Thursday, March 13, 2008


In many of the world's major religions, belief in the existence of God is incidental or, in some cases, non-existent. For example, Taoism, Confucianism and the Theravada or Hinayana strains of Buddhism contain no concept of God whatsoever; moreover, there is no inconsistency in a Jew's being agnostic or atheistic but, at the same time, deeply religious. How is this possible? What is "religious faith" in religions where theistic belief is insignificant?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Orphic Journal


[Note to readers: When commenting, please cite the number at the beginning of the passage to which your comment refers.]

1 I envy deeply the resolve of thinkers like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who can decide the matter of God’s existence once and for all, and never waver.

1.1 Notice that the philosophers who question the meaning of life, who make tragic, angst-ridden and often unpleasant pronouncements about the meaning of life, are usually single and/or childless. Those of us with children need not beat our breasts or cast fruitless questions into the void.

1.1.2 Nietzsche thought the idea of a ‘married philosopher’ to be ludicrous. The value of that thought depends on the amount of self-indulgence one likes in one’s philosophy. Fathers have little time for self-indulgence, and need to be wary of the social and political consequences of their beliefs.

1.2 The difference between intelligence and wisdom: Intelligence involves knowing what to do and how to do it. Wisdom involves knowing what not to do and why not to do it. Intelligence is partly the product of innate capacity and partly the product of education. Wisdom comes only with the passage of time, although I am not certain whether this is due to an increase in accumulated experience or a decrease in hormone levels.

1.2.1 The ancient Greek word for “experience” and the ancient Greek word for “suffering” are the same word – pathos. The Greeks seem to have thought that wisdom could be acquired only through suffering. Aeschylus says “mathei pathos,” learn through suffering. I have also seen this phrase translated as, “One must suffer to be wise.” Note the imperative must.

1.2.2 If it is true that suffering is requisite for wisdom, then surely nothing in the life cycle of a heterosexual male is quite so educational as women and children, and hence married life.

1.2.3 The definition of stupidity: Conscious voluntary ignorance.

1.3 Your faith will not save you if you use that faith as a pretext to do evil. The pits of your own hell overflow with the faithful who have done evil in the name of the Lord. Think carefully about the political ideology you advance under the aegis of faith. There was great wisdom in the advice to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Jesus might have added: Keep the religious and the political forever separate; you intermingle them at the risk of your soul.

1.3.1 There is no greater sin than the sin committed in God’s name, and of sins committed in God’s name, none is greater than murder. The atheist may sin, but the atheist is incapable of committing this greatest sin of all. The darkest depths of evil are reserved for the true believers.

1.4 Truth is a sharp edged instrument. Like any sharp edged instrument, it can be used as a tool or as a weapon. Like anything used as a tool or a weapon, it is often condemned for its versatility.

1.5 People speak as if there were some inconsistency in hating those who hate, in being intolerant of those who are intolerant. I fail to see the problem. To me it seems far more inconsistent to love the hate monger and tolerate the intolerant. Tolerance of evil is itself evil.

1.5.1 The religious fundamentalist claims truth and righteousness on all issues. The religious fundamentalist, being in possession of absolute truth, can never possibly be mistaken. Those who disagree with the religious fundamentalist are necessarily wrong. Error has no rights and must be eliminated, either through conversion or murder. Ergo, religious fundamentalism is evil. I reiterate: Tolerance of evil is itself evil.

1.5.2 The naiveté of youth may be charming, but, once allowed to ripen into fully developed adult ignorance, it is ugly and dangerous. Nowhere is this clearer than in the attitudes adopted toward unfamiliar religions.

1.6 The definition of evil in political theory: Behavior which, if accepted within a given culture and carried to its natural extreme, would result in the destruction of that culture; i.e., behavior which precipitates cultural suicide. This definition is not culturally relative because these behaviors are the same for all cultures.

1.6.1 The definition of evil in moral theory: Unnecessary human suffering. Some suffering may be necessary (e.g., the dentist’s drill, the surgeon’s scalpel), but if all suffering is necessary then evil does not exist. If evil is real, then some human suffering is unnecessary, and unnecessary suffering cannot be rationalized, it cannot be explained or justified. It is precisely its resistance to reason, its senselessness and incomprehensibility, which renders evil evil.

1.6.2 People cannot be faulted for what they do to preserve their way of life; they can only be faulted for what they do to destroy it. Sadly, many practices which pass as forms of self-preservation are in fact forms of self-destruction, e.g., terrorism.

1.6.3 Terrorism is evil not because of the victimized culture which is subjected to terrorist attack, but because of the culture which accepts and practices terrorism. It is this latter culture which will be destroyed by terrorism. The culture under attack will be made stronger.

1.6.4 If Israel ever falls, it will not fall to external attack but to internecine bloodletting between Jews. Left to its own devices, Israel would tear itself to pieces. But the Arabs in their wisdom create a common enemy and a source of Jewish unity. The culture under attack will be made stronger.

1.6.5 Why are the lessons of Thoreau, Gandhi and King so elusive? Why do these lessons remain beyond the grasp of the IRA, the PLO, and all the other acronyms of murder? Could it be that their true motive is not the lust for freedom, but rather bloodlust?

1.7 As a philosopher I must be free to think anything, criticize anything, believe anything, doubt anything. As a Jew I am in fact free to think anything, criticize anything, believe anything, doubt anything.

