“A” rarely if ever equals “A” only

Sully wrote:

When someone says “A” you look for a reason he may really mean “B”.

Absolutely. “A” has no intrinsic meaning. “A” is defined only ever by a “B,” a “C,” a “D” and so on, backwards and forwards, to first principles, which, as it happens, in the case of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, are the same first principles.

I was just reading the lines below in Religion of Reason (which, incidentally, lives up to the Straussian accolades – see sidebar for link), from the Talmud:

In that hour, in which man is led to judgment, it is said to him: did you execute your business in good faith? Did you appoint times for the study of the Torah? … Did you pursue your studies with wisdom? Did you make inferences on the basis of one sentence to another?

In quoting the passage, Hermann Cohen emphasizes that the word for “wisdom” also translates as “method.” He also notes that this emphasis on methodological knowledge – “inference of one sentence on the basis of another” – connects the Jewish to the Greek spirit (Jerusalem and Athens) as well as Judaism to its “daughter” Islam, the latter two having been “intimately” connected throughout the Middle Ages, their shared first principles residing in monotheism. Such intimate relationships – rather like real world mother-daughter relationships, or, in fuster’s example, arguments between brothers (or in the Bible between Cain and Abel) – can, of course, become all the more violent and perplexing because of their very intimacy.

The greatest impiety in the Western (Greek) tradition, the Judaic tradition, and the Islamic tradition would be the refusal to “make inferences on the basis of one sentence to another” – which refusal is the spirit of literalism, also the spirit of so-called “common sense” and the ridicule of intellectualism or mere “angel-counting.” A philosopher who placed himself self-consciously in the Christian tradition put it this way:

Since the man of common sense makes his appeal to feeling, to an oracle within his breast, he is finished and done with anyone who does not agree; he only has to explain that he has nothing more to say to anyone who does not find and feel the same in himself [!]. In other words, he tramples underfoot the roots of humanity. For it is the nature of humanity to press onward to agreement with others; human nature only really exists in an achieved community of minds. The anti-human, the merely animal, consists in staying within the sphere of feelings, and being able to communicate only at that level.

This is what I see too many calling for: A “common sense” rejection of a misunderstood, mis-defined collective other. It is the contradiction that pervades the Islamophobic right, and that recurs at every level of political discussion – a constant betrayal of what it is that the self-styled advocates of the Judeo-Christian West pretend to be defending. Yes, the alternative approach, the one rejected by literalists and common-sensicalists alike, is difficult, and puts many simple securities and habits of mind and feeling seemingly in jeopardy, but it’s what, to put it in religious terms, God demands of us, and, according to the Rabbis, will be demanded of us .

And if you can’t handle that, then I suppose I should be concerned for your soul, but I will continue to press on to agreement and a community of minds even with those whom tragic history, original sin, bad ideas, images, distorted facts, ignorance, and the Devil have put on the other side.

I’d say more, or, better, less, after careful refinement of the above, but I have some plutocratic gladiatoricals to watch now, and my stomach calls for lunch.


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49 comments on ““A” rarely if ever equals “A” only

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  1. Even though the idea of pressing toward agreement might at first seem to be at odds with Buddhist philosophy regarding speech, I think it goes to what Buddhist’s refer to as “idiot compassion.” We don’t want our compassion to be idiotic. It becomes idiotic if we give up and just stand by as people harm themselves karmically. We’re supposed to speak up and let people know when they’re screwing up. Otherwise, it’s idiot compassion, and its opposite would mean pressing toward agreement. Mindfully, of course. So Fuster might want to refrain from calling you an ass. Although, I know you could take it, so that was fine. “Ass” away. Naturally, given my avatar, I would eventually arrive at that sense of things.

  2. @ Scott Miller:
    A question is whether Buddhism would remain Buddhism if it yielded to the logic of monotheism – in a parallel manner to the way that Buddhists appear ready to yield to science wherever convinced that doing so is reasonable:

    http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/science/3631/for_buddhism%2C_science_is_not_a_killer_of_religion/

    When I say the logic of monotheism, as when I refer to God in the post, I’m not referring to any particular mythology. An insistence on a particular mythology would always on some level equate with an insistence on literalism as I’ve been using the term.

    Buddhists seem intent on asserting that Buddhism is also “religion of reason.” Guided by philosophical scrutiny of the “sources” of Judaism, Cohen finds a pure definition of monotheism that renders God and God’s relationship to humanity in a way that almost suggests a merely terminological rather than essential difference between major spiritual outlook. But it’s an important “almost” that I don’t think we should want merely to set aside or wish away, since the difference may have everything to do with how we conceive of and approach the purpose, or possibility of a purpose, of life.

