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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

BACK IN THE SADDLE (??)

Next spring I will be teaching an advanced undergraduate course at UNC Chapel Hill (if enough students sign up – the minimum is 10.) The course will be called Four Short Works of Philosophy and the idea is simply to have some fun.  The four books range in length from 82 pages to 107 pages in the editions I shall be using and the first three of them, at any rate, are among my all-time favorites. They are Plato's GORGIAS, Hume's DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION, and Kierkegaard's PHILOSOPHICAL FRAGMENTS.  The fourth -- hem hem -- is IN DEFENSE OF ANARCHISM.


I think it should be a hoot.

11 comments:

Ridiculousicculus said...

A recommendation to reach 10 students - schedule the seminar for mid-morning or the afternoon and try to avoid an overlap with popular upper division classes.

anon. said...

It’s quite brave of you to teach anything by David Hume nowadays. Perhaps not quite as brave as he was to have, and be widely known to have, such thoughts on religion only a relatively short time after the 21-year-old student Thomas Aikenhead was hanged at Edinburgh for heresy. But you might find yourself pursued by the same people who in 2020 got the Hume Tower at Edinburgh University renamed. (Personally, I always thought the Tower was such an ugly modern architectural imposition stuck in the corner of a beautiful Georgian square that Hume humself would not have wanted to be associated with it.)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

And yet he was persuaded by his friends, including Adam Smith, not to publish the dialogues. They only appeared three years after his death, published by his nephew.

Ahmed Fares said...

From the little I know about David Hume, it appears he was simply copying Al-Ghazali's works without the God component. Here is Al-Ghazali writing against causality in the 11th century:

...our opponent claims that the agent of the burning is the fire exclusively; this is a natural, not a voluntary agent, and cannot abstain from what is in its nature when it is brought into contact with a receptive substratum. This we deny, saying: The agent of the burning is God, through His creating the black in the cotton and the disconnexion of its parts, and it is God who made the cotton burn and made it ashes either through the intermediation of angels or without intermediation. For fire is a dead body which has no action, and what is the proof that it is the agent? Indeed, the philosophers have no other proof than the observation of the occurrence of the burning, when there is contact with fire, but observation proves only a simultaneity, not a causation, and, in reality, there is no other cause but God. —Al-Ghazali (The Incoherence of the Philosophers)

As for David Hume's "constant conjunction", Al-Ghazali again:

The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary, according to us. But [with] any two things, where “this” is not “that” and “that” is not “this” and where neither the affirmation of the one entails the affirmation of the other nor the negation of the one entails negation of the other, it is not a necessity of the existence of the one that the other should exist, and it is not a necessity of the nonexistence of the one that the other should not exist—for example, the quenching of thirst and drinking, satiety and eating, burning and contact with fire, light and the appearance of the sun, death and decapitation […] and so on to [include] all [that is] observable among connected things in medicine, astronomy, arts, and crafts. Their connection is due to the prior decree of God, who creates them side by side, not to its being necessary in itself, incapable of separation. (al-Ghazālī IP: 166)

Michael said...

Plagiarism of Al-Ghazali seems very unlikely. I think the fairer view there is that Al-Ghazali was one of many to anticipate a view that receives central emphasis and extensive, influential treatment in Hume.

Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about the history of Islamic philosophy, including the history of philosophical texts and translations that may or may not have been available to Hume. But a peek at the SEP entry suggests that Al-Ghazali had forerunners of his own - it seems that Al-Ash'ari would be a main example, and that Al-Ash'ari himself "combined several ideas that were developed earlier in Muslim kalâm."

I seem to remember (I might be off) Berkeley also making some points on causality reminiscent of Hume - e.g., the inability of unaided reason to discover causal relations, or to confirm or disconfirm claims asserting the sort of causal relations that interest observers of nature (or however he would've expressed this). Copleston (A History of Philosophy: Vol. V) also mentions Nicholas of Autrecourt; here's Copleston:

"The great merit of [Hume's analysis of causality], which one can recognize whether one agrees with it or not, is his attempt to combine a consistent empiricism with a recognition of the meaning which we ordinarily attribute to causation. Thus he recognizes that when we say that X caused Y we mean something more than that X preceded Y temporally and was spatially contiguous with it. He faces up to the difficulty and tries to solve it on empiricist lines. This attempt to develop a consistent empiricist philosophy is his chief title to fame. What he said was by no means so novel as has been sometimes supposed. To take one example, Nicholas of Autrecourt in the fourteenth century maintained that from the existence of one thing we cannot infer with certainty the existence of another thing, since, in the case of two distinct things, it is always possible without logical contradiction to affirm the existence of the one and deny the existence of the other. It is only analytic propositions, 'reducible' to the principle of non-contradiction, which are certain. Furthermore, Nicholas appears to have explained our belief in regular causal connections in terms of our experiences of repeated sequences which gives rise to the expectation that if B has followed A in the past it will do so in the future. I am not suggesting, of course, that Hume knew anything at all about Nicholas of Autrecourt or similar thinkers of the fourteenth century. I am simply drawing attention to the historical fact that a number of Hume's positions had been anticipated in the fourteenth century, even though Hume was unaware of the fact. Nevertheless, it remains true that it is Hume, and not his early predecessors, who is the patron and father of modern empiricism." (p. 286)

