Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mad Max Nominalism

As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy. Me... Or everyone else.
George Miller's wasteland universalizes the accelerating will of mechanical-industrial society beyond the limits of any intelligent control until all that remains are the Dionysian fireworks of savage violence. It is nowhere because it is everywhere a permanent possibility of the present. Yet with no fixed and necessary reality beneath the sands of fire and blood, every entity that constitutes our imminently collapsing constructions are ultimately named only by the imperious imposition of totally extrinsic definitions: nothing binds them together either within the center of themselves nor in the epicenter of all, as each floats between infinite horizons as lonely atoms hanging in the void. Nominalism, the late-medieval doctrine that names signify nothing over and above themselves, renders the signification of names no more than uncharted islands. With no necessary relation between names, concepts, and things, every thought and action becomes the imposition of a violent will that, in the absence of any further justification, is always justified by itself. On the road to Gas Town harangued by scavengers there is no higher tribunal than the quick draw of a loaded gun.

The despotic domination of the vital resources of water, nutrition, and reproduction, are consequences of this apocalyptic demolition of the heavenly hierarchy of universal Ideas. Each represents an essential good of human life that has been harvested from its spontaneous source to be stored up in a private reservoir. The Citadel of Immortan Joe is the concrete realization of this domineering will to gather into a single source all the power of beings in idolatrous imitation of the absolute ground and author of Being itself. The release of flowing water symbolizes - first instrumentally but finally absolutely - the life-giving flow of universal Being to particular beings. But its deathly heraldry of skulls and ghost-faces expresses the abysmal negativity of non-being within, between, and around every conceivable collection of finitely delimited beings. Under his complete ontological domination, all beings are equally non-beings so that all men may undoubtedly confess that “we live; we die; we live again” in the one and the same servile unlife.

The sexual exploitation of women is the logical consequence of this gargantuan will to dominate, reserve, and instrumentalize all vital resources: for from the wombs of women uniquely arise the singular possibility for serial immortality through the succession of generations. Every warlord needs wives to eternally reproduce his rule. But nominalism blurs any firm distinction between legitimate sex and illegitimate rape, just as it abolishes any ground of moral justification, so that sex and rape blend into one and the same expression of an accelerating will to dominate all beings. Immortan Joe has locked away a small harem of 'breeders' in the deepest vault of his fortress. When the wives escape with Furiosa they symbolically deface their objectification by painting on the prison walls the words "we are not things!" He growls "they're my property!" Furiosa, who was herself a victim of sexual violence, fights to emancipate the wives and lead women to the 'Green Place': a virgin territory flowing with the unspoilt outpouring of goodness, life, and Being.

The chase concludes when Furiosa finds the Old Mothers and final fighters of revolutionary Feminism who, having hidden themselves at the edge of the world, remain barren of the political or physical fecundity to challenge the Citadel without the seminal contributions of Mad Max. Before the endless salt-fields at the lifeless edge of the real, each is presented with a choice to either journey onward in private endurance or to publicly challenge their assailant, the lord of the world. The outward conflict with the warboys then belies this more meaningful inward struggle with their own aspirations as each chooses to forsake the safe but unrealizable hope of immortality, abundance, and even sanity for the most perilous hope that may yet be concretely realized. In this common conviction, any hint of feminist-masculinist strife evaporates in the clasp of arms, the thunder of cannons, and the flight of wheels.

In a mad existence where hope is a mistake, redemption in the invisible economy of conscience might only be achieved by revolting against the visible economy of violence. Its rewards may only be purchased through a good will that first seeks for the welfare of another. Hardened in the belief that names signify nothing beyond themselves, Max first refuses to tell Furiosa his name; but before the fateful battle he give her his name as a symbol of their newfound trust. The wives' prayer to “anyone who's listening”analogously gives their trusts to a higher power beyond the immanent deification of political-economy. Its fulfillment is represented, not merely in the violent climax of rape-revenge, but by opening each heart to another, so that as their egoistic self-enclosures are abandoned, woman and man may once more join together in the free gift of love, which pours forth more mightily than a torrent of living water.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Heavenly Hierarchies in the DC and Marvel Comic Book Multiverses

