The Ontological Proof

The easiest disproof of the ontological argument for the existence of God is to say that “existence” is not a predicate.

Another, potentially more satisfying route: go back through the Monologion and note all the times that he points out that infinite regress and mutual definition are complete nonsense, requiring every rational person to affirm the existence of God. In Lacanian terms, Anselm is proposing God as the master signifier or “constitutive exception”: God is both that which is beyond the good and that which provides a sharp boundary to that realm, both that which has no necessary relations to anything and that to which everything else is necessarily related. As Zizek has repeatedly pointed out, however, we appear to be living in a universe that actually follows the logic of the pas-tout, non-all or non-whole. A critique of Anselm in this direction wouldn’t just circle a single mistake in red — it would undermine the whole thing by pointing out that we do live in a universe of undefined boundaries and mutual definition (what people designate as a “relational ontology,” though they don’t often push very hard on it).

[People thought it was wrong when I said it a couple years ago on The Weblog, but I still think that you can explain about 90% of the function of the “God of the philosophers” as plugging the hole of infinite regress (of which mutual definition would be a subclass). At least up to Descartes — I’m not sure what’s going on with Spinoza, honestly, though I know he’s the main counter-example. He’s on the reading list.]

[When I originally came up with this idea, I was thinking in terms of undermining Anselm by means of Nancy, but I figure the Lacan stuff is closer to being common currency among readers of this blog.]

56 thoughts on “The Ontological Proof

  1. I’m not sure why saying “existence is not a predicate” is supposed to be an easy disproof. One needs to get clear on what “existence” and “predicates” are for such a rebuttal to have teeth, and that’s a fair bit of work.

    Wasn’t one of Kant’s big points about the traditional arguments that the “regress stopper” arguments needed the OA to actually be arguments for the existence of God, rather than just “an uncaused cause” or “a wise designer”? This would seem to rather dull one’s enthusiasm for attacking the “regress stopper” bits of the arguments; they’re always idle wheels. The OA is where the action’s at, and it doesn’t depend on the cosmological/teleological premises of the other arguments.

    (If one is interested in getting out of the whole metaphysical mess, then I don’t know why this should take the form of a critique of Anselm. One’s targets would be rather broader than that.)

  2. Of course it depends on the premises of the cosmological stuff! Otherwise it wouldn’t be an argument, right? If all the metaphysical baggage doesn’t matter, then it’s just window-dressing, and Anselm hasn’t even come close to developing a proof for the existence of God.

    I take it as a given that such proofs only prove the existence of the “God of the philosophers” and that it’s a huge leap to say “And of course this God is the same one we read about in the Bible.”

  3. I’m not sure why a (perfectly good) argument can’t have a lot of extraneous garbage hanging around. Such is the stuff philosophical books are made of. Though I may just be missing sarcasm here, I haven’t slept well recently.

    I didn’t even have the last point in mind. I meant the whole “your uncaused cause has no person-like predicates” thing. Nothing analogous to will or knowledge or wisdom or goodness or etc., but only “like a normal cause except without a preceding cause” or (in the other case) “something like goodness and knowledge and wisdom and etc., but only in proportion to how nice things seem. They are kinda nice I guess?” Such a “God of the philosophers” could be a “God” only by metonymy. It’s one of the points Kant makes whenever he discusses the traditional proofs. (I suspect the most extended treatment is in his “Lectures on Philosophical Theology”).

  4. Listen: I’m saying that I take for granted that he doesn’t prove the existence of the Christian Trinity, nor does his proof actually take him in that kind of direction. I’m more interested in what it could feasibly be proving — i.e., the “unmoved mover” or whatever you want to call it. I understand that the stakes are larger than just Anselm, but I know the Monologion better than any of the other relevant texts.

  5. This is interesting, and I need to think about it in relation to Whitehead’s notion of God (about which I am currently trying to write). It is clear that Whitehead’s God is NOT the God of Christianity or any other religion; the question really is, what *function* does God serve in Whitehead’s cosmology? I don’t think that God’s purpose for Whitehead is to “plug the hole of infinite regress”, but I suspect that it may serve some related philosophical function. At one point, Whitehead explicitly compares his postulation of God to Kant’s (meaning both Kant’s rejection of traditional proofs in the First Critique, AND his positing of God on other grounds in the Second.
    Sorry this is so vague and unformed; my ideas are still quite unformed at this point. I just wanted to say that your suspicion as to plugging the hole of infinite regress fits in with the question of what logical function the postulation serves in Whitehead.

  6. I think the key to understanding Whitehead’s God is to take seriously his claim that he’s trying to write a new Timaeus. Specifically, I’ve thought of possibly reading “God” as an overlaying of the “world of forms” (admittedly not explicitly found in the Timaeus) and “khora” — a “world of forms” for which history matters.

  7. Deleuze and Guattari make a similar claim in A Thousand Plateaus:

    There is a simple general formula for the signifying regime of the sign (the signifying sign): every sign refers to another sign, and only to another sign, ad infinitum. That is why, at the limit, one can forgo the notion of the sign, for what is retained is not principally the sign’s relation to a state of things it designates, or to an entity it signifies, but only the formal relation of sign to sign insofar as it defines a so-called signifying chain. The limitlessness of signifiance replaces the sign…

    …There is not much to say about the center of signifiance, or the Signifier in person, because it is a pure abstraction no less than a pure principle; in other words, it is nothing. Lack or excess, it hardly matters. It comes to the same thing to say that the sign refers to other signs ad infinitum and that the infinite set of all signs refer to a supreme signifier. (112-115)

    This is pure Lacan. Beginning with the premise that “the signifier cannot signify itself” (Seminar 14), or, alternatively, that “the signifier represents the subject for another signifier”, there is an infinite regress. The only solution to this infinite sliding is an exception-al signifier subtracted or except-ed from the chain (the master-signifier, quilting point, or name-of-the-father) that then halts this endless sliding and functions as the ultimate referent of all the other signifiers (“the signifier that represents the subject for all the other signifiers”).

    A bit earlier in the same passage from Deleuze and Guattari, they write: “This is the situation Levi-Strauss describes: the world begins to signify before anyone knows what it signifies; the signified is given without being known. Your wife looked at you with a funny expression. And this morning the mailman handed you a letter from the IRS and crossed his fingers” (112). I think this underlines why psychosis occurs when this exception-al signifier isn’t operative. The name-of-the-father halts this endless process of signification by providing an ultimate referent for all the other signifiers, but when this is absent the world becomes saturated by signifierness, turning everything into something meaningful. As you point out, this except-ed signifier thus grounds the auto-referentiality of the symbolic order, while also halting its lethal regression.

    In response to Daniel you write:

    I take it as a given that such proofs only prove the existence of the “God of the philosophers” and that it’s a huge leap to say “And of course this God is the same one we read about in the Bible.”

    Doesn’t God in the Bible serve an analogous function, though? If someone loses their young child to a horrific accident, they are often prone to say “it was a part of Gods plan”, or “God took him for a reason”. The reason isn’t known by the believer, but merely posited. In this way, infinite interpretation is forestalled. It is enough that the plan exist, such that we do not need to know what the plan is.

    At any rate, the logic of exception you seem to be pointing at above seems extremely common in social formations and the history of philosophy: Plato’s Good, Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, Plotinus’ One, Descartes’ God, etc. There always seems to be some exception in these systems that quilt everything else together. Doesn’t Whitehead’s God serve an analogous function? I don’t understand Whitehead’s account of God very well, but it seems that he’s often suggesting that God somehow selects which eternal objects are operative. The point seems to be that the eternal objects themselves are not intrinsically explanatory, but rather require a further explanation or ground for why just these, and no others, are operative in the universe.

    A similar issue came up with one of my students recently when discussing Plato’s Euthyphro. When discussing Socrates’ question “is piety pious because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is pious”, they asked where piety came from if the gods didn’t make it. All that could really be said in this Platonic context is that piety just is, in much the same way that Newton argued that laws of nature do not themselves need to be explained but are, as it were, brute facts of existence. The student was unimpressed, and perhaps rightfully so.

  8. Hmmm… Whitehead writes about “Plato’s Receptacle” (am I right in thinking this is the translation of khora? — Whitehead gives two Greek words, one is khora, which he translates as Locus, but says it is equivalent to the other, upodoche, which he translates as Receptacle) in Adventures of Ideas (page 187), where he quotes from (and slightly alters a quotation from) the Timaeus. He says that the “sole function” of the Receptacle “is the imposition of a unity upon the events of Nature”. And proposes this as a model for the minimal way in which the “personal identity” or the soul is a unity. I will need to think more about how this relates to the unity of every actual occasion, and to God’s prehension of all possibility, i.e. all eternal objects (forms).

  9. This all raises the question of whether religious folk like Pat Robertson are psychotic or not. Given that they see meaning in every natural event and political event, and that they stitch all of this into an unfolding plan and drama, isn’t there a psychosis at work here? When the name-of-the-father is operative we are rescued precisely from seeing meaning in everything (the crossed fingers of the mailman, the car that drives around in our culdesac three times in one day, etc). Yet the god-term is operative in Robertson, et al’s, discourse… The question would be, how is it operative? In the real or the symbolic?

  10. Two questions:

    (1) Why are we still arguing with Anselm? Do we think he’s that cool or do we think other people are that dumb (i.e., enough to take hims seriously)? Or is there a third option?

    (2) A friend of mine once said all the fuss over having to prove God is just a sign of the dearth of mystics. Okay, so that wasn’t a question.

  11. Wouldn’t what is operative in the discourse of Robertson et al. be a form of paranoia, with God playing the part of the Other of the Big Other?

    I think what’s going on in Robertson’s head is beyond simple reference to a founding exception, but rather lapses into a sort of mythological paganism –

    Robertson’s God isn’t just a founding exception, but an absolute bastard in the sky *who will fuck you up*.
    The part we’re left with is the performance of theurgical acts (prayer and donation come to mind) in order to stave off the impending judgement. For ourselves, at least.

  12. This is what I was getting at, paranoid psychosis. The whole problem in the case of someone like Robertson isn’t the founding exception, but rather that the founding exception isn’t operative in his symbolic universe.

    The Lacanian thesis, in this connection, is that what is foreclosed in the symbolic, returns in the real. This is the Lacanian formula for paranoid psychosis. A couple of things happen when the name-of-the-father or exception-al signifier isn’t operative in a subject’s universe: first, the entire universe comes to be characterized in terms of meaning or significance. Lacan argues that the neurotic is characterized by doubt, whereas the psychotic is characterized by certainty. For the psychotic, every small event takes on meaning or significance in a way that it simply wouldn’t for an ordinary neurotic subject. Thus, ordinary, albeit unusual events take on significance or meaning as part of a narrative of which the subject is the center. For example, a red car drives by your house three times and this means the CIA is watching you. Or you come across an oddly shaped rock and this must be an omen revealing your destiny on the world-historical stage. Everything in the world comes to have a narrative structure in some massive political or cosmic struggle.

