Mormon Scientists
May 3, 2004

Many of you were probably familiar with the old study showing how productive Mormons were in science per capita. Even though Jews often have the best reputation for being overrepresented in science, Mormons actually do quite well. Further, Mormons tend to remain believers. This contradicts a lot of the rhetoric you always hear about "literalists" and Mormons being anti-science.

The article by Wootton is available at Mormons and Scientists. Utah has been the top state per capita for scientist production the past 60 years. The Utah Mormon population produces more scientists than the non-Mormon community. The one problem with the study is that it focuses in on people going to Utah colleges. Given how diverse the population is now and how many Mormons go to other universities, it would be interesting seeing how Mormons outside of Utah do. The most interesting statistic was how many scientists attributed to the church the productivity in science. Something like 85% believe that the church affects the success. I'd say that's true, given notable Mormon scientists like Talmage, Widstoe, Eyring or others. There are several among the current Apostles as well. The church emphasis on education as well as the teaching that there is no conflict between science and religion undoubtedly helps. The constant teaching as a child that the glory of God was intelligence undoubtedly affected others as well as myself.

It would be interesting to see how philosophy is affected by Mormonism. Admittedly it is a very different discipline than science - although related in certain ways. I suspect that my interest in epistemology and metaphysics was tied to my interest in science. Perhaps others studied philosophy for other reasons. But I notice that many of my friends who've studied philosophy often also had strong studies in mathematics, logic, or science.

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Mormon Scientists II
May 4, 2004

A bit more about the Mormon Scientist assertions. An "ex-Mormon" site has a rejoinder by Duwayne Anderson. He claims we are at best average. But Wootton replies to Anderson making quite a few good points I thought. The basic point of disagreement is over what one surveys. The data Anderson uses is broader than Wootton and is mainly people without graduate degrees. Wootton uses American Men and Women of Science. I think that Wootton's source makes a lot more sense, although it too is hardly perfect. (After all, most people trained in the sciences will never make the list). The other issue is what population figure to use. Anderson uses fairly recent population figures, but Wootton feels that it is inappropriate to use current populations when the people making the list were trained and nutured 20 - 40 years earlier. I'm not sure I buy Wootton's own dates, but then Anderson's definitely don't make sense either. Of course it is a messy problem with no clear answer to how to measure the statistics.

Wootton does make a good point when he points out that four people came to more or less the same answers. There was a bit of sniping at Anderson's qualifications - but it seemed a bit more applicable here rather than the typical FARMS focus on peoples' references. If Wootton is making a pro-Mormon conclusion, then clearly Anderson is attempting to do the opposite and perhaps choosing data to make his point. The problem is that some fair measure seems difficult to make. I'll let everyone make up their own minds on the issue. As I said, I'd like to see surveys on other disciplines as well. My suspicion is that Mormons are over-represented in business as well. I'm not sure that's always a good thing, given attitudes towards money in Utah.

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Heidegger, Derrida & Existentialist MP3s
May 7, 2004

If you are like me and are trying to get back into shape you work out at the gym. However if you are also like me, the hour on the stair climber is a lot easier with a MP3 player. I have a second gen iPod which I truly love. But I find that as great as music is for working out, for cardio talk works better. I try to listen to the news, but somehow it always seems like the only things on are Hannity and Colmes or Larry King. Neither of which are the sort of thing I care to listen to. If the choice is fluff and weak questions or ad homen and conversation cut offs, it isn't much of a choice. Fortunately Kevin Winters provided an alternative.

He found Hubert Dreyfus' online MP3s of his two philosophy classes. Unfortunately Dreyfus stopped putting them online before they were done as students had stopped coming to class and were simply listening to it on the internet. But there are 19 classes on Heidegger and 26 classes on Existentialism. I've only gone through part of the Heidegger class but Dreyfus does a very good job explaining a very complex topic. He's also humble enough to correct himself and point out that not everyone agrees with his views. A very good choice for those out of college who need something to listen to at the gym. It'd be great if more professors did this.

