What are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness?

In many essays of this blog I discuss what philosophers in prior centuries called values:  truth, beauty, and goodness, distinguishing them from facts. I have to sketch these over and over because my approach to a philosophy of mind, in particular any discussion of what distinguishes human from animal mind has to bring up the values. It is the ability to distinguish the values, that is to grasp that truth, beauty, and goodness exist and are discernible, that separates human from animal mind. This essay focuses on the values as such.

Is goodness (or beauty or truth) objective or subjective and relative? This is a question that has vexed philosophers for more than two thousand years. The answer, grounded in my theology (see “Prolegomena to a Future Theology”) is that it is both. It is the point of this essay to show why and how that is the case. What the values are falls out of my theology as does the distinction (made by almost no one in the philosophical community) between what values are and what has them. Goodness is a value. Justice (to take an example I will use below) is usually taken to “be good”. Justice is good (if indeed it is) because it has, embodies, refracts, or is an instance of goodness. This distinction holds for all three values. A sunset has beauty, and a proposition like 2+2=4 has truth. In the English language we normally say that justice is good, sunsets are beautiful, and propositions are true. It is this construction that blurs the distinction presented just above just as, pointing at a lit lamp and saying “that is light”, would blur the distinction between light and what is lit.

Truth, beauty, and goodness are not “core values”, or “important values”, they are the values! They are what the values are, what constitutes the values in themselves. Everything else, if it is “of value” at all, “has value” because it in some sense embodies truth, beauty, and goodness.

In the Prolegomena (linked above) I note that from a rational first-principle theism we infer there are three fundamental joints in reality: Matter-energy, mind, and spirit. Matter-energy is the familiar stuff of the material universe, including time. Mind refers not to individual human (or animal) mind, but the phenomenon of mind in the universe. To our experience of course mind manifests individually (see “From What Comes Mind?”). The reason mind so well represents the material world is that mind and the material world both originate in spirit. The point of mind is to represent matter-energy (in the human, biological case, on middle scales) to a subject. The subject is yet another matter I will not much deal with here. See “Why Personality”.

Human mind can, and animal mind cannot, sense something of antecedent spirit-reality, a thin something that is, in effect an inkling of “the character of God” or more precisely qualities of God’s character. Values, their reality, not what exhibits them, are that of which we are aware, by means of mind, is spirit. It is the only such awareness (of spirit) we have. Mind represents the material world to a creature having an individualized subjectivity. The phenomenon that catalyzes a brain’s evocation of a subjectivity is the same everywhere. The quality of spirit that humans can sense and further discriminate in their mental arena is present (everywhere) in the field I have called (again see above linked “From What Comes Mind?”) Cosmic Mind. The lion, or the dog, or the ape, simply do not notice it, do not detect it as a distinguishable facet of consciousness. Animal mind is not up to the task. Being “up to the task” is the identity criterion for human mind.

Values are the unified quality of God’s character refracted into the three primary joints: beauty into the material world, truth into mind as such, and goodness into the intentions (and intentional behavior) of persons (personality being the only spirit-component of our otherwise blended identity — see “Why Personality”). They also happen to be the root concepts of three major branches in philosophy,  aesthetics, epistemology, and ethics respectively.

Beauty is something we experience in sensory qualia and they, in turn are our window on the mind-independent material world. We find truth by mind in mind. To philosophers it is a property of propositions. Propositions are abstractions, mental phenomena, that either do or do not conform to the structure of the world as a whole, spiritual, mental, and material. There is a “fact of the matter” about the relation between General Relativity and quantum mechanics, and about the existence (or nonexistence) of God. Like beauty, truth is not about what is true or which abstractions have more truth, but rather the conviction that there is a consistent way the world is.

Goodness is about the intentions, and subsequently behaviors, of persons. Again it is not about what purposes are good, or how much goodness they have, but that it is possible to align (more or less) our individual purposes with God’s. Goodness is the most difficult value to grasp intellectually because it is the value refracted through reality’s “spirit joint”. Of matter we know much, of mind we have immediate experience, but of spirit we have only the mind-discriminated values themselves and personality which we cannot find (see “Why Personality”).

At the same time goodness is the value with which we most often engage. Persons, by extension their behavior, have (or do not have) goodness, but this is also the case with social institutions which are impersonal, but created by persons. Unlike the other values we project goodness strictly outside (though of course it remains related) its domain, the person. In doing this we invent new words for it, for example ‘justice’, fairness, or fitness. But in each case, though we speak of impersonal institutions, we refer to the doings, present or historical, of people.

There is something to note about the values taken together. As God is unified, the values, while refracted to human apprehension in reality’s three primary joints, must also be unified. Each must be consistent with the quality of the others. Beauty must be both true and beautiful, goodness beautiful and true, and truth beautiful and good. This interrelation between the values, recognized in classical treatments of them, has sometimes been identified with ‘love’ (Christian Agape) and is consistent with the view that they are what we apprehend as qualities of “God’s character”. Even love is not a value as such, but it is the quintessential amalgam of truth, beauty, and goodness in equal measure.

Our thin sense of these qualities is only a hazy pointer. It is not a reliable arbiter of what about particulars in the world (human art, propositions, or acts of persons) has these qualities or more exactly to what degree they have them. Values are apprehended in mind, but we recognize they belong to broad categories in the physical (a sunset), mental (a proposition) or personal (some exhibition of human intention) world. Subjective interaction with the world is always perspectival, it has a viewpoint. Perspective is unique to every human being who’s history, not to mention a unique physical ground (the brain) of the mental, ensures that uniqueness.

Each of our individual, already unique by different brains, perspectives color our general value awareness. There is room in the human perspectival range for both broad agreement and much disagreement about what is true, beautiful, or good. Suppose we face a palette of colors and must classify each into one of only three groups, red, yellow, and blue. We might agree about many of the various shades, but when it comes to an orange, I might say it belongs more to the red and you to the yellow. It is because of this colorization effect that we can have different views of say the value content of a sunset (or work of art), proposition, individual act or social policy; whether, for example a particular human action or policy enforced by law, is just.

There is another phenomenon that, to human mind, relativizes the values, time itself. Time, of course, is an ingredient in our own individual perspectives, but it is also a part of the social perspective we share as a culture. We are conditioned not only as individuals but also as a culture. Almost all humans agree there is often beauty in sunsets, but art is a different matter. The people of 17th century Europe expressed a wide variety of views on what makes up beauty in art. Faced with 19th century impressionistic art they might have had the capacity to extend their view of beauty-in-art to include it. But show any one of them a painting by Picasso or Pollack and few would find any beauty in them as many do today. What has happened here? The capacity of present-day individuals (some of them) to respond to beauty in a wider variety of art forms results from broadening this capacity within the evolving culture. The same holds for truth. There was “more truth” in Newton’s theory of gravity than what came before him, but still more in Einstein’s General Relativity.

For another example lets look at justice, not retributive justice but social justice. We take for granted nowadays that universal (in adults) and equal suffrage with regard to selecting political representatives is good because it is just. Justice, in other words, has goodness. But even in the Earth’s best models for the social evolution of universal suffrage (England and the United States) achieved today’s notion of what is just over several (in England’s case many) generations. At each stage of the evolution, the people who lived in those stages thought of them as just compared with prior stages. The situation in the late 18th Century and early 19th when only adult male property owners had an acknowledged political voice was “more just” than the prior condition when only aristocrats had a say, and that in turn more just than when kings alone made all the rules. Fifty or so years later when all adult males could vote there was yet more justice, more goodness (or at least we think so today), in the arrangement and so on.

Political inclusiveness was just, had goodness, in 1800, 1900, and today when all adults can vote. This is possible because cultural relativity conditioned what was just for that time. What was just in 1800 was good in the same way as it is today, yet what framed its just-ness varied from one age to the next. Philosophy’s inability to reconcile the relativity of value as we find it in the world with its seeming objectivity, the nagging suspicion that it is not, at least, purely relative stems from the philosophical failure to distinguish between what the values are and what has, embodies, or instantiates them in the world. This failure in turn results from philosophy’s rejection of God who would be the only possible source of the values as we know them (truth, beauty, goodness) that could ground their existence independently of minds which discover them.

Unlike the qualia set up by physical senses, values are found in human mind as such. No physical pathway connects an “outside source” of value to its discrimination in mind. Because of this it seems plausible to suppose (most philosophers do suppose) that we just invent the values in the sense that they spring into consciousness out of the froth of mind; they are epiphenomena! Humans all recognize them (some more than others) because human mind-froth is, after all, similar from one brain to the next. While this theory does account for different qualities-of-discrimination in different minds (brains differ), it does not account for some of their objective-like qualities.

Beauty seems to be in or of the sunset. 2+2=4 seems to be mind-independently true, while one can argue that slavery is unjust always even if there was a time when it was a compassionate alternative to murder. In our experience, mind-froth produces many mental states: epiphanies, novel idea combinations, fantasies, and so on that we do not take to be mind-independently real. The values are different in this way. Their mind-independence, unlike fantasies, is controversial. This alone suggests that something different may be going on. Cosmic Mind explains both how it is values are mind-independently real, qualities of God’s character, while present only, and differently felt (brains differ), in human mind.

While not epiphenomena, values themselves, like ideas or qualia, are not causal. Values can however, like the others, be reasons for intentions. Indeed if God exists and the physical universe, consciousness, and the interaction between the two is purposeful, the values must be a linchpin of that purpose. See “Why Free Will” for a further elaboration on this point.

From What Comes Mind?

This essay is about mind in general, consciousness, the “what is it like to be…” experience. What follows applies to human and animal mind. I include a note at the end about animal mind in particular. My focus is on consciousness as such, why it exists at all and why does it have the form it has. This will not be so much about the contents of conscious phenomenal gestalt, qualia, intentionality, beliefs, memories, and so on.

Many of the essays on the blog impinge on philosophy of mind. Although the assertions, analogies, and connections to philosophy here are mine, they rest broadly on the theory of mind presented by The Urantia Book. It is after all with mind that we experience the mind-represented sensory world, assert propositions, make intentional choices, sense values, and experience our agency.

The Urantia Book’s philosophy of mind is theistic and dualistic, but not in the way of Cartesian or for that matter Thomistic dualism. It does have elements of each of these (although the Thomism is about personality not mind as such) but also shares much with “property dualism” of the sort championed by David Chalmers (The Conscious Mind [1996] and The Character of Consciousness [2010]). The purpose of this essay is to present the theory and note certain relations to philosophies of mind common among present-day philosophers. The theological basis of this theory is to be found here. I begin therefore with property dualism.

Chalmers is at base a materialist. There cannot be any super-natural power in his theory, but there is nevertheless a supra-natural effect. In his view, minds emerge from nothing above and beyond physical brains. No intentional power adds mind to brains, but the emergent mind does, nevertheless, have real powers and potentials that are nowhere present in brains simplicter antecedent to mind’s emergence. These qualities include the form of our subjective arena, its qualia and the ever present awareness of our intentional agency, our will, its power of downward causation.

This is a new type of cause in the universe perhaps best described by Nicholas Rescher in “Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal”. Rescher advocates for far more freedom in our intentions and acts than many other advocates of free will (see Richard Swinburne’s “Mind, Brain and Free Will” for a much narrower view). His argument for the unique quality of mental-cause is that it is timeless; he calls it initiation rather than cause, it being simultaneous with its effect. This comes out to the impossibility of ever identifying a “mental cause” independent of a brain-state correlate! There is more on Rescher’s view here.

What manifests in mind (pace Aristotle) are final and formal causes where before mind there were but material and efficient causes. We experience, directly and only in the first person, the causal efficacy of our agent-purposeful-volition. The combination qualia (emergence upward), and agent-intention (downward causation) has been called a “radical emergence” to distinguish it from the more ordinary emergence that produces, from physics, only physical if novel properties. As far as we know the only such phenomenon in the universe, the only radical emergence there has ever been, is mind (see note on emergence at end)!

Chalmers’ must ask: how can this possibly work? Cartesian dualism after all is universally challenged based on a single irresolvable issue, the matter of how a non-material substantive entity interacts with a material brain. Property dualism faces the identical problem. How exactly does physics, without a built in phenomenalism, produce a non-material phenomenalism, and how then does that turn around and become a literal cause, effectively directing (however minimally) the physics of the brain? Chalmers’ answer, and the answer, in variations, of many contemporary philosophers of mind, is that physics is not without built-in phenomenalism (or proto-phenomenalism).

Both panpsychism and various sorts of monisms posit the existence in (the monisms) or the emergence of phenomenal (or proto-phenomenal) qualities from physics (cosmology for panpsychism) alone. These qualities are forever undetectable by physics but are, nevertheless, built-in to physics! There spring immediately to mind two further questions: where exactly, or how, do these phenomenal/proto-phenomenal qualities inhere in physics, and what precisely is phenomenal about them?

To the first question, none has any answer. They could, of course, say “God put it there” but the whole point of the exercise is to find a solution without postulating a minded being having such powers. But if we rule out a minded source we are left at best with a supposedly mindless source of mind. We have done nothing but push the interaction issue to another part of the rug.

The second question is equally vexing. No one wants to say that the fundamental constituents of matter (atoms, quarks, the quantum field, the monists) or the universe taken as a whole (panpsychists) are conscious or minded. The claim is that the phenomenal builds itself up as the basic building blocks (atoms or galaxies) themselves are built up. But they nevertheless insist there is something inherent in these entities that is the real root of the consciousness we have. The problem is that when asked in what do hypothetical proto-phenomenal qualities consist, none can say, or even speculate. It seems that, short of mind as we know it, we cannot say in what the proto-phenomenal consists.

