Saturday, December 28, 2002

My wife has left me to go to California and I am left a lone man in Salt Lake City -- not quite the Garden of Eden -- and thus have the urge to blog in my lonliness.

I would be interested in hearing the Literary Critic's theory of the Book of Mormon's discussion of race as being self-deconstructive. It has always struck me that the Book of Mormon seems to set up certain racial expectations -- white Nephites good; dark Lamanites bad -- that it then systematically frustrates and undermines. The Nephites are wicked. The Lamanites are more righteous. The ebb and flow of righteousness do not seem to follow from race at all. The whole notion of race becomes fluid with dark people becoming white and vice versa. Admittedly, the fluidity can be read to reinforce some link between race and righteousness, but it is strange in that it makes race, which is generally thought to be morally irrelevant because of its immutability, into a mutable characteristic. In short, while the Book of Mormon has been used in the past to justify various forms of racism, it seems that such justifications rest on a fairly shallow reading. Interestingly, if the research of Noel Reynolds is to be trusted serious study of the Book of Mormon prior to the late 1970s and 1980s was virtually non-existent. Thus, the study of the Book of Mormon is correlated not with the rise of racist Mormon theologies but with their decline.

Anyway, I would be interested in a racial, deconstructivist, Book of Mormon manifesto from the Literary Critic.

Monday, December 23, 2002

I reread the Literary Critic's post of December 6 , which I quite enjoyed. As requested, I read it with the question of necessity in mind. I offer the following thoughts in no particular order:

1. I am not entirely persuaded by your dismissal of Aquinas's response to relativism. Your claim is that the argument is sophistic one-upsmanship that has no real “cash value” because it doesn't prove enough to prevent a pluralistic and relativistic metaphysics, etc. etc. There is some force to this argument in that it seems initially correct to say that accepting the reality of truth doesn't seem to place a lot of constraints on the form that truth takes. However, I think there is a bit more substance to the notion of truth inherent in the “sophistic” argument against relativism. It seems to reject the idea that the assertion of a contradiction is true. Coherence is require, contradictions must be reconciled, etc. This it seems could create constraining on a thorough going relativism.

2. What is the “cash value” of talking about cosmic cultural criticism? First, there is the claim that a perfunctory acknowledgment of “truth” is not such a big deal because we still get to be relativists in practice. This is immediately followed by the claim that cosmic manners are so powerful that even God is bound by them. In effect, the Literary Critic seems to be saying that we have a truth, but it is really pretty relativist in practice; and, we have a relativism, but it is really pretty absolutist in practice. I appreciate the play of ideas and paradox, but I fear that at the end of the day I have a plodding lawyer's brain. How do we reconcile the contradiction?

3. The Literary Critic seems to solve the problem of relation by reference to some idea of rhetoric. I tis is the force of their rhetoric that binds eternal intelligences together. I am curious as to whether there is some particular theory of rhetoric behind this. Aristotle and other classical theorists of rhetoric thought that it was made powerful by truth. Mormons tend to talk about the Spirit accompanying powerful speech, which seems like a metaphysical appeal, ire. there is some actual being – spirit fluid anyone? - that makes rhetoric powerful. Joseph spoke about how the truth “tastes good.” This is an intriguing metaphor, but reducing rhetoric to taste and desire seems problematic. Some are persuaded to live righteous and holy lives. Some are persuaded to build gulags and concentration camps. It is just a matter of taste. You get the picture. Another suggestive image is found in the Book of Mormon, which talks about being enticed to follow good and enticed to follow evil. I actually like the way this imagery combines the desire underlying Joseph's statement and Aristotle's connection of truth and rhetoric. However, other than the intriguing language, I am not sure what to make of it.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Men and brethren,

I've been reading The End of Science by John Horgan in which he interviews the top minds in all fields of science, even Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend, and asks them what they think the limits of science are. His thesis is that science has made its most important discoveries and that the rest will be filling in the details (interestingly he uses Harold Bloom's idea of anxiety of influence applied to scientists). The exponential growth of science will grind to a halt, and though there will still be important inventions and technologies of applied science and engineering, pure truth-seeking is nearly over. His clearest example is modern physics: only at the subatomic level and cosmological level is new physics being done. Particle physics requires billion dollar budgets to smash atoms in accelerators, and cosmological theories cannot be empirically tested. Any attempt at a unified field theory would be equally untestable, and therefore not scientific (such as superstrings), they become a very complicated mathematical mythology. In other words physics has solved the immediately accessible problems, and cannot progress further due to 1) social limitations, namely lack of infinite funding, 2) methodoligical limitations, namely the inability to empirically test theories at the universe or subatomic level, and 3) theoretical limitations, namely the inability of anyone to conceive or understand extremely complicated mathematical models and theories with ten dimensional superstrings. Perhaps our brains simply did not evolve to handle that kind of understanding. In fact it is remarkable that they can create math and that mathematical models can correspond to reality at all.

So with physics, also with chemistry, evolutionary biology and so forth. I remember hearing faculty at BYU talking about the future of chemistry now that its problems are all solved. It boils down to becoming a service science making tools for material science and biology. Part of what is interesting in the book is the amazing philosophical naivete of many of these brilliant scientists, who cannot understand that their pet theories of everything are not science and not empirically testable and therefore mere 'wishful thinking.' There are also a few radical new approaches that I think I'll look into more. There may be some room for subjectivity in quantum mechanics, and there are biologists such as Lynn Margulis who have put forth animistic and holistic philosophies of biology. But as usual there are the Francis Cricks working on a reductionist understanding of conciousness or Dawkins with his militant mechanistic Darwinism.

I wonder about the truth behind the vitalism controversy. Chemists will say that vitalism (which they will define as the old misguided belief that some kind of life force animates living beings) was disproved in 1828 with the chemical synthesis of urea. The idea being that living beings do not have a distinct mysterious chemistry but are made up of compounds than can be synthesized from non-organic sources. While this may disprove earlier theories about the chemistry of living systems, how does it really relate to vitalism? Biologists will tell you that molecular biology disproves vitalism since we can understand the molecules involved in controlling the heredity and life cycle of cells. These processes can be explained at a fundamental physical and chemical level, therefore no voodoo 'life force' is required. This 'disproof' is also unsatisfactory--scientists cannot synthesize a living cell from the components, so how do they know if a soul is required or not? Sure, the chemistry and biology is necessary; sure it can be understood mechanically, but that does not show that it is sufficient! I like the metaphor of Sheldrake of the TV--a man with no knowledge of electomagnetic radiation or electronics takes apart a TV bit by bit to find out how it works. If he takes out the picture tube or certain transistors he will find that it stops working. If he is clever and has lots of time he may have a good idea how the electronics make a TV, but will never know that it is the invisible TV signal that drives the whole thing. If scientists must assume (key word here is assume) that there are no souls or supernatural forces, how can they conclude from there studies that there are no supernatural forces? It's infuriating.

No science book is complete without reference to the problem of evil and also to the terrible track record of religion in causing military conflict. I think the latter likely came from the early moderns who upheld rationality and science since they were tired of marching up and down the continent killing everyone in the thirty years war. But think of the millions killed in the 20th century without any religious cause! In fact science helped make the killing more efficient. It seems to me the problem is totalitarianism and intolerance and certainty in absolute truth (such as displayed by scientists) that leads to violence and destruction--this certainty can either be religious or 'modern.' This is what I see Holmes took from his experience in the civil war and what prompted the generation after the war to emphasize pragmatism. Now for the problem of evil: it has never really caused me great angst. Maybe I am an insensitive person and am not sufficiently affected by the evil and suffering around me. I've seen it stated this way: 1) God is omniscient and omnipotent. 2) God is Good. 3) Evil exists: these three statements necessarily imply a contradiction. I'm not sure that they do, unless you take proposition 1 to mean that God created a completely determined universe ex nihilo, which I find frightening. Does it slight God's omnipotence to allow us to be free agents and choose for ourselves? And what if we choose evil? I guess most scientists really are deterministic at heart and so make the above reading of 1. Thoughts? Is my thinking a result of my shallow personality and does the problem of evil keep you up at night?

One of the physicists Freeman Dyson, talks about a theologian named Charles Hartshorne who believed the Socinian heresy that God grows and learns as humans do; He is not a mode of being but of becoming. There would never be an end to his evolution and learning. God is omniscient in the sense that he knows all that there is to know now (and let me interject that he relates to everything immediately) but that there will be more to learn and relate to later. This is fascinating. I think it may relate to process theology. Please tell me what you know about these ideas, they're new to me; does it limit God's omniscience and omnipotence too much? Is this concept of God too weak? Will Elder McConkie track me down and X me in the spirit world?

Lastly, if individuals, intelligences or what have you are the ontological basis of everything (I dare not say universe, maybe pluriverse?) then what is the value of the systems or models that we set up as theology or science? This question has been raised in the blog as of late and elsewhere also. First I think the key is to keep a sense of the distance between the models and reality. Equation of the two leads to intolerance, violence and death as above. My interpretation of scripture is not Absolute Truth, nor was Joseph Smith's. The ten commandments are not absolutely true; Nephi's killing Laban is placed right at the beginning of the book to demand obedience to God not to law (very frightening, eh Lawyer boy?). Physical law is not Absolute Truth, even if it agrees to the 8th decimal place; scientists who think otherwise should be forced to read Hume and ponder the limits of induction. We do not have direct access to Absolute Truth; this does not mean that we need to fall into a relativistic, nihilistic funk however. I think we can still say that Joseph's readings are better than mine, and that the correlation between HIV and AIDS is sufficient to stop it through drugs and education, not through seeking intercourse with virgins. Theological models are constrained by our relation to the divine, and by texts and prophets within our tradition. Empirical science is constrained by our experiences with physical reality. Having models is crucial to the human experience, without them we would simply be overwhelmed. They are out there, and need to be identified and ordered according to their merits. [it seems pragmatism is all I have to offer]. Our received models may have some problems, which we should try and identify and correct. Ours will not be the final absolute truth and model of reality, but it should be insightful and useful for mormons now. For me that is part of the importance of the metaphysical elders.

