Mind and Matter
Mar 31, 2004

Coincidentally I've had two related discussions going on. One is relative to some of my recent comments here about Orson Pratt, matter and spirit. The other is over at Peirce-L where discussions about how Peirce viewed mind and matter are proceeding. The key scripture for LDS discussions of mind and matter is D&C 131:7-8

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see it is all matter

Now this is typically taken to entail Mormons being strong materialists. That, along with positive and strong positions towards science as a way of knowing often put us in the naturalism camp. However some take exception to this. Moreland, in The New Mormon Challenge charges that Joseph Smith simply didn't know the philosophical terminology of substance such as found among the Rationalists. Thus Moreland suggests that Joseph meant that there is no such thing as immaterial substance. That is that Joseph wished to exclude the thinking substance which was Descartes mind or soul or perhaps even the Thomist soul which is a Aristotilean form that is also an independent substance. (Descartes' view is actually far closer to Aquinas than many realize) However some, including a recent email sent to me, argue that Joseph wished not to exclude immaterial substance but to point out how silly it is to speak of things behaving like matter but being immaterial. That is, that we phenomenally treat spirits as if they were a body so that calling them immaterial is sensely. (In this we can see certain parallels to the Renaissance with philosophers like Telesio who made spirit bodies basically material) The issue is, which of these two readings of Joseph are right? Pratt clearly favors the subtance interpretation.

I think that one must point out that mind is never mentioned here by Joseph. However as Blake Ostler has pointed out in "The Idea of Preexistence in Mormon Thought" and Van Hale in "The Origin of the Human Spirit in Early Mormon Thought," Joseph used the terms intelligence and spirit near synonymously. This isn't to say that we can't see in his thought a distinction between what we now call intelligence and spirit. Merely that we must be careful asserting such a distinction on the basis of terms.

The tripartite view of man as intelligence, spirit and flesh arises probably first with Orson Pratt - although likely the foundations were provided earlier. With Pratt we have intelligent atoms which collectively form a spirit body and then the spirit body takes the matter here on earth (also made up of intelligent atoms) and gets more of a body. So Pratt is basically a monist and a panpsychic materialist. By the time of B. H. Roberts we have a somewhat different system where intelligence comes to be something closer to a Cartesian mind or soul.

Intelligence (mind), or intelligences (minds) . . . are conscious beings. Conscious of self and of the non-self; of the "me" and the "not me." "Intelligence is that which sees itself (as), or is, at once, both subject and object." It knows itself as thinking, that is, as a subject; thinking of itself, it knows itslef as an object of thought - of own thouhgt. . . . Fisk calls consciousness "the soul's fundamental fact" and "the most fundamental of facts." It may be defined as the power by which intelligence knows its own acts and states. It is an awreness of mind - it is mind in awareness. By reason of awareness - consciousness - an intelligence when dwelling in a body. . . (The Truth, The Way, The Life, 77)

Roberts, in promoting the notion of intelligences as a Cartesian mind, adopts a reading of the King Follet Discourse where intelligence and spirit are distinguished. As he says later, "the difference between 'spirits' and 'intelligences' as herein used is this. Intelligences are uncreated entities; some inhabiting spiritual bodies - bodies composed of fine spirit elements. . ." (ibid, 287) Here, unlike Pratt, Roberts distinguishes between spirit element and intelligence. As I pointed out, Ostler and others see this as resting upon an exegesis from a poorly reconstructed text. (i.e. they see the text treating spirit and intelligence as synonymous) Roberts is clearly a dualist. There are different kinds of matter and then there is intelligence. As to why as late as the 20th century Roberts would be embracing such a Cartesian view is unclear. Clearly he has adopted a lot of the beliefs of a dualist theology though. According to The Truth, The Way, The Life Roberts is influenced by John Fisk. I rather doubt this his only influence, but it appears a significant one.

Fisk was a strong promoter of evolution and attempted to harmonize evolution with theology. That may have been part of the attraction to Roberts, who was one of the general authorities of that time very concerned about unifying science and Mormon thought. (Indeed several authors have argued that in the early 20th century Mormonism adopted a near scientism) Fisk argued in such texts as The Unseen World that the materialists were incorrect relative to the scriptures. He explicitly criticizes Priestly, who was a strong influence on Orson Pratt, for instance. One of his big criticisms is how some thinkers adopted the then notion of the aether as spirit.