In keeping with the above, I thought I'd try and find some more resources online. Unfortunately the best place for lectures is surprisingly the various P2P services. I got quite a few old talks by Richard Feynman that way. One of the funniest I found was Charleston Heston (yes that Charleston Heston) lecturing on and defending Nietzsche. Of course there are audiobooks, but they are almost always extremely expensive. Far more expensive than the actual book is. And personally I hate someone just reading a book. Books are typically meant for reading and not for listening. The spoken word and the written word simply have a very different form.There are free audio files out there but most tend towards political texts. Admittedly, due to advertising and the limits of Google, they are often hard to find. An other alternative is to find interesting streaming audio locations. For instance Diane Rehm often has interesting interviews with philosophers and scientists. So does Fresh Air. If you get one of many streaming audio recorders, you can save these as MP3's to listen to in your iPod at a more convenient time.

On the other hand, there are lots of other lectures out there if you look around. For instance I found the following lectures from MIT. Neuroscience and Behavior. I haven't listened to these yet, but they sound interesting.

One I posted a few months back was an interview with Derrida on Religion. It was a very good talk that has some very interesting comments on prayer. There are a few other MP3s on other topics on the page as well. J. M. Bernstein has some lectures on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit which I definitely plan on listening to. The "Philosophy Radio" site has numerous introductory lectures on philosophy. The University of Tasmania way down on the other side of the planet has their history of philosophy class available online. They are in Quicktime format, but aren't video but audio. I haven't tried it, but they should play on an iPod.

The BBC's Philosophy Talk appears to have some good lectures as well (albeit in Real Player format rather than MP3 - so break out the audio stream recorders I mentioned). I haven't listened to these yet, so I don't know how technical they get. When one of the topics is baseball it may not be that great. However they have one on Nietzsche so it may not be all bad.

As many know BYU has most of their talks and devotionals up. Some of them are very good talks. The Church also has most recent conference talks up as well. The site LDSAudio.com appears to have quite a few books in MP3 format as well. Of course they charge and arm and a leg for their readings of books.

I'm sure there are many more. One thing I've noticed is that links go up and down a lot. For instance a few sites I had in my bookmarks no longer work. (Dreyfus, for instance, had some lectures on Merleau-Ponty up which now are dead links -- and no I didn't get them so I can't share)

A lot of people are still reading the above due to the way Google indexes and ranks links. Just to let you know, the Dreyfus Heidegger lectures on part one of Being and Time are down. It doesn't appear like he is putting part two up as MP3s, although he may. So if you want them your best bet is to check P2P file sharing sites as I've noticed a few people have them there. (CG - 9/22/04)

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Peirce, Kierkegaard and Individuality
May 8, 2004

While I suspect many of my views since I was quite young could well be characterized as existential, I must confess that I've simply never been able to get into Kierkegaard. I'm not quite sure why. I've read Derrida's engagement with Kierkegaard in The Gift of Death. Some of my favorite authors are sometimes considered existentialists: Nietzsche, Kafka, Mann, Camus, and even Heidegger. Yet I've just never been able to ever enjoy Kierkegaard, even when I find myself agreeing with positions espoused by people tying it back to Kierkegaard. However I've been listening to Dreyfus' Lectures on existentialism and find myself truly enjoying certain parts. The conception of the mediator in particular I enjoy.

As Dreyfus describes it, the only real analogy to the mediator is a mediator between an union and a business. The mediator isn't just speaking for each party to the other - the simplification we often adopt. Rather it is the mediator's job to help each party find our what they really want. It is also the mediator's job to help each party overcome their superficialities, dogma, and other such dispositions. The goal of the mediator is to get each party to stop demanding of each other, to stop merely repeating positions, and come to an understanding of what their position is. In effect, the goal of the mediator is to make each party become rational. As Dreyfus presents it, the Platonic overtones are unmistakable. The mediator becomes a mirror to see ones true self. Yet, clearly Kierkegaard is anything but Platonic. After all his discourse is situated as a kind of anti-Hegelianism. The mediator also becomes, in a sense, a messenger of truth, the truth bringer. The reason I liked Dreyfus' imagery, is that it really also emphasized the mediator as "the messenger of the covenant" in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. (You'll remember that Joseph Smith, in the JST, makes the meaning of Jesus as the Word in John 1 the messenger of the covenant) Given the LDS conception of the covenant, Dreyfus' explanation of Kierkegaard seems very relevant.

