Gospel of the Real


El Camino Real is the high road.  It is ours.  These are glad tidings!  

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.  Build a better road and the world will not have to beat a path to your door.  There is simply now the Gospel of the Real.  

So where is the world in its regard of the Real?  How do we find out?  Will Google work its magic?  

The coherent gestalt of the Real is not easy to pin down.  The point of greatest general concern ought to be the reality of persons.  This would be the point on which Science would diverge most radically from public sentiment.  Philosophers argue mightily over the status of folk-psychology.  The status of persons is what is at stake.  

I am not aware of any concerted postmodern view on the matter of persons.  One might think that they maintain an embarrassed silence and just look the other way.  Phenomenology is the intellectual bastion of personhood.  I suppose that postmodernity maintains an uneasy alliance with phenomenology.  Semiotics may be the wild card in this intellectual stalemate.  Humanistic psychology and existentialism also provide safe harbors for persons.  

Semiotics vs. AI might be the point of greatest cognitive dissonance with regard to personal identity (130,000 hits) [previously mentioned here, here (w.r.t. the politics of human nature) and here].  Not bad.  Let's investigate.  Adding 'reductionism' yields only 1,200 hits: 

'Parfit, and the problem of personal identity in two philosophical traditions':

It is, therefore, refreshing to find two significant new books treating persons and personal identity from the perspectives of philosophy and Buddhist Studies, respectively, that defy convention and intellectual taboo each by nodding in the other's direction. Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons and Steven Collins' Selfless Persons are concerned not only with personal identity, to be sure, but because it is a central theme in both books and also their point of intersection, it will be the focus of this essay. Reasons and Persons represents the radical elaboration of a theory of persons derived ultimately from Locke, which holds the facts of personal identity to be wholly explicable in terms of continuity and connectedness, while Selfless Persons is a remarkably thorough analysis and interpretation of the themes relating to the concept of persons in Theravada Buddhist discourse. 


[Parfit] asks that you consider in what sense, if in any, you are the same person after a tele-transporter beams you to Mars. Your terrestrial brain and body are destroyed and an exact replica appears a few minutes later on the Red Planet. The replica has your memories, intentions, habits, and tastes. He will carry out your projects, care for your family, and so on. In short, he is continuous with you in all relevant respects. But have you survived your tele-transportation? Parfit argues that "this kind of continuity is just as good as ordinary continuity," and that, on certain criteria of personal identity at least, "my Replica ... would be me". 

Derek's analysis ought to constitute a reductio ad absurdum for any insubstantial view of persons.  

The most familiar sort of Non-Reductionist View is represented by the Cartesian doctrine of spiritual substance; but there are other versions as well, for example, the Further Fact View, which maintains that "though we are not separately existing entities, personal identity is a further fact, which does not just consist in physical and/or psychological continuity. 

Rational agency and rationality proper are founded on personal identity.  There is no coherence outside of personal coherence.  Theism and personalism are logically inseparable.  All identity is necessarily founded on personal identity.  

Take note of Chalmers' list of sources

I'm being sidetracked now onto The Identity Theory of Truth.  It  sounds not unlike direct realism. 



I have not yet found a focus in the battle for the reality of the self.  There is a broad line of demarcation between humanistic and behavioral psychology, but no real battle is in evidence.  The two sides manage to ignore one another.    

Parfit, Lewis, and Sperry on Personal Identity -- Eugene Marshall: 

Imagine a person, John, will be subjected to a fission operation where each hemisphere will be transplanted into the empty skull of a new and different body.  John’s body is disposed of afterwards.  We will call the resulting bodies John1 and John2.  The problem, as Parfit raised it, is this: how can John1 and John2 be identical with John, but not with each other? 

Aren't those philosophers clever?  Analysis (surgery) is used to defeat identity.  I have a bit more faith in integrity.  Let me point out that the integrity of the self is transcendental: Self & Love being the ultimate organizing principles of the cosmos.  This matter was broached in the context of autopoiesis and multiple personality disorder.  We are the multiple personalities of God, but that does not reduce God, just as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn do not reduce Samuel Clemens.  If you wish to perform experimental psycho-surgery on God, well, good luck! 

If personal identity is the foundation of reality, it would seem that reality inhabits a slippery slope.  That is the whole point.  There is a chain of being, but certainly not in any biological or Darwinian sense.  The holistic nature of being eludes all analysis and gives comfort to skeptics and nihilists.  That is the price one pays for this stairway to heaven.  What about the spiritually challenged?  Is there no handicapped entrance?  Not to worry, salvation is universal.  So when you look around and notice that you are the last one at the nihilists' keg party, just be sure to turn out the lights before you leave. 

On this same analogy, physicalism serves as grease on the stairway to heaven.  It can expedite passage in either direction, depending on one's frame of mind.  The chain of being is then not a stairway or even a chain with discrete links.  It is more like a fire pole.  It is physics that fills all the gaps.  And it is God, too.  How they manage this joint effort is perhaps our Gordian knot.  Surely the Monster Group gets into this act, but don't ask me how, or from whence It came. 

Reality does not provide us with a spiritual crutch.  Believing in one's own self is a struggle, as it was meant to be.  Believing in God makes that struggle rather more manageable in the long haul.  The abyss is an ever present reality.  People do fall off the edge of the world, every day.  Fear does play a constructive role.  The abyss is like the wolf prowling on the edge of the herd.  She keeps us on our toes.  


Because of ontology's notorious slipperiness, the professionals have, with good reason, largely abandoned these slopes.  Now we have amateur hour on the slopes.  We are enjoying the ski party.  How long will it last?  The party will last until things get serious.  When will that be?  At about the time when the Eschaton starts making noises off-stage.  I'm trying to make all the noise I can, but Google is not cooperating, is she?  Does this make me a party pooper?  If you think this is a party, well, you ain't seen nuthin. 

Speaking of which: slippery ontology (1,200 hits) [and recall Computational Epistemology]: 

Some Organizing Principles For A Unified Top-Level Ontology -- Nicola Guarino (1997): 

...it shows an open-minded attitude towards the subtle distinctions of philosophy and the slippery issues of natural language and commonsense. The philosophical field inspiring this trend is that of formal ontology, which has been defined as "the systematic, formal, axiomatic development of the logic of all forms and modes of being". As such, formal ontology is a recent expression of traditional ontology, intended as the branch of philosophy which deals with the a priori nature of reality. In its current shape, formal ontology can be seen as the confluence between a school of thought which has addressed metaphysical problems within the mainstream of analytic philosophy, and another school more closely related to phenomenology, in the tradition of Brentano and Husserl. 

Ain't the beer cold!  The AI folk cannot stand on ceremony.  They have to go out in the trenches and wrestle ontology with their bare hands.  

Hanjo Glock, University of Reading, Title: Does Ontology Exist? (COLLOQUIUM SERIES
THURSDAY, MARCH 29, 2001) 

Many early analytic philosophers regarded ontology as a branch of metaphysics that is either trivial or meaningless. But from the fifties onward, attitudes changed. Instead of having a good laugh about Heidegger's 'The Nothing noths', analytic philosophers took up ontology themselves, and with a vengeance. The war cry that philosophy should concern itself with things instead of words, with reality instead of concepts, has gained wide currency......