Now our authors very properly refuse to commit themselves to the opinion that mind is the product of matter, but their argument nevertheless implies that some sort of material vehicle is necessary for the continuance of mind in a future state of existence. This material vehicle they seek to supply in the theory which connects by invisible bonds of transmitted energy the perishable material body with its counterpart in the world of ether. The materialism of the argument is indeed partly veiled by the terminology in which this counterpart is called a "spiritual body," but in this novel use or abuse of scriptural language there seems to me to be a strange confusion of ideas. Bear in mind that the "invisible universe" into which energy is constantly passing is simply the luminiferous ether, which our authors, to suit the requirements of their hypothesis, have gratuitously endowed with a complexity and variety of structure analogous to that of the visible world of matter. Their language is not always quite so precise as one could desire, for while they sometimes speak of the ether itself as the "unseen universe," they sometimes allude to a primordial medium yet subtler in constitution and presumably more immaterial. Herein lies the confusion. Why should the luminiferous ether, or any primordial medium in which it may have been generated, be regarded as in any way "spiritual"? (Fisk, The Unseen World and Other Essays)

One need nor read much of this to see how it would dramatically affect how one views Pratt's own ontology. An ontology that likely also treats the aether as spirit, or perhaps more properly as The Spirit. As Fisk continues he sees those he criticizes as saying, "the putting on of immortality is in no wise the passage from a material to a spiritual state. It is the passage from one kind of materially conditioned state to another. The theory thus appeals directly to our experiences of the behaviour of matter; and in deriving so little support as it does from these experiences, it remains an essentially weak speculation, whatever we may think of its ingenuity." (ibid) Fisk adopts a Cartesian position.

Very different would be the logical position of a theory which should assume the existence of an "Unseen World" entirely spiritual in constitution, and in which material conditions like those of the visible world should have neither place nor meaning. Such a world would not consist of ethers or gases or ghosts, but of purely psychical relations akin to such as constitute thoughts and feelings when our minds are least solicited by sense-perceptions. In thus marking off the "Unseen World" from the objective universe of which we have knowledge, our line of demarcation would at least be drawn in the right place. The distinction between psychical and material phenomena is a distinction of a different order from all other distinctions known to philosophy, and it immeasurably transcends all others. The progress of modern discovery has in no respect weakened the force of Descartes's remark, that between that of which the differential attribute is Thought and that of which the differential attribute is Extension, there can be no similarity, no community of nature whatever. (ibid)

The question then becomes, which is a better description of LDS thought? Clearly, one must acknowledge that whether it rests upon questionable exegesis or not, Robert's view is consistent. One must of course then ask whether there is any support for his view, outside of the misreading of the King Follet Discourse. If he does so merely because Fisk is a dualist, that is not a good reason anymore than for me to adopt a Heideggarian perspective merely because I enjoy reading Heidegger or Derrida. It must hopefully offer some explanatory power that other schemes, such as Pratt's do not.

The other problem with dualism is the one Descartes faced. How does one substance, "mind" or "intelligence" which is completely different from an other substance, "matter" possible interact? How do we know matter and how is matter affected by mind? Further, if there is a scheme that doesn't involve dualism, but explains the evidence, shouldn't we by Ockham's razor, adopt the simpler scheme?

In terms of modern science things become even more difficult. For instance a mind-like substance clearly is affected by time. (i.e. there is a time for out thoughts and a perception of time) Yet modern science has established a close interrelationship between time and space. How can we possibly intelligently discuss a mind which is only subject to time and not space when space and time are so intertwined? For a Thomist this isn't a problem since the soul is more the form of matter. For a Cartesian though, it seems that solution isn't possible, despite the close similarity of the two positions.

Hopefully I can continue along these lines tomorrow and more formally argue for why I think dualism won't work for Mormons.

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Misc. Physics and Philosophy
Mar 31, 2004

A few interesting links not necessarily related to recent discussions here. Michael Epperson, author of Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead has a nice "primer" page online. It's a tad technical, but interesting if you have a background in physics and are interested in process philosophy. "The Mechanics of Concrescence: Process Theory and Process Metaphysics."

I'd linked before to Peder Voetmann's work on using Peirce to analyze Quantum Mechanics. Of course, unlike Whitehead, Peirce lived before the discovery of Quantum Mechanics. However as I've mentioned, the physicist Lee Smolin appears to be a bit of a Peircean as well.

All this came up actually in a discussion from whence the prior post on mind and matter arose. While a lot of philosophies of Quantum Mechanics tend towards idealism of some sort, David Bohm developed a philosophy that is more dualistic in nature. There is a "quantum field" and then regular matter. While definitely not the most popular interpretation of quantum mechanics, David Bohm's work is very important for sure. Here's an interesting article that might for some readiers tie this together. "The Quantum Metaphysics of David Bohm." You can see the relation to the post below on mind and matter.

I must admit that one of my big reasons for rejecting the Roberts tripartite view of man (basically dualism) is because of the problem of dualism and science. I suppose that Bohmian mechanics can be used as a fair argument for a more dualistic reading.

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April 4, 2004

I've had an interesting set of email discussions with Mark Butler. I must thank him for bringing back to my focus B. H. Robert's view of ontology that I'd neglected here. Especially since his tripartite view of man as intelligence, spirit and body really is the dominant view. I'm not at all convinced that his Cartesian view of intelligence is dominant, however. If only because so few have thought about it. Indeed those most likely to think about it are those with some background in philosophy which likely makes them doubtful about adopting any kind of Cartesian metaphysics. So in that context it is nice to see Mark's views.