Of course, being largely ignorant of Kierkegaard, I may well be mishearing Dreyfus, not to mention Kierkegaard. But the way he seems to harmonize the Greek and the Christian approaches seems intriguing.

What I really wanted to get at though, wasn't just Kierkegaard's view of the mediator, but his view of the individual. Of course the individual is tremendously important in the existential position. Those who've been reading this blog long, realize that I consider the question of the individual to be quite important as well. Indeed I think it one of the key issues within LDS theology. I've discussed Pratt and Robert's position on the individual several times. My own position is highly guided by Ricoeur's writings on the identity of the self as far more complex than many philosophers have taken it. And Ricoeur is himself perhaps reacting against the kind of existentialism we see in Sartre as well as the Cartesian tradition so widespread in France.

Which surprisingly brings us back to Peirce. Peirce has a rather interesting view of man as a symbol. This is quite similar, in certain ways, to Ricoeur's situating the self in a kind of narrative play. Identity through textuality, as it were. Peirce, as familiar with Hegel as Kierkegaard was, inverts and subverts the ordering Hegel presents. Man, as well as nature as a whole, comes to realize its own mind which is its very freedom. This realization is never complete, but is always a goal of an ever unreached eschatology of an arriving Truth.

While this has, I think, an echo in Derrida's own transformation of Hegel, what is most interesting to me is how it relates to Kierkegaard's existentialism. While I am in no position to really evaluate it, the paper "The Person as Absolute Particular" by D. G. Leahy really seemed to tie together several threads I'd been thinking about the past few months. I need to reread it a few times before leaping to any conclusions. But situating Peirce within an existentialist engagement is intriguing to say the least. Further, like Kierkegaard, I think Peirce offers a way of reconciling a greek conception with a more Christian conception. Especially in his later thought where he re-engages with Plato. I don't claim to understand how Kierkegaard does this - although I believe that it is tied into the nature of a holistic experience. But Peirce's conception certainly seems to reconcile certain divergent trends by offering significant reconceptions of both.

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Pre-Adamites?
May 9, 2004

Every now and then I talk about evolution. Not because I think it is necessarily that philosophical. More because I don't quite see what all the fuss is about. As I've said many times, I think it is more due to adopting a conservative Protestant hermeneutic. (See my comments on evolution here and here) Since Mormons have no belief in infallibility nor innerrancy I've always been confused at the controversy. Certainly a healthy skepticism to the dogma of secular society is in order. But by and large most of the sorts of things that fundamentalist Protestants rail against within biology are fairly well established now. Perhaps in the early decades of the 20th century there was more of a basis for skepticism. But science has significantly progressed the past hundred years.

Anyway, somewhat related to this topic (or at least to Elder James Talmage's approach to the issue) there was an interesting post over at Times and Seasons that mentioned pre-Adamites in passing. (It's down a ways amongst the comments) It's an interesting reference from an old article from the 1860's. I bring it up because while it clearly was written at a time when anthropology was blatantly racist in perspective, it invokes a view towards LDS theology that is rather significant.

