Obscurantism

The subject of obscure writing came up on another thread, and with Steven Pinker’s new book on writing coming out next week, now is a good time for a thread on the topic.

Obscure writing has its place (Finnegan’s Wake and The Sound and the Fury, for example), but it is usually annoying and often completely unnecessary. Here’s a funny clip in which John Searle laments the prevalence of obscurantism among continental philosophers:

John Searle – Foucault and Bourdieu on continental obscurantism

When is obscure prose appropriate or useful? When is it annoying or harmful? Who are the worst offenders? Feel free to share examples of annoyingly obscure prose.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

I saw this photo at Jerry Coyne’s place a couple of days ago and laughed out loud.  It’s flippant, but the question actually deserves genuine, serious consideration.

To the theists reading this:  When you’re stranded on the throne, why doesn’t God poof a roll into existence for you? He’s surely powerful enough to do it, with less effort than it takes you to lift a finger, so what holds him back?

If your spouse, child, or even a roommate that you didn’t particularly like were in a similar predicament, you would surely be kind enough to rescue them by fetching a roll and placing it outside the bathroom door.  Why doesn’t God do the divine equivalent?

Is it for the same reason that he never restores the limbs of amputees?

Feser’s First Way: an argument proving God’s existence?

This post arises out of an exchange between me and one Matt Sheean at Ed Feser’s blog. I got involved there because there have been some exchanges, at times quite amusing and colourful, between Feser (assisted by some of his regular commenters) and Vincent Torley, well known to UD readers as perhaps the less unacceptable face of ID, in that he comes across as a nice guy on a personal level. Both Feser and Torley are both staunch Catholics, a religion that I find pretty objectionable (above all for it’s interference in private life and thought, the readiness of its leaders to tell others how to behave, oppression of women and minorities.. but I digress). In an earlier post at Uncommon Descent, Vincent Torley kindly transcribed some of Feser’s presentation (admittedly to a young, lay audience) of his version of Aquinus’ “First Way”. I was asked to summarise my impression of the video and agreed. Hence this post. Continue reading

Clinical ethics and materialism

In a variant of the hoary old ‘ungrounded morality’ question, Barry Arrington has a post up at Uncommon Descent which ponders how a ‘materialist’ could in all conscience take a position as clinical ethicist, if he does not believe that there is an ultimate ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. I think this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of clinical ethics. In contrast to daily usage, ethics here is not a synonym for morality.

I can understand how a theist who believes in the objective reality of ethical norms could apply for such a position in good faith. By definition he believes certain actions are really wrong and other actions are really right, and therefore he often has something meaningful to say.

My question is how could a materialist apply for such a position in good faith? After all, for the materialist there is really no satisfactory answer to Arthur Leff’s “grand sez who” question that we have discussed on these pages before. See here for Philip Johnson’s informative take on the issue.

After all, when pushed to the wall to ground his ethical opinions in anything other than his personal opinion, the materialist ethicist has nothing to say. Why should I pay someone $68,584 to say there is no real ultimate ethical difference between one moral response and another because they must both lead ultimately to the same place – nothingness.

I am not being facetious here. I really do want to know why someone would pay someone to give them the “right answer” when that person asserts that the word “right” is ultimately meaningless.

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Realism

Some of the discussion on the “Edward Feser and Vincent Torley” thread seems to have drifted way off topic.  So I’m starting a new thread for further discussion on realism.

I’ll just quote part of a recent comment by BruceS:

1. A complete description of the world is a scientific description (or has a large component that is a scientific description).

2. Science is in principle reducible to physics.

3. Physics requires mathematics.

4. Mathematics is “unreasonably effective” when used in physics, which is saying that somehow the world is describable by mathematical concepts.

5. The (parts of the) any two separate complete description of the world (eg by us and some alien species) in mathematical physics will hence involve the same (or at least mathematically equivalent) concepts.

I realize all of these statements are quite questionable, although I would have thought that #3, the need for mathematics in physics, would have been among the least questionable premises!

Continue reading