Peace out,
A BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE: FARMS has just published a collection of essays in honor of Truman Madsen entitled Revelation, Reason, and Faith in which Richard Bushman has an essay entitled "The Theology of Councils." It might be something worth looking at in light of the Literary Critic's post on friendship.
Another maxim for the day:

"To read without writing is to sleep."
--Saint Jerome

I am certain that he was talking about blogging...

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year unto each and every one of you blessed souls!

For the Lawyer, on the question of teleological necessity that you keep trying to catch me on, you can now (re)read my 12/6 critique of deterministic teleology in our venerable archives. Tell me what you think. Sophistic or substantial?

For all, I have a wacky reading of the Book of Mormon as an auto-deconstructive text in my Bowdoin honors thesis that I think speaks to some of the questions recently raised. My reading is done in terms of race--white Nephite record-keeping selves vs. dark rose-blossoming Lamanite others--but I think that it would speak to the radical reversal of the traditional Deuteronomic linkage of righteousness/racial superiority and riches/prosperity that the darkly tragic Book of Mormon supports. I am always impressed that the topic to which Christ devotes so much of His time while in the land of Bountiful is the prophecy of the Lamanites' fruition and their primary role in the construction of Zion (3 Nephi 19-23). Tell me if you're interested.

For the Historian, I want to hear more of what you really think about Mormonism's coherence. Because you are a kinder, gentler soul than some of the rest of us (sadly, I'm speaking for myself here), I fear that your voice at times gets swallowed up in the drive for Mormon unity. Can you specify what your biggest questions/problems are in our ongoing Mormon philosophy debate? What gaping holes do you see in our (particularly my) assumptions about things? Is a genuinely Mormon perspective possible? I hope that my recent blog about Mormonism as a space of nonidentity wherein all good stuff can gather in a ceaseless process of cosmic cultural exchange might illuminate these questions. Such a view of Mormonism dwells on the paradox that it may locate its exceptionalism precisely in its encyclopedism, effectively defusing some potential problems of essentialism as well as providing a means to honestly recognize and reconceptualize the place of definite non-Mormon elements in Mormonism. This raises another set of problems regarding epistemological imperialism--does Mormonism blunt the hard particularity of other discourses in the process of transmuting them into Mormonism (Burton's "fallacy of gleaning")? On another level, does a conception of Mormonism as a space of nonidentity, a fluid form, a metadiscursive method (and all my other lame alliterative catch-phrases) make for a life too difficult for your average person? Does it not provide enough to hold on to? Or is the immediate experience of the "good society" engaged in eternal conversation to make the cosmos a better place enough? Does it matter if it's not enough? Isn't this what Gods do? We (especially I) want to hear more from you.

For the Scientist, if we've got animate matter, then maybe we have to start talking about degrees of animation/intelligence. Perhaps the regularity of something like the dust of the earth is due to a lower level of intelligence, which corresponds to a lower level of dynamism and unpredictability. Science is thus an incredibly useful tool for managing certain levels of matter/intelligence, a tool that is undoubtedly in the kit of any God. Is there anything viable in chaos or complexity theory that might help us here? Maybe this is why physics and chemistry seem like sure scientific things, but once you start to get into biology and more complex organisms, the ground starts to get a little shaky.

Have a good one, guys. This conversation is Mormonism as far as I'm concerned.
LEGAL ANIMISM: I have been reading Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s The Common Law, and I came across some stuff that reminded me of our discussions of animism. There was a very wide spread phenomena in "primitive" legal systems to treat inanimate objects as having fault based liability. For example, if you are cutting down a tree and the tree falls on you and kills you, your relatives hold a trial in which the tree is convicted and cut to chips. In English law into the 19th century there was something called deodand, which referred to objects used to commit a crime. The objects had to be named and valued in the inditment and if found guilty were confiscated by the crown. Thus, if I stabbed you with a knife, the knife would be tried along with me for your murder. Holme's argues -- persuasively I think -- that this was premised on an animism that viewed the objects as morally culpable (or at least deserving of vengence). He argues -- less persuasively I think -- that one can trace the concept of legal liablity to this idea. However, the idea that objects can commit crimes is interesting, and suggests a moral structure for the universe's regularity. King Benjamin seems to make a similar point when he talks about how the dust is better than we are because it always obeys God. However, to the extent that animated matter becomes morally laudable for acting in regular ways in conformity with God's will, where does that leave our moral aspirations? Is our goal to really to become just like rocks?
Note: the full archives for The Metaphysical Elders are now available.
Perhaps an answer to the question posed by the Historian below is the business cycle. Prudent investment and hard work leads to economic growth; growth leads to profligacy and "irrational exuberence" (to use Brother Greenspan's term); which leads to over extension, contraction, and recession. It seems that not only does this function as an economic model, but more importantly it functions as a way of structuring politics. We look to political leaders to rescue us from recession and judge them as failures when they let us slide from prosperity. On the cosmic scale, it is an awfully petty story, but it is one that seems to replicate a cyclical idea of (economic) apostacy and restoration. I actually think that there is quite a bit of truth to the claims of Eliade and others that secular instiutions tend to replicate the forms and emplotment of religious world views. I actually blogged elsewhere about this a while back, making a comparison between the idea of sacred space and the concept of a public forum in free-speech jurisprudence.
On the arrow of time:

It seems that Mormonism posits two trajectories for time and ordering. One the one hand, the Kingdom of God (the second coming has already begun with Elijah coming to the Temple) is growing and becoming stronger; in a sense, progressing and becoming increasingly ordered. On the other hand, the world is unraveling creation by turning it into chaos. This seems to occur primarily at the site of moral degeneration. This latter part seems to be very much a part of a previous generation's romantic construction of their own past, and perhaps this is what all generations do as they are displaced: they wax nostalgic about the "good old days" when people were good and so forth. The oldest documents complain that children don't respect their parents anymore! So in Mormonism we combine a sense of nostalgia for a past purity with a future eschatological purity. The ordering principle hear seems to be morality, and this is the message of all apocalypse.

For secular society, it seems that the ordering principle is replaced by things like wealth and other quantifiable successes. How does this engage the issue of prospertiy and sin?
I am very intrigued by the Scientist's deconstructionist reading of the BoM on the point of prosperity. I think I will use that in the future. It definitely seems to set a paradox...the blessings of God sow the seeds of their own destruction. More needs to be done on this "cycle of prosperity" than just identifying it. Rather, I think we need to explain it in the BoM's own terms, that is in providential ordering. In what way is this cycle useful for God's ultimate purposes? I also think that the distinction being made between individual and communal prosperity is important, but I am not sure exactly how yet. (or maybe we just leave it deconstructed and rejoice in the paradox itself... that sounds like religion to me!)

I do think it is important to note that politics/economics and religion can never be seperated really, especially when dealing with ancient religion. My question is how explicit should we make this, and how dogmatic should we be about it?

Concerning the deuteronomic promise of the BoM... I not only think that there is a connection, but a very very close connection. I hope to publish this sort of thing some day, so for now just the highlights. Consider that Jeremiah, a close personal friend of Lehi's family, is one of the most likely authors of Deuteronomy! His prophetic book is very similar lexically and is being produced the exact same time that Josiah "finds" the Torah in the Temple. To me, it seems that this sort of message is not just a theodicy of poverty, but also of foreign domination under the Assyrians and later Babylonians. Lehi looses hope in this promise ever being fulfilled in Israel, so there is a new exodus/creation in order for the promise to be fulfilled.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Dearest Friends,

The Lawyer has said it! The value of the Metaphysical Elders--and cosmic life in general--does indeed lie in friendship. I think that part of Mormonism's uniqueness resides precisely in its exaltation of friendship to epistemological status, to a mode of engagement with cosmic cultural reality. This of course is intimately related to all of my ranting about Mormonism as a pragmatic metadiscursive method rather than a classical religious creed. In my utopian dreams (which I clumsily attempt to realize in my daily life), Mormonism is a flexible mode of engagement with the Other, an ethics of conversation (D&C 121?), a politics of nonidentity. Mormonism is a form rather than a content, inasmuch as its content is ever shifting as new influxes of revelatory information come in. It is a grand universalism that is always in the making as it eternally encounters new strands of cosmic culture and invites them in and is invited in. Above all, it may be a theory of council that illuminates how conversations like the one we are having on this website can be transformative. I actually think that this discussion of Mormon conversation illuminates many difficult problems of the Mormon conversion imperative. If we imagine Mormonism as a space of nonidentity, a radical openness to all good things, then we can reinterpret conversion as convergence through a kind of conversation in which parties willing to "believe all things," interested more in edification and friendship than one-upmanship and contention, come together and in the course of talking to each other are mutually converted to the construction that they create together as they interact.

Well, I'm coming over to see you all now, so I probably can stop. I realize that the above is very abstract and sketchy, but I hope it resonates at least a little bit.