"After these inferior or first races were created (it may have been millions of years) Jehovah Elohim, translated LORD GOD in our version, formed the superior or Adamic man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. He subsequently formed the white or Adamic woman from a part of the body of the man, nearest the heart, viz.: the bony case enclosing it, instead of forming the Adamic race, male and female, from the start, as the inferior colored races were created."
Debow's review, Agricultural, commercial, industrial progress and resources.
Volume 30, Issue 2 (1868)
Hereditary Descent; or, Depravity of the Offspring of Polygamy among the Mormons pp. 206-216

Now once we get past the uncomfort at the racism, xenophobia and social darwinism implicit in the article, not what it speaks of. The idea that Adam was the first of a "race" but not of humanity. Rather striking. (I put race in quotations, not just because of the racism of the era, but because it uses the word far more expansively than we do today. For instance the article talks of a Mormon race. Race at that time was an odd blend of what we'd call race proper and a society.) What is striking is that the idea of pre-Adamites was so widespread. Now I've not done too much research on this, but I'll note a quote from fervent literalist and opponent of evolution Joseph Fielding Smith.

Even in the Church there are a scattered few who are now advocating and contending that this earth was peopled with a race--perhaps many races--long before the days of Adam. These men desire, of course, to square the teachings in the Bible with the teachings of modern science and philosophy in regard to the age of the earth and life upon it. If you hear any one talking this way, you may answer them by saying that the doctrine of "pre-Adamites" is not a doctrine of the Church, and is not advocated nor countenanced in the Church. There is no warrant in the scripture, not an authentic word, to sustain it. (Utah Genealogical Magazine, October 1930, pg. 146)

Again what is interesting isn't the thrust of the comments but what it exposes about Mormon belief at the time. Apparently many Mormons believed in pre-Adamites. I suspect Smith's comments here were veiled attacks at B. H. Roberts, John A. Widstoe, and James A. Talmage who were strong supporters of the idea of Evolution. Yet the notion, as the earlier article attests, goes back much earlier. For instance Orson Hyde said the following at General Conference on Ocober 6, 1854.

The world was peopled before the days of Adam, as much so as it was before the days of Noah. It was said that Noah became the Father of the new world, but it was the same old world still, and will continue to be, though it may pass through many changes. (JD 2:79)

Brigham Young came up to the pulpit after the sermon and stated that he didn't feel move to correct any of it. Now my aim isn't to go through the debate on this subject. I'm sure a search of various writings would turn up a lot - especially from the period of Joseph Fielding Smith's and James A. Talmage's arguments over the issue. Rather what is so interesting to me is how widespread the idea of pre-Adamites was and how early it was. I think it goes back truly far since there is a comment along the same lines in the Millennial Star from June 29, 1861 but dated as from Joseph Smith's diary of April 28, 1844. There Hyrum Smith is quoted as saying, "There were prophets before Adam, and Joseph has the spirit and power of all the prophets." This was quoted in History of the Church 6:346 but with the bit about Adam expurged. An other reference dating to around the same period relates to the work on the papyri from Egypt. There we had published in the Times and Seasons of January 1, 1845, the following as coming from Joseph Smith.

Well, now, Brother William [Smith], when the house of Israel begin to come into the glorious mysteries of the kingdom, and find that Jesus Christ, whose goings forth, as the prophets said, have been of old, from eternity [Micah 5:2]; and that eternity, agreeably to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system, (not this world) almost two thousand five hundred and fifty five millions of years: and to know at the same time, that deists, geologists and others are trying to prove that matter must have existed hundreds of thousands of years;--it almost tempts the flesh to fly to God, or muster faith like Enoch to be translated and see and know as we are seen and known!

Exactly how one should take this is up in the air. Some have suggested comparisons to various Jewish beliefs, especially from the medieval period, where they taught of pre-Adamites and had a date of the history of life that arose out of the one day of the Lord to one thousand of our years. Certainly that appears to be where the figures of 2.55 billion years arose.

For those interested, one of the better talks on the subject of Adam and Evolution was by Elder James A. Talmage back in 1931 called The Earth and Man. Interestingly that was published by the church as a pamphlet.

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To the Things Themselves!
May 12, 2004

There's a rather interesting discussion over at Times and Seasons that gets at some significant issues. If you can handle the ins and outs of the discussion and a few side tangents, you might find it quite interesting. Kaimi Wenger starts out the discussion by raising the issue of whether there is a growing divide between members who read the scriptures through scholarly lenses and those who don't. Fundamentally, the issue is what constitutes Mormon belief.

