Earlier in the month I had spent a few days considering agency in terms of a common metaphor of the "sphere." This shape of agency in LDS thought seemed to go back at least to Lehi's discussion in 2 Nephi 2. I then argued that this basic conception of agency, politics, and perhaps existence itself went all the way back to the basic metaphor of Genesis 1. Now in the midst of that discussion I'd brought up Heidegger and the neoPlatonists and their somewhat similar ways of considering be-ing. Unfortunately I wasn't quite sure how to proceed. So I gave myself a few days to muse on the matter. Well here's my first attempt to put those thoughts down on the page. I've tried to make them accessable to non-philosophers. But things may get a bit technical.
Probably the first place to turn is not Heidegger or Plotinus, but Heraclitus. Heraclitus is one of the most important pre-Socratic philosophers and was roughly a contemporary of Lehi. The influences on Heraclitus are somewhat controversial, but likely included Hindu philosophy and perhaps various Semetic influences. The reason he is so important for our discussion is his fragment 53. (We have only a few fragments of Heraclitus' writings) A fairly literalist translation reads, "war is both father of all and king of all: it reveals the gods on the one hand and humans on the other, makes slaves on the one hand, the free on the other." (Burnet tr.) This is key in many ways for Heidegger, who develops this notion of strife or war in his middle period. But it is also important in terms of a parallel to Lehi's considerations of opposites ( 2 Ne 2:11). For Heraclitus this notion of opposition as strife is key to both the social and the ontological realm. This notion of strife is tied essentially to Heraclitus' notion of justice. "It is needful to recognize war as general, and justice as strife, and all things coming to be according to strife and necessity." (fr. 80)
Now the word translated as war or strife is polemos. This polemos or strife is what enables things to happen or be shown as they come into opposition. Much as in Lehi's discourse, opposition is necessary. Yet we have a sense of opposition much more pronounced than in Lehi. If, however, we consider Levinson's discussion of God as in an eternal battle holding the waters of chaos at bay, then we can see certain parallels to the general approach of Heraclitus. I don't want to suggest this is unique to Heraclitus. Far from it. I actually wish to suggest this is a fairly common mid-east way of conceiving the world.
Heraclitus is important for several thinkers. Heidegger in particular adopts a lot of Heraclitus. Heidegger also uses many other images of Greek thought to rethink basic philosophy. We mentioned earlier the notion of a clearing and in particular Plato's cave. The basic image of a clearing is extremely important for Heidegger as well. Rather than speaking of it in terms of a cave, he uses the imagery of a forest clearing. This clearing or opening (Lichtung) allows light to stream into the clearing. It is thus also called the lighting.
Without trying to summarize Heidegger in one paragraph, the basic notion in the middle writings of Heidegger is dasein or "being-there." This clearing or lighting is this "being-there." Dasein is perhaps best conceived of as something like human existing or humanity in its living. Its a complex idea and I don't want to mangle it here. What is significant is that the "da" of dasein is the "there." This "there" is more or less this clearing, this place. It is Heidegger's form of "prime matter," but with a serious reconception. While risking some confusion, allow me to quote Heidegger on this point.
...the "there is/it gives" (es gibt) comes to language, "Only so long as Dasein is, is there being"? To be sure. It means that only so long as the lighting (Lichtung) of being comes to pass does being convey itself to man. But the fact that the Da, the lighting as the truth of being itself, comes to pass is the sending of being itself. This is the destiny of the lighting. But the sentence does not mean that the Dasein of man in the traditional sense of existentia, and thought in modern philosophy as the actuality of the ego cogito, is that being through which being is first fashioned. The sentence does not say that being is the product of man. The "Intoduction" to Being and Time say simply and clearly even italics, "being is the transcendens pure and simple." (Letter on Humanism, 216)
Now Heidegger argues that truth is primordially uncovering (aletheia), unconcealing, or disclosing. It is a wresting of beings from their hiddennes. I emphasize wresting as that gets us back to Heraclitus. The lighting of this truth, the lighting of this wresting is a "there" which is sent. The Da or the clearing is sent. Thus we return to Heraclitus notion that existence arises as a gift of war or strife. In a very real sense, for Heidegger, strife (polemos) is Dasein. To quote Heidegger again.