    Second, the symbolic function foreclosed in the universe of signifiers, returns as a real apparition. Schreber literally encountered God. Countless paranoid psychotics speak of sublime agencies such as God, the all powerful CIA, aliens, the Masons, the Illuminati, the Rand corporation, etc.

    The Robertites (and many fundamentalists) seem to fit this profile very well. God isn’t simply a symbolic function, but rather is really acting in the world as a genuine presence. I’ve had patients recovering from their experiences with various fundamentalist religious movements (predominantly Pentacostal), who talk about how the members of their congregation had a direct relationship with God. I don’t mean that they were just employing a sort of rhetoric. These patients recount how they would literally receive “rays” from God, and how each and every event in their lives was understood as being a direct act of God. I can’t emphasize enough that for these congregations– at least as these patients reported it –such talk wasn’t just a metaphorical way of speaking.

    For me the stumbling block lies at the level of meaning. Clearly there are a number of people throughout the world and history that think of the world in terms of meaning. It could even be argued that the vast majority of people experience the world as a world of signs and meanings, not meaningless causes. Experiencing the world in terms of meanings is not, in and of itself, a psychotic phenomenon. So for me the question becomes that of when the meaning ceases to be a perfectly ordinary neurotic way of relating to the world and is instead a psychotic way of relating to the world. How do you distinguish between that subject-formation pervaded by meaning where the exception-al symbolic function is operative, and that world of meaning where it is foreclosed and characterized by psychosis?

  13. The Zizek stuff and Lacan are simply beyond me at this point. I know there’s a lot of interesting stuff in Zizek, but for me he makes most sense when he gets out of theory and into the real world. He actually makes much sense then. I even think he could say the same things he does in his short articles without the theory he espouses. Maybe I’m wrong there.

    Anyway, there are plenty of reasons to reject the ontological proof that lie outside of Nancy et al. Kierkegaard provides a nice reductio and critique of the proof vis a vis Spinoza in Philosophical Fragments. His disproof says that Spinoza (and any other theologian offering such a proof, including Anselm and Aquinas) has to assume God’s existence in the first place. At best, any such proof is a tautology, at worst it assumes what it attempts to prove. For Kierkegaard, there simply is no proof that God exists. None. Zippo.

    As to the Robertites et al, I think they can be rebutted from within the Christian framework. You don’t need to go outside it to do that. Kierkegaard is a case in point, again. For Kierkegaard, the Robertites either exhibit what K calls anxiety and a miscontrual of original sin or they are in despair which ultimately means they are defying God by imposing their own understanding of what God is or isn’t onto God, because they cannot accept their own finitude.

    The problem I have with accusing them of being paranoid is the fact that many people in history and even today live(d) quite productive and genuine lives believing in such things as omens and signs and a world of natural symbology. Evans-Pritchard, for example, lived among the Azande and ran his household using the same rites and sacrifices that the Azande did. Everything worked out fine for him. Aren’t we trying to impose a way the world should be–from a secular, scientistic (even Lacanian) world-view–when we say that they are wrong to think the way they do?

    This is why I think the proper way to attack the Robertites et al is not via their beliefs from the outside, but from inside their system. From this perspective, at least, the Robertsons and others who fit his mold are selling certainties and convictions that simply betray the Christian message. From this perspective, which requires little theorizing, one can say that the Robetites et al are immoral dogmatizers.

  14. On the signifier and other signifiers: Does the “inscrutability of reference” ever come up in these discussions? (Quine’s thesis. The indeterminacy of translation’s little buddy.)

    It seems relevant, is why I ask. I know I’ve seen Two Dogmas mentioned in this sort of company, but that seems to be the only Quine that gets brought into the conversation.

  15. Cynic, the various Lacanian diagnostic categories are not ways of saying a person is “wrong” or has an “incorrect” relationship to reality. Rather, they are different ways in which a subject manages jouissance and relates to the desire of the Other. There is no subject position of “normal” within the Lacanian framework, nor does a person that goes through analysis cease to be neurotic or psychotic or perverse. You might think of these categories as something like “existentiales” in Heidegger’s sense. At any rate, it is both common and fully possible for a psychotic to “live a quite productive and genuine life”.

    Another potential point in favor of the psychosis diagnosis is the predominance of imaginary relations among these groups. “Imaginary”, here, does not mean false or illusory, but rather refers to specular relations between the ego and the other. In these dual relations there’s a predominance of aggressivity in relation to the mirror other, as the mirror other is seen as contesting the existence of the ego. This is why the greater the push for self-identity, the greater the aggressivity towards others as posing threats to that self-identity. But again, a primacy of rivalrous, dual relations can be found in various neurotic formations as well.

    Daniel, Lacan spends a good deal of time with Russell, Wittgenstein, Carnap, and Quine (I think he even mentions Davidson in a few places), in his seminars during the mid and late sixties. There is a fair amount of overlap between Quine’s inscrutibility of reference thesis and Lacan’s discussions of the signifier… Especially in his article The Instance of the Letter.

  16. Adam:
    Adam:

    You should read my esssay, “St. Anselm: Theoria and the Doctrinal Logic of Perfection,” in Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and the Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions. I argue that the argument is not so much about “God’s existence” at all, so much as it is about the creature’s deification, a “pedagogy in the art of creaturely existence,” which binds the “speculative” (in good Benedictine) fashion to the “practical.” This essay is actually an early essay that I wrote, though its publication is fairly recent. And though I would today significantly qualify my deployment of on “analogical” ontology there, I do think the account of deification of creation (if I am right that that is actually what he is seeking to “prove”) I offer there requires something more like the “relational ontology” you point to. Though it would have to be “pushed” in that direction. At any rate, I’d be interested in what you think of the essay.

  17. sinthome, Then what’s the use of the categories? If you can’t say someone has a dis-relationship with reality, then why call them paranoid or anything else? Your categories don’t make sense because you seem to be saying the Robertsonites are somehow out of touch with reality and yet they aren’t–is this is a sleight-of-hand both/and trick or what?

    You’ve dodged my comments about Evans-Pritchard, I believe. The point of the comments is that people can live lives different from our, by different “imaginaries” (to use a term of art) and simply just be living decent, productive lives.

    You also seem to have dodged the issue about morality and the Robertsonites. Am I correct in thinking that the Lacanian view does not think in terms of right or wrong?

  18. Adam, Re: the ontological proof: You might wish to look at Schopenhauer’s critique of the Cartesian and Spinozistic takes on this. His and Kierkegaard’s critiques are similar though Schopenhauer’s is more formal. Since it is the same critique that he directed at Hegel’s entire philosophy, I’ll cut/paste from my “archive” what I posted at sinthome’s site:

    As far as fallacies go, I haven’t worked out the details of this analysis yet, but there are strong similarities between many of Kierkegaard’s arguments against Hegel’s theory of motion and Schopenhauer’s accusation that the ontological proof commits a fallacia non causae ut causa or “fallacy based on a cause that is not a cause.”

    In essence this form of fallacy conflates the definition of a thing and the proof of its existence, “the ground of knowledge with causality.” Quoting Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics (I, 13), Schopenhauer writes:

    knowing and demonstrating that a thing exists is very different from knowing and proving why it exists. (Schopenhauer, Fourfold Truth)

    It is here that Schopenhauer attacks the ontological proof, as well. This very important distinction between various forms of causality and justification is carried over into the 2oth century by Wittgenstein, especially in his attacks on scientism.

  19. sinthome, Then what’s the use of the categories? If you can’t say someone has a dis-relationship with reality, then why call them paranoid or anything else? Your categories don’t make sense because you seem to be saying the Robertsonites are somehow out of touch with reality and yet they aren’t–is this is a sleight-of-hand both/and trick or what?

    The diagnostic categories are tools the analyst uses to determine the structure of the analysand’s intersubjective relations. Recall that for Lacan, “desire is the desire of the Other” or is essentially intersubjective in character. However, intersubjective relations can take different forms. The analyst situates himself with respect to the analysand differently depending on whether the analysand is a hysteric or obsessional (neurotic), a pervert, or a psychotic. This is especially important in the case of psychosis, because if the analyst mistakenly diagnoses an analysand as, say, an obsessional when the subjective structure of desire is in fact psychotic, the analyst’s interpretations might inadvertently precipitate a psychotic break.

    The categories are not there to rectify the analysand’s position to reality. In fact, Lacanian analysis always works from the standpoint of the analysand’s reality, not some presupposed conception of what reality is. You would never, for instance, find a Lacanian analyst claiming that the analysand’s reality is false or an illusion. From the Lacanian standpoint, reality itself is a product of language. As a result, the Lacanian position is similar to that you describe with respect to Evans-Pritchard (which is why I didn’t comment on it). What, then, is the Lacanian doing in treating an analysand? If the Lacanian is not rectifying a patient’s relation to reality, what is the Lacanian doing? In the case of neurotic patients, the Lacanian helps the analysand to discover their desire. The analysand comes in complaining about a symptom. The symptom is a repressed desire. Over the course of analysis, the analysand discovers what that desire is through their free associations and work of interpretation (the analysand does the majority of interpreting in analysis). In the case of psychosis, the aim is not to get rid of the “psychotic delusion”, but rather to assist the analysand in elaborating and developing the psychotic delusion. In short, the aim is not to “convert” the psychotic to “normal” reality. From the standpoint of those only familiar with psychotherapeutic paradigms of therapy where analysand’s understood to be “sick” and in need of a “cure”, this cannot but sound strange. However, this principle is based on the observation that a significant decrease in paralyzing anxiety and jouissance takes place as the psychotic elaborates their delusion, filling the lack that exists in their particular symbolic order. Thus, for example, Judge Schreber wasn’t “cured” by being shown that his belief that the world was destroyed and that he was the mistress of God was false, rather, the more Schreber developed and elaborated his particular metaphysics and narrative of the world, the more functional he become (he went through long periods of outright catatonia. This disappeared after he had written his memoirs). This marks a highly significant differences between how psychoanalysis approaches the “treatment” of psychotics, schizophrenics, and paranoids, and how medical models of psychotherapy approach this treatment. In the latter there is decidedly an attempt to rectify the neurotic’s or psychotic’s relationship to reality… This premised on the claim that the therapist somehow has a more true relationship to reality than the patient. For Lacan, by contrast, there’s no more reason to suppose that the analyst knows what “true reality” is, than the analysand.

    As for moral questions, analysis only acknowledges one ethics: the ethics of desire or not giving way on desire. That is, analysis doesn’t posit transcendent moral standards by which right and wrong can then be determined on a case by case basis. The idea here is that the symptom from which the analysand suffers emerges as a result of a betrayal of desire on the part of that analysand. The moral evaluation of Robertson you present suffers from the same problem you raise with respect to Evans-Pritchard: How do you establish that you have a more true or a more genuine understanding of what Christianity is than the Robertsonites? This entails that you believe you possess the true reality of Christianity, while they do not. This is exactly like suggesting that the secularist somehow has a more genuine conception of reality than the Azande. But if reality is a symbolic construction, how can this evaluation be made?

