Richard Dawkins in Lynchburg

Being able to imagine something doesn’t make it plausible.

You cannot disprove the existence of God. Now, amazingly there are a lot of people who think that’s a powerful argument. It somehow seems to suggest to them that therefore the existence of God must be about equally likely as non-existence. The point about mock religions such as the Invisible Pink Unicorn, the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Celestial Teapot is simply to demonstrate that it’s not the case that because you cannot disprove something therefore that makes it the slightest bit likely.

“What if you’re wrong?”

Well, what if I’m wrong? Anybody could be wrong. We could all be wrong about the flying spaghetti monster and the pink unicorn and the flying teapot. You happen to have been brought up, I would presume, in the Christian faith. You know what it’s like not to believe in a particular faith because you’re not a Muslim. You’re not a Hindu. Why aren’t you a Hindu? Because you happen to have been brought up in America, not in India. If you’d been brought up in India, you’d be a Hindu. If you’d been brought up in Denmark at the time of the Vikings you’d be believing in Wotan and Thor. If you were brought up in classical Greece you’d be believing in Zeus. If you were brought up in central Africa you’d be believing in the great joojoo of the mountain. There’s no particular reason to pick on the Judeo-Christian God in which by the sheerest accident you happen to have been brought up and ask me the question, what if I’m wrong?

What if you’re wrong about the great joojoo at the bottom of the sea?

-Richard Dawkins, paraphrased from Dawkins in Lynchburg VA (part 2) The God Delusion


26 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins in Lynchburg

  1. Jason. I don’t think it is about showing that something is “likely” or not; it is just to state that even according to science’s own claims it cannot comment on metaphysical statements..

    It really is just questioning if there can be meaningful statements about things which cannot be ‘proved’. Perhpas it is a difference between ‘understanding’ and ‘knowing’ (not even Kant denied that there are higher ‘objects’ of thought-just that they couldn’t be known)

    Dawkins really is an odd chap. What would you say that the statement you quoted shows? Is it also an “accident” that he holds a scientific view of things or that he just “happens” to be refuting these claims? If we could *all* be wrong then why philosophize?

  2. The quotes are out of context, so perhaps there’s some misunderstanding as a result. I made this post largely for my own personal reference.

    I think the point Dawkins is trying to make is that statements that cannot be falsified are irrational because, as mock religions demonstrate, they are limited only to imagination—which isn’t much of a limit at all. And when we make important decisions, such as those made in the political sphere, it’s best to refine our reasoning to verifiable truth and not resort to unsound religious or ‘metaphysical’ claims.

    As far as I can tell, Dawkins is no more odd than any other person. He’s in the minority being an atheist, yes. But every word he speaks makes sense to me, as does science on the whole. I’m a fan of reason and evidence. What else do we have to discern fact from fiction?

    “If we could *all* be wrong then why philosophize?”

    To be perfectly honest I wonder what good much of philosophy actually does other than to keep curious minds busy. I’ve considered myself a philosopher since I was a teenager. I’m beginning to think my musings have been mostly a waste of time and that science can indeed answer philosophical questions concretely by studying the questioner: the mind itself. I’m at a place where I’m completely re-evaluating my beliefs, you see.

  3. Jason, a quote from Rosenzweig that i thought you might like:

    “The philosopher does not permit his wonder stand as it is, to be released into the flow of life. Of necessity, he must “hook” the problem from where he stands. He has forcibly extracted thought’s “object” and “subject” from the flow of life and he entrenches himself within them. Wonder stagnates and is perpetuated in the motionless mirror of his meditation; that is in the subject. He has it well-hooked; it is securely fastened and it persists in his benumbed immobility. The stream of life has been replaced by something submissive, statuesque, subjugated.

    The solution and dissolution of their wonder is at hand-the love which has befallen them. They are no longer a wonder to eachother; they are in the very heart of wonder. Life becomes numb in the face of death and dies. The wonder is unravelled . And it was life itself that brought the solution. “

  4. As to your points: who is to make the distinction between what is possible and what is impossible..and on what grounds? Goethe would say that death is the impossible that all of a sudden becomes possible. To say that there may be things beyond the bounds of our reason is not to say that anything is possible (in my opinion). I think Ghazali dealt with this a thousand years ago!

