Saturday, March 16, 2013

More on the Ontological Argument of Epicurus

I don't think Epicurus's argument establishes the existence of any monotheistic God.  In support of monotheism, I usually appeal to the argument from motion and the metaphysical argument found in Thomas's De Ente et Essentia.  Nevertheless, I've come to be convinced that Epicurus's argument is a sound proof of angelic-like beings, or what he calls "gods" (with a lower case "g").

1. There is no conception apart from real perception. (Premise)

2. There is the conception of angelic-like entities. (Premise)

3. Therefore, there is a real perception of angelic-like entities. (From 1 and 2)

In support of (1), the only reason we are able to imagine fictional entities, such as unicorns, is because of real perceptions of horses and various animals with horns.  Yet, premise (2) contends that we have the conception of angelic-like entities.  What possible combination of entities could account for any fictional angelic-like entity?  In fact, many claim that they have been visited by angels.  Are they crazy, or is there an authentic perception?  I'll let readers decide for themselves.

In any case, the argument is logically valid.  The skeptic's best case against the argument is probably to undermine premise (2).

Can God change his mind?

Instead of delving into any Biblical exegesis involving passages that on the surface appear to say that God can/cannot change his mind, I want to think about some of the philosophical consequences of however one chooses to answer this question.  Consider this argument:

1. It is a mark of human integrity to be able/willing to change one's mind. (Premise)

2. God cannot change his mind. (Premise)

3. Therefore, God does not exhibit the human element of integrity to change his mind. (From 1 and 2)

I fully endorse this argument.  The problem is that I don't see how it does any damage to God's character.  Of course God doesn't always exhibit the same virtues as humans in the same manner.  Yet, that only raises an additional question: why should God have to be able/willing to change his mind in order to be maximally great?  Think of it this way:

4. An omniscient mind, God, knows every propositional truth. (Definition)

5. Necessarily, if God knows every propositional truth, then God would never have to change his mind. (Premise)

6. Therefore, God never has to change his mind. (From 4 and 5)

Where, then, is the conflict between (3) and (6)?  In fact, it would be a sign of weakness for God to change his mind when he already possesses all propositional knowledge!

Similar comments can be made about human nature exhibiting both actuality and potentiality.  It is a sign of a human's virtue to actualize his or her potentiality.  However, God qua pure actuality, has no need to actualize any potentiality, since he simply doesn't exhibit any potentiality.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dogmatism and Tolerance

Have you ever noticed that those who complain about dogmatism, intolerance and closed-mindedness are often the ones who most exemplify these characteristics?  I've been accused of each of these, no matter how polite I am during the course of a debate.

For example, I've been accused of being intolerant for publicly expressing my belief in moral objectivity.  The funny thing is, the accuser cannot decry my intolerance without himself/herself presupposing moral objectivity.  If what's right for me isn't necessarily what's right for another, then the accuser has lost all grounds for his objection.  Why not be intolerant?  After all, if morality is relative, then why bother complaining about what's best for me?  The moral relativist's position is therefore self-defeating.

Is my claim that homosexual behavior is unhealthy merely my own subjective opinion, and not one that I should publicly express?  Taken to its logical conclusion, I guess I also shouldn't publicly express that the consumption of rat poison is unhealthy.  The fact is that nobody is a moral relativist or nihilist in practice.  The only consistent position with one's belief and one's practice is moral objectivism.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Epicurus and the Ontological Argument

It's quite strange to mention Epicurus in the same sentence as the ontological argument.  Epicurus, after all, was among one of the most skeptical philosophers in ancient Greece.  He denied the reality of divine providence insofar as it related to human affairs and he is famous for postulating one version of the argument from suffering.

Nevertheless, we surprisingly find Epicurus affirming the existence of the gods, who he maintained were composed of the most subtle atoms and were undergoing constant change, much like a waterfall is constantly filled with new water.  Long before St. Anselm, Epicurus actually defended an ontological argument similar to that of Descartes's.

Epicurus's epistemology was exclusively based on sense-perception.  Our concept of a unicorn exists only because we have perceptions of real entities, such as horses and various animals with horns.  A unicorn is therefore a combination of the two and imbued with magical properties.  Accordingly, Epicurus maintains, like Descartes, that our conception of the divine must be based in reality.  No conception can exist apart from perception.

Whether this is a good argument is beside the point.  It's just fascinating to find traces of the ontological argument over a thousand years before Anselm penned his Proslogion.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Aesthetic Argument

Peter Kreeft summarizes his version of the aesthetic argument like this:

1. There is the music of Bach.

2. Therefore, God exists.

Kreeft concludes, "You either see that one or you don't."  However, I think there's a lot to be said about this argument.  A beautiful song, such as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," must have been composed by an ingenious mind.  Suppose that we focus instead on the wonders of nature.  The orderliness of nature is awe-inspiring and, quite frankly, beautiful.  Based on nature's beauty, we are justified in inferring the existence of a cosmic "composer," or designer.