Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Reviewing Richard Dawkins' 'The God Delusion' - Anthony Flew



Anthony Flew's review of The God Delusion (2008) suggests that Dawkins has become a secular bigot. Flew was a influential philosophical atheist. Yet in 2007, when he was eighty-four years old, he published There is a God, in which he writes about how he came to believe in a Creator God on the basis of both scientific evidence and philosophical argument. In his book, he discusses his belief that it is possible for an omnipotent being to choose to reveal himself to human beings, or to act in the world.

I quote some of the most interesting discussion of Dawkins book. Flew wrote that:
The God Delusion by the atheist writer Richard Dawkins, is remarkable in the first place for having achieved some sort of record by selling over a million copies. But what is much more remarkable than that economic achievement is that the contents – or rather lack of contents – of this book show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: namely, a secularist bigot. (Helpfully, my copy of The Oxford Dictionary defines a bigot as ‘an obstinate or intolerant adherent of a point of view’).
Flew amplifies on this charge, and Dawkins' avoidance of a particular statement by Einstein: 
The fault of Dawkins as an academic ... was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine which he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form. Thus we find in his index five references to Einstein. They are to the mask of Einstein and Einstein on morality; on a personal God; on the purpose of life (the human situation and on how man is here for the sake of other men and above all for those on whose well-being our own happiness depends); and finally on Einstein’s religious views. But (I find it hard to write with restraint about this obscurantist refusal on the part of Dawkins) he makes no mention of Einstein’s most relevant report: namely, that the integrated complexity of the world of physics has led him to believe that there must be a Divine Intelligence behind it. (I myself think it obvious that if this argument is applicable to the world of physics then it must be hugely more powerful if it is applied to the immeasurably more complicated world of biology.)
He continues:
Of course many physicists with the highest of reputations do not agree with Einstein in this matter. But an academic attacking some ideological position which s/he believes to be mistaken must of course attack that position in its strongest form. This Dawkins does not do in the case of Einstein and his failure is the crucial index of his insincerity of academic purpose and therefore warrants me in charging him with having become, what he has probably believed to be an impossibility, a secularist bigot.
Dawkins was aware of Flew's change of mind about the existence of some kind of Creator God standing behind the physical world, and mentioned the fact. Flew quotes the passage in The God Delusion where Dawkins refers to his conversion: 
On page 82 of The God Delusion is a remarkable note. It reads ‘We might be seeing something similar today in the over-publicised tergiversation of the philosopher Antony Flew, who announced in his old age that he had been converted to belief in some sort of deity (triggering a frenzy of eager repetition all around the Internet).’
What is important about this passage is not what Dawkins is saying about Flew but what he is showing here about Dawkins. For if he had had any interest in the truth of the matter of which he was making so much he would surely have brought himself to write me a letter of enquiry. (When I received a torrent of enquiries after an account of my conversion to Deism had been published in the quarterly of the Royal Institute of Philosophy I managed – I believe – eventually to reply to every letter.)
Flew suggests that:
This whole business makes all too clear that Dawkins is not interested in the truth as such but is primarily concerned to discredit an ideological opponent by any available means. That would itself constitute sufficient reason for suspecting that the whole enterprise of The God Delusion was not, as it at least pretended to be, an attempt to discover and spread knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God but rather an attempt – an extremely successful one – to spread the author’s own convictions in this area.
Hence Flew's charge that Dawkins had become something he himself would have thought would have been impossible, namely a secular bigot. Flew then challenges Dawkins use of the term 'Deism' in his book, which is allowed an elastic function: 
.... although the index of The God Delusion notes six references to Deism it provides no definition of the word ‘deism’. This enables Dawkins in his references to Deism to suggest that Deists are a miscellany of believers in this and that. The truth, which Dawkins ought to have learned before this book went to the printers, is that Deists believe in the existence of a God but not the God of any revelation. In fact the first notable public appearance of the notion of Deism was in the American Revolution. The young man who drafted the Declaration of Independence and who later became President Jefferson was a Deist, as were several of the other founding fathers of that abidingly important institution, the United States.
Dawkins also challenged Flew's integrity as a scholar for accepting an award from a bible institute:
In that monster footnote to what I am inclined to describe as a monster book – The God Delusion – Dawkins reproaches me for what he calls my ignominious decision to accept, in 2006, the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth. The awarding Institution is Biola, The Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Dawkins does not say outright that his objection to my decision is that Biola is a specifically Christian institution. He obviously assumes (but refrains from actually saying) that this is incompatible with producing first class academic work in every department – not a thesis which would be acceptable in either my own university or Oxford or in Harvard.
The full review is available here.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Is Richard Dawkins a Closet Deist?




Since the publication of The God Delusion in 2006, those of us who are interested in the history of ideas, both long and short, have got used to a more aggressive and even militant form of atheistic response to discussions of the concept of God, and the meaning of the Divine. Dawkins book is the main reason for this change.

‘The God Delusion’ is not a scholarly treatise on belief and disbelief concerning the existence or the reality of God, and the arguments for and against. Nor does it pretend to be. It is an old-fashioned piece of polemic writing, intended to serve an agenda which is already established. However, this has not stopped some of the readers of the book from imagining that it is in fact the last word on why every possible reason for entertaining the idea of God is delusory, and that anyone still discussing the subject of the Divine is an abject fool.

By writing this book, what Dawkins has done is to empower (in the jargon of the day) a large group of people who see any discussion of God as some sort of intellectual imposture. They see this for many possible reasons, including the fact that, perhaps most importantly, and in western religions in particular, the concept of God has been used to buttress temporal and political power, and many of the arguments which have been made in favour of the existence or the reality of God, over the past thousand years or so, do function as support for temporal ideologies. The disbelievers see such imposture as an offence against intelligence and common sense, and ‘The God Delusion’ contains the weaponry for combatting the deceit.

Dawkins is not a theologian. But this does not disqualify him from discussing the truth or falsehood of the existence of God, and the arguments which have been created in order to support what is known as ‘rational belief in God’.  I share Dawkins negative view of this unhappy concept, which gives space to credulous patterns of thought. However, Dawkins project would have been better served if he had produced a scholarly discussion of the subject first, before writing the polemic. By publishing only the polemic, he has himself created a space for credulous patterns of thought. Discussion of theological questions is now out of the seminary and the university, and is in the marketplace.

