On the Cullman hypothesis

-Cullman claimed that belief in immortality was in opposition to the Christian hope in resurrection. His main argument was highlighting the difference between Socrates in Phaedo and Christ in the Passion accounts.

-The hypothesis is in keeping with the Hebrew-good, Hellenic-bad theme in contemporary theology, and is still an important argument in that context. It also dovetails with contemporary theologies of death, which tend to foreground its horrors (what else would one do after 1914-45?)

-It’s hard for the argument to get past Ratzinger’s objection that it is incompatible with belief in the communion of the saints. If every modality of human immortality is to be anti-Christian then the intercession of the saints is anti-Christian too. Cullman wasn’t Catholic so this objection was less probative, but there all credal Christianity is committed to the communion of saints, and you can’t be in communion with the unconscious.

-Much of the difference between Christ and Socrates is in personality. Socrates was playful and ironic, Christ was far more severe; Socrates was elitist, Christ actively engaged all levels of society; Socrates was dialectical and prone to abstraction, Christ taught aphoristically and never strayed far from concrete, lived experience. On these differences alone one would expect very different accounts of death.

-Christ’s teaching on death is a development of the complex existential tangle of the Old Testament teaching on death, above all in the Psalms, where death is (a) both a punishment for the wicked from which God will deliver the righteous and something that even the righteous will suffer (b) both a land of shadows in which none praise God and yet allowing for the righteous to enjoy the continued presence of God. Keeping with this, (c) death is seen as making man’s life finite all the way down, and nevertheless the person is capable of enjoying the presence of God forever.

-Paul calls death sleep. This is either a metaphor or a euphemism. If it’s a euphemism, nothing follows. What can we conclude about our own beliefs about death by noticing that we say that a person has “passed”? Do we think they actually passed something or somewhere? Or could we reconstruct a Corleone theology of death from the fact that they speak of it as sleeping with the fishes? If it’s a metaphor, it’s not clear what follows. Is death sleep because the dead are non-conscious and awaiting resurrection or because they appear to be dead (non-conscious) but are actually beholding the presence of the Lord? Is it a metaphor for the absence of awareness or for the merely apparent loss of the activities of life? It works equally well as either, and is probably used alternately to express both. If Paul agreed with Cullman, why would he say “We… would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8)” or “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better indeed (Phil. 1:23)”?

-Resurrection is not reincarnation because it is not a return to a status quo ante but an elevation and transformation to a state that, based on our evidence from the stories of the resurrected Christ, is equal parts material and spiritual. Christ eats fish and has location, but he isn’t restricted by location and appears able, like the angels, to be wherever he thinks of being and to appear to others not by doing away with physical impediments but by willing to be seen. Taken in this way, resurrection is the transcendent third term of a Hegelian synthesis, to which embodiment and separated existence are the thesis and antithesis.

-I’m not Hegelian, but to view embodiment-separation-resurrection as a thesis-antithesis and synthesis fits the facts better than seeing resurrection as merely restoring embodiment. Resurrection is the “restoration of the whole person”, and this does mean the restoration of the body, but it is also the elevation and restoration of separated existence.

-The finality of death is not from its annihilation, but from judgment. If it were annihilation, would it necessarily be an object of dread? The Epicureans didn’t think so, and Scripture seems aware that annihilationism is as much a doctrine of nihilism as it could be for theism, or, in the language of the Psalms, it is both the idea of the fool/wicked as the righteous.


Collectivism and sexual liberation (2)

1.) Assume monogamy and other forms of private property were developed from aboriginal communitarianism and sexual freedom. I don’t know, and I’d bet the actual anthropology is messier, but I’ve seen enough evidence to suggest it.

2.) Marriage and property rights are therefore technologies, or the application of learning and experience to create structures to deal with practical problems.

3.) Marriage and private property are natural in a way that arises from myth in Barthes’s sense, sc. that which transforms history into nature. This is not meant to cast aspersions on it. This transformation requires hitting upon a deep resonance between the person and nature.

4.) All of us have the experience of a technology that becomes so integral to life we wonder how anyone ever lived without it, or whose mere existence justifies the culture or knowledge that generated it. This is the minimal sense of the sort of history/technology that myth could transform into nature.

