Thursday, October 4, 2012

God, Election, and Judas

“God, of course, assigns callings according to his foreknowledge. But although Jesus may have known the hearts and reactions of those he chose, nevertheless his choice of Judas was no different than his choice of John. He said that he knew a disciple would betray him, but he did not cause Judas to fall.”

            This quote comes from a section in Forster and Marston on the biblical concept of election. They argue that the primary use of election in the New Testament is in regards to God choosing someone for an office, which office has a certain task to be done. A person appointed to some office does not have the power to do the task and so such an appointed person must meet a condition given  by God in order for him (God) to give them the power to do the work. The condition is merely that one is willing to do the task appointed to the office. There are several cases of this and one is Jesus’ and God’s appointing of the apostles.
            With this backdrop let us look at what is being said here. So God assigns callings or offices on the basis of his foreknowledge. Although God may have known the hearts of those he chose, “nevertheless his choice of Judas was no different than his choice of John. He said that he knew a disciple would betray him, but he did not cause Judas to fall.” Okay, so God assigns his calling to Judas to be an apostle knowing that Judas would betray Jesus and fall, but merely by knowing God did not cause Judas to betray Jesus or to fall.
            But what was God’s purpose in calling Judas since he knew that he would do these things? Was it that God hoped that Judas would end up not betraying Jesus and falling away even though he knew for certain that Judas would do these things? Surely if the answer is yes to the last two questions, then God is acting irrationally. But if God acts irrationally then God is not perfect. But perfection comes with the job description of being God, and so we know this way of understanding why God appointed Judas though he knew he would fail isn’t a satisfactory way out.
            Perhaps, one might answer, God elected Judas even though he knew that Judas would fall so that God could use Judas’ willful misfortune for other people’s benefit. This says that God uses a person’s misfortune for his own ends. How nice!
This means that even if God isn’t the cause of Judas’ misfortune, and Judas’ own willful choice is the cause of his downfall, yet God elects Judas to an office that God knows Judas will not fulfill (even though God knows that potentially Judas could). Further, perhaps we could say that in one sense God elects Judas to his office because he knows Judas will fail and because God will use that failure to accomplish his own personal ends. In fact Forster and Marston later on suggest something similar when they say, “The great thing about God is that he is able, in his foreknowledge, to make use even of those who rebel against him. Thus, although Judas rejected him, God used this rejection to set in motion the events leading up to Christ’s atoning death” (emphasis added).
            Last night, 10/3/2012, there was a presidential debate between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Let us suppose that there was some president or other leader who appointed a person to some office knowing that that person would fail, because that president or leader wanted to use that appointee’s failure to accomplish his own personal program. I want to suggest that even if the program that comes about through the president’s or leader’s appointee’s failure benefits or helps other people, there still seems to be something that is intuitively fishy with how the leader accomplishes his/her program. If one shares with me this intuition, the idea of why this is intuitively fishy seems to be that it is not completely morally acceptable to appoint someone to some office, knowing they are going to fail, in order to use that failure to accomplish one’s own ends. Even if the ends are beneficial to many people, it seems that even in those cases, ends don’t necessarily justify means, and don’t massage shady means.
            So if this is the case for some leader, what gets God off the hook of this objection? I am not sure. There may be some nuanced explanation, but I will leave that to someone else to explain. What I want to suggest is what the case is if God can’t get off the hook to an objection like this. This is a hypothetical, and I am asking my readers here to just assume the objection of moral shadiness applies to Forster and Marston’s analysis of God’s appointing Judas (or similar analyses) for the sake of argument. Well if it is shady for a great leader, then it seems shady for God. Someone might say, rightly, that the person who failed did so because of their own neglect or abuse or character. So if this leader does this, though it is intuitively shady to us, well, he didn’t cause the appointee’s failure he merely used the appointees failure to accomplish the ends he so desires. In doing so, he is not acting completely, and in an out and out fashion, immoral. Rather it just seems to us, intuitively, to be shady.
Here is the thing, God is purported to be omnibenevolent. That means that God always lives up to the highest moral standards, and if our shared intuition (given that someone does share this intuition with me) suggest anything, it suggest that there is a better way to go about accomplishing one’s purposes than to set someone up, or appoint them to some position that you know that the person will fail at, (even if it is because of the appointee’s own will that the failure takes place) and then use that failure for one’s own ends. Surely, intuitively, we don’t think that this is the ideally right or moral way to go about establishing one’s plans and goals. But if it is not the ideal, then by definition it is not the best; and if it is not the best or most moral way, then by the definition of omnibenevolent suggested above, God could not do it. Or, worse yet, God is not omnibenevolent.
            I think what someone has to do is either show that the leader case does not really apply to God in the Judas situation. Say that it would apply if God so appointed Judas to the office of an apostle, but that God doesn’t in fact elect or appoint Judas to the office of an apostle (and thus reject Forster and Marston’s analysis). Show that I have not defined my terms correctly, or that my dilemma has no intuitive force to it. Or to just accept God is not omnibenevolent.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Critique of Gauker's Critique of Grice, from Words Without Meaning