  3. yes, do say more later. I’m not real clear on this ‘graph

    This is what I see too many calling for: A “common sense” rejection of a misunderstood, mis-defined collective other. It is the contradiction that pervades the Islamophobic right, and that recurs at every level of political discussion – a constant betrayal of what it is that the self-styled advocates of the Judeo-Christian West pretend to be defending. Yes, the alternative approach, the one rejected by literalists and common-sensicalists alike, is difficult, and puts many simple securities and habits of mind and feeling seemingly in jeopardy, but it’s what, to put it in religious terms, God demands of us, and, according to the Rabbis, will be demanded of us .

    As unclear as I find it, there are several interesting things there.

    The quotation above it that defines common sense as being based on feeling is one of the least satisfying and plausible explanations that I’ve ever read.

  4. fuster wrote:

    The quotation above it that defines common sense as being based on feeling is one of the least satisfying and plausible explanations that I’ve ever read.

    The passage doesn’t define common sense. It describes how the appeal to common sense operates, specifically in relation to the introduction of complex, difficult, or unexpected propositions, as in, for example, the statement that someone can say “A” and mean “B.”

    What is “common sense” as it is expressed or as it operates based on, if not on feeling?

    The appeal to common sense amounts to a claim that intuition or observation (or what I claim to have observed or think I have observed) tells me something is so – that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects, that the Earth is flat, that God is pleased by the murder of infidels, that siting a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero is obviously wrong, and so on.

    Common sense opposes itself to reason, which it calls intellectualism or sophistry. It always claims to know what’s right, what needs to be done, without needing to explain itself. It has therefore been adopted as a political value, a slogan, by so-called “common sense conservatives.” Common sense seems to tell them all sorts of things. If you don’t accept them, you’re simply wrong. There’s nothing to discuss. Your claim to want to discuss them is a trick, a sign of weakness or decadence or ulterior bad motives. It’s also, of course, a sign of distance from the common man, who knows in his heart (who feels) that he’s right, and can’t be expected to put it in terms that you East Coast Ivy League Big City types will like.

  5. CK MacLeod wrote:

    Common sense opposes itself to reason, which it calls intellectualism or sophistry. It always claims to know what’s right, what needs to be done, without needing to explain itself. It has therefore been adopted as a political value, a slogan, by so-called “common sense conservatives.” Common sense seems to tell them all sorts of things. If you don’t accept them, you’re simply wrong. There’s nothing to discuss. Your claim to want to discuss them is a trick, a sign of weakness or decadence or ulterior bad motives. It’s also, of course, a sign of distance from the common man, who knows in his heart (who feels) that he’s right, and can’t be expected to put it in terms that you East Coast Ivy League Big City types will like.

    I’m thinking of reading this quote before yoga in the morning. My students would appreciate your insight. Of course, they wouldn’t understand the “you E.C. Ivy League Big City types” part.

  6. “West Coat New Age Hippie Dippie Navel Gazers”?

    (Hey, frog, I just realized that JE Dyer was a Naval Gazer!)

    I think that the quoted passage on “the man of common sense” that fuster found implausible said the same thing, and more, much better. Mebbe I’m biased, tho I’m still curious what he meant by that…

  7. intution as common sense? nah

    experience or observation yeah

    and no common sense does not oppose reason or call it sophistry.

    it opposes application of formal logic or formulaic logical process to situations in the very real world. usually these situations are too complex to yield a simple and certain resolution and common sense has a damn good reason to resist people insisting on that their reasoning has produced one.

    common sense says that there are possible answers and that they each will only give answers of differing probabilities.

    the people saying that common sense has dictated a sure answer are either simply wrong and simple or are asserting that their analysis of probabilities has produced one that is superior to the point of being the best.

    you’ve got to sort out the lousy versions of common sense from the people inarticulate but sensible.

  8. @ CK MacLeod:
    what’s a naval geezer?

    you better not be saying mean stuff about my Jennifer.

    I got high hopes and think that’s she’s young and spry and spirited.
    I’m sorta hoping that she’s really open to inter-species dating and I’m trying to get up the nerve to invite her to the Big Hop this coming spring.

    (mean things about the other Jennifer are allowed and encouraged. she’s just a lousy writer and either never learned anything in law school or is entirely dishonest. I also have a couple of people who’ve met the lady and assure me that I’m on solid ground in thinking that she’s dumb as a boot.)

  9. @ big city but groggy:
    well mr. big city, we can sort this out at some later time. I’m not sure that everything you’ve called “common sense” is really “common sense”: Some of it seems closer to wisdom, which may sometimes overlap with common sense.

