in fact the Beingness (Truth) of Being itself.  We will explore this next time by looking at Jacques Derrida's lecture course he gave on Heidegger from December 1964-March 1965 called "Heidegger: The Question of Being and History."  Will the question of the Truth of Being also become the question of the Being of Truth?  If so, will we also have to inquire into the  essence of Truth?  What about the existence of Truth?

Supplementary Reading:

- My 2002 Master's Thesis on Heidegger and the Greeks is fully online and can be downloaded for free here: .  For quick references, the chapters include:

CHAPTER 1 Approaching the Tragic Nature of Boredom Through Heidegger' Analysis of Aristotle's Critique of Antiphon
CHAPTER 2 Heidegger's Analysis of Fundamental Boredom as an Access to Steresis (Privation)
CHAPTER 3 Heidegger's Analysis of Judgments as an approach to the Problem of the Meaning of the Philosophical Existence for the Greeks
CHAPTER 4 The Greek Positing of the Philosopher in Relation to the Tragic Nature of Greek Existence
CHAPTER 5 Deinon: The Utter Tragedy of Being-Human 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Postmodernism And Biblical Hermeneutics

Postmodernism and Biblical Hermeneutics is an interesting issue.

I think we have to be careful about drawing conclusions about the sources for stories based on the content of those stories. For example, consider the Temple Cleansing story and the plethora of possible source-explanations for it.  The historical verisimilitude of the story is in question because there would have been guards at the temple specifically to prevent such a disturbance as Jesus is depicted as starting.  So:
(1) Maybe the story is accurate and Jesus caused a small disturbance at the temple that didn't alert the guards..
(2) On the other hand, maybe the episode never happened, because there would have been guards there to prevent such a disturbance. Maybe Mark was part of an anti-temple sect like the Qumran sect and so was presenting in the story the idea that just as it was no longer the season for figs (the withering of the fig tree story), so too was it no longer season for the temple (the temple tantrum being sandwiched between the fig story).
(3) Maybe the story started out as a sermon Jesus liked to give about the corruption of the temple, and that sermon simply morphed over time into the temple cleansing episode that Mark inherited.
(4) Maybe the temple cleansing episode started out as a dream someone had about Jesus, which morphed, over time, into the temple tantrum story that was passed down to Mark.
(5) Maybe Mark was apologetically justifying after the fact that the Jews really didn't need the temple, in the wake of its destruction by the Romans
(6) And this could go on indefinitely ...
Anyway, postmodernism's point is that when we draw conclusions about sources that lie behind narratives we need to be very careful, because often times our choices can just be wishful, lazy thinking.

There's nothing new in the postmodern approach of those like Derrida (deconstruction) and Heidegger (destruktion). For instance, Kant is going to find something in Hume's philosophy that is going to threaten to overthrow Hume's position. Deconstruction comes about when something a System is trying to appropriate resists, and threatens to overthrow the system. For instance, there is going to be something about LGBTQ rights/love that is going to threaten to overthrow the traditional definition of marriage, and cause that definition to be "de-constructed," and then provisionally "re-constructed" in a more inclusive way. As Derrida says, Deconstruction is Justice. The methodology is very old. It's what Socrates did going around Athens and testing/questioning people's definitions. 

Sometimes when we are in the Meaning Making Process (in hermeneutics generally, not just biblical hermeneutics), there is polysemia, especially when the evidence is scant and ambiguous. My favorite example is by American Philosopher John Searle. Searle offered the following thought experiment:
"I was walking by the beautiful, bright window with an adorable dog peeking through. I wanted it." - Searle asks: Does the person want the dog or the window?
People sometimes confuse the idea that there is an objectively right answer (the person EITHER wants the dog OR the window), with the problem of whether we can epistemologically be confident in the scenario we choose as correct.

Hermenteutics involves humbly proposing a model that explains the evidence, and deals with any apparent recalcitrant evidence. But we must always accept that some of the evidence may be ambiguous and thus open to multiple interpretations.
Of course, this isn't the same as saying anything goes (e.g., claiming a reasonable explanation of the evidence is that the tomb was empty because Jesus was beamed up into space by aliens and the disciples were then regaled by the aliens with holographic images of Jesus, lol).

And I think we should acknowledge the issue that multiple attestation doesn't necessarily mean independent attestation. For instance, the "Love Commandment" is present in all four Gospels, and Paul. Maybe this is because the Historical Jesus taught Love over purity. On the other hand, an emphasis on love in Matthew doesn't mean an independent source, since Matthew read Mark. And, an emphasis on Love in John may simply mean John read one or some of the synoptics, or that some of the ideas from the synoptics were floating around John's community when John wrote. As for the presence of the Love Commandment in Paul, maybe this goes back to the historical Jesus, or maybe it was Paul's invention and Mark (having read Paul, or Paul's ideas just floating around when Mark wrote) put Paul's love commandment on Jesus' lips. Or, maybe Cephas and the gang came up with the love commandment after Jesus died, and this is how Paul was exposed to the Love Commandment. And these plausible scenarios could go on indefinitely - as Postmodernism points out. 

