Thursday, August 28, 2003

Flavors of determinism

I have held off on addressing the Lawyer's apparent case of determinism in Marshall's decision to prohibit corporate advocacy. Partly this is because I am still looking at both sides of the compatibilist debate and poking holes, and haven't worked out a coherent view for myself. And partly this is because I think that the confusion of social and political freedom with metaphysical freedom is common and muddles the debate--making libertarian notions of free will more attractive than they should be (hence the need for silly hypos that clarify metaphysics from politics). Again, the reason I am interested in this at all is that the libertarian view cannot account for the inertia of choices that is character, and seems to deny the commitment to natural laws and causation that is at the heart of science (and Mormonism!). Also as I have read up a bit on the subject it is clear to me that Blake presents the libertarian view in his book as the definitive Mormon position and accepted view among philosophers of free will, though it is far from a resolved issue. I find many of his arguments to be problematic and wonder what is being swept under the rug.

Now for Marshall. The position the Lawyer ascribes to him sounds suspiciously like hard-core determinism to me--the idea that determinism is incompatible with free will and therefore we should jettison free will. This type of uber-determinism entails fatalism and is the kind that makes people recoil and hold the libertarian view instead. Marshall assumes that people have no 'choice' or option other than to believe the corporate advocacy arguments, that they somehow determine the outcome regardless of other circumstances and causes affecting the decision. This is clearly absurd. It is the same thing as Blake postulating the evil neurosurgeon has the ability to elicit an irresistible desire for Rock to steal. People have the ability to weigh arguments, be suspcious, and respond to advocacy in a variety of contrary ways--we are not Pavlovian dogs or subject to Skinner's behaviorism. Causality is far more complicated, and we have the ability to reason and deliberate.

What it means to be free regarding an action X is to have the causal nexus that effects X pass through our deliberations, resulting in a choice to do or not do X, and having the freedom to act on that deliberation. Hard core determinists (like Marshall?) deny that our deliberation makes any difference and thus the causes irrespective of our desires, character, thoughts, feelings, etc are sufficient. This clearly doesn't work as we must act under the idea of freedom, and we have no great insight into the complex causes at work--we don't know how effective corporate advocacy is, so there is no reason to believe that it could override other causes to achieve its desired effect.

Soft-core determinists will argue that although our deliberations are themselves determined, since we don't know the outcome it makes sense to deliberate. They argue that if our deliberations are involved, soft-core determinism does not entail fatalism. We do want our decisions to be based on the relevant causal factors--we don't want indeterminate (random) decisions. We want the right reasons, our desires, character, etc to be the cause of our decisions. Nor is it clear to me how we can be outside the causal chain (unmoved movers if you will) as libertarians would have it and still acting causally. The notion smacks of dualism--and I think that in Mormonism the materialist and monist tendencies make this untenable. I have lots more to say--I'm working through two new essays in Dialogue on determinism and am looking closely at 2 Nephi 2. I'll write more when I have things a bit clearer, and maybe send something off to LDS_PHIL even though they are tired of metaphysical freedom. At very least, we should be suspicious of Blake Ostler and the libertarian view of freedom.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

ACADEMIC FAMILIES AND THEORIES OF SALVATION: I find the Scientist's sociological musings on the family very interesting. All I can say is that he encourages me to rejoice that I have (for the time being at least) left the halls of academe for the family friendly world of the legal profession. (Hah!) I do find that Nibley's workaholic lifestyle was coupled with his frequently withering criticisms of academic life, e.g. "Here we stand in the robes of a false priesthood..." I am curious, however, if there might not be another, perhaps religious reason for Nibley's quirks or failings. Our Antiquarian makes the argument that true Mormons are really gnostics and points to Nibley as an example. However, if it turns out that knowledge is the supreme goal, then a single minded devotion to scholarship and the pursuit of wisdom may become a manifestation of great virtue. In other words, explaining the relgious importance of the family may be difficult in an gnostic soteriology. On the other hand, if we view Mormonism as -- at least in large part -- a way of overcoming the alienating and isolating implications of its own ontology through love, sealings, and friendship "the grand key of Mormonsim," then the importance of meaningful connections of with friends and family makes more sense.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

"Are Mormons Theists?"