Some time ago, shortly after I published my first book, which discusses the long history of ideas about God and the Divine, I wrote a blog post with a misleading title ‘The Irrationality of Atheism’. The article was actually about the illogical and careless nature of western human thought concerning the Divine. In the ontological argument, as it developed from St. Anselm onwards, the question was almost always couched in terms of Gods existence, and whether or not the existence of God could be understood to serve another of God’s apparently necessary properties: ‘perfection’. I pointed out three things:

 Can God, in any meaningful sense, be said to exist, even if God can be said to have reality? We think of existence as a characteristic of being in space and time.

Secondly, that the ontological argument provides nothing which connects God with the matrix of space and time. This suggests the uncritical acceptance of space and time as something which exists apart from the Divine, and which is perhaps a fatal objection to the ontological argument.

Thirdly, if the nature of what God is includes the generation of the space and time in which we live and think, then intelligent atheism is impossible, since it would necessarily mean the complete denial of human experience.

What I was arguing was that modern atheism is actually dependent for its nature on the ontological argument, and the terms in which it is framed. Meaning that eight hundred years of argument about the nature and existence of God underpins the point of view of those who regard themselves as atheists.

Most of the time this article received little attention. At other times it did get a response – sometimes polite and intelligent, sometimes not. What struck me about the latter instances however, was how little the responders actually knew, as opposed to how much they imagined they knew, about theological questions. They’d read ‘The God Delusion’, and that was enough. The argument made sense to them, and they were as a consequence, militantly in favour in Dawkins point of view.

So much so that it was often clear that they were responding to the provocative title of the article, and had not read the article itself (far less any other article on the web site). There was no need for them to read the article, of course – they knew that, whatever was in it was nonsense, and that I must be confused, or just an attention seeker.

For many, modern atheism is now a belief system, like any other. Just dressed up as absolute unbelief. And Dawkins book is their sacred text. It makes sense. It is logical. It is the final word on the matter.

I found myself being accused of confusing theism and deism, which was a bit puzzling at first. But since the accusers have generally read Dawkins book and very little else, and therefore have no wide knowledge of the history of human thought, they necessarily take their cues from him. And Dawkins does spend a lot of time talking about both. We learn about Dawkins perspective from this, and so can gain an understanding of the limitations of his own argument.

I think of theism and deism as terms for patterns of thought which belong in the early modern period, and which are couched in the kind of discussions contemporary with that time, all the way up to the French revolution, and beyond. But earlier ideas about god can be understood in terms of theism (the word of course is Greek, as is its derivative atheism). But no-one in their right mind would try to equate the theism of Plato with the theism of the early modern period; they just aren’t the same. Plato’s ‘theism’ concerns a God who is wholly transcendent of physical existence, and transcends all sense experience. Theistic belief of later times implies no such thing.

The distinction Dawkins makes in ‘The God Delusion’ between theism and deism is a simple one. Theism is a pattern of belief which enshrines the idea that the Divine is responsive to man, and his rituals of worship and prayer. It is a pattern of belief dependent on the idea that God can act in the world.  By contrast, deism contemplates the idea that a creator God has existence, and necessarily created the world, but that he is not active in the physical world beyond that.

This is the kind of idea which Descartes employed in his description of reality. God was real, but existed in a sphere of his own, and so we could get on with the business of understanding the world in terms of mathematics and physics, without reference to God. The idea was also attractive to the generation of theologians and scholars who came after Newton, who saw the divine hand in the regular clockwork of the heavens, the motions of the planets, and approved of Newton’s use of mathematics to describe the regularity of the cosmos. Their very regularity could be argued to show that God created the physical and sensory world, but did not intervene once the cosmos was in order, and in motion.

In October 2008, Dawkins debated with the mathematician John Lennox at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The debate had the title ‘Has Science buried God?’, In the debate Dawkins made an interesting statement, which puts him on this theist-deist spectrum, at least in so far as he recognises that the laws of mathematics and physics have to have some origin. He said that, though he would not accept deism, it was possible to make the case for “a deistic god, a sort of god of the physicist…. Who devised the laws of physics, god the mathematician, god who put together the cosmos in the first place and then sat back and watched everything happen” *1. He had however no notion that a similar case could be made for a theistic god.

So, if Dawkins is not in fact a deist, where does he think the laws of mathematics and physics come from? What is the origin of the inverse square law, and the law of gravity? He clearly accepts mathematical order in physical reality, since you cannot understand or do science if you don’t.  So it seems as though Dawkins objections to deism are irrational, and that he is a deist masquerading as the high-priest of atheism.

***


1.    *1. Dawkins view of at least the possibility of a mathematically inclined god, who defined the rules, and set everything in motion, would have made perfect sense to the Stoics, including the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, who understood the world principally in terms of the power of Necessity (anangke). The world was in motion according to a predetermined pattern, against which man’s powers were feeble in the extreme. We could change certain things here and there, but we had to accept the implacable force of Necessity. 

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Thought in Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain




For the past three weeks or so I've been writing a paper on aspects of mind during the late Neolithic and the early Bronze Age in Britain, during the period when most of the megalithic circles were built. I wrote a paper in 2016 (Stone Circles, Phenomenology, and the Neolithic Mind) which explored the possibility that we might have enough information from the structures to infer thought and motive of their builders. 

In that article I wrote: 



The main objection of the archaeological community to the acceptance of this view of the circles as sophisticated tools for the observation of the heavens and its movements is two-fold. The first is that there is nothing (beyond what these objects seem to show) which suggests to us that the megalith builders and their contemporary culture was concerned at all with precision. The second is that, even if the circles can be shown to mark certain astronomically precise points, we have no clue at all about why the megalith builders would want to do this. We have no understanding of the function and purpose of such observations, and so we can say virtually nothing about either the purpose of the monuments, or about the culture which gave rise to them. In other words we are no further forward in our understanding.