Quine, who has been the main inspiration behind analytic ontology. Quine's naturalistic ontology purports to help science in drawing up an inventory of the world. Through logical paraphrase it seeks to identify and reduce the ontological commitments of our best scientific theories. Against this programme I shall argue that Quine's conception of ontological commitment is inadequate, and that his logical paraphrase cannot contribute to the exploration of reality, but at most to the clarification of our conceptual framework .

So the analytical folk preceded the AI folk.  And, yes, it's time to put those neo-ontologists in their place!  

Ontological commitment (2,700 hits): 

Ted Sider is not shy about his ontological commitments: Trenton Merricks, Objects and Persons (2001): 

Many otherwise reasonable philosophers are impatient with ontology. These philosophers will probably have little time for Objects and Persons, which claims that while there do exist "atoms arranged statuewise", there do not exist statues; while there do exist atoms arranged tablewise and atoms arranged chairwise, there exist no tables and chairs.

Yes, I believe that chairs exist, but only as cosmic furniture: only in virtue of their cosmological function in fulfilling God's love.  So that make us God's tools? Yes, and so is God ours.  And, to some non-negligible degree, I am the tool of my chair.  This is just functional relationalism; basic to any dynamic idealism.  But does this entail a downward causation relative to chairs?  Yes.  Chairs are subjects of and to all sorts of causation, as are we. 

Nihilist philosophers of Merricks' ilk [except for atoms & humans, as noted below] forcefully remind us that any ontological commitment at all is not a casual, piecemeal affair.  If chairs exist then as clearly as night follows day, so must God exist.  Are you able to resist this logic?  Perhaps, then, you need some remedial logic.  

Merricks makes an exception to his causal overdetermination argument for human beings.  In addition to atoms arranged human-wise, there also exist humans. On its face, this exception is theoretically unsatisfying, all too convenient, and even tender-hearted. But Merricks’s justification for the exception is interesting: humans have causal powers beyond the causal powers of their micro-parts. Indeed, the property consciousness, instantiated by human persons, does not even globally supervene on microscopic physical properties, and it conveys distinctive causal powers.

Vitalism and psychism are not about to go away. 

I need to consider 'scientific realism'.  Does it imply an ontology broader than physicalism?  I gather that scientific realism is equivalent to naturalism in its commitment to the ontology of the theories of science.  There may be degrees of commitment to particular ontologies, but this is not spelled out.  My question is the degree to which scientific realism is anti-reductionist.  

But see The Incompatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism.  Koons does not consider reduction, per se, but he points out that scientific realism necessarily entails an irreducible normativity that is incompatible with naturalism.  A good point.  [Apparently my neurons have grown more tolerant of Robert's pedagogy.]

Let me mention again the Research Project: Rationality and Non-Reductionism (van Tilburg University, NL).  Remind me to investigate this project.  One participant is Dr. M. V. P. Slors.  Like the other participants , Slors struggles mightily to placate both the emergentists and the reductionists.  They are of the school that all differences can be analyzed away.  This, in itself, constitutes a reductionist outlook.  Is this philosophy or is it arbitration?  I think the latter.  On second thought, I am also a monist.  We believe that all differences will be resolved in the end.  Instead of downward reduction, I anticipate and upward reduction which is the hierogamos.  



Continuing with "scientific realism" & physicalism (400 hits): 

I am finding no one remarking on the logical incompatibility of scientific realism and physicalism.  Are the philosophers asleep at the switch?  At the vary least, scientific realism entails the reality of universals, beyond those entailed by physics.  

The Deep Problem of Physicalism -- Bryan Wesley Hall: 

   Many philosophers of mind attempt to “explain away” the mental via the physical.  This explanation has had many permutations over the years. Barbara Montero, in her recent article “The Body Problem,” makes the point that all of these physicalist explanations require that one have a consistent and coherent definition of the physical.  If one does not have this definition, then any attempt at explaining away the mental in terms of the physical is questionable. 


Hempel’s Dilemma: this dilemma has two horns.  The first horn of the dilemma states that if one defines the physical using contemporary microphysical entities, then physicalism is probably false.  In every likelihood, the contemporary posits of microphysical science will seem as abstruse to physicists one hundred years from now, as aether, phlogiston, or Aristotelian elementals seem to us today.  The second horn of the dilemma states that if one defines the physical by reference to a yet-to-be-completed microphysics, then our definition of the physical is conceptually vacuous but trivially true. 

After several decades, Hempel's dilemma still stands.  Physicalism remains logically vacuous.  Why then does its ghost still haunt the philosophy of science?  It is because Scientism is still alive in the land.  Where is the silver spike that can be driven into the heart of this Zombie?  The Postmoderns have made a go at Zombie killing, but their own notorious metaphysical indulgences (i.e. incoherent pluralism) render any such attempts highly suspect. 

A Kantian Critique of Scientific Realism -- also by  Bryan Hall: 

Our purpose is to revisit the scientific realist debate from a Kantian perspective.  Kant was certainly not this kind of scientific realist, and if his theory is shown to be damaging to the scientific realist’s cause, then I believe the whole history of philosophy that fell out of the scientific realist position becomes highly questionable.  This is particularly true of scientific essentialism.  The purpose of this paper is not to challenge scientific essentialism per se, but rather to challenge the thinking that led up to the advent of scientific essentialism, namely, scientific realism.   

Neither physicalism nor scientific realism stand up to scrutiny.  Isn't it time to look elsewhere for coherence and rationality?  In the meantime, the postmoderns are content to wallow in their own quagmire.  

I am reminded that Physics is replete with abstract mathematical constructions and universals.  Also, like any realism, physicalism has to invoke normative standards.  If norms and abstractions are irreducibly entailed by physicalism, then on what basis may anything of a mental nature be excluded, even without appealing to the Quantum?  How any version of materialism ever achieved a status above that of moonshine will be the enduring mystery of modernism. 

Naturalism : A Critical Analysis (Routledge Studies in Twentieth Century Philosophy) by William Lane Craig (Editor), J. P. Moreland (Editor).  Have I not already noted this title [here]?  It is reviewed here by the 'Infidels': Review of- Craig, William Lane, and Moreland, J.:

Of course, it can hardly be denied that there are enthusiastic naturalists who fit the characterization offered by Craig aThe next chapter illustrates the widespread confusion or conflation of scientific materialism with science. Machines are described in anthropomorphic terms which are then re-applied to human beings. Wallace gives examples from journalistic articles and textbooks, but reserves his main analysis for the philosophical conflations of John Searle, who does nevertheless reject some of the more crass materialistic approaches to consciousness but cannot finally extricate himself from its assumptions. This leads into the final chapter on scientific materialism as an ideology, which begins with a masterly statement of the overall view. If you disagree with this you must be either ignorant or irrational! However, as Wallace repeatedly observes, the astonishing thing is not materialism itself (as Crick maintained) but the fact that people 'so enthusiastically embrace an unconfirmed speculative theory that utterly denies the validity, even the very existence, of their personal, inner life' (p.161). The ethical implications of such a view have proved disastrous in the past and may do so againnd Moreland. Moreover, it is true that those naturalists are enemies of theism. However, even if the collected essays manage to land some effective blows on those naturalists, it does not follow that the cause of theism has been advanced in the least.