    What you have put forward is a common sensical argument for using common sense in situations where common sense is appropriate, and perhaps for using common sense to determine which situations can best be addressed through common sense.

    In any event, neither I nor the philosopher was arguing that common sense is always wrong. It doesn’t make much sense to over-think the point of contact or action either from a common sensical or philosophical perspective. Few would argue that we need to phenomenologize our granola in detail prior to consuming it every hippie dippie West Coast morning. It likewise makes no sense, common or philosophical, to accept impossible or unjustified claims of having fully grasped an un-graspable situation. In other areas, however – such as the investigation of complex philosophical or scientific matters, for instance – common sense may offer little more than a beginning point, at best.

    The issue is the appropriateness of the appeal to common sense in situations like the last, or in others where my common sense and yours mysteriously reach different conclusions. In such situations the appeal to common sense may make no sense at all, or may equate with an effort to stifle discussion.

    Common sense might even tell you to stifle the appeal to common sense in favor an appeal to reason, especially when what has previously passed for common sense may only be a habit of mind, a piece of conventional wisdom, or a parochial viewpoint.

  10. Tsar, us old philosophers were taught that it avails you little to discuss the poorer versions of the argument that you’re opposing.

    I will most happily break off for the night or the century, but would suggest to you that miggs and Sully have a good common sense argument to offer and that their failings aren’t to be laid at the feet of common sense.

    Sully starts out with a good base of facts and then screws up by abandoning common sense and taking his facts and applying logic to tell him that everyone who professes to believe the same creed must be willing to take similar action.
    He abandons the world and common sense and screws himself into using logic to reach an illogical outcome that any common sense-loving non-German philosopher-loving person has to scoff at.

    Some people will do some things and say that their beliefs tell them to do it.
    Many people say that they share those beliefs.

    Therefore all of the many are thinking that they should, or are permitted, to do those same things.

    Common sense says that there are a zillion other things to consider and that the 100% of believers deciding that they approve or might perform or can tolerate those things that the Islamic radical terrorists do is a very, very non commonsensical percentage.

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZz’zzzzzzzzzzzzz’s

  11. @ fuster:
    frog, you ignorant sleepy slut and hippie wanton, no one is saying anything against common sense being applied common-sensically. The problem is people making an appeal to common sense when common sense – or another version of it – ought to tell them that common sense has little or nothing to offer, or is completely over-matched, or has been shown to be dysfunctional and destructive.

    You say that Sully abandons common sense in just the above way, but Sully’s common sense tells him that he is merely being common-sensically consistent. What is the common sense response to a situation when two mentally competent, well-intentioned people disagree about what common sense tells them is common sense?

    Here is Sully’s poetic tribute to common sense in the context of the clash of civilizations:

    Counting the angels on the head of a pin,
    Tends to be silly, but it isn’t a sin,
    Parsing the intentions of Islamist thugs,
    May not be a sin, but it won’t get you hugs,
    Among other things it may get you wings,
    And a harp you can play when the fat lady sings.

    When people avow that their God has said,
    And further attest that their Prophet has writ,
    That they may not rest until you are dead,
    Unless you bow, and scrape and submit. . .
    Believe them.

    The only way to disagree with, or make any sense at all of, his sentiment is to do exactly what the poem common-sensically condemns – parse it. Who are the “thugs”? Who are the “people” who “avow” and “further attest”? It turns out that Sully seems to believe that anyone who upholds the Qur’an as “literal truth” must be “believed” to have implacably murderous intent towards anyone who resists humiliating submission before them. There are a thousand common and uncommon sense objections to this position, but the sheer number, depth, and extent of those objections are turned around into an indictment by someone who thinks the description is common sensical and that common sense can tell you what simple common sense things to do with one’s common sense “belief.”

    Common sense applied with uncommon self-consistency always turns to bullshit. Common sense asserted with uncommon stubbornness is just the intellectual burqa draped over brute self-interest.

  12. CK MacLeod wrote:

    no one is saying anything against common sense being applied common-sensically. The problem is people making an appeal to common sense when common sense – or another version of it – ought to tell them that common sense has little or nothing to offer, or is completely over-matched, or has been shown to be dysfunctional and destructive.

    You’ll be happy to know that the naval gazers understood that completely. I read them the quote, and then explained the whole BC type thing and how I had told you that I was going to read the quote and that you suggested that I call them W.C. hippie-dippie naval gazers and they cracked-up. They loved it.