I should probably outline his views, despite the risk of mangling them. If only because I think it important that readers realize that there are more views than the more Peircean or Heideggarian perspective I usually post. I should also add that he's certainly not unique in his views. While I've basically analyzed what I see as a traditional panpsychic view of reality, arising out of Pratt's philosophy, he adopts a more Roberts point of view. Others, such as Robinson in How Wide the Divide have also departed significantly from certain traditional beliefs. This isn't necessarily bad, mind you. These traditional beliefs are just that: traditional. They typically don't rest upon any formal revelation and often arise out of particular readings of uncanonized texts like the King Follet Discourse.

Without going through the interesting discussions I've had, let me perhaps summarize the points of contention between Mark and myself.

The first is whether there is an absolute "beginning" in history. Put an other way, is the "head God" of the King Follet Discourse the absolute head for all intelligences ever or is it just the head for this particular creation. There are lots of implications to this in my opinion due to the nature of infinite sets. For instance because an infinite past entails no "first" we either have the head God always being the head God or else there was a finite past and some absolute beginning. In a way, I personally see this as moving towards a more Catholic like view of the big bang.

I personally favor the more traditional LDS view of an infinite past with a plurality of Gods in the traditional way. Still I must admit that several recent thinkers have moved away from this view and have taken God to be "first" in an absolute sense that I think is fairly alien to most 19th century and even 20th century Mormons.

The next difference is over what intelligences are. I've not actually discussed my view although the discussions about Heidegger and Derrida probably indicate it. I favor the idea that "intelligence" ought to be interpreted in more neoPlatonic senses and that we are never "absolutely" independent. Rather we are a coming-together of intelligences out of which emerges our way of living.

This is rather different from either B. H. Roberts or Orson Pratt. Orson Pratt argues for individuals atoms that are both intelligent and extended. For any significantly unified intelligent being, there is some "head" atom that is our consciousness. (This is fairly similar to Leibniz' view of monads, as I've mentioned before) So Pratt ends up favoring a view in which atoms come to be unified but has each atom being a unique "individual" in a way. (Of course he'd allow that intelligence increases as we expand our unity) Roberts favors a more Cartesian view where intelligences are immaterial substances while spirits and flesh are material. I think that Mark basically favors a dualist position like Roberts, although he probably would quibble with a pure Cartesian mind. I should add that a Thomist soul hasn't really been discussed much in LDS theology. At least not by any major theologian I'm aware of. I actually think it offers much better solutions than either Pratt's or Robert's views. But I'll discuss that in the near future.

The problem, as I see it, is that most discussions of "intelligence" in LDS thought inherently have neglected the problem of transcendence. I've discussed transcendence a fair bit here in large part because of that neglect. I think many recent LDS philosophers, influenced by Derrida, Levinas, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger have been thinking the issue of transcendence a fair bit. To merely assume a "dualism" in which the transcendent is merely a different kind of stuff seems fundamentally mistaken. I think we can speak of intelligence as transcendence essentially embodied. In that case something closer to Pratt's approach is probably in order if we think transcendence is always embodied. But it must be thought in a way far more radical than the conception Pratt gives it. (To be fair Pratt's view is basically the notion of the mental out of the Scottish enlightenment which is turn is fairly Cartesian) My own views on transcendence are scattered through the articles on this blog. They have no systematic presentation yet. However Jim Faulconer has a good article that provides a view fairly similar to my own. "Divine Embodiment and Transcendence"

The third point I've touched upon and is related to the meaning of intelligence. Is there a simple self? Put more particular this can be conceived of in two ways. First is the self a "thing" which is determinate and complete? Typically mind, soul, or intelligence has been thought of in the sense of things with complete boundaries. A Cartesian mind, a Thomist soul, Leibniz' monad, or Pratt's intelligent atoms all are fundamentally complete things. In Heidegger's terms, they are the result of metaphysical thinking. A different view is to say that they are always essentially unfinished and unknown. That of course potentially places limits on God's knowledge and gets into the issue of free will, although the fundamental issue isn't hinged on either.

The other part of this issue is the very notion of self. In the words of John Donne, is no man an island? Can we draw an absolute boundary between the self and the other? Clearly both Roberts and Pratt do. The very notion of atoms that Pratt uses rejects a true holism. We relate only by language or knowledge. Yet we are fundamentally individuals. Pratt, in many ways, is a strong nominalist. The other approach, that we see in many forms of postmodernism as well as neoPlatonism, is that no self can be fully extracted from all others selves. At some level of questioning the other always is present within the self. The very notion of a boundary between the self and the other breaks down and a true unity is found within. This in turn takes us back to the meaning of transcendence in LDS thought.

Obviously these two or three issues are complex. I just wish to point out that these are significant issues and unfortunately issues that all too often get ignored or overlooked. Yet I think they are the fundamental issues in LDS metaphysics.

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Current Reading
April 5, 2004

I like to list what I'm reading every now and then. I'm sure not everyone will be interested in the books. But perhaps some might at least be curious as to why I'm reading them and how they relate to my studies.