To Friendship,
TWO CHEERS FOR MAX WEBER: I agree with the Scientist that it is hard to claim that the Protestant ethic was a sufficient cause of modern prosperity. However, I think that there is more to the claim than the idea that Calvinists work harder. If you think that the private (as opposed to corporate) acquisition of wealth is not ipso facto wrong, then you are likely to create a different set of social institutions. The tendency is to find the cause of the west's prosperity in technology and science. However, I think that Weber makes a good case that this is mistaken. Rather, he argues that it was the combination of Western (specifically Roman) notions of legality coupled with Protestantism. The Protestantism provided an ideological basis for recasting Roman law in a form congenial to market economies, and Roman law, in turn, provided the basis for the modern notions of property and contract that are the engines of economic growth. There is, of course, one big problem with Weber's thesis -- at least on the level of legal sociology. He cannot explain England. According to Weber the impersonal formalism of Roman law provided the basis for mass market transactions. The problem is that some of the earliest stirrings of capitalism came in England under the common law, which lacks the formalism that Weber thought accounted for the economic catalyzing power of Roman law.

I actually find Weber interesting for Mormonism because in many ways we are a very New England religion, descended from Calvinists, and animated at times by an odd kind of post-Puritianism. Certainly, the Mormon striving for Zion has powerful affinities with the Puritan ideal of the city on the hill. On a legal note, it is interesting to look at the way in which the early approach to law in Deseret mirrored the early approach to law in Massachusetts Bay. Both systems banished the common law and tried to create an indigineous legal regime based on the codes of the Old Testament. Both legal systems eventually collapsed before the onslught of the common lawyers. Likewise, I wonder if the affinity of modern Mormons with the prosper in the land sectionsof the Book of Mormon (to the extent that we have such an affinity) isn't a kind of subterranean Puritanism.
What is the Metaphysical Elders about from the point of view of Mormon theology? What is our project? At one level it seems to be conceptual. We want to figure out how to make sense of our intellectual position in light of Mormonism and vice versa. However, as the Scientist (correctly in my view) points out, persons are more fundamental than concepts. So is our enterprise ultimately parasitic and secondary? Probably. On the otherhand, perhaps the value of the Metaphysical Elders lies in friendship. In the Apology Socrates seems to argue that philosophy promotes friendship. Joseph declared in Nauvoo that the fundamental principle of Mormonism was friendship, and Brigham said that Joseph's greatest accomplishment was that he made heaven and earth shake hands and become sociable together. Thus my question, is there some notion of philosophical or intellectual friendship that is peculiar to Mormonism? Can we use the idea of friendship to come up with a Mormon approach to intellectual and/or theological disputes? A hint: perhaps Adam-God is inspired so that we have something fun to talk about!

Your friend, The Lawyer
Some thoughts for the Literary Critic:

I suspected that the Literary critic might charge at the red cape of my use of the word metaphysical. I am curious, however, at what level his antifoundationalism kicks in. Let me propose four kinds of necessity:

LOGICAL NECESSITY: This is the idea that certain beliefs are held because their denial would lead inevitably to self-contraditions. Thus, for example, Aquinas says that the claim "There is truth" is logically necessary because to deny it is a truth claim.

ONTOLOGICAL NECESSITY: This is the idea that certain beliefs are held because they are implied by the nature of being. For example, many classical theologians have argued that God is ontologically necessary because all being is caused, implying that their must be some first cause to it all.

METAPHYSICAL NECESSITY: This is the idea that there are certain arrangements that are part of the universe but are not implied by logic or being itself. For example, if I was a classical physicist I might argue that Newton's Laws are metaphysically necessary. There is nothing about the concept of being that dictates Newton over Aristotle, but it just so happens that we live in a Newtonian universe rather than an Aristotilean one.

TELEOLOGICAL NECESSITY: This is the idea that certain arrangments are necessary in order to accomplish certain ends. For example, suffering is necessary in order for Christ to understand us.

Now obviously any particular one of these claims may ultimately collapse into the other one. However, I think that they are useful starting points. My question is this: the Literary Critic seems to say that Mormonism denies ontological necessity and perhaps logical necessity. What of the other two sorts?

A final point, to the extent that Mormonism is about a denial of the search for origins (a nice point, I think), does it simply replace them with a fundamentalist telos? We can't find an original stable point from which we can reason forward to absolute conclusions; however, we have some absolute end from which we reason backwards to absolute conclusions? My point in asking the question is not to rejustify some moribund philosophical probject foreign to the Restoration, but rather to push on the ideas presented by the Literary critic to see where they go.

To the Scientist: Wow! I have provoked millenial revolutionary ire! I agree that positing a one to one correspondence between righteousness and prosperity is a big problem. I also agree that there is an inconsistency between positing a necessity in the move from righteousness to prosperity but not in the move from prosperity to pride. (Incidentally, it seems that Nibley has a similar inconsistency going the other way.) Finally, I agree with your criticism of Nozick. It is arm chair sociology, but it is fun nevertheless. Incidentally, I think that his point is slightly different. He doesn't argue that the wordsmiths resent the market because it doesn't reward them. Rather he argues that the wordsmiths resent the market because it doesn't reward them for being wordsmiths, ie for being smarter than everyone else. The market simply rewards those who satisfy the desires of others. As for liberal education, I am all for it, nor do I think it need be justified in economic terms. So, incidentally, was Robert Nozick. He was, after all, a philosophy professor, and you can't read something like his The Examined Life or Socratic Puzzles without getting a sense of his committment to liberal education. However, as you point out, this is a peripheral issue to the major one that you raised.

I wonder to what extent the kind of problem you point out with natural laws of prosperity is endemic to a providential world view. If you say that God intervenes in time to bless people, you must come up with an account of why it is that certain people are not blessed. Alternatively, if you say that God constitutes the universe so that certain activities lead to blessedness, you must come up with an account of why sometimes they don't. The deutronomists response is simply to say that those not blessed are sinful. The deist's response is to say that God does not intervene. The Scientists response is to deny that God sets up natural laws, at least of prosperity. Can we come up with a response that does somehow make sense of the apparent arbitrariness of blessings, or at least with the exceptions to general trends -- ie wickedness never was happiness, but there do seem to be some apparently happy, wicked people.
From libertarian ontology to communitarian teleology: A response to the Lawyer.

First let us dispense with Nozick. What I offered was not an intellectual criticism of capitalism, but a scriptural criticism of the pursuit of riches (and learning!). Nozick's idea of intellectual is 'wordsmith' -- people in the humanities and academia who are jealous of the money and prestige afforded to businessmen and technocrats. This idea is not unfounded and warrants futher sociological investigation. When making empirical claims, show me the data. It seems to me that proto-wordsmiths in colleges often end up making triple digits in consulting firms, or more likely go on to use their rhetorical skills in law school and the legal profession. The way is certainly open for these people to be successful financially and socially should that be their desire. This makes me believe there may be something else besides this materialist envy at work. Perhaps, just perhaps, a liberal education is actually beneficial in that it can help us to critically examine the metaphors we use, the world-view we subscribe to, help us to understand other world-views and set up a rational discourse between cultures, and most importantly have empathy for the experiences and sufferings of others. I see Nozick's idea as an important component for understanding academic liberalism but do not see it as sufficient, nor related to scriptural indictments against both the rich and the learned.

To make myself clear on the matter of aceticism and material blessings from God: it seems that I am accused of putting us in hairshirts again, bad Cartesian dualist! My argument is not that God cannot and should not give us material blessings. Of course God wants us to enjoy life, be happy, find joy. My argument is simply that we cannot make a one to one correspondence between worldly success and righteousness. This natural law does not exist, our lives are too dependent on initial conditions and circumstances. I believe that God really desires that we progress and become like him, and sometimes this will prohibit our material success. I believe God wants us to truly experience joy not just be materially comfortable. Importantly he wants us to seek Him, not riches or learning. The deuteronomistic readings of Israelite history esp. in the books of Kings and Chronicles make me nervous because they ascribe failure or destruction to wickedness with such a one to one correspondence. I am comfortable with saying that the Northern Kingdom (or Nephites) as a people were destroyed because of their wickedness. I just don't want to apply that criteria to every success/failure on a personal level in all circumstances in scripture or life. The idea that sickness / suffering is caused only by sin (mortal or premortal) is prevalent at the time of the Savior and one that he rejects. This is not to say that sin cannot cause suffering and or failure; it is only to say that sin is not the only cause.

What I don't understand is why people insist on making a one to one correspondence of righteousness and prosperity, but fail to continue the cycle and insist on a one to one correspondence of prosperity, pride, and destruction. The lesson of the BofM cycles is that they are linked, again and again. It is not riches or learning per se that is problematic, it is pride, the great stumbling block to Zion. When our selfish desires for money and knowledge (with an emphasis on enmity and competition, being richer, smarter than the next guy) disrupt our relationship with God and fellow man, we are keeping ourselves and the church from developing a zion society. This pride can be from the top down or the bottom up; it is the desire, not necessarily the money itself. Our theology is very much relational; we have talked about the divine as having the capacity to relate to all immediately. There is an emphasis on sealing of families and the whole human race. This is the grand vision of mormonism: people, not things or ideas. To the extent that we want to progress we need to use our freedom to choose connectedness: to move from the starting point, a disconnected libertarian ontology, to the end point, a communitarian teleology (the Literary Critic's words).