How does my view help? It does not explain the interaction mechanism. It does account for the reason the mechanism cannot be explained by mind of our type. It does, however, account for why we cannot give any account of that in which the proto-phenomenal might consist. We cannot give such an account because there need not be any proto-phenomenal qualities for which to account.

Starting with the property dualism, brains produce subjective-conscious-minds in a way analogous to a radio producing music (compression waves in air that we interpret as music or speech or whatever, but this detail has no bearing on the analogy). Destroy the radio or alter its function and the music disappears or becomes distorted. This is exactly what happens to mind when brain function is altered away from normal working limits; from distortions of consciousness to mind’s destruction. Real minds do not survive the destruction of brains any more than music survives destruction of the radio. From a common sense point of view, it is perhaps legitimate to view the radio as the real and perhaps sole source of the music.

But the radio does not produce music ex nihilo. Rather it interprets information present in a spacetime field in the radio’s vicinity. The radio is the “source of the music” in that it alone is responsible for the conversion, interpretation, or translation of information present in the field from its electromagnetic form ultimately to compression waves in air, an entirely different phenomenon! One way to look at it is to say brains are responsible for the conversion or interpretation of some spacetime pervading field into the form of our consciousness. More accurately, we should say that the field has the power to evoke consciousness from the doings of brains.

The field need not, by itself, have any phenomenal qualities at all. It need not itself be conscious or minded in any sense of those terms any more than the electromagnetic wave is music.  Electromagnetic information isn’t music until the radio makes it so, and the field isn’t phenomenal until the brain makes it so, or at least this is all we need to specify about it. The field is a constant throughout (as far as we know) the universe. Radical emergence is effected from the brain-field combination.

The field I have elsewhere called “Cosmic Mind” (see “Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind”). Perhaps this a poor terminological choice as I do not mean to imply the field is conscious or even phenomenal in some uncharacterizeable sense. It mght be proto-phenomenal, phenomenal, or even conscious, but none of these matter to the model. As far as human beings and human consciousness is concerned the only property the field has to have is a capacity to evoke our subjective experience from our brain-states. If it has other properties, or indeed even purposes, we have no way of knowing.

The field does, however, have to be substantive in some way, not necessarily matter-energy as we are capable of measuring it. Only a substance of some sort can interact with another substance, in this case having an effect, the emergence of consciousness, from a functioning brain.

Being non-material there aren’t any instruments on earth that can detect Cosmic Mind save one. A physics experiment signals a detection of some kind with some physical event whether triggering a photo-detector or perhaps just moving a needle. Brains are detectors of Cosmic Mind. The needle, the event that we experience, is consciousness itself, the product of the detection.

In another, perhaps simpler analogy, imagine some material object (a ball on a pedestal) in a dark room. The ball has certain physical properties (mass, shape, and importantly here it happens to be opaque). Now a point light-source is turned on in the room. The ball now throws a shadow. Nothing about the physical properties has changed. The light-source does not add the shadow to the ball, but the shadow emerges from the properties of the ball (shape and opacity). Turn the light off, the shadow goes away. Remove the ball in the presence of the light and the shadow also goes away. The ball is the sole determiner of the properties of the shadow, but only in the presence of the light!

Mind, in other words, springs from brains as Chalmers envisions it, and this is why it is properly a property dualism. Viewed from the material, it is a radical emergence (upward) and has, because of its novel properties, also downward casual qualities. Mind’s appearance, however, its form and nature, is the result of an interaction. The emergence of subjective consciousness from brains is enabled, effected, by Cosmic Mind. Consciousness is the music produced by brains in the (everywhere) presence of Cosmic Mind.

This model differs from Cartesian Dualism, because the substance of individual mind (its power to affect physics) is derivative!  Cosmic Mind (which need not be anything like “a mind” and is not by any means individual mind) and brains, one immaterial and one material, are the antecedent conjugates. Human (and animal, any mind associated with brains) mind is the result, what brains produce in the presence of Cosmic Mind.

Unlike an electromagnetic field Cosmic Mind is not physical and that quality explains mind’s non-material quality. Cosmic Mind’s postulation accounts for mind’s relation to brains (mind’s physical root) and its subjective first-person-only phenomenology (mind’s non-material root). Qualia would appear to come from the brain side, our representation, via the senses, of the physical world. Intentionality is related to purpose, to final cause, something that doesn’t exist in physics. This quality must somehow be contributed by Cosmic Mind. How does Cosmic Mind interact with the physical? It is nice that brains detect Cosmic Mind, but how exactly do they do that? Aren’t I faced with the same “interaction problem”, perhaps pushed around a bit, as old fashioned Cartesian dualism?

The short answer is yes. It is the same problem, the same also faced by property dualism and panpsychism, and also Russelian, and any dual-aspect monism. The presence of Cosmic Mind is (like Cartesian mind) normally associated, directly or indirectly, with God, but one could leave its final source in abeyance as phenomenal monists and panpsychists do with their protophenomenal properties. None of these other theories ever say what exactly the phenomenal or proto-phenomenal qualities are let alone from where they come. Unlike the quasi-materialistic theories, Cosmic Mind is not (or need not be) phenomenal or proto-phenomenal (let alone conscious) at all. The emergent effect, subjective phenomenalism, only occurs when brains appear — Cosmic Mind being always on the scene. Unlike quasi-materialisms, this explains why we find the phenomenal only in association with brains and why we cannot even speculate about the protophenomenal in physics. It isn’t there to be found.

What about my other promise? Why is explanation of the interaction mechanism forever out of our reach? To support the radical emergence taking place, the field cannot, itself, be material (like the electromagnetic) or we would be back to unsupported radical emergence. Since it isn’t material it remains forever outside the capacity of physics (having only material instruments) to detect. Moreover, since the emergent dualism effected by the brain is also non-material the mechanism producing it is a mix of the physical (brain states) and non-physical (Cosmic Mind). Physics (in this case a synechode for neurophysiology resting on biology resting on chemistry and so on) can only measure the material side and it does! We can measure and find (roughly) consciousness-correlated brain states! What we cannot measure is the evocation subjective experience from their functioning.

What physics wants is an equivalence relation. But proving equivalence relations (for example the equivalence between thermodynamics and statistical mechanics) needs experimental confirmation, physical measurement, of the phenomenon from both ends as it were. This is precisely what is not possible concerning mind.

Where does Cosmic Mind itself come from? I’m a theist for this reason and many others. God covers a multitude of problems. The origin of course, but also the interaction. We can never spell out the mechanism but God knows the trick! Theism has no particular burden here. Panpsychists and monists do not tell us from where come their postulated “phenomenal properties-of-physics”, in what they consist, how they do their work, or how they are even possible within the physics we presently comprehend. Theism addresses all but one of these questions.

If we let materialist philosophers get away with “we don’t know, they’re just there” (concerning the proto-phenomenal) why shouldn’t theists? A non-material field pervading spacetime is no less conceivable than undetectable phenomenal properties underlying physics. One of Chalmers’ suggestions is “psychic laws” in parallel with physical law. Postulating Cosmic Mind answers more questions than proto-phenomenal physics or psychic laws, specifically why we cannot specify, or even speculate about, what qualities the proto-phenomenal has.

For more of my essays on this and related subjects see:

Essays:

Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind
Physics and the Evidence for Non-Material Consciousness
Why Free Will
Why Personality

Books:
Why This Universe: God, Cosmology, Consciousness, and Free Will (2014)
God, Causal Closure, and Free Will (2016)

Note: On emergence

I have allowed in this essay that mind is the only example of radical emergence of which we know, but I believe there are two others, the universe itself, the big bang, and life.  This essay is not the place to go into either, but it is the theme of my book “God, Causal Closure, and Free Will” linked above.

Note: On the subject of animal mind

Since mind is associated with brains we might speculate about where it appears in the development of animal nervous systems. The short answer is I do not know but at least it seems to be present, a “what it is like to be” subjectivity in all the mammals and birds and possibly all vertebrates. If Cosmic Mind is all of a piece, everywhere uniform throughout the universe, how is it that animal consciousness seems less rich than the human? The answer here is on the brain side in the same way the shape of the shadow depends on the ball.

The electromagnetic field is filled with information all jumbled together. It can be made coherent (by radios) through the process of tuning. When a radio is tuned to a particular “carrier frequency” amidst the jumble, all of the electromagnetic modulation around that frequency can be detected and interpreted say as music from one, speech from another and so on. But notice also, that even if we single out a particular carrier, radios can vary widely in the quality of their conversion/reproduction. The sound emerging from older, more primitive, radios contains less of the information than that coming from newer more advanced electronics.

Cosmic Mind need contain only one signal. Being non-material it might as well be undifferentiated as we couldn’t measure any differentiation anyway. But there are, like radios, brains of various qualities. Like an older radio, the mind evoked by the brain of a mouse is less rich than that of a dog, the dog less than an ape, and the ape less than a human all bathed in the same field. This seems to be the case for consciousness as a whole, but is not the case concerning specific qualia. A dog’s aroma qualia are far richer than a human’s, as is a bird’s visual qualia (birds have four types cone cells in their eyes supporting ultra-violet visual qualia). There is nothing surprising about this if qualia in particular are closely tied to the physical root of the subjective arena. Some more primitive radios can be optimized to reproduce a narrow range of audible frequencies better than a more advanced radio even though the latter does a better job over-all.

In accounting for this difference this “Cosmic Mind” hypothesis at least matches the accounting for qualia by panpsychism and dual-aspect monisms. In the latter theories, more primitive brains produce less rich phenomenal qualities from the basic proto-phenomenal building blocks but nothing blocks optimizations in different brains. In both cases, the onus for the quality (richness) of qualia lays with brains. But the quasi-materialisms cannot so well account for intention, purpose (something the higher animals clearly have), unless one posits its proto-presence as well. Such a move puts teleology firmly back into physics, and in that case we are half-way back to theism.

What are Qualia and Why are they Interesting?

In this short paper my purpose is to understand how the word ‘qualia’, plural of ‘quale’, is used and to what exactly it refers. In addition I address the question of the phenomenon’s importance.

Qualia are associated intimately with brain states, and never occur in their absence. It is a fair bet there is some corollary brain state (sets of brain states) associated with every quale and the collection of them. It is also the case that, while normally associated with sensory apparatus, it is possible to invoke qualia, even a specific quale like “a flash of red light”, by “poking the brain” direct. What is mysterious about this is that poking the brain (or stimulating a living organism’s more conventional sensory pathways) does something that poking anything other than brains never does. It invokes, a “subjective experience” qualitatively different from the physical qualities either of the brain or of the source of sensory stimulation.

The sound of a middle-C note from a piano is a quale as is the different sound (thanks to harmonic frequencies) of the same note played on a violin. Each is a particular quale. What seems interesting is producing that note from either instrument, the motion of air molecules set up by the vibrating strings, and everything that happens between the instrument and the middle ear is mechanical. Mechanical energy converts to electrochemical energy in the auditory nerve and spreads in that form through the entire brain. From instrument to brain everything is uncontroversially physical and well understood. But what emerges, what is invoked by all of that physical process, a content of subjective experience, is not uncontroversially physical. It has qualities that none of the physical forerunners have. What is it exactly, and how is this possible in a physical universe of causal closure where physical causes have only physical effects? Those questions make qualia interesting.

In a sense, and this is only metaphor, it is as though a threshold is crossed. On one side a certain combination of purely physical (mechanical [hearing], chemical [taste/smell], electrostatic [touch], or photonic [vision]) energy (yes even the physical poking of a brain) is translated or transformed into a subjective experience whose qualities or properties share nothing in common (other than correlation) with the physical properties of their source. The mystery has nothing to do with the transformation’s necessary dependency on a functioning brain. Rather it is that this sort of transformation happens at all; that physics becomes subjective.

Sound, light, feel, smell, taste are all mind-dependent descriptions of phenomena, that in the mind-independent world are nothing but energy of one kind or another. If I say “I see light” we have always to remember that in mind-independent terms, there isn’t any “light”, only “electromagnetic radiation”. The latter is real and exists in the universe whether there are organisms with apparatus sensitive to it or not. Electromagnetic radiation only “becomes light” to a subject. Information bearing patterns in brain states are translated (mapped), via pathways beginning with sensory apparatus, into an “interior experience”. “The light” is that mapping!

The subjective gestalt is composed of qualia similar to the way particles of the Standard Model comprise the mind-independent world. The particles collect in special ways to form atoms while the atoms (sometimes in special states) aggregate to produce everything else. Some of the phenomena of the mind-independent world impinge on certain “biological sensors” associated with brains. Not all mind-independent phenomena impinge to trigger biological sensors. Neutrinos do not, nor photons outside a limited range of wavelengths.

The subjective arena is broader than qualia alone. Intentions, beliefs, emotions, memories, ideas, and so on are not qualia. Qualia comprise only the sensory modalities of the gestalt (and sometimes the effect of brain pokes). Unlike atoms, there are genuine mereological sums of qualia that is itself a singular quale.

The qualia arising most directly from our physical senses, “atomic qualia” like a particular red experience, sum mereologically to a unified gestalt experience, the sensory ingredients of the subjective arena of which we are conscious at any given moment. Nor at any moment is the arena an equal mix of all sensory impingements of which we are aware. If I am driving I am aware of the feel of the wheel in my hands, the pressure of the gas pedal on my foot, the sounds around me and the aroma of the hot pizza on the seat next to me. But I am, for good reason, focused on the visual scene in front of me. My gestalt includes all the sensory modalities of which I am aware, but as I focus my attention on what I see, qualia arising from sight dominate my arena in that moment.

