Can we speak of God meaningfully?

For the past century or so, the question of religious language has caused numerous problems, the biggest being whether talking of God is meaningful or meaningless.

Thomas Aquinas established the via negativa, a way of talking about God which aims not to say what God is, but what God is not. Moreover, the use of analogy is for Aquinas a way of talking about God. He uses the example of a bull to explain analogy of attribution. An expert can tell the health of a bull from its urine, but the health of the bull is not in the urine as such, and is just a reflection of the actual health of the bull. Likewise, the world is a reflection of God, and a reflection of his goodness (problems obviously arise here). The language of symbol is a way of explaining things that cannot otherwise be explained because of their nature as experienced (William James would describe them as ineffable). However, the use of religious language does not seem to get very far, particularly with skeptics or atheists, seeming helpful only to those who believe already.

A.J. Ayer used the verification principle to do away with all religious and moral statements as mere noise and nothing else. The verification principle states that ‘a proposition is only cognitively meaningful if it can be definitively and conclusively determined to be either true or false (i.e. verifiable or falsifiable).’ Moral statements are for Ayer nothing more than an expression of approval or disapproval of something, but add nothing factually to a statement (his theory is known as the ‘boo-hurrah’ theory). Since religious statements cannot be verified, Ayer claims that they are ‘evidently nonsense’.

Ludwig Wittgenstein believed that language is that of a game, and that when we speak we are partaking in a language game. We play many different language games, he argued, with many different people and in many different places. Outside a language game, the language is meaningless, but inside it is meaningful (which begs the questions whether language games is all there is, and if this is so, whether objectively all language is just primitive noise, though Wittgenstein probably would not agree with this). Religious language is another language game, but does that mean that if you are not playing the game the language is meaningless? Perhaps so.

Speaking of God is difficult, regardless of one’s belief. It remains unclear as to the meaning of religious language, and whether it holds any weight at all.

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Radical skepticism

It might seem easier or less trouble or more polite to approach ideas, opinions, and belief systems with sensitivity. It may even seem right to do so. Yet logic is not discrete or caring. Logic is logic. Today’s society is obsessed with accepting other people’s opinions and letting them be. But simply letting people be will get us nowhere resulting in no kind of progression or evolution. Questioning and deliberating is necessary for progress to be made. Questioning is what gets us somewhere, rather than nowhere. Of course, some people ask questions, and some don’t, and some societies work like that, but if no questions were asked at all, then we wouldn’t get anywhere. That is what society today is partaking in-the withdrawal of questioning, the withdrawal of rigorous skepticism.

It is thought that approaching an idea mercilessly and wholly rationally is dangerous, but it is in fact the other way round. If we fail to attack an idea, we will fail to discover what the idea holds and the potential of it, which could lead to a damaging idea growing and developing. It is not dangerous to attack an idea, but it is dangerous both to leave an idea to grow without doubting it, and also to refuse an idea even in the face of proof (whatever that is).

Amor fati

Amor fati (‘love of fate’) is a concept prominent in the thought of Nietzsche, affirming that essentially nothing can be prevented (there is a lack of control), and so rather than cursing when things seem to go wrong, we should embrace whatever happens. This is a heavily Stoic idea (particularly Epictetus), emphasising that we should deal with life as it comes, not as we would wish to happen. Although rather seemingly pessimistic, amor fati is in fact a life-affirming concept.

Whatever happens, seemingly good or bad, we should embrace and love it. This is amor fati. It might seem genuinely naïve at first, yet it is rather accepting the reality of what has occurred-working with what has happened rather than fretting about what we wanted to happen. It is a way of affirming power-whatever happens to us, we are ready to deal with it. In daily life, troubles and conflict occur. Amor fati asserts that we shouldn’t despise them, but love them, or at least see them as necessary, and then act accordingly. Rather than looking at conflicts and troubles as a problem, we should view them as opportunities to enhance ourselves and evolve. After all, we cannot change what has happened, and we can only work with what has happened, so we might as well accept it, and if we do, we may find ourselves in places we never thought we could reach.

 

The end feeds the beginning

The goal, the purpose, the ending. This is what drives us. What our actions will bring influences how and why we act. Any motivation is based on the final end, and without it there is little reason to do anything. This is why goals are so necessary for purposeful action-because without them there would be no purposeful action to begin with. Instead it would be only chaotic movements randomly striving for something. Anything. There is a time when a decision has to be made, a decision about what your goal is. The time, and the only time, is now. Without a ‘why’, how will there be a ‘how’? It isn’t difficult to fall into passive nihilism and to actively do nothing. Doing nothing and achieving nothing becomes the goal. It may seem like an inevitability at some point in time, but that time isn’t now. Passive nihilism oversees the present time, not realising that even if our efforts will not last for much time, they will last for at least some time.

It is the end, the ‘why’, that gives life to the ‘how’. The first step, always, is to know why.

Keep things in perspective

It’s easy to perceive things in the wrong way. Our perspective can change very drastically, very quickly. A lot of life is just about how we see things. As Epictetus said, life is just a set of impressions. If we take this at face value, then how we live is how we use impressions-change your perspective, change your life, that kind of thing.