  13. Sully I think is just tired of CAIR, ISNA, et al, crying ‘look squirrel’ when the manifestations of Salafism and Wahhabism see the light, maybe he cast too broad a brush, but since there are so few public advocates of the other side, and no the fair Imam is not one of those. Maybe it is the cost of business to give sanctuary in word and deed, to those things he doesn’t believe. Awlaki, formerly of Al Hijira is another, so is a local fellow who I’ve brought up, where El Shukrijumah and Muhajir, among others called their worship spot. Geller is another who even though I don’t concur with hereven 90% she more often then not point correctly with Occam’s razor

  14. It may mean ‘method; but clearly he means wisdom,proper train of thought. Strauss has been so ravaged by ideological scavengers of ill will, specially in the last few years, in a matter totally unwarranted. You only get so far in the dialectical scavenger hunt, (ie; Evil is not a subset of Good, it is the absence of all that is) Now there is a distinction between those who believe that the body be subjugated to the soul (or put another way, the id to the super ego) and those that demand that the state do such a thing. The latter is the Wahhabist way in practice, and the more public practice of Shia governance in Cyrus’s old haunts

  15. miguel cervantes wrote:

    The latter is the Wahhabist way in practice, and the more public practice of Shia governance in Cyrus’s old haunts

    As Cohen demonstrates, a philosophical investigation of monotheism will reveal that all states founded on its precepts are theocratic, because morality (or moral reason) inherently takes the share in ethics/politics of religion. It should go without saying that the reluctance of modern states to elucidate or identify, or even to understand, their own foundations may weaken the superstructure, but doesn’t suspend it in ideological mid-air. In that sense, the distinction between so-called theocratic states and our own is more a how than a what: In no human state do souls or super egos exist uncorrelated with and unconstructed by fellow souls or super egos, or without relation to concepts of the whole society, of the whole of humanity, and of the divine.

  16. And the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, the Greeks and the Romans were able to pull it off for a while, but they ultimately reverted. But it has little to do with the religion, from Solon to Alcibiades, from Cincinatus to Caesar, not to say Augustus

  17. I’m back, but only to share my latest; not that every single one of you deserve it.

    A horse trots into a bar,
    The Barman asks, “Why the long face?”

    Greeting that horse,
    The barman, of course,
    Hardly a plodder,
    Inquired re remorse,
    Before serving up gorse,
    His usual fodder.

    The horse made reply,
    Exceedingly wry,
    “Why the long face?
    I’ve been off the pace,
    For many a race,
    And thus out of grace.
    I fear for my goal,
    Of siring a foal.”

    Later he said,
    With a shake of his head,
    “Plus there have been calls,
    For changing my stall,
    To one far down the hall.
    And what even more galls,
    Confounds and appalls,
    I heard through the wall,
    A sly joke about balls,
    That didn’t seem funny at all.”

    “Don’t worry your head,”
    The kind barman said,
    “Here, drink up instead,
    Relax and kick back, have a ball,
    I’ll see that your lead,
    In good time to your stall,
    By dawn when the vet comes to call.”

  18. I can’t hang around here long enough to formulate complex responses, fuster. Since his two attempts to lower my resistance and convert me with Scholasticismic overload failed, MacLeod has formulated a plan to have me detained and reformed using a refinement of the Ludovico Technique.

    You’re the only one I can trust. I think. . .

  19. Sully wrote:

    You’re the only one I can trust. I think. . .

    I’m Trustworthy,; Loyal,; Helpful,; Friendly,;don’t believe what my wife says. she lies about everything.

  20. Just what you would say if you were a stalking horse, a sacrificial lamb, a duck decoy, a tethered goat or a frog fatale.

    Gotta run now. The access time on this disposable cell phone card is about to run out.

  21. You really should make friends with Peter Shalen on Facebook. He has an amazingly wide ideological range of friends and almost all play relatively nicely in the sandbox almost all the time.

  22. @ Sully: My mother-in-law was the youngest of ten and they would spend decades sometimes carrying on conversations through their children rather than speaking directly to each other as a way of keeping a hot wholesome grudge going…while, or course, preserving their dignity.

    I probably should give Peter’s page a look.

  23. “A” is defined only ever by a “B,” a “C,” a “D” and so on, backwards and forwards, to first principles, which, as it happens, in the case of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, are the same first principles.

    This is a strong formulation. Let me emphasize that.

    the same first principles [emphasis yours]

    By “first principles” in reference to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, you can mean only one thing: God.

    Now, in Christianity, God is the trinal unity of Father, Son and Spirit–which Jewish and Islamic theologians (including, presumably, Hermann Cohen) vigorously deny.

    In Islam, God is the revelator of the Koran–which Jewish and Christian theologians (including, presumably, Hermann Cohen) vigorously deny.