The problem of comparing the alligator with wings to the issue of meaningnn something by something is that with items or entities like alligators and rabbits and winged creatures we already know what these things are. This is not a settled case (at least by the time of Grice’s analysis, hence his theory) with what conditions are satisfied when communication takes place. There is also the obvious difference with the fact that alligators and rabbits are things that are concrete, and meaningnn is at least not a concrete entity in the same way, and more than that it seems to Grice to be some function on some thought or proposition that is in itself moodless. These are points under consideration in the philosophy of language, and thus not known prior like how we in our culture know an alligator and a rabbit. Any idea or image we have of what goes on in or during meaningful interaction or communication seems mostly intuitive or at least the process of justifying and even falsifying aspects of our theories relies more on intuition than being strictly empirical. So we can see why Grice’s relies on intuition in his examples of the handkerchief and Herod having intention but not having meaning. Not only does it seem true that an important part of our analysis of meaningnn is on an intuitive level and that this process of communication can not be reduced to mere observation, but also the way we verify of falsify the various conditions is different for the two different kinds of examples. For alligators and rabbits and winged creatures we merely look and see, or base our judgments on looking and seeing, that alligators don’t have wings and are not rabbits. With meaningnn or communication by meaningnn this is something that we do and that we might perceive ourselves as accomplishing, but we certainly don’t observe these things in the same way that we observe alligators and rabbits, and that’s because these are two different kinds of entities. In fact one of the questions Grice is trying to answer is what kind of entity meaningnn actually is.
            If the above reasons do not show that the fallacious way of reasoning that Gauker points out (which reasoning itself is a part of Grice’s persuasive strategy, where the persuasive strategy is a piecing together of items that are deemed necessary for U to meannn p by some utterance s given some audience A) is not in fact fallacious, it may achieve giving at least an approximation on why there is a difference in intuitive plausibility, where we see off the bat that winged alligators are absurd and yet some can see Grice’s persuasive strategy as having more intuitive plausibility. I think the fact that there is some who see a more intuitive plausibility for Grice’s analysis of meaning something by something than the winged alligator example is seen in the reaction of the graduate students to Gauker’s illustration of the alleged fallacy Grice makes. In fact, and moving for a minute away from what was just said in the previous sentence, we can think of examples and culture where a winged alligator might not be thought implausible, for instance, perhaps in some fourteenth century Amazon hunter and gather society. Perhaps certain people have worshiped such fictional entities, or the like, as a deity, and even if they didn’t, we might find that it is intuitively plausible that there might have been such people or such a society.
These considerations, so far as I can tell and intend, don’t really get at the heart of Gauker’s objection. His objection is, at the heart, that every step of Grice’s persuasive strategy incorporates a fallacious way of reasoning in order to fix some previous oversimplified account of how we meannn something by something. I see little reason to take this objection seriously if Grice is merely giving us an account of what we do when we perceive ourselves as having or getting at communication. Perhaps it is strictly fallacious for me to think that there are other minds in light of insufficient evidence and not the best kind of arguments that there are, but I just intuitively and naturally think that there are other minds and I take myself and all others who think that there are other minds as acting rationally in so believing. Me believing in other minds is just how I behave, and I just take it for granted, perhaps without persuasive arguments and evidence, that this is rationally okay for me to do. So it seems to me that Gauker’s argument is irrelevant if we are describing how the activity or cooperative endeavor that we call communication or meaningnn something by something actually takes place. Perhaps Gauker’s objection is that we shouldn’t communicate this way but rather we should communicate or meannn in a way that doesn’t involve a fallacy, but this objection isn’t that we don’t in fact reason this way but rather that we shouldn’t and so the objection doesn’t seem to undermine Grice’s analysis if Grice is giving us an analysis of what we in fact do in meaningnn something by something. So Gauker’s objection might be taken as indicating that Gauker thinks there is a way that we could do it better than the way we actually do it. If Gauker really wants to knock down the argument, he probably should show that these are not steps we actually take in communication, and then his fallacy adds plausibility that Grice’s analysis isn’t how we in fact meannn something by something else.
I think that the more promising route is for Gauker to give arguments that this isn’t in fact how we mean something by something. This Gauker does by saying that this is an over intellectualizing what goes on in communication. In spite of what Grice intends, says Gauker, his analysis is “peopling all our talking life with armies of complicated psychological occurrences” (386). This objection isn’t terribly persuasive to me because of how much of human rational structures we take for granted in our everyday life of the mind. For instance, we just take it for granted that there is some rational “structural” relation between what is and what is knowable, and that having some sort of value is necessary to move forward rationally. Certain rational items are terribly complex in themselves, and when spelled out in relation to other rational items we might have an even more complex analysis of what goes on in human thought and communication and at first sight the mere elaborateness might seem unrealistic. However there is little that I see from keeping us from thinking that these rational items are so up in front of our rational processes that we take them for granted. Taking them for granted means that these interrelated rational structures are so obvious to us as to be difficult to bring them and the details of their procedures into focus. Yet we seem to have certain processes and relations in the front of our minds in every instance of thought to the extent that the average and the brilliant wield them the same way and take them for granted in the same sense. So just because an analysis is complex or seems to involve many steps doesn’t falsify an analysis of human behavior, even if it seems that humans are not conscious of the processes, if the items in the analysis are necessary for human rationality and language.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thoughts on St. Augustine's Confessions part 1

