Thursday, November 26, 2020

Two Sections of my Next Book Up For Comments

As I have mentioned here before, I am currently mining fifteen years of blog posts for one or more books. I now have drafts  of the first two sections of one book webbed for comments, a section on libertarianism and a much shorter section on religion. Feel free to comment here or by email to


Ahmed Fares said...

"If an object is sitting on my desk, the odds are overwhelmingly high that, a second later, the same object, at least a very similar object, will be in the same place or very close."

There are those who hold a different view.

"I do not know what is at the house at present. All I know is I left a book in the house, which is perhaps now a horse that has defiled the library with its urine and dung, and that I have left in the house a jar of water, which may have turned into an apple tree." -Ghazali (The Incoherence Of The Philosophers)

Because of continuous creation, there is no causal glue to bind events together. It is only because of God's habit that we see things as persistent. This then gives rise to the illusion of causality. Ghazali again:

"The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary, according to us. But [with] any two things, where "this" is not "that" and "that" is not "this", and where neither the affirmation of the one entails the affirmation of the other nor the negation of the one entails negation of the other, it is not a necessity of the existence of the one that the other should exist, and it is not a necessity of the nonexistence of the one that the other should not exist. . . . Their connection is due to the prior decree of God, who creates them side by side, not to its being necessary in itself, incapable of separation." -Ghazali (The Incoherence Of The Philosophers)

Speaking of continuous creation, this from the Qur'an:

"Do they not see how Allah originates the creation, (and) then repeats it: Truly that is easy for Allah." -Qur'an 29:19

Continuous creation is what the Sufi gnostics see in the state of enlightenment. As such, it is no longer faith but rather certainty. Certainty being the goal of all mystic paths.

Interestingly, these ideas have appeared in other traditions, as this quote shows:

"Or what if the spoon you hold in your hand is not a static mass of steel but rather a certain number of atoms destroyed and recreated every millisecond, a process happening so fast that when you move the spoon around in the air, the appearance of movement is really nothing more than those atoms being created, destroyed, and recreated in different space at different time in discrete moments?

I’m not suggesting you can bend the spoon with your mind; I’m only describing one way theologians, including Jonathan Edwards (1703–58), may have explained how God sustains creation in time and space.

The theory is called continuous creation (also continued or continual creation). At root, it suggests creation and providence are both ex nihilo, out of nothing."

William H. Stoddard said...

What's going on with your links? I've tried clicking on "The Rest of the World," both in Safari and in Firefox, and there's no response in either. Is something broken?

David Friedman said...

Yes something was broken. For links to three chapters, I had forgotten to click the box that makes the link relative rather than absolute.

Now fixed. Thanks for pointing it out.

William H. Stoddard said...

Prager's argument seems to have been addressed a long time ago in one of Plato's dialogues, the Euthyphro. In that dialogue, Socrates asks if the gods love holy things because they are holy, or if holy things are holy because the gods love them. If, for example, abuse of guests is unholy, and one of the gods decided that they loved abusing guests, would that mean that the god was wrong in some way? or would abusing guests suddenly become holy? I think it may have been Anthony Flew who said that an appreciation of that argument was evidence of a philosophical turn of mind.

If the second answer is correct, then what is holy is ultimately just a question of arbitrary power. The gods love X, and since we cannot stand against the gods, we had better love X too (though it's also possible to admire someone like Prometheus who stands against the gods as heroic). But then to say that the gods are holy, or are defenders of holiness, is simply to say that the gods like whatever they happen to like. It doesn't show that the gods have any special merit. Great Cthulhu might love murder and madness, as his worshippers claim, but that doesn't mean loving murder and madness is virtuous, in him or in them.

If the first answer is correct, then we can judge for ourselves that certain things are holy and others are not, and praise the gods for being the sort of beings who could not but love those things and who would never wrongfully elevate other things to holiness (though Greek legends don't always support such a benign view—which made Plato so uncomfortable that he talked of censoring the poets to prevent their telling unseemly tales of the gods). But then we can judge for ourselves what is holy or unholy; we don't need the gods to tell us, and indeed we can know it even if there are no gods.

There are all kinds of parallels to the Euthyphro argument. For example, does the state exist to defend rights that we inherently have, or do we have rights only because the state chooses to defend them? The former seems to have been the view of the Founders; the latter is the view of legal realists such as the Progressives of the early 20th century, and is now widely accepted, so much so that I have encountered people who simply cannot take the former seriously. But it seems to me that anyone who thinks in terms of the latter view cannot understand the Constitution at all. On the former view it's an imperfect attempt to achieve an independently knowable goal; on the latter it simply makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

A curious thing about Hobbes is that, in his discussion of taxation, he argues that the state exists to prevent people from being murdered; that every man values his life equally; and that therefore the state is obliged to tax every man equally—not a flat tax, which is an equal percentage of income or wealth or something, but a head tax, which is an equal amount (this came up in a book I was copy editing some years ago, and I found it striking). That sounds as if Hobbes's concept of the arbitrary power of the sovereign excludes its having the power to tax people any way it likes; indeed, given the low level of wealth in England in his time, and its uneven distribution, it seems to limit the sovereign to charging a very low tax and getting by on a very small budget. It's curious to see such an argument from a man usually viewed as a harshly cynical realist.

David Friedman said...

@William Stoddard:

Very interesting. I plan to add your point to the chapter, either as a direct quote of your comment, if you have no objection, or its contents incorporated into my text.

William H. Stoddard said...

Is this the one about Plato or the one about Hobbes? In either case, I'm glad to be quoted or to have my comment made use of, as long as the usual acknowledgment is given. I'm happy to have said something useful!

Dirk Massat S.A said...