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turning of an atheist
November 6, 2007 8:00 AM   Subscribe

The Turning of An Atheist. "The British philosopher Antony Flew was one of the West’s most influential nonbelievers. Then came news — from conservative Christians — that he had recanted. But his change of heart may not be what it seems."
posted by shotgunbooty (60 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
BREAKING NEWS: Old man scared of death
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:06 AM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


I don't understand why that Oxford paper brought him so much renown. I think Bertrand Russell made the same argument years earlier, and in any case it isn't a particularly new line of thought--the pink unicorn objection is a popular one on any web forum.
posted by nasreddin at 8:09 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wow, that's a sad story from an intellectualism standpoint. On the other hand, if he's happy with his news friends, I won't condemn him for it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:12 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Stanley Fish compared Bart Ehrman's new book on the problem of theodicy to Flew's work in this blog post, Suffering, Evil and the Existence of God:
Will Ehrman be moved to reconsider his present position and reconvert if he reads Flew’s book? Not likely, because Flew remains throughout in the intellectual posture Ehrman finds so arid. Flew assures his readers that he “has had no connection with any of the revealed religions,” and no “personal experience of God or any experience that may be called supernatural or religious.” Nor does he tells us in this book of any experience of the pain and suffering that haunts Ehrman’s every sentence.

Where Ehrman begins and ends with the problem of evil, Flew only says that it is a question that “must be faced,” but he is not going to face it in this book because he has been concerned with the prior “question of God’s existence.” Answering that question affirmatively leaves the other still open (one could always sever the Godly attributes of power and benevolence, and argue that the absence of the second does not tell against the reality of the first).

Flew is for the moment satisfied with the intellectual progress he has been able to make. Ehrman is satisfied with nothing, and the passion and indignation he feels at the manifest inequities of the world are not diminished in the slightest when he writes his last word.
posted by chlorus at 8:13 AM on November 6, 2007


so i guess there's another great advantage to not being a famous atheist: i won't have a whole pile of scheming christians lurking around preparing to take advantage of my failing mind in my old age.
posted by RedEmma at 8:16 AM on November 6, 2007 [8 favorites]


So much heat and heartache over a patently ridiculous, totally unsupported assertion made in prehistorical times. :(
posted by DU at 8:19 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Taking advantage of a very old man whose faculties are in a tragic state of deterioration is not, I think, a thing that Jesus would have done.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:20 AM on November 6, 2007 [16 favorites]


Metafilter: epistolary pummeling
posted by exogenous at 8:27 AM on November 6, 2007


the pink unicorn objection is a popular one on any web forum.

Invisible Pink Unicorn, nasreddin. Don't insult Her Grace by suggesting that She's apparent to the lowly human eye.

I had never heard of Flew before he announced his turn to some kind of deism and the theists started playing "where is your god now, atheists?" on web forums, as though the arguments and evidence were less important, and taking down the silverback would make the rest of the gorillas convert.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:31 AM on November 6, 2007


Taking advantage of a very old man whose faculties are in a tragic state of deterioration is not, I think, a thing that Jesus would have done.

WWJTAO. Ha
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:31 AM on November 6, 2007


...Flew still rejects Christianity, saying only that he now believes in “an intelligence that explains both its own existence and that of the world,”...

It's OK -- they only winged him.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:31 AM on November 6, 2007 [6 favorites]


Read this article the other day. It's a very sad one.
posted by koeselitz at 8:36 AM on November 6, 2007


What a sad story. The poor guy seems like he has absolutely no idea what is going on.

In “There Is a God,” Flew quotes extensively from a conversation he had with Leftow, a professor at Oxford. So I asked Flew, “Do you know Brian Leftow?”

“No,” he said. “I don’t think I do.”


Pretty damning.
posted by zach4000 at 8:40 AM on November 6, 2007


In his later years, my grandfather had to start wearing adult diapers, THEREBY PROVING THAT USING A TOILET IS WRONG.
posted by brain_drain at 8:44 AM on November 6, 2007 [12 favorites]


That is so sad. Also, I don't think the deists should really be bragging that it took advanced mental deterioration to get the guy to believe in a creator.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:45 AM on November 6, 2007


he spent far more time talking about the dangers of unchecked Muslim immigration and his embrace of the anti-E.U. United Kingdom Independence Party.

This was a terribly, terribly sad thing to do to a harmless old, um, Fascist?
posted by The Bellman at 8:47 AM on November 6, 2007


kittens for breakfast: "Taking advantage of a very old man whose faculties are in a tragic state of deterioration is not, I think, a thing that Jesus would have done."