The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus

Duns Scotus is a very interesting figure in philosophy and one all too often neglected. It is not without reason that he is called the subtle philosopher. (Although to be fair, Ockham is often termed the more subtle philosopher) If Ockham is the archetypal nominalist, then Scotus is the defender or a subtle and considered realism. What is a nominalist and a realist? In medieval terms it relates to the problem of universals. Are universals real? (i.e. independent of our thinking about them) Scotus says that they are and gets into some subtle distinctions regarding reality, existence and so forth. Ockham basically says that there are no real universals and that all universals we talk about are just names. So two red things don't share anything in common except the name red.

Why is this interesting? Well Scotus was an important figure influencing Peirce. However it also ends up being, in certain subtle ways, an other way of reconsidering Derrida, Heidegger, and perhaps the notion of transcendence in Husserl. For instance if we speak of a chair the meaning of what makes it a chair isn't exhausted by any chair, nor even the set of all chairs. There must be something about chairness in terms of how we use chairs, consider chairs, and so forth, that exceeds the individuals. This is the universal. Now the phenomenologists after Heidegger tend to make this question quite complex. But clearly our intents outstrip the manifestation of individuals. That is why, typically, those philosophers are so hard to understand. They are trying to get past the language in traditional modern European thought and how they analyze it. Scotus is, in his own way, doing this as well as is Peirce. Of course Peirce is, I think, much easier to read on these matters.

Getting back to universals, the concern to the Scholastic philosophers were what universals or abstractions were, how they were manifest, and what they were "in themselves." The traditional way of considering this was in terms of concepts of first intent and concepts of second intent. (Those familiar with Nibley know he uses this way of thinking) First intents have real things as their objects. Second intents have first intents as their objects. Scotus deals with universals (which we clearly can intend in terms of) by means of a "formal distinction." The formal distinction is simply a distinction where something can be considered a shared entity and a unique entity. It is more than a logical (linguistic) distinction. It is, in some sense, real.

Confusing? Perhaps. That's why I'm reading up on Scotus as I think he relates directly to several topics I've been studying the past few years.

Schelling and Swedenborg

Some Mormons know of Swedenborg via anti-Mormons or perhaps Quinn's Magic World View. He was a purported Swedish prophet with such teachings as the materiality of spirits, the idea of gender and even marriage after death, angels being humans who have died, and three degrees of glory. While his ideas aren't exactly the same as Mormon views, they are similar in many ways. He was surprisingly influential in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Kant attacked his ideas a great deal, despite later admitting many similarities between his own revolutionary ideas and those of Swedenborg.

Schelling was important as one of the significant fathers of "modern" German idealism. He came in part from a tradition of German mysticism and ideas we'd consider idealistic. But he really set the stage for modern German neoPlatonists and especially figures like Hegel. In a way, he is a founding figure for much of 19th century German philosophy. In America he was also extremely influential among the Transcendentalists like Emerson or Thoreau. He also directly and indirectly affected the pragmatists. (As did Swedenborg -- William James' father was a follower of Swedenborg and Peirce was said to be an admirer)

I've only started the book, but it is interesting as a more philosophical look into some of these issues - most of which are key beliefs of Mormonism. (i.e. the materiality of spirits) Of course both have a rather negative reputation among many philosophers. And I must confess that I simply don't know that much about Schilling, beyond the generalities that history books give one. Given that he seems such a key hinge in the background of many of the philosophers I read, he seems an important point in philosophical genealogy to know.

Identifying Selfhood: Imagination, Narrative and Hermeneutics in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur

Paul Ricoeur has a special place in my thought. While I must agree with some who see hermeneutics as perhaps overstated in philosophy, it certainly is important. Further Ricoeur's Oneself as Another is an amazingly important book on the notion of a self and whether we can even conceive of a simple self. It goes through the many senses of "self" that we find in our discourses. (A surprising number as one goes through the history of philosophy) His other work on metaphor, narrative, and religion are also important reads and have partially revolutionized how I think about many topics.

Venema's book is one I've started several times, but simply haven't had the time to set down and study the way I need to read it. It is a careful analysis and critique of the notion of the self that flows through Ricoeur's various writings. He offers the criticism that Ricoeur unintentionally leaves a certain dualism in his thought that undermines his goals. He also argues that self ends up being the "textuality of the reflective process." I'm not sure that is a bad thing, of course. And it may even end up drawing Ricoeur fairly close to other philosophers I'm inclined towards. (Such as Derrida or Peirce) Unfortunately it is one of those books that demands a closer reading than I've been able to supply.

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The Gulf in Debates
April 6, 2004

My brother started a blog a few weeks ago. He's still getting it going so the formatting is a little muddled at times. But he has some good entries. One that caught my eye today was about debates that seem to lead to arguing by both sides over strawmen. His entry is interesting and without taking away from his excellent points I went off on a somewhat tangental line.

Chris: "Unfortunately many debates evolve into arguing straw men that neither side accepts. Why? I think a lot of this has to deal with a real inability to argue within another personšs frame of reference. If these belief structures are more or less logically consistent, humble people who are truly able to see the other side usually acquiesce and conclude that other views do in fact have merit."