1.7.1 God requires of Christians and Muslims that they choose him. Part of this choice involves holding certain beliefs – for example, the belief that God exists. But the Jew is required to hold no specific beliefs. We do not choose God, God has chosen us.

1.7.2 To be “God’s chosen people” means simply that, for the Jew, his religion has been chosen for him, prior to birth, by virtue of matrilineal descent. The individual has no choice in the matter – that is left to God. True apostasy is not possible in Judaism. At worst, one can be a bad Jew.

1.7.3 Modern Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews tend to disregard or downplay the concept of the “chosen people” for fear (I suspect) of some potential insult to non-Jews and an incitement of anti-Semitism. This attitude is unfortunate because it tends to obscure the most fundamental difference between Judaism and the other Western monotheisms. For example, why must one “become” a Muslim or Christian, but one can be “born” a Jew? Why are the terms “Christian atheist” or “Muslim atheist” logical contradictions, but Jewish atheists and agnostics are relatively commonplace, at least among the non-orthodox? One can be born a Jew because God chooses who’s a Jew. One can be a Jewish atheist because God’s choice of who’s a Jew is not predicated upon one’s beliefs. God does not deign to tell us by what criterion such choices are made, but clearly, a Jew is not required to hold any particular belief – not even the belief that God exists. From the fact that Jews are not required to believe anything in order to be Jews, it does not follow that Jews don’t believe anything, nor does it follow that Jews don’t agree on anything. Many Jews believe, and agree on, many things, but they are not theologically compelled or required to do so. Being one of “God’s chosen people” has nothing to do with who “goes to heaven” or who will be “saved” or “judged.” It is not a category of the dead. To be one of “God’s chosen people” is, rather, a determination of how – and to whom – one will be born. The exceptions, of course, are those oddities like me, the Jews-by-choice.

1.7.4 Christians often conceive of their faith as “liberating” because they are not bound by the Law of Moses. But the Law of Moses regulates only behavior, not thought. A faith which determines what one is and is not permitted to believe, and which therefore controls thought, need not regulate behavior, for behavior is subservient to thought. But a faith which leaves thought free and untrammeled must make special effort to regulate behavior.

1.7.5 I reject Reconstructionist Judaism because I believe that the concept of the Jews as a “chosen people” is vitally important to the theological understanding of Judaism. Without this concept, Judaism is no more than a culture or ethnic group. But to reduce Judaism to an ethnicity is to completely misunderstand Judaism. It is, for example, to miss the paradox of Jewish faith. What is faith within the context of a religion which does not mandate belief in God? That is the paradox of Jewish faith. I call this kind of faith “non-doxic,” as opposed to the “doxic” type of faith one finds in Christianity and Islam, and which mandates a particular belief-set to which the believer must ascribe. Jews are not believers. They are observers. A Jew is observant or non-observant; the categories of “belief” and “non-belief” are irrelevant to Judaism – even, I would argue, to the Orthodox. Rejection of the doxic bias is tantamount to a refutation of Pascal’s Wager. If “belief” is irrelevant to religious faith, then I do not need to “bet” as Pascal would have it; I can win without betting. If faith is a matter of being observant, that is, a matter of living as if God exists, then I can win regardless of what I do or do not believe – provided only that God does in fact exist. I believe that true Jewish faith is characterized, paradoxically, by criticism. Consider, for example, Genesis 18:20-33; Exodus 3:10-14; 4:1-17; 32:7-14. In each of these passages a Jew negotiates or argues with God. In the last cited passage, Moses clearly shows God the error of His ways and wins the argument with God. To best God in debate is probably not possible in Christianity or Islam. Why is Jewish faith essentially critical in a way that the other Western monotheisms are not? Perhaps because those who choose God need to believe in his infallibility, lest they change their minds. Those who are chosen by God, however, do not have the option to change their minds. To us God may reveal is His foibles, because what God has chosen no person may unchoose. The concept “salvation” is radically different in Jewish and Christian theology. I believe that being a “chosen people” involves the concept of collective (as opposed to individual) salvation. Christians and Muslims are saved individually; each believer must choose for himself, each believer is captain of his/her own fate, so to speak. But the Jews are chosen as a people, a nation – hence the Jewish preoccupation with “the people Israel.” This is why God can justly penalize “the people Israel” for the transgressions of a few. The nation is saved, or no one is saved. The concept of collective salvation does not imply that truly evil Jews would be saved along with everyone else. It means simply that the salvation of the nation Israel is the necessary precondition for the salvation of any individual Jew. Even if the nation Israel is saved, it is still possible that reprehensible individuals may be lost. In philosophical terms, the salvation of the people Israel is a necessary but insufficient condition for the salvation of any individual Jew. Accepting this concept of collective (national) salvation makes the attitudes of Orthodox Jews more comprehensible (but no less annoying). The Orthodox fear that the nation Israel might be lost because of what they see as the laxity of Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist practice. They are mistaken, of course, because what they perceive as laxity is actually enlightenment. The Orthodox seem to think that Reform Jews reject orthodoxy either as a manifestation of spiritual laziness, or as an early step toward assimilation. In some cases, unfortunately, this may be true. But for the truly committed Reform Jew, the rejection of orthodoxy is a matter of moral principle. The Orthodox are simply wrong, on moral grounds, about many issues. They are wrong in their treatment of women. They are wrong in their treatment of Reform converts. And they are wrong in their treatment of the Palestinians. Never confuse a religion with the people who practice it.