This two-fold objection is sound, at least from the archaeologists point of view. We have no contemporary description of anything at all from the time and culture of the megalith builders. We have no understanding of their intentions, and no understanding of the function of the circles, and it is unlikely that archaeological interpretation by itself will reveal these things to us. It seems to be gone altogether, and all we are left with is insupportable speculation. Perhaps it would be best to draw a veil over this apparently anomalous aspect of the past, since we can have no understanding of it.

The upshot of the article was not as negative. I argued that:

[in] both Greece and Assyria, the heavens, and what the heavens represented, were of particular importance for cult practice. Plato is clear that the heavens represent an image of divine Being, also spoken of as the ‘Living Animal’, created out of the materials of other gods, by the demiourgos (the ‘Living Animal’ is created by the Demiourgos rather than by God directly, so that there should be not too much of the divine present in the world). He is also quite explicit that the body of the ‘Living Animal’ was created with precision.

In which case astronomy is important for the understanding of divine Being. An infamously unintelligible passage in Plato’s Timaeus talks about the perception of images being possible only because the soul already contains exemplars of these. If the heavens represent an image of divine Being, then all other images are poor imitations, and we should direct our attention principally to the heavens. The soul represents the heavens most closely, and in antiquity was notionally the part of us which is most connected to the divine. It is the soul which recognizes divine knowledge when it is presented to it.

We already know the importance of the soul in Britain in the late 1st millennium BCE, from several sources, including Julius Caesar.  It may be that these ideas were similarly tied together in Britain, and perhaps at a much earlier period. I explored a Mesopotamian parallel:

In ancient Assyria, part of the ritual for creating an image of a god (thereby conferring divinity on the object) involves the image being exposed to the sight of the heavens. As a god, it needs to have perception of Being, of which it is an aspect. We have this ritual from the reign of Esarhaddon (7th century BCE), who was the predecessor of Ashurbanipal, one of the last Assyrian kings, and the owner of the famous palace library, much of which is now located in the British Museum.
So the point is the establishment of contact - even an identity with - what is divine. It is possible to see this concern with connecting Heaven and Earth as a parallel to what Plato describes more abstractly in his Republic. I wrote:

...Plato argues that the philosopher should ascend to the idea of the Good, which is another way of referencing the idea of transcendent Being, by a series of connected images, without specifying what those images might be. These images, as imperfect representations of Being, are subject to change. Matters are complicated by the fact that the things which are imaged are also subject to change. Thus both subjective impression and objective reality are subject to change and uncertainty.
So the process is problematic, and complex. To some extent it is a matter of conjecture, as well as knowledge.
A key characteristic of ancient religion was that it entertained conjecture regarding knowledge of the gods. Plato refers to this in his discussion of the divided line in The Republic. We cannot know Being itself directly. We cannot know the lesser gods directly either, but we can understand some of the characteristics of these gods, though full knowledge is necessarily beyond our understanding. We can approach some limited understanding of Being via the images and descriptions of the lesser gods however, which is one reason why they were deemed to have some kind of reality.
In which case knowledge of divine things is a journey through the problematic and sometimes paradoxical aspects of reality as it presents itself to us. You need a priesthood for dealing with that. They were dealing with ontological questions, and did the best they could within the limitations of human knowledge.
This limited set of characteristics and properties emerges from thorough and precise discussion of the nature of ontology (Being), as the focus of human conjecture. This is quite clear in both Plato and also in what we know of the teachings of Pythagoras. The paradox of knowledge is the consequence of the idea that all knowledge is present in the divine, and that we only have knowledge because we have a soul. In other words, we can have knowledge as the result of the divine having a presence in us already.

I suggested that Plato, rather than exploring a pattern of ideas created in the Academy in Athens, was in fact transmitting and refurbishing some

...key aspects of a Bronze Age philosophy, which has its roots in the Neolithic in both Europe and the near East. The transcendental doctrine which is enshrined in his work is actually in plain sight to anyone who can follow his reasoning that all the merely likely stories are just that: no more than likely. The single argument which is not a mere likelihood, is counterintuitive, paradoxical, and beyond common sense. And it remains a matter of conjecture. This argument about the nature of the world used to be the apex of learning and knowledge. Reality is transcendental, and neither subjective or objective. Nothing lay beyond this fundamental understanding of the world.
If this argument is correct, then we can know what Neolithic man was up to, and in some detail. In short, for the intellectually sophisticated in the Neolithic period, the heavens represented, as for Plato much later, a moving image of eternity. To measure the parameters of this moving image of the divine was to know God, and to have knowledge of divine things.


This represents a radical departure in our understanding of the development and the history of human thought. We know that the heavens were important in the neolithic and the early Bronze Age in Britain, and if that importance stemmed from an understanding that the heavens represented a moving image of eternity, then the people who built the megalithic circles had a concept of Being, and of a reality which transcended most human experience. Such an idea is the most abstract of all. It transcends all images of what is real. It implies a culture built on responses to questions about the nature of reality, and many conjectures about what can be known.

The Pythagoreanism which the surveyor of many of the megalithic sites in Britain, Alexander Thom, detected in his findings, was very basic in nature, and based on statistical analysis of his data, and the geometrical construction which could be found in the monuments. Which means the observance of the importance of the Pythagorean right angled triangle, and the concern with whole numbers.  Both of these were of importance to the later Pythagoreans, as we know. A further clue was the statements by a number of ancient authors to the effect that the religious belief of the Britons in the late 1st millennium BCE was akin to Pythagoreanism.

But there is very little detail about what Pythagoreanism in Britain might have entailed, if the identification is correct. This is rather surprising, since we have a great deal of information about Pythagoras and Pythagorean doctrine available to us from sources other than Julius Caesar, and the authors whose opinions have survived as a result of being quoted by Eusebius (though often inconsistent, and sometimes quite obscure in meaning). We have a biography of Pythagoras from both the neoplatonist Iamblichus, and also from Porphyry. We also have an extensive and rather good account from the author of the Lives of the Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius. Plus we have the works of Plato, who is constantly referencing the doctrines of the Pythagoreans.