The relation between separate sensory impingements is constantly changing but the effect, subjectively moment to moment, remains always singular. All this singular arena, taken synchronically, is also properly called a quale. By contrast, the mind independent world is particularized. Yes there are aggregates there, but they too are particular instances of their types. Planets and chairs are aggregates of atoms, but they remain, mind-independently, particular planets and chairs. That they are particular totals is recognized in the subjective interior thanks to the distinguishable qualia they invoke (via brain states) and their summation to the interior gestalt. The mind-independent world is essentially particular, while the subjective arena, under normal circumstances, is intrinsically unified.

None of this usage hangs on any particular theory of or philosophy of mind though it does implicitly reject eliminative materialism. It requires only that the word qualia refers to something, not nothing. That something, that to which we give the label ‘qualia’, is both the individual and totalized sensory modalities of our moment by moment experience. If, apart from qualia and besides intentions, thoughts, and so on, there is a “subconscious mind” and perhaps even an “unconscious mind”, there are no subconscious, let alone unconscious, qualia. A sensory experience isn’t a quale unless one is aware of it!

Qualia are nothing like examples of “emergent phenomena” one meets in the science and philosophy literature, for example the relation between statistical mechanics and thermodynamics. Statistical mechanics is about the motion (and density) of atoms; uncontroversially physical. Thermodynamics, temperature and pressure language, frames “another way” to talk about the same phenomenon. Mathematically, one can demonstrably map one into the other.

Qualia certainly rest on the “motion of atoms” (a synecdoche for simplicity’s sake), not only those that stimulate the sense apparatus, but throughout the brain. There is surely a causal relation here. Yet it is not obvious that “qualia language” is merely another way to talk about brain states. Not only has no one connected them mathematically, no one has suggested what the equivalence conditions might look like. David Chalmers, for example, speaks of “bridge laws”, but in several books on the subject has not suggested just how such laws would be subject to equivalency demonstration on either side of “the gap”.

The brain is a species of portal (a metaphor) made of the same stuff as all the mind-independent world. Some of the phenomena of the mind independent world are able to impinge on the portal in such a way as to invoke, a subjective viewpoint, qualitatively different from the electromagnetic, mass-possessing, stuff underwriting it; something, the subjective experience, that isn’t composed of atoms at all! Consider that my experience of red exhibits no third-party measureable quantity despite being the product, a mapping, of electromagnetic energy!

Of course the brain state correlate grounding the quale exhibits energy, even producing heat. But there is no physically measureable quantity on the subjective side of the portal! Brains translate, map, or convert energy of the mind-independent world into subjective experience which, as such, exhibits no energy utilization over and above that energy accounted for in the activity of brains; activity of atoms that hasn’t the slightest resemblance to its mirror on the other side of the curtain.

So why, as philosophers, should we pay any attention to qualia, brain states being obviously necessary and possibly (less obviously) sufficient for their appearance? Supposing we eventually learn exactly which brain states evoke every specific quale of the subjective gestalt, wouldn’t that constitute “knowing enough”? The problem is two-fold. First qualia do not have any of the measurable properties of brain states. At the same time, they do have properties of their own sort. If I ask a philosopher or physicist “to what does the word ‘qualia’ refer?” few would say “nothing”. But if not nothing, then what? My subjective experience of a color, or of my moment by moment phenomenal arena is not “made of atoms” even if it is a specific material organization, living brains made of atoms, whose activity is responsible for them.

Second, doesn’t this phenomenon smack of mystery “begging for explanation”? Why is the quantum mechanical “measurement problem” interesting? Why do we try so hard to understand what is going on? Something is going on about or in the “quantum world” that becomes counter intuitive when it emerges into the macroscopic. We’d like to explain how this transition works and why it comes out in the particular way it does. But we cannot and the most pedestrian of the fundamental reasons for this is that our instruments cannot get there! We cannot probe the quantum world directly. Why is the proton/electron mass ratio interesting? Why does it beg for explanation? Because it is unique and uniform. Every proton throughout the universe weighs the same as every other proton and mutatis mutandis for the electrons. It is that singular uniformity that makes the phenomenon interesting.

Why are these phenomenon any more interesting than qualia? First there is only one material organization in the universe, brains, that mediate between the impinging mind-independent matter-energy universe and a subjective experience of qualia? Second, like the quantum world, our instruments cannot get there! Even if we knew in every instance what brain states evoke what qualia we would be no closer to answering the question: how does physics become subjective?

Chalmers has pointed out many times that this brain state business might go on, like any other complex matter-energy interaction, without evoking a subjective mirror of itself. Biologists surmise that having a consciousness, and therefore a control (presupposing free-will by the way) over behavior beyond what is possible for non-conscious (automatic and deterministic) neural activity has survival advantage. Ironically, biologists have answered a why question. Physics produces the subjective because it has survival advantage! Surely this is so. But it gets no closer to answering the question how physics evokes a subjective? What makes it possible for physics to have that effect?

Every other matter-energy transformation in the universe, every other emergent phenomenon both begin and end with matter-energy. This includes what goes on in brains! And yet at the same time, and only in brains, there comes to be a “subjective viewpoint”, a phenomenon that begins with matter-energy, but does not end with it. Is that not enough to make it interesting?

Review: Terence Horgan “Austere Realism”

As I noted at the top of my Amazon review (see inclusion below), Hogan’s “Austere Realism” and Graham Harman’s “Object Oriented Ontology” are, near as I can tell, exact inverses of one another. Harman’s view is that everything is real, everything is an object. Every star, planet, building, book, nation, thought, and all their relations, a virtual infinity of relations between everything and everything else taken individually and in sum. “All objects”. Horgan’s view it the exact inverse. For Horgan there is only one ontologically genuine concrete object in the universe, that being the universe taken as a whole, across all time, what he calls “the blobject”.

Both theories, in their own way, amount to saying the same thing. Whether “all is one” or “literally everything is an object”, both declare that “everything is the same”. On a strictly ontological level, there is no distinction to be made anywhere. This is not to say that the two theories say the same thing, not at all. But because they are both at the extreme ends of the metaphysical spectrum they both collapse all distinction and end up explaining nothing.

Horgan doesn’t mention Harman; not in the book nor the copious end notes. None of Harman’s books are even listed in the bibliography. I am surprised. Although the polar opposite of Horgan’s ontology, I would think the common feature of “being at the extremes” of ontological speculation would be worth a mention. I have dealt with Harman in several book reviews and essays here on the blog. Now it is Horgan’s turn.

In my review I do point out that Horgan’s book has two purposes; to set forth his “blobjectivism” and to show how, even if there is but one concrete particular in the universe (the universe itself) this idea is perfectly consistent with talk about a multiplicity of objects. “The United states dollar is the primary reserve currency on Earth” is true even though “the United States”, dollars, currency, and “the Earth” do not strictly exist. The same is true for more purely physical assertions. “Mars is the fourth planetary orbit outward from the sun” is true though there is no Mars, planets, orbits, or the sun. These statements can be true because their truth lies in semantic contexts that only “indirectly correspond” to some as yet unspecified phenomena of the “mind-independent world”, something both Horgan and Harman must accept as real or they wouldn’t be “realists” at all.

It is the social construction of language and so the presence of varying semantic contexts that make such statements true. They are true not because the things they purportedly reference (planets, money) exist, but because they meet the semantic standards of speech concerning posits about distinctions that exist only in a mind-dependent way. This connection between ordinary speech and ontology is a nice touch, but what is it about these “pseudo object posits” that makes them unreal ontologically speaking? Horgan points to vagueness (which he also calls boundarylessness) and the “Special Composition Question” introduced by a short detour through the work of Peter Van Inwagen. Much of this Horgan illustrates with what philosophers call “sorites problems” the most famous of which (and perhaps because of this Horgan doesn’t use it) is the “ship of Theseus”.

Theseus has a ship made from wooden planks. At some point one of the planks rots and must be replaced with a new piece of wood. Is it still the same ship? What if two planks are replaced, or ten, or all of them? Somewhere along the process some people would say that it is no longer the same ship though others would disagree. But the point is there is no definite point where the replacement of just one more plank makes a different ship. This observation suggests that the ship of Theseus (and most everything else) is vague and it is an axiom of Horgan’s ontology that “vague objects” do not actually exist as such. There is no such object as “the ship of Theseus” even though Theseus (who also does not exist) is plainly sailing in something.

The “special composition question” is related to this but has to do with what is and is not a proper part of a larger construct. Does a chair (some chairs) have parts? Does it have legs, a back, a seat, and perhaps arms? The chair is subject to sorites issues; if I remove a leg and replace it with another is it the same chair? But also we notice that legs, arms, seats, and backs, not to mention chairs, are all made of atoms. Perhaps the only real parts of anything are the atoms. A chair (Van Inwagen’s famous example) is nothing but “atoms arranged chair-wise”. It has no other proper parts because they are all merely atoms arranged leg-wise, seat-wise and so on.

So what does Horgan say is the chair in the mind-independent world? He says it doesn’t exist. It is not a “proper part” of the universe. Instead, what he believes, is that the blobject, the whole universe just is in some particular spatiotemporal location arranged chair-wise. Instead of a composition from atoms on up, the key insight for Horgan is that the differentiation goes from the top down. The mind-independent “whole universe” happens to be differentiated into everything that we take to be mind-independent about the world and according to Horgan (he is explicit here) this differentiation is both real and precise; not vague.

Yet, since the blobject is differentiated into something or other not-vague (chair shaped, rocks in orbits, suns, gas clouds, radiation) literally everywhere, and all of these differentiations have effects (gravitationally or otherwise) on other differentiations around them, how is saying what Horgan says any different from saying that all of the differentiations, taken mind-independently, are simply real objects with a genuine compositional structure? If the blobject’s everywhere differentiations are not vague, where comes from that vagueness he uses to insist that suns, rocks, gas clouds, and chairs don’t really exist? If the blobject differentiates precisely and the differentiations are mind-independent, the vagueness can only come from what is not mind-independent, namely the machinations of mind both pre-linguistic and linguistic!

The problem comes fully around to bite Horgan when he speculates on mind itself. If there is mind in the universe, the blobject also is differentiated spatiotemporally into minds! Mind itself, our phenomenology taken as a whole (Horgan suggests) is also a differentiation of the blobject and for that reason precise, though the contents of any given mind, for example propositions, can still be vague. But even with this little escape for vagueness’ sake, Horgan seems committed to mind-independent mind!

This result does not appear to have given Horgan any pause, but I think it is enough to show that there are difficulties with his view he does not address in the book. In the end philosophy is always trivially right when it takes positions at the extremes of ontology or epistemology. One cannot in the end refute a pure idealism, nihilism, solipsism, or a realism that says, one way or another, that “everything is the same”. In the end Horgan is not wrong. Nor is Harman. But Blobjectivism, like Object Oriented Ontology, is a difference that makes no difference! As concerns the “mind-independent world” saying everything, including all properties, are localizations of the blobject is the same as saying that all the localizations are real and exist. As goes ontology, Horgan (though not Harman) need not worry about baldness, nations, money, or even language since none of these phenomena are strictly mind-independent.

Austere Realism: Contextual Semantics Meets Minimal Ontology. Terence Horgan 2008

Interestingly this book is a counter point and the ultimate theory is exactly the inverse of Graham Harman’s “Object Oriented Ontology” (see my reviews of various Harman books). Ironically, the universality of their views cause both philosophers the same problem. If what exists is univocal (everything is an object [Harman] or there is only one object [Horgan]) you explain everything while explaining nothing. However delving into such philosophical matters is not the purview of a book review and I will talk more about this in my blog. Meanwhile, one of my criticisms of Harman is that he never really tells us why or how he came to his position, a complaint I cannot level at Horgan as that telling is the very purpose of this book.

Horgan first introduces us to realism in general and then austere realism. He spends roughly one third of the book (at the beginning and again at the end) characterizing austere realism and in particular his version of it, something he calls “blobjectivism”. Roughly two thirds of the book he spends not on his ontological theory as such but on how that theory relates to statements in ordinary and scientific discourse. If we want to say that planets, stars, buildings, and nations do not exist, how is the scientific statement “Earth occupies the third orbit outward from the sun” or the economic observation “the U.S. dollar is the world’s primary reserve currency” true? He says such statements are true not because the “objects” they purportedly name exist, but because talk of these categories only “indirectly corresponds” to the mind-independent world. The indirection goes through the process of conceptualization.

Much of the book is an exposition of this process works; how it is that many statements in ordinary and scientific discourse can be true even though the objects they purportedly talk about do not really exist. His direct argument for their non-existence has to do with vagueness, what he also calls the boundarylessness of discursive subjects, and the related “special composition question”. In stipulating a mind-independent world he also stipulates that no mind-independent object can be vague or boundary-less. Vagueness can always be made to look inconsistent. He gets into this issue by introducing what philosophers call “sorites problems” (take a man with 5000 hairs on his head. If I take away 1 hair is it still the same man? And this is only the beginning of a sorites problem). Anything we might call “an object” within the universe is subject to this sort of breakdown. Horgan insists that this being so, none of these postulated things exist in the mind-independent world. Objects of the mind-independent world cannot be intrinsically vague.