Unfortunately this supposed divide has been characterized by yet an other taxonomy. A taxonomy if anything, more distasteful than the old liahonah vs iron rodder divide that bothered me so much back in the 90's. Some have created a new divide between what are termed Chapel Mormons and Internet Mormons. This is especially problematic since it has the connotation that those who examine theology critically somehow aren't really doing what they ought to be. (They aren't part of the "chapel" people) Further it makes this odd connection to the internet, which seems odd since the classic scholar of Mormon theology of the 20th century is Hugh Nibley. And Nibley wrote long before the Internet was a gleam in Al Gore's eye. I could go on about why I find the very names of the taxonomy problematic. But the real issue is whether there is a divide among Mormons based upon what Mormon belief consists.

My criticisms against this dichotomy are two fold. Let me turn to the main one first. There appears to be a not so subtle equivocation. Are we speaking about what people happen to believe? Or are we speaking about what people are trying to represent with their beliefs? That is not a small matter. Consider the following example. I see that my window is broken and think that the neighbor's kid broke it. Suppose I say, "whoever broke this window ought to pay for it." Now what is my intent in terms of? Who do I want to pay for the window? The person I believe broke it or the person who actually broke it? I think the exact same phenomena occurs within Mormon theology. Consider the topic of evolution. When Mormons speak of their beliefs regarding the creation of life, what are they really concerned about? How they understand it at a given time or what really happened? Further, if we ask about Mormon theology, are we asking what any individual Mormon happens to believe? Or are we asking about what the theology to which the member adheres happens to accept?

Consider an other example If the Mormon answered on a quiz that Sidney Rigdon lost parts of the Book of Mormon, is that what really counts? If we tell the person that Martin Harris lost the pages, would they be thrown for a loop? Or would they recognize that what they believe, in terms of commitment, exceeds what they may be aware of or remember at any given time? This isn't a small point. It really gets to the issue of what beliefs are for.

Don't get me wrong, I think analyzing what people happen to think about various topics is useful. I'm not at all convinced it is a good way to analyze theology. If people judge Mormon theology on topics like evolution, whether all American natives are Lamanites, or similar issues based upon what lay members answer, then they must also say that what Mormons believe about many other things also consists of what they lay members respond. That would mean that a thorough test on such topics as the genealogy of various scripture lines, the prophecies of Isaiah and all other manner of topics depend upon these beliefs and not what the scriptures, church authorities or future investigations say they are. Do we really want to say that Mormon theology on Isaiah consists of what the average lay member believes about it? (And I suspect that the average lay member has never really read Isaiah).

The other problem with the divide is that it makes the classic polling error of avoiding levels of commitment or issues of vagueness. For instance if you ask someone, "who lost the pages of the Book of Mormon," a person may well give you an answer, but they may not feel very strongly about it. Is it fair to judge that answer the same way that we judge an answer from someone who feels very confident about the answer? Why then do we do that for these supposed analysis of controversial issues? Vagueness is also important. For instance I may have some vague notions about what evolution consists of and how God was invovled. But is it fair to compare the meaning of the words used by people if what they understand by the words is so different - and often undetermined? For instance what the typical lay person understands by the word evolution and what an evolutionary biologist understands by the term are quite different. The lay member will have a vague notion of the term, along with some probable incorrect notions about what evolution consists. Yet in these analysis what counts isn't the meaning but rather the words. This means that there is a fundamental conflation going on when the analysis then begings to treat the words as if they represented the meanings.

I could go on. But hopefully you see what I'm getting at. I think there is a Mormon theology. However I don't think I know what it is and I don't think anyone else knows what it is either. It is something independent of our beliefs. I can present my views about Mormon theology. But I recognize that a lot of what I say will be wrong. This notion of fallibilism is rather key to Mormon theology. As Paul says, we see but through a glass darkly. Further, one of the most commonly quoted scriptures among Mormons is that we learn "line upon line." This phrase, probably used by most Mormons at some time or other, really indicates that what we seek for in our knowledge always exceeds our grasp. It indicates that our knowledge always is vague, awaiting further information.