    In Judaism, God is the revelator of the Torah. Presumably, Hermann Cohen wouldn’t deny this. Christians don’t deny it either, but they insist that the written Torah has been infinitely superseded by the living Torah who is Jesus Christ. There is a sense in which Muslims too don’t deny that God revealed the Torah–but, as you know, they vigorously maintain that the Torah Hermann Cohen studied was a Torah that had been adulterated by men. Hence, in Islam, the God who revealed the original, authentic Torah is the God who revealed the Koran–which Jewish and Christian theologians (including, presumably, Hermann Cohen) vigorously deny–but I repeat myself.

    Though I know nothing about Hermann Cohen–I wouldn’t mind reading him someday–I’ve made a few presumptions about him here, because it just wouldn’t make much sense for him to be a faithful student and devotee of the Torah if the Torah could simply be collapsed into the New Testament into the Koran into the Critique of Pure Reason into Charlie Hebdo (that is the logical progression, ultimately–isn’t it, MacLeod?). And let’s not forget Leo Strauss’ warning (which, if memory serves, occurs in the preface to Natural Right and History) that, if we study and remain faithful to something simply because it is our tradition, then that’s nihilism. So, presumably, Cohen didn’t study the Torah just for the reason that he was himself a Jew by heritage and descent, but rather because he thought it was true. Or is it possible that the religion of reason is indeed nihilistic?

    Now the reason I’ve conducted this mini-survey is not at all to enlighten you about the differences between the three great monotheistic faiths–I know that you know more about these things than I ever will–but, instead, to try to make questionable your assertion that the three faiths are grounded in the same first principles. The three faiths themselves deny that they are grounded in the same first principle–that is, God. They each make the explicit claim that the three faiths are not reverencing the same God, the same first principle–or better, each faith makes the explicit claim that the others aren’t in fact reverencing God at all. I’m not sure what purpose is served by trying to collapse these three faiths into deism–or perhaps I am sure about the purpose, and that purpose strikes me as base and ignoble.

    Anyway, I wanted to give you the opportunity to explain just what you mean by “the same first principles”–an explanation that I hope won’t be a mere recourse to the necessity of deism. Deism, in my view, is a merely rhetorical–and not at all a theological or philosophical–doctrine.

    I suppose, however, that you’ll tell me these things are oh-so-complicated and you just don’t have the time to explain them with anything like the thoroughness they require. Maybe you should consider making the time–perhaps by watching less football and basketball games.

    • Those doctrinal positions differentiating the three Abrahamic faiths from each other are not first principles, WM, as you even seem to acknowledge before going on to treat them as though they may be. The copula (is) is not a statement of equivalence: The particular statement “God is the revelator…” whether or not you believe it is true, cannot mean within the monotheistic concept “God is merely the revelator…” as in “God is the revelator and nothing else,” just as the statement “Peyton is full of himself” presumes the existence of “Peyton” and does not preclude the possibility that Peyton is kind to children or performs in amusing television commercials. To adopt the other position would be to presume, absurdly, that “the being like no other,” called “God” and probably not called “Peyton,” existed or might be conceived to exist solely for the purpose of delivering whichever doctrine in whatever contingent form.

      In the implied “much else, of course” of all three faith traditions, there is observably great and non-controversially acknowledged overlap, and denial of the common claim that all three religions worship before “the same God” is something ventured from the fringes, under a high burden of proof, in my view. The position of underlying unity is most strongly asserted by the two “daughter” faiths, whose claims are to have completed earlier prophecy and in some regards to have corrected prior interpretations within what amounts to a single tradition. Put differently, referring to all three faiths as “Abrahamic” already implies both a shared lineage as well as a shared concept. What a believer, at whatever level, attempts to attach to first principles as necessary or obligatory remains all the same on the level of an attribute, effect, or elaboration, rather than essence or origin.

      So, my answer to this question posed in regard to an informal statement originally offered in the midst of a debate from almost exactly four years ago is not “oh-so-complicated,” but “oh-so-simple.” As for further explication on Cohen’s approach to the prophetic sources, I’ve written on the subject several times, and I am not in a position to promise a more systematic treatment anytime soon, if ever.

      • Those doctrinal positions differentiating the three Abrahamic faiths from each other are not first principles, WM, as you even seem to acknowledge before going on to treat them as though they may be. The copula (is) is not a statement of equivalence: The particular statement “God is the revelator…”, etc.