The polemos named here is a strife that holds sway before everything divine and human, not war in the human sense. As Heraclitus thinks of it, struggle first and foremost allow the things that essentially unfold to step apart from each other in opposition, first allows position and status and rank to establish themselves in coming to presence. In such a stepping apart, clefts, intervals, distances,and joints open themselves up. In struggle (auseinandersetzung), a world comes to be. (Introduction to Metaphysics, quoted in Fried, Heidegger's Polemos, 33)
We thus have a clearing, essentially tied to strife or struggle, which enables Being to happen, or enables us to distinguish, differentiate, or take hold of things. It is an ongoing struggle which is essential within this sphere of existing. For Heidegger (as well as many classic neoPlatonists) this bringing to light is a constant battle or strife which is unconcealment. When we stop the struggle then we lose beings into their hiddenness. They become concealed to us. One can not help but recall D&C 93:39 where light and truth are taken away. Hidden. Clearly there are differences, but there are numerous similarities as well.
Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence or the light of truth was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it to act for itself otherwise there is no existence. Behold here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; (D&C 93:20-31)
Existence is tied to this sphere or place - the "there" of existence. This is tied to human existence. (Intelligence was used by Joseph synonymously with spirit and for basic human existence) This can't be made, but is independent (free to act) and without this there is no existence. We mentioned strife in other senses of this place, this lighting, this sphere. This strife is essentially tied to freedom.
Heidegger sometimes speaks of truth as the "free realm." But in speaking of freedom, Heidegger insists on distancing himself from a subjectivists account of the free will, a will that might be conceived of as the source of the world and meaning: "Human beings have no created this clearing...this free realm, nor is it the human being. It is by contrast that which is allotted to human beings, since it addresses itself to them; it is what has been historically consigned to them." (VS, 124-25) Truth possess Dasein; the opennes to a horizon of possibilities in Being-in-the-world is given to Daesein. Dasein neither creates nor possesses truth. (Fried, Heidegger's Polemos, 51)
This freedom thus is not freedom in the enlightenment sense tied to a will that could in any sense be considered the source or possessor. Rather it is a kind of independence. It is a set of possibilities, all open, none determined. Yet at the same time, the finitude of this place or space demands that the possibilities be possibilities within this space. Truth can be manifest only within this particular clearing. A different clearing allows truth to manifest differently. (Recognizing a problem with that particular way of phrasing it) Put simply, truth is manifest only within the lighting as it lights truth. Truth is independent, but only within this sphere.
Now all of this is fairly complex, and I'm sure I've not come close to my goal of explaining the relationship here of the ideas of the scriptural notion of sphere of agency and Heidegger. Nor have I begun to touch upon the significant differences. Clearly there is a danger in Heidegger that demands we not impose his thought upon the scriptures. I present his thought perhaps simply as a way to point the way for further analysis.
What I wish to emphasize thought is that there is this notion of violence or strife within the thought of Heidegger essentially tied to Dasein. Indeed Fried, who I quoted earlier, argues that Dasein can be considered polemos or strife. Thus the opposition is what enables existence. It is the differentiation (making differences) that allows beings to manifest themselves. This strife or struggle is what holds at bay chaos and thus somewhat paradoxically war or strife and order or lighting become closely tied together. Further this sphere is essential to the notion of freedom or agency.
I'll touch upon these points in later posts, hopefully avoiding some of the difficult philosophy in the above.
I don't think I've linked to this before. I came upon it again while looking for something else. Over on LDS-Phil William James has been the topic of conversation off and on the past month or so. So perhaps some might find this interesting. As I think I've discussed before, I'm much more of a Peircean than a James devote. That's not to say I disagree with James. Many argue that there is far less difference between them than it often appears. I can't really speak to that. There definitely is a big difference in focus and emphasis though.
Anyway the paper is The Politics of Welding: Joseph Smith, Pragmatism and the Dilemmas of Pluralism by Jared Hickman. It was one of the monthly Mormon Perspectivie Series seminars at Harvard.