About the Weber remark about protestant idea of identifying godliness with material prosperity: yes, there is truth to the fact that if you are a calvinist and believe that you need to show your election through your good works, you will bust your behind to make good. It's not clear to me though that with the new economic freedom, technological progress, population growth, freedom from the plague etc that started the early modern period, that we can point to the protestant work ethic as the cause of our prosperity. Maybe in the sense that the mideval Catholic focus was somewhat otherworldly and anti-body in its dualism this contrast is reasonable. But Mormonism has always been a practical religion, very concerned with building, creating, improving our material plights in life, in enjoying dancing, music, art, etc. I think this is possible without equating wealth and righteousness. (Ask brother brigham)
Free markets and scientific insight through technology have brought us collectively much prosperity and wealth, and I do see that as morally good, even inspired of God. This does not excuse our individual obsession with either riches or science (or law, literature, or early christianity) or the imperialism and inequality of modernism. I see capitalism and science as having crucial flaws that may be tolerable for now, but when I get a chance I'll drop both like the two-edged swords that they are and join Zion.

With millenarian revolutionary ire,


Monday, December 16, 2002

Two responses to the two points brought up by the Scientist:

I can understand his urge to purge the scriptures of the apparent link between righteousness and economic prosperity. I like the move towards collective rather than individual prosperity but even here, I am skeptical. Think of the Book of Job. Job starts out as being blessed. Furthermore, he is not just apparently blessed. The narrator is at some pains to make it clear that Job is a righteous guy who has been blessed by the Lord. Indeed, this sets up the problematic for the whole narrative. It is very clear to me that part of what Job has been blessed with is property. He has lots of camels, wives, and children. Part of what he is curesed with is the loss of these things. Furthermore, he gets blessed at the end by getting back his wealth. Admittedly, the epilogue is probably a later add on. (Or is it? Perhaps it simply offends our post-existentialist sensibilities so we want to lop it off.) However, I still think that the link between prosperity and righteousness is clear. Elsewhere, Abraham is blessed with flocks, land, and other indicia of material success (posterity). This, of course, offends all of our anti-consumerism sensibilities. (We are in Cambridge after all! Check out Robert Nozick's essay "Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism") But I don't think you can really read it out of the scriptures.

Nor do I want to. My reason is not that I want to be blessed with riches for going to church or doing my hometeaching. Rather, it is that I find the image appealing precisely because it implies some kind of godly sanction for human flourishing and the enjoyment of prosperity. I prefer this vision to one of acceticism and the denigration of lived, material life. Good food is good! Beautiful things are good! Material peace and comfort are good!

Obviously, we are still left with the problem of poverty. This, it seems, has two parts. The first is the problem of theodicy. If God gives wealth to some, why not to others? However, I don't see that this question of theodicy is different than other questions unimplicated by notions of wealth. If God heals people, why do some people have horrifically painful diseases? These are not easy questions, and I am not sure that I have seen any good answers yet. On the other hand, I don't see why an anti-consumerist bias should make me more upset over one question than the other. The second problem of poverty is practical. What should I do in the face of poverty? Here, I think, the answer is pretty clear: you ought to try to alleviate it. This may mean that the only morally acceptable response is to give all that you have to the poor. Certainly, this is what the New Testament seems to be saying. I am not sure what to make of this ethic, other than to say that I think it is utterly unworkable. C.S. Lewis had a nice solution: you should give enough that it is economically uncomfortable. However, I don't know precisely what he meant by economically uncomfortable, nor am I supposed clear if the standard is supposed to be objective or subjective. Also there is the issue of counterveiling scriptures, e.g. Jesus rebuking Judas for criticizing the woman who bought ointment rather than donating to the poor.

A final point. I think that human want is a genuine evil. Certainly, the poor might be humble and beloved of the Lord and this is good. Certainly, wealth presents inevitable moral dangers. (But what doesn't?) However, I think at the end of the day that starvation, grinding poverty, and the rest are bad things. Solutions to these problems, however, seem to lie in economic growth. What is amazing here is the economic growth that the west has experienced in the last 400 years. It is possible to buy a ten pound bag of flour in the U.S. today for under a dollar. In terms of real improvements in people's material well being over the course of human history this is an absolutely incredible phenomena. We are talking about an increase in people's real levels of wealth -- and concominent increases in things like nutrition, life span, and the like -- by hundreds and hundreds of times. What is interesting is that Max Weber posited that a necessary part of this shift from grinding poverty -- the norm of human history -- to unprecedented prosperity was a Protestant ethic that DID identify godliness with material prosperity. I don't deny that this is a dangerous idea; nor do I deny the very real moral problems presented by unequal wealth distribution. On the other hand, I am unable to get myself to believe that increases in aggregate levels of wealth are without moral significance or are universally morally detrimental.

I don't think that this answers the Scientist's questions about a natural law of personal prosperity, or the pride cycle of the Book of Mormon. I do think it suggest that there may be something of value in the ethic of godly materialism that he finds so disturbing.

My second point goes to his discussion of the progress of history:

Marxism as a project of progressive historical explination is as dead as dead can be dead. As an empirical matter it was bankrupt in Marx's own time (the plight of the workers steadily improved over the course of the 19th century), and I have yet to read any subsequent modification that makes it make sense. Class bias and the rest are useful tools of local analysis in some situations. They are not good explinations for the progress of history.

I think that there may be something to Francis Fukiama's neo-Hegeliansim. Perhaps the teleos of liberal democractic capitalism is where it is at. As a matter of political or economic prediction perhaps he is correct. Liberal democracies seem awfully stable. Market capitalism isn't flashy but with small but steady growth rates it has left every single historical competitor in the dust. On the otherhand, history has a tendency to surprise people: the ancient polis, the Roman Empire, and medieval feudalism looked like stable end points as well. Their may be explinations of these things as well. Douglas North has a wonderful book called Structure and Change in Economic History in which he argues that periods of stability and instability can be explained by changes in exogenous factors bearing on the optimal size of military units (ie. city, nation, empire, etc.), changes in the marginal producitivity of various economic arrangments and the like. I don't really buy the whole thing, but it is a fun read.

A deeper level, liberal democracy seems like an awfully sterile spiritual telos. I would much rather throw my lot in with Brigham, Joseph, and the rest to await the impending destruction of the nations. The only problem is that if the prophets of liberal democracy are right, it could be a very, very long wait...
Our conversation about embodiment is presupposing the Cartesian dualism between mind and matter. How can we ask the question about the necessity of "being materially instantiated" when what Mormonism teaches is that we are already always materially instantiated, as "there is no such thing as immaterial matter?" The question of the metaphysical necessity of embodiment is displaced by the fact of the inescapable embodiedness of everything. The question becomes, as the Lawyer aptly put it, "why does our embodiment take the particular form that it does," on this earth at this time, I would add.

But stepping back for a moment to some level of meta-reflection, I am interested in how conundrums and paradoxes like these may point toward the idea of Mormonism as a critique of necessity and originality. For whatever reason, Mormonism does not seek meaning in mysterious origins or some necessary ground of being. We are taught that God had a Father, who had a Father, etc., which raises the real possibility that the Gods themselves may not know the details of their priomordial genesis eternities ago. They are inheritors of cosmic cultural traditions as well as cosmic genetic codes, just like us. In other words, Mormonism seems content to say: there's stuff, and there's always been stuff; there's God and He comes from a long line of Gods. This certainly flouts Western philosophy's craving for pure origins and all-explaining necessity. But it seems very possible that our Godhood may not depend on having the answers to these supposedly all-important questions.

So how do we read this critique of originality and necessity? Is this a weakness that we must make up for, by seeking inspired ultimate answers ourselves? Or is this a strength, a more or less calculated pragmatic turning away from first things, causes, and origins towards last things, effects, fruits? Joseph certainly makes salvation a matter of the moment, a matter of revelation relentlessly suited to present needs and future desires. Does the very structure of the Mormon story imbricate us in an inevitably circular discussion of origins and necessity that should tip us off to the fact that knowing such things doesn't really matter, even for the Gods? This certainly doesn't mean that such discussion is unimportant or unhelpful, but maybe our tradition provides more of a mocking non-answer than a coherent explanation to such ultimate questions. What say ye?

Sunday, December 15, 2002

I have been thinking about the Scientist's question about bodies in light of our heated (even tearful) discussion on Saturday night. It seems to me that we actually have two questions here. The first is not so much a question about bodies as it is about embodiment. What is it about being materially instatiated that is necessary? The second question is about bodies. Why does our embodiment take the particular for that it does?

Both of these questions, as posed by the Scientist, assume a teleological or normative answer. The idea is that the necessity of bodies in the plan of salvation serves some purpose and that a proper answer to this question consists of an account of these purposes. I would point out, however, that there is – in Mormonism at least – the possiblity that the answer is metaphysical. That is, bodies are metaphysically rather than teleologically necessary because it is simply the nature of what is that one must have a body in order to become a god. I say “in Mormonism at least” because it seems that this is an answer that is only made possible by the denial of ex nihilo creation. In a world in which all that is reflects the mind of God, it seems that you must make everything teleological. Hence the Aquinian theory of natural law and all the rest. However, as we discussed in one of our early meetings on natural law, this doesn't really make sense within Mormonism.

Suppose, however, that we say that the answer to these questions is not metaphysical. I am inclined to agree, but I am not sure what the source of my intuition is. Anyway, the Scientist seems to be saying that the answer is something like the need to learn to master and interact with matter. As he rightly points out, this seems to lead to a kind of dualism that can be disturbing. (“We could all be in hair shirts before two long.” Wonderful phrase!)