    Rather than adopting this approach– which hasn’t been very successful in debates among Christians –the Lacan informed cultural analyst would instead seek to determine whether symptoms are involved in the intersubjective relations of the group in question. It would then seek to determine how these symptoms might be indicative of a betrayal of desire on the part of that group, and would then strategize forms of engagement with the group in question that might prod that group to avow their desire. I suspect that the obsession with the “evil Other” we find in many of these fundamentalist groups is a substitute for repressed desires within these groups that has little or no relationship to the loathed groups that are the object of hatred. Zizek gives a brilliant analysis of this sort of symptomology with respect to Anti-Semitism, showing how Anti-Semitism has nothing to do with Jews, and everything to do with antagonisms within the group itself.

  20. To follow up, a bit, on the use of diagnostic categories in Lacanian analysis, another major difference between the Lacanian categories and mainstream psychotherapy is that the diagnoses aren’t even revealed to the analysand or patient. There will never be a point during analysis where the analyst says “You’re a hysteric!” as the analyst works with the symptoms of the analysand, not a set of categories that are understood to be maladies.

    The diagnostic category will determine how the analyst relates to the analysand. These categories are based on the structure of fantasy governing the analyst’s intersubjective relations.

    Hysteria (a -A-): Subjects that desire according to this fantasy structure seek to be the object-cause of the Other’s desire. For instance, the person might perpetually reform themselves based on what they believe their various lovers desire, never articulating their own desire. If the analyst is not quickly cognizant of this structure of desire, they risk quickly falling into certain traps over the course of analysis. For instance, if they take up a predominantly prescriptive and pedagogical role in analysis, they will find that the analysand makes remarkable “progress”, appearing to completely conform to the ideal case and treatment. However, what is happening here is that the analysand is simply reforming himself according to what he believes the analyst’s desire to be and getting no closer to a knowledge of his own desire. For this reason, when confronted with hysteric desire it is important to perpetually be elusive in the articulation of desire, keeping the analysand in a state where they are constantly guessing as to what the analyst desires. In this way, the analysand’s own fundamental fantasy will gradually begin to emerge in the analytic setting as he constantly strives to interpret the analyst’s desire, and he will gradually come to knowledge of his own desire.

    Obsession ($ a): The fundamental fantasy of the obsessional is the subject conjoined with the object cause of desire, sans any attachment to the anxiety provoking and enigmatic desire of the Other. That is, the obsessional strives to negate the Other altogether, to make them disappear, so that she might relate directly to objet a. One common strategy for doing this is to fulfill all the demands of the Other so as to forestall any anxiety provoking encounter with the enigmatic desire of the Other. If the analyst isn’t cognizant of this structure of desire, he risks a situation similar to that encountered with the hysteric. The obsessional will encounter the command to free associate as a demand (“so that’s what the analyst wants!”), and will execute this demand perfectly, droning on and on, and even getting irritated when the analyst intervenes or interrupts (remember the obsessional aims at the negation of the Other). The problem is that in filling the demand of the Other, the obsessional forestalls any encounter with desire and no progress is made in analysis. To avoid this problem, the analyst must constantly maneuver, taking great pains to avoid any demands in analysis, and finding ways to intervene when the analysand gets caught up in this negating activity. Once again, the structure of the fantasy governing the analysand’s symptom gradually comes into focus as a result of encountering the enigma of the Other’s desire and no longer having a demand to cover over this enigma.

    Perversion (a $): Unlike the neurotic, the pervert is not a relationship to the Other’s desire, but is rather a relationship to the Other’s jouissance or enjoyment. Where the neurotic lacks knowledge of jouissance, the pervert takes himself to have knowledge of jouissance and treats himself as the object of the Other’s jouissance. Where castration is repressed in the case of neurosis, it is disavowed in the case of perversion. Lacan argues that the ultimate aim of perversion is actually to enact castration by getting the Other to say “No!” In this way, he is able to evade the anxiety that emerges as a result of suffocating jouissance (the subject fades or disappears in jouissance). Very little is known about the treatment of perversion as they seldom appear in analysis, but minimally it’s clear that no progress towards a knowledge of desire will be made if the analyst serves the “police-function” that the analysand seeks as there will be no encounter with the unconscious.

    Psychosis: Because the name-of-the-father isn’t operative in the psychotic’s symbolic universe, the unconscious is not operative. Lacan, for instance, draws attention to how there’s a lack of metaphor at work in discourse of the psychotic as the primordial metaphor surrounding the name-of-the-father is not operative. For this reason, the psychotic treats words as if they were things or objects, rather than signifiers standing for things. If the analyst isn’t clear that he’s dealing with a psychotic fairly early, he risks precipitating a psychotic episode by interpreting the psychotics speech as he would a neurotics speech. In interpretating the psychotic ends up encountering the hole in his symbolic order and lacks the resources to stitch up that hole. This is why the symbolic universe of the psychotic falls apart if the analyst interprets certain formations, leading to the chaotic and disjointed symbolic universe we witness in advanced cases of psychosis where a fullblown psychotic episode is under way. Rather than interpreting, the analyst here instead helps the psychotic to elaborate and develop his particular symbolic universe.

    In all of these cases, the diagnostic categories are not forms of “sickness” or ailments, but are particular structures of desire that have their own particular symptomal structures, along with their own way of relating to others. The neurotic relates to the Other vis a vis desire and the demand. The pervert vis a vis jouissance. The psychotic vis a vis dual imaginary relations or identifications and bodily images in relations of rivalry and mimesis. Each of these structures has its own potential dangers in analysis, and the analyst uses these categories as a tool to locate the particular structure of symptoms and to situate himself with regard to the analysand. It is not a question of having a mistaken relation to reality, or being cured. What analysis aims for is not a cure with respect to ones diagnostic position (these remain unchanged over the course of analysis), but rather a relation to desire or jouissance that is less painful for the analysand.

  21. “This entails that you believe you possess the true reality of Christianity, while they do not. This is exactly like suggesting that the secularist somehow has a more genuine conception of reality than the Azande.”

    Why should “the true reality of Christianity” and “a more genuine conception of reality” (simpliciter) be handled as similar terms? (“Reality” is not the name of an additional area of inquiry alongside others. Nobody inquires into “reality”, as Rorty would put it — they inquire into forces, or organisms, or Zeus, or Finnegan’s Wake, or… etc.)

  22. Daniel, all I’m saying is that the differences among how the Bible is interpreted isn’t going to be resolved among these different Christian groups. The problem is precisely analogous to the difference between how an Azande and a secularist interprets the world. As a result, claiming that Dobson or Robertson “contradicts” Christianity is a non-starter in analyzing what is going on with the likes of Dobson or Robertson. It’s no different than the secularist suggesting that he has the superior understanding of the world compared to the Azande. It presupposes what it sets out to demonstrate. Similarly, Robertson is going to retort that his understanding of Christianity is, indeed, founded on sound Biblical evidence.

  23. The notation of the various fantasies is mistaken in the previous posts because the computer interpreted them as code. They should read (a * -A-), where the “*” should be thought as the “punch” or diamond between the two mathemes. The second paragraph should read “…the analysand’s intersubjective relations”, not “…the analyst’s intersubjective relations.”

  24. “Daniel, all I’m saying is that the differences among how the Bible is interpreted isn’t going to be resolved among these different Christian groups.”
    I’m not sure why we should be pessimistic about this, really. Such groups are hardly static. They’re of recent coinage, too, so there’s not even deep roots to worry about digging up. Besides, no one needs to resolve disagreements between “groups”. What gets convinced of the rightness or wrongness of some point or other is an individual, not a “group”. And individuals shift alliances all the time.

    “The problem is precisely analogous to the difference between how an Azande and a secularist interprets the world.”
    A secularist might join the Azande; an Azande might turn secular. I am not seeing how there is an impasse here.

    Nor do I see that it is clear that in the case of the secularist and the Azande we have a case of different “interpretations of the world”: We have two different (broad-grained) groups of things which one might do. The Azande and the secularist need not be in “disagreement” any more than the chemist and the baseball player, though they certainly act differently.

    “Similarly, Robertson is going to retort that his understanding of Christianity is, indeed, founded on sound Biblical evidence.”
    Which is the point at which one has found some rough ground to argue upon.

  25. Daniel, you’re talking about a distinct issue here. CynicLibrarian had made the case that Lacan (and Lacanians) are in the business of correcting the beliefs of their patients and that they hold they have a “more true” conception of reality. I had responded by pointing out that in Lacanian practice the analyst adopts an agnostic position as to what is real and not real, and works within the symbolic universe of the analysand. A good deal of this has to do with the nature of transference and number of counter-productive responses that emerge when the analyst takes on the position of master or one who knows, either causing the analysand to rightly flee (as in the Dora case) or further alienating the analysand in such a way that they get no closer to a knowledge of their own desire.

    No one is denying that persuasion and convincing does take place in dialogue between people, only that this is not what an analyst does. An analyst is not in the business of persuading or convincing his analysand of anything, nor of correcting his views of reality. On the other hand, you’ve changed your goalposts between your first post and this recent one. Where before the issue was one of whether there is a true or genuine interpretation of the Bible, now you’ve made the question one of whether one can convince or persuade the another person of a particular interpretation. We can remain agnostic on the first option, while maintaining that the latter occurs all the time.

    Nor do I see that it is clear that in the case of the secularist and the Azande we have a case of different “interpretations of the world”: We have two different (broad-grained) groups of things which one might do. The Azande and the secularist need not be in “disagreement” any more than the chemist and the baseball player, though they certainly act differently.

    I suggest you acquaint yourself with what the Azande believe:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azande#Traditional_Beliefs

    A secularist is only going to admit naturalistic explanations into their universe. Clearly this will be at odds with animism, magic, oracles, and witchcraft. When an unusual event such as a solar eclipse occurs for the Azande they will interpret it, perhaps, as a sign from the gods. When this occurs for the secularist it will be a result of a perfectly ordinary, though infrequent relative to human lifespans, result of the movement of the planets with respect to the sun. Approaching the world in terms of meaning or signs is radically different than approaching it in terms of natural causes. Returning to the original topic, the Lacanian would not seek to persuade the Azande of the naturalistic explanation, but would instead work within the framework of the Azande’s understanding of the world.

    Besides, no one needs to resolve disagreements between “groups”. What gets convinced of the rightness or wrongness of some point or other is an individual, not a “group”. And individuals shift alliances all the time.

    Really? There are never disagreements among groups? What do you believe World War II was about? How about the Enron scandal. What about organized religious groups seeking to effect legislation?

  26. I didn’t say there weren’t disagreements among “groups”. I said that there’s no need to find some way to resolve those disagreements. Though I can see how you read it the other way. I should have phrased that second sentence you quoted as “What is needed is to convince some individual or other, not some group, of the rightness or wrongness of some point or other.” (If you can sway entire groups en masse, well, good for you. You are influencing individuals in aggregate; there is no reason to say you are not swaying the group. But there is no reason to look at the group as opposed to the individuals, as if we had to convince them both if we were to get them to change their opinions.)

