Sunday, September 29, 2013

Some Lessons From An Invisible Monster with Purple Skin!

From guest blogger, Aviva.

Imagine a world where most philosophers rely on the following premise.

          P1: The invisible monster has purple skin.

To those who have no prior understanding of the purple monster, this premise may seem weak. To what monster does this premise apply? Where is this monster. Has it always been invisible? If it has always been invisible, how could any person conclude that it has skin at all, let alone purple skin?
In response, some philosophers are quick to point out that if a monster does exist, it is only logical that its skin is purple. Other philosophers point to the essays written by those before them about the monster, and promise that they begin their premise with the understanding that their audience has read their predecessors, who vehemently insisted on  and proved the purple skin of this invisible monster. When one examines further, one finds that those philosophers pointed to ancient books, which tell of unique and special characters who speak directly with the invisible monster, which promises them that its skin is in fact purple. When one searches to find the author of these books wherein the purple monster reveals the color of its skin, one finds that it is agreed upon, by those who cite the books as the source of their philosophy, that the monster told the story to a special man or a few special men, who we trust to have transcribed accurately the monster’s account.

This seems absurd to a visitor from our world, and yet it seems that most people in this other world readily adhere to the view of the monster having purple skin. Most of these believers recognize that many others believe the monster to have no skin, or green skin, or translucent skin, and this in no way discredits their personal belief in purple skin.

What I aim to argue here is not the existence of G-d, or the arbitrary nature of institutionalized religion, but rather the practice of basic assumptions about G-d. What are the grounds for our understanding of G-d’s omnipotence, or omnibenevolence, or of G-d’s volition or desires? It seems that where in virtually every other case philosophers believe in empiricism and logical deduction, in instances of G-d, this pragmatism is entirely abandoned. It baffles how premises such as “G-d is a benevolent being” or responses such as those to the stone paradox or to the problem of evil are justified as epistemological conclusions. Epistemology is meant to distinguish fact from opinion; how then, is a conclusion about G-d’s nature possibly deemed factual, if its very nature defies epistemological investigation?
I do not believe it is possible to even logically assume any trait of G-d’s essence (let alone G-d’s existence). When you read the word “chair,” you may see in your mind a wood chair, and the next reader a plastic, and the reader after that a Lay-Z-Boy, and yet each reader is able to prove that what he or she sees in his or her mind’s eye is, in fact, a chair, and that he or she is correct in the created image. When you read the word “G-d,” you may imagine an old white man with a staff, while the reader after may see a crucifix, and the next a purple cloud, ad infitum, and not a single reader could be proved empirically to be wrong.

I propose then, that the philosophical community acknowledge than when one uses the term “G-d,” it is only a term, empty of actual definition, and rather used to name a multitude of concepts or entities, none of which with factual, provable origin. Philosophical discussions of G-d ought to remove themselves so fully from the societal conception of a religious or spiritual G-d so as to create a new concept. I believe that if philosophers continue to discuss G-d as a philosophical concept, it is necessary that we distinguish between the theological and the philosophical existences of G-d. While the theological G-d can exist in infinite understandings, the philosophical G-d ought to exist on its own, as a discrete being. In doing so, we can begin discussions of G-d with premises that do not infringe on the fundamental indescribable aspect of a spiritual or religious G-d. I understand this as a radical proposal, but I see no place for scripture or spirituality in epistemology, thus a distinction must be made. 


Jesse Steinberg said...

This is just a minor point--How could an invisible thing be colored? Maybe this is part of your point, but I'd like to hear more about why you use this example and how you think it relates to the properties commonly attributed to God.

The properties that are commonly ascribed to God have a theological/historical basis. There are various texts that claim that God is all-perfect. In addition, there is a kind of conceptual argument for God being perfect. You might find Johnston's semi-recent book on the topic of interest. Here's a link to his first chapter, which applies to your post:

Anonymous said...

This one I think best describes the picture and condition of these analytic approaches to God, where the only tools in the toolbox are logical truths that could not be otherwise except at wit's end. Not a single example of a truth that might impress empirically or admit to the slightest hint of anything real.