Horgan slides between mind-independence that cannot be vague, and discourse following general and not-fully-specifiable linguistic standards (themselves vague), to what he calls the vagueness of linguistic posits about the world. The problem here, the problem Horgan doesn’t seem to see, is that all the vagueness is mind-dependent. There isn’t any vagueness about the man with 5000 hairs in the mind-independent world. The vagueness enters only when mind directs itself at analyzing the concept of that man. Horgan is quite correct I think in that all that is mind-dependent is vague. I believe this is necessarily so, though Horgan does not (and says so). Nevertheless these indirectly corresponding posits cannot be real though propositions about them can still be true. Besides introducing us to the blobject, the point of the book is the [mind-dependent] connection between Horgan’s ontology and the correctness of ordinary talk thanks to semantic context and indirect correspondence.

To my mind, Horgan fails to appreciate some of the implications of his ontology. For him, the stuff of the mind-independent world are not parts of something greater but rather spacetime localisations, differences, of “the one concrete particular that exists”, the blobject. If this is the case, and he says this, these spatiotemporal localisations must be precise, not vague! There are many issues arising here I will leave for another venue (see my blog), but the bottom line is that if they are not vague we might as well call them objects! It isn’t that Horgan is wrong (let’s say). It isn’t that ontology cannot be as austere as he claims. But it doesn’t matter. Giving an inch here is worth a mile. If spatiotemporal variations in the blobject are real and precise then conceptualizing those variations as objects, saying “they exist” and “directly correspond” (in Horgan’s semantic scheme) to mind-independent particulars amounts to saying the same thing.

Still all in all Horgan does a great job putting this together. I gave the book four stars not because of philosophical issues but because Horgan’s writing is not as clear as it might be. There are many long sentences with multiple and parenthetical clauses. Sometimes his argument is a little difficult to follow. But what was worse, the Kindle version of this book (the version I have) has a serious problem! This is not the author’s fault. The publisher was way too casual with this conversion. There are a lot of end notes in this book. A considerable amount of detail in the author’s exposition is in the end notes! But while the notes are flagged in the text, flags are not made into links. You cannot press on an end note and go to the note as as is conventionally the case in most of the Kindle books in this and other non-fiction genera. Such features are, after all, part of the point of e-books! This is a serious omission in a scholarly work like this, and makes the whole, if you really want to see the end notes as they come up, way more difficult than it should be.

All Will is Free

The goal of this short essay is to argue the word ‘will’ and the phrase “free will” are equivalent. The ‘free’ in “free will” is redundant. All exercise of will is free. There is no “un-free will” although there are un-free actions that aren’t willed.

First let me set some boundaries. I am not trying to establish that free-will is real. This argument is about the ordinary language, conventionally subjective view of our agency. We seem to ourselves (and as self-as-such) to be final arbiters of some physical (bodily) behavior, even if the result is not exactly what was subjectively intended. If with my arm, hand, and fingers, I propel a basketball towards the hoop my goal, to make the ball go through the hoop, may not be what occurs. Nevertheless, it “seems to me” that I, the subjective agent, am the agent-cause of the throw. My agency caused my arm to move or at least this seems to be correct from most people’s viewpoint. My argument below does not hinge on whether libertarian free will is real, but only that it is possible.

We, as agents, seem to make choices. Our [seeming] choices often precede a controlled action (behavior) of our body, and it is those physical actions that are causes in the physical world. These acts are efforts to constrain future possibility to present fact. These causes are NOVEL in the sense that they have, at their beginning a selection by a subject and not merely firing a neuron. A “selection by a subject” is novel because it does not presuppose any prior physical determinant as would the mere firing of a neuron. We are not simply aware of a choice having-been-made. Subjectively it feels like we are the initiator of the choice. A choice resulting in an act of a body seems always entangled with a willing. I decide to order item #26 from the menu before me, and in making that choice I will my vocal apparatus to express it to the waiter. Some would say the vocalization is making the choice and this would be true from a third-party perspective. Subjectively however, we do usually seem to make a choice (decide) before willing an action.

This does not mean there were not physical causes (brain states) before and so impacting the choice or the willing. Nor does this mean there is anything about the experience of choosing and willing, without some brain-state correlate. What’s importantly characteristic of our experience here is that all the prior physical causes together are not sufficient, subjectively, to determine rigidly what is willed; the agent has the final vote, and this vote matters. At least this is what it feels like.

Not all actions of human or animal bodies are a result of willing. Heart beat and breathing come to mind, but there are less trivial examples, including many habitual behaviors and other actions that occur without our thinking about them. Such actions are not ‘novel’ in the sense that I mean that term. They are not sui generis because they are fully determined, that is sufficiently, by prior (neurological) physical causes. Importantly, we do not usually think of ourselves as willing such acts. We are surely not willing a muscle reflex and it does not often seem to us, when habitual behaviors are called to our attention, that we are willing them either.

In addition, even consciously willed acts, if they are free at all, are not free in any absolute sense. It is the body firstly that is the starting point of the physical causal chain initiated in the world. The act is always physical. Once a body acts (freely or otherwise), the causal chains started are beyond that body’s control. In addition acts themselves are constrained by the limits of what the body can do. Moreover, they are limited by what that body’s [seeming] subjective agency recognizes of its alternatives. We cannot do what the body cannot do (for example fly) and we cannot choose from among genuinely available alternatives (physically possible actions we might take) of which we are unaware.

Nicholas Rescher (“Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal” 2009) makes a distinction between moral and metaphysical freedom. Metaphysical freedom refers to all the future possibilities that might contingently happen. Philosophers and physicists are used to the idea that the present physical universe is contingent meaning that what has happened might have happened otherwise. Many events might have happened in the universe that did not happen, and more importantly, many future events are possible and we cannot be sure which of these will occur. Metaphysical freedom in this sense has nothing directly to do with willful agency. In Rescher’s view it is genuine and we have access to it, but we have access merely because it is a property of the physical world with which we engage.

By contrast moral freedom comes down to a conscious agent being free to choose from contingent futures without a constraint (agent or otherwise) fixing the agent’s act (and so will) in some specific way. If someone puts a gun to my head and tells me to open the safe I am not morally free in Rescher’s sense. But I am still metaphysically free. I could choose (and so act) to resist the gunman! I will get to the implications of Compatibilism for this argument shortly.

Animals appear to exercise will. Are they also free? I believe the answer is yes, though their freedom, their awareness of potential freedom is more constrained ours. Animals can do what they want in the absence of constraint. In this sense (absent constraint) they are morally free in Rescher’s technical sense. If metaphysical freedom is real, then animals must also be metaphysically free (ontologically speaking). A lioness on the hunt willfully selects between two possible zebras present to its awareness and so willfully acts to chase one of them. But the lioness cannot choose to forgo the hunt and become vegetarian even if there is plenty of nutritious vegetable matter in easy reach. Selecting one zebra and not the other is a freely-willed act, both morally and metaphysically, within the scope of lion consciousness.

Richard Swinburne (“Mind, Brain, and Free Will” 2013) argues that only a rare, deeply considered moral act, is genuinely free-willed. Everything else, despite how it might seem to us subjectively, is determined. Galen Strawson (“Free Will and Belief” 1986) argued that because so many of the past influences on our choices, beliefs, and so on, were not freely chosen, we are not free ever! Strawson’s argument is that unless every influence on a present decision was freely chosen, the present choice cannot be free at all! Strawson does nothing to address the phenomenological (the seeming) or linguistic issue here. He denies the possibility of metaphysical freedom by fiat. But both human language and experience easily distinguish between a seemingly free act and an act that does not seem to be free. Perhaps not always, but if we can make the distinction even sometimes, then metaphysical freedom might be real! If in a long chain of influences not freely chosen a single choice, however narrow, is freely elected then free will is possible.

Assuming Strawson (or Swinburne) is correct in what sense are all of these determined choices “willings” other than merely being a “figure of speech” that has no referrent? If our brain alone fixes what we do in what way are we, our subjective self, willing that act at all? To be sure what seems like the result of a willing might be an illusion. But in that case, not only are we not free, we are not really willing anything either.

This brings me to Compatibilism. If someone puts a gun to my head and orders me to open the safe I am acting unfreely by compatibilist lights, and yet I am obviously willing in the conventional linguistic sense. I must exercise will to move my arm and hand to the safe and dial the combination. According to compatibilists my will is not exercised freely. Here Rescher’s distinction between moral and metaphysical freedom is helpful. The gun to my head makes me morally unfree. Few would suggest that I have a moral duty to resist the gunman. Yet according to Rescher, I remain metaphysically free. I could resist the gunman, or try to escape. These are genuine options in that they are possible courses of action, future potentials not precluded by physics from which I might select. My willing my hand to dial the combination is still an exercise of metaphysical freedom.

‘Will’ and ‘free will’ do come apart in Compatibilism because compatibilists deny that Rescher’s “metaphysical freedom” exists at all. That is precisely the compatibilist’s point. By compatibilist lights, metaphysical freedom in Rescher’s sense is mere illusion. To all intents and purposes, at least as concerns macro-physics, events of universe history are not contingent but fully determined.

If compatibilists are right however, it makes little sense to speak of any willing going on either way. If there is a gun to my head, my brain, and not any willing makes me, my body, open the safe. If there is no gunman, my brain might determine that I finish up some work before going home. Either way, what seems to me to be a free-choice willing (I could leave the paperwork until the morning) is not real but merely a seeming. For compatibilists, there is no will at all, only the illusion of one. Put otherwise, there is no such phenomenon as “unfree will” because there is no real will at all!

If compatibilists are wrong and Rescher is right (it is metaphysically possible to resist the gunman) then any “act of will” is an act of “metaphysically free will” notwithstanding there are many past influences, not freely chosen, impinging it, or even that the choice was not morally free. If agents are metaphysically free, if subjective agents can choose between genuinely alternate futures then the subject, and not merely the brain, becomes a part of the causal chain resulting in a particular future out of many possible. If ‘will’ represents anything more than a figure of speech, metaphysical freedom has to be real.

Compatibilists speak of will as though it was real but by their own lights it cannot be. We seem to perform choice-act combinations by willing. If we don’t “will it” (and I grant that not all acts are willed or free) then nothing happens; no act will issue from a body. Importantly it also seems that no act of a body that is not willed is free; we are not free to suppress a reflex and we easily distinguish between willed and not-willed action under normal circumstances. If every free act is willed, and will is not an illusion, and no un-willed act is free, then no “act of will” can be entirely un-free (fully determined) and the ‘free’ in “free will” is redundant.

Book Review: Self Knowledge for Humans by Quassim Cassam

selfie

A philosopher needs both breath and depth in the discipline. There are a certain range of issues in which I have a primary interest reflected in all of the essays on this blog. But a philosopher cannot rely only on the writings of others in their field. To understand the implications of even narrow issues, one must read both opposing voices and something of other issues that may be but peripherally related. For me this is one of those books.

Is self-knowledge of the substantial variety on which Cassam focuses important to me as a person? Yes to some extent it is, and in fact the author covers that “to some extent” very well in his last chapter. Is self-knowledge important to me as a philosopher? Is it important to my specific interests? In my case crucially yes, but it is not a sort of self-knowledge, a knowledge of beliefs and why I have them (I do know what I believe and why I believe), wants, emotions, and character traits addressed in this book.

What I need better to understand is the quality of my evidence and whether it is evidence for what I believe. My primary interests often impinge on philosophy of mind (not our belief that other people or animals have minds, but rather what mind is, what makes mind happen in brains, and how this relates to physics, biology, etc) and much of what I believe is derived from a phenomenal examination of my own mind. I want to know if what I discover in that examination is genuinely evidence for what I believe.

This is a question that Dr. Cassam misses. I make no criticism of his work here. It is clear from his exposition that the metaphysics of mind is not his subject. Who or what is this entity that believes, wants, feels, and has character traits? None of what Cassam writes here hinges on any particular metaphysical view of this entity. Yet surely an answer to this question is about one’s self? It is about what one believes constitutes the self. My interest is in what I might learn of the self as compared to knowledge about myself. While not addressing that question, this book provides a helpful context. Thanks to  my reading, I am better positioned to describe that entity and what I can (perhaps) infer of it in the context of self-knowledge more broadly conceived.

Self-Knowledge for Humans by Quassim Cassam (2014)

As with many other philosophy texts I’ve reviewed over the years this one is both professional and well written. There is almost a formula for doing good philosophy in the analytic tradition. Begin by clearly stating the nature of the problem you are going to address. Briefly review the history of the issue; make distinctions, show that the problem is more than trivial. Here the subject is something of a narrow subset of philosophy of mind, epistemology, phenomenology, and even psychology. It is the nature of what, how, and why we know, or fail to know, about ourselves as this pertains to our beliefs, emotions, desires, characters and more. Cassam sketches distinctions between the trivial and the substantial in self knowledge, and also the occasional (what I’m thinking, believing, feeling, wanting, right now) versus the standing (what do I believe, fear, want, and so on over time).

Next address the various theories about the subject in the literature and show why they are inadequate, if not entirely then at least partly. This review often, and in this case does, take up much of the book. Third make a positive argument for your own theory, in this case what Cassam calls “inferentialism”; describe it carefully and show how it addresses the inadequacies of the other dominant theories in the subject area. Then address specific objections to your theory advanced by others and show why they do not have the force their authors believe they do.

Cassam does all of this masterfully and manages not to be dry in the doing of it. He ends with two chapters on related matters, one being self-ignorance itself distinguished into variations and brought under his theory, and lastly a chapter on a meta-issue, why these inferences, why self-knowledge is or might be important.