    Fair enough on my ignoring the point that the original discussion was a clarification of what analysts do; this comment thread has already gone through enough curves that I slipped up. But it still seems like you were arguing for a more general skepticism, not one reserved for the sterility of clinical practice.

    “Where before the issue was one of whether there is a true or genuine interpretation of the Bible, now you’ve made the question one of whether one can convince or persuade the another person of a particular interpretation. We can remain agnostic on the first option, while maintaining that the latter occurs all the time.”
    You miss a nuance — the issue is persuading another of an interpretation which I hold; what is sought is agreement. And what I hold to be the case, I hold to be true. (If I’m utterly agnostic on the issue, then of course I have nothing to talk with Robertson about.)

    It wouldn’t occur to me to doubt whether there is “a true and genuine interpretation” of the Bible, or of anything else. I am happy to allow old Pyrrho to rest in peace; his age is past. Though it may of course turn out that many and varied purposes may call for different interpretations– in which case we have not found no true interpretation, but a cornucopia of them. (There may be false interpretations still, even if there is no uniquely true one.)

    As for the Azande: Why is your secularist so dead-set on taking the Azande practices as purported explanations? By his own lights they fail spectacularly as such; this would seem to be a good reason to be suspicious that this is what is going on at all. Evans-Pritchard, it was said above, ran his household as the Azande did, but I should not be inclined to attribute this to a lapse into superstition on the part of the anthropologist. (I am reminded of Wittgenstein’s comments on Frazer’s “Golden Bough”.)

  27. You miss a nuance — the issue is persuading another of an interpretation which I hold; what is sought is agreement. And what I hold to be the case, I hold to be true. (If I’m utterly agnostic on the issue, then of course I have nothing to talk with Robertson about.)

    No, this was understood and isn’t denied. This just isn’t what takes place in analysis.

    It wouldn’t occur to me to doubt whether there is “a true and genuine interpretation” of the Bible, or of anything else. I am happy to allow old Pyrrho to rest in peace; his age is past.

    Am I correct in understanding that you are committed to the thesis that there are true and genuine interpretations of texts? Mind you, I am not advocating the Phyrrhonic view that all interpretations are equal, but are you really claiming that there is a “text in-itself” that is the one true meaning of that text? If you are really claiming this, I suspect you need to make an extended foray into the fields of literary theory and hermeneutics to understand the issues involved. Additionally, is the Robertsonite open to being persuaded or to critically examining Biblical texts… Such openness entailing a minimal risk on his part: A risk that doesn’t simply involve the possibility of his interpretation being overturned, but a risk that also involves a strong chance that he might lose his position within his social world by adopting new beliefs at odds with the beliefs of the community from which he draws his prestige, power, but also love.

    As for the Azande: Why is your secularist so dead-set on taking the Azande practices as purported explanations? By his own lights they fail spectacularly as such; this would seem to be a good reason to be suspicious that this is what is going on at all. Evans-Pritchard, it was said above, ran his household as the Azande did, but I should not be inclined to attribute this to a lapse into superstition on the part of the anthropologist. (I am reminded of Wittgenstein’s comments on Frazer’s “Golden Bough”.)

    Why are you so dead set on asserting that the Azande’s cosmology is not an explanation for the Azande. This, of course, is going to vary from group to group and individual to individual, but are you really claiming that such groups seldom or never offer their cosmologies as explanations? Take the growing practice of exorcism among certain fundamentalist groups in the United States. If a man undergoes such an exorcism and ceases to drink or look at pornography or steal, etc., how would this man explain the change that took place in him? Would he say “as a result of my strong transferential relation to the members of my congregation who read passages from the Bible to me for days on end, prayed with me, and laid their hands on me, I symbolically transferred my symptom onto the body of this community” or would he say “through this ritual I was able to dispel Satan or this particular demon from my soul”? Supposing that the secular explanation, the first explanation, is the true one, does it really matter whether this particular man believes this explanation or even has any knowledge of these dynamics whatsoever? I think not.

    You seem to implicitly beg the question using a line of reasoning that must be something like the following:

    The Azande are functional in the world. The Azande would not be functional in the world were they to have a mistaken conception of the world. Therefore, the Azande cosmology must not be explanatory of the world, but must instead serve other function. As a consequence it follows that the Azande and the secularist share the same conception of the world.

    I don’t know if this is an accurate portrayal of your position or not, but it seems to be what you’re arguing. Certainly you, who have a background in philosophy and are therefore acquainted with a variety of different philosophical systems from antiquity to present can recognize that many of these systems, which were offered as explanations, are wildly mistaken (when measured against the lights of contemporary natural science) but nonetheless these philosophers were perfectly capable of getting along in the world. The inference I draw from this is that truth or an understanding of genuine natural causes is not a requisite for getting along in the world. For instance, I haven’t the faintest clue as to how my computer, car, or television work, yet I can make use of them just fine. Indeed, I am convinced that there are dwarfs inside my car that begin to run on a treadmill furiously whenever I push the pedal causing a bell to ring at intervals signaling my desired speed, and that my computer and television are filled by shape changing sprites that act out various forms of entertaining and information for our benefit (of course, there are serious questions about these global industries that enslave dwarfs and sprites for use in these technologies).

    I do not know the details of the Azande’s particular cosmology, but supposing that they have a totemic culture, does it make any difference that they explain pregnancy as resulting from a struggle between competing totems belonging to the male clan and the female clan, and account for the subsequent qualities of the child on the basis of these totems and which wins out, rather than referring to fertilization and DNA? The totem explanation has the additional virtue of explaining why pregnancy doesn’t occur in all situations… The totem of the male’s clan did not prevail over the totem of the female’s clan. Again the Azande get along just fine without knowing about DNA, ovulation, etc… And similarly too with crop cycles and the seasons.

    I am not familiar with Wittgenstein’s comments on Frazier. Like Wittgenstein I share a similarly dim view of Frazier’s anthropology (far better work has been done since), but I’m led to wonder why Wittgenstein should be treated as a credible source on anthropology, rather than the word of those who spend their entire life living among the various groups they study and presenting their findings in peer reviewed pieces of scholarship, i.e., the anthropologists. Certainly I wouldn’t go to Wittgenstein for medical advice but rather a doctor. Why go to Wittgenstein for knowledge about anthropology rather than an anthropologist?

  28. If you can sway entire groups en masse, well, good for you. You are influencing individuals in aggregate; there is no reason to say you are not swaying the group. But there is no reason to look at the group as opposed to the individuals, as if we had to convince them both if we were to get them to change their opinions.

    I don’t believe I was claiming this power, nor making any of the claims you seem to attribute to me here. As a practical matter, however, the persuasion of an individual is often deeply tied to group relations. This is not to suggest that individuals can’t be persuaded independent of groups. However, individuals tend to belong to groups and belonging to a group often comes with an implicit price-tag attached. That is, one of the reasons that it is often so difficult to persuade another person of anything is that part of their reason for adhering to a belief isn’t truth or falsity, but because maintaining that belief is a requirement for their continued good standing among their friends, family, job, loved ones, etc. This comes out with particular clarity and in an extreme form with those who fall into cults, but is common enough in a wide variety of other contexts as well. For instance, we can imagine an Anglo-American philosopher who is absolutely fascinated with Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Hegel, etc., but who never publishes on these matters due to institutional political factors in American universities and the often low regard in which continental thinkers are held. Were this philosopher to write on these matters he would perhaps diminish his symbolic capital within the academy and destroy other possibilities for himself. Of course, this is something that has gradually begun to change as the result of figures like Brandom (who had already attained a high degree of symbolic capital prior to beginning to speak more extensively on figures such as this), but is certainly still a reality in many contexts.

  29. One further note about the Azande. You write:

    As for the Azande: Why is your secularist so dead-set on taking the Azande practices as purported explanations? By his own lights they fail spectacularly as such; this would seem to be a good reason to be suspicious that this is what is going on at all.

    What, in this passage, are you claiming “fails spectacularly”? The Azande explanation? Is this really true? It seems to me that beliefs of this sort have all-purpose explanations built in that explain these failures. For instance, suppose a group of Indians do a rain dance and it fails to rain. This group of Indians doesn’t throw out the rain dance, rather they say that they didn’t dance well enough to please the gods. Similarly in the case of the theory of the four humors. When medieval doctors bled someone and that person’s condition worsened, they didn’t throw out the theory of the four humors, but rather said that they didn’t bleed the person enough or that they were dealing with some other illness that required a different treatment. Bleeding was “successful” in enough instances to merit keeping the theory. And once again, when we take an antibiotic and it doesn’t work, we don’t say that the theory of antibiotics is unsound, but rather that the bacteria has mutated and is immune. Indeed, it is likely that in many cases our improved health has little or nothing to do with the antibiotics we take, but rather results from our own body fighting the infection. Yet we attribute the health to the antibiotics just as the Azande might attribute their good harvest to their deft worship of the gods.

  30. “Am I correct in understanding that you are committed to the thesis that there are true and genuine interpretations of texts?”
    Certainly. True and genuine interpretations. Also false and disingenuous ones. A “cornucopia” contains many things, not a single one, which is why I used the term above.

    If Robertson really does refuse to discuss his “beliefs” in the strong sense you seem to be imagining, then I think it’s nonsense to attribute to Robertson such “beliefs” (as doxastic states) at all. Charity demands it. Robertson would, on this view, be much more readily understood as uttering shibboleths, not making assertions.

    I think you generalize poorly when you use a modern-day American phenomena (the revival of exorcism) as a model for more obscure practices.

    Wittgenstein’s remarks on “The Golden Bough” are reprinted in “Philosophical Occasions 1912-1951”, which is available in a lovely Hackett edition. They do not consist of armchair anthropology (whatever that would be); they are philosophy. Anthropologists can get into a linguistic muddle as well as anyone can.

    “The Azande are functional in the world. The Azande would not be functional in the world were they to have a mistaken conception of the world. Therefore, the Azande cosmology must not be explanatory of the world, but must instead serve other function. As a consequence it follows that the Azande and the secularist share the same conception of the world.”

    They needn’t have the same conception, only enough of a shared conception that they can both get on in the world. The second sentence is too strong; the Azande cannot be massively wrong, but they can be mistaken about quite a few things while still getting around in the world. The third sentence is rather a non sequiter; the Azande cosmology is not just “the aggregate of all the beliefs Bob Azande has about the world”, but refers to a specific subset of such beliefs. (Geography is not a part of cosmology.)

    I will admit, I rolled my eyes at the phrase “genuine natural causes”. “My car starts when I turn the key in the ignition” is a perfectly fine bit of causal knowledge. As is “The red berries cause vomiting”. Or “He doesn’t like it when I do things like that.” Causal knowledge is cheap.

    “What, in this passage, are you claiming “fails spectacularly””
    The bits you are inclined to make light of. Note that I put that claim as being by the lights of your secularist. If a “true” explanation is one of “genuine natural causes” then the Azande are nowhere close with their talk of witchcraft etc.

  31. If Robertson really does refuse to discuss his “beliefs” in the strong sense you seem to be imagining, then I think it’s nonsense to attribute to Robertson such “beliefs” (as doxastic states) at all. Charity demands it. Robertson would, on this view, be much more readily understood as uttering shibboleths, not making assertions.

    This strikes me as a convenient way of redefining terms so as to maintain your position. There’s really no way discussion can proceed further at this point when terms are redefined in this way. Part of the problem is the very concept of faith as it is understood by certain (not all) religious groups: conviction without the possibility of demonstration or refutation. Are you suggesting that when faith is understood in these terms it is not a belief? This would be a conception of belief I’m not familiar with and one that I think would be philosophically uninteresting with respect to the real differences we do encounter in the world among people.

    I think you generalize poorly when you use a modern-day American phenomena (the revival of exorcism) as a model for more obscure practices.

    I don’t see why. Would you like examples from the ancients of very similar claims?

    Wittgenstein’s remarks on “The Golden Bough” are reprinted in “Philosophical Occasions 1912-1951″, which is available in a lovely Hackett edition. They do not consist of armchair anthropology (whatever that would be); they are philosophy. Anthropologists can get into a linguistic muddle as well as anyone can.

    Certainly, although I wouldn’t treat the philosopher as the arbiter of what counts as knowledge and what doesn’t as you seem to be doing here. It’s impossible for me to respond one way or another when I don’t know what Wittgenstein is saying about Frazier.

    I will admit, I rolled my eyes at the phrase “genuine natural causes”. “My car starts when I turn the key in the ignition” is a perfectly fine bit of causal knowledge. As is “The red berries cause vomiting”. Or “He doesn’t like it when I do things like that.” Causal knowledge is cheap.

    No denial here, but you have changed the issue yet again. Your original claim, apparently, was that these cosmologies don’t serve an explanatory function for those who possess them. This is a rather odd claim to say the least. The point is that we have very different understandings of causality in these two universes. Now, in the most case, this doesn’t impact lives very significantly, but it can have significant consequences in other contexts. For instance, understanding the black plague as punishment by god perhaps led to a cascade of self-destructive and futile ways of dealing with the plague that exacerbated the problem.

    “What, in this passage, are you claiming “fails spectacularly””

    The bits you are inclined to make light of. Note that I put that claim as being by the lights of your secularist. If a “true” explanation is one of “genuine natural causes” then the Azande are nowhere close with their talk of witchcraft etc.

    and

    They needn’t have the same conception, only enough of a shared conception that they can both get on in the world.

    This is a rather uncharitable interpretation of my claim. You are pitching me as saying that the secularist and the Azande share nothing in common whatsoever. That would indeed be an absurd claim. To even suggest it is to set up a straw man. In your original remark you said,

    Nor do I see that it is clear that in the case of the secularist and the Azande we have a case of different “interpretations of the world”: We have two different (broad-grained) groups of things which one might do. The Azande and the secularist need not be in “disagreement” any more than the chemist and the baseball player, though they certainly act differently.

    I suppose this depends on how one interprets your final sentence. If you’re referring to things like “red berries cause sickness” or “rubbing sticks together rapidly makes fire” then you are correct, they need not be in disagreement. However, there are a number of causal claims and entities in the Azande ontological inventory that you will not find in the secularist’s ontological inventory: witchcraft, spirits, etc. This is a matter of fundamental disagreement. Shifting gears, the case is similar with certain fundamentalist Christians: The idea that history is guided by a providential plan, that the hand of god intervenes in natural events, and so on. Falwell, for instance, claimed that 9-11 was God’s punishment for how sinful America has become, and made similar claims about Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami. These are incommensurable ways of understanding the world and it is difficult to see how any persuasion could take place in these particular cases for either the secularist or the fundamentalist.

  32. “This strikes me as a convenient way of redefining terms so as to maintain your position. There’s really no way discussion can proceed further at this point when terms are redefined in this way.”
    If you had asked at the outset, I would have been happy to point to Davidson for clarification of how (in a broad sense) I understand these matters. No shifting need be attributed to the interpretee; there is another route which allows greater rationality to be attributed.

    “Part of the problem is the very concept of faith as it is understood by certain (not all) religious groups: conviction without the possibility of demonstration or refutation. Are you suggesting that when faith is understood in these terms it is not a belief?”
    Yes. Absolutely, completely on-point. Quine made the same point in “Quiddities”, under the entry you’d expect to find such a comment under. This sort of “religious faith” isn’t belief at all. As I mentioned above: Shibboleths.

    “Your original claim, apparently, was that these cosmologies don’t serve an explanatory function for those who possess them.”
    That’s certainly a strong claim! It was not merely as a matter of taste that I phrased things as I did: Your secularist can’t understand the role the “cosmology” plays in the Azande’s life if he insists on seeing it as (his own “secularist”-true-natural-cause-scientistic sense of) “explanatory”. If your secularist is to understand the Azande, he must stop clinging to his rigid categories. (In good Hegelian fashion, reason is jostling the understanding.)

    “You are pitching me as saying that the secularist and the Azande share nothing in common whatsoever.”
    No, only that they share mostly nothing, that most of their beliefs are (to stretch a term) idiosyncratic. Rather than mostly agreement, you are claiming they mostly disagree.

    “However, there are a number of causal claims and entities in the Azande ontological inventory that you will not find in the secularist’s ontological inventory: witchcraft, spirits, etc. This is a matter of fundamental disagreement.”
    Why should these abstractly theoretical matters be taken as “fundamental”? It’s the sticks-and-berries sort of causal knowledge which the Azande actually use to get in their everyday life. And there we have agreement between the Azande and your secularist — things get hot if you leave them out in the sun, they get wet in the rain, a broken bone needs to handled gingerly for a bit, etc.

    “Shifting gears, the case is similar with certain fundamentalist Christians: The idea that history is guided by a providential plan, that the hand of god intervenes in natural events, and so on. Falwell, for instance, claimed that 9-11 was God’s punishment for how sinful America has become, and made similar claims about Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami. These are incommensurable ways of understanding the world and it is difficult to see how any persuasion could take place in these particular cases for either the secularist or the fundamentalist”
    If you think that no-one who held that 9/11 (or Katrina, or the Tsunami) was retribution for sin ever changed their mind on the topic, then I think you are simply being untrue to the evidence (or perhaps simply betraying an unfamiliarity with it). Of course the folk on TV don’t show any changes! But these beliefs are also held by people who actually exist, and there they are certainly subject to shifting. Though likely not due to conversations with “secularists”, for those tend to end up as more heat than light.

  33. I think this discussion is pretty much at an end and is an indication of the very thing I’m talking about, though in this case with regard to incommensurability among philosophical paradigms. A couple more comments:

    If you had asked at the outset, I would have been happy to point to Davidson for clarification of how (in a broad sense) I understand these matters. No shifting need be attributed to the interpretee; there is another route which allows greater rationality to be attributed.

    “Part of the problem is the very concept of faith as it is understood by certain (not all) religious groups: conviction without the possibility of demonstration or refutation. Are you suggesting that when faith is understood in these terms it is not a belief?”

    Yes. Absolutely, completely on-point. Quine made the same point in “Quiddities”, under the entry you’d expect to find such a comment under. This sort of “religious faith” isn’t belief at all. As I mentioned above: Shibboleths.

    I would humbly submit that if Davidson and Quine are indeed making such claims, this is precisely why they are almost entirely useless for cultural analysis or any sort of ideological analysis. Pick up just about any ethonography written by an anthropologist in the last sixty years and see how well it fits this model. You might look at Clendinnen’s Aztecs (hmmm, wonder why they were engaging in all that sacrifice), or Schieffelin’s The Sorry of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers that examines the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea (hmmm, wonder why they were burning those dancers), or Mauss’ classic The Gift (hmmm wonder what that potlatch was all about). I’ll take the word of the ethnographer any day over that of a philosopher in his armchair. The philosopher would do well to do so as well, rather than attempting to legislate from afar without actually acquainting himself with the material in question.

    That’s certainly a strong claim! It was not merely as a matter of taste that I phrased things as I did: Your secularist can’t understand the role the “cosmology” plays in the Azande’s life if he insists on seeing it as (his own “secularist”-true-natural-cause-scientistic sense of) “explanatory”. If your secularist is to understand the Azande, he must stop clinging to his rigid categories. (In good Hegelian fashion, reason is jostling the understanding.)

    You have failed to provide such an analysis but have continuously asserted that such an analysis exists. I’m fairly confident in my own views on this matter due to my background in cultural anthropology.

    blockquote>“However, there are a number of causal claims and entities in the Azande ontological inventory that you will not find in the secularist’s ontological inventory: witchcraft, spirits, etc. This is a matter of fundamental disagreement.”

    Why should these abstractly theoretical matters be taken as “fundamental”? It’s the sticks-and-berries sort of causal knowledge which the Azande actually use to get in their everyday life. And there we have agreement between the Azande and your secularist — things get hot if you leave them out in the sun, they get wet in the rain, a broken bone needs to handled gingerly for a bit, etc.

    Why? Very simply because witchcraft and spirits do serve a fundamental role for the Azande. You seem to be making a very weasely argument here.

    If you think that no-one who held that 9/11 (or Katrina, or the Tsunami) was retribution for sin ever changed their mind on the topic, then I think you are simply being untrue to the evidence (or perhaps simply betraying an unfamiliarity with it). Of course the folk on TV don’t show any changes! But these beliefs are also held by people who actually exist, and there they are certainly subject to shifting. Though likely not due to conversations with “secularists”, for those tend to end up as more heat than light.

    Beliefs do change occasionally on these matters. However, if you have actually spent time among these communities, spent time reading their online forums, and read many of their materials, then you would have cause for pessimism and also know that such changes in belief are the exception rather than the rule, that they seldom take place through persuasion, and that there are generally all sorts of mechanisms built into these beliefs systems to actively prevent such persuasion from taking place. In understanding these matters, figures such as Quine, Davidson, Brandom, etc., are extremely blunt tools. Over and above work by figures such as Zizek, Althusser, and Adorno, there is an entire body of sociological, anthropological, and psychological literature that engages with precisely these sorts of dynamics pertaining to collective beliefs and their resistance to change. Of course, these aren’t worthy of investigation in Davidson-Quine’s universe as they’re merely “shibboleths” rather than actual beliefs, and thus shouldn’t be subjected to scrutiny at all… After all, it’s not as if these ‘shibboleths’ have real world consequences that effect the nature of governance, social organizations, interpersonal relations, etc. No, once we’ve defined these things away they don’t exist at all.

  34. The title of Shieffelin’s book should read The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers, not The Sorry of the Lonely…

    Honestly this discussion about belief is somewhat like talking to the Bush administration about whether or not we torture. “Of course we don’t torture! See how we’ve defined interrogation?” It’s astounding to me that Davidson and Quine would seek to cordon off belief from ‘shibboleths’ in such a way.