The Crisis of Infinite Earths illustrated by Alex Ross
The DC Comics Multiverse is ruled by the abrahamic God whose various aspects are named the Presence (Godhead); the Voice (Divine Will); the Word (Divine Reason), the Hand (miraculous intervention); the Source (ground of Being) and the Source Wall (the limit of Non-Being). The universe was shattered and multiplied billions of years ago in an experiment that formed the branching multiverse and produced the Manichean opposition between the personification of matter, or Being, in the Monitor and the personification of anti-matter, or Non-Being, in the Anti-Monitor. The conflict between Monitor and Anti-Monitor during the Crisis of Infinite Earths would later result in the collapse and reconstruction of the DC Comics Multiverse. Various manifestations of universal phenomena, such as Destiny, Destruction, Death, Dream, Despair, Delirium, and Desire, are subordinated to this original unity and duality. The first creatures were the original gods who, having destroyed their world through war, were divided, between the heavenly world of New Genesis and the hellish world of Apokolips. The ‘Godwave’ resulting from the destruction of this world is said to have given birth to all other pantheons of later gods, including the Greek, Roman, Norse, Celtic, Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, and Japanese gods.

Cosmic Entities of the Marvel Comic Book Universe
The Marvel Comics Multiverse is ruled by the One-Above-All, which is manifested through the three faces in one body of the Living Tribunal. The major cosmic entities comprise various abstract complementary male and female couplets, such as Eternity and Infinity, Death and Oblivion; followed by the various minor cosmic entities such as Lord Chaos, Master Order, and the In-Betweener. The Infinity Gems are the last remains of the deceased cosmic entity Nemesis. Trans-universal powers freely move between and causally effect multiple universes, such as the Beyonders, the Phoenix Force, and the supreme magical powers of Sise-Neg and Cyttorax. The primary powers of the Marvel Comics Universe 616 are the inter-galactic powers, such as the Celestials, who created superpowered mutants, and the interstellar powers, such as Galactus who devours entire worlds; followed by the various gods derived from traditional mythology, such as Odin, Zeus, and Mephisto; along with lesser gods and demigods, such as Thor, Loki, and Hercules; and various other godlike creatures such as the mad Titan Thanos who, after mounting the infinity gems on the infinity gauntlet, is empowered to defeat all of the cosmic entities within the Marvel Multiverse.
Thanos imprisons the cosmic entities with the Infinity Gauntlet
If the theological backdrop of DC Comics is Jewish, then that of Marvel Comics is Gnostic. Beginning with only minor variations from a real-world setting, but also under pressure from the Comics Code Authority, DC Comic books avoided explicit descriptions of the supreme powers that created and ruled the universe, so as to leave open an imaginative theological space for readers of various religious traditions. The unseen God of DC Comics suggests the Jewish prohibition upon speaking the name and illustrating the image of God. Many of the most illustrious and enduring comic book characters were created by Jewish writers and artists, including Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Superman), Bob Kane (Batman), but, most importantly, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (Marvel). Beginning with Fantastic Four (1961) Lee and Kirby began to populate the Marvel Comic universe with a veritable pleroma of ever increasingly powerful cosmic entities, from Galactus and the Celestials to the supreme Living Tribunal and the One-Above-All. These new gnostic gods were not imagined as one syncretic composite to supplant many ancient pagan deities, but rather as the common mythic vocabulary of a modern de-mythologized and secular society. Where ancient Gnosticism drew inspiration from the unknown mysteries of perennial past, the new gnosticism of comic book superheroes gestures instead from the limits of our present knowledge to an unknown future horizon, beyond the furthest expanses of time and space, newly opened by the infinite progress of Baconian natural science to the unknown worlds of Bruno, Voltaire, and Lovecraft.