I felt the same way when I was reading the article. The author apparently doesn't believe that those involved are of an intellectual capacity or position to know what exactly was going on:

from link: "To believe that Flew has been exploited is not to conclude that his exploiters acted with malice. If Flew in his dotage was a bit gullible, Varghese had a gullibility of his own. An autodidact with no academic credentials, Varghese was clearly thrilled to be taken seriously by an Oxford-trained philosopher; it may never have occurred to him that so educated a mind could be in decline. Habermas, too, speaks of Flew with a genuine reverence and seems proud of the friendship."

I believe he must be right. But that doesn't excuse it, even if it does explain it, and it makes me glad for this article, which might serve to set the record straight.
posted by koeselitz at 8:49 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sad article. I find it a little ironic that there's a something of a battle over an 'icon' of atheism. And I'm not sure what to think of Carrier's efforts--I mean, good for him if he's doing it out of sympathy for what he sees as manipulation of an elderly man. But if he thinks he's fighting the good fight for atheists everywhere, he might be a little misguided.
posted by mullacc at 8:50 AM on November 6, 2007


brain_drain: "In his later years, my grandfather had to start wearing adult diapers, THEREBY PROVING THAT USING A TOILET IS WRONG."

It's an interesting notion, the thought that our religious beliefs should be selected based not on their truth but on our age. I don't know, exactly, why you'd say that, beyond believing that death is so frightening to human beings that they have to close their eyes as they approach it.
posted by koeselitz at 8:52 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


So if I persuade an old man that the sun goes around the Earth does that make it more true than it was ten minutes ago?
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:55 AM on November 6, 2007 [5 favorites]


BREAKING NEWS: Old man scared of death


BREAKING NEWS: First person to comment in a thread has not read the atricle he is commenting about.
posted by Falconetti at 8:57 AM on November 6, 2007 [6 favorites]


And Jesus said, "Thou shalt go among the OAPs and into the old age homes and senior centers and turn the hearts of the senile and the addled unto me. For it is a joy unto God when one of these turns a blank stare and a confused smile toward him in worship."



What do you mean that's not in the Bible?
posted by MasonDixon at 9:02 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I apologize for my comment!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:11 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's an interesting notion, the thought that our religious beliefs should be selected based not on their truth but on our age.

I'm in my 50s, so I'm a Muggletonian. Next decade I'm supposed to be...
*checks rulebook*
Ah yes, a Yazidi. Excellent!

As for the linked article, it's well written and very sad.
posted by languagehat at 9:12 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fluck Flew.
posted by Phanx at 9:16 AM on November 6, 2007


Well, he was raised Methodist (a preacher's son, no less), so it's possible that in his dotage he's simply reverting back to the comforting thoughts and beliefs of childhood. That's how it happened with my father toward the end of his life.

Or maybe he really did experience some sort of late life epiphany that changed his entire outlook on reality.

Whatever the case, it's a pretty crass endeavor to try and score points off the quiet ditherings of a man in decline.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:18 AM on November 6, 2007


Sorry, languagehat, but the Yezizdis aren't big on conversion. I think the closest you can get is to just buy a pet peacock and start going to the local UU church.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:18 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


A couple of additional links might be helpful here.

Though you may not have heard of Antony Flew, you may have heard of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, which he coined.

In this interview with Flew, published in 2004, he discusses his shift in thought toward deism. The interview is conducted by Gary Habermas, who is mentioned briefly in the NYT article linked to in the FPP.

Finally, recommended reading is Does God Exist: The Craig-Flew Debate, a book based in part on a public debate that took place in 1998 between Flew and Christian apologist William Lane Craig.
posted by Prospero at 9:21 AM on November 6, 2007


Though you may not have heard of Antony Flew, you may have heard of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, which he coined.

Oh crap. Turns out this guy is responsible for all of my INTERNET ARGUMENT POWERS. Now I feel bad.
posted by nasreddin at 9:31 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh dear, if a semi-famous philosopher -- who, up to this point, mean less than nothing to me -- isn't a staunch atheist, what hope do I have of staying stalwart against the raging seas of conversion, flippant preachers, and high profile political figures who enjoy a bit of manly love once and a while?