I think that while this definitely happens for the reasons he gave, there is also the issue of data. What data is to be accepted? Even if we acknowledge that both sides entertain reasonable interpretations, there is always that data that one side rejects and the other accepts. Now of course sometimes we accept data we shouldn't. For instance my initial views on the Iraq invasion basically came from accepting more or less at face value the evidence presented by Powell and Bush and having confidence that there was a lot of unstated evidence. When it later came about that their evidence was very questionable I recognized I was incorrect. But at the time of the initial debate, I would get upset at those who seemed to simply discount that evidence without cause. What does this reduce to? Trust. Who do we trust?

Now of course our trust is frequently betrayed. (As mine was by Bush, for example) But in a debate, that matter of trust leads to seemingly intractable positions. At a certainly point we really ought to simply say, "our premises are so different further discussion is impossible." But of course we don't. Unfortunately in these discussions we rarely try to persuade the other of our premises but simply try to show their conclusions are wrong and therefore they ought to accept our premises. Of course that rarely works.

I've found myself doing that more than once. On several mailing lists I have to kick myself for not getting drug into the same debates when clearly there is a huge gulf of premises. But we get touchy when someone with a widely different worldview makes accusations that make sense in their world view and then demand explanation. Of course what they want isn't an explanation, but as Chris suggests, an explanation in their worldview in terms of their premises. Of course that rarely happens nor should we necessarily expect it to be possible.

I'm never quite sure how to deal with these situations. I think I've been in enough discussions that 9 times out of 10 I can guess the hidden premises. But most people don't seem to want to learn about their own world view and why they conclude the way they do. Most people don't like to see their hidden premises but stick more at what we might call a "surface" level. I suppose that is one of the reasons I ended up doing so much philosophy. (Beyond not having time to do the math and physics I really want to study) It lets me see hidden premises. I suppose that ultimately that's all philosophy is really good for.

Yet at some time there must also be that drive to test ones premises and to discover new things. That's where debates sometimes become frustrating. There is that sense that many people don't want to challenge themselves and their ideas - to seek out new experiences and ideas and perhaps continually transform their worldview. I suppose that's the other reason I like philosophy. By seeing my hidden premises I can try to rethink my ideas in terms of alternatives and see what the possibilities really are. That enables a "to and fro" approach where we try to line up possibilities of our premises with their implications and compare them with the world we experience. It offers me a drive to experimentation and research.

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April 13, 2004

When is vagueness important? More to the question, why is it important? Clearly the Lord communicates in rather vague ways. Notions we might call "vague" pop up in many other regards as well. Perhaps first we ought to ask what we mean by vagueness. We have two main kinds of vagueness: semantic and ontological.

Semantic vagueness is simply having a concept that doesn't quite fit a topic. For instance we might use the word mammal but be unsure whether a duck billed platapus is a mammal or not. This arises because often our semantic meanings don't have clear boundaries. Rather they result from resemblances to some ideal or class of ideals. We may also have comparison relation and then try to treat them as absolutes. For instance we can say George is bigger than Frank, but we can't really intelligibly say George is bigger without saying who he is bigger than. We can say George is big, but that is probably some comparison with an ideal. We may just be unconscious of what the ideal is. While semantic vagueness is interesting, I think that typically it is just a problem for how to interpret ambiguous statements. It is just the recognition that we can speak in unclear ways. Or, more accurately, we can speak in indeterminate ways. The statements can be interpreted in many equally valid, but incompatible ways. For instance "the brown cow" can be interpreted in reference to many different individual cows, even if only one is meant. Further statements are required to move our conception to a more determinate form.

Ontological vagueness seems much more interesting. As I understand it, ontological vagueness means that the vagueness isn't an issue of our language or understanding. Rather it is an issue of the things themselves. Quantum Mechanics is most often appealed to as an example of some genuine vagueness or indeterminacy. That is, I should hasten to add, fairly controversial. But it is a common belief. It's controversial since asking if a "thing" is a particle or wave may simply show problems with our questions and not necessarily the things we discuss.

One of the other main senses of ontological vagueness arises in terms of what things are. Vagueness is often characterized as lacking clear boundaries or having boundaries that don't function in a stable fashion. In a way, it often leads to the very sense of ontological instability. Clearly, if we denote with langugage, the instability of what we denote entails vagueness. Where is an example of this?

Well a lot of philosophy and especially ontology has been conducted in terms of what we might call atomism. Atomism isn't just the idea of atoms like you were taught about in high school chemistry. Rather it is the idea that the ultimate constituents of either knowledge or reality are individual independent things. So, for instance, many philosophers, especially empiricists, have argued that all our knowledge reduces down to individual meanings. Those meanings may be some unique piece of "sense-data" or it might be some fundamental idea correlating uniquely to "things out there." But fundamentally the stuff we talk of can be reduced down to these unique things. For these people vagueness might be considered simply "missing" or "open" parts. I may speak of a man but I've left open or indeterminate many aspects of what the man consists of.