Really, now!  I'm certainly relieved to know that the Infidels are not enthusiastic about naturalism.  They have excellent reasons not to be.  The naturalists must be hurting if even the infidels are keeping them at arms length! 



Still on the topic of "scientific realism" & physicalism:

The Taboo Of Subjectivity -- B. Alan Wallace, Oxford New York, 2000, Reviewed by David Lorimer: 

Subtitled 'Towards a New Science of Consciousness', this is a landmark book in consciousness studies in the grand tradition of William James. Indeed it is the kind of book that James would have written had he been updating his writings 100 years on. 

A section on the ideology of scientific materialism unpacks the key assumptions in a way not unlike the manifesto contained in this issue: objectivism, monism, universalism, reductionism, the closure principle and physicalism. While these may hold up for the world of scientific materialism, they are lead to an impoverished understanding of reality as a whole.

More generally, the sceptical approach of science is not applied to its philosophical assumptions as these remain for the most part unconscious.

The next chapter illustrates the widespread confusion or conflation of scientific materialism with science. Machines are described in anthropomorphic terms which are then re-applied to human beings. Wallace gives examples from journalistic articles and textbooks, but reserves his main analysis for the philosophical conflations of John Searle, who does nevertheless reject some of the more crass materialistic approaches to consciousness but cannot finally extricate himself from its assumptions. This leads into the final chapter on scientific materialism as an ideology, which begins with a masterly statement of the overall view. If you disagree with this you must be either ignorant or irrational! However, as Wallace repeatedly observes, the astonishing thing is not materialism itself (as Crick maintained) but the fact that people 'so enthusiastically embrace an unconfirmed speculative theory that utterly denies the validity, even the very existence, of their personal, inner life'. The ethical implications of such a view have proved disastrous in the past and may do so again....

In his conclusion, Wallace suspects that consciousness may be the cloud on the horizon at the end of the 20th century, comparable to the ultraviolet catastrophe [physicists take note] at the end of the 19th. From a contemplative perspective, the current scientific world-view is fundamentally flawed since it has failed to take into account the role and significance of consciousness in nature. He sees contemplation playing a mediating empirical role between science and religion as they overlap in the mind itself.

The natives are getting restless. 

Nicholas Rescher appears on the list.  He is one of less than a handful of senior professional philosophers in this country pursuing contemporary idealism.  From his incredibly voluminous list of publications, not a single one is posted as being online.  This is a major handicap.  He does have a list of 94(!) books on Amazon.  What little I have seen of his work, I find murky.  I have not been able to discern any narrative of a world view.  Lack of any narrative sensibility goes with the analytic territory.  But even an Umberto Eco can only project his continental hermeneutic skill onto the past.  The future remains a blank slate for us non-materialists.  I remain convinced that it is the Eschaton that lurks beneath this deceptively placid surface.  The Eschaton is the telos of all narration.  The closer that one approaches to the metaphysical foundation of the Eschaton, the deeper is its shadow.  No narrative of less than biblical proportion can illuminate that shadow.   This is the eschatological barrier to all narration of the future.  The breaking of that barrier entails a Parousia.  It's that simple.  The coherence we struggle for here is simply the Logos, in all its historical singularity.  While the Cat is away, we mice have no choice but to keep on playing. 

Nicholas Rescher, Objectivity- The Obligations of Impersonal Reason Reviewed by Scott Ryan: 

Nicholas Rescher, probably the single most prolific [!] author among contemporary philosophers, here provides a sturdy defense of objectivity based on the primacy and inevitability of practical reason.

Objectivity hinges on rationality -- as a matter not simply of logical coherence, but also "of the intelligent pursuit of circumstantially appropriate objectives." From its requirements follows a sort of "rational economy," the principles of which are very obviously objective and universal although they may (and do) have different applications in different situations.

On this foundation, Rescher takes on a host of contemporary critics of objectivity -- anthropologists, historicists, sociologists of knowledge, personalists, feminists, Marxists and class-interest theorists, post-modernists, and social activists. He finds that each attack on objectivity involves a misconstruing of what it is all about, and devotes the remainder of the volume to showing why this is the case.

A 'rational economy' outside of a cosmological, eschatological context would be throwing good money after bad.  Coherence is not sold retail. 

As always, Rescher's presentation is clear and cogent.

You recognize, of course, that my use of 'murky' for someone of Nicholas' provenance is being relative in the extreme.  He is fighting the good fight.  I'm just not sure that he is aware of Godzilla in the wings.  The awareness of that Presence must entail a new gestalt.  How can he be so close, and yet be so far?  The only clue may lie in the compulsive nature of his publishing, as if to keep the Monster at bay.  I am only two feet on the other side of that fence. 

Now!, from the Helsinki Metaphysical Club (at the University of Helsinki, 'an open discussion and study group, which is primarily focused on the investigation and advancement of Peircean philosophy and sign theory'), we bring you: 

EMERGENCE THEORIES AND PRAGMATIC REALISM -- Charbel Niño El-Hani & Sami Pihlström, Draft version, February 2002. Comments welcome. Please do not quote. (Shhhhhh........)

The re-emergence of the emergence debate is related to the great development of the sciences of complexity, interdisciplinary fields of research concerned with the complex properties of life and mind, in the 1990s (Emmeche 1997). Another reason for the strong comeback of this philosophical doctrine lies in the collapse of positivistic reductionism and the related ideal of an unified science since the 1970s. We can think of the fortunes of reductionism as inversely correlated with those of emergentism, and, thus, the fading away of reductionism and the enthronement of non-reductive materialism as a new orthodoxy would simply amount to the resurgence of emergentism (Kim 1999:5). The revitalization of the emergence debate is also related to a number of emergentist hypotheses about mind and consciousness that have been proposed (e.g., Sperry 1969, 1983, 1991; Searle 1992; Baas 1996). The very term ‘emergence’ and its derivatives have become popular in the context of computer models of non-linear dynamical systems, complex systems research, Artificial Life, consciousness studies etc. As the concept of emergence is increasingly used, it becomes more and more important to keep the exact meaning of the central ideas involved clear. Moreover, it is crucial to discuss in detail what kinds of metaphysical commitments [?] are necessarily involved in emergentist thinking, inasmuch as many scientists and philosophers still think that emergentism is incompatible with basic metaphysical commitments of the current scientific discourse. In fact, there are now at least two different research programs dealing with the notion of emergence (or, at any rate, using the term ‘emergence’), one which is clearly materialist and naturalist, and another which aims at the alleged synthesis of science and religion that some classical emergentists, as Lloyd Morgan, dreamt about (Blitz 1992). Several examples of papers affiliated with this latter research program can be found in Zygon, a journal devoted to the examination of the relationships between science and religion (e.g. Polkinghorne 1991; Peacocke 1991, 1993, 1994, 1999; Ashbrook 1996; see also Hasker 1999).

