Monday, April 29, 2013

The Fallacy of the Cake

I've been reading alot of Heidegger recently, and studying reformed natural theology (specifically Van Til's variety), and last night I had a thought. Feel free to interact with it. I am open to the possibility that I am totally off my rocker.

The Fallacy of the Cake - wanting to keep your cake & eat it too (you can't have it both ways).

This fallacy is found in the foundational claims of presuppositionalism:

A/ everybody  interprets the world from some basic interpretative schema (all schema's can be divided into two main groups: (1) reformed christian or analogical, (2) fallen man or univocal).

B/ it is impossible to step outside of one's interpretative schema in order to know that it is true or false.

C/ the reformed christian interpretative schema is THE true interpretative schema.

If A and B are true, then C is false (or, at best, impossible to know!)

This is an instance of the Fallacy of the Cake. You can't have your cake and eat it too!!! If everybody  interprets the world from some basic interpretative schema, and it is impossible to step outside of one's interpretative schema in order to know that it is true or false, then if follows that there is no way to know that the reformed christian interpretative schema is THE true interpretative schema. There is, therefore, no reason to accept the reformed christian interpretative schema over the fanatical atheist views of Richard Dawkins.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Aquinas's Prayer Before to Study

   How should we pray? When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, Jesus gave them an example - The Lord's Prayer. In John 17 we are able to read what is frequently called the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. We find, in the letters of Paul, many examples of how Pastors and church leaders ought to pray for their churches. We learn to pray by observing the prayers of others. In light of this I simply want to share one prayer that has been a constant source of encouragement to me in my studies. This prayer can be found on a number of websites around the internet, however, I have rarely found the full version of it. So, I decided that I would put it here on my blog. I hope that it will be an encouragement for others.

Aquinas’s Prayer Before Study*

Ineffable Creator,
   Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom,
          Have established three hierarchies of angles,
          Have arrayed them in marvelous order
                   Above the fiery heavens,
          And have marshaled the regions
                        Of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed
         The true font of light and wisdom,
         And the primal origin
                Raised high beyond all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
           Into the darkened places of my mind;
    Disperse from my soul
         The twofold darkness
               Into which I was born:
                    Sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
          Refine my speech
          And pour forth upon my lips
                The goodness of Your blessing.

Grant to me
          Keenness of mind,
          Capacity to remember,
          Skill in learning,
          Subtlety to interpret,
          And eloquence in speech.

May You
          Guide the beginning of my work,
          Direct its progress,
          And bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,
           Who live and reign, world without end.


*Prayer quoted from The Aquinas Prayer Book: The Prayers and Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. and ed. Robert Anderson and Johann Moser (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2000), 41-44.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Being, Being Actual, Being Possible and Being Necessary

In Basic Concepts, a series of lectures given in 1941 by Martin Heidegger, we are told that to the whole, or entirety, of beings belongs actuality, possibility and necessity. Heidegger notes that “The realm of beings is not identical to the domain of the actual…we mean more than the ‘actual’ when we says ‘beings’. Indeed the actual is perhaps not at all the standard for beings. And whenever one demands closeness to the actual for human life, the ‘actuality’ that is really meant is not what is simply present, but what is planned, not what is mastered, but an unspoken claim to power. The oft-mentioned ‘actual’ is not the actual, but the possible. Thus we never think ‘beings’ as a whole as long as we only mean the actual. Henceforth, if we earnestly think beings as a whole, if we think their being completely, then the actuality of the actual is contained in being, but also the possibility of the possible and the necessity of the necessary.”[1] The point of the last sentence is that the notion of being contains within it the notions of actual, possible and necessary. The claim of the above quotation could be illustrated as follows:

 The question comes to mind, what does Heidegger mean when he uses these terms? When he explains what is meant by actual, he says, “the currently actual, which affects us and which we stumble upon: the happenings, the destinies and doings of man, nature in its regularity and its catastrophes, the barely fathomable powers that are already present in all motives and aims, in all valuations and attitudes of belief.”[2] By actual he means what presents itself to us as present, not merely as mind-independent, but also, the present attitudes and beliefs. By possible he means, “the not yet actual.”[3] He says that “The possible also ‘is’, its being simply has another character than the actual.”[4] We are not told what he means by necessary, though it is likely that he simply means what must be.