All quotes are from the Barnes and Noble edition of this work. The original translation used is that by Albert Outler, and revised by Mark Vessey. 

About delight and pleasure.
“But what was it that delighted me except to love and be loved?” (19). “You were always by me, mercifully angry and flavoring all my unlawful pleasures with bitter discontent, in order that I may seek pleasures free from discontent. But where could I find such pleasures except in you, lord--except in you, who teach us in by sorrow, who wound us to heal us, and kill us so that we may not die apart from  you. Where was I, and how far was I exiled from the delights of your house, in that sixteenth year of my flesh, when the madness of lust held full sway in me--that madness which grants indulgence to human shamelessness, even though it is forbidden by your laws--and I gave myself entirely to it?” (20).

So first it seems that Augustine was delighted in giving and receiving love. He mentions “pure affection” and as an example he described the “way of the love of mind to mind--the bright path of friendship” and also the way of marriage (19). But he goes so far as to say that the only place to find pleasure without discontent is in God, and that when he was estranged from God, he was “exiled from the delights of God’s house” (20). Does it not seem likely that “delights” here is similar if not the same as “delighted” in giving and receiving love? So here is a question: Is friendship and marriage in themselves sufficient to give us delight or contented pleasure and joy, or are they merely means to curb worse ways to seek pleasure and delight, such as fornication? Are even friendship and marriage inadequate (in the sense of having pleasure in these things without, or free from,discontent) for pleasure and delight outside of a having our pleasure and delighted found, and contentedly found, in God?

Pros to this interpretation: First, friendship is mentioned here to indicate a way to love and be loved without “unholy desires.” While marriage seems to be given as a way not to let passion, and “the imagination of puberty” drag him “down over the cliffs...into a gulf of infamy.” So marriage seems to play a role of diverting his desires from mere sexual gratification, to more family oriented delight of giving and receiving love. I imagine, or take it that it was his assumption, that this is, or was to him, a more “pure affection.” If this is the case, since he speaks of (through a rhetorical question) love being that which he delighted in, and finally, since he says that God is the (perhaps, at the very least) the only place where one can find pleasure without discontent and that while he was seeking mere sexual gratification he was exiled from the delights of God’s house, all these things suggests that the above interpretation is correct.

Cons of this interpretation: 1) It relies on Augustine meaning the same thing by ‘delight’ in both places (doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable), and that pleasure and delight overlap to a great enough extent that the majority of the time that you speak of one you are also implying the other (which also doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable). 2) This may be the strongest con that I come up with, and that is that Augustine is limited in his ideas of one only finding pleasure free from discontent in God’s life (narrowly, as in God and not creation). Perhaps Augustine is broader in his understanding of pleasure free from discontent being found in God alone. Perhaps he means in all of God’s ways. Since friendship and marriage are ordained by God, then one can find pleasure or delight free from discontent in these institutions, and that because these are a part of God’s sum total of work and desire and ordinances. I think this second con is also not persuasive because of the predominance of NeoPlatonism in the Confessions. Surely God, since he is the one "with whom being and life are one," is the only true pleasure free from discontent, since he is the one being, or, the being who is perfectly and simply one (all other things being coming from the overflow of this one, but being privative).

Regardless, it seems that there are two models here that might be reasonably embraced by a Christian. One is that pleasure and delight free from discontent are found in God alone in a narrow sense. On this model one cannot find pleasure free from discontent in one’s marriage or friendships, but only in God alone, in the society of God life. So perhaps this might be that a person finds contented delight in God, and then they have contentment in everything else, in marriage/family, friendship, business, etc.

On the other model one can and should find pleasure free from discontent in one’s family/marriage and friendships when one’s family and friendships are functioning the right way, the way God designed them to. When one so finds pleasure in these relationships, they are finding pleasure and delight in God alone.