This brings us to the final point. Is there a divide among Mormons based upon this knowledge? If I happen to know more than an other, does that imply some divide between us? I don't think so. For one, I don't think scholarly knowledge is really the knowledge most Mormons consider important. Rather I believe that "knowing how" is considered far more significant than "knowing that." Put an other way, knowing lots of theology is irrelevant if you live it. Further if you live it, it doesn't matter if you can communicate it clearly and in a scholarly way. A sculpter need not be a chemist to produce artistic works, and neither does a Christian need to be a theologian to live a Christian life. If we truly accept this, then to artificially create a divide over knowledge of theology makes as much sense as to artificially create a divide based upon ones ability at playing Ward basketball. It becomes a problem only when you think you are better than an other because of ones talents. The fact we have different skills and knowledge simply can not by itself create a divide.

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Levinas, the Talmud, and the Kabbalah
May 17, 2004

Just a few comments today. The first is a very interesting link I came upon. It is a phenomenological outlook of the Talmud. For those not familiar with Judaism, the Talmud is the main collection of commentary on the scriptures and midrash. The best comparison for Mormons would be the Journal of Discourses. However even that's not an ideal comparison since the Talmud has a place more akin to how we view Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. What is so interesting about the Talmud is that it is much more a kind of discussion rather than a "thus it is so." The paper focuses in on Levinas, a philosopher that many have noted as being relevant to Mormons. He's a significant philosophical figure as well. Derrida, for instance, is at least as influenced by Levinas as he is Hegel or Husserl.

What is interesting to me is how Levinas brings into a conversation the Hebrew mind with the Greek mind. In a sense, that is what this site attempts to do as well. Of course the Hebrews of late antiquity and especially the medieval era were already thoroughly pervaded by Greek thought. Philo is a famous Jew under extensive Greek influence. But many claim that Jewish thought was profoundly affected by neoPlatonism and, to a lesser extent, Aristotle. So in a sense the Greeks are already there. But that applies to us as well. After all we were profoundly affected not only by Protestantism, but most likely by elements of the Renaissance that made their way into what was called the "hermetic" tradition. Our identity as new Hebrews must be seen as occuring in a period when western philosophy ruled supreme and transformed how we read Hebrew scriptures. So, while I think there important differences from what we find in Levinas from what we find in LDS culture - there can be useful approaches we can learn from this philosopher / rabbi.

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Limits on God's Knowledge
May 20, 2004

There's an interesting discussion over at LDS-Phil regarding divine knowledge. Now normally philosophical inquiry regarding God's knowledge relates to the problem of foreknowledge and freewill. (i.e. could I have chosen otherwise than I do if God knows what I will choose before I choose it - since if I choose otherwise God's "knowledge" is false) However a few people brought up an other possible limit on divine knowledge. Can God truly know what it is to be me? This isn't just propositions about me but the quality of my experiences.

There were two ways of thinking about this issue. The first was, I think, the most fruitful. Consider the difference between the experience of Christmas before and after you knew its secret. The quality or feel of the knowledge was quite different. Why? Because innocence or ignorance affects how things feel. Yet God, being omniscient, can't limit himself to being non-omniscient. So he'll not know what it is like to be me with only my knowledge and experiences.

The problem is that most forms of Christianity have the ability for God to limit himself. For instance Christ, even in traditional Christianity, is fully man and presumably therefore knows what it is like to be ignorant. (Perhaps not all believe that - I confess this is an aspect of traditional Christology I'm not that familiar with) In LDS theology we definitely have this with our theology of the veil in which knowledge, memory and experience is veiled and hidden. Thus for us while Christ may well have been omniscient before his birth, he definitely wasn't while he was born. Given this possibility, why couldn't God limit his knowledge so that he only knows what I know? If it is my limits of knowledge that give an experience its feel, then surely God can on demand experience in that way.