5.) If the technology survives long enough for even its history to be forgotten then myth can transform it into nature in the fullest sense, and the myth can be revealed as a work of the god. Farming, wine, hearths, marriage.

6.) Most technologies never survive long enough to become mythical in this fullest sense. Our own age allows for more than the average number of examples of this. We also dethrone things that were mythical for millennia. Farming and hearths are now hobbies and lifestyle choices. The idea that these would be of the gods is unintelligible to us. If the gods gave us a gift, it would be air-conditioning or The Pill, right?

7.) Telling the history of monogamy or private property is now an attempt to diffuse and untie the myth that transformed them from mere history to nature. No one needed to do this with hearths, they simply got replaced with furnaces. Monogamy and private property appear to be more resilient, which is not to deny that they’ve been holed beneath the waterline.

8.) We had furnaces to replace hearths, but no structure to replace monogamy. One has to presumably will their way into the sort of sexual construction that will maximize both personal and collective happiness. It is nonsensical to think everyone could figure this out for themselves. Our solutions will be one part truth and ninety-nine parts dismissing that the horrible consequences of our actions matter.

9.) In fact, all we want out of the dissolution of monogamy is the thrill of dissolution and anti-structure. The problem is that anti-structure needs to be contextualized by structure. You can only blow off steam if the boiler is in good working order. If you blow off steam by punching a hole in it, you only get to do it once, and no matter how long it lasts it’s not sustainable. It’s one thing if your relief from monogamy is prostitution outside the city walls, it’s quite another if it’s a sex-ed curriculum that you formally train the young in as healthy, scientific, and essential to human happiness.

10.) The dissolution of private property is in some ways the reverse of this. We are trying to replace a loose, breathable and imprecise structure with infinitely precise one. Market forces will be conquered by infinitely precise data, layers of regulation, control by experts, centralized planning, etc.

Three modes of the order of nature to intelligence

Paracelsean: Nature has a semiotic order to intelligences. This order gives it the borrowed but intrinsic meaning of a word. Created intelligence imitates creating intelligence by the production of its own signs in narrative and a hierarchical order of knowledge.

Mechanical: Nature has an order to intelligences as a source of control. To know nature is to know how one would reproduce what it does. Created intelligence imitates creating intelligence by control and by the maximization of homogeneity and minimization of hierarchy.

Creatio-ex-nihilo: Nature is the limit of intelligence, not in the way that a limit constitutes what it limits (like the border of a shape to its area) but in the way that non-being is a limit of being. Created intelligence imitates creating intelligence to the extent that what it acts on is furthest from being: the generation of substances from fundamental matter; the rectification of disorder being brought to right order.


Collectivism and sexual liberation

One application of Roy Baumeister’s Exchange Model of sexuality is the thesis that the development of monogamy is a development of private property, and one confirmation of this is the long history of claiming that hunter-gatherer tribes had developed neither. The first is the familiar Marxist claim, the second the one popularized by Margaret Mead. So there is a suggestive link between economic utopianism and sexual liberation.

If this is right, our arguments for monogamy should look like our arguments for private property. This means they will probably have at least a remote teleological basis. Both persons and things must be the sort of things whose existence is ordered to another person and can be possessed by that other.

The collectivist spirit and the monogamous one are in opposition to each other. This is suggested by the last two commandments: though one’s spouse is not simply property, respecting the otherness of your neighbor’s stuff is inseparable from respecting the otherness of their partner.

Arguments are not taxicabs, and so if you are going to praise the collectivism and/or sexual freedom of primitive cultures you should be willing to praise the rest of the features of primitive culture: the subsistence living, the massively higher murder rates, the absence of science or the stuff of higher learning, no air conditioning, etc. I know, I know, one can emulate some things in a culture without emulating all of them, but cultures are more integrated wholes than will allow us to pull out the one good thing we like about them without the other stuff that we don’t.*  There are consolations to living in a primitive culture, I suppose, but on balance the world seems to vote with its feet that they aren’t worth the cost.

The primitive culture (née barbarism) that we originally struggled our way out of will always continue to attract us, which will continue to make for the irony of people inhabiting the heights of culture in universities, entertainment, or letters and using their office to sing the praise of the (née) noble savage. But this naivety is more to be respected than those who would praise the goodies of advanced culture (science, technology, etc) while thinking they can have it without its chief cost: the acceptance of sexual restraint that comes first with monogamy.

*Which allows for a connection between the law of Moses in the Ninth and Tenth Commandments and the Freudian thesis that the suppression of sexual desire by monogamy is the foundation of culture.

Degrees of soul, and a note on Christian philosophy

Descriptions of the soul as the form or act of the body are imprecise. The soul is the act of what is potentially alive. Physical bodies are  only the lowest instance of this.

The body as such is only potential nutritive and reproductive life, which makes life in this sense entirely present the living subject and in no way outside of it. Through sensation, however, soul becomes the act of something only partially subjective. The sensible object is potentially alive because it becomes a part of experience by being sensed, and experience is a mode of life. Sensation alsohas an essential subjective component so far as it depends on a sentient organ, but sensation as such differs from the nutritive/reproductive soul in being not purely the act of a body, but the act of (1) a subjective, potentially sentient organ and (2) an objective, potentially sensible object.

At the last level of soul it is the act of a purely objective and in no way subjective. This is the point of Aristotle showing that nous is in no way the act of a physical organ, i.e. it is in no way subjective.

The reason why Aristotle thought there were different sorts of soul that were only analogously “soul” was because each kind had an essentially different relation to subjectivity. The nutritive/reproductive soul was the act of something purely subjective, the sentient soul was the act of something partly subjective and partly objective, and the intellectual soul was the act of something purely objective.


Corollary: If Aristotle considered intellect as such, and not as a kind of soul, he would have pointed out that intellect as soul is the lowest sort of intellect, and that it can only be purely objective so far as it knows that things are. If intellectual soul wants to know what things are it needs to involve sensation and therefore it picks up a subjective component.

This is why intellectual soul was, for Aristotle, only potential intellect, i.e. it was potential to the state of separation after death when it would be an actual intellect, and could know what things are without recourse to sensation. Christian philosophy usually denied this because of theological assumptions that held that death was a punishment and therefore a privation. Unlike Aristotle, they held that our intelligence was essentially an intellectual soul, as opposed to our intellectual soul being a potential intellect.

I lean toward thinking that Christian philosophy is confused on this point, and that it has confused death as such with death as terror and moment of judgment, which is certainly what it becomes after the deformation of sin. Christ’s terror at the face of death is his “becoming sin for us (2. Cor. 5:21)”, not a revelation of what a sinless man would have made of death, since such a revelation would have been no use to us.

Contemporary sexual theories

I’m a father of three girls and so virginity is a large part of my theory on sexuality. They need to keep theirs until marriage and all who seek to bring about the contrary will be beaten until unresponsive. This feeling is instinctual and therefore I’d have it even if I couldn’t articulate its value, but since this is what everyone believes about sexual orientation you can call it a part of mine.

I have three sons too. Their virginity plays less of a role in my theory of sexuality, but since part of loving someone is not wanting them to be worthy of being beaten until unresponsive, I don’t want them messing around with anyone’s daughters, and all girls are someone’s daughter. So I’m indirectly committed to the virginity of my sons.

Contemporary theories of sexuality have no place for the value of virginity. This is not necessarily because they are libertine since there have been all sorts of libertine theories of sexuality that still carved out a crucial place for the value of virginity. The ancient Western world had arguably far fewer sexual taboos than us, but a father still could expect his desire for perfect pre-marital continence to be honored and enforced as good.

Just because you allow for gender fluidity, divorce, contraception or homosexual equality doesn’t mean you have to accept that anyone can do what they want with your daughters, as is proved by the ancient Romans. Our sexual ethic is therefore not just libertine or tolerant but also individualist. If some girl wants to be sexually active, what does it matter what her father thinks about it? If she’s sexually active and doesn’t want to have kids, then what does it matter if her mother wants grandkids? One of our deepest theoretical commitments is that these desires have nothing to do with permissible sexual behavior, and it’s a testimony to the depth of the commitment that it is assumed by the most traditionalist and conservative of sexual theories. It’s not as if Theology of the Body takes notice of what your father or mother wants.