1.8 It is unethical to allow passion to dominate a philosophical argument, for truth is then lost, and the search for truth is the only justification for philosophical argument. When arguing with an unreasonably passionate opponent, therefore, argue as if Reason incarnate were the arbiter of the debate. An unreasonably passionate opponent will not hear, no matter what is said, but an argument made to Reason incarnate is the best argument one can ever hope to achieve.

1.9 Eventually, in any monogamous relationship, love degrades into something that no longer involves passion. It becomes something heavily bound up with duty and loyalty, it begins to resemble a job or (at best) a career and it is hemmed in by moral, contractual and legal obligations. No wonder spouses cheat. Monogamy is designed to fulfill the needs of children, but it certainly does not fulfill the needs of the spouses. Everyone wants to be desired, no one wants another onerous burden; every relationship begins in passionate desire, and ends an onerous burden. Deum risus.

2 A Civil Libertarian is someone who is far more concerned about sins against Liberty than sins against God. It is better to burn eternally in hell than live five minutes in slavery.

2.1 The doxic bias is the view that 1) membership in a given religion, and 2) ultimate salvation by God are contingent upon an individual’s cognitive states, i.e., what one does or does not believe. Christianity and Islam, the two religions which buy most deeply into the doxic bias, will maintain that those who do not hold the “right” beliefs, or who dare to harbor the “wrong” doubts, will be damned. Even heinous sinners, even mass and serial murders can find salvation if only they experience a change of heart and sincerely believe as the religion dictates – never mind the fact that their victims continue to suffer, and their wrongs cannot be undone. It is clear, however, that the doxic bias is nothing more than a transparent means of mind control; control what a person believes (through threats of hell and promises of heaven) and you control the person. The political end of the doxic bias is indeed transparent, but sadly effective among the ignorant and unwashed. Why would almighty God care what anyone believes?

2.1.1 With the possible and arguable exception of the extremely Orthodox, who suffer the same flaws as all fundamentalists, Judaism does not succumb to the doxic bias.

2.2 Religion becomes decadent when it romanticizes the end of days; religion becomes septic when it desires the apocalypse; religion becomes evil when it actively pursues Armageddon.

2.3 That is absolutely right or moral which is supported by a normative argument which no conceivable counterargument can overturn. There may be such arguments; in fact, we may already possess them. But, for any given normative argument, there is no way for us to know whether a superior counterargument may someday be produced. Hence, absolute moral imperatives may exist, but we humans can never know what they are, or whether we are in possession of them. The moral of the story is that absolutism can never be, and skepticism always is, justified in matters of morality.

2.3.1 Authority – the refuge of moral ignorance. No moral authority is legitimate except the authority of superior argument, and hence the authority of reason and logic.

2.4 The difference between skepticism and relativism: In relativism, everything is true relative to some believer. To say “X is true” means neither more nor less than “S believes X.” To be true is merely to be believed, everything which is believed by someone is true for someone. When used in this way, the word “truth” becomes redundant and unnecessary; it means nothing and performs no work that cannot be done equally well by the verb “to believe.” For the skeptic, conversely, truth is determined by the way the world is, and a statement or belief is true if and only if it describes, reports, indicates or refers to the way the world is. Doubt arises, however, because there are usually problems in determining exactly how the world is. A statement or belief may be true (even absolutely so), but we may never know it. We may suspect it, but it may be beyond the power of mortal human knowers to ascertain the state of the universe at the required time and in the required place. Consequently, the relativist may be quite liberal in her knowledge claims because everything she believes is true – vacuously true, by definition. The skeptic must be conservative in her knowledge claims, because her assessment of the world is limited by her insurmountable finitude.

2.4.1 Relativists and fanatics always have the advantage of speed over skeptics; they can plunge headlong toward their goals, propelled forward by their “truths.” Skeptics, conversely, must feel their way along cautiously, like blind men rummaging through drawers full of razor blades. Relativists and fanatics arrive at their goals more quickly, but their goals often prove chimerical. Skeptics arrive more slowly, but their goals are more permanent; hence the durability of scientific knowledge.

2.4.2 Jewish faith is inherently skeptical. While impossible, even contradictory, in the context of Christianity or Islam, there is neither incoherence nor paradox in referring to “skeptical faith” in the context of Judaism.

2.4.3 Healthy skepticism is the universal antidote to fanaticism (which tolerates nothing) and relativism (which accepts everything).

2.5 I do not understand women. For example, why do young women feel compelled to wear the word “Abercrombie” plastered across their butts? If it is so that Abercrombie & Fitch can advertise their wares in a place likely to be noticed, then why do women offer the corporation this service for free? Indeed, why do they pay for the privilege of using their bottoms as billboards? If, on the other hand, it is to entice men to examine the hindquarters of women (as if further inducement were necessary), then why not employ some lengthier or more complex text – say, a page from The Critique of Pure Reason – which would require truly assiduous examination? If, on the third hand, it is to provide men with a convenient excuse when they are caught assessing asses – “Oh, excuse me, I was just reading your Abercrombie” – then one can only boggle before such altruism. But if, on the final hand, it is because tushy text is cool or fashionable or stylish, then I am brought back to my starting point: I do not understand women.
“Who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart” Matt 5:28. Where is the woman with a sense of irony so highly developed that she would wear this quote on her butt?