Marvel Comic Superheroes battle Thanos for the Infinity Guantlet

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Plato For and Against Universal Ideas

Three Arguments for the Ideas:

1. In the Phaedo, Socrates suggests that true knowledge is only possible of supersensible beings uncontaminated by “all contact and association with the body.” (66a-67b) In support of this possibility, Plato presents the One-Over-Many Argument (74a) that knowledge of any term, such as ‘equality’, requires some recognition of the perfect exemplar, or paradigm, of that term. Socrates comments that there is one single perfect paradigm for the "various multiplicities to which we give the same name." (Reb. 596a) The many sensible instances of equality, such as between “stick to stick and stone to stone”, are not perfectly equivalent, but at best only adequate imitations that imperfectly approximate this paradigm. (74e) Sensible instances of equality are imperfect because of the infinite divisibility of sensible magnitudes: since, any magnitude of either extension in space or the duration in time may be infinitesimally subdivided, and afterwards inconspicuously increased or diminished, the possibility that sensible objects are less than perfectly equal can never be completely guaranteed. Since, then, all sensible objects are possibly unequal, each may be imperfect and none can be certainly known to be perfectly equal. The perfect paradigm of equality is, however, distinct from all sensible instances of equality simply because it is, not a sensible object, but a totally supersensible Idea. (74c)

2. To explain the possibility of knowledge of perfect paradigms beyond all sensibility, Plato presents the Transcendental Argument. Transcendental arguments claim that some antecedent condition is necessary for the possibility of a consequence, and since the consequence is assumed to be true, the antecedent necessary condition must also be true. Socrates conjectures: “we must somewhere have acquired the knowledge that there is such a thing as absolute equality. Otherwise we could never have realized, by using it as a standard for comparison, that all equal objects of sense are desirous of being like it, but are only imperfect copies.” (75b) Since we assume it is possible to use the concept of equality as a standard of comparison between equivalent things, but this would be altogether impossible without knowledge of the perfect paradigm of equality, we must necessarily assume knowledge of the Ideas. Yet since knowledge of the Ideas of “beauty, goodness, and virtue” cannot be acquired from sensible objects in space and time, it must be somehow acquired from an innate and immediate mental intuition. (75d) Socrates thus describes, in the Theaetetus (187a), that “we have progressed so far, at least, as not to seek for knowledge in perception at all, but in some function of the soul.”

3. In the Republic, Socrates further reifies the Ideas by presenting an Argument from Science. Scientific knowledge is defined, in terms reminiscent of Parmenides, as "naturally related to that which is, to know that and how that which is is" (477b) and "the condition of that which is." (478a). Opinion is, to the contrary, distinguished as that which "partakes of both, of what is, and of what is not." (478e) Where scientific knowledge describes the existence and conditions of real beings, opinion merely describes the inconsistent mixture of being and non-being. Since the objects of scientific knowledge are pure beings, with no admixture of non-being, and - following Parmenides - being is prior to non-being, the objects of scientific knowledge must be logically prior and onto-logically superior to the shadow-play of opinions. Socrates thus calls the men who "have opinions about all things but know nothing of the things they opine" the lovers of opinion, or doxaphilists, but the men who "contemplate the very things themselves in each case, ever remaining the same and unchanged" the lovers of wisdom, or philosophers. (479e-480a)

Aristotle's lost work On Ideas is reported by Alexander of Aphrodisias to have summarized these three arguments for Plato's theory of Ideas: (a) the One-Over-Many Argument (80.8-81.22) states that if many subjects truly share the same predicate, then this shared predicate must be one perfect paradigm that is logically prior to the various instances in which  it is predicated of many other subjects; (b) the Transcendental Argument (also called the Argument from Thought) (81.25-82.7) states that the possibility of thinking any term of thought necessarily requires this object to invariantly endure as one everlasting Idea; and (c) the Argument from Science (79.3-80.6) states that, since truth is a correspondence between propositions and reality, and every scientific deduction begins with one axiomatic proposition, the truth of every axiom, and the very possibility of scientific knowledge, necessarily requires real Ideas. (cf. Fine 1993) These three arguments are cumulative and produce a single theory of Ideas: (a) the One-Over-Many Argument argues from many semantic predicate instances to the epistemic concept of one possible universal paradigm; (b) the Transcendental Argument argues from the possibility of this universal paradigm to the necessity of an everlasting Idea; and (c) the Argument from Science argues from the logical necessity of the everlasting Idea for any scientific knowledge to the ontic reality of the Ideas. The arguments for Ideas thus lead the “soul’s ascension” (517b) from (a) possible semantics, to (b) necessary epistemic concepts, to (c) the reality of the Ideas themselves.