    But to take your point further: if the testimony of people throughout history has been in favour of the divine then what does thats ay about humankind: that they have been irrational throughout? and what, is it only western man that has succeeeded in seeing clearly?

    the whole question of “evidence” is vexed and subject to what Hacking calls ‘styles of reasoning’. On what a priori grounds does one accept scientific evidence in the first place? Is that in itself a scientific judgement? I think not!

    studying the questioner? who is questioning who? And are our answers just the product of our own minds?what happens to objectivity, then? I don’t think these can easily be answered given the ‘subjective turn’.

    To return to the original question: if we can all be wrong, then who is to say that the answers of science are not also just part of our imagination?

  5. I would turn to science for the answer of what is possible, the grounds being empirical evidence.

    It seems that mankind’s idea of the divine has been a naive attempt to explain the yet unexplainable. And I don’t think western society is the only culture that has accepted science. Besides, religion is still a predominate mindset in most cultures across the globe, from east to west.

    I admit that evidence presumes the validity of human observation. But considering that our subjective perceptions are all we have, I see nothing else to turn to for answers.

    Questions of objectivity and ultimate reality seem moot to me. I could be a mere brain in a virtual reality for all I know. Perhaps reality is an illusion. But illusion or not, it’s still real to me because I experience it. Whatever the ultimate truth, I must accept that there are things I cannot know.

    Science is the only method I’ve seen that can accurately and consistently explain what I observe and predict the future, e.g. if I drop a ball, I can know it will fall. I may not know the nature of the reality of the ball or of gravity; physics may not be absolute. But is knowing that essential?

    Absolute truth is possibly beyond the scope of science. However, it’s probably also outside the scope of human knowledge and irrelevant to the pursuit of happiness. For example, being a subjective and naive human being I cannot know whether God exists. If my happiness depends on knowing such a truth, I’m doomed. So it makes sense to base my happiness on what is knowable. Thus, philosophy and spirituality become superfluous.

    The answers of science may indeed be illusory in the ultimate scheme of things. But they are nonetheless observable, unlike other modes of truth-seeking. Observable reality is the only reality I experience and therefore the only reality that matters.

    Thank you for your thoughtful insights and questions. There is certainly much for me to consider on this subject.

  6. Jason, hello.
    You make some interesting points.

    How can empirical evidence supply an idea of what is possible? Firstly, it presupposes the idea of “evidence”
    Secondly, if the empirical evidence is one of Revelations and religion throughout history, of personal testimony to some sort of spiritual ‘expereince’ then? What should one say to that?

    I don’t get you. On what grounds can you say that all we have is our subjective impressions? Didn’t Descartes have to ASSUME that there wasn’t a demon before positing an ‘I’..didn’t he say that the infinite is ‘placed’ in him beofre the cogito?

    I don’t follow your brain-in-a vat- idea Jason. How do you know it is an ‘experience’?

    you make the interesting point that you *must* accept that there are things you do not know. Firstly, why the compulsion and where is it coming from? Secondly, is this so very different from the original contention that there are some things that may be impossible for us to know (or were you saying that there are some things whose existence is impossible?)

    I haven’t studied science and so I cannot answer your questions I’m afraid. To waht degree one can predict things at the quantum or any other level is something , perhaps, you could answer. As for ‘nature’, I’m not sure that the scientific method allows for one -if one is talking about ‘essences’.

    Is it important? perhaps..if we think of nature as more than mere matter and its laws! simone Weil would say: necessity is the veil of God…

    Pursuit of happiness. You could be right but I think the traditional Christian position is that seeking the truth is the ultimate happiness/bliss. Perhaps the philosophers said as much with regards contemplation (of course, we’re not talking about happiness in the narrow utilitarian form).

    Observable reality: Jason, do you observe friendship and love and art , music and poetry and religious expressions of faith ? Do you observe your freedom to act in a causally ordered world? Unless one follows a mataphysical science I don’t see how one can ignore that there are whole realms of reality *in * life that science does not-perhaps cannot-address.

    I’m sorry if my post comes across as confrontational. It certainly isn’t mean to! Your posts are very thoughtful, succinct, and insightful. Some very good writing.