It seems to me that there is another problem with the “mastering stuff” as a complete answer. The problem is that it answers only the question of embodiment, but tells us nothing about bodies. Is there some reason that we couldn't learn to master elements, etc. in a body that had six arms, three legs, and fourteen eyes? (Maybe there is something about this in the Literary Critic's beloved passage from Joseph on the beasts of Revelation). At this point, however, it seems that we have an answer in the fact that God himself is embodied in a form like ours. One might object that this isn't really an answer at all. Why is God embodied in that way? To which we might answer that God is embodied that way because His father was embodied that way and so on. In other words, it is bipedal gods all the way down. Or more philosophically, the answer to the question of bodies is metaphysical even if the answer to the question of embodiment is teleological.

This, however, seems really paradoxical. The reason is that my intution is that embodiment is logically prior to any particular idea of bodies. It seems that the logically prior queston should be metaphysical and the logically anterior question should be teleological. Put in more concrete terms, it seems more intuitive to say that God is metaphysically required to provide a plan that includes embodiment but may choose the form of the embodiment than to say that God chooses a plan that provides for embodiment but is metaphysically required to choose the form of the embodiment.

Then again perhaps it is not so paradoxical, since it looks like Ostler's account of natural laws – in the sense of physical laws not of Aquinian ethics. According to Ostler, God can turn such laws on or off, but cannot choose the form that they take when they are turned on. Hmmm...

Is any of this making sense?
A note about natural law and the thesis of the Book of Mormon:

The Lawyer has previously remarked that the thesis (or at least one of the major theses) of the Book of Mormon is that if you keep the commandments of God you will prosper in the land. I think there may be a tendency in late 20th century mormonism to read 'prosper' as some kind of economic or worldly success at an individual level. It seems to me likely however that this is meant in a societal sense for the people of the Nephites, much as the Old Testament discourse focuses on the House of Israel as a society at least until you get to Ezekiel 18 and exilic times. The ties with the OT are striking in that this BofM thesis is similar to the Deuteronomistic theology of the compilers and editors of many OT texts in post-exilic times. IE they read the historical and political successes and failures of the Hebrew nation as an indication of their righteousness, particularly the devotion to Yahweh as opposed to the false idols and worship so prevalent in palestine (but interestingly nearly absent from the Nephite/Lamanite cultures). Perhaps this similar theology comes from the similarity in time between Lehi's exodus, the Babylonian captivity, and the development of the Deuteronomistic outlook. Have BofM scholars written about this? Maybe it's such a fundamental tenet of Judeo/Christian thought that it's obvious. But you do seem to be missing the apocalyptic vision or ecclesiates 'vanity vanity all is vanity' idea in the Book of Mormon.

But I digress; I want to return to contemporary Mormon interpretation of prospering in the land. The interpretation that there exists some natural law by which we will prosper if righteous seems very prevalent to me. In other words if I am righteous and a good Mormon, then I will have attributes which lead to me worldly success, it is a natural automatic thing. I have heard people explaining the apostles this way: not that you have to be successful in a worldly way to be an apostle, but that it does always work out that way because people good enough to be called as apostles will naturally succeed in business or law. I find this interpretation unbearable. The BofM makes it clear that riches and prosperity lead to complacency in spiritual matters, forgetting God, and pride; these lead to destruction and pain and the cycle starts on the up phase again when we humble ourselves and repent. Why should it be the case that worldly success being predicated on righteous attributes is a natural law, but that pride can be separated from riches or great learning? Why is not the riches/pride link also natural law? Why can you separate the steps of the cycle? It is saying that we are better than the Nephites and can avoid pride in spite our prosperity and in spite of the bjillions of cycles they go through to their final annihilation. (does this destruction deconstruct this BofM thesis, or at least this interpretation?) The one to one link between prosperity and righteousness that is suggested by a natural law is untenable. Clearly circumstance, initial conditions, even the Hand of God are key; many saintly people have nothing, very very few if any of the learned and rich have great spiritual resources. I want another interpretation of righteousness and prosperity than the Deuteronomistic / BofM thesis as seen from this HBS viewpoint.

Concerning the arrow of progress in history:

The vision of the king in Daniel 2 struck me today as a reminder that these cultures saw the arrow of progress running in an opposite direction that does secular modern history. The first kingdom is seen as gold then silver, brass, iron clay etc clearly showing a degeneration and loss of knowledge and power; as the Historian says an increase in chaos over cosmos. The evolutionary paradigm shows how complexity and order can actually increase (as long as it's an open system, with energy from the sun etc, this does not defy the second law of thermodynamics or entropy) by natural selection. This is what drives us forward from apes to social man to evolve language, culture, society and so forth. Of course for the secular it is the modern revolution and especially science that really is the height of human ability, thought, and power. The arrow of progress points forward (or it did until very recently). If you look at this in the chaos/cosmos mythic sense, it is very strange. In ancient mythic religion it is the irruption of God into the world that is necessary to restore cosmos--witness the stone cut out of the mountain without hands that fills the earth and the establishment of God's kingdom in the last days. Note the emphasis in mormon scripture that 'God can do his own work' and does not need the help of the learned and rich, and the emphasis on the divine irruption into the world to correct the chaos created by the sectarians. The apostacy paradigm definitely is a degenerative one. (so is hermeticism--the lost mystic knowledge of the ancients.) All this makes me wonder exactly what is it that has replaced the divine in modern thought? What is the ordering principle which makes cosmos out of chaos? It strikes me that the answer may be natural selection, or the struggle between everything to survive, which is a problematic answer at best. Alternatively it is our own genius through trying to order the world and provide meaning ourselves through science and the humanities (existential angst being the unavoidable logical end). Perhaps you can help me come up with a modern cosmos ordering principle that acts to increase progress through history (marxism anyone?) but I find my feeble answers extremely bleak.

Cheerfully yours,

Friday, December 13, 2002

Just for the record, I think that "How Firm A Foundation," alluded to below by the Literary Critic is a fount of false doctrine. I find it deeply annoying to be sitting in a Mormon sacrament meeting singing "What more can He say than to you He has said!" GAG! We should either expunge the hymn or change the lyrics like we have done with other Protestant hymns...
Concerning the Wilson lecture:

Big Bad EO-daddy (granddaddy?) reviewed the major tenets of his 1998 book Consilience in which he argues for the fundamental coherence and compatibility of all knowledge, IE the real sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. He quotes Bacon and 18th century French thinkers and really honestly believes that the enlightenment is the greatest thing since sliced cheese and we should bring it back. By consilience he means that the explanations of all knowledge should be coherent and we should be able to make causal statements from atomic physics to chemistry to biology to cognitive neuroscience to art criticism. It is true that the natural sciences have this type of consilient theory and methodology. He believes that borderland disciplines such as cognitive neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, sociobiology etc will be able to stretch this paradigm to include the humanities. (note that by this he means theories of art/lit/music interpretation, not the creative act itself).

He then ran through examples such as: attractive women have high cheekbones and other features that correlate with youth, since being attracted to highly fertile women is evolutionarily beneficial; the reason you like looking out over a lightly forested park (complete with some type of water) is that humans evolved in the savannah in Africa and this is the environment we were selected for; etc. In one example a study was done where people were shown figures generated by computer with varying degrees of mathematical complexity (think Escher), and their response was measured by detection of brain waves indicating arousal. They found 20% complexity was the optimum, and showed that some art, logos and such contain roughly the same amount of complexity. Another example: the Westermark effect: incest taboos come from spending the first 30 months of your life together. If one of two people is under 30 months and they live in close domestic contact, they will not be sexually attracted later in life, this is the basis of the incest taboo. You get the idea: essentially our chemistry and genes and evolutionary history construct certain brain pathways that can be used to explain the arts. TA DA!!

Well, these arguments remind me of the study that showed that 7 digits is all that can be stored in our short term memories. While this is interesting, and provides a basis for explaning why telephone numbers have 7 digits, I myself find that the telephone digit length did not really require a scientific explanation, and likewise I wonder what sort of value this type of analysis will have for the humanities. It is true that neuro-imaging techniques are increasingly used to study response to art/music and so forth, and that this will affect how theories of such are made in academic humanity. But taking that to the genetic and atomic level, and what is meant by causation anyway, are very difficult problems. My prediction is that there will be inroads into these fields and even linkage to genes involved, and science imperialism will continue to grow, so in this sense I believe him to be right. Yet the relevance of this to your average Joe will likely decrease.

On a related note I've found an interesting treatment of metaphor in 20th century biology by Evelyn Fox Keller in which she discusses the role of the gene in the early 1900s: it is both information and the power to make that information a reality, she likens it to simultaneously the ancient atom and Platonic soul. She shows how geneticists assumed that the gene was causal (as opposed to the cell via development and embryology) and how that effected related disciplines until very recently when epigenetic effects (ie above genetics) are being discovered. Very cool stuff.

But more than that I'm very excited about Newton and Hermeticism; we all know he studied alchemy, but the case has been made very convincingly that this was what allowed him to develop modern physics, especially the concepts of force and gravity which are occult ideas (action at a distance). Initial responses by the mechanists were negative even to his Principia, and it had to be whitewashed by 18th century thinkers. I read about this somewhat in the Paul book, which is very well done. He does acknowledge the problems with Mormonism asserting a strong scientific realism, but I still think his thesis is that the two are compatible. Must read more. As always I want to incorporate the animism and pluralism of mormonism but to be honest do not know how that would do to science. I still want to reject the Uri Gellers of the world that bend spoons with their minds.
I absolutely love the Brigham Young sermon on the eternity of sermonizing. Great stuff. Thanks for never failing to find incredibly cool moments from our richest of traditions, Lawyer.