            Pushing his thoughts a little bit further, and coming back to the quote above, what is he trying to say, when he says that the notion of actual does not exhaust the notion of beings?[5] In order to understand this we need to understand the distinction that he makes between being and beings, which seems vaguely similar to Aquinas’s distinction between essence and existence. He notes that “When we say ‘beings are,’ we distinguish each time between beings and their being, without noticing this distinction at all.”[6] Why is this distinction important? It seems, when we consider the notion of “possible beings” we are obliged to say that we do talk about things that are not yet, but which could be or could have been. We say things such as “I could have been an entertainer.” “I could have been a gangster.” “I hope to a become philosopher.” “I could be wrong.” “A house will be built on this land.” However, though we can talk about these possible beings, they do not as of yet exist, in other words, they are not actual, they are not present and they are not “there”. It seems, however, that, in a sense, even these possible beings cannot be talked about unless there is something that grounds or founds their being. Here the distinction between being and beings becomes obvious. These possible beings do not, in a sense, have being. Perhaps we could say it another way, the being of possible beings is dependent on something that is actual. If there is no being-there, then there can be no possible being. Possible being is dependent on Actual being, and in a sense, is included in it. Possibility is included in the notion of what is actually there. Can we then say that Actual being includes, in a sense the being of what is possible? That would change our chart a little bit.

       This leaves us with the notion of the necessary. The necessary seems to be, in general, placed in opposition to the possible. That is, what is possible could be, but what is necessary must be. If this is the case, then the necessary is a qualification of the actual – what is. In other words, what is actual is also, by the fact that it is, necessary. This is the notion that is used in the claim that a necessary being is a being that exists in all possible worlds, or, in other words, a necessary being is a being that is actual (is there, is present) in all possible worlds. As such, the necessary is a description or qualification of the actual. The conception of necessary is frequently contrasted with the concept of contingent. A contingent being could be described as a being that is but possibly is not, or is not, but possibly is. It’s being actual (there or present) depends upon some other being that is actual (there or present). Contrasted with such a being, a necessary being contains within it the principle of its own being (actuality, there-ness, present-ness). Again, following this conception it seems that the notion of necessary (as well as the notion of contingent) is a qualification of the notion of actuality. We might, therefore, modify our chart again:

            If we assume for the moment that these three notions are the only possible qualifications of being, then, it seems that the notion of actual, simply is the notion of being. We could put it this way, necessarily, x is (or in other words, x has being), if and only if, x is actual. Thus we would modify our chart again as follows:

            Some objections could be imagined. What about possible worlds, they have being, but are not actual, therefore, they would be excluded from being if being simply is actuality. In response to this objection we could return to the distinction, that we noted above, between being and beings. It seems that, properly speaking, possible worlds are only possible beings that have their being in the mind of the philosopher, and whose possible being is dependent on what actually is (is there, is present).[7] We might call possible beings that are in the mind of a thinker, following the medieval philosophers, a being of reason. A being of reason only has being in the mind of the person that is thinking it, and insomuch as it is being thought about, it is actual (it is there, it is present) – intellectually. Therefore, possible beings fall under the notion of actuality, metaphysically and epistemologically.

[1]Martin Heidegger, Basic Concepts, trans. Gary E. Aylesworth (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998), 22.

[2]Ibid., 21.



[5]Note, in this article, I am simply taking off from a very small section of Heidegger’s work, and thinking about the notions that he articulates, regardless of whether or not he actually ends up agreeing with this initial position. Much of these observations are certainly inspired by Aquinas's De Ente et Essentia.

[6]Ibid., 22.

[7]Some philosophers think that possible worlds are actually existent abstract objects. I would suggest that if it is possible for an abstract object to exist independently of any mind, then, in order to be consistent with our terminology, as defined above, possible worlds are actual. This is a subject that is frequently debated by the very best metaphysicians.