  7. How can empirical evidence supply an idea of what is possible?

    The patterns of predictability supplied by evidence and reason tell us what is possible. I know that if I follow a certain route from home I will arrive at work because I’ve repeated the experiment time and time again with the same result. I also know that I could modify my route and still arrive at work because of my understanding of geography gathered from experience. Outside of evidence we have trial and error which needn’t presuppose anything.

    On what grounds can you say that all we have is our subjective impressions?

    We have nothing more than our sensory perceptions and our thoughts, all of which are subjective, all of which we use to draw conclusions about what we perceive and what we think. We might convince ourselves that certain perceptions and thoughts are ‘objective’ due to reasoning, e.g. confirmation of similar perceptions and thoughts from others. But whatever conclusion we arrive at is ultimately a personal choice.

    I don’t follow your brain-in-a vat- idea

    I’m arguing that the nature of reality is unknowable. It’s possible that I’m only a brain hooked up to a computer simulated reality—an idea akin to the one presented in The Matrix. There’s no way to know whether that’s true or not in the same way that there’s no way to know anything at all outside observable reality.

    you make the interesting point that you *must* accept that there are things you do not know. Firstly, why the compulsion and where is it coming from? Secondly, is this so very different from the original contention that there are some things that may be impossible for us to know

    The compulsion comes from all the incompatible assumptions I see from those around me. People are convinced of so many ideas—religions, for example—yet they can’t all be right. This tells me that we humans are capable of “knowing” things that aren’t true; we can deceive ourselves. I also see that there is little disagreement over what we observe in the “real world”, but there’s enormous disagreement over ideas we hold that transcend observable reality. I think that can tell us something about what is knowable.

    Knowledge based on empirical evidence is consistent and trustworthy. Other forms of knowledge vary widely, which says to me they’re not knowledge at all. Any religion or spiritual discipline or philosophy could be true. Without any means to narrow down the possibilities I can only conclude the territory they attempt to explain is unknowable.

    Is it important? perhaps..if we think of nature as more than mere matter and its laws!

    But we can only imagine what more nature could be, never confirm it. And perhaps that’s what people seek: a mystery. To most, a magic trick is fascinating until it’s explained. Then it’s mundane. Maybe people prefer mystical explanations because science appears too cold. That’s a stigma we could do without.

    Do you observe friendship and love and art, music and poetry and religious expressions of faith?

    Yes. I observe my thoughts and feelings about these things. I observe my behavioral reactions. And perhaps professionals could more accurately observe what goes on in my mind, physiology, and social interactions that comprise such things as friendship and love. I believe it all can be reduced to science.

    I’m sorry if my post comes across as confrontational.

    I don’t think you’re being confrontational at all. Besides, I need a good devil’s advocate to clarify my ideas. I’m just running with my thoughts, unsure of where I’m going with them which is probably why you’re not ‘getting me’ on certain points. I’m not entirely getting myself either! Still, something makes a whole lot of sense in there somewhere. Putting it to words is the hard part. Dialogue is a great help.

    Your posts are very thoughtful, succinct, and insightful. Some very good writing.

    Thank you very, very much. Your compliments mean a lot coming from someone whose writings I find admirable.

  8. Jason, hello.
    but the first point is making a prior assumption that predictability is what counts as evidence in terms of what is possible. What I’m saying is that that in itself does not tell us what is possible. People in ancient times predicted the movement of the stars (fairly accurately) but ascribed a divine cause behind the movements! Is that possible?

    Secondly, this opens the question of what constitutes evidence. Is it only scientific evidence?

    Thirdly, if you’re going on empirical evidence then that in itself does not tell you what is possible, only what is likely. Didn’t Hume destroy that idea of causality ? Science,a s far as I understand it, doesn’t rule out xceptions (to natural causality: mechanism) in principle ( a point made by hans Jonas in ‘Is Faith Possible’..from his book, Morality and Mortality)

    I’m not sure how you can say it is “personal choice”..surely one would have to be ‘out of oneself’ or subjectivity to say that?
    If thought cannot reach a level of objectivity then I do not understand the whole enterprise of science. Surely its aim from the beginning has been to get to the truth as it is and it is somethign that rests on an ‘absolute conception of the world’?

    If there’s no way to know what’s true then I have to ask you Jason, why do you keep on making statements like “we have nothing more than…” or the “nature of reality is unknowable” .
    It sounds self-refuting to me but that could just be because of the of my inability to comprehend difficult things.