  35. “However, if you have actually spent time among these communities, spent time reading their online forums, and read many of their materials…”
    So, if I had… read some literature, been around quad-C students, and lurked on internet forums? As opposed to, say, going to an evangelical college for four years, and getting a theology degree there? yes i am sure this would give me an accurate picture of how things stand in the world you are very wise and correct here as in all things, I bow to your superior INTERNET FORUMRY. Would you like to exchange image macros?

    Less derisively: “shibboleth” is my term, not Quine’s or Davidson’s. Quine only briefly glances at the religious use of “belief”, with a puzzled expression, in the bit of Quiddities I referenced, setting it aside as being something other than the sense of “belief” he’s concerned with (in that section of “Quiddities”, and elsewhere). Your attack on Davidson is actually something I’ve seen before (including the specific example of it leading to bad cultural anthropology in the case of Aztec sacrifice — small world). Charles Taylor claims that Davidson’s “principle of charity” leads to ethnocentric confusions; his contribution to “Reading McDowell” is largely devoted to the topic. McDowell’s response is excellent, and I endorse it wholesale. I will note that the book is searchable on Amazon, as is the Wittgenstein book I mentioned earlier. Quiddities isn’t, sadly. I can type up the relevant section, if you’d like.

    “Of course, these aren’t worthy of investigation in Davidson-Quine’s universe as they’re merely “shibboleths” rather than actual beliefs, and thus shouldn’t be subjected to scrutiny at all… After all, it’s not as if these ’shibboleths’ have real world consequences that effect the nature of governance, social organizations, interpersonal relations, etc. No, once we’ve defined these things away they don’t exist at all.”
    I have no idea why only beliefs would be worthy of investigation. When Quine or Davidson is writing about belief, they are not thereby discouraging all other areas of inquiry! Nor can I make any sense of the idea that shibboleths should be immune to scrutiny; the maintaining of a shibboleth is a practice like any other, and can be scrutinized accordingly. The fact that it is not a case of belief hardly makes it nothing, so I haven’t the foggiest idea what that last sentence is doing there.

  36. Why are you treating Davidson and Quine as authorities as to what belief are without actually providing their arguments and claims? Throughout this discussion you have evoked them on a number of occasions as if you assume that I am familiar with their positions, share the positions of these thinkers and that these thinkers ought to decide the issues being discussed. I have read a few of Quine’s articles and occasionally teach “Two Dogmas”, and haven’t read any Davidson or Mcdowell for nearly fifteen years. More oddly yet, you simply reference their names without explicitly laying out the arguments and concepts behind these claims as if your interlocutor (me) ought to already be familiar with them.

    The distinction between shibboleth and belief is not one with which I am familiar, nor one I have ever come across. Absent a more thorough elaboration of this distinction similar to what I did above in response to CynicLibrarian concerning Lacanian diagnostic categories, I see no reason to admit this distinction as being at all relevant to this discussion (simply because I have no idea what distinction it is that I would be admitting, nor what it would be committing me to). You compare my concerns about this distinction with McDowell’s concerns about the principle of charity, yet the principle of charity is not a concept I work with, nor something I’ve adopted a position towards one way or another. Similarly, absent a clear and explicit development of the specific claims you’re attributing to Quine and Davidson, I see no reason to treat them as relevant to this discussion as, once again, I am not familiar with their claims and therefore am in no position to determine what I would be committing myself to.

    Throughout this discussion I have straightforwardly treated belief as a judgment that something about the world is the case. Hence, “it is raining” (here outside of Dallas), “Hurricane Katrina is Gods wraith against the sinful behavior of those living in New Orleans”, and “The world is round” are all instances of belief. If you wish to add some bells and whistles that is fine, but you will have to do that by actually developing those bells and whistles rather than simply citing others.

    I suspect that your experience at your Evangelical university can be explained very easily. When one is within a community where beliefs are shared and where it is generally assumed that ones interlocutors have the same beliefs (that you’re “one of us”), the intractability of belief becomes invisible and the difficulties that emerge with respect to persuasion do not appear. The absence of difference gives rise to a certain perspective on rational discourse. My different experience is not simply the result of encountering students at Quad-C that have fundamentalist beliefs (it’s exceedingly rare for such things to come up at the college), nor the result of lurking about conservative and fundamentalist forums, but is the result of having lived all over the country and witnessed a few small town religious revivals where books were burned, laws changed, and school policies on sexual education and evolution were transformed. Persuasion did not take place in these contexts. Change the context somewhat and imagine yourself exactly as you are now attempting to persuade Heinrich Himmler to give up his beliefs in the Nazi party. Or consider what would be involved in persuading Stephen Dawkins to endorse the intervention of supernatural causes in the order of nature. Why is it that one can have sound, well developed, arguments based on good reasons (in all three of these instances), yet persuasion fails to take place? This is the issue that I’m talking about. We can call these beliefs, shibboleths, doxas, quarks, whatever you like… But it is these incommensurable universes that I’m referring to.

    You are free to correct me if I am mistaken, but I have understood you to be arguing that beliefs, shibboleths, quarks, doxas or whatever else you might like to call them have no impact both on how we act in the world and how we understand the world. I am not sure how you’re comparing me to the other person who discussed the Aztecs with. So far remarks you have made don’t exactly suggest that you’re the most credible authority on cultural anthropology. My position is that beliefs, shibboleths, quarks, doxas, leprechauns or whatever you want to call them do make a significant difference as to how we engage with the world. That aside, Aztec sacrifice was deeply intertwined with their cosmology (they believed or had the “shibboleth” that the universe was in a state of decline), and was a premised on a cause and effect relation (that sacrifice would sustain the universe and the continued existence of man). Given that the world is still here, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Aztecs.

    A couple of times you have expressed concern about rationality. Perhaps you understand me to be saying that these positions are irrational and are evoking the “principle of charity” (whatever that is) to save the rationality of these groups. I wouldn’t see these observations as claims that a group as irrational. Within the Aztec cosmology, for instance, this practice is perfectly rational. In the clinical setting, we inevitably discover that the apparent irrationality of the analysand’s actions are, in fact, rational once we take into account the unconscious material of which the symptom is an expression. Claude Levi-Strauss demonstrated the rationality behind various mythological structures brilliantly in his work. However, it seems to me that Davidson-Quine (again I have no real idea as you haven’t articulated their positions, just cited them), are taking rationality to be something far stronger that I would find suspect: a position is rational only insofar as it is also true.

  37. LS, The comparison between fundamentalists and Nazis is always more or less ready-to-hand for you, isn’t it? Lucky for you I’m not an analyst, or I’d be tempted to interpret it in some way.

  38. Going back to the original passage:

    If Robertson really does refuse to discuss his “beliefs” in the strong sense you seem to be imagining, then I think it’s nonsense to attribute to Robertson such “beliefs” (as doxastic states) at all. Charity demands it. Robertson would, on this view, be much more readily understood as uttering shibboleths, not making assertions.

    First, what is the “strong sense of not discussing beliefs” that you’re attributing to me? Are you supposing that I hold that Robertson would literally remain silent about his views? Certainly we have plenty of empirical evidence to the contrary (much to the world’s dismay). I never said that he will “not discuss his beliefs”. Here’s what I originally said:

    Additionally, is the Robertsonite open to being persuaded or to critically examining Biblical texts… Such openness entailing a minimal risk on his part: A risk that doesn’t simply involve the possibility of his interpretation being overturned, but a risk that also involves a strong chance that he might lose his position within his social world by adopting new beliefs at odds with the beliefs of the community from which he draws his prestige, power, but also love.

    This is very different. The claim is that when confronted with piles of textual Biblical evidence to the contrary, it is highly likely that Robertson will still hold to his particular interpretation of scripture. This, in a nutshell, is the history of the different Christian denominations. Each one has a particular Biblical hermeneutics and continues to hold to these interpretations even when faced with the others ones pointing to very different textual evidence in support of their claims. This is not, of course, to suggest that members of one church do not occasionally become members of another denomination and come to believe other interpretations. Huckabee, from what I understand, would be an example of someone who changed in precisely this way.

    Second, you have never defined what a shibboleth is or how you are using the term. Given that you’ve introduced the term, what do you signify by this term? So far all you’ve done is call certain things shibboleths, leaving me no alternative but to infer what you might mean. The criteria seems to be that something is a shibboleth when the person is not open to persuasion on that particular issue, but I’m not at all sure.

  39. I do think there are similarities in social structure between Nazi’s and fundamentalist movements. I’m not alone in discerning these similarities:

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

    Both groups are often characterized by a strong degree of nationalism, centralization of power (often in a charismatic leader), inflexible ideologies, certain conceptions of gender relations and identity, and a predominance of the friend/enemy relation among other things.

    It’s curious that you didn’t notice that I compared Nazis, fundamentalists, and Stephen Dawkins. If I had my analyst cap on I might draw inferences as to why the religious example jumped out at you to the exclusion of the other.

  40. I knew it!

    Resemblances aside, Dawkins, fundamentalism, and Nazism, are all examples of strongly held belief systems where persuasion is unlikely to take place. It would be difficult to make my point without referring to passionately held belief systems. Then again, perhaps I’m just obsessed with some of these things (well not so much the Dawkins)… I’m certainly behaving obsessively in this thread.

    It also occurs to me that who is doing the persuading makes a big difference as to the likely success of the persuasion. It’s unlikely that Bill O’Reilly could ever convince me of anything, though I might very well endorse the very same proposition were it to come from, hmmm, John Stewart, Badiou, or Zizek.

  41. “Why are you treating Davidson and Quine as authorities as to what belief are without actually providing their arguments and claims?”
    Because I don’t feel like typing them up, and I was under the impression that you were familiar with them. When I asked the inscrutability of reference ever came up in these discussions, you said that Lacan mentioned Quine (and Davidson, and Carnap, and Russell) repeatedly; I took this to imply that you were familiar with Quine & pals, and judged their views (including the inscrutability of reference, the fact that there is no “fact of the matter” about what a word refers to) to be subsumed in Lacan’s own system, which is why your gesture towards Lacan’s oeuvre was a reasonable response to my question about the inscrutability of reference.

    It appears I was mistaken; if I thought you had never had cause to read Quiddities, I would’ve transcribed the relevant passage at the start, rather than gesturing towards it; I figured if you wanted to check the wording, it would be handily available on a nearby shelf. (I will note that the McDowell I referenced is, like the Wittgenstein passage, viewable on Amazon; search for “Charles Taylor” and you’ll find all the relevant passages. Again, too lazy to transcribe the text; if I could have copy-pasted it earlier, I would have. If you want to see how you compare to Charles Taylor, you are free to read Charles Taylor’s contribution to “Reading McDowell”. Taylor is admirably perspicuous.)

    If I had known from the start that you are (effectively) totally ignorant of Quine, Davidson, McDowell, and Wittgenstein, then I would not have bothered responding to you at all. Far too much work, especially when a comment thread has already been derailed from its original topic.