I say this only as an enthusiastic amateur, but it seems fair (even a truism) to say that hardly anything in philosophy is totally without precedent or parallel; certain ideas just happen to be "in the air" at various times and places, with originality and innovation being found mainly in the way of emphasis, application, refinement. (Can anyone think of some counterexamples?)

Ahmed Fares said...

Michael,

suggests that Al-Ghazali had forerunners of his own - it seems that Al-Ash'ari would be a main example, and that Al-Ash'ari

Yes, it's all from the same school of thought. It was developed out of the Qur'an, is confirmed by the ascended gnostics of which Al-Ghazali is one, and it has to do with continuous creation. There is no causal glue to bind events together. It is for this reason that causality does not and cannot exist. The Qur'an says:

Everything is perishing except His face. —Qur'an 28:88

Note "perishing" and not, "will perish".

Al-Ghazali writes in his Mishkat Al-Anwar (The Niche of Lights):

From here the gnostics ('arifoon) climb from the lowlands of metaphor to the highlands of reality, and they perfect their ascent. Then they see--witnessing with their own eyes--that there is none in existence save God and that "Everything is perishing except His face" [28:88]. [It is] not that each thing is perishing at one time or at other times, but that it is perishing from eternity without beginning to eternity without end. It can only be so conceived since, when the essence of anything other than He is considered in respect of its own essence, it is sheer nonexistence. But when it is viewed in respect of the "face" to which existence flows forth from the First, the Real (al-Awal al-Haqq), then it is seen as existing not in itself but through the face adjacent to its Giver of Existence. Hence, the only existent is the Face of God.

Continuous creation then finds its way into Calvinism and the works of Jonathan Edwards.

Oliver Crisp summarizes [Jonathan] Edwards's view: "God creates the world out of nothing, whereupon it momentarily ceases to exist, to be replaced by a facsimile that has incremental differences built into it to account for what appear to be motion and change across time. This, in turn, is annihilated, or ceases to exist, and is replaced by another facsimile world ... and so on."

Ahmed Fares said...

Further to my comment and in the interest of clarity, the following on occasionalism:

(selected paragraphs - bold mine)

Occasionalism is a philosophical theory about causation which says that created substances cannot be efficient causes of events. Instead, all events are taken to be caused directly by God.

The doctrine first reached prominence in the Islamic theological schools of Iraq, especially in Basra. The ninth century theologian Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari argued that there is no Secondary Causation in the created order. The world is sustained and governed through direct intervention of a divine primary causation. As such the world is in a constant state of recreation by God.

The most famous proponent of the Asharite occasionalist doctrine was Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali, an 11th-century theologian based in Baghdad. In The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Al-Ghazali launched a philosophical critique against Neoplatonic-influenced early Islamic philosophers such as Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. In response to the philosophers' claim that the created order is governed by secondary efficient causes (God being, as it were, the Primary and Final Cause in an ontological and logical sense), Ghazali argues that what we observe as regularity in nature based presumably upon some natural law is actually a kind of constant and continual regularity. There is no independent necessitation of change and becoming, other than what God has ordained. To posit an independent causality outside of God's knowledge and action is to deprive him of true agency, and diminish his attribute of power. In his famous example, when fire and cotton are placed in contact, the cotton is burned not because of the heat of the fire, but through God's direct intervention, a claim which he defended using logic.

These occasionalists' negative argument, that no necessary connections could be discovered between mundane events, was anticipated by certain arguments of Nicholas of Autrecourt in the fourteenth century, and were later taken up by David Hume in the eighteenth century. Hume, however, stopped short when it came to the positive side of the theory, where God was called upon to replace such connections, complaining that "We are got into fairy land [...] Our line is too short to fathom such immense abysses."Instead, Hume felt that the only place to find necessary connections was in the subjective associations of ideas within the mind itself.


source: Occasionalism

thinketeria said...

Would it be possible to make a recording of the lectures and upload them to YoutTube some time after the course is over? I am a great admirer of your YouTube lectures. I have watched all of them on the work Of Karl Marx and on Freud, and am now watching the ones on the Critique of Pure Reason. I only wish there were more. So I am sure you would make a great gift to your YouTube audience if you were to make more of your lectures available. Thank you very much for your work!

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