    As for science being too cold let me say, with Blake: he who ses Ratio sees only himself!

    If you believe all can be reduced to science then i have nothign much else to say. All i could ask is you take a look at Mary Midgely’s poetry and science. To have a thought about love or friendship may be what you personally experience but you cannot deny that most people do not look at it in this way. Bataille would say: the aim is not to think about the wind but to be it. And Ibn Arabi says that the world is a concept, God is a percept. The Christain tradition is quite right to say that a concept of God is an idol (Gregory of Nyssa). The philosopher-like Plato’s artist- is twice removed from reality! :)

    Flattery will get you everywhere my dear :)

    Jason, could I just recommend one reading? It’s a chapter from hans Jonas’ book, the Phenomenon of Life. The chapter is ‘Existentialism, Gnosticism and Nihilism’ . Brilliant stuff.

    Hope all else is well at your end.

    Best wishes,


  9. On possibilities: I guess I don’t understand the motive behind wanting to know what’s possible. Possibilities are limited only to our imaginations. Without any means to narrow them (aside from observable trial and error), we’re left with chaos.

    On evidence: What evidence is there outside of observation? Observation is all we have to perceive reality and therefore the only way to produce evidence about that reality.

    On science: Whether science is philosophically ‘objective’ or ‘absolute’ is debatable and likely a semantic issue. Does it matter what kind of truth it is? We can use science to solve problems. It’s truth is functional, and that’s what’s important.

    On truth: I’m saying there’s no way to know what’s true beyond what we perceive. That’s why I use the word “subjective” to describe such truth.

    On reading: I will definitely look into your recommended chapter from The Phenomenon of Life. Thank you!

  10. On evidence: I think you’re missing the point Jason-or maybe I’m not saying things clearly. To say that something constitutes evidence is to make an additional step from just observing something. In that sense, to say that it is derived from observation collapses into a meaningless statement. The ancients observed the movement of the stars (and to some degree of accuracy) and for them that was evidence of the existence of the gods. (please have a look at Hacking’s stles of resoning’ or Basil Wiley’s succinct statement in the first chapter of his the seventeenth century background)

    So, are the rules of evidence themselves derived from “observation”?

    “It’s truth is functional and that’s what is important”.
    Jeez. I have little else to say on that staggering comment. What you seem to be sying, essentially, is that truth submit to money and power! Again, this is why I said a philosophy that is not about hearts and minds may end up as technically brilliant biut incredibly shallow (in my opinion, that is).

    I still can’t get over you saying that friendship and love and art can (will) be reduced to scientific explanations.

  11. On evidence: I think I see what you’re saying now. It seems one of the primary differences between scientific evidence and the kind the ancients used to conclude the supernatural can be summed up with Occam’s razor. In a nutshell, don’t assume anything more than what is necessary to explain something.

    To say stars are evidence of gods is to presume the existence of gods. One cannot look at the sky and observe divinity. How do pinholes in the dark in any way suggest supernatural beings? There must be an existing bias to draw such a conclusion.

    “So, are the rules of evidence themselves derived from ‘observation’?”

    Science must assume observation itself to be valid. If I observe a tree and proclaim, “That is a tree,” I’m assuming my observation constitutes evidence. But isn’t that common sense? As I mentioned before, observation is all we have to perceive the world around us. There is nothing else to rely on.

    On science: “What you seem to be sying, essentially, is that truth submit to money and power!” I would never imply such a thing. I’m not saying science makes any claims as to how truth should be used. I’m just saying it can be useful, for better or worse. Today’s technology and medicine would be nonexistent without science. I think that says something about its validity.

    “I still can’t get over you saying that friendship and love and art can (will) be reduced to scientific explanations.”

    I think that again this reveals a stigma against science that it’s cold and mechanical and therefore unsuitable to explain things that are warm and beautiful. You offer no explanation as to why you think science is inadequate in that regard, so I can only speculate.

  12. No, I don’t think it is to presume ..or not *necessarily* to presume. “how can” I think we’re asking some interesting questions..i.e can we get into the minds of other people or those from different times or do we , can we, dismiss their views as being “biased”?

