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Friday, July 08, 2011

Survey Says, Percentage of Philosophers Who Are Atheists Equals Zero

A survey of Plato, that is, the man who created the discipline.

That is because, for Plato, to be a philosopher meant to be one who had turned one's soul (periagoge) away from the merely phenomenal world of shadows on the cave wall, and had climbed up into the light of the truth of the forms, especially the truth that, at the "height" of the journey, one sees that the form of the good, the form of justice, the form of beauty, and the form of truth all come together as one. That one, of course, we call God, as did Plato. To have failed to make that turning of the soul was to be stuck in the world of shadows, about which there was opinion (doxa), but no true knowledge (episteme).  Thus, thus who lectured and taught without having made the turning were lovers of opinion (philodoxos), or sophists, and not philosophers. Plato explicitly said the main defining characteristic of the philodoxer was the denial of the One, i.e., atheism. So philosophy was defined, by its founder, as the rejection of and fight against atheism.

Therefore, when they do these surveys and ask how philosophers if they are atheists, and soon as they check 'yes' they should be dropped from the survey.

28 comments:

  1. Ah, circular arguments.

    X is Y, because I define X as Y.

    What are you, a libertarian?

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  2. Praterk, a definition is not a circular argument at all: it is a definition. But one can argue for or against a definition, and so I did: something essential about the original meaning is lost if we apply the term to philodoxers. And there is nothing circular about THAT argument.

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  3. I'm not sure what to make of this. Is this just a cheap jab at nonbelievers or a serious point about definitions? If the former, I'm really wasting my time here. And if the latter, what's with the implied argument from authority? Anyway, here are my thoughts.

    Plato was a prolific writer with some great insight (I especially enjoy reading his dialogues), but overall his arguments for idealism were BS. If contemporary philosophers aren't really philosophers because they recognize the intellectual bankruptcy of theistic arguments, then contemporary physicists aren't really physicists because they reject Aristotle's "things fall because that's their nature" -theory of gravity.

    Philosophy is not what Plato defined it to be, it's a loose discipline characterized by reasoning and thinking about some deep sh*t. If you apply Platonic definitions to modern concepts, you're right: there really aren't any philosophers left. And guess what? Philosophers don't take Plato's words as dogma. In fact, most would recognize his intellectual influence yet admit that his works are, in light of contemporary analytical philosophy, awful. I believe this heresy is called "critical thinking" or something like that.

    (The last point is so trivial I actually feel a little embarrassed for pointing it out. Like you're going to hit me with a "Hah, you didn't think I was serious did you?" or something.)

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  4. A true philodoxer gives us his opinions: Idealism is BS! Plato's works are awful, judged by the standards of sophists! Theism is about "arguments"!

    This was a wonderful illustration of this post's point. Thank you.

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  5. What is really interesting in Watoosh's post is the lack of self-awareness. He is certain that philosophy is about "arguments" and the point is whether one wins them or not. That, of course, is precisely the position of the sophists. So his post amounts to, "Contemporary philosophy is today controlled by sophists, and we aren't very impressed with Plato"!

    As I said, a perfect illustration of my point!

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  6. 1) There were philosophers, by any reasonable definition, before Plato; they just didn't use that specific term at the time. (Why would the Chinese use a Greek term anyway, lacking any contact between the cultures?)

    2) You needn't claim agreement with any of Plato's particular points to reasonably consider yourself a philosopher.

    3) Even if you're not a "philosopher" by this definition, you can still be part of the conceptspace people are trying to call out when they use the term, making this a mere issue of labels, and not a relevant point about who to include in surveys of "philosophers".

    4) Plato's ontology on which he makes this classification could be (and most likely is) totally wrong, rendering irrelevant any distinction grounded thereon.

    5) The common, assumed definitions of "theism" and "God" in modern parlance -- probably assumed by those taking the survey -- are not the ones you have given here.

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  7. "1) There were philosophers, by any reasonable definition, before Plato;"

    Not by Plato's definition, there weren't. (Pythagoras might be an exception, or Parmenides, but they wold have agreed with Plato here, so, so what?

    "2) You needn't claim agreement with any of Plato's particular points to reasonably consider yourself a philosopher."

    You can consider yourself a fireman even if you never have put out a fire or ridden in a firetruck. That doesn't make you one.

    "3) Even if you're not a "philosopher" by this definition, you can still be part of the conceptspace people are trying to call out when they use the term, making this a mere issue of labels, and not a relevant point about who to include in surveys of "philosophers"."

    It is relevant in exactly the way I said in my first comment here.

    "4) Plato's ontology on which he makes this classification could be (and most likely is) totally wrong, rendering irrelevant any distinction grounded thereon."

    It is not "an ontology," it is a poetic representation of a real experience. You can have that experience yourself.

    "5) The common, assumed definitions of "theism" and "God" in modern parlance -- probably assumed by those taking the survey -- are not the ones you have given here."

    Anyone who has gotten through a PhD program, holds Plato's views, and yet does not recognize he is a theist, should not have gotten through that program!