Not everyone agrees, suggesting that God can't know that experience while simultaneously being omniscient. He might know it while constricted or limited, but he'd lose that knowledge when "omniscient." I think this not an argument about whether God is omniscient in the sense of being able to know all things but whether he is omniscient in the sense of being able to know all things simultaneously. That's fair, but is a different criticism than a criticism of omniscient. I think we can allow for omniscience without necessarily being aware of all things simultaneously. I'd touched on this before, but with respect to how awareness works for a material being.

The other attack on God's omniscience is interesting as well. Consider the proposition "I am Clark." God can never know that proposition while I can. Thus there is knowledge God can't have. Blake Ostler uses this argument in The Attributes of God. I don't buy it because it assumes that knowledge of these kinds of propositions are possible. I think that it subtly confuses the statement "I am Clark" with the propositions I assert when I utter it. I think when I utter "I am Clark" I am making an assertion about who I am that goes beyond my name and that is not reflexive in the sense the statement is. I thus get nervous when people put pronouns of that sort in propositions. (Pronouns like "I", "you", "we" etc.)

I think a good way of considering this is to assume that these are incomplete propositions or that we are simply confusing statements and propositions. In the latter case if I say, "I am Clark" and you say, "you are Clark" we are saying the same propositions. The "I" or "you" in the statement function to designate the subject of the proposition but do not within themselves designate it. The context is necessary to designate the subject. However I recognize that the place of indexicals in language is complex. Frankly its been too many years since I studied it last. I need to break out my Russell, Searle, and so forth and see what they say about indexicals.

The notion that the problem is one of incomplete propositions is far more attractive. This is a notion I came upon in Peirce. The idea, as I understand it (and I'm being taken to task elsewhere for misunderstanding his notion of propositions -- so take it for what it's worth) is that all propositions involve three elements. They are of the form A does X to B. Now you can exclude one or more of these elements. But you then have something incomplete and of the nature of an index. Peirce feels quite strongly that the propositions represented in even clear statements are often misportrayed. Take for example the statement, "all men are mortal." At first glance we want to say the subject is "all men." But Peirce feels this wrong. He'd say that "anything" is the subject and that the predicate is "is mortal or else not a man." I don't want to dwell on Peirce too much here (especially since I may misunderstand him with respect to propositions) Since this is a somewhat difficult critique, I've scanned in the section of Peirce that brought it to mind. Please forgive me for any unclarity in applying the notion to the topic at hand.

The point is that I think both arguments against omniscience fail. I think God can restrict his knowledge so as to experience any real experience he wishes to. I think that limited awareness and omniscience are compatible with each other. (After all we don't say that we don't know 2 + 2 = 4 simply because we aren't thinking of it at the time) I also think appeals to reflexive statements as representing knowledge are misleading and most likely incorrect interpretations of the propositions represented by statements.

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Beckwith and the Mormon Concept of God
May 21, 2004

A few links of relevance to the site and of possible interest to its readers.

Francis Beckwith has his essay "Philosophical Problems with the Mormon Concept of God" online. A lot of these issues have been dealt with before. A few of them Blake Ostler dealt with in various articles responding to The New Mormon Challenge. Blake, as well as having a full book dealing with his view of the Mormon conception of God, has online an earlier paper going through some of the conceptions. "The Mormon Concept of God" was originally published in Dialog in 1984. His more recent work The Attributes of God deals with many of the same topics in far more depth. I should add that I disagree with Blake on certain matters and there is far from unaminity among philosophers regarding the Mormon conception of God. But Blake's book is undoubtedly the best place to start. With regards to Beckwith's view of Mormon conceptions of deity, a few FARMS reviews are available in Google's cache. Richard Hopkins has a response titled Counterfeiting the Mormon Concept of God" Blake had a review of it as well called "The Mormon Concept of God: A Philosophical Analysis" Kevin Winters has also responded to some of the concepts Beckwith brings up in I believe an untitled and unpublished paper. I notice that a chapter from Stephen Robinson's Are Mormons Christian called The Doctrinal Exclusion: Trinity and the Nature of God. Robinson also recently had a very nice short summary of the main points of his book in Christianity Today.