I should add that I'm not sure I buy the thesis. But then it is in an area I've never really thought about much. So I'm not sure that means much. Basically the paper discusses the old philosophical problem of the One and the Many (or Being and Becoming) in terms of the discovery of the "others" of the Americas. This is then seen as what Joseph is doing: providing a discourse that allows one to find unity in the midst of shifting difference. (i.e. the colonization of the Americas). I'm not opposed to seeing Joseph touching upon the problem of the one and the many. Indeed in one sense my discussion of agency touches upon that. I'm just not sure it was that significant an issue nor that it is perhaps the most fruitful way of considering Joseph's rhetoric. However one definitely can see the linguistic play created by this tension between unity and difference. I just suspect one could find that play anywhere.
In Mormonism you can see various tensions of a variety of types. For instance there is the tension between personal responsibility and conformity to the group. This can be seen in terms of say the tension between personal revelation and what one might term the "dogma" of the Church as a whole. One can also see a tension between working out ones own salvation with the notion that salvation is essentially a social uniting. Such tensions are all through Mormon culture, doctrine and history. But is this something unique to the American experience? I don't think so. Indeed I think you can see analysis of the same play in many Continental authors.
Does pragmatism offer useful ways of conceiving this tension? I think so. Unfortunately that question is somewhat beyond the scope of Hickman's paper. And of course my discussion of Heidegger and Lehi yesterday touched upon this notion of tension as polemos although I didn't push the notion very far yet.
I've said for some time that there is a paucity of articles about Mormon epistemology out there. While doing some random googling though, I came upon the following from the Virginia Social Science Journal from 1998. "Metaphysics, Epistemology and the Pursuit of Truth in Traditional Mormon Theology" by Kendall White and Daryl White. Be aware that the web page appears to be a quick OCR of the text and thus isn't the best in terms of formatting.
The article doesn't have anything too technical in it. Basically just an overview rather than a real philosophical analysis. There are a few places where I'd probably quibble. For instance he argues that "traditional Mormonism shared a nineteenth-century realist conception of science with a correspondence theory of truth." I'm not sure that is a completely accurate perspective. I'm sure most Mormons did adopt a de-facto correspondence theory. But the article appeals to D&C 93:24 to make this point. Certainly one can (and often does) read that as correspondence. But I think the nature of "things" in the verse is a tad too vague to read that much into it given the context. I've touched upon some of these issues in my discussions on agency and won't return to them. But I'd be cautious about assuming a naive realism on the basis of Joseph's teachings. While I think others, such as Pratt definitely do move in that direction, I believe Joseph's own views are much more complex.
The article also touches upon some of the issues of naturalism that arise from our materialism. It quotes Brigham Young's famous quote:
I am not astonished that infidelity prevails to a great extent among inhabitants of the earth, for the religious teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science....In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. (Discourses of Brigham Young, 258)
The problem of course arises when individuals' beliefs about Mormon doctrine clash with established science. The article touches upon this debate relative to evolution but still promotes what I think is the correct conclusion. Mainly that Mormon views of epistemology are quite compatible with naturalism and specifically science. The paper quotes one of Brigham Young's famous comments towards its end.
Are the heavens opened? Yes, to some at times, yet upon natural principles upon the principle of natural philosophy. (JD 3:209)
Of course I think that needs to be unpacked quite a bit. I don't think it means revelation occurs soley through scientific thinking. Clearly our own beliefs regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon deny that. Rather I think he is arguing for a fairly strong natural epistemology as the basis for Mormonism. Revelation is, as I think the context for the quote illustrates, a linguistic communication from one who has learned information via what we might term natural means.
The other day I mentioned a paper on Mormon pluralism that basically saw our historical issues related to the problem of the one and the many in William James thought. I mentioned that, while this is definitely there, I wasn't too sure of its significance. The issue of unity is a major issue in philosophy and almost anything can be analyzed in terms of that issue.