Six Criticisms against the Ideas:

1. Extent of the Ideas Argument (130a-e): Can there be an Idea of ignoble things like mud? Yes, there are Ideas of all predicate-properties, including muddiness. 

2. Part-Whole Dilemma Argument (130e-131e): Are Ideas whole or parts? No, Ideas are neither parts nor wholes because partness and wholeness are spatial, topological, or mereological concepts that do not properly apply to non-spatial simple Ideas.

3. Third Man Argument(132a-b): If there is one universal Idea for every plurality of particular predicate instances, and this universal Idea is self-predicated, then must there not be an infinite regress of universal Ideas over all self-predicated universal Ideas? No, the participation-relation of universal Ideas to particular instances is an intrinsic 'tree-type' or pros heauto predication in which the universal Idea is self-predicated without any real distinction requiring additional universal Ideas. (See part III of my essay Plato's Contest)

4. Conceptualism Argument (132b-c): If all universal Ideas are concepts, then are not the particular instances of universal Ideas also concepts? Yes, the particular instances are analogous to concepts of universal Ideas in Mind, or Nous.

5. Resemblance Regress Argument (132c-133a): Can the Third Man Argument be avoided by reformulating universal Ideas as resemblances of common meanings? No, the same regress results regardless of whether one common meaning is substituted for one universal Idea, but the Third Man Argument can be easily answered by distinguishing 'tree-type' pros heauto from 'garden variety' pro ta alla predication.

6. Greatest Difficulty Argument (133a-134a): If universal Ideas and particular instances are two distinct sets, and these sets are not related, then how can we have knowledge of gods and Ideas, or the gods have knowledge of humans and appearances? Platonic participation implies that the set of particular instances are participants of the being of the universal Ideas. Yet the distinct sets of universal Ideas and particular instances results in a paradoxical set that both includes and doesn't include itself. This paradox can possibly be answered by the construction of a set theoretic hierarchy from the dialectical hypotheses of the second part of the Parmenides. (See part IV of my essay Plato's Contest)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Plato, Logic, and Ontology - Guest Lecture

Alcibiades tells us, in Plato’s Symposium, that the “bite of philosophical reasoning is more acute for a young and gifted mind than that inflicted by a tooth of a serpent. Once you have suffered that bite, you never know what you will do or say... As I look around this room, all of you have participated in the same madness: the Bacchic frenzy that possesses the lover of wisdom.” Today I see in your eyes some faint spark of that fiery madness and crystalline wisdom that might have once enriched Plato’s Academy. I ask that you open your thoughts and direct your minds to search with me for this poisonous promise of philosophic wisdom.

Why should the “icy laws of outer fact” and science bend its knee to philosophy’s “private dream”? (William James, The Will to Believe, 1896)  Plato answers that scientific knowledge today - no less than yesterday - requires that we, not only explain the necessary conditions for any consequence, but, moreover, apprehend these Ideas with a most erotic passion; and that it is better to “suffer anything” than live unreflectively through the fatuous misery of false opinions. (Rep. 516d)

Modern natural science follows Plato’s example in searching for the essential conditions that cause all natural phenomena. For every anomaly, science hypothesizes some new law, force, or element from which it may necessarily deduce the possibility of what has been observed.  This 'hypothetical-deductive' scientific method, which Karl Popper called the “logic of scientific discovery” (1934), was founded in Plato's logic of Ideas. Hermann Cohen writes: Plato is the founder of the system of philosophy because he founded logic... by establishing logic's connection to science, and thus grounding logic... in the concept of the Ideas. (1902 446-7)

Plato's logic of Ideas is the earliest common ancestor of Aristotelian syllogistic logic, Hegelian dialectical logic, and modern symbolic logic: for Plato provided the ontological infrastructure for Aristotle's formalization of logic into an array of valid syllogisms; the unity, division, and mixture of concepts that motivates Hegel's self-oppositing dialectic; and the universal Ideas of predicates and functions for Frege and Russell 's symbolic quantified logic. Even in the ancient world, Plato’s dialogues were mined for the roots of classical logic, (Alcinous) and even today he has provided fresh inspiration for recent alternatives to classical logic. (Priest 2012)