2.5.1 Re. Matt 5:28. Matthew me lad, if anything you are way too optimistic.

2.6 Later Middle Age: The point in life at which virtue becomes an easier path than vice.

2.7 Moral altruism runs downhill; the better off are under an obligation to assist the worse off, but not vice versa.

2.7.1 Wealth is not a right, it is a privilege, and privileges should be purchased at great expense, especially when those who cannot afford the privilege are placed at a social and political disadvantage.

2.8 Physical laziness can be a virtue; it induces efficiency of thought, action and technology. Intellectual laziness is always a vice.

2.9 Reading Ayn Rand, the Objectivist philosopher, the childless Objectivist philosopher. I wonder how long the ethics of self interest would stand up against the daily, routine altruism of parenthood. How skeptical I have become of philosophers – egoists, environmentalists, animal activists, libertarians – who have no children. How quickly an ethical system withers under the stern gaze of a loving parent.

2.9.1 Do unto others as you would teach your children to do, and as you would have done unto them.

3 There is no moral or Constitutional protection against being offended.

4 Many advocates of capital punishment speak as if death were the most frightening of all conceivable punishments. Those who argue in this manner should consider that they are biased by their own superstition and cowardice, and that the mind capable of murder has long since transcended such rudimentary fears.

4.1 My position on capital punishment is that all premeditated killing of innocent people should be punished the same way, including the state-sponsored execution of an innocent person. I believe that, each time a person convicted of murder is exonerated post-mortem, the judge, lead prosecutor and foreperson of the jury should be indicted, arrested, and tried for murder. If convicted, they should be put to death. Such a policy might lead to the extinction of capital punishment, but more likely it would lead to the suppression of any post-mortem investigation by the legal system.

5 Stoicism and Physical Sensation: Very seldom is the actual sensation of physical pain so severe that it deserves all the bad press it gets. What makes pain unbearable is its meaning: “I’ll never be able to X again;” “I’m maimed now, and I’ll be ugly;” “We’ll lose the house because I can’t work;” “Could this pain be cancer, could it signal impending death?” Once pain is separated from its meaning and isolated as a pure sensation, it becomes much less important and much more endurable. Pain can also have a positive meaning: the wounded soldier for whom the pain means that he is going home, the war is over and he has survived, suffers much less from his pain than the injured construction worker who fears for the loss of his job. The mother in labor bears up comparatively well under pain which, in another context, would send her into paroxysms fear. The same is true of pleasure. For example, the sheer physical sensations of masturbation are no less intense than those of real sexual intercourse, but real sex seems so much more pleasurable because it has meaning. Even those who fear commitment seek meaning; without it they may as well masturbate, nothing is gained or lost.

6 I have just noticed that the Latin word for “book” and the Latin word for “freedom” contain the same root: liber. If we did a comparative study of those civilizations having cultural, historical or linguistic roots in Rome vs. those without such roots, would we find a greater appreciation for “freedom of the press” in the former than in the latter? And if so, how much of this appreciation can be attributed to an etymological quirk… if it is a quirk? Are libraries symbols of freedom? Are librarians freedom-fighters? More to the point, should they be?

7 Unjustified certainty is the keystone of fanaticism.

7.1 Stupid people are usually unmotivated, but there is nothing more dangerous than a highly motivated fool.

8 Flawed though I am, I did the best I could. No man can say more.

8.1 As one grows older the subjunctive mood becomes seductive, the road not taken a virtual obsession.

8.1.1 To be young again and know what I know now…, a wonderful fantasy if I had the power to change the things I regret. But to be young again, know what I know now, and be condemned to live the exact same life with no possible variation – that would be hell… except for the good parts, which I could at least more carefully savor.

9 A Prayer for Peace: Dear Lord, grant that men may employ in their weapons of war the same accuracy with which they aim at the urinal, that we may thereby know a new age of peace.

10 To believe that there is an absolute truth is one thing, to claim to know what this absolute truth is, that’s something else. You have faith in your religion, but you cannot know that it is true. You could be wrong. Therein lies to antidote to the sin of theological pride, and the royal road to religious humility. A mild dose of skepticism is necessary to keep religion sane and healthy.

11 I have just reread McTaggart’s refutation of the reality of time for the first time in probably 25 years. The following reflections are my attempt to develop my response, of which I have a sort of global sense, but which I cannot yet formulate with any specificity. [Note: The following perambulations, all of which begin with the number ‘11’, will probably be incomprehensible to anyone who has not read the relevant sections of J.M.E. McTaggart’s The Nature of Existence published in 1927; however, McTaggart’s argument is so famous that it is excerpted in virtually any anthology on the subject of the philosophy of time.]

11.1 McTaggart argues that the A-series is fundamental to the reality of time; any attempt to account for time through a B-series alone leaves out the temporality of time. This may or may not be true, but I concede the point for the sake of argument. [See McTaggart, 1927, for details on the A-series, B-series, and the differences between them.]