-- asks A. A. Howsepian in his article in Religious Studies 32 p357 (1996). His answer, much to the delight of our Literary Critic, is that Mormons are in fact not monotheists or polytheists as advertised, but practice a sophisticated form of atheism. "None of the individual entities in a traditional Mormon ontology qualifies as being a genuine God, and the entire collection of entities in this ontology likewise does not qualify as being a genuine God." Naturally this depends on one's definition of "god." Howsepian prefers the Anselmian concept of the infinite or greatest possible being, and truly classic philosophical theism is not the Mormon notion of God, so in that sense maybe we can smile with the Lit Crit and smugly avow "atheism."

But I wonder if there is not something that should give us more pause here. What do we give up by rejecting a metaphysically supreme deity? Do we care if there is no logical proofs that God is the supreme being? After all, it is metaphysically possible that Elohim could have been back a couple of generations of Gods, and would be greater than He is. If you accept the idea that He had a father and so on back (a la Heber C. Kimball) then these beings would certainly be superior, drawing into question the worship-worthiness of Elohim. Maybe these Uber-Gods could trump his plan in some way. And why should we not worship them? Blake Ostler's reading of the Lectures on Faith suggests that God must be construed in such a way as to be the 'supreme being' (even if not Anselmian) in such a way that He is an worthy object of our faith. But Blake will contend that a finite being (eternal, but limited) can obtain certain omni-attributes such as are possible and thus could qualify as deity.

In his book Exploring Mormon Thought: the Attributes of God, Blake uses the Godhead / God distinction to wiggle out of the difficulties here presented. The Godhead is an intimate relation of unity in which the participating beings relate immediately to one another and everything else that is. The Godhead is maximally powerful, knowledgeable, and good. Previous generations of Gods participate in this relationship and so there is a guarantee that the purposes of Elohim will not be trumped, due to the nature of the Godhood relationship. There is a sense then that the Godhead is the supreme force (entity), which I think addresses many of the above concerns. As for why we specifically worship Elohim and our 'trinity,' it seems appropriate to remember the Orson Pratt/ Brigham controversy and think about the fact that we are his family and indebted to him personally for our access to the Godhead (Godhood). And it seems that as for the lack of logical or metaphysical perfections and infinite omni-attributes, we will have to cast our lots in with God and work as hard on His plan to make sure that it comes out right. Of course many critiques can be made of the God of Anselm/ philosophical theism… namely that it little resembles the God of the Bible and would not be able to relate to us in any way, (and more!).
Family and Academia

I've skimmed briefly the new biography of Hugh Nibley by his son in law, who candidly admits that Nibley was a workaholic who spent little if any time with his children after they were toddlers, with very weak emotional connections, leaving his family with some hard feelings about 'dad.' This comes at the same time as I am home with my new daughter and two and a half year old, thinking I am on vacation from life to spend some time with my family. It seems that Nibley and I have things backwards.

One very interesting sociological fact about the academy is its total isolation from family. Students have recently broken free from the constraints of their parents' family, and are free to rethink their traditions, values, religions and so forth amongst their new "bright" peers. Likewise students have not started families of their own, and have no responsibilities to spouse or children (that is of course, unless they are BYU students). It surely is a strange thing to spend all of one's time around 20 year olds. No children, no elderly, just individual young men and women. If ever there is a situation where a "liberal ontology" would apply, where we really are Lockean atom -like individuals, it would be the academy. Perhaps there is a sociological reason as well as an economic reason (see Nozick essay on "Why intellectuals oppose capitalism") for a liberal philosophy and politic at the academy. Not that I doubt that the main reason is that everyone wants power for themselves, and smart people wanting power for smart people (not Bush) tend to express themselves better and find a willing audience in the smart young minds of idealistic students (who unlike the Historian, have not yet begun to pay taxes on their spouse's Republican level income).