The big question, then, is what the right perspective is. Fundamentally, all of our perspectives differ somewhat, but it is possible for perspectives to be focused on the same things. A huge focus is the universe around us. It has existed for millions of years. We exist for 80 years. Sub specie aeternitatis, life seems a little less serious. Again, we die. Death makes life seem less troublesome. Yes the troubles may hurt now, but soon enough they’ll be gone. Forever. In fact, everything will be gone. Yes, I agree that life can be shit at times, that it is a pain, frustrating and completely pointless, but I also think that since we’re here, and given that the chances of us being here are close to none, we should probably make the most of it. Looking at death and the universe may change our perspective on things, making them seem less grave. Beginning with the end in mind (the end being death) may certainly be helpful, easing the heaviness of life off of one’s shoulders, bringing a touch of humour and slight irony (Nagel) to one’s existence. Keeping things in perspective is utterly, utterly crucial. It affects how we act, and provides the reasons as to why we act, and as long as we do keep things in perspective, it will help us in how we act.

Everything changes

A simple fact of life. Something easily forgotten, however. We are sometimes prone to thinking that the situation as it is now will never change or get better, but it’s just not true. But whether it gets better or worse, well that’s a great deal up to ourselves. Although conflict and trouble and things going wrong are not always pleasant or enjoyable, they are a necessary part of the adventure that is life. Moreover, they are part of a fulfilling life-a life that does not present problems is not a life at all. This is the nature of existence. Yes, it will suck at times, but pain does not come without its benefits. It’s just about how we use the problems that come our way, how we react to them. Some problems are unsolvable, whilst others can be dealt with and even manipulated. Yet keeping this somewhat objective viewpoint that everything changes may help immensely, making everything lighter and more bearable.

Many a time do we find ourselves apathetic, and we can’t be bothered to do things which, when looking at the bigger picture, w should really do. Having the end product or goal as a reminder is a great way to maintain motivation and fight our way through obstacles.

Back with a bang

It’s been a while. I have certainly been very busy. But, business passes, as it always does, and once again I am ready to start writing (relatively) regularly. From here onwards, posts will, at most times, be longer than previously, and, hopefully, more interesting and invigorating. I’ve always believed in the importance of philosophy pervading daily life, and writing is one way of achieving this pervasiveness. I do hope you get at least something out of my future posts.

Self-improvement as masturbation

The title is from Fight Club, and is pointing to inherent pointlessness of improving oneself, particularly in the context of a consumerist society. Moreover, it critiques the ideas of individuality in consumerism. Tyler Durden goes on to say ‘Now self-destruction…’ suggesting that self-destruction is the way forward. Rather than focusing on our own improvement through meaningless consumerism and so-called achievement, Tyler Durden seems to be suggesting that we should look outside of ourselves and sacrifice ourselves for the greater good of others. Of course there is the contrast between masturbation and sex-masturbation is lonely and fundamentally pointless, whereas sex is an act with another person. If we spend our time merely improving ourselves, we will become lonely and partaking in acts that are meaningless, yet if we turn away from this we can really live as we should, and we can begin to accept ourselves as we are, and embrace our dissatisfaction, rather than trying to quell it with self-improvement, which eventually does not change anything. It’s about removing that part of yourself which relies on the recognition of others, which only wants to impress others, and then pursuing what you want to do without the pressures of the opinions of other. It’s about destroying the self that society gives us, and creating something new from the ashes. The things thrown at us by society don’t make us better human beings, but they do make us feel like we are better human beings, thereby deluding us. From this we must break free.

Dealing with pain, trouble and anxiety

There is one specific idea which I have found to be incredibly useful when confronting and accepting various forms of pain, specifically the pains and anxieties of everyday life: the concept of sub specie aeternatis. This is the idea of viewing humanity, and more specifically your very own life, in the time period of all history and of the future as well. The span of our own lives is utterly negligible if we look at the big picture-that the universe has existed for millions and millions of years, and will probably continue to do so for a long time. Looking at life like this, all the pettiness is removed. When we are reminded of our own insignificance and the perhaps completely meaningless nature of our troubles, w may be able to detach ourselves from our own trouble, thereby gaining power and control over them, rather than the other way around. It is a matter of recognising how arbitrary everything can seem, merely by looking at the bigger picture. It may seem simple, but its effect may be astounding.

The philosophy of Kant Pt.2

Kant’s philosophy of mind is situated in-between that of Newton and Leibniz. Newton believed that space and time are absolute and objective, separate from our mind and wholly deterministic. This determinist outlook did not appeal to Kant, since with this view Kant believed he could not argue in favour of freedom, morality, or God. At the opposite end is Leibniz, who believed that everything has a soul with a ‘set of God-given perceptions’. The universe is essentially many enclosed and isolated souls. Kant sat between these two viewpoints, and argued that time and space are wholes composed of parts, and that time and space are faculties inside our minds, like containers, and are empty, needing to be filled with sensory experience. To have any experience, time and space must exist.

As seen before in part 1, Kant was heavily influenced by Aristotle, and took from him the concept of the nature of humans as well as Aristotelian logic. Kant, like Aristotle, held that humans are by nature rational. The faculties of sensibility (responsible for ‘intuitions’) and understanding (responsible for ‘concepts’) work together to create reality. Kant relies on truth being stable, and creates categories, or pure concepts, which correspond to forms of logical judgement.