11.1.1 However, McTaggart also argues that the A-series requires the predication of logically incompatible attributes to the same moment of time. So, for example, a given moment M is present now, past at some moment of future time, and future at some moment of past time. Since the characteristics past, present and future are (per McTaggart) logically incompatible, it is impossible to ascribe all three characteristics to M. And yet the very structure of the A-series seems to require such an ascription, since it seems to be true that M is present now, past with respect to future time and future with respect to past time. If McTaggart is right in asserting that past, present, and future are logically incompatible predicates, then McTaggart seems to have given what amounts to a reductio ad absurdum refutation of the A-series. But if the B-series is not temporal, the A-series is self-contradictory, and time must consist of either a B-series or an A-series, then it would seem that McTaggart has refuted any possible claim that time is real.

11.2 Most responses to McTaggart (at least those I’ve read) hinge on one of the following claims: 1) The A-series is real but does not involve the attribution of incompatible characteristics to any subject, 2) The A-series is reducible to the B-series, and hence only the B-series is fundamentally real, or 3) The A-series and the B-series are independently real and mutually non-reducible; the apparent paradox arises only when an attempt is made to reduce one series to the other. My approach is somewhat different. I will argue that characteristics cannot be incompatible – nor predicates contradictory – unless we make certain assumptions involving the absence of equivocation, collation in space, and simultaneity in time. Since the troubling senses of incompatibility and contradiction cannot be formulated without an appeal to the concept of time, it is not at all clear how, or whether, incompatibility or contradiction can be predicated of time itself. If it proves possible to predicate contradiction or incompatibility of temporal predicates, we must be extremely careful in how we do this; otherwise, we will fall victim to the kind of carelessness which, I think, gives rise to McT’s paradox.

11.3 I have a vague adumbration of a conclusion, something like: Time is a (the?) medium in which incompatible characteristics or contradictory predicates can be unequivocally attributed to one and the same spatially collocated or self-identical thing. Of one and the same Shirley, it makes perfect sense to say that Shirley is alive and Shirley is not alive, if Shirley is alive and dead at different times. For simplicity I will limit myself to the discussion of statements, predicates and contradictions because I understand the logic of these things better than I understand the logic of objects, characteristics and incompatibilities.

11.3.1 If there is no contradiction in saying that Shirley is unborn at M-1, alive at M, and dead at M+1, then why is there a contradiction in saying that M is future at T-1, present at T, and past at T+1? The answer is obvious: if M stands for “Moment” and T stands for “Time,” then, in order to attribute contradictory predicates to M, I have had to posit another time scale (the T-scale) which slides along parallel to the original scale (the M-scale) and which makes it possible to attribute contradictory predicates to the same moment “at different times.” At least, this is the way McTaggart sees it, and he thinks that positing parallel time scales in this manner leads to an infinite regress, and infinite regresses are inherently fallacious. Those authors I’ve read seem to agree with McT on this point, and thus try to escape any requirement to posit parallel time scales beyond the single, original B-series.

11.3.1 It seems to me that if the A-series really is fundamental to the nature of time (as McT believes) then there is something especially important and privileged about the now-moment; I do not think that "moments of time" can be designated as "self-identical" in the sense necessary to produce a self contradiction when P and –P are predicated of moments in an A-series.

11.3.2 Suppose, as the platitude suggests, it is always now; now will never be past, nor has it ever been future.

11.4 If the A-series is real and wholly non-reducible to the B-series, then there is an important logical sense in which we cannot say that one and the same self-identical moment is first future, then present, then past. To do this is to appeal, at least tacitly, to a B-series. However, if it is always now, moments of the past are fundamentally, logically different than moments of the present, and so likewise with moments of the future. If this is true – although I am not completely clear what it means to say that past, present and future are logically different – then it explains (or contributes to an explanation) of why the selfsame subject can bear conflicting predicates at different times without contradiction.

11.4.1 Contradictions per se are neither troubling nor paradoxical. If I say “P” and Shirley says “-P” (not-P) we have contradicted each other. No big deal; happens all the time. Contradictions are troubling only when we try to assert that contradictory predicates are both true in the same sense, of the same subject, at the same time. Such an attribution is self-contradictory, which I take to be the nature of “contradiction” in the paradoxical or troubling sense. But we cannot even define the concept of self-contradiction without appealing to the concept of time. “The barn is red and the barn is not red” is a problem only if the barn is red and not red at the same time. Similarly, “M is present” and “M is not present” is contradictory only if M is present and not present at the same time. But I don’t know how to make sense of this.

11.4.2 McT says, and I quote, “But the moments of future time, in which it [M] is past, are equally moments of past time, in which it [M]cannot be past.” Or again, “But all moments of future time, in which M will be present or past, are equally moments of past time” [both quotes on p. 96]. These statements originally set me to thinking that something here is not kosher. How can a moment of future time be “equally” a moment of past time? In what sense is McT using the word “equally”? It is this notion that moments of future, present, and past time have some kind of trans-temporal, logical identity that gives rise to McT’s paradox. If we deny trans-temporal identity to different moments of time, then the paradox evaporates. But if we deny trans-temporal identity to different moments of time, don’t we risk becoming lost in time, unable to orient ourselves with respect to past and future, with respect to when event X happened relative to event Y? Of course not. We still have the B-series. Whether the B-series is real or a contrivance of the human mind is a matter of no consequence; the point is that the B-series is a conceptual calendar. It is how we orient ourselves in time. Whether we planted the markers or found them already scattered about the timescape makes no difference that I can see.