The opposing position is often considered holism. In that class of views anything you talk about depends in a fundamental way upon other things. Isolating any individual out is always somewhat artificial. Those holding this view feel that arguments or thinking depending upon stable individual things will fail. That stability might be a stability or persistence of meaning through time. It might be the notion that we can speak in terms of individual things at all. But many people fundamentally feel that any approach in terms of individual things, while sometimes useful, is ultimately erroneous. For these people vagueness isn't simply about what is missing in our discourse, or perhaps using unclear terms or concepts instead of more accurate ones. Vagueness is something fundamental due to the the way everything is interrelated. The desire for clarity entails an end or completion to what a thing consists of. Yet if any thing is fundamentally unfinished or without fundamental boundaries then clarity in that sense is impossible.

Why do I bring this up? Well traditionally LDS theology has been conceived of in terms of atoms or complete things. Orson Pratt of course thought of reality in terms of atoms. But B. H. Roberts and others adopted a basically Cartesian view of minds in which each mind is individual and separate. I think that Brigham Young adopted a more holistic view. I don't know about Joseph Smith - it's always hard to sort out what he believed from what he wrote. If a holistic view of reality is correct though, then that has many implications for our theology.

There's lots of interesting discussions about vagueness available on the web. Here are a few that may be helpful:

"What Vagueness Consists In" A nice thorough discussion of the very notion of vagueness by Eklund Matti. While it doesn't get into certain issues or approaches it does really help understand the topic.

"Issues in Pragmatism" A fantastic approach to vagueness and generalities by Peirce. I scanned in the relevant part of Peirce's article and I heartily recommend it. It's fairly short so it won't take much time to read. consider it one of those "must read" papers.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy A really great discussion about the concept of vagueness and its various manifestations within philosophy. It also presents some of the paradoxes that appear if we admit certain kinds of vagueness.

"How to Make Our Ideas Clear" One of Peirce's seminal papers. A great analyis of why our ideas are often unclear or confused and a pragmatic approach to the issue. It's fairly straightforward and not a lot of familiarity with Peirce is necessary to appreciate it.

"The Dynamics of Vagueness" An other very good analysis of vagueness.

"Indeterminacy, Degree of Belief, and Excluded Middle A great discussion of topics similar to Peirce, but with certain different implications. For instance what does belief mean if we admit vagueness? What about vagueness due to belief? Its more technical than many of the other papers but raises fairly important issues.

"Vagueness and Identity" A paper from up at the U of U. This one gets directly to the heart of the issues I raised at the end. Specifically is there such a thing as "vague identity" or is this simply due to such concepts being composites which we've not broken into constituent parts? While I'm not sure I agree with her approach, it is an important paper for those arguing for things like "vague truths."

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Brigham and Intelligence
April 13, 2004

A few people have asked me about Brigham Young's views on intelligence. Allow me a bit of contrast and then a few quotes to put it into context.

It appears that in the Nauvoo period the terms intelligence and spirit were used roughly synonymously, although exactly why isn't clear. I personally think we ought be careful about reading too much into it. It might simply be a figure of speech where what has intelligence or individuates intelligence can be called an intelligence. None the less both Orson Pratt and the later theology of Roberts, Widstoe and Talmage appears to treat intelligence as some individual thinking "entity" or "substance."

With Young I think things are far more complex. For one, I think he treats intelligence in a much more semiotic way. Intelligence is what there is about me that is intelligible. Perhaps a different way of putting it is that I am a collection of representations. Even if I cease to exist, those representations much persist, much like a transcript of a speech persists long after the speech is completed. I believe, from my reading of various uses of Young, that this tends to be the way he speaks of intelligence. Further we grow in intelligence by increasing in representations or intelligences. i.e. by learning and experiencing. That he rejects the notion of individualism that I think Pratt, Roberts and others adopt seems clear from the following quote:

The intelligence that is in me to cease to exist is a horrid thought; it is past enduring. This intelligence must exist; it must dwell somewhere. If I take the right course and preserve it in its organization, I will preserve to myself eternal life. This is the greatest gift that ever was bestowed on mankind, to know how to preserve their identity. .. The principles of life and salvation are the only principles of freedom; for every principle that is opposed to God-that is opposed to the principles of eternal life, whether it is in heaven, on the earth, or in hell, the time will be when it will cease to exist, cease to preserve, manifest, and exhibit its identity; for it will be returned to its native element. (JD 5:53-54)

The character of those who are such sticklers for it will perish, for they are taking the downward road to destruction. They will be decomposed, both soul and body, and return to their native element. I do not say that they will be annihilated; but they will be disorganized, and will be as though they never had been, while we will live and retain our identity, and contend against those principle which tend to death or dissolution. I am after life; I want to preserve my identity, so that you can see Brigham in the eternal worlds just as you see him now. I want to see that eternal principle of life dwelling within us which will exalt us eternally in the presence of our Father and God. If you wish to retain your present identity in the morn of the resurrection, you must so live that the principle of life will be within you as a well of water springing up unto eternal life. (JD 7:57)

