Strings, freedom, and the future

Augustine, Boethius, Anselm & Aquinas, Appiah on cosmopolitanism in CoPhi, and (in EEA*) the end of Blessed UnrestA Monday to get up for.

Is anyone, from God on down, “pulling our strings”? We’d not be free if they were, would we? If you say we would, what do you mean by “free”?

Augustine proposed a division between the “city of god” and the “earthly city” of humanity, thus excluding many of us from his version of the cosmos. “These two cities of the world, which are doomed to coexist intertwined until the Final Judgment, divide the world’s inhabitants.” SEP

Boethius was consoled by the thought that God’s knowing he was about to be tortured to death in no way impaired his, Boethius’s, freedom. That’s apparently because God knows things timelessly, sees everything “in a go.” I don’t think that would really make me feel any better, in my prison cell. The real consolation of philosophy comes when it contributes to the liberation of mind and body. But it’s still very cool to imagine Philosophy a comfort-woman, reminding us of our hard-earned wisdom when the going gets impossible.

And then, of course, they killed him. The list of martyred philosophers grows. And let’s not forget Hypatia and Bruno. The problem of suffering (“evil”) was very real to them, as it is to so many of our fellow world-citizens. You can’t chalk it all up to free will. But can we even chalk torture or any other inflicted choice up to it, given the full scope of a genuinely omniscient creator’s knowledge? If He already knows what I’m going to do unto others and what others will do unto me, am I in any meaningful sense a free agent who might have done otherwise? The buck stops where?

[Christians 2, Philosophers 0Christians & MuslimsJandMoandPaulMystics, scholastics, Ferengifaith & reason…]

Undeterred by such questions, Anselm continued to stump for the divine moral perfection (and omnipotence and omnscience) of a being “than which none greater could be conceived.” His Ontological Argument is either ingenious or ridiculous, but is not persuasive. Strange argument indeed.

Aquinas was sure there had to be an uncaused cause in back of everything, or else we’d never get to an end of explaining. Well, we probably won’t. Not ’til the would-be explainers themselves are gone. But is an uncaused cause really a step forward, explanatorily speaking?

The appeal of Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism is summed up, for me, in his observation that the fundamental aim of our philosophical conversations is to enable us “to live with people, whether you agree with them or not.” That’s helpful. [Appiahn Way]

I’ve found members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for instance, to be amongst the most agreeable people on the planet – and I couldn’t disagree more with many of their ideas. Simon Critchley’s new Stone essay includes one friendly Mormon’s cheerful announcement that “we, too, can become Gods, American Gods, no less.”

Well, that was the premise and the title of an entertaining fiction from Neil Gaiman. But what would Augustine, Anselm, Boethius et al think about it? Not much.

The great secret is that, through heroic effort and striving, God was a man who became exalted and now sits enthroned in the heavens. You see, God was not God from all eternity, but became God.

A Woody Allen character was once accused of playing God. “I have to model myself on someone.”

(My favorite Manhattan scene, btw, asks What Makes Life Worth Living?)

But everyman a God is really not a serious proposition, is it? Anymore than the notion of one man, one planet? Can it really be true that Joseph Smith’s followers, from Mitt on down, anticipate living forever off-world with their families and robots, Jetson-like? Or is that just another example of uninformed bias? (We could ask that Mormon Girl on Twitter what they really believe. Or check out the Book of Mormon.) Anyway, live and let live. It’s a big cosmos.

*Finally today, Paul Hawken inspires with his immune system analogy, and the hope that together we’ll be strong enough to ward off the ecological and social diseases that have lately been threatening the health of our planetary organism.

My favorite moment, in these last two chapters, recounts Michael Chabon’s conversation with his (then) eight-year old. “Will there really be people [in 10,000 years], Dad?”

‘Yes’, I told him without hesitation, ‘there will.’ I don’t know if that’s true… But if you don’t believe in the Future, unreservedly and dreamingly… then I don’t see how you can have children.

Me neither. That’s why I’m restless about the present torpid state of environmental and social activism, and why we’ll next bring Gus Speth back into our conversation. Good place to start, before stepping onto his Bridge at the Edge of the World, is with his recent two-part Orion manifesto America the Possible.


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4 Responses to “Strings, freedom, and the future”

  1. Edrell (13) Says:

    I don’t think that we have anyone outside of ourselves pulling strings. We have flesh, which we are told is bad. We have a spirit, which we are told is good. Anytime you have the battle between good and bad, whichever side you feed more is the side that will prevail. If anyone believes that God was once a man that evolved into God then obviously the battle can be won by the spirit. But if that is true, why aren’t we still evolving into God’s?

  2. osopher Says:

    If I understand them correctly, Mormons believe some of us ARE. Who wouldn’t want her own planet?

    I couldn’t possibly assent to the bald proposition that “flesh is bad,” any more than I could agree that the present moment is bad. It’s what I’ve got. Even on the worst days it’s still infinitely better than nothing. As Dawkins said: “we are the lucky ones…”

  3. osopher Says:

    One more thing… on a naturalistic/humanistic worldview, like mine, flesh is the precondition of (not the alternative to) “spirit.” Can’t have the one without the other.

    We talk about Descartes and dualism next class.

  4. Edrell (13) Says:

    But isn’t our our flesh just our spirit having a human experience.

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