Kierkegaard and Faith

I like Kierkegaard’s take on faith as explained in this video starting at 6:23……

 

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The Agnostic’s Prayer

Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to ensure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.

~Roger Zelazny, from his novel Creatures of Light and Darkness

Subjected Will

homerThe idea of free will is one often thought and debated about. But I think the concept of free will is often oversimplified. The argument is presented as though you either have 100% free will or you 100% don’t.

In reality your will is neither 100%-free nor 100%-not-free. Your will is subject to more powerful forces and, whether conscious of it or not, you will always make decisions, you will always do what you want to do, under the influence of these other forces. Your will is subject to your desires, and your desires are subject to your nature. You will always do what you want to do (your desires), and what you want to do is always driven by who you are at a fundamental level (your nature).

Some might argue: “I always do what I want? No. I do things I don’t want to do all the time. I don’t want to exercise in the morning, but I still do it.” But that argument assumes that one can only have one desire at a time. I assume you would never want to run into a burning building. No one wants to be burned alive and die from smoke inhalation. But what if your child was trapped in that building? Suddenly your desire to not die in the fire is outweighed by your desire to save your child. There are two desires, but one overpowers the other, and the overpowering desire determines your willful decision. Which desire is more powerful in your life? The desire to spend an extra hour in your comfy bed? Or the desire to be healthy?

One would have to be a pretty big scumbag to not want to save their child from a burning building in order to avoid getting burned themself. One’s nature would have to be seriously flawed to do that. And yet, there are parents who intentionally hurt their own children. Where does this flawed nature come from? Do we all have it?

Because of our fallen nature we are all subject to evil desires, which then lead us to do evil things. Only with a new nature is there any hope we can become good. Only when the old nature dies and a resurrection occurs can a new nature be born.

Some would argue: “I’m already good!” Okay, but compared to who? Compared to Hitler? Or compared to God? The standard matters. Your will is subject to your desires, your desires are subject to your nature. Who is your nature subject to?

Related reading: Predisposed to Rule; On Free Will

 

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Quotes #21

“The disappearance of war threatens us with the loss of the ability to distinguish between play and seriousness. Let us admit openly: war is the prime example of deadly earnestness. Any action in which I am prepared to risk my life resembles war. Even love sinks to the level of a game when there is no risk of life involved.”

~from Planetary Service: A Way Into the Third Millennium, page 5

Thoughts Without Words?

WFE0

In Orwell’s 1984, the totalitarian government is continuously improving on their replacement of old English called Newspeak. The goal of Newspeak is to limit the vocabulary of the people down to the point where they won’t be able to think any thoughts the government doesn’t want them to. It assumes that thoughts can not be expressed without corresponding words, and that thoughts cannot even be thought without those words.

As Orwell writes in the appendix of 1984

“It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever. To give a single example. The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’ or ‘This field is free from weeds’. It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’ since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.”

So, is it true? Is it true that it’s not possible to have certain thoughts if your own vocabulary does not have the words to correspond to those thoughts?

In his book, The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker says it’s not true. Words and thoughts are not the same. Potential thoughts are not necessarily limited by a limited vocabulary.

“The idea that thought is the same thing as language is an example of what can be called a conventional absurdity: a statement that goes against all common sense but that everyone believes because they dimly recall having heard it somewhere and because it is so pregnant with implications.”*

“People can be forgiven for overrating language. Words make noise, or sit on a page, for all to hear and see. Thoughts are trapped inside the head of the thinker. To know what someone else is thinking, or to talk to each other about the nature of thinking, we have to use — what else, words! It is no wonder that many commentators have trouble even conceiving of thoughts without words — or is it that they just don’t have the language to talk about it?
As a cognitive scientist I [Pinker] can afford to be smug about common sense being true (thought is different from language) and linguistic determinism [the idea that limited vocabulary limits thoughts] being a conventional absurdity… [There is] a body of experimental studies that break the word barrier and asses many kinds of nonverbal thought.”**

An example Pinker uses is the false idea people have about the Inuit (Eskimos) having many different words for snow, implying they have a deeper understanding for snow than us “southerners” do. He says this is based on false data and the Inuit have approximately the same number of words for snow as the English language.

There is more to say about this. I am currently reading this book and will write a review on it later.

A good question to ask at this point is: What is the difference between thoughts and ideas?

*Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. Penguin, 2015, page 55.
**Ibid., page 65.

Further reading: Past & Future: Connected by Speech