The commitment is at least exploitive and probably unsustainable, though human beings can keep exploitative states-of-affairs up for a good while. In denying any expression to a father’s or mother’s desires for their children we are committing an injustice against a very widely held sentiment that is every bit as intense as any sexual orientation. This kind of repression will make for a neurosis that, like any neurosis, can only be the principle of destructive behavior.






Petitionary prayer

A: So you think that science is just idealized human knowledge, and you see something odd in putting all our trust in this idealized human knowledge?

B: I see a problem in putting all of one’s trust in anything human, idealized or not.

A: What other choice do we have, though? We’re talking about putting out trust in some power, and we will often – perhaps even usually – do this in the face of some evil we seek to be sheltered from or avoid.

B: Yes.

A: So what other choice do you have in the face of suffering or death than human ingenuity? If you can’t feed a town, your child is dying, your cows get ringworm, your wife is depressed, etc. You only have so much life and time to give to options. You could pray they might change or you could appeal to the work of the clever humans around you. Which do you think will, in the long run, actually work?

B: It sure seems like we count on human reasoning to work those out.

A: Exactly. Prayer is a failed hypothesis.

B: If that’s how we’re going to characterize it, then how to we explain the existence of “prayer” civilizations that also had medicine, politics, horticulture, etc? Why not say that later medicine replaces the “failed hypotheses” of primitive medicine, or that more scientific horticulture replaces less scientific horticulture? Why are we pitting prayer against the sciences?

A: Don’t we pray all the time for things like that? When I go to church people are praying all the time for the sorts of things that get accomplished by medicine or politics or scientific food production. Why am I bothering to pray for Billy’s full recovery or peace in the Middle East or the starving children in Africa? Whether I pray or not Billy is going to be healed in the hospital or by sheer chance, the Middle East will get peace either by clever politicking or by sheer chance, and the starving children of Africa… you get the idea. We need rational politics, food production methods, or theories of how one society might help or harm another. Prayer is a fifth wheel.

B: All sorts of people see the success of these things as an answer to prayer. There’s a long tradition in Scripture of asking God to raise up a deliverer from among the people.

A: I like that argument. In some sense that prayer is the whole of salvation history. Still, I don’t see what praying for the one who delivers by his skill, knowledge and charisma does. 

B: You said before that without skill results happen only by chance.

A: Right.

B: Now chance in this sense is neither probability or necessity, since both of these allow us to see things coming, but there are intrinsic limits on how much human beings can see coming. Even if the whole universe were entirely determined, the ability of even idealized human reason to predict and control it under every description will be limited.

A: What you you mean “under every description”?

B: I mean that an insurance adjuster might be able to predict how that ten accidents would happen today, but not that John Jones would have an accident today. And I don’t think anyone can predict the odds of, say, the army or the politician catching the necessary lucky break that makes his work possible. The set of all ways one can get lucky is undefined.

A: I see where you’re going. Whether reasoning has necessary causes or probabilistic ones, it can’t get all the way down to reality under every description. For all that, reality under those descriptions that reason cannot reach still affects the world where reason has to do his work.

B: That’s where I was going. So far as out problems are within the reach of reason, prayer is primarily a prayer that God may raise up a deliverer from among his people. So far as they are outside the reach of reason, we are praying for good fortune, lucky breaks, serendipity.

A: Still, if prayer works, shouldn’t those who pray get more of them?

B: How do you measure that?

A: Why not just measure the effects? Like outcomes of some surgery for those who pray and those who don’t. Sure, I can’t measure lucky breaks, but I can measure their outcomes.

B: I’m stuck on that. What difference would we expect prayer to make? If we expect 30% of non-prayers to survive but 50% of those who pray, how would we interpret this? What about the other half of those who pray?

A: At least you’d have a difference. What you actually find is that 30% get better whether they pray or not. So what difference does it make?

B: Isn’t there an important difference between single trials and ways of life?

A: What?