11.4.3 The temporal A-series is a precondition of self-contradiction (incompatible predicates are attributed to S at the same time), and also a precondition for the non-contradictory attribution of conflicting predicates to the same subject (i.e., the conflicting predicates are attributed to S at different times). Except in the timeless logical space of formal symbolic logic, self-contradiction cannot even be formulated (nor, in many cases, apparent self-contradiction resolved) without appeal to time. I conclude, therefore, that the laws of logic, especially the law of contradiction, cannot apply to points in a temporal series in the same way that they are usually thought to apply to other things. McTaggart was careless because, I think, he tacitly attributed B-series characteristics to components of the A-series. McT wants the self-identity of M (a moment in the A-series) to be eternally fixed, so we can refer to the same M at different times. But this notion of fixity is an attribute of the immutable B-series. McT has himself inadvertently reduced the A-series to the B-series, a strategy he criticizes in Russell among others when it is done explicitly. If McTaggart is correct in claiming that only the A-series gives an authentic representation of the nature of time, then we cannot surreptitiously smuggle B-series traits into the A-series. There is no “time” in which moments of the A-series can remain self-identical through time; there is no way to designate moments of the A-series as “the same moment at different times.” The very locution seems incoherent. At first the conclusion that the law of contradiction does not apply to time seems shocking – time defies logic! But I don’t think it’s really shocking at all. Logic applies to statements and propositions, perhaps also to concepts and ideas; it does not apply to things. A cow does not contradict a pig, a block of wood does not contradict a sphere of stone, light does not contradict dark, and yesterday does not contradict tomorrow. If time is real, then it has more in common ontologically with cows, pigs, rocks, and trees than it does with statements or propositions. If time is real, then one moment of time can no more contradict another moment of time than a mountain can contradict a valley; statements about time may indeed be contradictory, but such statements may be reducible to the B-series, even if time itself is not so reducible.

11.5 Having slept on it I think I may have come up with an easier, clearer way to make my argument. For purposes of this argument, I understand “identity conditions” as the minimum necessary conditions which would allow an observer to identify X as “the same X” at different times. Given this understanding of “identity conditions,” the salient question becomes: How are identity conditions specified for a given moment of time at different points in time? This question, though never asked by McTaggart, is central to his argument because, in order to predicate contradictory properties of a given subject, it is necessary for that subject to remain the same subject, i.e., to remain self-identical through time. But what does it mean for a moment of time to remain self-identical through time? I do not think it is possible to formulate identity conditions for “moments” of time the same way we can formulate identity conditions for apples or buildings or people or streets. And yet, it is absolutely necessary to formulate identity conditions for discrete moments of time if we are to support McT’s claim that contradictory predicates can be attributed to the “same” moment of time, e.g., when we say of “one and the same moment” that it is future and present and past. In fact, I’m not even sure the task of formulating trans-temporal identity conditions for moments of time in an A-series can be coherently described, but I shall try.

11.5.1 When we symbolize a formal self-contradiction (Px & -Px) the expression contains four components: the punctuation ( ), the operators (“&” and “-”), the predicate variable (S), and the subject variable (x) – I have omitted the quantifier. My interest lies in the subject variable. What makes the subject variable x the same on the left and right sides of the equation? When we are dealing in the ethereal space of pure logical abstraction, we are permitted to assume that x remains constant, and we are not required to explain what this means or how it is possible. But in the real world we are sometimes required to determine whether or not the x on the left and the x on the right are indeed the selfsame x. For example, in a criminal trial the prosecution must establish that the defendant is identical with the perpetrator of the crime, and certain procedures and criteria are used in an admittedly fallible attempt to establish this identity (fingerprints, DNA, etc.). Hence, there are specifiable identity conditions for determining that the defendant and the perpetrator are the same person. We use such criteria of identity – sometimes carelessly, sometimes with greater precision – when we are trying to identify the same thing at different times. We are not necessarily conscious of the criteria we use to establish identity (I am not conscious of the criteria I use to identify my ex-wife, but I know her when I see her, even at a distance). Establishing identity conditions is not always easy. Hume famously argued that it is not possible to establish identity conditions for the self (hence his “bundle theory” of personal identity), and other skeptics have argued more generally that identity conditions cannot be rigorously specified at all (at least outside the domain of the a priori). This news must come as a rude awakening to the defendant who discovers that she is sufficiently “similar” to the perpetrator to justify her conviction and incarceration, perhaps even her execution.

11.5.2 One of the main purposes of specifying identity conditions is to enable us to identify the same x at different times. The presumption (as old as Heraclitus) is that time passes, things change with the passage of time, and perhaps the passage of time itself somehow causes things to change. In order to identify the same x at different times, therefore, we need to specify something about x which does not change with the passage of time. Granted, specifying identity conditions can be a slippery and inexact process, but let us suppose that it is somehow possible, and that we in fact do this regularly, albeit perhaps poorly. I can therefore reasonably claim to know that the pajamas I wore this morning when I woke up were the same ones I wore last night when I went to sleep; the chair I sit in today was the same one I sat in yesterday; the class I will soon be teaching is the same one I taught last week. I could be wrong on any of these points, but somewhere we must draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable doubt, and there lies the problem of skepticism.

11.5.3 However easy or difficult it may be to specify identity conditions for mundane objects it is a problem of an entirely different order when we try to specify identity conditions for moments of time. Part of the problem of specifying identity conditions for x is to answer the question: how do I know that x remains constant at different moments of time, t1, t2, t3, etc. ? But the problem of specifying identity conditions for a moment of time amounts to this: how do I know that a moment of time t remains constant (self-identical) at different moments of time, t1, t2, t3, etc.? Something about the question is inherently absurd or incoherent. Can a moment of time remain constant at different moments of time? What would this be like? What does it mean?

11.5.4 Traditionally this problem has been handled regressively. That is to say, in order to identify a moment M which remains constant as it approaches from the future, passes through the present, and recedes into the past, it has been necessary to posit a second time series which slides along parallel to the series occupied by M. As the second series passes the initial series, M is at t1 and then at t2 and then at t3 relative to the second series. Moreover, if we wish identify and trace the trajectory of a moment in the second series, then we need a third series that slides along parallel to the second series, and so on ad infinitum. Most philosophers agree that such an infinite regress is fallacious, and try to deal with the regression in different ways, for example, by positing only one parallel series, the B-series. (This strategy may imply that the A-series can be reduced to the B-series, a point accepted by Russell but rejected by McTaggart and others.)

11.5.5 However, quite apart from the problem of an infinite regress, there is the additional problem of how we specify identity conditions for a moment of time M. As far as I can tell, there are only two ways:
1. In terms of the real or perceived content of the moment.
2. In terms of the relations of a given moment M with other moments in the series.
If we try to attribute identity to a moment of time in terms of that moment’s real or perceived content (#1 above), such an attribution is not sufficient to yield an A-series. As McTaggart himself says:
"If my poker, for example, is hot on a particular Monday, and never before or since, the event of the poker being hot [on that Monday] does not change. But the poker changes, because there is a time when this event is happening to it, and a time when it is not happening to it…. Both these qualities are true of [the poker] at any time – the time when it is hot and the time when it is cold…. The fact that [the poker] is hot at one point in a series and cold at other points cannot give change, if neither of these facts change – and neither of them does. Nor does any other fact about the poker change, unless its presentness, pastness, or futurity change" [p. 92].
In other words, if M is identical with its content, and if its content never changes – the events of June 6, 1944 are forever the events of June 6, 1944 – then M is atemporal and the moments of time are fixed coordinates on a static B-series. The change of events within time cannot explain changes of time, and if nothing changes except the contents of time, then this can be adequately explained by consciousness crawling along a static B-series (a solution McT rejects). Conversely, if we assign identity conditions to M in terms of its relation to other points in the time series (#2 above), then these relations will ultimately turn out to be the static relations of the B-series (“earlier than” and “later than”; for example, June 6 is later than June 5 and earlier than June7). Since the B-series is static and atemporal, then the reality of time depends on the reality of the A-series. If the A-series can be shown to be self-contradictory, then the A-series cannot be a description of anything that actually exists. McT thinks the A-series can be shown to be self-contradictory because he thinks that mutually contradictory predicates (past, present and future) can be simultaneously attributed to the same moment of time. My problem is: How do we say that the same moment of time is now future, now present, and now past? Wherein lays this sameness? If there is no way to attribute trans-temporal sameness or identity to moments of time, then we cannot accuse the A-series of self-contradiction, because there is no selfsame subject to bear the conflicting predicates. It seems, however, that any attempt to assign identity conditions to moments in the A-series ends up yielding a B-series. The standard lesson taken from this result is that the A-series is reducible to the B-series; hence, the B-series represents the real nature of time. McTaggart argues that this outcome cannot be correct because time understood as a B-series still requires consciousness to “crawl” along the static timeline, and in the crawling motion of consciousness we have surreptitiously reintroduced the A-series. Shall we then allow the existence of two timelines, an A-series and a B-series? If so, which is ontologically more fundamental? And if both series are equally primordial, then what on earth is that supposed to mean? Time is simultaneously static and dynamic? Surely incoherence lurks somewhere deep within that assertion.

11.6 Here’s what I think I can justly conclude:
1) It is false to say that time is unreal because the A-series entails a contradiction. The reason for this is that the A-series cannot meet the logically necessary (identity) conditions for the ascription of conflicting predicates. The A-series cannot meet these conditions because there is no way (short of reducing the A-series to a B-series) of constructing the identity conditions necessary for conflicting properties to be predicated of the same subject, where that subject is supposed to be a moment of time. Note that this conclusion does not entail that time is real; it entails only that if time is indeed unreal, then it is unreal for reasons which differ entirely from those explicated by McTaggart.
2) Since there are no possible identity conditions for specifying the same moment in an A-series at different times, then it does not seem to make any sense to refer to the A-series as a “series”; a series of what? Even if the A-series is not a series, however, it does not necessarily follow that time is unreal. Time may be an A-moment or an A-point, an upsurgence into being and a fading-away of the eternal now, which we retain in memory and cognitively reconstruct as an abstract A-series or B-series. In this case the past and future have no reality except in cognition (as memory and anticipation). The B-series is probably a conceptual calendar, a series of road signs, as it were, to help us orient ourselves with regard to time.

11.7 I’m not sure that this second approach was any easier or clearer, but it was different.

11.7.1 Unanswered questions: 1) Does it make sense to ask about the duration or length of the now moment? My intuition is to answer negatively. 2) If the past and future have no serial reality, where does time come from and where does it go? The usual A-series/B-series answers tend to camouflage this problem, creating the illusion that past and future are hidden spaces into which the timeline recedes, like the lines of a painting merging into the vanishing point. But if the B-series is a conceptual construct and the A-series is not a series, then the camouflage is stripped away to reveal an intriguing abyss. Descartes somewhere attributes the sustained existence of the universe from moment to moment to the on-going creative activity of God. For now, I have no better answer.

12 Never have sex with anyone you wouldn’t want as an enemy: Solus esque ad interitum.

13 I find myself being inexorably pushed toward atheism. The problem of evil, which I consider absolutely insoluble, has always inclined me in that direction. (But, as an observer of a non-doxic faith, being an atheist does not mean that I am non-religious.) Nevertheless, I do not want to be an angry atheist. I do not take angry atheists seriously, any more than angry Christians or Muslims or Jews. If one’s religious outlook is based on anger, it is not rational and is not to be taken seriously. I believe that irrational, emotionally driven religious beliefs are actually the residue of pathological relationships with one’s parents, especially one’s father. I do not what my position on religion to be psychologically superficial.

13.1 As a non-doxic but observant theist, I pray to the void with no expectations. I pay obeisance to the abyss without hope. I do not know what I am doing or where I am going, and I expect to receive no guidance. Courage.

14. When I speak of “possibility,” I use the word in two ways; I use it in the sense of “logical possibility,” but also, differently, as “empirical possibility.”

14.1 When I say “x is logically possible,” then x is a proposition or belief. Presumably I do not know whether x is true or false, but, by asserting that x is logically possible, I am asserting that x is neither self-contradictory nor is it inconsistent with any specific belief in the body of propositions that I generally take to be true. How could I be wrong in this assessment? I may have forgotten that I sometimes believe –x (not-x), and that –x figures into the general body of my belief. Or I might commit a fallacy, formal or otherwise; I might carelessly equivocate on the meaning of x, and think that there exists a –x contradictory to x, but actually ‘x’ is being used differently in each statement token. (This point is the main thrust of the argument against McTaggart.)

14.1.1 I do not say that x is logically possible if and only if x entails no contradiction with any possible true proposition, because this would beg the definition of “possibility.” One cannot use a term to define itself. Besides, how could I possibly know whether x entails any contradiction with any true proposition? This pompous claim seems to imply that I know all true propositions. Ah, would that it were….

14.2 When I say x is empirically possible I am saying that, given my past experience (or, perhaps, the sum of the past experience of the species Homo sapiens), and the assumption that the future will be relevantly similar to the past, the probability of x occurring is greater than zero. (Is the probability of x’s occurrence the same as the probability of x being perceived? No, I am a realist, so esse does not equal percipi; experience does not equal existence.) The probability of x occurring may be very small, may be infinitesimally minute, but if the probability of x occurring is greater than zero, then x is empirically possible. How, then, could I be wrong about judgments of empirical possibility? Well, my pool of past experience is laughably limited; that’s the price of being mortal. The same could be said of Homo sapiens as a whole. I might also mis-process information; I might have forgotten a relevant experience I in fact had. I might make a mathematical error in calculating the probability of x.

14.2.1 Much rides on the assumption that the future will be relevantly similar to the past; without this assumption, skepticism reigns. What did Hume call this assumption? The principle of uniformity? Actually, I don’t think that phrase can be ascribed to Hume; he would never elevate an assumption to the level of a principle.

14.3 Is the probability of error lesser in assessments of logical possibility – i.e., in asserting that x is or is not logically possible – than it is in assessments of empirical possibility? I see no reason why it should be.

14.3.1 Maybe “x is logically possible” means that I can formulate a coherent concept of x. I cannot formulate a coherent concept of a square circle, so square circles are logically impossible. O.k., but now I have to define “coherence” and “concept.” Let’s not. Let’s merely say that if x entails no contradiction, then x is logically possible; if the probability of x occurring is greater than zero, then x is empirically possible.
15 Make no mistake; time will force you to swallow your pride. The less of it there is, there easier that will be to take.

16 It is true that the microscope has great advantage over the telescope in matters of detail, but what it gains in detail it loses in breadth of vision.

17 There is no freedom from dangerous choices. Drive the car, cross the street; eat food in restaurants where the sanitary conditions are unknown. Few choices are not dangerous. Why not embrace the dangerous choice? Everyone dies anyway. The real question is: If you don’t embrace dangerous choices, have you really lived?

18 Beware of reifying abstract roles. No good has ever come of it. Marxism reified “proletariat” and “bourgeoisie”; that certainly worked out well, didn’t it?

19 Pascal is absolutely wrong to argue that if we bet on (believe in) the existence of God and are ultimately proven wrong, we lose nothing of any significance; quite the contrary, for those of us who value freedom, there is a great deal to lose. Virtually every religion restricts individual liberty in some way that is not (or is not obviously) rational. For example, the restrictions on female attire in the Muslim faith and among many extremely conservative Christian sects and denominations; for example, the prohibition of female clergy in the Catholic Church, and in many orthodox or conservative religions; for example, dietary restrictions like kashrut which lack any explanation or justification. Those of us, who regard freedom as an absolute and fundamental value – “give me liberty or give me death” – would have to say: better five minutes of freedom than eternal servitude in heaven.
more to come....