There's a review of a book over at Notre Dame Philosophic Reviews that seems to deal with an interesting issue related to all this. It also is directly related to my discussion on agency. In that discussion on agency I mentioned a little bit about the problem of Heidegger's politics. My discussion of polemos really was getting at that issue as well. Of course the discussion was so abstract that I rather doubt many saw it. Basically Heidegger was a Nazi which is a huge issue (or ought to be) for those considering his thoughts. In the context of agency the issue ends up being the nature of strife or war as it relates to existence and unity.
The Nietzsche discussion is interesting given Nietzsche's comments on what he saw as the future for Europe given its quest for unity. The review is by Tracey B. Strong and is a review of Europe: A Nietzschean Perspective.
Nietzsche wrote in Beyond Good and Evil (paragraph 256) that "Europe wants to become one" and developments in Europe during the last century seem to bear out this prediction, as, indeed, they do other of his predictions, such as that the twentieth century would see wars "the like of which [had] never been seen." The contemporary question of the unity of Europe was given impetus by the events leading to the Second World War, the need to respond to the Cold War, and the gradual growth of apparent American hegemony. Contemporary developments in and of the European Union appear only the most recent embodiment of an idea of Europe as a single cultural and political entity.
In a way Heidegger's conception of Europe was also as it becoming a conscious entity. His comments on Volk (a united people as a unique culture or people) directly relates to this. He wrote in his rectory address, "the historical mission of the German Volk, a Volk that knows itself in its state." This can be seen directly as related to the various ways of thinking Dasein (Being-there). As I discussed in the posts on agency, this unity or world need not be anything like a Cartesian mind. It can be any kind of unity with a shared "world" and a self-recognition." In those threads I also discussed the notion of Israel as a people in a clearing with chaos kept at bay by Jehovah. The same kind of notion appears in the Book of Mormon with the Nephites being a people with a certain self-recognition who speak in terms of the people as a single entity. (Indeed most of the prophecies in the Book of Mormon treat them as a people) I think the same thing is true of Mormonism as well.
The obvious issue of agency or pluralism then arises. In what sense in our unity, in our sense of ourselves as a people do we allow diversity? This is the point that the paper on James and Mormonism was getting at. Nietzsche clearly gets at the same issue, although perhaps in ways more complex than Heidegger.
The interesting thing is that the book on Nietzsche apparently sees that the "death of God signifies that in the present age those structures of meaning that had given a kind of unity to Europe in the past increasingly no longer hold any effective sway." If we reverse this movement for Mormons, I think we can see how a kind of unity is possible without the problems that I think crop up for Heidegger and secular states in general. Can one have an ideal and an unity without there being some spirit which unifies the whole? Without that spirit is unity possible? I think this has important implications for how we view LDS history as well as our own political unity.
Of course the real issue then becomes how to unify those who are not already part of the unity. Or whether to unify with them at all. That might be theological dissidents, political adversaries or even the "Other" of whatever historical place the community finds itself. Once again the history of the LDS church offers many perspectives for this: many perhaps being case studies in how not to do things. Nonetheless, as Harold Bloom said, unlike most groups, Mormons have a unique identity as a people or Volk which I think most communities do not ever achieve. Perhaps not coincidentally the most obvious example of such as community are the Jews - a people who Mormons actually consider themselves to be.
Interesting paper I came upon looking for some other things. It is basically a discussion of the philosophical "schizm" occuring within Evangelicalism. A lot of it is interesting to Mormons since most of the ideas that are so repellant to traditional conservative Evangelicals are doctrines that are pretty much Mormon positions. Some of these have been topics among Mormons the past few years such as Open Theism, Social Trinitarianism, and critiques of epistemic foundationalism.
The paper in question is obviously a little biased, not particularly approving of what it calls the postmodern influence. But I think it does a good job of setting up the issues within Evangelicalism. As such it may well be of interest to Mormon theologians and philosophers. The paper is somewhat dated, being from the late 90's. So be aware that events have certainly moved on the past six years. But I personally find it fascinating that our positions become attractive to some. I personally think that ours is among the more interesting that provide these philosophical opportunities without rejecting the basic historicism of an interventionist God. (i.e. without adopting a basically liberal theology that moves towards deism or atheism)
What is particularly interesting is the author's discussion of religious experience. When is a class of religious experiences unique? The author asserts that a position of Evangelicalism is that religious experiences within the Evangelical community are different than those outside of it. Now in one sense I think this true - our preconceptions shape the "quality" or "feel" of any experience. Thus what community we belong to determines the kind of experience we have. Yet I think Mormons consider experience to typicaly come prior to entry into our community. A religious experience that we view as "accurate" in some sense typically is what leads people investigating Mormonism to join the church. I won't go through the discussion that Grenz presents. But I found it rather interesting in light of some of my own writings here.
