TA 112 (Müller)

Commentary 10 (to R7 [6])

by Richard W Moodey
26 March 2009, posted 4 April 2009

My responses are not from the 0-D point of view.   The position I take might best be characterized as "critical realism."   It has much in common with the critical realism of Roy Bhaskar and his followers, but my thinking has been influenced much more by Bernard Lonergan, Michael Polanyi, and A.N. Whitehead than it has by Bhaskar.   One of the things all 4 have in common is the assertion of MIR.   It would, however, be a mistake to say that their arguments have persuaded me, because when I first read Lonergan, half a century ago, I already believed in MIR.   It is probably the case that we find most persuasive those philosophers who say things that are consistent with our pre-philosophical commitments.   Towards the end of the dialogue below, I say that your ideas seem to resemble the position I learned as "subjective idealism."   I repeat here what I said there :  my intention is not to put you into a box and then treat you as if you held all the beliefs I attribute to those whom I have put in that box. 

HM: For theistic doctrines of all types, which have a strong medieval
flavour, a central question is how to remain relevant in dealing with evolving society and science.   The Vatican opinion so far is that evolution and belief in God are not in conflict.   But sincere [since?] conciliation of religion with science is a declared recent aim of the Vatican, positive statements for instance of how chance mutation plus natural selection is to be reconciled with creation by God would also be needed,  in addition to this negative assertion.” 

RWM: I don’t agree that the Vatican needs to explain how to reconcile evolution with creation beyond the bare bones claim that the creation story in Genesis is not a scientific or historical description. 

HM:  Creationists
need to acknowledge that they have to create an anthropomorphic purposeful God if He is to create them, though it is not likely that they will do so.

RWM:  I understand “creationist” to mean those who reject the theory of evolution because it conflicts with their religious beliefs.  I doubt that they feel the need you attribute to them.  I’m not sure how you are using “need,” here.  It seems to me that given their premises, the creationists are being logical. 

HM:  For science the question is how to maintain inclusion of subjects and
their need for holistic thinking,  despite the need for objective knowledge.   

RWM:  Is how to include subjects a question for the natural sciences ?   I agree that it is a question for the social sciences.   But again, I am not sure what you mean by “need” when you say that subjects need holistic thinking.  I would say, rather, that thinking includes both analysis and synthesis, and that thinking subjects seem to vary in how much they emphasize one or the other.

HM:  Objective ‘theories of everything’ are impossible, for
instance because the subject(s) cannot become structured.    

RWM:  I agree that such theories are impossible, but for a different reason.   They are impossible because of limitations in human cognitive powers and limitations of language.    I have two analogies to your notion of an unstructured subject that cannot become structured.   The first is Aristotelian prime matter, totally without form.   That doesn’t work, because prime matter is an analytic notion, which never exists without being informed.   The second is the notion of pure spirit, which, having not parts, can have no relationships among parts.   My guess is that your notion is closer to that of pure spirit.

HM:  In
Dawkins’ view a created outside agent called ‘Nature’ seems to replace God;    unless he wants to advocate a purely functional(algorithmic, computer-like) type of thinking.   In the latter case there would be not only no holistic concern  (he says that the existence of God is to be decided on the basis of natural science), but also  subjects including himself would be eliminated.


RWM:  I haven’t been reading Dawkins recently.  The last thing was the “selfish gene,” quite some time ago.  I thought it was clever, but I wasn’t persuaded.

 HM:  For non-theistic religions like some forms of Buddhism and Taoism,
there is presumably no ontic ‘outside’, because their start-and-anchor point is unstructured.  Structures (and the differences between them) develop within this unstructured matrix; they are not ontic but pragmatic only.    This avoids some of the mentioned conceptual problems;  and also, most people would probably agree that they are not devoid of ultimate concern.

  Holistic structures of theistic, naturalistic and other kinds   can actually be understood  as originating within such an unstructured matrix, for as-if-MIR stabilizing purposes;  the unstructured matrix would then appear to be a suitable basis for them as well.   The unstructured anchor point has been used for about the same length of time, about 2500 years - since what Jaspers called ‘axis time’ - as the theistic methods, but it still seems to be of undiminished contemporary relevance, and avoids conceptual difficulties.

RWM:  I more familiar with Buddhism than with Taoism (I have read “The Tao of Pooh," however).  I agree with your characterization of Buddhism as being more pragmatic than ontic, and that pragmatism is a way to avoid the conceptual difficulties of ontology.  I am willing to bracket ontological questions temporarily, but not permanently.   I take your “as-if-MIR” to be a pragmatic move, but I understand your denial of MIR to be an ontological claim.   Overall, your ontological position seems quite similar to subjective idealism, but in saying this, I don’t want to attribute to you beliefs other than those you explicitly assert.   What I find particularly interesting about your position is what I understand to be your pragmatic acceptance of MIR, combined with your ontological denial.


Richard W Moodey
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MOODEY001 (at) gannon.edu >