B: It’s one thing to rate someone’s performance in any particular task and another to guan how much better a life is with them. So it’s one thing to judge outcomes for a particular surgery and another to judge them for a whole life.

A: So you’d expect to see long-term differences in those who pray, but not measure it in one-off trials. We do find that. But why do we find that?

B: The one-off test has the feel of a trial whereas the long-term differences keep a distance from this. But I’d need to flesh that out more.

The impossibility of BF(2)’s

There are brute facts simpliciter, or the most basic, non-axiomatic givens in any explanation. In any investigation there will be things that everyone recognizes could be otherwise but are not open to question in the context of the investigation. Call them BF(1)’s.

BF(1)’s appear far less often than brute facts used to establish Naturalism or stop the conclusion of a theistic argument (2). BF(2)’s differ from (1) since they require further explanation be logically impossible. Naturalism is a theory about the whole space of possible explanations of nature, and so the Naturalist can’t say “all explanations of nature bottom out in the set of (natural) brute facts Q, but other explanations are possible.”

Facts differ from axioms, the self-evident, or relations of ideas by their contrary being logically possible. BF(2)’s are therefore propositions whose contrary is logically possible, but for which it is impossible for there to be any explanation of how this could be so. So BF(2)’s require that the contrary of the fact could have been otherwise, but that there is no possible account of how it could have been otherwise. And that’s a contradiction.

Again, assume that proposition B is a BF(2) that Naturalism rests on. (i) qua fact, ~B is possible, but (ii) qua BF(2) it is logically impossible for there to be an account of how ~B could be the case. But if it is logically impossible for there to be any account of how something contrary-to-fact could be the case then that contrary is impossible. So being a BF(2) requires that ~B be both possible and impossible simul. 


The impossibility of Naturalist brute facts

1.) Scientific explanations require laws and initial conditions. More generally, some some intelligible process arising from a given fact.

2.) Take the given fact. Facts are given differently from axioms. Both the fact and the axiom enter explanation as a proposition, but  the axiomatic proposition is one where we see the unity of subject and predicate while we do not see this for the fact.

3.) Either an explanation of the proposition is logically possible or not. If not, we must either have an axiom or what nowadays gets called the “brute fact”. Note that this is not a “brute fact” as first coined by Anscombe to describe more or less basic levels of explanation, but as it nowadays gets used to forestall theistic arguments and/or to establish some Naturalisms.

4.) Brute facts only exist if there is some proposition that (a) cannot logically be the conclusion of some line of reasoning and (b) is not axiomatic. In other words, there must be some proposition whose unity cannot be explained either by its own terms or any other. The “cannot” there needs to be very strong: there would be a logical impossibility in the unity of the proposition arising from its own terms or by those terms in unity with others, since allowing for the first logical possibility would make the proposition an axiom (and so not a brute fact) and the latter would be to deny it was a brute fact altogether.

5.) But if it is logically impossible to unify terms either by themselves or another term, we have no more reason to affirm predicate than to deny it. I stress the logical impossibility because we see all sorts of facts around us that are neither axiomatic nor for which we see any obvious connection. It’s presently a fact that  “My couch is 15 feet from the overgrown raspberry garden”. There is nothing axiomatic in this, and I’m a bit puzzled at the thought of what I would use to conclude that (a ruler maybe?) Now if I wanted this to be a brute fact I’d have to keep insisting it was not an axiom (which would be easy) while making the additional claim that there is a logical impossibility in its being a conclusion of some previous propositions. But that’s (a) nuts and (b) an argument that it could not be a fact at all.

Philosophy with a four-year-old

Monika: Why do people kill God?

Me: Because they’re bad, Momo.

Monika: But why are people bad?

Me: Well, why do you do bad things?

Monika: I don’t know.

Me: There was a man named Socrates who said that people do bad things because they don’t know what is good. What do you think about that?

Monika: No. I do bad things because God goes away. Because he died. God just goes away and I do bad things.



Monika: Why are there too many people on earth?

Me: How many people should there be, Momo?

Monika: Ten.

Me: Ten people? That’s almost no one!

Monika: No. Everyone on earth should be one family.

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