"Beyond Foundationalism: Is a Nonfoundationalist Evangelical Theology Possible?" Stanley J. Grenz.
I was doing some web browsing today and recalled an old paper I'd read a few years back about Dante and the topology of hell/heaven. It was kind of a fun concept so I thought I'd take a break from the serious stuff and talk about this. I seem to recall the paper being in BYU Studies but can't find the reference anywhere. The article was basically that the topology of Dante's conception of reality was a four dimensional hypersphere. (Called a 3-sphere). Now at the time I first read about this, back in college, this seemed rather profound and amazing somehow. However when you think about it for a while it is far less profound. Since this gets brought up by folks a lot (often quacks) I thought I'd touch upon it. It is also interesting as it relates to one of Brigham Young's attacks on traditional Christianity. (Actually an element of neoPlatonism found within old Anglican traditions he was familiar with)
Now at the time of Dante astronomy was essentially geocentric. The earth was considered the center of the universe. You've probably seen diagrams of the orbits of the planets on up to the heavenly realm. They were especially popular in the Renaissance until modern astronomy finally became dominant.
The diagram arises from the way Aristotle conceived of the universe. The earth is the center and you then move out past the planets (seven which could be seen in those days) Note that in this picture we have circles on a plane. But you should think of them as full spheres as that was how they were discussed. After you get past the planets you reach the Primum Mobile which is a fixed sphere upon which all the other starts are fixed. In Paradisio Dante goes past each of the nine spheres (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Fixed Stars, Primum Mobile) After he passes these there are nine more levels of angelic spheres, each corresponding to one of the earlier sphers. After that there is a final sphere called the Empyrean which is where God lives. However if you conceive of these spheres not as extending outward from a simple point but as lines around a sphere at different latitudes then you have something like this:
Now Dante has a space where the center and the circumference converge. God simultaneously contains the whole universe and is contained, as a center-point, by all things. This gets stated a lot by mystics, but as I said it was one of the things Brigham Young used to criticize a lot. His criticisms even ended up in LDS ritual for a while.
This notion, common in neoPlatonism, is basically a hypersphere. To think of a hypersphere is somewhat difficult. The Wikipidea entry for a 3-sphere is probably the best explanation. If you've ever read Flatland then the problems of conceiving of higher dimensional objects makes a little sense. One way to conceive of them is to simply treat the extra dimension as time and watch an animation. Someone at the University of Lethbridge did this.
Clearly a four dimensionsal body in three dimensional space can fill the universe and be a point. At least if that body is a sphere. If it is a more complex object then things obviously get more complex. Also note that this is a sphere and not a solid sphere. Also if we think of our second diagram of Dante's spheres (actually circles in that picture - but we're reducing 4 dimensions to 3 -- imagine the missing one) then we have a hypersphere moving from a point to a fixed diameter sphere and then back to a point. The initial point is earth and the final point is God. So when you hear that Dante is speaking about a hypersphere, this is really all that is going on. Same if you hear about it in mysticism such as Kabbalism or certain neoPlatonic writings.
Now these hyperspheres pop up a lot. And technically physicists do tend to think the universe has more dimensions. Only they tend to say ten dimensions, not four. And time gets wrapped up in them in a rather complex way. So I suppose the universe is even more complex than Dante thought.
As a somewhat interesting tangent, you'll notice some similar language in the Book of Abraham. Consider, for example, the analogy of the spheres in Abr 3. While it doesn't reduce to a point, like with Dante, we have a geocentric scheme quite similar to what was common in the ancient world. But beware quacks bearing astronomy. There often is far less to it than meets the eye. Further these sorts of conceptions were fairly ubiquitous in the ancient world.