So this new paper looks at the material we have concerning Pythagoras, in order to know a fuller range of what Pythagoreanism implied in the late sixth century BCE, both in Italy and in Greece. As it turns out, certain key ideas in Pythagoreanism arise as the logical consequence of the kind of discussions which they entertained, mainly concerning number, mathematics and geometry. And these key ideas shape their ideas about religion, divinity, the nature of reality, of Being, and of Eternity.

The paper concludes with the suggestion that, if  key religious ideas emerge in the Pythagoreanism of the 1st millennium BCE, in the course of logical argument concerning number, mathematics and geometry, then we should entertain the notion that parallel discussions may have taken place in the late Neolithic and the early British Bronze Age, on account of their own evident concern with number, mathematics and geometry.

***

The title of the paper is: 

Patterns of thought in Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain

Abstract: Pythagorean elements detected in megalith circles in ancient Britain have no easy explanation, and precede 1st millennium Pythagoreanism by an extraordinary period of time. This paper explores the idea that there is a connection between some core Pythagorean mathematical and geometrical concerns, and ideas of divinity and eternity.  On the basis of a close examination of Pythagorean ideas in the 1st millennium, for which we have extensive documentation, it is suggested that this connection is based on a series of logical inferences. It is therefore possible that similar conclusions were arrived at in the Late Neolithic.

Key words: Megalith, Pythagoras, Philosophy, Religion, Mathematics


Paper sections are:

1 The Longevity of Ideas
2 Pythagoreanism in 1st Millennium Britain
3.The Principal Sources for Pythagoreanism
4 The Core of Pythagorean Doctrine 
5 Diogenes Laertius on Pythagoreanism
6 Pythagorean Thought in Italy
7 The Existence of Irrational Numbers
8 Religious Aspects of Pythagoreanism
9 The Pattern of Eternity
10  Pythagorean Syncretism
11. Transcendentalism in Late Neolithic and early Bronze Age Britain
12 Walking back the Insight into Ancient Mind
13 Pythagoreanism and the Deep
TY, December 10, 2017.

The paper was reviewed a short time ago, and rejected for publication in Time and Mind (for reasons I understand, but disagree with). Thanks to Paul Devereux, who thought it was worth the shot. Rather than waste a lot of time looking at the very few options available for publishing this kind of article in a scholarly journal, I've opted to make it available here, at: Patterns of Thought in Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain. It will also form a chapter in The Frankish Tower, which will be published later in the year.

TY, March 8, 2018.

I changed the name of this post to 'Thought in Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain' on January 26 2018, in order to avoid confusion with the actual paper intended for journal publication. TY













 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Philosophical Thought in the Neolithic (and why we cannot see it)



While responding to a mail from the managing editor of a scholarly magazine,  who I'd pointed in the direction of a couple of articles on my blog, I found myself condensing my project into the compass of just four paragraphs. This covers both what I am doing, and why. I reproduce them here:

Years ago I read Adolf Erman's collection of Egyptian Literature in English translation. One text in particular made me sit up, since it involved the use of concepts I associated with classical Greece. The text was Akhenaten's 'Hymn to the Aten'. Akhenaten lived some nine hundred years before Plato and Aristotle, yet he seemed to be comfortable with concepts which are supposed to have been first discussed among the Greeks. I looked for other 'anticipations', and found them.


That propelled me to study in London (in 1989). By that time I'd started to look at antiquity quite differently from the way I'd been taught by classicists. Instead of seeing classical Greece (and the work of the later philosophers all the way up to the closure of the philosophical schools in 529 CE) as the beginnings of sophisticated thought about abstract concepts, I began to treat major components of classical thought as the possible end point of a way of thinking, which might conceivably stretch back into the neolithic. The notion of excellence is one of those components, which as we now know was a concern for the megalith builders.


That's the basic hypothesis. The idea of Greece as the birthplace of philosophy is a modern construct. Plato himself said it was a very old discipline, but classicists don't bother to discuss what he had to say about that when they are writing about the history of philosophy. The evidence from around the eastern Mediterranean however, bears out what Plato said.


My focus so far has been mainly on Mesopotamia, and back to the 14th century BCE, because it is the area where I have the most expertise. It is now pretty clear however that the hypothesis that the presence of abstract ideas stretches back into the Neolithic is sound, and that this insight can deliver great riches. If only we can escape our enlightenment presumptions about the intellectual poverty of our distant ancestors.



Best regards,


Thomas Yaeger


The two articles the managing editor was pointed at were: Stone Circles, Phenomenology, and the Neolithic Mind, and: Frazer and the Association of Ideas

I introduced the first article as looking at the context and function of Stone Circles, particularly when looked at as structures which may have served a similar function to divine statues in both Greece and Mesopotamia. In Mesopotamia, during the installation of divine statues, the three day ritual necessarily involved pointing them at defined areas of the sky, because the heavens were understood to represent an image of the Divine - of Being and Reality itself. 

The second article I described as a review of J. G. Frazer's approach to the meaning of evidence from the ancient world. He was trained in Classics, and knew the works of Plato virtually backwards and his concern with the idea of Being, but chose to write his account of ancient thought entirely without reference to the idea of Being in antiquity. He suggested that since nothing could be predicated of Being, it was an entirely barren concept. So Frazer's voluminous output is really a species of fiction, replacing sophisticated thought about the nature of reality with the argument that ancient human thought was, more or less entirely, built on intellectual error.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

'The Sacred History of Being' is free to download in November!


This offer is now closed. Thanks to everybody who participated!

The Sacred History of Being will be available free from Smashwords during the month of November 2017, to mark the second anniversary of its publication in 2015. Use the coupon available on the Smashwords page for the book. The coupon is available for use from the 25th of October.

Coupon Code: TT95F

:


"All about how history is built by inclusion and omission. Even written histories have to hang together like a good story." - Nick Zacharewicz @NickSCZach

The Subject 


The Sacred History of Being has as its radical thesis that a philosophical knowledge of divine things was at the heart of ancient religion, both in Greece and the ancient Near East. And that the source of all knowledge was understood to be Being itself. 

 Formerly argued by classical scholars to have been first discussed by the ancient Greeks in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E., the articulate concept of Being can now be traced as far back as the middle of the second millennium, and the state of Assyria.