    It would seem perfectly natural to see the world from the position of ‘life’ i.e as if it was animated by a spirit. Even if one does not think it is ‘natural’ it is surely possible given that throughout the history of humankind Man has thought of the world as a symbol of meaning. Let me quickly give you one example: even Freud , for a second, was struck by the recurrence of ’62’ (see his work , the uncanny). of course, this was for him a remnant of primitive thinking -the idea that co-incidences mean something .

    why is it not a ‘bias’ to think that stars are only matter? In fact, would not modern physics say that it is our ‘bias’ that sees matter as solid anyway and that in reality it is just energy? (Perhaps the phrase ‘in reality’ is inadmissible in science)

    Science must ASSUME. Yep, that’s all I was trying to say. And I think you simplify because the observations are not one of common sense any more (see Arendt’s the Human condition). so, it is to assume that the instruments will point us to a mind-independent reality…it is to assume , as Descartes knew, that the world is npt governed by a demon who is tricking our senses… I think Heisenberg said that with radical doubt we would wonder whether we ever encounter reality ‘as it is’ or whether we will only come up against the contours of our mind. If you’ve seen Tarkovsky’s Solaris you will recognize this.

    Why does use imply validity of the theory? Does the bomb-also a product of the technology-make science in any way less valid?
    does the practice of Christians and muslism over the years-and there have been some terrible things done by the so-called ‘believers’ make the religion invalid?

    Why I think science is inadequate. Quite simply because I do not believe in a materialist monism. If we are governed by causal laws of matter then what does that say for human freedom? We must assume that matter , then. also produces the illusion of freedom! could I suggest the first chapter of mary midgely’s poetry and science?

    any way, in the final analysis, I may not be able to ‘explain’ such things (some might argue that if one *could* explain them they wouldn’t be what they are!). When a picture of Majnun was shown to the King he complained: “how can you love someone who is so ugly” to which Laila replied: “Hush! for thou art not Majnun!”
    …there are things that are true in the order of love which are beyond our reasoning. “reason not the need” the man said.

    Keep well,


  13. What I am saying is that matter and energy, being consistently observable, are not presumptuous in the way ‘spirit’ is. The notion of matter comes from static experience. Few disagree that a tree is a material object. However, ‘spirit’ seems to be a notion originating from the mind. People disagree on what it is, in the same way people disagree about who or what God is. Spiritual ideas are thus whimsical and unreliable.

    I don’t think any “instruments will point us to a mind-independent reality.” Since our minds are what we depend on to perceive and understand reality, we are confined to them for all our perceptions and understanding.

    Science is valid in that it lives up to its claims. Before we had the bomb, science told us it was possible. It was right, however unfortunate that may be.

    “If we are governed by causal laws of matter then what does that say for human freedom?”

    Excellent point, Khalid. I’ll have to give this more thought. Determinism does seem a cold and mechanical explanation. Perhaps life has no meaning, but assuming it does is what keeps us alive and healthy! That wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.

  14. I can see two plausible ways to reconcile science and free will.

    1. Experiments in quantum mechanics have shown that observation can in some way affect the state of matter. It is possible that science can observe, if not explain, a correlation or even a causation between human perception and material existence.

    2. We can know that, objectively, everything is deterministic but, subjectively, we should still feel or believe we are in control.

    Whether free will exists or not is unimportant. Psychologists have shown that those who believe they are in control of their lives tend to be happier and more outgoing than those who believe they’re not in control. Therefore, it is important to believe in free will even if it is an illusion. As in existentialism, the subjective view trumps the objective one.

  15. Doesn’t matter emerge from the mind? Eddington once said that it is the mind that gives ‘permanence’ to what is essentially flowing. I think this was a profound statement. The Quran has somethign similar when it alludes to the mountains also not being ‘permanent’ (Rilke also has a great little poem on this…).

    As for being ‘confined’ by our midns: I’ve tried to write a response to that in my latest blog. It’s from Nagel’s comments on ‘Realism’.

    As for the bomb: all I was saying is that just as the good things that have come about as a result of science are not an indication of its truth (as you seemed to be suggesting in an earlier post) so the bad things cannot be held to account for the truth or lack of truth /validity of science.

    Idf science can”explain” then it must believe in its methods and that it has made some objective progress in understanding reality ‘as it is’. If truth is just confined to our minds then what does that say about the venture of science. Heisenberg was right here: the era of radical doubt , initiated by Descartes, would end up with us wondering whether we ever actually encounter relaity as it really is, or if we just see the prodcts of our own mind.