Yet Plato’s most abiding and decisive contribution has been in the realm of theology. Within living memory of his teacher, Xenocrates had identified Plato's supreme Idea with Zeus, the king of the gods, and the lesser Ideas as his divine thoughts, sprung like Athena from his hallowed head. Numenius described Plato as 'Moses speaking Greek'. Philo and Origin of Alexandria later adapted Hellenistic Platonism to formulate the classical definition of God, as the one, transcendent, and perfect being. (Hartsthorne 2000 76) William Inge reflected that “Platonism is part of the vital structure of Christian theology... There is an utter impossibility of excising Platonism from Christianity without tearing Christianity to pieces.” (Gifford Lectures 1917)

The philosophy of Plato has, without exaggeration, been “the inspiration of innumerable poets and prophets who have called upon men to rise above ephemeral interests to the contemplation of all time and all being.” (More 1917 270) With this lecture on the logic and ontology of Plato, I hope, in some small measure to turn your thoughts to become, in the words of Ezra Pound, “suddenly conscious of the reality of the nous, of mind, apart from any man's individual mind, of the sea crystalline and enduring, of the bright as it wore molten glass that envelops us, full of light."

Socratic dialectic, or elenchus, is the art of questioning to expose the contradictions that emerge through the discursive elaboration of conflicting assumptions: for any thesis, Socrates advances a counter-thesis that, once agreed upon, results in a contradiction that may only be resolved by rejecting one of the contraries. (Vlastos 1983) Since contradictions are silent as to which of the contraries should be rejected, some further assumptions are invariably required to resolve the truth and falsity of the contraries.  Yet if these further assumptions are also contradictory, then Socratic questioning must begin anew until all the contradictions among the conflicting assumptions have been completely resolved. Socratic dialectic thus proceeds from the contradictions between conflicting assumptions, to their tentative resolution in some further assumptions; and then, from any further contradictions, toward the resolution of all contradictions into knowledge of all truth and being. 

This dialectic of conflicting assumptions can also be observed to operate in the history of Greek philosophy. Eduard Zeller writes that the “history of philosophy too has its own system of laws… One problem rather grows out of another by an inner necessity... Thus the history of the philosophy of a people mirrors the development of its thought.” (1889/1955 28) Parmenides had identified speech and thought with Being itself, but could not explain the contrary opposition between Non-Being inscribed in every determination of Being. Heraclitus purported to explain this opposition as the coincidence of contrary opposite properties in all beings, but could not explain the possibility of non-contradictory knowledge of beings. Socrates answered that, by exposing and rejecting false definitions, we might come to know the definitions of all beings; and Plato individuated Parmenides’ Being into a plentitude of universal Ideas, each of which perfectly unites the thought and being of some predicate-property.

Plato’s logic of Ideas may re-construct Aristotle’s syllogistic logic on the basis of universal Ideas of subject and predicate terms, which flow from universal Ideas to particular instances according to the higher-order Ideas of the laws of logic. This logic of Ideas is grounded, unlike Aristotle’s formal logic, in Plato’s ‘unwritten’ ontology: the original opposition of the One and the Dyad is mixed in the Triad to generate the numerical dyad, the Idea-numbers, and all complex mathematical and geometrical forms which comprise the World-Soul. This original opposition of the Dyad motivates the division of genera into many species, as well as the exclusion, opposition, and contradiction between the various assumptions of Socratic dialectic; even as the One unites these differences into ever richer triadic mixtures. In the waning years of the ancient world the promise of Plato’s ontology was unwittingly transmogrified - beyond all comprehension - by the external reflection of thinking into the poisonous thought of being beyond being that froze thinking in an icy mystery. Yet through the incarnation of God as Christ within the World-Soul, Christianity reanimated this thought to think itself as God is humanized, humanity is divinized, and God and man are reconciled. 

Download the Full Lecture Here:

Download the Audio Recording Here: