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slaveofone

"Modern atheists tend toward empiricism; modern theists, to existentialism. Levi forewarns both."

This is very interesting... Firstly, because it is contrary to my own life (having been an existentialist as an atheist and then becoming an empiricist/rationalist as a theist), but also because historically speaking, this is also opposite the way things took place--modern science, the scientific revolution, and such upon which the principles of rationalism and empiricism rely only took place because of the foundation of a Christian world-view in which people had a reason to believe that the world and nature were reasonable and could be comprehended by the senses adequately because there was a reasonable God who had created it and who had created our reason to comprehend it. Other cultures had to rely on existentialism because they had no belief in a God who had ordered the world in a rational way that could be understood or relied upon by the senses. The end result of an atheistic empericism/rationalism is existentialism--also shown historically. Personally, most of the atheists I've known well have eventually boiled down either to existentialism or to romanticism as their foundation, even though they are loathe to accept that reality. But what are you going to do--argue reality with an existentialist?

JohnFH

Slaveofone,

BTW, the link to your blog, if you have one, is broken.

Your observations are very interesting. There are many paradoxes here. It's true that atheists are not all birds of a feather any more than theists are, from the point of view of philosophical affinities.

I grant that many atheists of former generations were romantics: Nietzsche is an example. Ayn Rand was also a romantic. Nowadays, though, atheism likes to appeal to the hard sciences. It likes to evaluate arguments apart from their embedment in narratives. It likes to think of atheism as all arguments and no narrative (myth).

Theists, on the other hand, would do well to recover a more Augustinian-Anselmian epistemology (fides quarens intellectum). In large part, that's what gave us the scientific revolution in the first place, as you note.

Duane

A quick note, "logical empiricism" is an anti-realist position while other forms of empiricism, Bayesian empiricism, for example, need not be. Empiricism is not one thing.

JohnFH

Duane,

Thanks for that. I have more posts in the pipeline that will interest you. My question for you, since I'm reading Verene who concentrates on what he called "total philosophies" or "philosophies of the whole": is there a Bayesian philosopher of the whole?

Not to my knowledge.

Concepts like Bayesian confirmation theory and incremental evidence are very cool, but seem to suffer from the same drawback Levi notes with respect to empiricism in general: the concepts are only truly useful within a range of knowledge inadequate to the breadth of human concern.

This leads to the logical possibility - and empirical reality, in my experience and yours as well, I imagine: a given individual will be a Bayesian empiricist per her profession as a biologist, and a Scientologist per her confession of faith.

I think it is in the nature of things that such individuals exist, given the felt inapplicability of Bayesian logic to a number of key dimensions of human knowledge.

Duane

John,

I'm not sure that I know of a "Bayesian philosopher of the whole" or that I even know for sure what that means. "The whole" is a very big thing and still unfolding. I wanted to point out that not all empiricists were logical empiricists. What I was really getting at is my wonder if the choice between existentialism of any stripe and empiricism of any stripe is helpful in sorting out issues in the neighborhood of theism. I don't even think these are the two main streams of modern philosophy. Rather I think realism and antirealism make up the two main streams of contemporary philosophy and even of modern philosophy properly understood. All I know about Levy is what you have so far told us; in this limited way, I am more or less agreeing with what I understand so far. But then, I do think it impossible that "emotional centers" can be displaced unless "displaced" means misdirected and I do think it good that certainties are dissolved (this an epistemological concern on my part, even a Bayesian one) and I worry about how and why myth comes into the picture. But then, I too see a place for myth, depending on the meaning of the word, as long as we don't get confessed about what it is and what we are talking about. I await your follow-on posts.

Had I had more time when I posted my first comment I would have said it differently. It would have gone more like this: Questions of theism are not, in my view, mythic questions and, at first order, neither are their answers. They are questions of the fact of the matter concerning an entity or entities (God or gods). Meaningful myth built on thoughts of god or gods (and I know I am getting ahead of your story) can only come once ontological and epistemological questions are addressed. Theistic questions are meta-mythic questions if you will. If I say, "There is a god," what kind of statement is this? How is it different in kind from saying "there is cat" or "there is a door over there" or "its 65 degrees out? Or does the statement simply mean something like "Yeah, God!" Or is it still something else? Of course, one could ask exactly the same types of questions of the statement, "There is no god." So I think the correct place to start is with one of the most basic metaphysical questions? Not "why is there something and not nothing but rather is there something and not nothing? And is that something knowable? Is there a fact of the matter about anything, even about all things and everything? (That sounds holistic to me) And if so, is there a fact of the matter concerning god or gods. In so far that there are two opposing ways of thinking about theism, I think the realism/antirealism contrast is the most productive dichotomy and I am a committed realist. I think there is a fact of the matter regarding any well formed question or statement even if the fact of the matter is unknown or unknowable or in the case of some statements indeterminate (the nature of their indeterminacy being the fact of the matter in those cases). Once we have settled on the fact of the matter then we can let the myth, the poetry and, yes, the emotion flow and we can even see the old myths in a deeper and perhaps more meaningful way. In this context, remember that I love classical music and some of the most wonderful celebrates a god. Or think of Ralph Vaugnan William, certainly an agnostic despite (or because of) is upbringing and perhaps at times an atheist if his second wife is to be believed, who set Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem for orchestra and choir. I heard it last Friday. Quite wonderful. But, in my view, we need to get as close to the facts of the matter as we can before we make or interpret myth. How we get there is an epistemological question.

But all this may be heading off in a direction that neither you nor Verene nor Levi are going.

JohnFH

Duane,

I imagine that your questions and concerns are shared by many, so I will try to touch on a few of them.

Bayesian philosophy is certainly on a roll. I myself hope that the Presbyterian minister and mathematician who gave us his wonderful theorem is enjoying the current spectacle from on high.

Philosophies of the whole are of the kind Plato and Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, offered. Perhaps, however, Bayes theorem was never meant to be a passepartout that opens all epistemological doors.

As for your dichotomization of modern and contemporary philosophy into realist and anti-realist camps, I find that obscure. Is the dichotomy helpful in sorting out the major schools, including, for example, New England transcendentalists, Pragmatism, the Vienna Circle, Russell, Wittgenstein, Popper, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Hermann Cohen, Cassirer, Bergson, Whitehead, Maritain, the Frankfurt School, Dilthey, I'll stop, there - I'm getting writer's cramp. And what are you going to do with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, not to mention Hegel, Schiller, and Novalis?

For the rest, in the following post on "Ernesto Grassi" etc. you will see that I define myth in broad philosophical terms.

Duane

John,

To be sure, with few exceptions, it is all but impossible to put individual philosophers into realist, anti realist buckets. On my reading, Russell, for example, was a physical realist but an ethical antirealist with a few realist tendencies. The Vienna school is clearly in the anti-realist camp. They were logical positivists after all. The pragmatists were and are also fairly clearly antirealists although some embrace a kind of naive realism at times. And even among your list you could get up a fairly lively debate about who on it was or wasn't an existentialist.

JohnFH

Duane,

I hope you post a bit about realism in the sense you mean it. I'm used to talking about Platonic realism, Scottish realism, and I'm familiar with the philosophy of A. J. Ayer's "sophisticated realism" - who seems of late to have become a Deist, while otherwise retaining his original philosophical moorings. Perhaps you can sort these things out for us from your point of view.

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