'Metaphysical commitments'?  Eschatology, anyone?  

In view of the difficulties faced by supervenience physicalism as a non-reductive stance, we have to search for alternative paths to the middle road between substance dualism and reductionism that many philosophers find attractive. In this connection, it is worth investigating if a combination of supervenience and emergence might fulfill the double requirement of dependence and determination, on the one hand, and non-reducibility, on the other.

'Middle road'?  Is this metaphysics or arbitration?  Is it the thesis of pragmatism that truth is arbitrated? 

Here we are getting close to what might be labeled pragmatic pluralism regarding different approaches to the human mind.

If you are going to be pluralistic you will have to include theism.  With God and Physics we have the irresistible force and the immovable object.  May the best One win!  Atheistic pluralism in oxymoronic.  Sorry 'bout them apples, fellas.  Mark my words, in the End it will be idealism versus materialism. 

...reminding scientists that the mind remains psychological [...] even when its capacities are neurally or physiologically explained.

Sure, Hani, as long as you are willing to eliminate all essences, you may think whatever you please.  

For some purposes it is better to employ the standard physicalist notion of effective causation; for some others one may adopt an ‘Aristotelian’ variant; for still others one might prefer a non-causal account. This pluralism liberates us from the dilemma to which Kim has led us, although, admittedly, some tensions do remain between the positions we propose. 

Good, then.  On Sundays we can believe in God, and on the other days we can be materialists.  Will God cooperate?  If She doesn't, will just have to put Her in Her place.  We'll keep Her in the kitchen for the rest of the week.  I wonder if God's love is always quite so pragmatic.  The mystics might be dubious on this score.  

And then there was murkiness.  And more murkiness.  

Perhaps I'm forgetting though, that, despite or because of all their Pragmatism, James are Peirce are generally considered to reside in the idealist camp.  Pragmatism then serves mainly as a smoke screen for their idealism:    

The tradition of pragmatism, in particular, has strongly emphasized the practice- and discourse-embeddedness of the real world and its properties that we take our discourses and theories to be about. It is meaningless to speak about the reality of emergents absolutely independently of human theories and conceptualizations. 

Yes, keep your eyes on the shell with the pea.  

This is not to deny that emergence is, primarily, an ontological notion; rather, it is to say that ontology is not clearly separable from epistemology, because it concerns a humanly structured conceptualized reality

If it walks like an idealist and talks like an idealist,.....

It is from Putnam that we adopt the pragmatist idea that ontological commitments depend on the conceptual frameworks within which they are made, frameworks which in turn depend on the human purposes and interests they serve. 

And which framework is God's, pray tell? 

Well, are we getting the idea?  

According to this pragmatist approach, not even basic ontological notions such as existence have one fixed metaphysically privileged meaning or use (see, e.g., Putnam 1990:96-97). Our language and mind "penetrate so deeply into what we call ‘reality’ that the very project of representing ourselves as being ‘mappers’ of something ‘language-independent’ is fatally compromised from the very start". What counts as ‘objects’ or as ‘properties’ is as much up to us as it is up to the world, partly depending on how we use these words in the language-games within which our ontological structurings are created.

This sounds like a fun game.  Can God play, too? 



The convoluted issue of emergence has effectively blurred the boundary between ontology and epistemology.  Scientific realism and naturalism are thus beholden to the normativity and functionality essential to epistemology.  This is a big step toward idealism.  Pragmatism, as we have been shown, is a significant waypoint on this path. 


The Biological Notion of Self and Non-self by Alfred Tauber: 

Without pursuing the ramifications of the cognitive approach to immunity, it is still evident that this turn in the language—“perception,” “memory,” “learning”—are in service to a more elusive “knowing entity.” Thus hidden within new formulations, the self still resides, reflecting a deep struggle over the character of biology, one that has its roots in Bernard's original understanding of autonomy, and now linked to our own more complex ecological views of agency and determinism.

I just wanted to underscore the ontological travails of the biologists.  A travail which, evidently, they share with the organisms they seek to know.  

It is possible that biology will become the primary battleground of contending metaphysical projects.  



Presently I am listening to Nancey Murphy's presentation, 'Physicalist Anthropology and Resurrection: How Much Can we Know?' at the Berkeley Eschatology, Immortality, and the Future of the Cosmos conference (2001).  Her limited web page at Fuller Theological is accessed only through their search page: 

Nancey Murphy joined the Fuller faculty in 1989. She is highly sought as a speaker at nationwide conferences on the relationship between theology and science. Murphy also serves on the boards of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at Berkeley, and is a member of the Planning Committee for conferences on science and theology, sponsored by the Vatican Observatory.....  {She] is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. 

I would use Google: Nancey Murphy

'Nancey Murphy, Supervenience and Causality' -- abstract by Lindsay Cullen

Nancey Murphy argues in Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism, that a post-modern approach to metaphysics, based on a non-reductive physicalism, will allow a fruitful bridging of the gap between interventionist and immanentist views of God's interaction with the world. This is achieved through her contention that there are causally significant 'higher level' laws which can affect interactions and which are neither constrained by, nor reducible to, lower level laws (such as the laws of physics). Whilst her aim is to be applauded, her methodology is somewhat flawed. In particular, her scientific defence of a non-reductive view is shallow and unpersuasive, and her use of the philosophical concept of supervenience is both eccentric and unhelpful. Thus her argument regarding higher-level laws founders, taking with it her basis for a rapprochement between 'liberals' and 'conservatives' on this particular topic.

To call herself a 'physicalist' distorts that term beyond recognition.  Why Nancey hangs onto that term is mainly to disclaim the dualism to which her theological colleagues continue to maintain despite its incoherence.  The contrast with Cartesian dualism is why 'non-reductive physicalism' remains current despite Kim's refutation of it as physical.  Non-theists of a non-reductive persuasion may call themselves naturalists.  Non-dualist theists, not willing to take the immaterialist leap, are left with a serious problem of nomenclature, not to mention logic.  

A Brief Examination of Nancey Murphy's Nonreductive Physicalism -- By Sean Choi 

This paper will briefly examine Nancey Murphy's "nonreductive physicalism" as she presents it in the book Whatever Happened to the Soul? (Fortress Press, 1998). After presenting her view, I will argue that Murphy's position is caught in the horns of the following dilemma: either the mental causally overdetermines the physical, or the mental is causally inert with respect to the physical. Since Murphy desires to save mental causation, her nonreductive physicalism gets impaled on the horns of this dilemma.

Yes, it's that simple.  All of her disregard of logic just to avoid idealism.  When the philosophical barrier to idealism is broken there will be a flood.  Yes, it will be an eschatological flood of biblical proportions. 

In terms of the distinctions drawn above, Murphy's "nonreductive physicalism" is a physicalist view in the philosophy of mind which accepts ontological reductionism, but rejects causal reductionism and reductive materialism. In her own words, "it denies the existence of a nonmaterial entity, the mind (or soul) but does not deny the existence of consciousness (a position in philosophy of mind called eliminative materialism) or the significance of conscious states or other mental (note the adjectival form) phenomena."