Is Inferentialism convincing? Well yes, given how much Cassam emphasizes its broad but not always universal applicability. His claim is that Inferentialism covers much of the ground because it can be conscious or unconscious (sometimes this last is better understood as “interpretation”) and would often, but not always, be the dominant means by which we come to know things about ourselves. In short there are a lot of distinctions to be made about what self-knowledge is, and Inferrentialism happens to address all of them (including self-ignorance) to a greater or lesser extent, but is never, or almost never, absent entirely from the process of coming to know things about ourselves. Objections to the idea are unable to gain purchase because Cassam fully accepts that other theories have explanatory power here and there about this or that sort of self-knowledge, but points out that none of these, even if they happen to be operational in specific cases, preclude an inferential component to the path to self-knowledge. It is about as neat and tidy a package as I have seen.

“Self-Knowledge for Humans” would make a superb introduction to the style of Western Analytic Philosophy. In addition it well illuminates the issue and makes a substantial contribution to our grasp of what a solution looks like.

The Mistake in Theological Fatalism

“God knows everything you’ve done and loves you. God knows everything you are going to do and still loves you” Vern Benom Grimsley

There is a present fashion among intellectuals, a belief they are not free willed in the libertarian sense, that libertarian free will is impossible in a universe of randomness (quantum mechanics) and determinism (everything else). Although this present fashion is rationalized by modern physics, the idea is as old as the Greeks. Democritus (of atom fame) was one of those who believed this, and so the debate has gone on for some 2400 years.

I make no secret of my scorn for this fashion (see “Arguing with Automatons” and “The Nonsensical Notion of Compatibilism”). It is the philosophical equivalent of adolescent obsession with self-mutilation. Philosophers, even atheist philosophers like John Searle (“MIND” 2005 and “Making the Social World” 2010), Nicholas Rescher (“Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal” 2009), and Edward Lowe (“Personal Agency” 2006), address the absurdity of this position, though Searle admits he cannot reconcile his epistemological conviction that free will must be genuine with his equally strong metaphysical conviction (grounded in physics) that it is impossible.

In this context, the term ‘libertarian’ is not a political ideology but refers to the idea that some agency, my “I”, is volitional; “at liberty” to cause (in Rescher’s term “initiate” [atemporal cause]) some sorts of neurological activity in my brain. Some entity (often called mind) is the starting point of actions instantiated in the physical world by my body. In effect a subjective agent, I, and not merely neurological activity (which I am not aware of directly) am in command/control of my body, and this I, while resting on neuro-physiology, has some independence from physics; there is a gap between that which chooses, and the physiology the choice precipitates. For this reason, the term “contra-causal will” is associated with libertarianism.

The idea here is that this “I” in command (mind?) does not appear to be a physical entity and so libertarian free will commits to the added idea there is in the universe a “cause of the physical” that is not physical. This idea violates a central principle of physics known as the Causal Closure Principle (see “Fantasy Physics and the Genisis of Mind”). The two ideas, libertarian will and contra-causal will, are therefore associated, but the connection rests on the assumption the “I” is not a physical object. ‘Libertarian’ refers to phenomenology, first person experience, while ‘contra-causal’ cause is a metaphysical idea. “Theological Fatalism” addresses the former and is not necessarily committed to the latter should the “I” happen to be physical (see “I Am a Strange Loop” 2004 by Douglas Hofstadter and Lowe referenced above).

THE PROBLEM

On the other side of the debate, philosophers of religion (also going back to the Greeks) have an escape. God, being omnipotent, knows the trick of making contra-causal (and so libertarian) free will possible in a universe whose only other causes are random or deterministic.

Logicians then framed a puzzle. If God is omniscient, he knows everything that has, is, and will happen. This has to include every choice ever made (and ever to be made) by any minded being, personal or otherwise. If that is the case, if God already knows that when you step into a taquiria you will today order pollo and tomorrow carne asada, how can those choices be free? You cannot avoid the problem by intending to order chicken and then at the last moment changing your mind; God knows you will do that too. This puzzle is called “Theological Fatalism”. Even if God is the source of a third (contra-causal) cause, and “mind causes physics” (Sean Carroll “The Big Picture” 2016, something Carroll of course denies is possible) that cause cannot be free in the libertarian sense because God already knows what the choice will be and can never be wrong about it.

The puzzle is reminiscent of Zeno’s paradox (back to the Greeks again). Zeno said that movement, change in space, is impossible because to move a mile, or a foot, or even a millimeter, one has to go first half the distance, and then half that distance and so on blocking any movement before it begins. Although it seems obvious that we can move, it took some time for philosophers, early mathematicians, to figure out where Zeno goes wrong. The distance between any two points can be divided into an infinite series of smaller distances. Mathematicians demonstrated that one can traverse or complete an infinite series in a finite time. Zeno did not account for time and in a sense the same is true of Theological Fatalism, or at least that is a part of the story.

Before I dismantle this puzzle I want to note that this argument is raised by scientists and philosophers by way of ridicule; God himself is (or would be) inconsistent with free will. Oddly, many present-day theologians and philosophers of religion have accepted the argument and decided that therefore God is either not omniscient or not omnipotent!

If a theologian does not understand that God must be able to do and experience in ways we cannot and that there are logical riddles, transparent to God, we cannot (perhaps never will) fathom, who will? Such philosophers should hang up their philosophy hats and go away. Logically probing how such qualities as omnipotence and omniscience go together and yet provide for free will is one thing. Denying this is possible because they cannot figure out how it works is ridiculous; the pinnacle of hubris!

THE SOLUTION

If God is God then he knows everything that has, is, and will happen throughout time with absolute assurance, never guessing, and never being surprised. His knowledge is immediate and atemporal, it is a knowledge of a sort we know nothing about by experience, nor can we grasp it logically. We can suppose that God’s knowledge must be infinite and perfect, but not what that is like to experience it.

I’ll go further for the sake of the conundrum. Harry Frankfurt is famous in ethics circles for coming up with a puzzle. A mad genius has learned to take over brains and can cause a person to make any decision the genius wishes. Moreover, the genius knows (here is the real genius) what decision you make as you are making it. If your decision is what the genius wants you to do anyway, she need do nothing. But if your decision is about to be what she doesn’t want, she can force you to make the one she wants and do so in such a way that you do not even realize you are being forced! The question is: is your will still free?

The short answer to the Frankfurt question is, I think, yes you are free when you make the decision the genius wants and no otherwise. My point in bringing this up is to note that God has the power (omnipotence plus omniscience) to be the supreme Frankfurt genius! While we appear to be free, we are merely compelled (having no feeling of being compelled) to follow God’s script. But this mistakenly implies a causal relation between what God knows and what we do. No one claims theological fatalism precludes freedom because it is causal . It is rather a logical problem. God does not cause, that is force, us to make a particular choice.  The matter is rather about what God knows in what seems, from our viewpoint to be “ahead of time”. But God’s foreknowledge is foreknowledge only from a human, temporal, perspective. What ever be the limits of human libertarian freedom, even the most dyed-in-the-wool libertarian does not suppose that such limits include contravention of natural law, including time.

In the comments here an interlocutor points out that what God knows amounts to fate, and for this reason we are not free. It is a viewpoint that amounts to a deduction from a universal perspective impossible for us to actually have. Since “God is one” one might argue that everything that, to us, appears differentiated about the universe is all illusion or but a shadow of the singular unified reality. This ignores the manifest, to us, reality of matter and a richly differentiated universe. Both views reflect the same singular reality, some shadow to God, differentiated reality to us. It is from this perspective that we are free even if what we choose is, from God’s universal view fated.

No libertarian claims our freedom is absolute. Just as we cannot contravene natural law, so also we cannot surprise God. So long as (and assuming) mind is a cause in time, the future is genuinely open in time! If from our perspective, always limited to the present, a choice makes a future difference, then our choice is free from within that perspective.

Of course we might still be wrong about this if God is a deceiver, if it is in fact the case (as in Frankfurt’s clever puzzle) that we are not the cause of our choices, or that we are that cause only when we choose what God has foreordained. But if we are deceived then God has to be causing our choices and that is not the crux of theological fatalism.

There is every reason to believe that God (should he exist) cannot be a deceiver (see Prolegomena to a Future Theology). It does seem to experience that our will itself, the subjective mind exercising it, is (provided we are of normal brain) sovereign over choice no matter what choice we make. That God knows what that choice will be does not abrogate its freedom from within the view of our temporally constrained, to the present, perspective.

From our viewpoint, future possibilities from among which we choose (God knows these also) are in fact genuinely open to us because we do not know what God knows. We do, subjectively, choose from among alternatives and “which choice” we make makes a future difference to us and others whom the choice may entangle. This is all a robust libertarian free will needs. The strongest advocates of libertarian will do not demand that no power in the universe knows what you will decide.  Being unable to “surprise God” does not equate to fate from our perspective.

Libertarianism requires only that we cannot know what that power knows and as concerns God’s viewpoint this is surely true.  To say then: “well our freedom is purely perspectival, or stems merely from our limited perspective” is trivially true, but over-simplified. All freedom short of God stems from or exists within some perspective. It is freedom nevertheless because from within any perspective it bears causal responsibility for the particular choice made.

All that libertarianism requires is that subjective agency, the self-aware subject, and not deterministic neurophysiology nor God causally, initiates action from within its perspective and this requirement is fully satisfied in the human experience of willing. We are free in our experience and if “mind can cause physics”, if contra-causal cause is real (possible if God is real), and God is not a deceiver, then we are free in the libertarian sense, from within our perspective, despite what God knows. God knows what we will choose, but so long as his knowledge is not a cause of our choice our will is free within its constrained perspective. Theological fatalism is a false doctrine.

Review: The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

By sheer coincidence I published the essay, “What is Time”, shortly before reading Carlo Rovelli’s book. Rather than writing additional commentary here, I put a pointer to that essay. While it does not address Rovelli directly (I hadn’t read him yet) it covers the points made in the review included below. But I do not want to discourage people from reading this excellent book. It is always good to understand the arguments of authors with which you (in this case I) happen to disagree. One cannot claim to be a well rounded philosopher without understanding what it is that those you disagree with are saying.

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli (2018) Amazon review

Like consciousness, time is a subject that no philosopher or physicist has ever managed to nail down completely. Thanks to their slippery character, being so close to us (the first one IS us) they are endless sources for fountains of speculation. In this book, Rovelli’s subject is time, but consciousness comes into this narrative as well.

Rovelli is a “time denier”. OK, that’s being a little unfair but not by much. What he denies is that there exists an independent, fundamental property or quality of the universe that is time. Of course the universe is full of movement and change, events unfolding into other events. His basic position is that time emerges into our perspective, our viewpoint, from these phenomena, but it is merely an illusion. The movement is real, the changing is real, but the time in which all of this seems to occur is nothing more than a manifestation of human (possibly animal) mind and the illusion, in turn, is supported by the entropy generated in the functioning of our brains.

The book (not long read) is divided into three parts. In the first Rovelli covers the various sub-disciplines of physics and their temporal implications (or lack thereof). He begins with classical physics (the equations work backwards in time), and moves on to General and Special Relativity, and quantum mechanics. Here he demonstrates that our simple intuition of a universal time flowing from past to future is untenable. Time, mind-independent time, if it exists at all, cannot be like that. In part two he further demolishes time. Not only is it not what we think, in and for physics, it doesn’t really exist at all; even the present is an illusion! In part three, he puts time back together for and in the perspective of an subjective viewpoint.

He argues it is the fact that we view the world from a perspective, that when we perceive the world we inevitably blur the details into a sort of summary or gestalt for our perspective, that causes time to appear to mind, The physics supporting that appearance comes down to thermodynamics. Human time, brain time, is “thermal time”. Certainly Rovelli thinks thermodynamics (in particular the 2nd law) is real, but while responsible for what consciousness perceives of time and so a real enough subjective experience, from the 3rd party perspective of physics, change is real, but time is a mirage.

This book is written for a lay audience. There is almost no math in it (what there is appears in footnotes), and it defends a view common to much of the physics and philosophy community. To be sure Rovelli differs a bit from some of his peers. He argues that relativistic “block time” is no more a “true portrait of objective time” than any other theory. In Rovelli’s view remember there is no such thing as “objective time”.

In 2015 a philosopher (Roberto Unger) and a physicist (Lee Smolin) wrote “The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time”. This book (reviewed by me on Amazon) makes precisely the opposite case from that of Rovelli. Of course they recognize what Relativity and quantum mechanics imply about time, but they maintain, nevertheless, that a notion (and reality) of objective, “universal time”, is more fundamental than any other phenomena of the universe, even more than space! Rovelli mentions this book in a footnote and admits that Unger and Smolin’s view “is defensible”, but he leaves it there and never addresses what is defensible about it.

The Unger/Smolin book goes against the grain of 95% of today’s physicists. Personally I agree with Smolin and Unger. The fact (thanks to limiting effect of the speed of light) that we cannot map our present to any present in a remote galaxy, or even the nearest star does not mean there is no present there, in fact everywhere. Something is happening, NOW, everywhere in the universe. We do not know what it is, but that does not mean the present isn’t real as Rovelli believes. Had Rovelli directly addressed Unger and Smolin I would have given this book another star. Had he not mentioned them at all, I would have taken another away.

In summary this is a decent and well written book advocating for a particular view of time (or no time) that I happen to think is wrong, but what do I know? It happens to be the dominant view in physics today. Rovelli is a well respected physicist and a good writer. Those of you interested in the subject will find this book valuable whether you agree with the author or not.