Although he meant nothing to me then, he's got a book out now, and there 'evangelicals' and 'atheists', those undeniable monolithic communities, who vie over him like the proverbial ring. If he falls, we all fall!
posted by eurasian at 9:32 AM on November 6, 2007


Oh dash it all, that Vargheuse gentlemen is a practioner of "Eastern Catholic Syro-Malankara rite". Holy butt-cakes! That sounds like one sexy religion!!
posted by eurasian at 9:34 AM on November 6, 2007


Putting aside the contending factions and their agendas, it's a bit patronizing to dismiss Flew's current philosophical positions as purely the product of his senility and/or outside manipulation.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 9:55 AM on November 6, 2007


...and his being "an old man afraid of death."

If you read the Biola interview, you'll see that he's still skeptical about the notion of an afterlife:

Until we have evidence that we have been and presumably—as Dr. Johnson and so many lesser men have believed—are to be identified with such incorporeal spirits I do not see why near-death experiences should be taken as evidence for the conclusion that human beings will enjoy a future life—or more likely if either of the two great revealed religions is true—suffer eternal torment.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:05 AM on November 6, 2007


...and from the following page of the interview:

FLEW: I still hope and believe there’s no possibility of an afterlife.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:09 AM on November 6, 2007


Putting aside the contending factions and their agendas, it's a bit patronizing to dismiss Flew's current philosophical positions as purely the product of his senility and/or outside manipulation.

I agree. Deism is neither particularly crazy nor unusual for British philosophers.

That said, it's ironic that the evangelicals are jumping all over this. Dr. Johnson (see profile) thought Deists were "infidels" and not substantially different from atheists. That seems to have been a pretty common opinion in the 18th century.
posted by nasreddin at 10:10 AM on November 6, 2007


As someone who wavers on the deist/materialist line, I can both appreciate his position and feel deep sympathy for his befuddled shift—these are difficult issues, ones that great philosophers have had trouble with at the height of their powers.

And a God who exists but whose sole impact is to guarantee you friends in your old age who buy you biscuits, well, what's the harm in humoring?
posted by klangklangston at 10:14 AM on November 6, 2007


These men promised Flew that new scientific research, far from being the enemy of revealed religion, argued for a God. And, in fact, a number of esteemed scientists were, in the mid-80s, talking about their interest in religion. Some, for example, accepted evolution as a fact but asked if it might serve a divine purpose, or they accepted the scientific method but tried to apply it to theological questions. And many of these God-curious scientists, like the mathematician John Barrow, the physicists Paul Davies and John Polkinghorne and the chemist Arthur Peacocke, were English. (Polkinghorne and Peacocke were ordained in the Church of England.) This group has since grown in prominence, and its attempts to create a nexus of science and religion were very influential on the men who, in turn, influenced Flew.

The Cyberpapacy has begun!
posted by butterstick at 10:37 AM on November 6, 2007


You know, this:

Unless you are a professional philosopher or a committed atheist, you probably have not heard of Antony Flew.

plus this:

Flew’s fame is about to spread beyond the atheists and philosophers. HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins, has just released 'There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind'

is an interesting juxtaposition by the article's author. How can a someone no one but a committed few have heard of be the world's most notorious anything? I hope it was intentional.

In any event, for some reason this reminds me an awful lot of those "noted atheist"deathbed conversion stories you hear every once and a while.
posted by moonbiter at 10:38 AM on November 6, 2007


What galls me the most about this article and others of its ilk is the reification of 'atheists' as if they constituted some sort of organization or group rather than simply the rejection of an implausible hypothesis.

Might as well write articles on aflatearthers or ageocentrists.
"Today, the world's most notorious ageocentrist recanted his lifelong position, with the publication of his new book: "Yes , the Earth is the center of the Universe". The 99 year old author died during his first book signing.
posted by signal at 10:47 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


The article is so fair and nuanced, it's sad the rest of the world has to fight over which side get's to claim him. And the horror of having all your final years' intellectual interchanges be actually underhanded corporate courtships. Horrendous.
posted by kaspen at 11:34 AM on November 6, 2007


.
posted by damnthesehumanhands at 11:45 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


(I'll post another one when his body dies.)
posted by damnthesehumanhands at 11:45 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Religious Belief" - by Charles Darwin.. (A beautiful essay on his transition to Atheism/Agnosticism)
posted by nickyskye at 11:52 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]




In other news: God still highly unlikely to exist.
posted by apiaryist at 12:57 PM on November 6, 2007


...this reminds me an awful lot of those "noted atheist" deathbed conversion stories...

While I'm confident I'll not succumb to the just-in-case born-again tendencies of my southern ancestors, I'm not setting aside my hopes for an extended deathbed scene in which I can report hysterically on my 'visions' as I cross over, from Liberace and Cher as angels to Tammy Faye at the shiny gates. I mean, there's going to be nothingness to follow, so I might as well make those last moments as exciting and entertaining as possible, given the opportunity.
posted by troybob at 1:33 PM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


As I said when this was discussed the first time around, I really don't think this is all that big a shift in thought if you really look at what he's claiming. It is just a recognition that naive empiricism is not as simple as some people imagine it to be when they're busy telling people off for praying to invisible sky-men.

The truth is ontology is a freakin' mess when you really look into it, and many thinkers end up allowing for some notion of unity, organization, or totality in order to make sense of it. Traditionally that's called "God", though it does get confusing as once it's named it tends to become anthropomorphized and idolized, and then laughed at as a fairy tale. You could try calling it "G-d" but it doesn't seem to make much difference - it's getting past the concrete noun to a larger idea that's troublesome.

But I don't think Flew converted to any sort of fairy tale beliefs. It's surprising he bothers giving so much time to such weak representatives of either side of the issue, but I suppose it's only fair considering what he wrote in the past. I am always shocked that stuff like Wm Lane Craig gets published - it's really really dumb - but a lot of the atheist stuff is too, really. All of it is missing the actual philosophical questions, of matter, of time, of consciousness... A truly atheistic notion of time actually has pretty major repercussions. Rejecting the idea of god isn't just about denying two-bit superheroes (as I said here)... heh, funny, going through that old thread came across someone's comment about Flew when he was on the other side...
posted by mdn at 2:07 PM on November 6, 2007


Great article. Thanks for posting this, shotgunbooty.
posted by homunculus at 2:49 PM on November 6, 2007


A truly atheistic notion of time actually has pretty major repercussions.

I'm genuinely curious. How so?
posted by fleetmouse at 3:47 PM on November 6, 2007


signal: That's an important point; here's a recent thread on something similar.

I've always thought an effort like Dawkins' Scarlet Letter campaign, which aspire to raise consciousness in the mold of the gay community, would at best help to solidify atheism as a valid choice among the usual set of faiths and metaphysical stances, which might even be antithetical to the long-term goal: helping people realize that this is like any ordinary topic, where you need good reasons to believe in any given thing. I'm starting to dig Harris's idea that the use of the word "atheist" should be minimized because it unnecessarily implies a somewhat symmetrical situation, like "non-racist" would.
posted by abcde at 5:10 PM on November 6, 2007


so I might as well make those last moments as exciting and entertaining as possible, given the opportunity.

Thank-you for giving me another life goal: an entertaining (to myself) death.

I shall need to plan.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:41 PM on November 6, 2007


Atheists may want to regard the only possible supreme being, without suggesting that one needs to exist.

A supreme being cannot be jealous or insecure, because he is supreme. For these reasons such a being cannot demand any faith from his creations. However, he may be testing us to see if we can avoid mind control and idolatry. This would test to see who will reject his pretenders while he is necessarily absent. His absence allows suffering, in order to reject it as being from God.

Agnosticism or atheism would pass this test, and we can suppose that anyone passes the test if they don't care if God exists or not. In other words, it doesn't matter if God exists. If he is testing us, he is testing us as doubters, and not absurdly giving out any shortcuts as dogma to a select few.

A reason for this possible test could be related to complications in creating free will. If so, it might be wise to see who the toady flatterers are, in order to fail them. It may be prudent to notice which ones are corrupt enough to worship a jealous idol who promises to reward their fear of angry punishment (that's two character flaws, if they ever had any character).

This test makes more sense because a supreme being could have easily created robots, and faith would not be required in his all-powerful presence; loyalty is a false honor, and demanding blind loyalty is fraudulent. A true supreme being, unafraid of anyone, would be testing our free will as potential peers, not as mindless subjects.
posted by Brian B. at 8:15 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm genuinely curious. How so?

I just mean in the deistic sense of a unified totality of nature. If Time is an absolute, then it is unified beyond our direct perception of it. If we reject this proposal, then time is really specific to NOW. I think it is very hard to come up with a purely atheistic (and I mean 'god' in the ancient sense of the unified source of being, prime mover, etc, not an anthropomorphized version of this) vision of things in which time travel could be theoretically possible, that is, in which time persists in some ultimate meta-domain.

Time for the atheist is just the consciousness of the motion of things in the only domain which there is, the reality we empirically experience. "past" and "future" are just abstract ideas, not real places.

I think atheists who talk about time travel are like materialists who talk about downloading minds (as I said here) - they are not taking seriously the claims they are making.
posted by mdn at 3:19 PM on November 7, 2007


I just mean in the deistic sense of a unified totality of nature.

I don't see why a unified totality of nature has to be deistic. Are you saying that a meta-domain of time would be God's memory or somesuch? Like Berkeley's idea of God's perception of things keeping things real when no one else is looking?

There was a young man who said "God
Must find it exceedingly odd

To think that the tree
Should continue to be

When there's no one about in the quad."

"Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd;
I am always about in the quad.

And that's why the tree
Will continue to be

Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God."


I don't claim to understand the ultimate nature of time, nor whether time travel is possible, but I don't see why the persistence of the past - if possible - should require the presence of what Philip K. Dick would call Ubik any more than would the present. A stubborn panentheist could argue that God is no less necessary to the present.

Also, from the links to your other posts, I think you're taking a narrow view of nontheism that restricts it to a kindergarten materialism where only "blocks" are real. Someone who thought that wouldn't believe in literacy because it would involve taking information from a physical matrix (screen, paper) and storing it in a different one (brain). To use your terminology of information or pattern as soul, that would be transmigration.

Would it be possible to upload the dynamic pattern of the mind into a different matrix? I don't know. I think the mind is dependent on the idiosyncracies of the brain's structure and chemistry in a way that can't be modeled by simple logic gates. It could require a simulation of the physics of the brain down to the level of individual molecules of neurotransmitters.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:28 AM on November 8, 2007


To use your terminology of information or pattern as soul, that would be transmigration.

Actually, so would simple perception. Lucretius's flimsy films as ghost shrouds. Spooky.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:30 AM on November 8, 2007


To use your terminology of information or pattern as soul, that would be transmigration.

no, information stored in symbols is not the same as information being the thing itself. That's the difference between signified and signifier. Consciousness is the signified - the actual thing, not just a referent to a thing. Words and symbols are referents to pass along information - signifiers.

I think the mind is dependent on the idiosyncracies of the brain's structure and chemistry in a way that can't be modeled by simple logic gates. It could require a simulation of the physics of the brain down to the level of individual molecules of neurotransmitters.

This has been discussed around here before, but if you stick with materialism, even this will not be your consciousness - it will just be a twin, a replicant with identical thoughts and feelings, but a different literal point of view - a different "unity of apperception".

I don't claim to understand the ultimate nature of time, nor whether time travel is possible, but I don't see why the persistence of the past - if possible - should require the presence of what Philip K. Dick would call Ubik any more than would the present. A stubborn panentheist could argue that God is no less necessary to the present.

Well, I think an atheist has a better chance with the empirical persistance of the Now than speaking of Time as an extended reality of which we have a small share. I don't really have time to get into detail here, but Sartre's Being & Nothingness is an interesting account of an atheistic reality, where Nature is basically atemporal, in that it is one stupid moment in constant motion, and it is only in the retention of what no longer exists through human consciousness that we create the idea of time as a continuum. It is true that the things which are still need to be, but their being can be so limited as it never extends back or forward but just reverberates in the Now.

Perhaps the difference can be said to be whether the human consciousness is a reduced perspective or exceeds the reality from which it comes. If temporality is a reality, not just a product of human consciousness, there's a sense in which "god" knows more than we do - is the "alpha & omega", the omniscient, etc. If the pantheistic reality that is the treeness and the quadness is limited to the blind being-what-it-is of the Now with no continuum, then human consciousness breaks beyond nature in a very startling way. (Of course this is difficult to work out, as nature doesn't seem phased at all, just keeps being what it is in all concurrent moments). Anyway, this is what Sartre describes as our freedom & it's the source of human power, etc.

I'm not arguing for one side here, just trying to say that I think there are deeper issues one has to take into account when making a claim like atheism - that it's not as simple as just rejecting fairy tales. The claim that both time and space are dependent on some consciousness (ie God's) is made by some philosophers but it is time that is most tightly connected to consciousness and I think at least a case can be made for an atheistic universe if temporality is reconsidered. But my original issue is just the idea that a case would have to be made, rather than it simply being an obvious default position as common sense might allow one to think. (materialism on the other hand I think is a much stronger case - it's just the spinozistic notion that matter is ultimately more spiritual than we usually tend to notice...)

oh boy, i don't have time for this - sorry to ramble, and I really can't get into it further - there are lots of arguments, both for & against, and I'm not so much trying to defend a position as make the point that the whole discussion is more complex than it's sometimes represented.
posted by mdn at 10:55 AM on November 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


This has been discussed around here before, but if you stick with materialism, even this will not be your consciousness - it will just be a twin, a replicant with identical thoughts and feelings, but a different literal point of view - a different "unity of apperception".

Ah, I get you now. You can't transplant the sense of self. There would be a new self with a new sense of itself. I (provisionally) agree.

I think there are deeper issues one has to take into account when making a claim like atheism - that it's not as simple as just rejecting fairy tales.

There are deeper issues primarily for people who have a stake in preserving, transplanting or transforming philosophical schools of thought that used conceptions of God as a cornerstone. And over the last couple hundred years the success of methodological naturalism changed the main problem of philosophy from "what is truth?" to "how can we keep this ball in the air?" So I take claims that atheism has to fulfill particular philosophical obligations with a grain of salt.
posted by fleetmouse at 1:43 PM on November 8, 2007


And over the last couple hundred years the success of methodological naturalism changed the main problem of philosophy from "what is truth?" to "how can we keep this ball in the air?"

what ball in the air?

There have always been more "common sense" philosophers. Plato referred to them as the sophists. Is Plato more famous because he actually saw through to something deeper, or just because he was a better writer who beguiled people with his metaphors and poetry, and really it's been the sophists who've had it right all along?

I'm not claiming to know answers, but it's not as if modern philosophers who make claims like "we're done with metaphysics" have discovered something new. They're just stating that we're done with it because they think it's nonsense, the same way most of Plato's contemporaries thought it was nonsense. But it still lasts in the long-lasting books because people still keep coming back to these questions, trying to actually understand the source of Being Itself.

And I don't disagree with the initial claim, honestly - I see that it's nonsense in a certain sense, but to imagine that the "common sense" approach is clear and straightforward and not it's own kind of nonsense is mistaken. It's very hard to say the truth (this is why we "pass over in silence"). I don't think that makes the whole enterprise a dead science. It's always been hard - that's why we speak in metaphor and poetry to some extent, and deal with very difficult language, and have to think a lot.
posted by mdn at 10:04 AM on November 9, 2007


If Time is an absolute, then it is unified beyond our direct perception of it.

According to our observations regarding when testing the theory of relativity, time is not an absolute. Unless I am misunderstanding of your use of the term "absolute."
posted by moonbiter at 10:32 AM on November 9, 2007


what ball in the air?

Philosophy in general and metaphysics in particular. Philosophy, in the broadest sense of the word, has been a victim of its own success. After philosophy's child disciplines started providing intellectually AND practically satisfying answers via methodological naturalism, metaphysics became the dotty old uncle sitting in the corner.

There have always been more "common sense" philosophers. Plato referred to them as the sophists. Is Plato more famous because he actually saw through to something deeper, or just because he was a better writer who beguiled people with his metaphors and poetry, and really it's been the sophists who've had it right all along?

Grappling with Plato and metaphysics is interesting in the same way that chess is interesting - as vigorous exercise for the mind. I'm not saying that people should turn their backs on the intellectual history of the world. But not everything we do has to come to terms with or be made congruent with all aspects of past thought.

I'm not claiming to know answers, but it's not as if modern philosophers who make claims like "we're done with metaphysics" have discovered something new. They're just stating that we're done with it because they think it's nonsense, the same way most of Plato's contemporaries thought it was nonsense. But it still lasts in the long-lasting books because people still keep coming back to these questions, trying to actually understand the source of Being Itself.

The source of being is addressed as best as it ever will be in the terse first verse of the Tao Te Ching. ;-)

When we talk about God, are you seriously thinking that 99.999% of people - Christians and nontheists alike - aren't talking about Pat Robertson's God rather than Spinoza's God? Why even use the word God when you actually mean the wonders of nature? It brings a lot of silly baggage.

And I don't disagree with the initial claim, honestly - I see that it's nonsense in a certain sense, but to imagine that the "common sense" approach is clear and straightforward and not it's own kind of nonsense is mistaken. It's very hard to say the truth (this is why we "pass over in silence"). I don't think that makes the whole enterprise a dead science. It's always been hard - that's why we speak in metaphor and poetry to some extent, and deal with very difficult language, and have to think a lot.

Sure, absolutely - the greatest benefit of philosophical study is that it makes the tangle of self, meaning, language and world more navigable (or maybe less so, heh heh?) and keeps thoughtful people from constantly having to reinvent the philosophical wheel to think and talk about these things.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:21 PM on November 9, 2007


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