Her distinction between ontology and causality is remarkably incoherent.  If you're an anti-dualist and an anti-materialist, there ain't much choice. 

In summary, I have argued that given Murphy's nonreductive physicalism and her desire to maintain mental causation, she is stuck between the rock of causal overdetermination and the hard place of mental epiphenomena. I tentatively conclude that since neither of these positions are acceptable to her, it might serve her well to reevaluate her nonreductive physicalism.

Well, Nancey, when are you going to bite the bullet?  It looks like your physicalism has got to go.  Let's see then, non-materialism & non-dualism = immaterialism.  No?  It looks like it's time to bone up on Berkley, Nancey.  Berkley (CTNS) is the Big Game rival of Stanford, but this is more important.  

CiS-St Edmunds Lecture series - MENTAL CAUSATION - Nancey Murphy 

John Taylor: Response to Professor Murphy's paper: Now, a non-reductive physicalist is in some sense seeking to avoid the problems of dualism and yet not veer towards a strongly reductionist position and one way in which the intuition behind that gets going is the thought that mental properties, even though they may be properties of a physical thing, are of a different kind.

But if you're a non-reductive materialist, what are you going to say about the causal efficacy of mental properties: do you want to say that the mental can, in some sense, make an intervening difference to the physical level. If you say that it seems that you've gone down the route that the dualist goes down.

This is quite an acute dilemma which has been pushed in a different variety of contexts in philosophy of mind literature.

...do we really get round the problem, the epiphenomenal question, by introducing the distinction between structural and triggering causes? 

Nancey Murphy: The concept of structuring causes was employed in order to talk about how the brain gets structured so that causal sequences realize or instantiate rational sequences. 

Nancey has taken a page from the book of Alexander: How to solve the Gordian Knot

All I really intended to do tonight is to work on one tiny piece of the puzzle, how can you reconcile rationality with causality. You've asked the big question about consciousness, which I don't attempt to deal with. I think it's got to be left for farther down the road when we know more about how the brain works. I am convinced, as a physicalist, that somehow or other the activity of our brains gives rise to consciousness, but I'm not at all sure that we'll ever have much subjective sense of understanding how that happens.

I think that your interlocutors would settle for some objective sense. 

So all those questions are extremely important ones; they've got to be worked on in the future but the fact that I can't answer them now does not detract from the validity of the tiny little first piece that I've done.

A tiny step for Nancey, a cosmic leap for humankind.  Nancey has the best intentions in the world of smoothing over the rough spots, but the Eschaton is not quite in her league. 

I believe that the notion of self-transcendence is extremely important for understanding how we avoid neurobiological determinism. 

Janet Soskice: Every aspect of our reality is created reality, and the big contrast in theology is not between mind, spirit and body but between what is created and the One who creates, that is the fundamental distinction and it is far more absolute than `things that go bump in the night'. 

What early theologians had to contend with was various kinds of neoplatonists who did argue for an immortal soul and indeed which participated in the divine - a chip off the divine block. Christianity and Judaism did not believe that because they believed that the human being was totally a creature,

But you need to emphasise creation: spirit is created, soul is created, body is created; in one sense you could say they are all material realities, that would be a direction you could take and be consonant with historical Christianity.

Nancey Murphy: I think that adopting physicalism is a very healthy thing for Christians because it establishes the ontological dividing point just where it should be, which is between God and everything else, rather than half way up the great chain of being.

This last exchange explains a whole lot about just what us idealists are up against, w.r.t. professional theologians.  They would rather burn us monists at the stake, than have to grapple with the foundations of the world.  Can we blame them? 



What we see happening with Nancey Murphy (2,100 hits) may constitute a genuine phenomenon.  Just off the top, it may be a preliminary mainstream Christian reaction to the Tucson Consciousness phenomenon of David Chalmers (8,700 hits) provenance.  

The mystics were effectively monopolizing the ample spiritual dimension of the academically oriented consciousness movement, so I use the term 'reaction' advisedly.  The mystics are exploiting the intellectual concern with consciousness to work their monistic magic.  The Christian dualists are beginning to react, finally. 

The orthodox Christians have always felt extremely threatened by the various monistic and pantheistic heresies that perennially threaten their orthodoxy.  It is fair to say that this conservative reaction was a primary motivation behind that other phenomenon: the Inquisition, which, in its turn, gave rise to Cartesian mind-body dualism and thus to the worldview of Scientific materialism.  But now that the Scientific materialists are threatening to engulf the mind in their materialist maw, the non-materialists are forced, with no small trepidation, to enter the fray. 

The first out of the blocks were the mystics.  They are an independent lot, some of whom are willing to tilt at any given windmill.  Our orthodox prophetic brethren and sistren are rather more corporate and reactionary in their modus operandi.  Why?  Well, they are carrying a heavy prophetic burden.  Theirs is the Eschaton.  It's not walk softly and carry a big stick.  It's carry a big stick, and therefore you darn well have to walk more cautiously.  That is unless you have designs on the second coming.  

But when the prophetic types see that the mystics are, against all odds, actually scoring points in the Mind Wars, they have to respond.  Their almost knee jerk response is to throw their lot in with the naturalists, promoting a non-reductionist panpsychism as a stopgap against the dreaded pantheism.  This is where Nancey is.  She is leading the troops in this reaction.  

Where then are the theistic idealists?  Total silence?  One may trace this movement up from the ashes of the Inquisition into Germany, England and then on to our fair, transcendental shores.  Since the first War, the transcendentalists have either vanished or become speechless.  The Twentieth Century was not at all kind to idealists of any stripe.  Will the Twenty-first be any more hospitable?  I guess we're about to find out. 

My fervent hope is that Nancey & Co. will smoke out my fellow theistic idealists, just as the pantheists succeeded in smoking out the theists.  Will Google work its magic through all this smoke?  Will that radar show any blips as my co-idealists find their stealthy way into this nascent arena?  


Perhaps Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928- ) (3,400 hits) can shed some light on the matter, taking my cue from Dramatic Theology as a Research Program.  Wolfhart emphasizes holism and hermeneutics as a bridge between the sciences and humanities including theology.  

For Pannenberg, the question whether the entire history makes sense or whether there actually is a comprehensive totality of meaning or truth is identical with the question about God.

Show me a coherentist and I'll show you a theistic idealist.  

Therefore time is the condition and the measure of the infinite's appearance in the finite, since the difference between future and presence veils the barrier of the present and lets it shine in the full light of the infinite, as long as its time lasts.  Therefore a definite manifestation of God is not possible until the end of history.

Furthermore, show me a coherentist and I'll show you an eschatologist. 

In the context of this understanding of science and the world, it is important for Christian theology that Jesus acted in an apocalyptic horizon, i.e. that he anticipated the end of the entire history of mankind and the resurrection of all the dead. Only in this context could he talk about God as a reality determining the entire history. However, since Jesus did not appear at the end of the world, but could only foresee the totality, his proclamation remained only a subjective anticipation and consequently problematic and hypothetical.