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  8. So, you're saying that people can't correctly label themselves as philosophers

    ... because Plato created the discipline, and said it includes specific things they don't believe/do

    ... even though people were engaging in *phila* of *soph* long before him, to the point that normal, well adjusted people recognize the predecessors as "philosophers"

    ... and the terms has now taken a meaning more broad (and well-informed) than Plato intended ...

    Yes, if you define philosophy as aping the nebulous "God is the stuff projecting the shadows" confusion, then lots of purported philosophers aren't. But why should anyone care about that standard, especially given modern usage of terms and the fruitlessness of this supposed master's approach?

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  9. 'Yes, if you define philosophy...'

    I am not trying to define philosophy. I am pointing out something lost from the original usage.

    " as aping"

    Aping? WTF? If one uses a recipe by Julia Child from a cookbook, is one "aping" Julia Child?

    ' the nebulous "God is the stuff projecting the shadows" confusion,'

    It is "nebulous" only if you mistake it for empirical proposition. It is not. It is a hint as to how to get out of the mess you are in.

    "But why should anyone care about that standard, especially given modern usage of terms..."

    Which have created the modern crisis...

    " and the fruitlessness of this supposed master's approach?'"

    Aristotle, Plotinus, and Augustine all found it pretty fruitful. Through Augustine, the approach was essential in creating Medieval Civilization. I'd say the Cathedral of Chartres is pretty good fruit! I've found it fruitful as well.

    But I suppose, since you've actually tried to do what Plato recommended, and found a better way to achieve periagoge, you're probably right.

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  10. Wow! A philosopher and his acolytes found their own approach useful to *themselves*! Guess what? So do I! So does anyone!

    How about this: What technology was Plato's philosophy responsible for?

    I appeal to that standard because it's an unfakeable proof of knowledge accumulation. Otherwise, you end up "proving" the fruitfulness of Plato et al's approach by appealing back to, "but some circle-*** navel-gazers agreed it's right!"

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  11. "It is not "an ontology," it is a poetic representation of a real experience. You can have that experience yourself."

    Dr. Callahan, would you be willing to elaborate on what you mean when you say that we can "have that experience" ourselves? What exactly should one do in order to have this experience? Are you referring to something like western mysticism?

    Further, if this experience gives us knowledge of true "reality" (i.e., a different/higher reality than merely that of the material world), then surely it is not only a poetic representation, but also an ontology, no?

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  12. "Wow! A philosopher and his acolytes found their own approach useful to *themselves*! Guess what? So do I! So does anyone!"

    Silas, Plato is giving us guidance on how to achieve something. Let's say Julia Childs gives us help tips on making a cake. I say, "Silas, this cake comes out great! You should try it." What kind of nonsense is it to come back with, "Everyone's recipe for cake works FOR THEM."

    No, some recipes for cake do not work at all. Others produce really bad cakes. Some work well.

    "How about this: What technology was Plato's philosophy responsible for?"

    What technology were the works of Shakespeare responsible for? What technology was Mozart responsible for?

    "but some circle-*** navel-gazers agreed it's right!"

    You might ask yourself what state has your psyche gotten into that only producing a tech gadget makes an activity worthwhile? You might ask yourself what state has your psyche gotten into that you keep distorting what I'm saying. The point is not that, say. Augustine AGREED with Plato. It's that he tried the procedure Plato recommended and found that it worked. (Of course, Augustine found it worked even better if you added faith in Christ to the recipe.)

    Look, I understand, you come here and to Bob's blog because you know something is missing, and you have a feeling we might be able to help. We're trying, but you have to do your part as well.

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  13. Mr. Sunness, Plato, usually in the character of Socrates, gives extensive instructions in his dialogues for what one should do to follow the path of philosophy. Even THAT is a shortcut: really, you ought to be apprenticed to a philosopher. It would be stupid to try to condense even further, but the term you want is "periagoge."

    "Further, if this experience gives us knowledge of true "reality" (i.e., a different/higher reality than merely that of the material world), then surely it is not only a poetic representation, but also an ontology, no?"

    No. Sorry, you have it wrong. Even your way of phrasing the question is wrong. There is not some "different/higher reality" we mysteriously "gain access" to. There is just the exact same reality that has always been there. It is we who have changed.

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  14. Suppose a blind man, after many years of stumbling in the darkness, is taught to open his eyes. Suddenly, for the first time, he experiences light and color.

    Now, you could say "There is just the exact same reality that has always been there. It is the blind man who has changed, by learning to open his eyes." And that would be true.

    But you could also say that the blind man has indeed "gained access" to an aspect of reality hitherto concealed from him. Would that not also be true?

    I guess I'm just trying to understand how (if) we disagree.

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  15. Bruce, I don't think we disagree so much as I am worried about trying to explain the myth in discursive terms. Myths should be contemplated, not (mis)-translated as if they are a series of discursive propositions.

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  16. "Anyone who has gotten through a PhD program, holds Plato's views, and yet does not recognize he is a theist, should not have gotten through that program!"

