Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The "Trilemma" of "Theodicy"

First published Wed Dec 14, 2005
Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits?

“Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then [God] is impotent.
Is [God] able, but not willing? Then [God] is malevolent. Is [God] both able and willing? whence then is evil?”
     Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, David Hume
                                 Whence then is evil? Hmmm...

Is “evil” always just a matter of what people think and feel it is, or does it have a recognizable identity of its own, “out there in the world”, so to speak? Is evil something we discover, or is it something we project unto the world?

Monday, January 28, 2013

NUTS & BOLTS "Problem of Evil"

Winter/Spring 2013
The Rev. Jonathan Sams
cell #: 248-515-1789
3 tests, each worth 20%
1 paper worth 25%
Homework 15%
If you mess up a test, you can move up one letter grade by completing an extra assignment from me.
No penalty will be assessed for late assignments if prior arrangements have been made with me. Otherwise, 1/3 of a letter grade will be subtracted for each 24 hour period after the due date.
In case of a conflict, these expectations will be modified to comply with established school policies.

I will not normally use my cell phone during class, except for emergencies. Please do the same.

homework for february 1 2013


HOMEWORK: due Friday, February 1
Choose something in the media (book, film, song, etc.) that meets your criteria for “evil” and describe it in a short paragraph. Then answer the following questions in writing…

1.    What “elements of evil” does this example contain?

2.    Does this example strike you as   (please circle the word that seems closest for you)

a) banal;
b) obsessively interesting;
c) creepy
d) none of the above

Why did you make the choice you did?

If you chose “d”, what word would it be?   

Problem and Mystery

Gabriel (-Honoré) Marcel

First published Tue Nov 16, 2004; substantive revision Wed Jul 14, 2010
Gabriel Marcel (1889–1973) was a philosopher, drama critic, playwright and musician. He converted to Catholicism in 1929 and his philosophy was later described as “Christian Existentialism” (most famously in Jean-Paul Sartre's “Existentialism is a Humanism”) a term he initially endorsed but later repudiated. In addition to his numerous philosophical publications, he was the author of some thirty dramatic works. Marcel gave the Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen in 1949–1950, which appeared in print as the two-volume The Mystery of Being, and the William James Lectures at Harvard in 1961–1962, which were collected and published as The Existential Background of Human Dignity.

6. Problem and Mystery
A problem is something which I meet, which I find completely before me, but which I can therefore lay siege to and reduce. But a mystery is something in which I am myself involved, and it can therefore only be thought of as a sphere where the distinction between what is in me and what is before me loses its meaning and initial validity. (Marcel 1949, p. 117)
A problem is a question in which I am not involved, in which the identity of the person asking the question is not an issue. In the realm of the problematic, it makes no difference who is asking the question because all of the relevant information is “before” the questioner. As such, a problem is something that bars my way, placing an obstacle in front of me that must be overcome. In turn, the overcoming of a problem inevitably involves some technique, a technique that could be, and often is, employed by any other person confronting the same problem. Thus the identity of the questioner can be changed without altering the problem itself. This is why the modern broken world only sees the problematic: the ‘problematic’ is that which can be addressed and solved with a technique, e.g., changing a flat tire on an automobile or downloading security software to fix a virus on one's computer.
When I am dealing with a problem, I am trying to discover a solution that can become common property, that consequently can, at least in theory, be rediscovered by anybody at all. But…this idea of a validity for “anybody at all” or of a thinking in general has less and less application the more deeply one penetrates into the inner courts of philosophy… (Marcel 1951a, p. 213)
Marcel often describes a mystery as a “problem that encroaches on its own data” (Marcel 1995, p. 19). Such a “problem” is, in fact, meta-problematic; it is a question in which the identity of the questioner is an issue. On the level of the mysterious, the identity of the questioner is tied to the question and, therefore, the questioner is not interchangeable. To change the questioner would be to alter the question. It makes every difference who is asking the question when confronting a mystery. Here, on the level of the mysterious, the distinctions “in-me” and “before-me” break down. Marcel insists that mysteries can be found in the question of Being (e.g., my ontological exigence), the union of the body and soul, the “problem” of evil and—perhaps the archetypal examples of mystery—freedom and love. For example, I cannot question Being as if my being is not at issue in the questioning. The question of being and the question of who I am (my being) cannot be addressed separately. These two questions are somehow incoherent if approached as problems; however, taken together, their mysterious character is revealed and they cancel themselves out qua problems.
Unlike problems, mysteries are not solved with techniques and therefore cannot be answered the same way by different persons—one technique, one solution, will not apply in the different cases presented by different persons. Indeed, it is questionable if mysteries are open to “solutions” at all. Nevertheless, it would be incorrect to call the mysterious a gap in our knowledge in the same way that a problem is. “The mysterious is not the unknowable, the unknowable is only the limiting case of the problematic” (Marcel 1949, p. 118).
Although a mystery may be insoluble, it is not senseless; and while its inexpressibility makes it inaccessible to communicable knowledge, it can still be spoken of in a suggestive way (Marcel 1964, xxv). Marcel notes in a journal entry dated December 18th, 1932 that:
The metaproblematic is a participation on which my reality as a subject is built… and reflection will show that such a participation, if it is genuine, cannot be a solution. If it were it would cease to be a participation in a transcendent reality, and would become, instead, an interpolation into transcendent reality, and would be degraded in the process… (Marcel 1949, p. 114)
Referring back to the idea of a broken world, the technical and the problematic are questions that are addressed with only “part” of a person. The full person is not engaged in the technical because a person's self, her identity, is not at issue. “At the root of having [and problems, and technics] there lies a certain specialization of specification of the self, and this is connected with [a] partial alienation of the self…” (Marcel 1949, p. 172). Problems are addressed impersonally, in a detached manner, while mysteries demand participation, involvement. Although some problems can be reflected on in such a way that they become mysterious, all mysteries can be reflected on in such a way that the mystery is degraded and becomes merely problematic.