On Mormonism and anti-foundationalism:

I think it is very hard to deny that many elements--fundamental elements no less--of Mormonism, as you put it, "look like" anti-foundationalist philosophy. Instead of immediately explaining these likenesses away by rushing to establish more seemingly safe and firm foundations, I think it is incredibly enlightening to "experiment upon the word" (our own word mind you!) and see where these definite anti-foundationalist elements might take us. A general impression exists that all anti-foundationalist roads necessarily lead to a devil-may-care nihilism that is inconsistent with Mormon belief, but I think that one of the things that makes Mormonism such an event in the history of philosophy is precisely the trailblazing of an alternate anti-foundationalist route toward a constructive constructivism. In other words, let's trust in the inspired genius of Mormonism and follow these seemingly threatening anti-foundationalist threads into (and maybe out of) the labyrinth.

I can agree that Mormonism technically may not fit the anti-foundationalist bill on the grounds that it does involve in some measure a metaphysics of persons (thanks for the term, Lawyer) and/or an ontology of eternal intelligences. However, by the same token, such a metaphysics/ontology means that Mormonism certainly does not fit the foundationalist bill either, as, in the animistic Mormon multiverse, a foundation based on persons who progress and intelligences who evolve, engaged in ceaseless cosmic cultural exchanges, is anything but firm (contra the popular hymn). What we may have is the delightfully paradoxical and problematic concept of a shifting foundation/decentering center. The pragmatist in me can't help thinking that such a shaky ground of being is in its effects ultimately not much of a foundation at all.

In other words, a metaphysics of dynamic divine persons and/or animate intelligences only seems to make the anti-foundationalist case that much more: the "foundation" itself becomes a cosmic cultural construction, a convergence/conversation of intelligent beings, that is so endlessly reconfigured by ongoing interactions that it might better be conceived as a living tradition. As I argued in my last little ditty about relativism, we must not sell cultural tradition short: it makes powerful claim upon us, but it is by no means an ultimate metaphysical baseline of some kind. So is there really any value added in calling Mormonism foundationalist? Does it make us feel better at night? Does it distinguish us from all those godless relativists that we love to hate? Again, I have to say: why don't we try fully embracing our tradition in all of its startling radicalism--even if that means we come out as anti-foundationalists of some kind and momentarily end up in bed with the likes of Richard Rorty--and believe that it will take us somewhere that we (and the world) will want to go? Or will we continue to be colonized into a kind of cautious conservatism that actually makes us distrust and disbelieve the revolutionary force of Mormonism, which is the reason that we all love it so?

Well, I just fulfilled my rhapsodizing call-to-arms quota for the day. I make a point of issuing at least one manifesto every 24 hours. Now, I can really talk. Lawyer, in your very smart remarks about the Brigham Young sermon, when you admit its clear anti-foundationalist bent, you speak of "a very demanding kind of anti-foundationalism." I think this is where Mormonism can take us: to a hard, rigorous relativism that will constitute a major contribution to world thought. Better than any discourse that I know, Mormonism begins to provide a language for articulating the complexities and claims of a universe that is a cosmic culture. It suggests a world that is neither an aimless free-for-all (which is precisely what many fear about anti-foundationalism) nor a fait accompli of metaphysical necessity (which is precisely what the anti-foundationalists fear). It posseses the resources to teach us how to survive and thrive in a bewildering cosmos, in short, how to become Gods ourselves.

I'm talking too much. And I have to go to class. More later.
A fascinating passage from Brigham Young on the contingency of gospel knowledge:

But let a Gospel sermon be preached, wherein all the principles of salvation are embodied, and we will acknowledge, at the end of the mortality of this earth and all things created upon – at the closing up scene, at the final consummation of all things that have been from the commencement of the creation of the world, and the people of it unto the latest generation of Adam and Eve, and the final finishing up of the work of Christ – I say, we shall acknowledge that there is the Gospel sermon, and that it could not be preached to finite beings, in one short life.

I make these remarks for the purpose of extricating myself form the arduous tasks of undertaking to set before this congregation, every item of the doctrine of salvation, in all their various significations, as they are presented in this life, and according to our understanding. I make these introductory remarks to free myself from the great tasks of finishing the discourse I shall commence. I did not expect to finish it; I don not expect to see the end of it, until the winding up scene. I don not even commence at the beginning of it; I only catch at it, where it comes to me, in the 19th century, for it has been before me; it is from eternity to eternity. (Journal of Discourses 3:30)

This seems to be (one of) Brigham's solution to the problematic of continuing revelation and eternalism. We are thrown into the middle of a story without a beginning – remember intelligence is coeternal with God – and we have incomplete information – remember God has said that he will always have something else to reveal. So, says Brigham, we don't build philosophical systems (Brigham is taking a not so thinly veiled swipe at Orson Pratt in this sermon); we preach sermons. Yet they are always incomplete sermons, for we cannot begin at the beginning and we cannot say everything until everything is over. And, of course, one of Brigham's central beliefs is that really it is never over. It is just one long sermon.

This connects, a bit, I think with our discussion of Bushman's “Joseph Smith for the Twenty-first Century” essay. From Bushman's assessment of the the new openness to Joseph made possible by anti-foundationalist philosophy, we strayed – surprise! Surprise! -- to the more general question of Mormonism and anti-foundationalist philosophy. At the end of the day, despite the Literary Critic's claim that refutations of relativism are all sophistry, I don't think that it is possible to be a real anti-foundationalist. However, it seems that Brigham suggests something that looks – philosophically at a least – like an anti-foundationalist philosophy, although (knowing Brigham) it is sure to be a very demanding kind of anti-foundationalism. However, it seems to me that Brigham is nevertheless grounded in a distinctly Mormon ontology: intelligence is eternal, the possibility of progression is boundless, and a trustworthy God in whom we can place our hope.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

I would love to hear the Scientist's response to the E.O. Wilson lecture last night. I missed it since I was watching the Scientist's daughter. What did Dr. Wilson say? What did our post-Newtonian, Kantian, neo-Prattian biochemist think of it?

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

An aphorism for today:

"That which does not expand is not Mormonism."

-Jedediah M. Grant

Interestingly, it comes in a sermon given by Grant during the Mormon Reformation of the 1850s. The sermon is -- in part -- a Jeremiad against Orson Pratt and his belief that God is incapable of progression. Interesting in light our reading of Ostler, who in many ways a is a Pratt disciple.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

In reply to the Literary Critic's question about my reticence about cosmic Cokianism (I don't think that is a word!):

I am mainly attracted to the theory on disciplinary grounds. All you scientists, historians, and literary critics get all the interpretive glory. Everything has to be about YOU! Thus, I am predisposed to theories that give jurisprudence greater prominence. It makes me feel better about studying law. However, I am uneasy with the Coke reading for a couple of reasons. First, as a matter of synchronic reading, it is unlikely that Joseph or any other Mormon of his time had anything like the legal sophistication to work this theory out.

Second, as a matter of jurisprudence, I am not sure that I buy Coke's theory. The historical jurists of the 17th century spent a lot of time making up history. Furthermore, it is not clear why the fact that something has been around for a long time should confer on it any normative force. I suppose that there is the Burkean argument that practice essentially institutionalizes wisdom that is beyond our conscious understanding. The problem is that even if this argument is true, it seems useless, since by definition I have no way of knowing what old practices encapsulate the wisdom of the ages and what old practices are just old. Coke and Hale had a slightly different argument, claiming that practices acquired normative force by virtue of the fact that they were accepted by the people. However, this seems circular: aren't things supposed to be accepted because they have normative force not vice versa? It is important to understand that Coke is making a strong claim about the force of law: historical practice OUGHT to be obeyed. Thus, he is not simply arguing for prudential conservatism and pragmatic application.

There is final part of Coke that is interesting, but I am not sure how it fits in here. That is the idea of artificial reason. I suspect the Literary Critic will like this as well. Coke and James I got in an argument over the law. James thought that the king could judge the law just as well as the judges. "Law," he argued, "is simply reason, and the King has reason just like any other man." Coke's responded by arguing that the law was reason but of a special sort. It was an artificial reason that could only be acquired by long study of history, judicial decisions, and details of the corpus iuris. It was this reason that guided the judges to make their decisions, not the natural reason referred to by the king. I suspect the Literary Critic will like this because it points to the idea of reason that is rooted in history and practice and purports to be solely dependent on them. We can analogize from Coke and we are off and running with the artificial reason of the gods.

However, the standard critical response is to say that the idea of "artificial reason" is without substance -- it is just a power grab by the judges and lawyers. They clothe their judgements and biases in the impartial and impenetrable language of the law in order to direct attention away from the way in which they are exercising raw power. Thus, the whole ideology is a self-serving and deceptive illusion. I think that there is something not quite right with this critique. I actually think there is something to the idea of artificial reason. However, it is a powerful critique and I am not quite sure what I think is wrong with it.

Monday, December 09, 2002

The Scientist is on a hot streak! Instead of viewing the body as a mere shell for this spirit, which alone is defined as the site of identity and soulhood, Mormonism makes the body integral to that soulhood (D&C 88:15), which seems to be a major concession to "modernism" and a possible point of rapprochement between science and religion (?). We are not living souls unless we we possess flesh. Because what does that flesh represent: precisely the fact of our relatedness! The body proves central to the communitarian teleology of Mormonism, as it is such a powerful means to overcome the solitude of a liberal ontology of distinct intelligences. At the genetic level and at the quantum level (the idea that we actually exchange particles when we touch, literally becoming in some sense, each other), the body embodies our universal kinship with all who have ever lived. In other words, we are not fully ourselves until we are embodied, which means that we are not fully ourselves until we are not fully ourselves. The body can hellp us to move from a politics of identity to one of nonidentity, from self-centeredness to other-receptiveness (i.e. "lose your life to find it").

Now we have to figure out exactly how and in what measure the body contributes to living soulhood, and the Scientist stated the clear dangers. We might have to engage in a discussion of the politics of premortal family selection. Can we choose? Or are we assigned? Can spirits try out bodies before they pick? Do genetics figure into the unfolding of the plan of salvation (scary thought?)? One important caveat that can save Mormonism from lapsing into some kind of eugenic project (sometimes! don't forget whitening Lamanites and pre-1978 priesthood issues) is the concept of the literal blood change that the Holy Ghost effects in the converted. In other words, blood really matters, but blood can be changed. What a wild solution! Is this some kind of Mormon theory of genetic/spiritual (it is matter after all) engineering?

For the Lawyer: why the reservations about a Cokian reading of cosmic law? It does make me happy, which is indeed valuable in and of itself, but doesn't it make you happy too?

I have always assumed that one of the reasons that we must have bodies is that it is impossible to have sex without them. This seems to be a particularlly important mode of relation that is unqualifiedly affirmed within Mormonism (and Judiaism) rather than relegated to a necessary evil status a la Augustine. In other words, it seems to me that in Mormonism sex is not something that we must endure because regrettably we have bodies (which have "needs"), but rather it is one of the reasons that we want to get bodies (and keep them forever). And I am not just talking about our own bodies here...

Great reference to the Steiner book, thanks Antiquarian. It starts off with Eugene Wigner's essay on "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences" which is my sentiment exactly and the Wigner reference that I have been trying to track down. In Steiner's book he concludes that "the claim that human constructions (ie math) manipulated according to human convenience (if you can call math convenient, which I won't) supply insights into reality belongs to what traditionally has been called magic. Naturalism has no place for magic, yet the applicability of mathematics to physics is magic" (quoting from the review). The reviewer of the book is named William Dembski; he has a PhD in math from chicago, philosophy from Illinois, and an MDiv from Princeton, after which he did postdoc work at five institutions. Think I'll stay in science. But he has written some very interesting and sophisticated papers on intelligent design vs evolution; since I work on the directed evolution of proteins and nucleic acids, his comments are right up my alley. I'll read more and report later.

During EQ yesterday my mind wandered somewhat to the Ostler/Historian's idea of divinity being the immediate relation to everyone and everything. I would guess that most Mormons think of being together forever as a family in a sort of Michael Mclean, FHE kind of way, though it seems impossible to be with your kids since they will be off with their spouses (spice?) and to be with God since you'll be off creating your own pluralistic literary universe. But if we see divinity as immediate relation to all then we can see how the unity between exalted men, God, spouses, etc can solve this problem, and perhaps gain just a bit of insight into the nature of sealing or as Joseph would have it, 'welding.' The vision of the three degrees of glory in DC76 is interesting also as the celestial has the presence of the father, the terrestrial of Christ, and the telestial of the holy ghost--the lower kingdoms are cut off from full unity and immediacy but allowed some relation through the power of Christ or the Holy Ghost, which I find very interesting. How is it that we relate now? I am still intrigued and stumped by this Ostler idea.

A question for you all: why do we need bodies? Why does God have a body? Why all this trouble about an earth and mortality and gaining a body? I talked with the Literary Critic about this a bit yesterday before we were cut off by our angry wives (who no doubt were bothered that we were not relating to them immediately). It seems that the atoms, molecules, stuff that makes up our bodies must have spirit/mind attached to them that is profoundly not us (at least not premortal us). I find this disturbing, yet not too strange from a biological point of view, since our genes, bodies etc do certainly have an effect on who we are as mortals. Joseph was very concerned about blood lines (he talked about Adam as the epitome of man before the race's degeneration). This raises the ugly spectre of eugenics, makes me wonder what would have happened had I been born into a football star's body, and makes me cower in the face of biological determinism. It also seems to put a wedge back between spirit and body (which together we believe are soul) that may have us in hairshirts before long. But regarding relation, maybe we need to learn to control some matter, some elements and their animistic spirits (even if only the mass of our bodies) before we can relate to the entire multiverse. It develops our skills in relation, provides a critical mass of 'followers' and strengthens our ability to choose. As we make a giant mess the first round through, we slough off the battered old body and through a priesthood ordinance of resurrection we create a new one and are off to the races.

I'm looking into some post-modern philosophies of science by Sheldrake and Griffin as recommended by the literary critic; if you know of other interesting material please pass it on.

Speculatively yours,

Sunday, December 08, 2002

I was reading the last series of posts with interest and decided that the Metaphysical Elders might be interested in a book review I just came across. Check out this link:


http://www.leaderu.com/offices/dembski/docs/bd-lastmagic.html


In this volume, entitled The Applicability of Mathematics as a Philosophical Problem (Harvard UP, 1999), a philosopher named Steiner notes that mathematics is the major tool which scientists have used to explain the observable universe. Such a mechanistic universe as theirs does not privilege human existence or thought and mathematics has become the almost universal key to understanding a non-sympathetic world.

The one problem with all of this as Steiner notes is that systems of mathematics are culturally produced and highly variable. They exist only as human created constructs yet have a utility for exploration and investigation that the mechanical world view seems to predict they should not. Check out the article if you are interested in the seeing the details of the argument and where the author tries to go with it.

I would also like to the thank The Lawyer for the citations of the Enoch material. That was more helpful than you might know. I’m currently putting together an edited volume on Enoch (mainly focused on primary sources). The folks at FARMS seemed quite enthusiastic about publishing the project when I met with them this summer. They thought it would compliment their Abraham volume nicely. So feel free to pass on anything you run across.

The Antiquarian
I agree with the Historian, that Ostler is wrestling with a fundamental problem with his Christology, although I don’t think that he himself conceptualizes the project in quite the same terms. The traditional problem of Christology, “solved” at Chalcedon (as I understand it), is how to make sense of the fact that Christ was both human and divine. This leads to all the two natures stuff and arguments about which nature is doing what. Ostler, drawing on King Follett, purports to solve this problem in with a single stroke – there is no essential distinction between divine nature and human nature. The new problem that the Historian points out seems to be how to understand Christ’s divinity prior to his birth, when he didn’t have a body.

On this problem, I wonder if thinking about Adam-God might be useful. I am serious! Joseph Smith (and later B.H. Roberts in The Mormon Doctrine of Deity) took Christ to be the prototype of the man who became god. Part of what his atonement showed was the possibility of human beings (since Christ, having been drained of his pre-mortal glory was fully human) becoming gods. The problem is that Christ is not just a man who becomes god. He is a god who becomes a man who becomes a god. We have a theory (of sorts) about how the second change takes place (eternal progression), but not much of one about how the first one takes place. Ostler points out that D&C contains lots of materials from which a kenotic theory can be constructed, which begins to point in the direct of how to understand the first transformation. This, I think is where Adam-God becomes useful.

Adam-God also tells the story of how a god becomes a man and then becomes a god again. Michael, along with Elohim and Jehovah, make up the pre-mortal council that creates the world and begins implementation of the plan of salvation. It seems that Michael is fully divine. Indeed, BY taught that he even had a glorified body. He was then brought from another world where he used to live with the father and placed on earth to become Adam. Here he also has a glorified body. Then through the fall he becomes fully mortal and begins the process of working out his salvation, until he is crowned with glory to rule and reign forever over his posterity. Most of this, I think, is still good doctrine. BY did not identify Christ with Jehovah and therefore taught that Michael/Adam was the father of Jesus Christ. This is the part that we don’t like, but it really seems peripheral to the theory. I think that what BY was trying to do was work out a single consistent theory of how gods related to worlds, and he decided it was as patriarchs. Adam is the patriarch of this world, ergo he must be “the father” of this world. However, we have since softened the theological patriarchy a little.

Perhaps we use Adam-God to reconceptualize Christ’s kenosis. The council in Abraham 3 becomes in a sense a kind of Garden of Eden in which Christ, like Adam, undertakes a fortunate fall out of love of others. Like Adam and Eve, Christ undertakes the fall in order to obtain knowledge that he could not obtain in any other way. The question is why. Adam makes sense. In Adam-God he falls in order to begin a race rather than to work out his salvation. However, if we take the approach of King Benjamin (and Ostler) and say that one reason Christ comes to earth is to experience the alienation, pain, etc. that he would otherwise not know then it seems that contra Adam-God his “fall” occurs in order to perfect his knowledge and relation to others. Yet, both Adam and Christ fall in order to become related in ways that they could not be related before. However, it then becomes difficult to figure out in what sense they were both pre-mortal gods, so perhaps there is no value added in the comparison after all. Hmmm.
Both the Literary Critic and the Scientist seem to be excited by the possibility of understanding the relatedness of the universe socially. I would just point out that this has been done in Mormonism before. In The Great First Cause, Orson Pratt purports to solve the basic problem of Newtonian physics: how do bodies separated by space “know” the mass and position of other bodies so as to react properly. Orson’s answer is that they are all obeying the command of God. I believe that this was actually Newton’s solution as well. Pratt, however, has the embodied God of Mormonism rather than the simply omnipresent God of classical Christianity. Not to worry, he solves the problem with – you guessed it! – spirit fluid. This wonderful stuff fills everything with God’s influence and tells all of the animate matter what to do. I am not sure how the Scientist is going to work this into his post-Newtonian, Kantian metaphysic, but it would certainly be fun to see!
Antiquarian, thanks for the stuff on Enoch. Very interesting. My source for the information on Hermes and Enoch in Shi’ism is Henry Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy, Liadain Sherrard trans, (Kagan Paul Inernational, Islamic Publications & The Institute for Ismaili Studies: London, 1993) (French 1964) page 125. According to Corbin, the Shi’ites picked up the identification of Hermes and Enoch from the Manicheans and the Sabeans. Apparently, he ends up popping up in early neo-platonic Islamic philosophers, who claim that their wisdom comes down in an unbroken chain from Hermes/Enoch. This will make the Historian happy, seeing as he lusts after the fleshpots of Platonism.
A note on law and cosmic historicism:

The D&C talks about “laws irrevocably decreed in heaven.” At some point in time the standard Mormon interpretation of these passages become Newtonian. These are laws that exist logically prior to God and bind him. Thus we get our standard Mormon explanation of the atonement. The Literary Critic doesn’t like this he wants the laws to be cosmic manners. Perhaps there is another interpretation; we can call them cosmic “laws.”

In the early 19th century virtually all law was common law. It was judge made law. There was legislation, but not much of it. Accordingly, virtually all theorizing about law tended to focus on the common law. The dominant theory was that the common law – contrary to what folks believe today – was not made up by judges. Rather they discovered it. The question then arises what was the law that they were discovering? Here you have two somewhat contradictory theories existing side by side. On one side you have the idea of natural law. The law discovered by judges is the reason imminent in nature itself. You get this kind of language in Blackstone, and even more so in the political discourse of the Founding period. (Although the relationship of natural theory in the Founding period to the jurisprudence of the common law gets really complicated. Jefferson, a big natural law guy, hated the common law). The second theory is that the law discovered by judges represents the law inherent in the traditions and history of England. The rules of the common law come down from time immemorial and the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. The idea is that it is the acceptance of a rule and its continuation through long historical practice that makes it law. (It shouldn’t surprise you at this point to learn that Edmund Burke studied law). This theory of law is most forcefully set out in the work of Coke, Hale, and Selden – the great common law jurists of the 17th century.

Now, I don’t think that there is much reason to suppose that Joseph Smith had a great deal of legal sophistication, at least not before the Missouri and Nauvoo period, when his relationship to the law became a constant issue. However, if Michael Quinn can in impute to Joseph Smith in the 1820s the contents of virtually every book – no matter how obscure – circulating in the United States and England at the time, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to impute to him two of the most important legal treatises of the time: Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England and Coke’s Reports and Commentary of Littleton. While native treatises like Kent’s Commentaries were beginning to make inroads, Blackstone and Coke were still very much alive. Webster and Clay read both for example.

Bringing it back to the D&C, we might read the reference to “law” in light of Coke and see it as reference to the immemorial practice of the gods to which the memory of gods runs not to the contrary. I am not sure that this reading is a good idea, but I suspect it would make the Literary Critic happy, which is a value in and of itself.

Friday, December 06, 2002

A quick note on the Scientist's revelation.

I won't pretend to understand the modified Kantian epistemology business with its simultaneously necessary and contingent conditions (I need to be hand held through that), which may be the very essence of your revelation, which may mean that what I'm about to say is irrelevant, but perhaps still revelatory in its own way (not really, I just like the wordplay of "revelate" and "relevant"--I'm hopelessly literary).

On the question of whether there are constraints upon God whether metaphysical or physical, my answer is a resounding "No!" (surprise, surprise). However, there are real cultural constraints upon Him, especially insofar as He and everything else is defined precisely by relatedness (most obviously, He and we are bound by covenants into which He and we enter). God's success as God is predicated on His observance of a cosmic code of "manners" established over eons out of the interactions of innumerable intelligences.

Intriguingly, in the animate multiverse of Mormonism, I think that this culturalist argument can even extend to the physical realm. Perhaps even in the mechanical universe of modern science such an argument can make sense. A somewhat renegade (and brilliant) scientist/philosopher named Rupert Sheldrake has recently advanced the argument that natural laws are actually nothing more or less than the habits of organisms accumulated over long periods of time, a sort of cosmic cultural hegemony/consensus.

My point is that everything, even seemingly a priori and foundational natural laws, may arise out of the relations between intelligences, out of cosmic culture. Taking the Mormon multiverse's plurality seriously (always remember Joseph's bit on the beasts of Revelation), we must stretch ourselves to imagine other dimensions, universes, planets, where things might operate very differently because of different cosmic historical trajectories.

Some time I'll have to discredit myself entirely by sharing with you some of the fun theories about aliens that my father raised me on. Such science fiction still forms much of the subtext of my conception of the Mormon multiverse.

I want to hear the cutting-edge ideas about cosmogony that only you Mormon minds can supply. If you take my premise that everything arises out of the cosmic culture(s) forged by intersubjective intelligences (which I'm sure you all wholeheartedly and uncritically do), does this force us ask the question of where intelligences "come from"? Or is Mormonism, like pragmatism, a critique of such origins-talk (I sent you all an e-mail about this issue in our prior ontology roundtable, which I'm sure is written in your hearts), refusing to have anything to do with such questions (and is this a limitation or a liberation?).

Specifically, I want to try out the possibilities of mutual organization, which would make intelligences relational and cultural from the start, though I can also go with a pluralistic ontology in which intelligences contain the capacity but not the necessity to relate to one another. However, this still begs the question that the Historian may have caught me in, which is, why would the intelligences want to relate in the first (or second) place?

I actually think this is an interesting question that by no means has some necessary ground of Being as its inevitable answer (sorry Historian). My pluralizing bent makes me think that intelligences must have an infinite range of reasons for wanting to relate to each other in infinitely peculiar ways (just like people do here on earth). And/or maybe it just comes down to a question of some intelligences being simply (and spectacularly!) compelled by some other intelligence(s)'s rhetoric (and power) about a certain kind of salvation (sounds like Abraham 3?). However, maybe this begs another question regarding the nature of intelligence itself that may readily fall prey to another sort of essentialism.

However, by a pragmatic standard, if I suggest that the nature of intelligence is nothing more than the capacity for relation, the conditions that this essentialism suggests are so diverse, plural, and limitless, that my formulation for all intents and purposes escapes any essentializing consequences. One of the classic repudiations of relativism as logically contradictory because it absolutizes nonabsolutism (and so makes the same move that it proposes to critique) is thus true enough in technical philosophical terms (and makes all of the foundationalists feel really clever), but in my mind it remains nothing more than an instance of sophistic one-upmanship with a cash-value related only to the politics of the academy, as the world that relativist premises invoke and evoke is in all of its practical effects thoroughly (in metaphysical terms at least) nonabsolute and limitless.

On a related final note, I want to say that a properly rigorous cultural relativism avoids the abject subjectivism that more cavalier forms can foster and that many people rightly fear, which takes me back to where I began in talking about cultural constraints that are so real that they actually have claim upon God Himself (which perhaps zaps the specter of the tyrannical God of caprices that philosophy may have been in part invented to combat). As William James put it:

"Pent in, as the pragmatist more than any one else sees himself to be, between the whole body of funded truths squeezed from the past and the coercions of the world of sense about him, who so well as he feels the immense pressure of objective control under which our minds perform their operations?"

and, in a similar vein, on the question of what exactly "works"

"[A new truth] must derange common sense and previous belief as little as possible and it must lead to some sensible terminus or other that can be verified exactly. To 'work' means both these things; and the squeeze is so tight that there is little loose play for any hypothesis."

In other words, the exigencies of a field of power relations that goes all the way up to the heavens provide more than enough rigor. We don't need an absolutist metaphysics to ground them. So maybe the slippery slope of relativism is not so slippery . . .

Cosmic historicism, baby,

THE LITERARY CRITIC

P.S. Scientist, tell me if anything I said engages at all what you were talking about. And all of you, please call me on my no doubt clumsy and embarrassing (mis)use of philosophical concepts!

Calling all pluralists!

A question for you. God exists, we exist, stuff exists; nothing else does in the form of absolute X Y or Z. Our Historian might argue that Love which binds us together 'exists' (he might call it the light or glory of God or divinity or something) and that at some level is a metaphysical constraint for God. So what about physical constraints on God, IE metaphysical constraints from matter? Do you suppose that matter acts the same way in each universe and that the laws of physics are above God and therefore necessary?

I would like to say that the essence of matter is not number or space or time like that villian Descartes or the early modernists would have us believe, but perhaps mass/energy. Space and time are accidental as they are in Aristotle. Thus m/e can be 'present' to a God whose space/time 'manifold' is radically different from our own (and we know it is: he is eternal, disobeys entropy, is omnipresent etc). This will allow the Historian to say that divinity is relating to everything at once, and it may allow a modified Kantian epistemology: to argue that our perception of space and time is inherent to our 'mortality' and that synthetic a priori propositions are 'necessary' in the sense of our relation to the mortal, physical world, but 'contingent' in the sense that we have no way to get outside ourselves and check 'reality.' For synthetic a priori propositions then read math and physical science: necessary and yet contingent. TA DA!!

Naively yours,