Sunday, August 28, 2011

Looks like I'm gonna have to start studying more of Aristotle's metaphysics...

"[I]f there is anything uncontentious that can be said about Aristotle's metaphysics, it would seem to be that it is centrally concerned with the question of Being [as opposed to 'beings'].  That being said, questions immediately start to multiply in many directions, not least as regards the translation of the most basic terms in which Aristotle addresses the question.  A case--and a crucial case--in point is the translation of the pivotal term ousia.  In his guide to The Greek Philosophical Vocabulary , J. O. Urmson notes that 'philosophically' ousia means 'nature, essence, substance, being', which, of course, begs the question as to what each of these terms means and how they are to be related to each other.

Are they synonyms, such that Being 'is' identical with nature, essence, or substance?  That is... a question we can reformulate as follows: Is Being exhaustively knowable in its manifestation as nature, essence, and substance?  Or, does the knowledge that we can attain of nature, essence, and substance give us a full and adequate knowledge of Being-Itself?  The basic terms in which these questions are posed are already set out in Aristotle's Metaphysics, a text which would shape the way in which Christian theology itself developed its thinking about the Being of God, despite significant changes such as those resulting from the Christian emphasis on creation out of nothing." - George Pattison, God and Being, p. 39.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

To Albert Mohler: Nah, I don't think so...

It's interesting that my posting the other day apparently resonates with another issue that a lot of Christians are thinking about these days; namely, whether or not we really need a literal interpretation of every part of the Bible, esp. Genesis (thanks for the link, Ben!).

For many Christians, this is not a question to be debated -- if the whole thing isn't viewed historically, it falls apart.  Thus, to disclaim the historicity of any part of the Bible (that isn't explicitly non-historical) is tantamount to denying the faith.  This is the view put forward by Albert Mohler in a recent essay:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Unorthodox musings?

So, I've been thinking... (cue collective groan ;-D) I've been thinking about self-sacrifice, the concept of the possible, and what belief in God is all about... and I think I may have come to some conclusions that are - perhaps - unorthodox.  As is the case with such things, I've written a long blog entry about it.  haha!  Comments are welcome.

First, let me give the background. It is standard Christian theology to say that God is 'Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnibenevolent, Eternal, etc'. These are commonly called the attributes of God. I know there isn't complete agreement on all the attributes or how they operate, but in general there is some kind of consensus regarding the basics. Another way it may be said is that 'God is an eternal, personal being who transcends time and space, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving'. (This is often the definition given by philosophers when debating the existence of God.) Alongside this, God is understood to be the Creator of the universe, the one who made all that exists.

Now, immediately, this raises difficult questions; questions that have been argued about for over 2,000 years: How does such a God relate to the creation? How would we, as human beings, be able to know this God? Why, if God is thus defined, did God create a world that has so many problems? In Christian theology, the answers to these three questions can be summed up, somewhat superficially, by the following three respective terms - Christology (how God relates to the creation), Revelation (how God is made known to us), and Sin (why the creation has so many flaws).

Now, I am going to bypass the first two questions for the moment, not because they aren't important, but rather because I think it is easier to see my point if I focus on the third question: Why did God create such a flawed world?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Kierkegaard on the limits of thinking possibility...

In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, the pseudonym Johannes Climacus explains, "[I]n asking ethically with regard to my own actuality, I am asking about its possibility, except that this possibility is not esthetically and intellectually disinterested, but is a thought-actuality that is related to my own personal actuality--namely, that I am able to carry it out."

In other words, the point of ethics is to act, rather than endlessly assess our options. At some point, I have to DO something. If we attempt "within possibility to distinguish between possibility and actuality... actuality and deception are equally possible... Only the individual himself can know which is which." That is, when considering possibilities, we cannot ignore those which are distasteful to us. This includes the possibility that we are entirely mistaken. This is why action becomes vital; only by lived decision can we truly distinguish our possibilities from our actualities.

Of course, the question of whether even the individual can really know the difference between possibility and actuality remains open, since if "deception can reach just as far as actuality" it is difficult to see how even the individual him/herself can be certain of their own actuality, as long as they are conflating actuality and possibility. Indeed, this dilemma will eventually be recognized by another Kierkegaardian pseudonym, Anti-Climacus, as constituent of two prevalent forms of despair--the despair of false possibility, and the despair of false actuality.

In light of this situation, Johannes reminds us that we must be vigilant: "When the esthetic and the intellectual inspect, they protest every esse that is not a posse; when the ethical inspects, it condemns every posse that is not an esse, a posse, namely, in the individual himself, since the ethical does not deal with other individuals.—In our day everything is mixed together." This is always the case in thought. There is always a mixing of categories, precisely because we will never, as mere humans, be able to distinguish between them in anything more than varying degrees of approximation.