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Various Other Blogs
May 21, 2004

I'll probably be hooking up the comments today or Sunday, so the look of the site will be changing somewhat significantly soon. In the meantime here are a few other philosophical discussions around the net.

Over at Times and Seasons Nate has an interesting discussion about social epistemology as it relates to Mormonism. Social epistemology is basically the idea that our knowledge hinges on social institutions. It's actually an old idea and can be found in various guises and to various degrees. For instance in Heidegger we have a similar conception with respect to a world. For instance for me to know what a hammer is I must know its place in a network of other equipment like nails, walls, screwdrivers and so forth. In Mormonism various notions like prophesy take the meaning they do from their role in our social structures and institutions. Nate brings up the idea that social instutions, like the United States government arose so that the ideas within the restoration of the gospel could make sense, be understandable and thereby knowable. Unfortunately the comments veered off into a discussion of social liberalism and the Nephites. But I think the basic issue Nate raises is interesting, even though I don't have a lot to say about it. I confess that the political dimensions of philosophy have never held much interest for me.

Christopher Brandford, guest blogging at Times and Seasons has a somewhat similarly themed discussion about physical embodiment as it relates to epistemology. I think he raises some good points. We tend to sometimes treat the spirit and revelation as if it were some direct intuition of knowledge. Yet, given our placement in a world limited by a body, what is the point of the body if we are to know by a direct intuition? I think his conclusion that we can't put total trust on intuition is correct. I'd probably go one step further and say that the "witness of the spirit" must be understood in terms of our embodiment in a world. Thus to draw a huge difference between the witness of the spirit and the witness of our senses is probably incorrect. In more modern terms, both involve limitation and both involve a hermeneutic circle. I think the idea of some direct intuition of absolute knowledge is a bit of a fable and comes from misreadings of Plato, Plotinus and others.

Since I'm always bringing up infinity I should link to an interesting paper on its place in modern cosmology. It's mainly an introduction and looks like it is a working paper as the equations aren't in it yet. But some might find it interesting.

There are two other recent papers that are relevant to a few themes I've discussed here before. The first in the new entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Platonism in Metaphysics. This is basically the idea that abstract (non-material) objects can be real. As you recall Orson Pratt's most famous work is a polemic against the possibility of such things. (Although he ends up begging the question - but at least he does it in an interesting way) Platonism as a position (not the philsopher and his philosophy) tends to get a bad rap so I'd encourage people to read the article to get their bearings. On a related note there is an interesting sounding paper (which I've yet to read) on How to Tell Universals From Particulars. I'm not sure I buy the argument, but I always enjoy debates that end up being new takes on the old Nominalism and Platonism debates from the Scholastic era.

Somewhat related to some Mormon conceptions of the unity of the Godhead as a collective mind is a paper about whether groups can know. Contra Collective Epistemic Knowledge. Now not all Mormons adopt a view akin to Social Trinitarianism, but enough do that analysis of such notions in a more practical arena always are in order. Unfortunately this paper is short and is basically a response/review of an other paper. But it may give some something to chew on.

The last paper I've seen linked to in blogs is Fundamentalism and its Rivals. Despite the title, the interesting bits are about testimony based beliefs. Since these are among the most common sources of belief it is worth knowing whether they are inferential or direct. The paper is a defense of the view that they are forms of direct knowledge if the speaker is sincere or reliable. That is a bit strong for me, but I tend to interpret such things in terms of the process of the individual testifying. If the process is reliable then the testimony is. As I see it. I tend to discount sincerity as be a justification. Anyway, given the place of testimony in Mormon epistemology it is worth reading.

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