        My point was that God is the first principle, full stop. But Allah, the first principle of Islam, is the revelator of the Koran. Yahweh, the first principle of Judaism, is the revelator of the Torah which the Koran asserts to be corrupted and adulterated in its present form. This means, beyond all controversy, that the first principle of Judaism is incompatible with and contradicts the first principle of Islam and vice versa–yet you boldly assert that they are “the same first principles.”[emphasis yours]

        I asked you to explain what you meant by this strange and forced assertion–I didn’t ask you for “further explication on Cohen’s approach to the prophetic sources”–but rather what you could possibly mean by asserting, without argument, that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are grounded in the same first principle, the same God, when the theologians of those faiths tend, apparently with excellent reason, vigorously to deny this.

        I also contended that if Cohen believed Judaism to be collapsible into Christianity, Islam and Tom Paine, then his study of the Torah was either antiquarian or nihilistic (in the sense of “decisionist”) but in no way serious or genuine.

        I specifically asked you not to assert merely the truth of deism. Instead, you assert the truth of deism and tell me the burden of proof is on me to disprove deism vis a vis Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But it isn’t possible, in my view, to disprove deism because deism is rhetoric, not philosophy. The best I could do would be to mount a rhetorical reply wherein I try to make deism the object of scorn–even as your own (largely rhetorical) reply is suffused with scorn for me.

        (I’m not complaining about that last fact, just pointing out that your reply is rhetorical and not theological.)

        • When I wrote in the above post that the faiths shared the same first “principles,” I was being sloppy. I should have used the singular, not the plural. The three faiths share the same first principle – the unity and uniqueness of God.

          As for you, you again first acknowledge that God is the first principle – “full stop,” and then you assert that a claim about God – that He revealed the Torah or “is the revelator…” and so on – or a description attached to God or an act attributed to God is a first principle. Maybe you’re confused about meanings of the term “first principle.” The question or the area of contention between the three faiths is not over true “first principles,” even according to those faiths themselves, but a question regarding theoretical primary distinguishing principles or assertions of each faith.

          At this point we are arguing about semantics or histories of usage. To say that the first principle of each of the monotheistic faiths is the uniqueness and unity of God is not a controversial statement. Even in the shahada, that “there is no God but God” comes before “and Muhammad is his prophet.” You could not put the two statements in the reverse order, because Muhammad cannot be a prophet before there is a God.

          This all is not “Deism,” though Deism, ideally as theism, in other words apart from the particular histories of self-styled Deists, can be taken to represent a reduction of creed to first principles alone. The rest of my discussion is “rhetorical” rather than “theological” because it concerns use of language. You could say that the first principle of Judaism as a distinct faith is…, but, in so doing, you would be qualifying this particular “first principle” as a first principle in a subordinate context, a “relative first principle.” So, again, we’re just arguing about semantics – which isn’t to say it’s a trivial matter, only that it is a matter that “places a stress on language.”

          As for the theological question, and as to whether Deism or deism or theism, etc., represents an insight of importance that challenges the truth claims of the other faiths, that is another problem. Cohen’s comprehension of Judaism does tend toward idealization and a kind of unitarian system, as the title of his book indicates: He aims for “religion of reason” as the most authentic interpretation of Judaism, as bearing a universal message whose moment of universal acceptance is the prophesied messianic age, at which time – in passages evoked in Christianity and Islam as well – the Torah itself will no longer be necessary but engraved in the hearts of men and every nation looks to the eternal, but in the great meantime of history requires its very particular “chosen” guardians: God is not only or separately “the God of the Jews,” but the one god of the entire universe, including all humankind, and this statement would be the true first principle of Judaic belief, as it is of Christian and Islamic belief, which is not the same as a first principle of a separate and distinct Jewish, Christian, or Islamic identity. The first principle of an identity as separate identity is a secondary and, as the old theologians arguing at very great length might have said, a “compounded” principle, as are all merely human principles, unlike the first principle of the entire universe. Ideally, there is one true religion, and, in Cohen’s view, the Judaic prophetic sources reveal it in its greatest purity, and that’s really all I have time to say on this subject right now.

           

  24. A parable.– In the year 2115, the Grand Caliph of the revived Islamic Empire summoned a conference of Islamic, Jewish and Christian theologians to be held in the capital of the Empire, Washington D.C. He instructed them to see if they couldn’t find their way to a common first principle, in the hope of lessening religious tensions within the Empire and promoting greater unity thereby. Unfortunately, the theologians persisted in their divisive particularism–perhaps out of a fundamental misunderstanding of just what a “first principle” is.

    The Islamic theologians insisted that the God who reveals the Koran and whose prophet is Mohammed simply can’t be the one who didn’t reveal the Koran and whose prophet isn’t Mohammed.