I think I understand the reason of it; it is a matter which I have studied. I find myself here on this earth, in the midst of intelligence. I ask myself and Wisdom, where has this intelligence come from? Who has produced and brought into existence, I will say, this intelligent congregation assembled here this afternoon? We are here, but whence have we come? Where did we belong before coming here? Have we dropped accidentally from some of the planets on to this earth without order, law or rule? Perhaps some, in their reflections, have come to this conclusion, and think that is all that is known in relation to this matter. I inquire where is this intelligence from which I see, more or less, in every being, and before which I shrink when attempting to address a congregation? . . . When I speak to a congregation I know that I am speaking to the intelligence that is from above. This intelligence which is within you and me is from heaven. In gazing upon the intelligence reflected in the countenances of my fellow-beings, I gaze upon the image of Him whom I worship-the God I serve. I see His image and a certain amount of His intelligence there. I feel it within myself. My nature shrinks at the divinity we see in others. This is the cause of that timidity to which I have referred, which I experience when rising to address a congregation. (JD 13:170 // JD 7:282)

Clearly this is a very radical conception relative to what we find in most theologies within Mormonism. What we might call an individual intelligence is an individual simply because of its organization. It is intelligence organized in a certain way. The intelligences that are indestructable aren't inviduals, as in most LDS theology, but rather the underlying pieces of intelligence. To see that Brigham means intelligence is something very much like our regular use of intelligence can be seen in his criticism of Orson Pratt's notion of spatially extended atoms of intelligence.

We have no light, no power at present, only what is given to us. Brother Hyde calls it borrowing, but I call it a free gift, or begging. The Lord's giving does not diminish His fountain of spirit that our philosopher brother Orson Pratt speaks of, that he believes occupies universal space, or, in other words, that universal space is filled with, and that every particle of it is a Holy Spirit, and that that spirit is all powerful and all wise, full of intelligence and possessing all the attributes of all the Gods in eternity. I hardly dare say what I think and what I know, but that theory, though apparently very plausible and beautiful, is not true, for it is, or would be contradicted by the Prophets, by Jesus and the Apostles, and by all good men who understand the principles of eternity, both those who have lived and are now living on the earth. (JD 4:265)

The significance of this can be seen from the preceeding paragraphs where he explicitly tied together intelligence and light.

I say that I have no light to lend. If God has given me light, if I possess the light of the Spirit of revelation, and bestow that knowledge upon my brethren, that same fountain increases in me; whereas, if I were to shut it up-to close up the vision-and keep it from the people, it would be like the candle lighted and put under the bushel, where of course the want of free air would extinguish it; and if the light in me becomes darkness, how great is that darkness! This is my explanation with regard to the light that is in me. If I receive from the fountain, the more I give the more I receive. The freer I am to hand out that which the Lord bestows on me, the better my mind is prepared to receive more from the fountain; that is the experience of every individual.

Here let me say what I do know and understand; every branch of knowledge, of wisdom, of light, of understanding, all that I know, all that is within my organization mentally or physically, spiritually or temporally, I have received from some source. So it is with you. There is no knowledge, no light, no wisdom that you are in possession of, but what you have received from some source.

While I'm certainly not about to state that I'm sure of what Brigham's philosophy consisted of, I think it is perhaps best to see it as organized "intelligence." Intelligence is, for Brigham, not just information since it can have disposition and can increase. I have a few other comments on Brigham's views (which I may well be incorrect on). I'll hold those for an other day, as I think his conceptions of will and matter are interesting on their own.

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What is Religion?
April 19, 2004

Last week someone raised a question to me that at first I thought was quite silly: what is the difference between science and religion. Yet, as I've been thinking about it the past week, it doesn't seem as silly as it initially did. And I now regret being somewhat abrupt towards the questioner.

Now in the philosophy of science there is the old question of what makes something science or a scientific theory. This issue, called the demarcation issue, is important as pseudo-sciences often keep trying to masquerade as science. For instance astrology clearly is a pseudo-science. But you'll hear some people still talking about the "science of astronomy." More significant today are people claiming that so-called creation science is a science. (Basically apologetics arguing against the traditional views of evolution, cosmology, and geology arguing for a creation more in keeping with a literalist, historical view of Genesis 1. I've argued for why this is incompatible with Mormonism. But it is very popular among conservative Protestants.) The demarcation problem attempts to explain why these various disciplines aren't science by looking at what it is that separates science from non-science.

Why is creation science not science? Well there are numerous reasons, but the main ones deal with scientists view of scientific theories as forever tentative. Further there is typically a stance towards them that attempts to find flaws in them and replace them with better theories. Further, they are held only when they offer explanatory power that is better than competing theories. Now in practice when philosophers debate these issues it gets a bit more complex. Often they differ with each other based upon their underlying philosophies. For instance Popper and Kuhn famously disagreed upon what made something a science. Yet even those philosophers who disagree with each other often have a general agreement over what is or isn't science.