The Greeks themselves had several stories about the origins of philosophy, a discipline which essentially deals with abstractions, including that it originated elsewhere, but that is not the received narrative. The consequence of this, is that all historians of ideas, when constructing their accounts of the intellectual development of man before the arrival of Parmenides and Plato, have had to negotiate the Greek invention of philosophy, and the corollary, that articulate discussion of the abstract concept 'Being' didn’t happen before this. 

The Old Testament has examples where God declares his identity with Being itself (‘I am that I am’, better translated into English as ‘I am that which is,’ and ‘I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God', for example), but these are not regarded by scholars as evidence of a sophisticated discourse around the idea of Being. Instead these statements indicate inchoate notions and beliefs about the nature of god, rather than anything more profound. The statement in Malachi, however, that 'I do not change', is an explicitly philosophical understanding of the nature of God. 


This is the full chapter list for the edition of The Sacred History of Being, published on November 2, 2015. 


Preface.


Part One.

A Sense of the Past.
How old is Philosophy?
The Arrival of the Idea of Being.
The West and the Other.
The Golem.
Change and what is Permanent.
The Ontological Argument.
The Ontological Argument in Anselm.
The Ontological Argument in Descartes.
The Nature of Reality in Berkeley.
Hume and Kant on Reality.
The End of the Ontological Argument.

Part Two.

The Sweet Song of Swans.
The Academy.
The Platonic Theory of Being.
Plato’s Theory of Vision.
The Paradox of Knowledge.
Eleven attributes of Being.
Pythagoras and Totality.
Solon in the court of Croesus.
The Complexion of the Dead.
Being in Homer.

Part Three.

Ocean and the Limit of Existence.
Creation.
The Fifty names of Marduk.
The Idea of Being in Israel.
Understanding Creation as a Sacred Tree.
Being, Kabbalah, and the Assyrian Sacred Tree.
The Making and the Renewal of the Gods.
The Ritual sequence and its purpose.
The Nineveh ritual.
The Babylonian ritual.
Finding the Name of the Sacred Tree.
Postscript.

Appendices.

Thomas Taylor on the Ineffable principle.
Oannes and the Instruction of Mankind.
Ashurbanipal on the exercise of Kingship.
Select Bibliography.
Abbreviations


Available Full Chapters



The first five chapters of the book, plus the preface, are available to read in full, by following the links below. A further chapter from part one, which discusses George Berkeley's understanding of the Nature of Reality, and two chapters from part three, 'Ocean and the Limit of Existence', and  'The Idea of Being in Israel', are also available to read in full. Plus one of the appendices, which discusses the Babylonian account of the first sages, and man's acquisition of knowledge. 

Preface

Part One

A sense of the past
How old is Philosophy?
The Arrival of the idea of Being
The West and the Other
The Golem
Change and what is permanent
Recurring Questions
The Ontological Argument
The Ontological Argument in Anselm
The Ontological Argument in Descartes
The Nature of Reality in Berkeley
Hume and Kant on Reality

....

Part Three

Ocean and the Limit of Existence
The Idea of Being in Israel

....

 Appendices

Oannes and the Instruction of Mankind


The eBook is in ePub format, which can be read on Macs, iPads, iPhones, etc, and most other tablets, irrespective of the operating operating system they use. If you have an Amazon Kindle, the ePub formatting of the book can be converted easily to the MOBI format, which the Kindle uses, with the excellent eBook management software Calibre, which can be downloaded free. 

The book can be read on a PC, laptop or notebook computer, in ePub or any other eBook format, using the Adobe Digital Editions software, which is also available free, in both Mac and PC formats. Supports conversion to many formats, including PDF. 

The principal distributor of The Sacred History of Being is Smashwords. The book can be downloaded from Smashwords directly, after a signup which takes just a minute or so. After purchase (free, with the coupon TT95F), the book goes into a library space associated with your signup, and it can be downloaded on to your device from there. Just follow the link.

The book has a five star review at Goodreads

Thomas Yaeger, October 25, 3017.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Sacred History of Being




(New Cover, issued March 12 2017. The image links to the book page at Smashwords)

Nick Zacharewicz @NickSCZach
"All about how history is built by inclusion and omission. Even written histories have to hang together like a good story."

The Subject 


The Sacred History of Being has as its radical thesis that knowledge rather than belief was at the heart of ancient religion, both in Greece and the ancient Near East. And that the source of all knowledge was understood to be Being itself. 

 Formerly argued by classical scholars to have been first discussed by the ancient Greeks in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E., the articulate concept of Being can now be traced as far back as the middle of the second millennium, and the state of Assyria.

The Greeks themselves had several stories about the origins of philosophy, a discipline which essentially deals with abstractions, including that it originated elsewhere, but that is not the received narrative. The consequence of this, is that all historians of ideas, when constructing their accounts of the intellectual development of man before the arrival of Parmenides and Plato, have had to negotiate the Greek invention of philosophy, and the corollary, that articulate discussion of the abstract concept 'Being' didn’t happen before this. 

This can now be shown to be a faulty understanding, resulting in many absurdities. The Old Testament has examples where God declares his identity with Being itself (‘I am that I am’, better translated into English as ‘I am that which is,’ and ‘I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God', for example), but these are not regarded by scholars as evidence of a sophisticated discourse around the idea of Being. Instead these statements indicate inchoate ‘notions’ about the nature of god, rather than anything more profound. The statement in Malachi, however, that 'I do not change', is an explicitly philosophical understanding of the nature of God. 

The Sacred History of Being unpicks this log-jam in the history of ideas, largely the legacy of classical scholarship from the late eighteenth century onward.

Around late November 2016, 'The Sacred History of Being' entered the bestseller lists at Smashwords, in the categories of Philosophy and History

Chapter List for The Sacred History of Being


This is the full chapter list for the edition of The Sacred History of Being, published on November 2, 2015. 


Preface.


Part One.

A Sense of the Past.
How old is Philosophy?
The Arrival of the Idea of Being.
The West and the Other.
The Golem.
Change and what is Permanent.
The Ontological Argument.
The Ontological Argument in Anselm.
The Ontological Argument in Descartes.
The Nature of Reality in Berkeley.
Hume and Kant on Reality.
The End of the Ontological Argument.

Part Two.

