Thursday, January 31, 2013

more sausage links

Gord writes a wide-ranging meditation that begins with Min Byeong-cheol's facile-but-classic Ugly Koreans, Ugly Americans, then balloons into... well, you should go read it. I learned new, trendy vocabulary from his post: heterosocial and homosocial. What's most interesting, though, is Gord's ambivalence toward the concept of ahistoricality: like any good PoMo thinker, Gord (at least initially) views ahistoricality as a dirty word, because postmodernists love to couch everything in historical and social context and avoid talk of eternal or history-transcending truths and universals. Those grand concepts are like garlic to a PoMo vampire. But later in his post, Gord (wisely, in my opinion) speculates on the commonalities that all humans share, starting with basic biological sameness and noting that the variety of possible human social structures is limited. In speculating this way, Gord tiptoes toward PoMo heresy by implying there may indeed be universals-- the same move that caused Steven Pinker to catch flak with his ironically titled The Blank Slate, a book that also argues for the existence of human universals.

Oh, what's a good liberal postmodernist to do? By declaring that there are no universals, the PoMo-ist is positing a universal! My thoughts from 2004 are here.

Meanwhile, in a different part of cyberspace, Lee continues his doomed defense of Saint Anselm's ontological proof for the existence of God by invoking process theologian Charles Hartshorne. Hartshorne confirms Lee's belief that Anselm's argument in the Proslogion gets stronger as it progresses, for Anselm is, perhaps without knowing it, making an argument from modal logic (the four basic modes: possible, impossible, contingent, necessary), to wit: the impossibility of conceiving of God's nonexistence stems from the fact that God, truly to be God, must be a necessary being.

Anselm's argument didn't impress me even back when I was a young Hoya in my The Problem of God course. His argument struck (and still strikes) me as an attempt to "logic" God into existence. At best, Anselm scores points by defining God in such a way that God must be conceived of as existing, but Hartshorne fails to persuade me that Anselm's positing of God's ontological necessity is somehow a powerful argument that God actually exists. There's a crucial "if" that constitutes an impossible hurdle. As Lee puts it in his post:

What Hartshorne is saying, I think, is that, for Anselm, if it is possible that God exists, then it is necessary that God exists. That is, necessary-existence is an essential part of the concept “God,” and so if that concept is internally consistent or coherent, then it must be instantiated in reality.

So has Anselm successfully proven that it is possible for God to exist? That's a big "if."



Charles said...

"...the impossibility of conceiving of God's nonexistence stems from the fact that God, truly to be God, must be a necessary being."


I think I'll just go write a post about boobs before my head explodes...

Kevin Kim said...

I'd read that boobie post.

Modal logic often traffics in the language of "possible worlds." To say that some being is a necessary being is to say that that being exists "in all possible worlds," i.e., there is no possible world in which that being does not exist. This may be what Anselm is aiming for, according to Lee the theoblogger and Hartshorne the process theologian: if God exists, then God exists necessarily.

Given the right God-concept, it may truly be impossible to conceive of God not existing. ("God doesn't exist? Inconthievable!" shouts Vizzini.)

Anselm pressed this point pretty hard: if God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived, then if we conceive of God as existing only in the imagination, we have failed to conceive of God, for things that exist in reality are greater than things that exist only in the imagination.

As Anselm's argument progresses from the second to the third chapter of his Proslogion, he moves to a somewhat stronger stance: if it's possible that God exists, then God exists necessarily. My own feeling, though, is that as long as we can't get rid of that "if," nothing has really been proven.

Charles said...

It's still kind of mind-boggling, to tell you the truth. I mean, I get it, but... yeah, it's still hurts a little.

And I totally wasn't kidding about writing a post on boobs. Watch my RSS feed in the next few hours...

Scott said...

Does Gord subscribe to post-modernism theory? I've never really caught that from him. He seems far more given to rationalism.

Kevin Kim said...


I doubt that Gord's an out-and-out PoMo-ist, but I've never asked him about this directly. I do know he leans decidedly left on the political spectrum, and his frequent references to gender, race, and history all indicate at least some sympathy with PoMo theory. He prizes contextualization.

At the same time, you're right: he is partial to scientific rationality, which is why he has to part company with PoMo: PoMo is often anti-rationalist: it sees science as another flailing tentacle in the evil West's attempt to oppress the rest of the non-Western world; PoMo also sees cold, sterile, analytic rationality as the root cause of all the suffering of the 20th century because, as postmodernists reason, the 20th century saw the radical technologization of warfare, which made efficient killing on a mass scale that much easier.

PoMo is dead-set against "totalizing metanarratives" and "ahistoricality"; this is another reason why it's so anti-science. Science deals with universals; the formula f = ma, for example, is true whether you're black or white, Korean or Saudi. 2 + 2 = 4 is equally universal, and because it's an apodictic truth, it perdures. That's anathema to PoMo, which despises eternal truths and labels them tools of oppression to be used by unenlightened (Western, always Western) bigots.

What does all this mean for Gord? While it's rude to psychoanalyze someone in public like this, I'd venture to say that Gord labors under a conflict: as a writer, he's got his literary/PoMo leanings (and let's face it-- critical theory is almost all PoMo these days), but as a scientific rationalist and published science fiction writer, he's equally partial to the eternal, apodictic truths offered by Western scientific rationality.

My take, for what it's worth.

Scott said...

Fair enough. I got my BA in lit. and was educated in the ways of the PoMo (by white males, of course). It seemed great at the time, but I've come to find it empty. A kernel of truth (oops, should say "truth") exaggerated beyond the point of absurdity. Now I'm in the academia of linguistics and I cringe whenever someone versed in critical pedagogy opens his/her mouth. Like Gord, my politics run to the left and just wondered if you assumed anyone on the political left would by necessity subscribe to post-modernism. Personally, I think the post-modernists are to liberals as the Tea Partiers are to conservatives: an embarrassment.

Kevin Kim said...


Like you, I received something of a brainwashing during my MA program in Religion and Culture at Catholic U, especially in my course on hermeneutics. Also like you, I was charmed by PoMo, especially, in my case, by the thought of Jacques Derrida, whose anti-essentialism appealed to my own metaphysical sensibility. I was, for a while, convinced that Derrida had taken a fairly Buddhist route in his critique of "the metaphysics of presence" that, according to him, underlay Western thought. Again, like you, I snapped out of my daze a few years later.

So I completely agree with you that one shouldn't equate leftism with postmodernism. For myself, I find it exquisitely ironic that PoMo should be so thoroughly in bed with a leftist/progressive agenda, yet be simultaneously anti-progress-- for progress is, after all, another oppressive Western metanarrative that makes us into bigots by compelling us to view and judge other, non-Western cultures through an "evolutionary" lens. There's something sad and, yes, empty about the PoMo position, if "position" is even the right word for the PoMo Weltanschauung.