Prolegomena to a Future Theology

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“Prolegomena: a preliminary discussion; introductory essay, as prefatory matter in a book; a prologue” — http://www.dictionary.com

Updated in April 2019 to smooth rough edges, remove less relevant material, and shorten up.

Most of these blog essays rest on an ontology and theology but briefly explicated. I have written in more detail of it in the two books “Why This Universe” (2014) and “God, Causal Closure, and Free Will” (2016). This essay is an attempt to state it more succinctly and then clearly relate it to the rest of my interests in philosophy. In my books and essays I’ve argued that theology, and in particular, this set of theological axioms and theorems, provide the best explanations for certain aspects of our (that is human) experience both phenomenally and historically. In this essay I’m not going to argue about any particular experience (except perhaps as example) but rather the relation between this theology and the overall viewpoint of my philosophical ruminations.

My over-all thesis is easy to state: A correct theology must follow from the logic of infinity. Holy books, the historical record, can inform but not ground a theology that grasps even some small part of God’s nature and his relationship to mankind.

I did not invent this ontology or theology. It comes from “The Urantia Book” first published in 1955 by the Urantia Foundation and now in the public domain. There are now superb e-book versions for less than $4, one of them linked above. My own contribution is to organize but a fraction of the content of The Urantia Book’s theological system into a form that I can subsequently use (in my books and the many other essays of this blog) to relate the Urantia Book’s ontology and theology to problems in contemporary philosophy.

Joints in Reality

As this paper is primarily an explication of the theology, I will only briefly address the ontology it implies. What follows here is not a presupposition of the theology, but an inference from it. This is to say if God is something like or has something like the positive qualities ascribed to him below, then something like this ontology must obtain.

The entirety of all that is real can, in the final analysis, be divided into three distinct but interacting domains; Spirit, Mind, and Matter-energy. It is said that “God is Spirit”, but whatever else it is that constitutes Spirit we have little ability to know. Little however is not none, and one quality Spirit must have is the power to have been the source of the two other domains.

Mind here is not taken to be individual human minds, but broadly the phenomena of mind in the universe. Mind is expressed as animal mind including the human and perhaps in other ways throughout the universe. As a domain, however, Mind can be taken to be a kind of reality as real as, but also different from, Spirit and Matter-energy.

Matter-energy is the domain with which we are most familiar because even mind of the human sort rests on top of it. It is because Mind in some sense intervenes between Spirit and Matter-energy that localized mind, the sort of mind we have, is capable of comprehending and manipulating Matter-energy relations.

Crucially 1) Spirit is the source of both Matter-energy and mind, and 2) everything that is, everything that exists is either Spirit, Mind, Matter-energy, or some combination of the three. Minded animals are a common example of the combination of Matter-energy and Mind. Human mindedness in particular is also sensitive to the reality of values, truth, beauty, and goodness. This is the only direct phenomenal access we have to “what we can know of Spirit”.  It is because human mind is sensitive to values, that we can choose to be “led by Spirit” (see “What are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness” and “Why Free Will”).

Theology is Realism

Modern philosophy seems shot through with antirealism which not only refuses to recognize a basis for correspondence between subjective experience and the “in-itself out there” external to it, but denies even that it is rational to think there might be a correspondence. This includes even such logical frames as the Principle of Sufficient Reason, self-identity, and the Principle of Non-contradiction. Some antirealists argue that while these three pillars of rational thought are essential to us, to making sense of subjective experience, we are not justified assuming they apply to the “in-itself external” or even that there is an in-itself external independent of our temporal subjectivity. As concerns God it simply isn’t possible for antirealists to assume they can say anything positive. If we cannot say anything meaningful about our immediate externality, how much less could we possibly be able to say about God who would have to be at a further step removed?

Any serious theology then must begin from a realist perspective. God’s existence supports a direct realism (see John Searle “Seeing Things as they Are”). If God is real, human mind can be substantive in someway or other, and can be presupposed to be designed to perceive and manipulate the structure of the world.

We are here philosophers. The point of “God talk” is to get something out of it for philosophy. Does assuming God exists and ascribing logically maximal qualities to him improve insights into other questions. What questions? Broadly, questions about the nature and origins of our experiential world and experience itself  and how the two of them go together, that is what relation or relations, do they have? Many philosophers today will say that such questions are not meaningful; they do not correspond to anything real and therefore cannot have a truth value. There cannot be any relation between what exists and what doesn’t exist, God, with unicorns falling into that latter category.

These philosophers will say there is an infinite number of such possible metaphysical claims and no way to discriminate between them. I do not believe this is correct. Not just anything will do. To accommodate all of our real experience, sensory, intentional, directed, only some possible imaginings will work, and in particular, when you add also moral convictions like the social reality of duty, only one works. But before I can defend that assertion I must set forth the one. That is the purpose of this paper.

In what follows I use the personal male pronoun ‘he’, ‘his’, to mean God. I do this only when the reference is obvious and to avoid having to repeat ‘God’ or ‘God’s’ over and again. My use here is by convention only and not meant to imply that God is a man (or woman). The personal pronoun does, however, imply person-hood or I might have used ‘it’. This particular implication is to be fleshed-out later in the essay.

Dispensing with Arguments Against

Why do [most] philosophers and scientists say “God doesn’t exist”? There are two justifications: (1) physics finds nothing to suggest that anything besides physics exists, and (2) every “proof of God” advanced in the history of philosophy is flawed. The first objection is easy to discount. Essays in this blog address it, but the bottom line is that physics cannot hope to “find evidence” for anything purportedly non-physical. In the view of most theoretical speculation about God, his would be an existence (implying a reality) outside physics on the simplest grounds that he created physics (if he did not create physics, then he is not God). But physics can only be about the physical. All instruments, and ultimately our sensory apparatuses, are physical and can only detect and measure physical phenomena. The notion the “physical absence of evidence” for the nonphysical has any relevance to the matter of God’s existence is nonsensical. I note this does not mean that God exists either. It means physics (science generally) is in no position to say.

The second objection is more telling. Even besides physics, no proof of God’s existence (a proof being something that takes place in logic and has meaning only in the mental arena of persons) is to be had. Why? If God exists “the mental arena of persons” is (like physics), a phase of some total creation. The logical universe is consistent. Given Godel’s incompleteness theorem, it is not possible to prove every possible truthful proposition of the system. “God exists” is a possibly truthful proposition of the system that cannot be demonstrated from within the system. We cannot prove, from within our perspective, that which by stipulation if nothing else must lay outside our perspective. Tellingly, as there is no proof, there is no disproof either. God is not logically impossible.

To derive philosophical value from God, that is to justify or even suggest that assuming God exists makes sense in relation to broad philosophical questions, I proceed to an “inference to best explanation.” I assume God exists and has certain necessary qualities or he isn’t God. From those we draw consequences and then evaluate those outcomes against our experience subjective and objective. This amounts to phenomenology (and by extension all the powers and limits of language we use to discuss it) and what physics has discovered about the universe. If we get that far and none of the consequences appears to contradict our experience, the last step is to evaluate those consequences against the sum total of our subjective and collective experience. To do any of this we presuppose that we can say something meaningful about God; that we are able (again supposing God exists) to express propositions whose content could be true (not inconsistent with experience). Such propositions would have a truth maker (see “Truth and Truthmaking”) which would be God.

So we begin by supposing there is a God who is the source of being, the material universe, ourselves, and anything else there might be in whatever sense being is something real including God. God must be his own cause (or strictly causeless) and further he must be the only self-caused (uncaused) entity in the universe; ‘universe’ here cannot be merely the physical world in which we find ourselves. The physical world is underlain by space (possibly quantized) and drenched in time. God must be the source of both space and time, and thus must in some sense be “outside it”. If God is God, then he must be able to act (or by choice refrain from acting) to effect anything not logically impossible, anywhere in his creation whether at a time and place or across all time and space. A traditional miracle, might serve as an example of the former, while the constancy and universality of “natural law” could be an example of the latter. If God is real, then “to exist” entails some relation to God however indirect that relation might be.

None of this is to say that, from the human perspective, we have anything resembling a satisfactory grasp of what existence or being is like from God’s perspective. If some realm “outside time”, with God as the source of it (and himself), exists, we cannot, from a perspective within time, say anything about it. It is, so to speak, above our pay grade. All we can do is postulate its existence analogous to the way in which physicists postulate a “quantum realm”, though that remains physical. Why should we then postulate this realm? If God exists outside time, then we must include (allow for) a something “outside time” in our ontology. At the least we must propose a “placeholder”.

Whatever being is, God must exhaust it. God’s perspective cannot be perspectival. His must be the “totalizing perspective” that totalizes. If God is God, then he is also the origin (perhaps indirectly) of mind and so there is some relation between perspectival consciousness, and the creator. Whatever we take consciousness to be its existence is a part of the overall creation. The creation includes everything including our subjectivity. Not only that but it is reasonable to suppose there is a relation between consciousness and the material world it seems to sense. The outstanding problem of realism, the mystery of its representation of the material world, should not be a mystery at all, even if the mechanism remains unexplained, because God is the source of both.

If the foregoing were not the case, there would be (or could be) something “more than God”, something outside God, and that is impossible if God is really God. If there is or might be something outside of God the metaphysical question of its source would be meaningful. God could not be the source of anything that was “beyond or antecedent to him”, and in that case wouldn’t be God in the first place. Let me be clear here. One of my assumptions is that the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) holds all the way up to God. If this is so, then something (the universe) cannot come from a literal nothing. God must be eternal. There never was a time in which God did not exist and so there never was a literal nothing. God is/was always.  To the human perspective eternity can mean nothing more than “infinite time”. It must therefore be at least this, but this should not be construed as meaning that to God it is only this.

If we can get to “at least”, it means we are in fact able to say something meaningful about God even if what we say, our ideas, propositions, and so on, have only some partial (still truthful) correspondence to what God is for himself. We must be able to assert true positive propositions about God even though they represent but a small slice of his being. This is not to say that everything we might imagine about God corresponds to anything real. Like unicorns, some of what we imagine about God might have no correspondence to reality what-so-ever. All the same, correspondence must be possible. If nothing else, we can say that if God is God he must be at the top of the chain of being. All being, including God himself, must proceed from God.

If God is God, then being is univocal except as concerns God himself. Matter, mind, values, time, space, and anything else that can be said “to exist” and isn’t God must ultimately originate from God and be able to interact with God and itself. Nothing exists that isn’t in someway related to God. From the human viewpoint there can be many legitimate joints in reality: past present and future, matter and thought, natural and artifactual kinds, or universals and particulars. By contrast God knows every possible joint, and the whole simultaneously. Substances, processes and all their relations must all exist and be fully present across all time to God.

If this is all the case then it is reasonable (rational and warranted) to believe that the PSR, and the fully determinate logic of self-identity, and non-contradiction apply all the way up the chain of reality to God. They are structurally integral to our thought because they are structurally integral to the universe itself. Some suggest that God himself could deceive us about this, but such deception would entail a schism in reality, the nature and operation of mind would be effectively incompatible with the rest of creation violating the univocality of being. Such a God, would not be God.

To put it in a positive form everything created by God must be consistent with him. The self-consistency of natural law in the physical is one reflection of this, but it would beg our question to infer from the physical to the rest. It would be possible for the physical to be consistent and mind be inconsistent, delivering false perceptions (for example). But in fact the deliverance of mind seems not to be false. To be sure they are incomplete thanks to the limitations of our sensory apparatus, the “aspect (perspectival) nature” of our perception, and [human/animal] mind’s constraint by time. It is from these that seeming inconsistencies arise. They are inconsistencies from our viewpoint. Consciousness, in someway made to exist by God, might not grasp all universe structure (physical or otherwise). But what it does grasp is real and structured in the external (the for-itself) much as it is perceived in the internal (the for-us).

Axioms and Theorems

I will now sum all the foregoing in a few brief statements of what, positive, we can say about Deity even while we have every reason to believe that what we can say encompasses but little grasp of its full nature. If our grasp of material reality does not exhaust its being (Harman and many others), how much less of God’s reality can we grasp with the human mind? Yet we can say the following: God must be unqualifiedly infinite, outside time and space (he is their creator). He must be self-caused (or uncaused) cause and capable of doing anything that isn’t logically impossible.

God must be logical and this means not inconsistent or internally contradictory in any measure. He cannot, for example be both good and evil or changeless and changing. He can, however, both differentiate himself from his creation while his infinity remains yet undiluted — this is not inconsistent and is a property of the mathematics of infinity. He can create a universe of change and potential evil while remaining himself changeless and infinitely good.  See the end of this essay for a note on the meaning of “unqualified infinity”.

God is not only able to act, he is free willed absolutely. Absolute here means there are no constraints on his action, and free must be in a robust volitional sense. God can choose deliberately and purposefully. Other than logical consistency there can’t be any limits to both the choice or choices God makes. Nothing limits his ability, within (at a particular time and place) or across all time, to act and bring into being (“make real”) that which he desires. He must therefore be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, and all of this notwithstanding that he can elect to self-limit provided self-limitation is not inconsistent with his infinity. He might choose (for example) not to act in the material creation throughout all of eternity, but he cannot choose to be unable to act.