The Sweet Song of Swans.
The Academy.
The Platonic Theory of Being.
Plato’s Theory of Vision.
The Paradox of Knowledge.
Eleven attributes of Being.
Pythagoras and Totality.
Solon in the court of Croesus.
The Complexion of the Dead.
Being in Homer.

Part Three.

Ocean and the Limit of Existence.
Creation.
The Fifty names of Marduk.
The Idea of Being in Israel.
Understanding Creation as a Sacred Tree.
Being, Kabbalah, and the Assyrian Sacred Tree.
The Making and the Renewal of the Gods.
The Ritual sequence and its purpose.
The Nineveh ritual.
The Babylonian ritual.
Finding the Name of the Sacred Tree.
Postscript.

Appendices.

Thomas Taylor on the Ineffable principle.
Oannes and the Instruction of Mankind.
Ashurbanipal on the exercise of Kingship.
Select Bibliography.
Abbreviations


Available Full Chapters



The first five chapters of the book, plus the preface, are available to read in full, by following the links below. A further chapter from part one, which discusses George Berkeley's understanding of the Nature of Reality, and two chapters from part three, 'Ocean and the Limit of Existence', and  'The Idea of Being in Israel', are also available to read in full. Plus one of the appendices, which discusses the Babylonian account of the first sages, and man's acquisition of knowledge. 

Preface

Part One

A sense of the past
How old is Philosophy?
The Arrival of the idea of Being
The West and the Other
The Golem
Change and what is permanent
Recurring Questions
The Ontological Argument
The Ontological Argument in Anselm
The Ontological Argument in Descartes
The Nature of Reality in Berkeley
Hume and Kant on Reality

....

Part Three

Ocean and the Limit of Existence
The Idea of Being in Israel

....

 Appendices

Oannes and the Instruction of Mankind



Questions addressed by The Sacred History of Being


The Sacred History of Being addresses many questions. Some of these have been puzzles over the centuries. What follows is a list of fifty of these questions, all of which are given some kind of answer in the course of the text. 

This list of questions developed slowly over the decade between the first draft of the book in 2003-4, and the final version which was published in 2015, after four years of writing. Other questions are discussed, including the meaning of the strange discussion of the Great Year in relation to the life of man, in the famous conversation between Solon and Croesus, recounted by Herodotus.

Here is the list.

 1. Is Plato writing literary fiction when he talks about the Forms? 2. Philosophical concepts and terms can be found in texts belonging to the 2nd millennium B.C.E. in both Mesopotamia and Egypt - is philosophy that old?  3. Can we identify philosophical ideas in Homer? 4. How and why did scholars schooled in philosophy not notice philosophical elements in Ancient Near Eastern texts from the 2nd millennium B.C.E.? 5. What was Homer joining together? Philosophical ideas in literature and poetry in the Late Bronze Age. 

6. Can philosophical underpinnings be identified in the liturgy of the New Year Festival in Babylon (The ‘Enuma Elish’)? 7. How is it the case that statues of the gods were considered themselves to be divine in the ancient world? 8. How was it understood to be possible to make gods, and why?  9. What was the significance of the Undefined Dyad in ancient thought? 10. When is polytheism actually polytheism, and when is it monotheism?

11. Why is the Ontological Argument such a disaster for our understanding of ancient philosophical ideas concerning the gods? 12. Why was philosophy in Egypt demoted from its original status by German scholarship? 13. How and why did Egypt lose its reputation? 14. Can the nature of Reality be accommodated by an Aristotelian logical model? 15. When scholars blink: Not seeing what there is to be seen. 

16. What aspect of philosophy did Pythagoras learn at Babylon? 17. How were the kings of ancient Assyria able to take on divinity? 18. How are we to understand what was called ‘The most secret and sacred of rituals’: the setting up of gods in Heaven? 19. What is the meaning and purpose of the Assyrian Sacred Tree?  20. What aspects of the Divine have existence on Earth?

21. Why is the home of the Mesopotamian god Ea at the bottom of the sea?  22. Why did Assyrian kings on campaign wish to touch the ‘Upper and Lower Seas’?  23. What is the meaning of the Mesopotamian story of man being instructed by the first sages in the art and science of civilization? 24. Why did the Assyrian Court value scholarship and excellence? 25. What theory of reality is present and cultivated from the 2nd millennium B.C.E., and can be found not only in the writings of Plato, but also in the Nag Hammadi codices? 

26. Why are rivers divine in Mesopotamia? 27. What is the symbolic significance of Ocean in both Greece and Assyria? 28. Can holiness be conferred and taken away? 29. Why does Marduk carry a woven basket (the banduddu)? 30. What is the meaning of the Mesopotamian interest in making lists?

31. What was the nature of philosophical analysis before Plato? 32. How old is Jewish mysticism, and what is its origin? 33.  Is ancient cultic life not best understood in terms of modern notions of religion? 34. Is the origin of the world always with us? 35. What did the European Enlightenment leave behind? 

36. How much fiction is there in our rational understanding of the past? 37. How old is abstract thought? 38. Has the myth of progress damaged our capacity to understand the history of the human mind, and the role and power of abstract thought in antiquity? 39. What is the relationship between ancient cult practice and the pursuit of knowledge? 40. Why was it considered necessary to know the mind of God, and how was it known?

41. What is the Doctrine of Wholes and Totalities? 42. What was the significance of the question whether Reality is One or Many? 43. How was the idea of a supreme 'God' understood to be different from the other gods? 44. What was understood to be the fundamental nature of Reality? 45. How were the properties and attributes of the Divine understood? 

46. What did Solon understand by the phrase: ‘the complexion of the Dead’? 47. What is Plato’s Paradox of Knowledge, and what does it tell us about his model of reality? 48. What is meant by the phrase:  ‘the Sweet Song of Swans’, which Olympiodorus used to describe Plato’s writing? 49.What is esoteric knowledge, and why is it esoteric? 50. What is the ‘True light of the gods’?


Thomas Yaeger, November 13, 2016


Buying The Sacred History of Being


I've been asked many times about the options for purchasing the book, so I've decided to digest my responses into one blogpost. The text contains active links to the relevant pages. This is all you need to know, in just a few paragraphs. 