    Well Gene, I haven't entered a program, and I've barely read Plato.

    I must be confused. The description of Plato's theism reminds me of the secular, humanistic explanation of the concept of god I read in Erich Fromm's stuff. But people taking your survey would answer the question strictly, as if you asked them whether or not they believed in magic.

    Since it seems so clear that atheists in the literal sense can be theists in the romantic sense, I'm pretty sure I've missed the point. Do I wait for you to respond, or just read Plato? ; )

    Cheers

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  17. "I must be confused."

    Good call.

    "The description of Plato's theism reminds me of the secular, humanistic explanation of the concept of god I read in Erich Fromm's stuff."

    Plato is not trying to give an explanation for why some people believe in God! He is *describing* God.

    And his description is much like (while not identical to) that of Augustine and Aquinas. So any claim that his description has nothing to do with the modern view is nonsense. (In fact, a neat, although simplistic, formula, might be "Christian God = Hebrew God + Plato's God."

    A sign of how far our education system has collapsed: People like John and Silas find it humorous or even outrageous that one might actually have to read Plato to understand him. If it can't be captured in a 10-line blog comment, it ain't worth knowing.

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  18. Yes, Plato is describing God. His description of God seems similar to the description of God given by humanists like Fromm. God is "the highest good", or the culmination of man's "highest goods": love, justice, beauty, truth. Idol-less religion.

    If we disagree that someone who does not believe literally in a "sky daddy" can be religious in the above sense and thus a philosopher by Plato's definition, I have conceded that *I* must have made a mistake. I concede precisely because I have not done the reading. Since my comment was much closer to a request for correction than a disputation, I thought it was fine to post.

    "A sign of how far our education system has collapsed: People like John and Silas find it humorous or even outrageous that one might actually have to read Plato to understand him. If it can't be captured in a 10-line blog comment, it ain't worth knowing."

    Gene, that isn't how I feel or what I wrote. I mentioned that I hadn't read much Plato and that perhaps I should do so (instead of asking you questions) out of humility and embarrassment. That has got to be the most uncharitable reading of my post possible.

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  19. 'Yes, Plato is describing God. His description of God seems similar to the description of God given by humanists like Fromm. God is "the highest good", or the culmination of man's "highest goods"'

    Well, the agathon for Plato is certainly NOT a projection of human goods onto some imaginary being! The agathon is something we encounter after our ascent from the cave.

    "If we disagree that someone who does not believe literally in a "sky daddy"..."

    Yes, let's stupidly insult others' understanding of the divine and then whinge about "uncharitable readings."

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  20. "Well, the agathon for Plato is certainly NOT a projection of human goods onto some imaginary being! The agathon is something we encounter after our ascent from the cave."

    That's the correction I needed.

    "Yes, let's stupidly insult others' understanding of the divine..."

    I wasn't insulting others. Tactless and in my view insecure atheists often call god "sky daddy", "spaghetti monster", etc. to make the people they're debating seem like children. I put the term in quotes to signal that it wasn't my use. I used the term in the first place to make clear that when I call someone an atheist today I do not mean someone whose "soul hasn't turned" but rather someone who does not accept what is explicitly supernatural. (but may accept a romantic, naturalist religion like Fromm's humanism)

    "...and then whine about "uncharitable readings."

    It's happened again. I'm guessing you don't believe that you've misread my tone, and I won't make myself prostrate trying to convince you. This is what blogs are like, I guess.

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  21. OK, John, sorry. After dealing with snide commenters for so long, I guess I've become too cynical. My apologies.

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  22. It's all good. I do read your comments and sympathize.

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  23. Sigh.

    1) I define "philosopher" as "a person who is, among other things, a theist".
    2) Theists are not atheists.
    3) Therefore, philosophers are not atheists.

    *golf clap*

    I came here expecting something. I got nothing.

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    Replies
    1. Of course, what you outline is nothing like what is said above: hey, you bring nothing, you get nothing!

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    2. Pretty accurate. Thanks for the syllogism. I think some people here need a little logic in their lives.

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  24. Gene, spot on. Philosophy has forgotten what it is, and modern philosophers may be thinkers (what the greeks called phrontista) but not lovers of knowledge, because they don't believe that truth exists and you can't love something if you don't believe it exists. They redefined truth as a property of a statement, making is subjective and unreal and missing the main point that led Plato to found the discipline of philosophy (though I think the term was coined a bit earlier by Pythagoras). Form is the true reality, and if you don't get that you live in a world of illusion and haven't grasped the point of philosophy.

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  25. Gene, spot on. Philosophy has forgotten what it is, and modern philosophers may be thinkers (what the greeks called phrontista) but not lovers of knowledge, because they don't believe that truth exists and you can't love something if you don't believe it exists. They redefined truth as a property of a statement, making is subjective and unreal and missing the main point that led Plato to found the discipline of philosophy (though I think the term was coined a bit earlier by Pythagoras). Form is the true reality, and if you don't get that you live in a world of illusion and haven't grasped the point of philosophy.

    ReplyDelete