God is, in short, God. He can do anything, see anything (whatever “see” means to God), anywhere in time and across time. This implies that if there is some point (purpose) to all of what we experience and everything else there is, God knows what that point is. Moreover, in some far distant future from a perspective within time, that envisaged end point, God’s purpose, must come to pass! I can say more. Even that end point is but the completing of a phase for example “perfecting the material universe” (see my essay “Why Free Will”). God must have further purposes, infinitely many. All the foregoing, as best I can express, follows from the necessity of God’s being infinite, willed, and internally self-consistent. These, in turn, imply constancy throughout eternity — which at least includes “all of time”, past, present, and future. Constancy, in turn, is chosen, freely, by God who knows what it means (omniscience) to “choose for eternity”. I want to stress that all of these qualities are theological axioms, a self-consistent system from which we can derive further (theorems) claims.

I allude to will and purpose above. God must be purposeful, have purpose (even many purposes). Humans experience includes both willfulness and purpose. Human beings cannot have what God lacks. If we are willful and elect purposes so can God and because of the infinity and consistency axioms God’s will must be unqualified (other than by logical contradiction) and his purposes consistent throughout all time. His purposes must be changeless.

There can be purposelessness in phases of the whole creation; purposelessness for a purpose. Physical mechanism, the slavish behavior of the physical world described by physical law, is properly purposeless. But the existence of this mechanism, as such, cannot be purposeless.

Purpose and will are two sides of the same coin. Even in the limited context of human will, we cannot will anything purposelessly, even if the only purpose we have is merely to exercise will. For God to have created anything purposelessly would contradict the consistency axiom. A unified God must not only have purpose, but his purposes cannot be contradictory; all of God’s purposes must, together, point at some internally consistent outcome. Further, his purpose(s) cannot have changed since the beginning of the material world (at least) nor will they change into the indefinite future. This does not mean the content of his purposes are all available to our cognitive grasp. If today humans can grasp more of God’s purpose (not that they usually do) than the human beings of thousands of years past, it is because our intellectual scope has expanded, not because God’s purposes have ever changed.

Purposefulness is a quality of mind. It is precisely one of the strategic discoveries of the sciences that the inanimate ingredients of the material universe, from its basic laws down to the behavior of stars and rocks described by them, are not purposeful in their interactions. The mechanisms of the physical world are not purposeful. This does not mean the whole (a whole which includes mind), is not “for a purpose”, a distinction largely ignored today. Life as such is only metaphorically purposeful. The behavior of non-minded life is rule governed (albeit more complex rules) like the inanimate parts of the world. Literal purpose appears only with mind. God, being purposeful, must be minded in some sense or other. This does not mean that we can have anything of a grasp of his mind compared to ours.

Similarly God must be personal. Nothing exists that isn’t related in someway to God, and that must include human beings and their minds. But there are many kinds of relations. Living entities with minds have some relation to God that inanimate objects lack. But while all minds (even animals) experience subjective relations to other minds (the indirectness of this experience is another matter), human beings experience relationships not merely indirectly but directly “person to person”. As human beings we find ourselves not only minded, but personal. As mind in general has characteristic qualities, so does personality (see “Why Personality”).  The possibility of direct relationship (distinct from relations) is grounded in personality, something humans are as well as being minded. Although we cannot find personality when we look for it [this problem has a long philosophical tradition (see also “Realism and Antirealism“)], personality has positive properties that condition human mind (see again“Why Personality”)  and we cannot have positive properties that God lacks. Personality grounds the possibility of a new relation not available to non-personal mind, a direct relationship with other persons, including the person of God.

This, by the way, is why all the pundits of the present age are wrong when they say that if we met a race from another planet we would have no point of connection with which to grasp their nature. Presumably any race intelligent and sophisticated enough to travel between stars (or even cast a comprehensible signal) would be personal. Apart from the problems of language and the mechanics of communication, we would have no problem relating to them different as their character expression might be.

God must be perfect with perfection understood in a technical sense. Because God is the final source of everything, all distinction in the universe, what is real is dependent on some relation to God. What has no relation to God (unicorns for example) is not real. From this it follows that a degree of reality, that is how real something is, is proportional to its alignment with or semblance to God. The more something is like God, the more real it is. Perfection is then by definition being exactly like God, something only possible for personalities. Why? Because even a minded entity (say a lion’s mind) lacks a connection, lacks a direct relationship, to God, the person-to-person relation that only human beings have. Again this does not mean that persons can become God. It means they can become like God in the sense of sharing the character expression of his personality.

Perfection is much broader than the previous paragraph implies. In general phenomena are “more real”, more perfect, the more like God they are. Stars and rocks are as real, as much “like God” as stars and rocks can possibly get. They don’t get any more real than they already are. Minded life is a little more like God by virtue of being in the “minded set” of things in the universe, things that share mind with God. Personally minded life is one step closer still. Personal mind has a power (several, see “Why Personality”) that non-personal mind lacks, it can elect to be “as much like God as possible”. Personal mind can choose that course as a purpose, something animals cannot do.

A rock cannot become more than a rock, and even a minded lion cannot choose to be a “better lion”, or for that matter be vegetarian. But personality adds a new dimension to the notion of developing perfection, hence enhanced reality, not only living with the personality as given, but by purposefully choosing to enhance it. A person can choose to become “more like God” than she was when she first awakened to her personal status. Only a human being, a personalized mind, can do this.

Values and Goodness

Those are the theorems. God is purposeful, minded, personal, and perfect. I have said nothing about being good. It is tempting to derive God’s necessary goodness from the axioms and theorems. Whatever else evil is, it is disruptive. Evil is characterized by destruction (of many sorts) and something positive must exist to be destroyed. So existence, being as such if nothing else, must be antecedent to evil. “God’s first thought” cannot therefore be evil and by the infinity and consistency axioms there is no evil in anything God personally does. We can call that good but it is a goodness that is, like perfection, true by definition, and unlike perfection, can conceivably be in conflict with our own judgement.

Perfection is abstract. It exists relative to some standard. Goodness has an emotional component that speaks for itself independent of a standard. God’s goodness is but indirectly related to our perspective, on what has goodness from our point of view. It is rather related to the notion that there is such a phenomenon as goodness in the first place.

The conviction that God is good, by our own standards, emerges first from human experience itself. The further claim that God must be good comes from that experience coupled with the axioms and theorems. The human (and not animal) experience to which I refer concerns what philosophy (since the Greeks in the Western tradition) calls VALUES. Over thousands of years of patient philosophical investigation, the values separate into three distinctive but related types; Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. They relate in that each expresses the others in some discriminable way. They are distinct because each express differently to mind.

It is an important phenomenological assumption of this theology that we detect, and not merely invent, values. But there is a distinction (rarely recognized in modern philosophy) between values and what has them. The values as such each have one another. Truth has both Beauty and Goodness for example. Besides having one another, each of the values also reflect into subjective experience in complex but distinct ways. No two persons experience (detect) them in exactly the same way analogous to how qualia vary (slightly in normal brains) from person to person.

What is important to keep in mind is that values appear to us, that is to subjective consciousness, as the conviction that these three qualities exist. There is beauty, truth, and goodness. Values as such are NOT about what is true, beautiful, or good. What appears to be true, beautiful, or good in our experience is what has (or might have) value.

Beauty expresses itself chiefly through the physical world. The perception, recognition, of Beauty in the physical world is something like a quale, like red, except not associated with individual sensory apparatuses, but with the presentation of the physical world reflected in subjective experience. It is because no two humans experience the value identically that we disagree about what is beautiful, that is, what has Beauty. We agree only that beauty exists, some things (characteristically objects or arrangements of objects) have it.

Truth is value expressed in mind as such. Propositions are true if they have Truth, but because we all sense Truth a little differently there will always be room for argument about what propositions, exactly, are true except in narrow cases, logical or mathematical propositions.

Goodness is value reflected in the acts and the motivations of persons. As non-minded life is only metaphorically purposeful, minded (but non-personal) animals can be only metaphorically good. They can act in ways that, like purpose in non-minded life, are good from our anthropocentric viewpoint. Only persons can be good, can elect to be motivated by and act in accordance (applied act by act or to a life over-all) with what that person detects of Goodness; what she takes Goodness to be in a particular case. Like Truth and Beauty, those motives and acts vary thanks to our differential appreciation for what constitutes Goodness (and our skill in acting it out). Only persons can act for the sake of Values.

The values are all positive; they are a part of our universe and therefore have a relation to God. Like everything else, they must, directly or indirectly, come from God. Their detection, recognizing their reality, in human mind is therefore a detection (recognition) of some tiny facet of God’s character. Values reflect God’s character (however weakly perceived that reflection) into mind. Since God must be unified and consistent, the character of God reflected into mind must be God’s actual character. Not all of it by any means, but even that small part must be consistent with the rest. The quality of the values we recognize as such cannot be inconsistent with the rest. It is for this reason that God must be good.

Love, that is the Christian idea of agape, the desire to do good to others, is an attitude of persons that is the mereological sum of all three values. This love is not an emotion, but an expression of the flavor of all the values taken together; the flavor of Spirit!

If Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are God’s character reflected into mind individually and totalized as love why should only human minds detect them? I have noted before that a lion cannot choose to be more than a lion, but it also cannot choose to become less or other than a lion. Animal mind is impacted by truth, beauty, and goodness. But these are simply among the unified qualities, the gestalt, of animal consciousness. What it is like to be a lion includes its truth, beauty, and goodness, but they are transparent to the animal.

A lioness can choose between alternate zebras to hunt, but it cannot choose to do anything because it is good or beautiful or true. Lion mind has truth, beauty, and goodness, but only a human being can recognize their existence as such. Perhaps values recognition is something, a power, that personality adds to mind. In any case, clearly only human mind, only persons, can choose (and so act) based on recognition of the existence of the values.

Derivatives

The Problem of Evil

Does evil have a relation to God? How is there evil in a universe created by an infinite good God?  Evil is a negative, a disruption of logically prior being. The issue is complicated by the conflation (not least in modern philosophy) of accidents and error with evil. If two stars spiral together and obliterate each other, neither experiences anything let alone evil. If there was some planet, harboring living beings, close to the event, those living beings would be destroyed as soon as the gamma ray burst reached them (possibly many thousands of years after the event). Those living beings would experience the pain of being blotted out and thus evil by today’s common understanding but this is not exactly what evil is from a theological viewpoint.

There is an argument against God’s omnipotence and/or goodness that stems from a misunderstanding of what evil is. No less a luminary than Hume made use of this though he was far from the first.  The assumption here is that if God is omnipotent, he must be responsible for evil and so either God is omnipotent and not wholly good, or he is wholly good but not omnipotent. This is another of those false dilemmas stemming from a failure to recognize that God, the Father, is not personally responsible for everything that happens in the universe and that evil is not merely a synonym for “everything bad”. Free will in humans is also real and logically antecedent to evil.

Evil as such (as contrasted with the experience of its effects), like error and unlike accidents, begins in human mind alone. Unlike the Values, evil is not a positive phenomenon in physical space and time.  Among other things, unlike error (a bad choice made by a human mind) evil is a deliberate negation of values. Mind introduces evil into the world by freely choosing to negate the Values whether Truth, Beauty, or Goodness. Once such a choice is made and acted upon the typically negative consequences of the act on others we also call evil.

Animals experience, pain, but not that it is evil in the abstract any more than they recognize that pleasure has goodness. Evil is a negative of goodness or truth, or beauty, just as cold is not something positive but rather the absence of heat. Only humans can distinguish evil as such because only humans discern values. But the unity, consistency, and infinity of God require us to recognize that evil is not something positive, but a relative lack, an absence or diminution of value. God does not do evil. Animals cannot do evil (notwithstanding they may hurt us). Only personalized mind, because it is capable of discriminating the values, can choose to negate them and thus bring evil into the world.

There is an important dis-analogy between cold and evil. In theory it is possible to have an “absolute absence of heat”, a temperature at which all molecular motion ceases; zero kelvin. But there is no analogous “absolute evil”. If evil is a relative absence of goodness, then an absolute evil would be some state of affairs that has no relation what-so-ever to God, and that is impossible. An existing (real) object, process, state of affairs must have some relation to God. A reality having no relation to God cannot exist. The further exploration of “the nature and explanation of evil” in theology is called theodicy. There is discussion of it in my books and the essays “Why Free Will?” and “Theodicy in the Urantia Book”. Here I will note only that the solution to the “problem of evil”, rests on the distinction between accident, error, and genuine evil.

Holy Books and Teachers

No part of the above sketch relies on the contents of “The Bible” (Old or New Testament) or any of the holy books on which the world’s largest religions are founded.  In this view there are no literally “holy books” (including The Urantia Book whose description of God follows from these same “first principles”), only books (some books) whose content is mostly about God. But these contents are the work of human beings. Some of this content is representative of God, that is consistent with the content of this introduction. Much is not.

If I can start from a premise of God’s infinity, self-causation, unity, consistency, and reason that a god who lacked any of these qualities would not be God, then so can others even down through history to times when people thought much more about God than they do now. But what we now can say in terms borrowed from mathematics, physics, philosophy, and logic could, in the deep but recorded past, be expressed only in poetic metaphor. He who “sends his rain upon the just and the unjust” is consistent and the phenomena of the physical world do not play favorites. He who “knows of each sparrow who falls from the sky” is omniscient, and so on.

There is also much content in the holy books that is not representative. The evolution of the God-concept on Earth points towards an infinite God, but the record (the holy books) often short-circuits itself. God cannot ever have been angry or jealous (human traits). In particular, as concerns the New Testament, the Atonement doctrine, presently a pillar of every Christian variation, cannot be true. God’s relation to his creatures cannot have changed, from his viewpoint, from before the death of Jesus on the cross to a time after that event. Our view of our relationship to God can and should change, but there has been no variation from God’s side.