Currently the book is available for sale in eBook format from a number of large retailers, including Itunes (click the link on the left which allows you to see the book in your Itunes application), Barnes & NobleBlio (search on Thomas Yaeger), Kobo (preview available), Inktera, and other retailers around the world. So, if you are already signed up to an account with one of those (and half the planet seems to be signed up with Itunes), you can buy the book in exactly the same way as any other book. 

The book is not available from Amazon. Their current terms and conditions are why I chose to exclude Amazon from distribution of the book. Their terms and conditions may change, however.

The eBook is in ePub format, which can be read on Macs, iPads, iPhones, etc, and most other tablets, irrespective of the operating operating system they use. If you have an Amazon Kindle, the ePub formatting of the book can be converted easily to the MOBI format, which the Kindle uses, with the excellent eBook management software Calibre, which can be downloaded free. 

The book can be read on a PC, laptop or notebook computer, in ePub or any other eBook format, using the Adobe Digital Editions software, which is also available free, in both Mac and PC formats. Supports conversion to many formats, including PDF. 

The principal distributor of The Sacred History of Being is Smashwords. The book can be downloaded from Smashwords directly, after a signup which takes just a minute or so. The book can be paid for using a credit or debit card, or with Paypal, if you have an account with them. After purchase, the book goes into a library space associated with your signup, and it can be downloaded on to your device from there. Just follow the link.

The book has a five star review at Goodreads

Interested in a review of the reasons why this book cannot possibly exist? I wrote about these (rather facetiously) while putting together an early draft of the book. The review is in the form of a publisher's memo. 

Thomas Yaeger, July 24, July 29, July 30, September 6, October 30-31, November 13,  December 31 2016, January 5, 2017, February 13, 2017, March 12 2017, July 1, and August 12,  2017. A copy of the static page, October 21, 3017.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

J.G. Frazer and the Platonic Theory of Being


 

When he was only twenty-four years old, James Frazer won a Cambridge fellowship with an essay on the development of Plato's theory of the Forms or Ideas (eidos). In this essay he argued that there was no overarching theory of Being in Plato's mind before he embarked on the writing of his dialogues, and that consequently differences in approach and discussion apparent in his work are the result of the development of his thought. He also argued that the very idea of Being is a barren notion, in that nothing can be predicated of Being. As a result Plato made a mistake, effectively conflating an epistemology with an ontology. 

Though the essay was written in 1879, it was not published until 1930, after much of his later work was done. 

Frazer became famous for his monumental study The Golden Bough, which explored a vast range of ancient and primitive myth and ritual. Here too he found intellectual processes founded in error. 

What was Frazer's intention in re-interpreting Plato against what Plato himself said, and his wholesale restructuring of ancient thought by reducing much of it to a pattern of error?

In sixteen sections, with prefaratory material and a conclusion. Over 23 thousand words, a preface, select bibliography, and extensive notes. Published Spring 2016. 

A couple of blog posts explore J.G. Frazer's discussion of Plato, and the implications for the writing of The Golden Bough. The two articles are synthesised together in a third article: Frazer and the Association of Ideas.

This is a summary of the sixteen sections: 

Frazer excluded from the Golden Bough - without argument - all discussion of the relationship between magic and religion on the one hand, and theories of Being on the other. Both Magic and Religion are treated as phenomena explicable entirely in terms of the association of ideas. This essay explores the reasons for this, largely through his essay on The Growth of Plato's Ideal Theory, and examines whether or not the texts support his case.

In Section One we considered the question of whether or not there was a programme of research at the the Athenian Academy: there is no evidence for this - we know only that ontology and epistemology were discussed. We know that the theory of Ideas or Forms was eventually demolished in the Sophist, but this is not evidence that there was a programme of enquiry at the Academy.

Section Two explored Frazer's assertions that the "earliest philosophers were philosophers of Being", and that "reflection" began with Socrates. Frazer argued that both Socrates' and Plato's concern with epistemological matters in addition to questions about Being, distinguished them from the pre-Socratic philosophers, in that the new philosophical approach was subjective, concerned mainly with the apparatus of perception and judgement. Frazer's view is that Socrates investigated the faculty of generalization, whereas for Plato and Aristotle epistemic notions were converted into a theory of Being. This was Plato's "great error", since "induction is the road to knowledge, not Being".

Section Three questioned Frazer's characterization of Socrates as a pioneer of epistemology. Frazer himself was uncomfortable with it in the course of his 1879 essay, observing that epistemic notions (without predicates) are as barren as terms of Being. Socrates, he argues, sought universals in moral subjects, but in fact both Socrates and Plato used generalization as a tool. Both in fact, according to the Frazerian analysis, were dealing with notions rather than ascertainable truths.

Frazer's remarks on the significance of inductive reasoning in science are largely irrelevant because he is talking of practical knowledge, not the pursuit of general truths. Frazer's use of induction in science to explain the Socratic activity is based on a lack of clarity of how induction in science functions in practice. Frazer's engagement with the subjective idealism of Locke and Hume was explored, and it was observed that he was attempting to substitute a "public neutral reality" behind appearances for Plato's supersensible reality, in order to support his initial characterization of Socrates. Plato made a quite different set of judgements about the structure of the world. Frazer's use of Xenophon to support his characterization of Socrates was argued to be problematic.

Section Four looked briefly at the question of whether or not Socrates, Plato and Aristotle distinguished their epistemological and ontological structures. Aristotle's Ethics features an Anabasis of the soul; theTimaeus also features a similar hierarchy of Being based on moral action. Did the three men fail to distinguish the subjective and objective realms? Or are these worlds tied together together by some substrate? The Final Cause is suggested as the common substrate.

Section Five considered the Interchangeability of the Forms, which appears in the Timaeus. Discussion of the function of the dialogues as dialectical excursions from Plato's "assumptions"; the "starting points" in an ascent to the final principle of everything, using nothing in the sensible world, but only movement from "form to form". This practice seems to imply some mysterious inductive and acausal process, not fully discussed in the Platonic Corpus.

Section Six reviewed some of the other dialogues: their arguments do not lead to consistent epistemological conclusions. Taken together the dialogues support only the contention that knowledge is not attainable through sensibles, nor through the organs of sense.