    In Tarkovsky’s solaris Kelvin says: we don’t seek relaity, we are only looking for mirrors…

    “whether free will exists unimportant” !!
    Holey moley! :)

    so, it is important to believe in free will because it makes us happier? and if psychologists then say (as is wont to happen in an empirical approach)that free will makes us unhappier?
    what you seem to be saying is that the truth of the matter is unimportant, but its consequences are. This fits in with what Macintrye says: unable to resolve theoretical matters we turn to practical solutions: utility, power…

    anyway, you would still have to say *why* the subjective view triumphs…you’d still have to ASSUME that happines is the criteria. And if a tyrant turns around and says what matters is my happiness? or the happiness of a few: that’s what determines the truth?

  16. Eddington’s statement is indeed profound. Khalid, you have a remarkable ability to get me questioning what I once found self-evident!

    “whether free will exists unimportant”

    I didn’t phrase that well. I meant that the validity of free will is less important than one’s sense of or belief in it. Without that, we’d all be apathetic and idle.

    “what you seem to be saying is that the truth of the matter is unimportant, but its consequences are”

    Yes. Though I’d still prefer “less important” over “unimportant.”

    “you’d still have to ASSUME that happines is the criteria”

    I’d say the criteria itself is subjective!

    There’s much to consider here. And I’m afraid some topics are going in circles (I know they are in my head!), so I’ll get back to this, hopefully with better focus.

  17. Exactly. From the modern perspective it is a “belief” as you readily admit. And what is the *basis* of that belief? Didn’t you say atheists don’t assume anything? The philosophical position of materialist monism (or reductionsim) can , if pushed to the limit, lead to nihilism. And is it so very different from the Gnostic thought that is actually quite prevalent: “what’s the point..we’re only small cogs in a large machine ” ( i.e we have little personal control over our decisions)..or “the truth is out there”.

    so, the only thing pushing us forward is not contemplation of the truth but the will. And if the will tires or our belief in its ‘life force’ (to use a phrase from Lawrence) does? George Steiner rightly, in my opinion, talks about a “core tiredness”. If the only thing sustaining our will is our “belief” in its validity (and not its intrinsic value or its relation to the truth) then I hope you can see the problems of that.

    Jason, if one takes a consequentalist view of the matter then why can’t one say the following scenarios are okay

    1.if society *on the whole* is made better off in terms of happiness with a few masters and lots of slaves (no free will).
    If it’s subjective then this is a distinct possibility.

    2. Why not have a society in which we have abundant consumption and are happy but have no political rights?

    3. What if we can all be given chemicals to induce the feeling that we indeed have free will (and are therefore happy) but , in fact, we do not actually have freedom? (again, if it’s subjective -and only that-then the freedom does not apply to any ‘object’ but is purely instrumental).

    4. If people who exercise their free will by doing whatever they want (without making anyone else worse off..since that’s been dealt with in case 1) and they are happy , is that okay? so, if i were to spend all my time watching baywatch, reading dan Brown (god forbid!) , and indulging in hedonistic pleasures (i won’t name them , to protect the innocent) then if that use of my free will makes me happier than using it to read Calvino, listen to Arvo part or watch The dead , is that okay?

    i.e can we talk about the “criteria” of free will being the happiness it produces?

  18. I’m not sure free will exists. However, I’m sure believing in it is what’s best for my happiness. So I have two simultaneous concepts of free will: one that’s intellectual and one that’s utilitarian. Actually, I’d rather not say I “believe” in free will at all. I’d rather say that I don’t question it in my day-to-day life. I may act as though I have some independent willpower, but I don’t have to assume anything in order to do so. I’m only doing what comes natural to me. Questioning its nature comes after the fact.

    Your examples are all scenarios pitting happiness against free will and asking which is better. “Better” is a relative term. Personally, I require some sort of freedom to be happy. Others might be perfectly happy as slaves. To each his own.

    Don’t those with more money and power also have more free will in the sense that they have more options to choose from and therefore more freedom to exercise their will? It seems a less extreme version of your master-slave society already exists.