One can look at the Old and New Testaments together as a historical tracing of the evolving God concept from polytheism to a monotheistic “king of the tribe” to “the Father of the individual”. In between there is fictionalized history (more fictionalized the farther back it goes), and outright mythology (the creation). All of what these ancient texts say about the mechanisms of the physical world is nothing but speculative mythology.

I note that there is a speculative component of modern theories concerning distant origins (big bang, emergence of life, mind) though we can be much more sure of the foundations that underwrite present-day speculation. Some parts of holy books were written (in their time) for purely political purposes, to solidify the power of a nascent church by securing the loyalty of the flock. In the New Testament, the Book of Revelation is just such a piece.

Professional theologians also are not referenced here. Why not? Modern theology has lost its way, and become blind to these principles. For example, it has become more or less settled by philosophy that we, that is human beings, cannot make sense (do not have the necessary cognitive apparatus) of the idea that a God outside time could interact with the universe at a particular time and place if he so chooses. As a result, modern theologians, instead of accepting that the mechanism of such interaction is beyond our ken but God knows the trick, take the absurd view that if we cannot grasp such a thing it must be impossible and therefore God is not outside time and space; God is not omnipotent, or if he is, he is not omniscient, and so on.

This argument against omniscience parallels somewhat the argument against goodness and omnipotence sketched above in the brief discussion of evil. That argument turns on a failure to grasp what real evil is, the role of free will. This argument turns on a failure to grasp the inability of the human mind to figure everything out.

I have had arguments about this with philosophers. All stopping points short of a “Personal God of infinity” are arbitrary, leave something of our experience out of account, or result in absurd consequences. Any sort of demigod could not be his own cause. There would be some antecedent reality not of his making. Where then would that come from? Pantheism (everything in the universe we know is equally God, God is everything at once), something of an opposite approach, entails that God has both good and evil in him (and so is self-inconsistent) because there is, after all, evil in the universe and that must be God too.

The only solution that actually works, accounts for everything while preserving God’s internal consistency (eternally) is the maximal one, a transcendent, personal, and infinite God coupled with a causally closed [physical] universe in which limited (perspectival) minds have nevertheless a genuine, causally efficacious, free will.

These first principles enable distinctions to which modern theology is blind. For example, they allow us to distinguish between what is and what is not representative of God in the holy books that have come down to us through history; those that serve as the textual foundations of large religious institutions. First principles also let us distinguish between religion as such (the individual relationship to a personal God) and religious institutions like the Catholic Church (and all the other major religious institutions on Earth).

As holy books are just books, religious institutions are merely human institutions like corporations, governments, and other social organizations. They differ in claiming to be institutions dedicated to religion, but otherwise they are purely human and subject to all the errors (including interpretations of their founding texts) and potential evil (corruption in various forms) of all other institutions. To the extent that these institutions foster the personal relationship between individuals and God reflected in the social activity of the institution they are doing their job. To the degree that they claim a “special authority” to intercede between man and God, they are both unrepresentative of God and false.

Personality Survival

What about an “after life”? Supposedly the craving for immortality (even if impossible) has been among the drivers of all religion from the most ancient on down to the present-day. By some lights, all religion is nothing more than wishful thinking for no other purpose (ultimately) than grounding a mistaken belief in “life after death”. Theology must surely address this question. I do so in “What is ‘The Soul'”.

This notion, the necessity that some survival mechanism exists and that it applies to [mostly] everyone irregardless of intellectual belief, greatly impacts the failure to distinguish between accident, error, and evil. A death due to accident, a death due to error, and a death due to genuine evil are all still [physical] death. It is this observation that prompts philosophers to lump accident and error with evil. But all forget the implication of survival. None of those deaths are deaths to God. See the aforementioned soul essay for further discussion.

God and History

There is also the matter of the relation of God to human history and exactly what we are to do with our vague perception of values. Has God directly intervened in human history? How would we know? From the moment animal mind had the potential to recognize the values it became personal-mind and gained the power of choice based on values perception. That power has to be some part of the mechanism by which God’s purposes are brought about in time. See my “Why Free Will” for further discussion of this. All of this leads to a theological grounding of ethics and aesthetics, but if God is not to short-circuit free will his interventions must be subtle and few. What evidence might there be?

These are all subjects an advanced first principles theology can address, including for example “Process Theology in The Urantia Book”. It has not been my purpose to demonstrate or prove anything here, but rather to state the first principles. I have briefly sketched the application of those principles to a few theological issues, and I have shown, I hope, that they can be useful in piecing together a new and better human appreciation of the otherwise constant relationship between human persons and God who is our Father.

Note: What does “unqualified infinity” mean?

The qualifier “unqualified” refers to limits, properly the unlimited, ascribed to God. On the one hand, God must be an infinite unity, an entity that stands-for the whole universe, eternally and across all time, a single entity throughout reality. This entails causelessness, perfection, changelessness, self-consistency and so on. Spinoza recognized that a single undifferentiated God would amount to a pantheism. God would be equally everywhere and in everything. In short, everything would be God. Clearly there is a conflict between pantheism and the universe of our experience, a universe of change and moreover containing evil whereas God cannot change and can only be good. If God were equally everything, change and changeless, evil and good, he would be inconsistent with himself, a contradiction.

Three things at least are unique about the infinity of God. 1) It is both one and infinitely (in potential) plural eternally — that is simultaneously throughout all time past, present, and future. 2) Only God can be “uncaused-cause”. He has no antecedents. He is the sole ultimate source of any other sort of differentiation of any kind infinite or otherwise. Ultimate does not mean he is the only source of everything, but he is the first source of everything. 3) He has the power to differentiate the “not-the Father” from himself, even infinitely should he so will, and still remain infinite in all possible ways.

Everything that exists actually or potentially must flow outwards from the Father and only the Father can differentiate from himself infinite attributes of the creation and yet remain a single unified “infinity of everything”. There is nothing any other person in the universe, including the Second (Son) and Third (Spirit) purportedly infinite persons, can do that God the Father could not do personally. This in no way means the Father does do everything. Indeed one point of all the differentiation business seems to be to share the doing with others. But God cannot divest himself of his infinite potential to do anything and everything eternally or in time, nor can he attenuate his eternal infinity in all possible attributes.

God might produce many sorts of differentiation infinite and otherwise. He can create other infinite-persons should he wish (traditionally the Son and Spirit of the Trinity), and of the non-personal sort for example an infinite potential for evolution of what is actual in a partial and incomplete time-space universe. Any and all such derivations are qualified-infinities. They are infinite in some dimension, perhaps more than one, but not every dimension. They are not themselves uncaused cause. They cannot be the source of the Father. Without exception they have at least him as antecedent. It is these differences, and others related, that make the Father’s infinity “unqualified”.

Review: N. Rescher “Free Will”

I’ve read two books by Rescher. The first “Process Philosophy: A Survey of Basic Issues” (2000) I did not review for Amazon because there is no Kindle version and I managed to find the complete text as a PDF or online read here. This book inspired my essay “Process, Substance, Time, and Space”. Rescher’s examination of the free will issue, often the gorilla in the room for philosophy of mind, epistemology, and metaphysics, not to mention ethics, is nothing short of thorough and well articulated. Another of my essays “An Epistemological Argument for Free Will” was written prior to my reading Rescher’s “Survey” or “Free Will”. It addresses some of the same issues, but Rescher does a much better job.

In the review I mention Lowe (“Personal Agency” 2006), but I didn’t want to add my own philosophical commentary to a book review. Here I will note again the two works are complimentary. Although Lowe is a substance and Rescher a process ontologist, the compliment arises because Lowe’s focus is metaphysical, while Rescher’s is phenomenological and epistemological. Lowe’s book is directed more towards establishing the metaphysical possibility of free will in a deterministic and/or random (quantum) universe. He looks at causal process and asks what freedom means, what it must accomplish, its “existence criteria” to be called free and willful (purpose directed) in the context of a causal universe. By contrast Rescher gives us an explosion of distinctions in types, kinds, or categories of experience in which we explicitly and directly recognize the freedom and willfulness of our acts. For Lowe it is about what we understand freedom to be, while for Rescher it is about how we experience it. Along the way, Lowe must, perforce, delve into the epistemological, while Rescher only rarely touches on the metaphysical.

Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal, Second Edition (Kindle Edition 2015)

This book has been out on Kindle for over a year and a half now and I am its first reviewer. I suspect this has something to do with its $40 price which is frankly obscene for a Kindle book. My opinion here casts no aspersions on Amazon for it is the book’s publisher who sets the price. This is a particularly greedy publisher especially as it appears that a bit of sloppiness crept into the production here but I will save that at the end.

Sometime ago I reviewed a book on the same subject by Richard Swinburne (“Mind, Brain, and Free Will”) and in that review I said that Swinburne “conceded too much to the determinists.” Having read Rescher now I come away with the conviction that even in my own writings, with a much more expansive view of freedom than Swinburne, I have conceded too much to the determinists!

If this is not the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of free will it is a very close second to that of E. J. Lowe, “Personal Agency” 2006 (it’s a tough call). I was surprised to discover that Lowe is not cited in the book’s bibliography. Lowe’s focus is more metaphysical, the nature of agency, while Rescher aims squarely at the phenomenological, the subjective qualities of free will, but their thought runs in parallel streams detectable throughout the book. Rescher’s arguments are thorough. He spends the first 2/3 of the book making distinctions and investigating what free will would have to be like if it existed. His first and most important distinction is that between metaphysical and moral freedom. He does not mean what either of these terms normally connote. “Moral freedom” for Rescher is commonly addressed by what philosophers call Compatibilism, the notion that an act is done without constraint from outside the actor, like a thief with a gun to your head ordering you to open the safe. For Rescher, moral freedom is simply the freedom to act free from “undue external constraint” whether or not the act has any traditionally moral implications. Metaphysical freedom, by contrast, is the freedom to choose, to make a decision prior to an act, and that such a choice arises from the deliberation, “the thought” (conscious or subconscious, though not unconscious), of the decider. In contemporary philosophy, Compatibilism is a response to the fashionable notion that Rescher’s “metaphysical freedom” is impossible, not supported by physics. Rescher stands the matter on its head and notes that moral freedom, the possibility of a “freedom to act” (in a manner fully compliant with physics, not to mention the limits of one’s biology) depends on having a prior freedom to deliberate (even subconsciously) and choose. Even with a gun to your head you have “metaphysical freedom”. You can deliberate over alternatives like fighting off the thief. That you would not actually succeed, are likely to die, is what revokes your moral freedom, but deliberation, the choice to deliberate, remains available. The choice “in mind”, prior to any final decision to act, is “metaphysical freedom” in Rescher’s sense.

Rescher raises many issues usually addressed in the negative. Besides making important and obviously useful distinctions here, He effectively demolishes many of the challenges to free will like Galen Strawson’s claim that for a decision or act to be free every input to it, including every motive, belief, and inclination of the actor would have to have been both consciously and freely chosen going back to the earliest life of the actor. Rescher also demolishes the notion that one could, in principle, trace the neurological basis of some particular choice or action back indefinitely in the history of the actor, and addresses various interpretations of the infamous Libet experiments. He points out and argues extensively and well that without some stopping point in the thought of the actor not only is there no room for freedom, but consciousness itself becomes pointless. Without eventually referencing thought itself, there is always something that is left out of the description of most human behavior. That such “leaving out” is an inevitable outcome of a purely physical description, is evidence that something genuinely important is being missed.

It is not until the book’s last two chapters that Rescher addresses the metaphysics of “metaphysical freedom” as he understands this. His case here is entirely circumstantial, but convincing nevertheless. He notes explicitly that there can be no empirical demonstration of free will one way or the other. He argues that broadly speaking evolutionary advantage accrues to animals the more they have the power to choose and revoke choice in thought prior to acting. Mind and brain exist together in lock-step such that there is never a “mental eventuation” without there being some correlative brain activity. The mental is not causal in the traditional sense but “initiating”. Exactly what the difference is here is not really explained but at least one difference is initiation’s lack of temporal precedence. At no time is there a mental eventuation (there is a distinction Rescher makes between “events” and “eventuations”) without a corresponding brain activity. Rescher is, in the end, a materialist. From the traditional metaphysical viewpoint he argues that free will, like the consciousness (capacity to think) underlying it, is simply emergent from physics through biology (Darwinian mechanism) and that therefore there is nothing mysterious about it metaphysically speaking. The agent herself emerges from the bundle of tropes that constitute her consciousness. That we do not know (and can never discover because it is not strictly causal) precisely the mechanism by which thought takes control and initiates does not mean it doesn’t happen. He argues persuasively that the entirety of our experience not to mention the subjective meaningfulness of consciousness itself suggests that it, that is free will, is real, and it is always rational for us to proceed on that basis.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book I did notice a curious production issue. There are places in the book where whole paragraphs (sometimes two or three successive paragraphs) are lifted from one part of the book and placed in another. At first I thought this a curious stylistic device as in each case the following discussion takes different turns. But as it began to happen more and more, not only between successive chapters but inside chapters and in the last case even within the same subsection, I began to wonder if this was not a production error on the editor’s part?

Nobody interested in the free will problem from one side or the other should be without this book. Dualists and monists of all stripes will find if not a complete answer to their questions, a host of useful distinctions and considerations bearing on the problem. It is unfortunate that it is so expensive. The publisher is doing the community of philosophers-at-large no favors here.