Postmodernism rallies against the conception of Truth as certainty, freedom from doubt (birthed from Thomas to Luther, and canonized in Descartes), and operates by not being satisfied with what seems "obvious," and trying to restore weight to ignored, marginalized, alternative paths. Didier Franck provides a useful summary of the genesis of modernism (the transition of verum into certum): “No doubt, Descartes transferred to the cogito what Saint Thomas, who placed certainty of faith above that of knowledge, attributed to divine science alone.” Further, Descartes took as his model Luther’s characterization of what had to be certain: certainty as freedom from doubt regarding the salvation of the soul, which left Descartes with the cogito as certain, that is, free from doubt. From there modernism blossomed beyond the antinomies of Kant (EITHER/OR), the dialectic of Hegel (BOTH/AND), and finally into postmodernism with destruktion/deconstruction of Heidegger and Derrida (NEITHER/NOR)

I think the goal of Postmodernism is fundamentally ethical. As we begin to deconstruct the "obviousness/certainty" of our beliefs, ignored, marginalized voices are given space to emerge, grow and flourish. 

Postmodernism is basically about testing our assumptions to see if there are perspectives which are unfairly marginalized. For instance,in the past, and to somewhat of a degree today, it was "obvious" that that marriage was between one man and one woman. Over time, voices called out for the traditional understanding of marriage to be deconstructed because it was marginalizing LGBTQ individuals, and so marriage is beginning to be deconstructed/reconstructed in a more inclusive manner. Still, even this new definition may need to be retooled to include Poly-relationships (e.g., polyamory, polygamy, etc.).

Derrida says that when we choose (an action, an interpretation, etc.), it is a Kierkegaardian leap of faith, because in deciding to choose there is never enough time, precedence, information, because we can always be wrong, and there is the possibility of unintended violence. The point is to make our choices in humility, and always be ready to revise and refine our positions if new information comes to light.  I don't  mean that any interpretation goes - like, as I said, the tomb was empty because aliens beamed up Jesus' body and then the aliens regaled the disciples with holograms of Jesus, lol. My point was just one about humility and responsibility in our choices.  And sometimes the evidence is more scant and ambiguous than we realize, and so polysemia can be a real possibility in certain cases.  

Of course, a further problem is that Jesus never wrote anything, so the issue arises, for example, how do we tell when Mark's Jesus represents the historical Jesus, and when Mark simply hijacks Jesus and uses Jesus as a mouthpiece for Mark's theology/purposes.  Philosophers encounter a similar problem when they try to entangle the historical Socrates from Early Plato.

So too do we need to be careful when we, as Ehrman does, infer that a writer has new sources because there is material unique to his gospel.  For instance, as Carrier points out, there is new information communicated about Moses from later writers outside canonical sources, but we would not infer these later writers had new sources that went back to Moses.  Similarly, it would be a paralogism to conclude that just because Luke has material unique to his Gospel, that this material reflects a unique source - let alone one that goes back to the historical Jesus (especially given the way we know Luke invents material for Acts, given that we can fact-check Acts against Paul's letters - much is assumed, for instance in Mark, because we have no documents to fact-check Mark against).

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Religion as "Noble Lie" in the new animated movie "Smallfoot"

Speaking of religion in popular culture, I saw the animated movie "Smallfoot" at the theater on Sunday, and it was all about a clan of Bigfoot (Yeti) who lived in a society based on religious practices that were deliberately, fraudulently set up to keep the Yeti happy and separated from humankind. Nicely, the chief skeptic in the Yeti society was a Bigfoot called MeeChee (rhymes with Nietzsche). Great animated movie for kids!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Conspiracy Thinking In The System of Dr. Richard Carrier's Thought

Dr. Richard Carrier considers it perfectly reasonable to hold the Conspiracy Theory Position that the disciples may not only have lied about the source of their faith (they never really experienced visions of Jesus), but in fact may even have been willing to die for such a lie.  Carrier outlines The Noble Lie Theory Of Christian Origins by writing on his blog that:

"Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.” See Carrier’s post here:

Carrier also acknowledges the reasonableness of the Noble Lie Theory Of Christian Origins in his book "On The Historicity Of Jesus."  As a bit of a thought experiment, I tried to flesh out what a fully blown conspiracy theory about Jesus might look like.  I posted my reconstruction here: .  I shared my presentation with Dr. Carrier and he wrote:

"This is a well researched case for the Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins. I mentioned the theory in On the Historicity of Jesus (in my section on the hallucination theory of origins), but only in passing as a possibility & not anything we could prove or assume. Now see [John MacDonald's post]..." see

So the question is, why would someone with a PhD from an ivy league university make the ridiculous probability assignment that a conspiracy theory is a reasonable approach to the evidence? 

Part of the reason may be that conspiracies are normalized in popular media in our culture such as movies.  And, it is easy to come up with commonplace conspiracies like Santa Clause; conspiring to throw a surprise party; or the conspiracy of the Tobacco company to repress consequences of smoking.  But are these really sufficient analogies for dying for a lie merely to create a better world?

Another part of the reason may be the nature of hermeneutics.  We invent interpretive frameworks that try to explain the evidence, and explain away any recalcitrant evidence that seems to contradict the framework.  The problem with this is that a plethora of models fit that description, so we end up getting what Crossan aptly identified as an embarrassment of riches about what/who Jesus was: apocalyptic prophet, charismatic healer, Cynic philosopher, Jewish Messiah, prophet of social change, and, as Carrier would have it, mythical/celestial Euhemerized being, or even source of a conspiracy.

If anything goes, why not simply speculate that aliens beamed up Jesus' body from the tomb and sent down holograms of him to dazzle the grieving disciples.  Is this really that different than concluding, as Carrier does, that a conspiracy theory is a reasonable approach to the evidence?