  19. Jason, I like your approach. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about “intuiting unity” and filling out the details later. This goes back to the ontological argument-something that I think the Harris post criticised as circular reasoning. ..questioning can come from ‘within’ faith.

    the third case is not about happiness per se. It is really that if the subjective impression of free will is important (or the most important thing) then does it matter if we are duped into it by medicines , say? i.e even if it doesn’t correspond to *actual* free will.

    “others might be happy being slaves”.
    Again, I can only ask if you really believe that or of the dire consequences of such thinking?

    and yes, there will be questions pitting utility against rights or free will. The point I’m trying to make is that if one is a utilitarian then that can lead to problems. ..problems that seem to be only ‘solved’ in practice: Macintyre’s point again: theoretical impasses resolved by money, power, and technology.

    “Money and power”: well, only in one sense of free will..i.e if one *assumes* that free will is *only* enhanced by the range of options and the lack of constraints in reaching one’s goals (negative liberty). But if one thinks that free will is also, or paramountly tied in with the choice of ‘the good’ then we might get a different answer: the truth shall set you free…it is not said that freedom will lead to the truth!

    Augustine would call the freedom you talk about a “lonely freedom”. In some sense, it is the dominant concept of bourgeois man , of capitalism itself (M.J.Radin, ‘market inalienability’ is very good on this..or see her book, contested commodities)

  20. The third case: Yes, the impression of free will is most important. As I mentioned before, I might be a brain in a vat. This reality is therefore a simulation of which I’m blissfully ignorant.

    “others might be happy being slaves”

    Maybe I went too far with that. Let me explain where I’m coming from. I see people all around me proud and patting themselves on the back for being free in a free country. I don’t feel that way at all (I won’t get into the complex explanation here), so my conclusion is that the impression of freedom is more important to some than its actuality, that people can be slaves (to a degree) and still believe they’re free. Perhaps I’m confusing the social idea of freedom with the philosophical idea. I can’t say I understand the difference.

    “the truth shall set you free”

    If I were imprisoned for life in solitary confinement and somehow became omniscient, how would the truth set me free? I’d be free in my mind perhaps, but my body would still be incarcerated. So what consolation is there in freedom of knowledge if I can’t act on it?

  21. Jason, i hear what you’re saying..if I had to listen to that nonsense about freedom all the time I too might share your views.

    you take an extreme example , which perhaps is not the only way to look at it. If we could re-phrase it as saying is freedom consistent with constraints then some people would say yes. the opposite extreme might be: is freedom only possible with the reduction of contraints (negative liberty)? I’m not sure. there are whole philosophical traditions -of the left and religion-that would say otherwise. In fact, it seems to me that the idea of negative liberty is profoundly tied up with liberalism and the markets-and perhaps the rhetoric you rightly criticise.

    Have you seen the scene from Shawshank where he plays the marriage of Figaro?

    But I think we’re mistaking the case by construing it as the ability to act or not to act when it might be said that positive liberty is the ability to act in a way that is consistent with the good.

  22. “Have you seen the scene from Shawshank where he plays the marriage of Figaro?”

    Yes. Brilliant movie.

    I’m not familiar with positive and negative liberty. I’ll have to read up on them.

    I have a hard time imagining any use of knowledge (or freedom) outside application (or action). But I won’t expound further on that since the topic of our other conversation thread seems to be converging with this one. Plus, I have much reading and considering to do.

  23. Even though he’s in jail he’s still some sense. Brooks, even when on the “outside” , is still not free..he’s been institutionalised.

    Isaiah Berlin’s the man to read.
    and M.J.Radin for a great critique of negative liberty and how it is closely associated with the market mentality (‘Contested commodities’ ).


  24. Jason, perhaps you are right. It is very hard for us, insofar as we are moderns, to think of a freedom that is consistent with constriants..the old Troubadors would sing, or so I’m told by a relaible source , of how love would make us ‘bound and free’.

    and the importance of psychological freedom cannot be Malcolm X once said to his audience: you’re still slaves. i.e the slave mentality can persist. all I would add, that an abolute freedom to follow one’s desires, one’s whims,is rightly called, in the English language, being a slave to one’s desires. Don’t you find it odd that so many of modern freedoms have morphed into obsessions and compulsions: drugs, gambling..maybe Brando was right (in Apocalypse now): “have you ever considered any real freedoms?”

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