Pannenberg actually has - almost as the only theologian - got involved in Hume's criticism in an open and honest way. [...] As the bases for determining all concepts are completely different in Hume's and Pannenberg's theory, both systems cannot be directly compared with each other in Murphy's view: they are incommensurable. [...] Moreover, Pannenberg's methodology is unworkable since it finally follows an evolutionary view. In this way one could always describe afterwards only how things have actually developed and there are no clear criteria which theory should be chosen and preferred for the future.  

In our view, Murphy's criticism of Pannenberg is not convincing in important points. First of all, the anticipation of the end of history is no longer a merely abstract or even abstruse claim in our days. [...] Finally the epistemology of Pannenberg is not incommensurable to Hume's epistemology, but just more comprehensive, since it is not only "past-entailing", but "past"- as well as - "future-entailing".  

After her criticism of Pannenberg, Murphy proposes an alternative method for theology and refers to Imre Lakatos in this context.

"Neuro-Science and the Soul" -- a talk given by Dr. Nancey Murphyreviewed by Norman Hall: 

She warned her audience that she would make no hard distinction between mind and soul, but would discuss the long-standing question of the mind/soul as a single or dual entity.  Most philosophers and scientists, she admitted, are monists, now that neuroscience has completed the Darwinian revolution, attributing mind to the brain, and not to any immaterial entity.

So the resolution [according to Murphy] of the problem posed by these multiple levels of description is not to be found in the identity of the phenomenon described, but in "supervenience," which preserves both a non-reductionist description of the person, and allows for divine action in the world of mental events.  

To relate what she was saying to other trends in modern theology, Murphy invoked the theology of Arthur Peacocke, who places theology at the top of a hierarchy of sciences, calling it the most encompassing of the sciences.  Peacocke's position is not pantheistic (wherein there is said to be but one reality, consisting of God identified as world), but is one of "panentheism," wherein the world is in God, but the divine reality must include more than the world.  This, she says, fits her "supervenience" concept, where there is more to the mental than brain, that irreducible "more" being found on the social level.

I am pleasantly surprised that Nancey looks with favor on panentheism. 

Nancey Murphy should be ashamed of herself for trying to pull such an obvious piece of bait-and-switch flim-flam as she did in her formula for the defeat of reductionism. 

At least she has raised the ire of the 'godless' scientists.  

The question for Nancey is that if it is OK for the mind-soul to be supervenient on the body, is it OK for God to be supervenient on the world?   If not, does this not place God entirely beyond our reach, and is that dualism the purpose of her 'physicalism'?  The answer appears to be, 'yes'.  But this is not the thesis of Panentheism of the world in God.  

'Is Science Good for the Soul? Then sings my psychophysical somatic unity!' -- Matt Donnelly (Christianity Today): 

In recent years, Murphy has been saying that human beings do not have a soul, at least not in the way that soul has traditionally been defined—"the spiritual part of a human being that is believed to survive death,"....

...throughout the history of the church, philosophers have carried on esoteric debates about the precise nature of soul that had little impact on believers in the pews. So what's new? What really matters is that, as believers in Christ, we know that when we die, our souls will not perish. [...]  Right?  Not exactly, says Murphy. 

..."while Christians are mostly consumed with opening yet newer rounds in their century-and-a-half-old war with Charles Darwin, they have scarcely the faintest idea that the new consciousness enthusiasm"—that is, the broad consensus represented by secular thinkers such as Dennett, Pinker, and Patricia and Paul Churchland and Christians such as Murphy and Jeeves—"is by far the greater threat to the integrity of Christian belief." The case against dualism, Guelzo suggested, has by no means been definitively made.

What is the case is that Nancey believes in the resurrection: we stay in the grave 'til Judgment Day.  But since she is an irrationalist about the future, allegedly in deference to Darwinism, she can disavow all discussion of this topic.  This is a bizarre spiritual cocktail that Nancey is brewing.  All this to avoid what?  A little coherence?

There is a great desire to protect the mystery of God.  Any transgression of the veil of God would be apocalyptic.  Yes, that is my point.  All of this irrationality is by way of a spiritual filibuster.  But the show must go on.  

While talk of conscious robots or cloned humans may sound like science fiction, Christians must be prepared to engage this brave new world by articulating a vision for the future of humanity that combines scientific knowledge with biblical wisdom. The world is watching. It remains to be seen how Christendom will respond.

Yes, it does remain to be see.  

Books & Culture Corner: "Daddy, What Is the Soul?"  Does the church have an answer? 
By John Wilson 12/10/2001 (Christianity Today): 

The same period has seen an explosion of scholarly interest in "consciousness." There is a vast and steadily growing literature in the field of consciousness studies,..."  Oddly, while all of this has been going on, the church hasn't paid much attention. Sometimes it seems as if everyone but the church is talking about the soul.

Perhaps the theologians are waking up and smelling the coffee.  

'The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent: Can There Be a Scientific "Theory of Creation"?' by Stephen C. Meyer - Reprinted from The Creation Hypothesis, ed. by J.P. Moreland (InterVarsity Press, 1994)

Most scientists who are theists also accept this same conception of science. As Raymond Grizzle wrote in a prominent evangelical scientific journal recently, "God cannot be part of a scientific description. . . . [Further], any description that implies a creator will probably also be looked at as improper by most scientists." Nancey Murphy, a philosopher and Fuller Seminary professor, agrees. She wrote recently in the same journal: "Science qua science seeks naturalistic explanations for all natural processes. Christians and atheists alike must pursue scientific questions in our era without invoking a Creator. . . . Anyone who attributes the characteristics of living things to creative intelligence has by definition stepped into the arena of either metaphysics or theology."

However Christian intellectuals might go about defending methodological naturalism, secular defenders of the principle assure us that the prohibition against invoking God or creative intelligence is anything but arbitrary. Instead, they assert that good independent reasons exist for the conventional exclusion of such notions from all scientific theories. Theories of design or creation do not, they say, meet objective standards of scientific method and practice. Such theories do not explain by reference to natural law, nor do they manifest a host of other features of true scientific theories such as testability, observability and falsifiability. 

Here we see a creationist taking on the theistic defenders of naturalism.  An intra-theistic debate on metaphysics cannot hurt the cause of rational theism.  Idealism finds itself somewhat in the middle of this argument.  The creationists take materialism rather too seriously.  We are confronted with contending dualisms: mind-body, and Creator-creation.  The creationists have so far avoided the mind-body problem, but they are not taking the Deistic path of Murphy & Co.  This may be my final accusation against Nancey: she is a deist.  Her strict dualism allows no other view.  Her favorable mention of panentheism does not jibe with her other beliefs. 



If truth be known, I'm not enamored with the soul. I am glad that Nancey is sticking it to the theologians about the obsolescence of this, their pet concept.  

The soul, incongruously, has been the mainstay of both mysticism and Cartesian materialism.  Within those opposed systems the soul constitutes the main barrier against coherence.  Thus is the soul the great enemy of idealism.  If process philosophy has taught us anything, it ought to be that the soul, along with God, is a process.  We and God are all creatures of the overriding process of love.  

At most, the soul is a repository of potential energy, like a spring, a spring weighted down by its accumulated karmic memories.  Like a compressed spring, it is inherently unstable.  In its relaxation, it returns to and is consumed by love.  That is our salvation and our ecstasy.  God holds the key to our forgiveness.  We cannot work it our by ourselves, no matter how many lives we might spend.  That is the key to the Kingdom, and I would not be particularly surprised if it had something to do with the cryptographic potential of the Monster group.  That extreme mathematical object is essentially the memory, or 'soul', of the material aspect of the world, which must overlap with each of our individual memories.  Topologically, all of Creation along with the Creator is held together as a virtual chain of stitches.  This is also reminiscent of the coiling of the cosmic serpent.  When the trumpet sounds....., well, you get the picture.  

This topological, non-atomic analysis of the soul is possible only in a system that is monistic and coherent.  This is also in agreement with the holographic and fractal nature of reality.  Our souls are the product of a lengthy, historical process of symmetry breaking, as we see in the physics of field theory.  In the eschatological regime, we witness the reversal of that symmetry breaking.  These mechanical metaphors are only to be used as analogical, conceptual aids.  The actual processes are metaphysical in nature.  

The idea of an atomic soul is like a 'zeroth' approximation used in calculating a physical process.  As we move to higher order approximations, the symmetry and topological continuity are restored.  Theologians, not surprisingly, are working with this 'zeroth' approximation of the soul.  They will have to be nudged repeatedly to get them off this mark, and onto a more refined and coherent model of metaphysics.  The first step is always the most difficult.  After that first big step to the next higher approximation, all the other steps will come rather easily.  

The postmodern anti-foundationalism is necessary to deconstruct our atomic concept of the soul, so that a more coherent reconstruction of it may begin.  


Time out for a little idealism: it's always worthwhile to check the latest sources:  

Pluralistic Idealism- Only Mind, Many Minds -- Alan Anderson (1997).  He provides a synopsis of modern idealism.  Alan participates in the New Thought Movement, allegedly based on idealism  

The Personalist Forum is another bastion of contemporary idealism.  

Borges, the Apologist for Idealism: Marina Martin argues that Hume was an implicit idealist, and traces a complete lineage. 

Current Issues in Idealism,  eds. Paul Coates and Daniel D. Hutto (1997): just this blurb: 

This collection of original papers, the only current anthology on twentieth century idealism, shows the debate between idealism and realism to be as important now as it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It brings together an exciting range of views by some of the most distinguished writers in the field.

Focused on the idealist/realist dispute, contributors also discuss the relation of idealism to ethics, metaphysics and epistemology. The volume also deals with the distinction between ontological and conceptual forms of idealism, the place of idealism within the analytic tradition of philosophy and the coherence of the idealist/realist distinction.

The contributors include: Donald Davidson, Timothy Sprigge, Tom Sorrell, Phillip Ferreira, Leslie Armour, Michele Marsonet. 

Not exactly a ground swell, not yet.  Nicholas Rescher is not a contributor, and none of his many articles is listed as online.  That Davidson is an idealist would be a surprise to me. 

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ANGLO-AMERICAN IDEALISM At the Olympic Centre for Philosophy and Culture and the Municipality of Pyrgos of Elia, Greece, 20th-25th August 2003.  It sounds nice.  Includes a long list of participants.  

...and (iii) a discussion of the continuation and revival of Anglo-American Idealism in the work of Dorothy Emmet, Errol E. Harris, Rex Martin, Peter P. Nicholson, Nicholas Rescher, Timothy Sprigge, and others.

The first two listed are no longer with us.  Still no groundswell.  I see no linkage between this list of idealists and our previous list of anti-reductionists

Despite the paucity of these lists, I'm under the impression that, of the philosophically active theists, most are also idealists of one sort or another, and vice versa; Nancey Murphy being a very conspicuous exception.  This important fact of philosophical life has not registered with the theistic community. 

'Mereological Considerations in Vasubandhu's "Proof of Idealism"' by Matthew Kapstein, University of Chicago, for the Studies in Yogacara Buddhism seminar of the American Academy of Religion (1998): 

Vasubandhu, the founder of Buddhist philosophical idealism, has been the object of considerable philological research since the latter part of the 19th century. Historical data alone justify the efforts that have been made, for, with the translation of his works into Chinese, Tibetan and not a few other languages, Vasubandhu's thought became, from about the 6th century onwards, a dominant force in central and east Asian intellectual life.

It is instructive to ponder the considerations which led Aristotle to shun idealism in favor of his continuity-theory, and which led Vasubandhu to make just the opposite move. For the Stagirite, the notion that a body might be "nothing but an appearance" is patently absurd, and is tantamount to maintaining that ". . . its constituents are nothings, . . . it might both come-to-be out of nothings and exist as a composite of nothings."  If we agree that this is not possibly correct, and reject atomism at the same time, then we have no choice but to seek, with Aristotle, an alternative theory of matter.

Vasubandhu, on the other hand, aims to demonstrate that the atomic theory is both false and necessary: ". . . atomic distinctions must be supposed; and there can be no simple atom." Wherefore, matter is naught but ideal. Vasubandhu, if he is to make his case, must demonstrate the truth of the premises of a simple modus tollens argument: (1) If material things exist independently of the perceptions in which they are given, then they must be atomic in composition. (2) But they cannot be atomic in composition. Therefore, (3) material things do not exist independently of the perceptions in which they are given.



My contention in these pages is that anti-reductionism entails idealism.  The arguments of Vasubandhu appear to be supporting this view.  But let's continue: 

At this writing, I am not at all certain that Vasubandhu's four counterexamples can be made to do the work demanded of them, i.e. demonstrate that, on the assumption that matter is real, atomism necessarily follows. They do, however, underscore several of the difficulties which must be resolved by the continuity-theory, if it is to be made capable of fully expressing our commonplace intuitions with respect to parts and wholes.

Vasubandhu sought to prove idealism by demonstrating, like Kant, that our concept of composite material wholes necessarily entails there being simple, atomic substances; and that atomism is false. In so doing, he, no less than the latter, underestimated the potential strengths of the continuity-theory, and of the point-particle theory. It may be asked: would even a fully successful argument of this type be sufficient to demonstrate the truth of idealism?

It looks like I have to bone up on my Yogacara.  I'll be using materials from the above mentioned seminar. 

I should have been investigating eastern idealism before this.  I was not aware of the analytic aspect of that tradition.  As a coherentist, I am not keen on the analytical; however, putting an analytical nail in the coffin of materialism may prove very useful. 

A major issue with Buddhism will be the reality of persons.  I am not an absolutist about souls.  They exist in God's 'memory'.  We'll see how that works out with our Buddhist buddhies. 

'External Objects Do Not Exist' by Dan Lusthaus, Florida State University (1997): 

Maatra ("only"), according to this interpretation, acts as an approving affirmation of mind as the true reality. However, the Yogacarin writings themselves argue something very different. Consciousness (vijñaana) is not the ultimate reality or solution, but rather the root problem. This problem emerges in ordinary mental operations, and it can only be solved by bringing those operations to an end.

Sounds like eschatology.  Perhaps there are two minds: mundane and not so mundane. 