Section Seven noted the introduction of Pythagorean elements into the Timaeus: if these were introduced after the collapse of the Ideal Theory, this eclectism might be some kind of evidence towards there being a programme of research at the Academy. The absence of any significant discussion of the divine in the Timaeus was also mentioned. More than once Plato stresses that the accounts of the creation contained in the Timaeus are mere likelihoods.

Section Eight is the first of the sections considering the Parmenides. It considers his well known view that the world of generation and passing-away does not participate in the world of Being. Consequently it is not at all possible to give a verbal account of Reality.

Section Nine introduced the difficulty of an "Idea of the Bad". Frazer's argument is that Plato converted a theory of knowledge into a theory of Being: that there is no Idea of the Bad suggests that this view is incorrect. Induction (epistemology) and generation (from Being) are contrasted - the former moves from the particular to the universal, while the latter moves from the universal to the particular. Plato's "Form of the Good" is presumed on logical, not epistemological grounds. Frazer's objection to the "Form of the Good" is not a logical one, but a matter of belief: he prefers to see Plato's objective reality as the "public neutral reality" behind appearance noted before, which may be approached by induction and experiment. Plato is thus presented as the failed antecedent of the empirical tradition.

Section Ten: In the Sophist the Ideas are suddenly and unexpectedly presented as capable of participating in each other, and to be compounded of both Being and Not-Being. The material world appears to be distinguished from the world of Being by its causal relations, whereas in the world of the Ideas participation is an acausal process. The question of whether or not knowledge is an action is discussed in theSophist - the problem it poses is as follows: is Reality altered by being known, and consequently subject to change, contrary to an earlier and axiomatic definition? The wider cultural context of the argument involved at this point is discussed - the point at which the argument in favour of the world of Ideas traditionally is brought to collapse. The conclusion adopted by the participants in the dialogue is a default position, which cannot be argued (i.e., it is a non-discursive apprehension) - Reality is both at once - it changes and is unchanging.

Section Eleven summarised Plato's view of the nature of the ultimate reality: it is always beyond understanding, unchanging, yet participates in the world of change - a paradoxical matrix. Is this a problem of epistemology? Is there no distinction between epistemology or ontology (since the world of change is what can be known)? Plato's ontology is shown to be beyond the mere projection of the categories of knowledge, since it is known at the point where the epistemology breaks down in contradictions. It is beyond all human categorisation. The Idea of the Good in the dialogues is simply part of the armoury of likelihoods employed by Plato - one of the assumed positions on the path to knowledge of Reality.

Section Twelve: Socrates (in Plato's words) is interpreted as holding this view of Reality (i.e., as a paradoxical matrix) beyond human comprehension. Further suggestions are made as to the nature of the Platonic "agrapha", and it is observed that parallels between Platonic formulations and pre-Socratic fragments are possible.

Section Thirteen returned to a discussion of Frazer, and discussed his equation of the savage and the ancient, his programme of understanding the past in terms of an great intellectual error in the human apprehension of the world's processes. This error involves mistaking contiguity for connection, and confusing similarity with identity (his theory of sympathetic and contagious magic). This theory assumes an intellectual basis of an association of ideas, rather than a theory of Being as a substrate. Frazer's proposed order of cultural development is: magic/religion/science. Theories of Being are simply not mentioned in the Golden Bough. Frazer argues that underlying the system is a faith in the ordered uniformity of nature (the "public neutral reality" once again). Explicitly he states that the magician "supplicates no higher power". Likewise Frazer argues that Religion also is not traceable to a theory of Being, despite involving belief in higher powers. Instead, the higher powers are the personifications of natural forces. The universal absence of a basis in a theory of Being for both Magic and Religion is questioned here, and it is suggested that Frazer found it necessary to imply this because of his pre-existing equation of the savage and the ancient.

Section Fourteen: considered Frazer's exclusion of the Parmenides from his discussion in "The Growth of Plato's Ideal Theory": his behaviour here is very odd, for he argues almost simultaneously that its date is necessarily late, that its date is unimportant, that its arguments tell us little relevant to Plato's programme, and that he is not going to deal with the whole of it since he has not read it for some time. This despite the fact that it contains arguments fatal to the Ideal Theory, which would seem to make it essential material for discussion in his essay.

Section Fifteen: contemporary commentators recognised some of the fatal objections to the Ideal Theory in the Parmenides. The collapse of the possibility of discursive knowledge of the Real leaves the possibility of a non-discursive knowledge. This might suggest that the default position adopted by the speakers in the Sophist is in fact the goal of the whole Platonic enterprise. Evidence that Plato understood himself to be working within an already given ontology is discussed (from the Laws).


Section Sixteen: It is suggested tha the non-discursive technique might be what is referred to obliquely in some of the dialogues, particularly in those passages which seem to imply knowledge beyond what is contained in the texts.

Buying a copy of J.G. Frazer and the Platonic Theory of Being


The book is available from a number of large retailers, including ItunesBarnes & NobleBlio, (search) KoboInktera, and other retailers around the world. So, if you are already signed up to an account with one of those, you can buy the book in exactly the same way as any other book. 

The eBook is in ePub format, which can be read on Macs, iPads, iPhones, etc, and most other tablets, irrespective of the operating operating system they use. If you have an Amazon Kindle, the ePub formatting of the book can be converted easily to the MOBI format, which the Kindle uses, with the excellent eBook management software Calibre, which can be downloaded free. 

The book can be read on a PC, laptop or notebook computer, in ePub or any other eBook format, using the Adobe Digital Editions software, which is also available free, in both Mac and PC formats. Supports conversion to many formats, including PDF. 

The principal distributor of J.G. Frazer and the Platonic Theory of Being is Smashwords. The book  can be downloaded from Smashwords directly, after a signup which takes just a minute or so. The book can be paid for using a credit or debit card, or with Paypal, if you have an account with them. After purchase, the book goes into a library space associated with your signup, and it can be downloaded on to your device from there. Just follow the link.




[Republished copy of static page. Original page updated July 1, and August 12, 2017 (section summaries added. Links updated October 19, 2017)