    “I suspect that your experience at your Evangelical university can be explained very easily….”
    The relevant “experience” is that of people who used to assert that “the tsunami was God’s wrath” coming to hold that this was a serious error on their part. I even heard sermons arguing this very point — some members of the congregation had been gleeful at a tragedy, and this was not a properly Christian response. People liked the sermons; I heard people confessing to how they had been changed by them, over and over, in public and in private. There really was a change in beliefs on this point. The folk who used to regard the tragedy as “just vengeance” instead donated to relief efforts.

    Not that I expect you will cease to view evangelicalism as National Socialism Redivivus anytime soon. Not because we have incommensurable worldviews, but because you are a stubborn ass.

    “Shibboleth”, from Wikipedia: a “Shibboleth is any language usage indicative of one’s social or regional origin, or more broadly, any practice that identifies members of a group.” I did not introduce the term, except (it appears) to you. It is part of English, and preceded my birth. For more details, you may consult Wikipedia; if you still do not understand, you might try reading everything again a second time, more slowly.

    And now for some Quine.

    From “Quiddities, an intermittently philosophical dictionary”, the entry for “Belief”:

    To believe is to think, in one very limited sense of the latter versatile verb. To believe that beauty is truth is to think that beauty is truth. To believe so is to think so. The two verbs are thus interchangeable before that and so, but they diverge elsewhere. We can think hard, but we cannot believe hard. We can believe someone, but we cannot think someone. Grammar forbids.

    Believing is a disposition. Thinking, apart from the contexts that and so, is an activity, however sedentary. We could tire ourselves out thinking, if we put our minds to it, but believing takes no toil. We sit and think, but do we sit and believe? The White Queen, indeed, professed to do so: “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” But it will be agreed that the White Queen was atypical.

    She represented beliefs, some of them anyway, as voluntary activities rather than dispositions. She was wrong about their being activities; they are dispositions. But we may still ask whether they are ever voluntary, for some dispositions are. We are voluntarily acquiring a disposition, or trying to, when we memorize “Il Penseroso” or the multiplication table or make a New Year’s resolution. Belief, however, is not that kind of a disposition. To speak of simply deciding to believe something, independently of any evidence real or imagined, is to stretch the term ‘belief’ beyond belief.

    An enamored young man has his reasons for subscribing to the tenets of his fiancee’s church, and a heretic threatened by the Inquisition had his reasons for a similar move; but these are cases of feigning belief, of paying lip or pen service, and not of believing. Pascal’s notorious wager, on the other hand, and Tertullian’s credo quia impossibile est, and William James’s Will to Believe, strike me as strange distortions of the notion of belief. Hoping or wishing can conduce to believing, but only by seducing the subject into overestimating his fancied evidence.

    Now that we have agreed that a belief is a disposition, as I trust we have, it is time to consider what it is that the believer is disposed to do. One who believes that beauty is truth, or that his Redeeemer liveth, is disposed presumably to respond in the affirmative when asked whether beauty is truth or whether his Redeemer liveth; but lip service, again, is subject to discount. Actions, behaviorism teaches, speak louder than words.

    One way of testing belief, powerful where applicable, is by calling upon the professed believer to put his money where his mouth is. Acceptance of a wager evinces sincerity, and the odds accepted conveniently measure the strength of the belief. But this method is applicable only in cases where the believed proposition is one that can eventually be decided to the satisfaction of both parties, so that the bet can be settled. It is not applicable to the one about beauty, or about one’s Redeemer. One wonders whether Keats really believed that one about beauty or whether he was merely bent on creating a bit of beauty on his own, like Christen Moregenstern’s weasel who sat on a Kiesel in a Bachgeriesel only for the sake of the rhyme. Or Poe’s Lenore, Yaanek, and Guy De Vere. Or Al Smith’s Mamie O’Rourke. There are those who would commite mayhem — not murder, perhaps, but mayhem — for the sake of a rhyme. I recall a line from a song: “Fair Naples sleeping, a vigil keeping.” Cognitive content to the winds.

    A belief, in the best and clearest case, is a bundle of dispositions. It may include a disposition to lip service, a disposition to accept a wager, and various dispositions to take precautions, or to book passage, or to tidy up the front room, or the like, depending on what particular belief it may be. It is remarkable that we apply this single familiar noun or verb effortlessly to such a heterogeneous domain; for apart from the lip service and perhaps the wager, the dispositions that constitute one belief differ extravagantly from the dispositions that constitute another.

    Beliefs sometimes do make good behavioral sense without admitting of wagers. This is true of very theoretical beliefs, having to do, say, with the expanding universe or theoretical particles or the dawn of language. The turn that one gives to one’s research, and the supporting evidence that one marshals or the corollaries that one derives, are substantial indications that hone holds the belief, though it be a belief on which a bet could never be settled.

    But beliefs grade off, as my first two examples illustrate, to where their dispositional content apart from lip service becomes tenuous to the vanishing point. What shared trait can have grouped all these extravagantly diverse states of mind, real or professed, under a single serviceable term, belief? None, I submit. They are grouped rather by a linguistic quirk, the adapter that, which can be prefixed thoughtlessly to any and every declarative sentence to produce a grammatically impeccable and hence presumably meaningful direct object for the verb believe. The many useful and behaviorally significant sentences of the form ‘x believes that p‘ seduce us into supposing that the rest of the sentences of that form make sense too. Sense dwindles from case to case, and we are at a loss to draw a line.

    Loath though one is to kick a concept when it is down, it would be wasteful to pass over a curious and well-known paradox in which the concept of belief is enmeshed. To believe something is to believe that it is true; therefore a reasonable person believes each of his or her beliefs to be true; yet experience has taught him to expect that some of his beliefs, he knows not which, will turn out to be false. A reasonable person believes, in short, that each of his beliefs is true and that some of them are false. I, for one, had expected better of reasonable persons.

    Quine exit.

    That was a lot of typing. I am going to go read a comic book.

  42. Dan, I’m not a stubborn ass, but just have good reasons for believing what I believe and need good reasons for changing those beliefs. I’ll try to respond more thoroughly tomorrow when I’m in a better state of mind to read this post.

  43. Not that I expect you will cease to view evangelicalism as National Socialism Redivivus anytime soon.

    I have never once used the term “evangelicalism” in this thread. I understand that fundamentalism and evangelicalism are two different things. Your example about the Tsunami is interesting. Did the people who changed their view on this come to believe they were in error in believing that the Tsunami was God’s vengance, or did they come to give up the position that natural events have meaning. I think the latter is where the secularist and the believer will never be able to agree. For the secularist all events are governed by natural causes and are without meaning. Moreover, there is no goal or purpose towards which history is moving.

    “Shibboleth”, from Wikipedia: a “Shibboleth is any language usage indicative of one’s social or regional origin, or more broadly, any practice that identifies members of a group.” I did not introduce the term, except (it appears) to you. It is part of English, and preceded my birth. For more details, you may consult Wikipedia; if you still do not understand, you might try reading everything again a second time, more slowly.

    You seem to use language in a very literal way. Of course I’m familiar with the term “shibboleth”. You seem to be using the term in an idiosyncratic fashion for conceptual purposes. When you first introduced the term you did not at all seem to imply that the term was being used in the way you cite it here from wikipedia. How is it, then, that you’re using it?

    Thanks for the passage from Quine. This accords roughly with what I understand by belief. Returning to the issue of religions, were you supposing that I hold the position that someone holds these beliefs without reasons? If you review the discussions, you’ll find that I provide a number of reasons as to why the Azande, Aztecs, etc., hold their beliefs.

  44. I’m also confused by the introduction (in this discussion, not in history, though I get the joke) of the term ‘shibboleth’. It seemed to me it was introduced (by Daniel) to note something like harmless and idiosyncratic beliefs indicating a specific group’s in-crowd, when the root of the term in the Bible is as a means to identify who to kill.

    larvalsubjects, I wanted to ask you about something you said a while back. In describing the way in which Robertsonites, or perhaps fundamentalists in general?, are “paranoid psychotics,” you described their belief in “literally receiving rays from God” and that God is, for them, a direct actor in their life. Now, I get that from the Lacanian point of view to say someone is psychotic is not to make a judgment (moral, ethical) about that person, so I’m not responding to some perceived slight against fundamentalists or the 700 club. What I am curious about, and I think maybe this is where your original claim to be stumbling at the level of meaning was about, is why those beliefs are indicative of psychosis, if the Lacanian makes no judgment (or perhaps I am misreading this part of your explanation) about whether beliefs are true or not.

    For example, suppose I believe God really is a direct actor in my life, what is the difference with that and my belief that my wife really is a direct actor in my life? Or, supposing that someone believes they receive rays from God, whom she believes really is an actor in her life, to cure cancer, what is the difference with that and another’s belief they receive rays from an electromagnetic machine, whom he believes really is an object in his life, that break down the cancer cells?

    On the one hand, you point out that the secularist and the fundamentalist differ in terms of how events are involved in meaning to where every event takes on a meaning for the fundamentalist but the secularist doesn’t, but on the other hand typified the fundamentalist by holding to an assurance of the immediacy of God as an actor, performing events, in the fundamentalist’s life, to the point of stressing that these were not metaphors but taken as ordinary, causal relationships.

    I suppose my question is what about the immediacy, the directness of God, lends itself to being a psychosis, if instead of God it were another human being or a routine chemotherapeutic treatment? Is it that all of these events, as immediate as they are, are attributed to something God intends on doing, whereas the secularist, taking events as immediate but devoid of some meaning, just accepts the events as they are? That is, it’s how the immediacy of the agent is understood in terms of the meanings or references to the orchestrated plan whether something is part of a psychosis or not. Because, I can certainly think that my wife has plans for her life, but I don’t think she spills her drink on purpose or that the spill signals something about what she intends to do, whereas the psychotic might?

    But what if someone treats God as you say the Azande and secularists treat stick-and-berries causal relationships, and not vice-versa. Would that be psychotic? It seems that what you were saying is that it is psychotic, because the fundamentalists were treating God as involved in their lives as knowing how to burn books or rewrite laws depends on ordinary, causal relationships. In other words, you emphasize the “literally” acting of God, the absence of metaphor in their descriptions of what God is doing for them, as indications of their psychosis. But, what metaphor is there in saying that stars shine because they give off light through a fusion of elements releasing photons, or that computers can transmit signals in small packets of information and process them into text, &tc? How does the secularist’s approach to the objects in their reality relate to metaphor, or how does the secularist go about life, if in the absence of attributing meaning to the events, she takes them as having little more significance beyond stick-and-berries causal knowledge? Or is it that some events have meaning, but most don’t, or rather that it’s all in how some events comes to “have meaning?”

    I’m sorry if these are tedious or elementary questions.