The issue is, what makes a religion a religion. Is there anything equivalent to the debate in philosophy of science? I don't think there is. At least I'm not aware of anything like it. Yet, just as in science where we can often find boundary cases which test the demarcation by philosophers, there seems to be in religion. For instance is Zen Buddhism, with nothing like a traditional sense of God, a religion? Creationists often try and label people who accept evolution as a kind of religion. Some try and cast atheism as a religion. Clearly the term isn't quite as fluid as we often treat it. I'm inclined to treat Zen Buddhism as a religion, but definitely see it as in the grey areas. (Unlike some other forms of Buddhism which definitely are religions) Yet I can't see atheism or evolution as a religion in anything but a very loose metaphoric sense.

I suppose the difference is that there are rather strong political reasons why scientists want to be able to distinguish science from non-science. There are issues of funding and respect. Further scientists tend to already worry about all the pseudo-science that the general public accepts uncritically. Were pseudo-sciences to be accepted they fear that people would end up reverting to the kind of superstitions that characterized prior centuries. I think that sometimes these sorts of things are overstated, but it is a legitimate worry especially when we see some of the effects of pseudo-science like Freudian Analysis and the like. (To take something which was often portrayed as a legitimate science)

With religion though, what are the political costs of not being thought of as a religion? None really. There are, of course, people who have vaguely religious positions but who don't really fit the category. I mentioned certain kinds of Buddhism. But we can find it in the west as well with the strong religious overtones in say Derrida or Heidegger's work.

Why then the worry? I suppose it is because people want to be able to make a category of science or religion with there being no crossover between the two. Thus something like the Book of Mormon could safely be characterized as a religious issue and thereby entirely out of the arena of science. And evolution could be taken as a scientific issue completely out of the arena of science. But it doesn't work that way. Our scientific discoveries often have strong religious implications. And our religion often have scientific implications. For instance if the Book of Mormon involves some degree of historical accuracy - even if only to a limited degree - then that would require a lot of scientific thought about mesoAmerica to be reconsidered. Likewise if scientific claims about evolution and there being no global flood are taken seriously, then that has strong implications about how we ought to read scripture. Some would make a divide such that all questions about historical things is the purvue of science and all question about value and ethics be the purvue of religion. And some in both science and religion have attempted that. But I think that fails because you can't eliminate value from science anymore than you can eliminate history from religion.

So what is religion? The more I think about it the less sure I am. I think, however, that it might not be that important. Religion is one of those vague terms that give us some direction of what we're talking about, but leave the paths of our conversation uncharted...

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Does God Have an Unconscious?
April 19, 2004

No real argument for this one. Just the statement of the question. Given Mormon views of God as anthropomorphic (or the alternative statement that man is theomorphic), can we deny an unconsciousness to God? I've brought this up to a few people and it seems to make them uncomfortable. Presumably because of the omniscience issue.

If God knows all things but isn't aware of all things simultaneously, then isn't that still omniscience? (Leaving the issue of what "all things" consists of if we are anti-realist towards the future) Further, if we have God essentially embodied and spirits essentially material, then isn't the process of thinking a material process? Thereby limited by the finitude of material existence? Even if God is the greatest being possible within a material existence, it would seem that this material would limit what he could be aware of at any given time.

Once you place limits on awareness, then the postulate that God is omniscience would entail that much of the knowledge is unconscious. And, if you allow one kind of unconsciousness in, why not others? Afterall most of our thinking is unknown to us. We aren't aware of why we do what we do in terms of hidden desires, processes, and the like. Perhaps with sufficient science we could be aware of a lot of it if we wished. Why not something similar with God?

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Peirce, Religion, Science
April 20, 2004

I've discussed Peirce before on religion and science. He's very interesting in that regard, especially in his later thought. I've been discovering that in many ways his later thought is profoundly religious and focused in on religion. It also views science in more social ways than many people at the time tended to do. I personally think it avoids some of the excesses that Kuhn and others faced when they tried to avoid the approach of Popper and others.

I came upon a great essay on Peirce's religion called "The Abduction of God." While I know I'm among the few interested in Peircean views of Mormon theology (or the reverse) hopefully a few others might find it interesting.

I should note that those familiar with many of Brigham Young's writings will hear an echo in Peirce's writings. While Young clearly isn't a logician, he comes in many ways from a similar Yankee upbringing in a related culture. So perhaps the parallels aren't that surprising. But consider some of Young's comments on intelligence with the following (quoted from the afore mentioned essay):

there is a kind of personal relatedness between the "muser' or hypothesizer (...) and God, who is the "originating principle of the universe" (CP 2.24, 1902). The "light of reason", that which sparks the beginning of discovery and understanding, represents then a link between man and his Source, so that he becomes a kind of child of God (CP 1.316, 1903). (Smith 1979, 415).

Of course I believe that Young does tend towards a more mystic-like connection between God and man, while Peirce probably tends towards something else - the very ability to reason. While there is a danger we must avoid in reading Peirce in Young, there are interesting parallels.

Speaking of Peirce, the essay by Kelly Parker called "Peirce as a NeoPlatonist" is available online. I must credit it to making me seriously rethink many aspects of neoPlatonism. I should also credit the book Reading Peirce Reading which discusses a lot of the premises of Peirce which are fairly neoPlatonic in nature.

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-- Prior Day's Musings --