    The Jewish theologians insisted that the God who revealed the Torah just as it is in its present form simply couldn’t be the God who didn’t reveal the Torah just as it is in its present form.

    The Christian theologians insisted that the God whose unity is tri-unity simply can’t be the God whose unity isn’t tri-unity.

    The conference was at an impasse and the tension was palpable.

    Then a little deist twerp came along–a proponent of rational religion–and said, “Hey fellas, you just need to read Tom Paine’s Age of Reason–that’ll set ya straight. It’s really just common sense!”

    The Grand Caliph instructed the conferees to study this book by Tom Paine. Afterward, they reported experiencing deep enlightenment. The particularisms dissolved and religious strife quickly faded away.

    The Empire–now under the sway of the thought of its definitive theologian, Tom Paine–was eventually re-named the Unitarian Empire and gradually reverted back to the character of the former United States of America. The citizenry, no longer riven by theological divisions, spent their days in an endless round of sex, drugs–and football and basketball. And they all lived happily ever after.

    • Odd that in the year 2115 theologians have universally lost the ability to understand their own doctrines.

      Incidentally, during the debate over the philosophers between al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd, the underlying point was assumed, although the Ghazalian position, implicitly of the possibility or conceivability of a “compounded” or “plural” essence of “The First,” or of the inability of “the philosophers” to preclude it, did, as much out of historical accident as out of the superiority of his argument, come to reign in Islam: much to the bad, in my view, precisely because it blurs the line between attribute and essence, lending permission to believers to mistreat their secondary commitments as primary ones. Yet not even the takfiris claim that the Jews and Christians worship a different God, only that they worship wrongly.

  25. But seriously, MacLeod, do you really suppose that the trinity is a “secondary” commitment of Christians–or that the Koran is a “secondary” commitment of Muslims, etc.?

    Admittedly, I’m simply overwhelmed by the breathtaking sweep of your massive erudition–imagine you being so knowledgeable in the history of Islamic theology, as well as the theology of Tom Paine!–but something just doesn’t feel right about this.

    Nevertheless, I do want to say–in all sincerity–that you’ve given me much to ponder and I do appreciate you taking the trouble to reply to my comments.

    • As ontology precedes epistemology (can’t have an episteme without being or substance for it to inform) or genus precedes species. Whether it is of secondary “importance” to given groups or individuals is a different question, since “import” is itself “compounded” as the old theo-philosophers would have put it, and ditto for “given groups or individuals.”

      But no reason to be overwhelmed or to indulge in flattery. I’ve just read a book or two, and have been working through The Incoherence of the Incoherence for the last few months, in translation, of course. As I may have mentioned before, the translator’s introduction is worth the price of admission all by itself (and available on-line), since it surveys the history of ancient philosophy with observations on medieval and modern responses, and is by multiples more sweeping-breathtaking-massive than anything I would pretend to. (Will have to add the I of the I to the site book list, been meaning to do so.)

      • I appreciate you mentioning the Averroes. Since you did, I took the trouble to look it up online and–surprisingly–I managed to find a pdf. I don’t know that I can read it anytime soon, but I do intend to read it eventually.

        It does seem to me that you are committing yourself to saying something like the following:

        ~The God who reveals the Koran is the God who does not reveal the Koran.

        ~The God who is triune is the God who is not triune.

        ~etc.

        These statements seem to me to be contradictions–perhaps they strike you as paradoxes and you can render an account of their ultimate “coherence”.

  26. Don’t know if you’d be at all interested in having a look at the following, written–if I’m not mistaken–by a philosophy professor and committed Catholic. Far as I can tell, it entirely supports your side of the argument.

    http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2013/06/one-god.html

    Anyway, I just wanted to testify that I’m continuing to think about the points you made in this exchange.

  27. Causa sui: This is the proper name for God in philosophy. To this God one cannot pray, nor can one sacrifice to him. Before the causa sui humans cannot fall in reverent awe on their knees, nor can they play music and dance before this God. Accordingly it is godless thinking, the thinking that abandons the God of philosophy, the God as causa sui, that is perhaps nearer the truly divine God. Here that means just this: this thinking is freer for this God than onto-theology would want to allow.

    ~Heidegger, Identitaet und Differenz

  28. the arrogance of humans conceiving of such a god, actually nothing new under the sun, Saul of Tarsus saw it nearly 2,000 years ago,

    • Not really sure what you see Saul to have seen, don miguel, and, as often, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. The God of the philosophers as described by Heidegger? One of the problems for the faithful will be that the causa sui or its relatives can be found throughout the sacred scriptures of the three main monotheistic faiths, even though other passages strongly  evoke that other concept. There are several traditional methods for dealing with this contradiction or apparent contradiction, but to indict the philosopher on this score as “arrogant” would be to indict the prophets on it as well, or even, if you believe the Holy Scripture is in any sense the voice of God, then to indict God for speaking arrogantly about Himself. Surely, you can’t mean that.