  45. Charles, you’ve neither been tedious nor have you asked elementary questions. As I said in the initial posts, there is a question of how we distinguish meaning as it functions in the case of psychosis and meaning as it functions in the case of neurosis. I do not at all wish to make the claim that all who approach the world in terms of meaning are psychotic. In fact, I’m inclined to argue that viewing the world in terms of meaning is, in many respects, the more immediate and common way of approaching the world. I premise this on history and ethnography, where approaching the world in terms of “enchantment” is far more common than approaching the world in terms of causes. I find this comes up in the classroom as well. When you introduce the principle of sufficient reason when discussing Descartes or Leibniz– “everything has a reason!” –you immediately have to do all sorts of fancy footwork to explain this means everything has a cause, rather than everything has a purpose or a meaning or is a part of a plan. To me this suggests that we have a disposition to think of the world in terms of meanings, purposes, and plans– Just as Heidegger described in Being and Time. It takes a special effort to think of the world in terms of only of causes and even the most rigorous thinkers along these lines perpetually fall back into purpose talk– For instance, the staunch evolutionary theorist will nonetheless speak as if a particular adaptation took place to achieve some end or goal, rather than saying that because this mutation took place the organism was able to do these things, i.e., that it didn’t develop to do these things.

    Second, it cannot be said that living in an “enchanted universe” = being psychotic and living in a secular universe = being neurotic. Lacan, for instance, suggests, in Seminar 7, that Spinoza’s metaphysic is an instance of a psychotic universe because there is no instance of a subtracted “name-of-the-father”, that stands outside the endless chain of signifiers (Spinoza’s world is purely immanent, without any subtracted or except-ed term). Lacan also argues that modern science is psychotic in its basic orientation for the same reason (perhaps this is why we see the proliferation of postmodernisms following the Enlightenment and what Nietzsche was getting at with the death of God, where there’s no longer anything to orient us in the world, cf. http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2006/05/21/nietzsche-descartes-lacan-and-the-death-of-god/ and http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2006/05/30/immanence-and-the-big-other/). Similarly, it is perhaps not surprising that so many contemporary mathematicians fall into psychosis. In the case of Goedel, Cantor, and Nash, the name-of-the-father is no longer operative (in their mathematical systems), such that there’s nothing to quilt the mathematical universe together and halt its endless sliding.

    In his discussions of the difference between psycosis and neurosis, Lacan distinguishes the two epistemically. The neurotic differs from the psychotic in that, according to Lacan, the neurotic is characterized by doubt whereas the psychotic is characterized by certainty. Freud argued– and Lacan reminds us –that all species of neurosis are subspecies of hysteria. The hysteric is characterized by the primacy of the question: “why am I this?” “what am I to you?” “what does this mean?” The neurotic lives in a universe that perpetually seems to signify, yet we are unsure of whether it’s really signifying or what it might really mean. This is because the neurotic lives in a world inhabited by desire. The distinguishing feature of desire as opposed to demand is that we’re never quite sure of what the Other desires. The desire of the Other is for us an enigma. Each time we think we’ve gotten it figured out– each time it’s been translated into a specific demand –the enigma reappears such that we find ourselves wondering whether the Other doesn’t in fact desire something else. If we take the neurotic Christian as an example, this would translate into the constant struggle of faith, described so well by Kierkegaard, where the devotee is perpetually wondering whether he is truly living a Christian life, what his place in the world is, what God is trying to speak to him, and whether or not he really believes. There is a perpetual struggle with doubt.

    Psychosis, by contrast, is characterized by certainty. The psychotic doesn’t suspect that such and such an event has such a meaning, but knows, is certain that such an event has such and such a meaning. John Nash, for instance, doesn’t “interpret” the newspapers and magazines he’s reading, rather when he finds a parallel between an event in his life, a particular statement in a newspaper, and an image in a magazine, Nash knows that all three are linked in a grand global conspiracy involving the Soviet Union, at which he is the center. The psychotic universe is a universe in which things are what they are and where there isn’t an endless deplacement of meaning. That is, it is a universe without desire (the enigma). If this is so, then this is because the original metaphorical substitution of maternal desire under the name-of-the-father was never instituted, thereby providing no opportunity for metaphorical displacement from object to object. As both Lacan and Freud say, the psychotic treats words like things (rather than as standing for something else in an endless series).

    When the name-of-the-father is foreclosed in this way, claims Lacan, two things occur: First, what is foreclosed in the symbolic returns in the real. Take the case of Schreber. Schreber does not experience God as a beyond or absence like most believers, but is perpetually interacting directly with God in a physical way. Schrebers God does not speak to him in signs, but literally sends sunbeams up his ass, decomposes his body, has sex with him, etc. This return in the real, of course, can take many forms: It can be aliens as a force controlling our thoughts and everything in the world, government agencies doing similar things, the Masons controlling all world events, etc. It need not be God, though you commonly find God spoken of in these ways among schizophrenics. Thus, unlike believers where God is always a sort of beyond, the psychotic interacts with what returns in the real in a very direct way similar to how we might interact with another person. Often this relation is experienced as persecutory and very painful. Second, the psychotic experiences himself as being at the center of a vast conspiracy or plot, of which he is one of the prime protagonists. This is because, absent the function of the name-of-the-father, the psychotic does not enter the symbolic universe which allows for mediated social relations, leaving the psychotic at the level of imaginary dual relations.

    I’ve already written quite a bit here and there’s more that could be said. As I said in the original post, I do not know whether Robertsonites fit this sort of profile. Simply thinking there is a plan to history is not sufficient for psychosis. Simply finding meaning in the world is not a condition either. The question is, what are the specific distinguishing differences.

  46. That certainly is helpful, and clarifying.

    Is there anything besides neurosis or psychosis which one could be? I mean, you say “…how we might interact with another person.” Well, what are we?

  47. Charles, Lacan argues that subjects are either neurotic, psychotic, or perverse. Each of these broad categories break down into other species: neurosis (obsessional, hysteric, phobic), psychosis (paranoia, schizophrenic, etc), perverse (masochist, sadist, fetishist, etc). With the introduction of the Borromean knots, the diagnostic categories get even more complicated. It is always a bit dangerous to generalize as to what we are. Some of us are neurotic, others psychotic, others perverse. There’s only one person I’ve encountered in the theory blogosphere who I suspect is perverse. For the most part the subjects around these parts seem to be one form of neurotic or another, but it can be difficult to distinguish obsessionals and psychotics. Moreover, psychotics are often perfectly functional when not in the midsts of a psychotic episode. One person who had a fairly successful theory blog, filled with all sorts of provocative and nuanced analyses, before disappearing had a number of characteristics that suggested psychosis.

  48. Charles: “I’m also confused by the introduction (in this discussion, not in history, though I get the joke) of the term ’shibboleth’. It seemed to me it was introduced (by Daniel) to note something like harmless and idiosyncratic beliefs indicating a specific group’s in-crowd, when the root of the term in the Bible is as a means to identify who to kill.”

    I’m not sure why you think I think of shibboleths as harmless, or why you think I think of them as beliefs; I think that much of what Robertson & co. say is lacking in cognitive content, if they really do refuse to discuss it — if the idea of criticizing them as being bad Christians is a “non-starter” as Sinthome claimed. (Perhaps it is a non-starter: Perhaps they know they’re supposed to assent to certain sentences, and to repeat them when prompted, but they doesn’t thereby assert anything by them; they repeat what they memorized in sunday-school; they don’t say what they believe when they repeat a Creed. This is possible; I do not pay attention to Pat Roberson, so perhaps he is a diseembler in matters of religion. If so, then I claim that his use of “religious language” is merely a cluster of shibboleths reminding his fellow church-goers that he is their friend, and not an indication that Robertson has any thoughts on religious matters.)

    If they really do believe what they say they believe, if what they utter are not mere shibboleths, then they are open to persuasion by the force of reasons (which is what Sinthome was denying). This is what I typed up that Quine selection for — anything insufficiently related to what one holds one’s evidence to be isn’t a belief.

    I actually did have the original use in mind when I used the term; the cognitively-contentless shibboleths would still pick out who should or should not be shunned. Nothing “harmless” about them. They’re the verbal equivalent of bouncers. I am baffled by the fact that two different people have read my comments and come to the conclusion that I think shibboleths are somehow “harmless” or “unreal”.

    My real reason for drawing a distinction between beliefs and things which are merely homophonous with them: If shibboleths are not beliefs, then they cannot be used to slide into “incomensurability” talk. Which is really what I take objection to, in good Davidsonian fashion. “Nothing could count as evidence that some form of activity could not be interpreted in our language that was not at the same time evidence that that form of activity was not speech behavior.” (And since I am throwing out Davidsonian maxims: Reasons can be causes, too. My purpose in getting up was to get a glass of orange juice, and this is also what caused me to get a glass of orange juice. I was thirsty.)

    I have no idea why Mr. Librarian linked to a random Hacker article. If this thread is suddenly going to be about attacking Quine’s naturalism, well, that sounds like a pretty decent idea for a thread.

    I kinda miss the old days, when this thread was about the Ontological Argument.

  49. Well, Daniel, I admit that I’m a very poor reader, so there’s no need to be baffled. When I went back through and CTRL-Fed ‘shibboleth’, my impression was confirmed by a hasty summation.

    Larvalsubjects, thanks again for the clarification. My exposure to Lacan, besides what one’d find strewn about in Žižek, has been but the briefest of readings of Seminars 7 and 20. And some Fink.

  50. sinthome, Sorry–late to the party, late to the dance? This Totentanz may have played its way into “competing philosophical paradigms,” but then maybe that’s why philosophy is a dish best served cold in a student cafeteria?

    BTAIM You write, among many other things: “From the Lacanian standpoint, reality itself is a product of language.”

    While I think I know what you mean, I think there’s a confusion here. It goes back to my citation of Schopenhauer on fallacia causae. How does language produce (create?) reality? If anything, I’d think you’d want to say, “we act (perceive, think, feel) in a world whose reality is purely lingusitic,” or something akin to that.

    But the idea that reality is a “product” of language seems misconceived. From either a Heideggerian or (later) Wittgsnteinian view, there is nothing but language that gives us access to either our own thoughts, the thoughts of others, or even the ability to function in the world. We are “thrown” into a world that is ultimately (fundamentally?) linguistic. There’s no production involved, except perhaps as a derivative exercise is such things as writings poems, advertising slogans, or deoing philosophy.

    I might argue, though, that even these actions are simply co-extensive with the world as I know, feel, perceive it, which is only such because it is lingustic by nature. From this persepctive, then, reality is not created by me but is simply lived. And to point out that it’s lingusitic at base verges on being a tautology.

    I can ask what is reality, but this activity is usually only in times when the world breaks down and things get weird (you should hear Heidegger hear). But that doesn’t mean that we then begin to create a reality de novo or that the world is somehow a thing to manipulate and produce. That is an illusion of language. Using which is the only means we have to either figure our way out of the breakdown or perhaps be misled by it into thinking there’s some reality behind, inside, around, or above it.

    But I imagine that from a Lacanian point of view, the notion of a “production” of reality does somehow make sense, at least within the parameters of its preconceptions and theoretical models. From what I understand of it, there is a causal modality afoot that believes that it can idenitfy processes and causalities in psyhological (and by extension all of reality)matters, much in the way that one can identify these in the physical world of nature.

    As I suggested in my citation of Schopenhauer, however, this way of looking at these questions employs the fallacy of false cause. Perhaps this reading of lacan is incorrect; if so, I’d appreciate any disabusal of my false understanding.

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