That the term vijñapti-maatra has been valorised while no one would dream of valorizing the other -maatra compounds is perhaps a testament to the pernicious persistence of bhaavaasava, the compulsion to assert something existent to which one can cling. That is one of two extremes from which the middle way is designed to steer us (nihilism is the other). Yogacara is deeply concerned about the human propensity to posit things we can appropriate.

Yogacara tends to be misinterpreted as a form of metaphysical idealism primarily because its teachings are taken to be ontological propositions rather than epistemological warnings about karmic problems. The Yogacara focus on cognition and consciousness grew out of its analysis of karma, and not for the sake of metaphysical speculation. Two things should be clarified in order to explain why Yogacara is not metaphysical idealism: 1. The meaning of the word "idealism" and 2. an important difference between the way Indian and Western philosophers do philosophy.

OK, let's get down to business: 

Tellingly no Indian Yogacara text ever claims that the world is created by mind. What they do claim is that we mistake our projected interpretations of the world for the world itself, i.e., we take our own mental constructions to be the world.

Are my buddhies drawing a line in the sand?  Didn't someone already say, 'A world is a world is a world.'  Is there some other world that I missed?  If I were to save the world, which world would I be saving?  I can only do one.  Is the world an illusion?  Of course, but it sure as heck ain't our illusion.  It is God's.  Only a slight emendation.  Of course, we are God's helpers: like the elves at Christmas.  

The arguments Yogacara deploys frequently resemble those made by epistemological idealists. Recognizing those affinities Western scholars early in the twentieth century compared Yogacara to Kant, and more recently scholars have begun to think that Husserl's phenomenology comes even closer.

But there are also important differences between those Western philosophers and Yogacara. The three most important are: Kant and Husserl play down notions of causality, while Yogacara developed complex systematic causal theories it deemed to be of the greatest importance; there is no counterpart to either karma or enlightenment in the Western theories, while these are the very raison d'être for all Yogacara theory and practice; finally, the Western philosophies are designed to afford the best possible access to an ontological realm (at least sufficient to acknowledge its existence), while Yogacara is critical of that motive in all its manifestations.

'Yogacara Buddhism in China' by CHEN-KUO LIN: 

Unhappy about some scholars, 'mainly from the Anglo-Saxon cultural sphere', having challenged the Yogacara 'idealist' ontology of 'nothing but cognition', in his paper entitled 'On the Problem of the External world in Ch'eng wei shih lun', Lambert Schmithausen vigorously argued that 'the existence of "extra-mental" material (or other) entities' is rejected not only as objects of cognition but also as such without any qualification. Although he might not have the final word, Schmithausen's paper can be seen as one of the most significant responses to the dispute initiated by Alex Wayman in the 1970s and espoused by many scholars since, including Dan Lusthaus, who strongly challenged a non-idealist interpretation.

[...] As expected, a sort of anti-idealist stance is clearly demonstrable in Lusthaus' hermeneutics.

Yes, all this is just a bit confusing!  Back to you, Dan: 

In contrast to the cognitive karmic dimension, Buddhism considered material elements karmically neutral. The problem with material things is not their materiality, but the psychology of appropriation - desiring, grasping, clinging, attachment - that permeates our ideas and perceptions of such things. It is not the materiality of gold that leads to problems, but rather our ideas about the value of gold and the attitudes and actions we engage in as a result of those ideas.

The mind doesn't create the physical world, but it produces the interpretative categories through which we know and classify the physical world, and it does this so seamlessly that we mistake our interpretations for the world itself. Those interpretations, which are projections of our desires and anxieties, become obstructions preventing us from seeing what is actually the case. In simple terms we are blinded by our own self-interests, our own prejudices (which means what is already prejudged), our desires. Unenlightened cognition is an appropriative act. Yogacara does not speak about subjects and objects; instead it analyzes perception in terms of graspers and what is grasped.

This sounds like a preachy version of Kant.  How 'bout that Noumena?  The Noumena is the Unconscious.  No?  Let's not complicate things.  Dan does not say what the world is, all by its lonesome.  Someone terribly more crass than myself might say, 'Put up or shut up, Dan!' 

'Conceptions of the Absolute in Mahayana Buddhism and Shinran' by John Paraskevopoulos:

In closing, I would like to reiterate the great importance of an adequate and satisfying conception of the Absolute as being indispensable to the Buddhist path.  In a climate of increasing scepticism and reductionism, especially in certain Buddhist scholarly circles in the West, it is imperative that one does not lose sight of the fact that without such concepts as Dharmakaya, Suchness, Nirvana, Sunyata etc. being grounded in a true and existing reality which both transcends and suffuses all things, Buddhism is left without any foundations and stands on nothing, thereby losing all sapiential and soteriological efficacy.  In the attempt by some to make Buddhism more fashionable by denying that it has anything much in common with views of ultimate reality in other spiritual traditions, it does itself a great disservice in failing to recognise clear parallels where they exist - parallels, indeed, which should not surprise anyone.  To speak of all these terms to describe the Absolute as ‘symbolic’ in an attempt to somehow downgrade the reality of the ultimate object of aspiration is sheer folly - of what exactly are they symbols ?  To be sure, these terms do not exhaust the fathomless depth of the reality to which they refer but, on the other hand, neither are they empty symbols created by us in order to fulfill some kind of nostalgic and delusory quest for the Infinite which has no basis in the true nature of things. A spiritual path which cannot offer any deliverance from that which is finite, imperfect and illusory, to that which affords eternal blessedness and liberation from suffering and the painful clutches of samsaric existence, is simply not worthy of the name.

Soteriological?  Now we're talking!  Yes, those reductionists are wont to run roughshod over almost everything.  But what can they do about those atoms?  Those atoms are tough titties. 

'The Theory of Evolutionary Process as a Unifying Paradigm' by Frank Barr, MD

As Alfred North Whitehead (1929) has facetiously pointed out: "Scientists, animated by the purpose of proving they are purposeless, constitute an interesting subject for study."

Nirvana and Samsara Are Not the Same: Adi Da Samraj

But both of these great conceptions have frequently been reduced to popular ideas or beliefs and conventional ideals of the beginner's mind and the earlier stages of life. Indeed, the larger tradition of the Mahayana was specifically oriented toward this popular reductionism, because it intended to be a popular religion rather than a "hard school" reserved exclusively for those who were capable of the most mature and advanced kind of practice. It is this aspect of the Mahayana that represents a tendency to decline from the original attitude of the Buddhist tradition, and it is this will to popularize Buddhist institutions that is the seed of the false views or conventional reductionism I have just described. Indeed, the pressures created by the needs of a popular institutional system are what have created the greatest problems for all esoteric and Transcendentalist traditions. The will to "save" everyone (or to reduce the profound disciplines and intuitions of the Way of Truth to a path that is acceptable even to those who have neither the time nor the inclination to submit themselves to the Truth) is the cause of all the most devastating compromises in philosophy. Of course, the intention to serve and Help others also has undeniable merit, and so all Teachers and traditions must struggle to serve humanity and yet retain the authenticity of confinement to Truth.

Is Universalism that bad?  



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