      I think, however, that Ibn Rushd was probably right that examining and understanding the prohibition on such discussion – best known in Islam, under a saying of Muhammad’s – requires the utmost care and the proper intention, since any such examination will immediately fall into danger of violating it. Best for people like myself, who do not have the time, simply to abide by it.

    • Setting aside the claim itself – on the “clarity” of the prophets, and by extension on the consistency of the Gospels – the phrases “from Isiah on” and “certainly Jeremiah” already admit some uncertainty, or unclarity, implying the requirement for an appeal to some external standard, or guide to interpretation, for instance explaining how we are to deal with the “uncertain” and possibly “unclear” texts, and then how we are to deal with disagreements among would-be guides about how to deal with them, and over which texts are in fact clear and consistent or clear and consistent enough, or possibly more clear and consistent than others and in what ways, not to mention which statements are to be taken as metaphorical, wholly metaphorical, subject to error, and so on. I have nothing new to add to this very old discussion.

  29. whatever, btw that Presidential rant at the prayer breakfast, is reminiscent of those apologias when you came back from the underverse

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[C]limate scientists have a strange kind of faith: We will find a way to forestall radical warming, they say, because we must.

It is not easy to know how much to be reassured by that bleak certainty, and how much to wonder whether it is another form of delusion; for global warming to work as parable, of course, someone needs to survive to tell the story. The scientists know that to even meet the Paris goals, by 2050, carbon emissions from energy and industry, which are still rising, will have to fall by half each decade; emissions from land use (deforestation, cow farts, etc.) will have to zero out; and we will need to have invented technologies to extract, annually, twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as the entire planet’s plants now do. Nevertheless, by and large, the scientists have an enormous confidence in the ingenuity of humans — a confidence perhaps bolstered by their appreciation for climate change, which is, after all, a human invention, too. They point to the Apollo project, the hole in the ozone we patched in the 1980s, the passing of the fear of mutually assured destruction. Now we’ve found a way to engineer our own doomsday, and surely we will find a way to engineer our way out of it, one way or another. The planet is not used to being provoked like this, and climate systems designed to give feedback over centuries or millennia prevent us — even those who may be watching closely — from fully imagining the damage done already to the planet. But when we do truly see the world we’ve made, they say, we will also find a way to make it livable. For them, the alternative is simply unimaginable.

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They were concerned that any pre-election response could provoke an escalation from Putin. Moscow's meddling to that point was seen as deeply concerning but unlikely to materially affect the outcome of the election. Far more worrisome to the Obama team was the prospect of a cyber-assault on voting systems before and on Election Day. They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia's efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.

This, right here. This is where they choked. The American people had damned close to an absolute right to the information their government already had. The most fundamental act of citizenship is the right to cast an informed vote. The idea that the Obama administration withheld the fact that the Russians were ratfcking the election in order to help elect a vulgar talking yam is a terrible condemnation of the whole No Drama Obama philosophy. Would Donald Trump have raised hell if the White House released what it knew? Of course, he would have. But, as it was, the American people went to vote with only about half of the information they needed to assess his candidacy. This was a terrible decision.

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Changing views of U.S. presidents over past decade and a halfAs Pew Research Center’s global surveys from George W. Bush’s presidency illustrated, many of Bush’s key foreign policies were unpopular, and by the time he left office Bush was viewed negatively in most of the countries we polled. His successor, Obama, generally received more positive ratings throughout his White House tenure.Today, in many countries, ratings for President Trump look very similar to those for Bush at the end of his term. This pattern is especially clear in Western Europe. In the UK, France, Germany and Spain, the low levels of confidence in Trump are very similar to the poor ratings for Bush in 2008.

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Wade McKenzie
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+ …the desperate last-gasp radicalism of American reactionary conservatives before the demographic deluge and the expected relegation of white-European Americans to “minority” status in “their own” [. . .]
Holy American Major League of Nations (Notes on Baseball and the Re-De-Nationalization of Americanism)
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+ Speaking of George Friedman... The party of Chancellor Angela Merkel no longer uses the word “friend” to describe the United States in its platform. But in [. . .]
German Trust in America – the Trend (#OAG 12b)
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just a note on your observation about the whiskey rebellion

https://youtu.be/ASZ7NXD4i1s

Holy American Major League of Nations (Notes on Baseball and the Re-De-Nationalization of Americanism)

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