Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Determinism Vs. the Individualistic Naturalism of the Soul

The Soul is Naturalistic and Individualistic
“Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” Tom Clark http://www.centerfornaturalism.org/presentations.htm

Responsibility to aspire to the greater good? Well, then I'm glad I'm not a commie naturalist. I am not even implying that Tom Clark is a collectivist in any way, shape, or form. I don't know the man's politics. But after all, "the greater good" is Communism, as opposed to "promoting the general Welfare," which is American Constitutionalism. And that is a not a parsing of the terminology. So why use such terminology?

While Marx said violence in and of itself is not a good thing, he admitted it may at times be necessary to achieve a greater good. But the promotion of the general welfare requires the protection of the individual from violence initiated by others. The use of State sanctioned violence "when necessary" is the tyranny of the rulers over the ruled--for the ostensible benefit of those who are ruled.

And ostensibly, the "humanist naturalism" Clark promotes is because he wants to "affirm our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” So we have an ethical responsibility, Clark is saying, to look for personal fulfillment no where but in the squelching of individuality. If we were to look for it in the affirmation of individuality, it would destroy the ethics.

Why do I take the critical and extreme path of making the Clark look like an anti-individualist? Because he speaks in the most general of "mushy" soft terminology so that he can not be pinned down as to just what he means--unless you read between the lines."[W]e [need to] live in the light of the empirical truth about ourselves; we don’t need another way of knowing that [which] applies to personal concerns or ultimate concerns. This simplifies things."

What is this "empirical truth" that is opposed to "personal concerns?" According to some of his highly esteemed contributors, the empirical truth is "memes" and "genes" and "environment." Clark mentions the environment on this website; no where did I see him bring in the rest of the "empirical truth" his well-known members insist are real.

Why should personal concerns not be of importance? Because personal concerns get in the way of the common good, without which we can have no ethically personal self-fulfillment!

Naturalism," he says, "affords superior prediction and control of our environment and ourselves, since in dropping the soul and free will we get rid of the fictional supernatural agency that blocks true explanations of phenomena." How does the state, or an organization, "control" the environment for "the common good" which is made of people who ought to have no personal concerns except those of the common good?

Clark admits his naturalistic world-view is probably for the 25th Century because it will take a lot of "education"--or should it be called "re-education"--before we see the idealism of which he dreams. So it may be assumed he does not advocate State-promoted violence in order to accomplish any of his goals. But others of his world-view, those who are also looking at "the common good," do not feel this way. As I wrote in a column last week, the "WeCanSolveIt" campaign that is all over TV is a direct offshoot and is supported by Al Gore's environmental campaign. That can only mean government controls, since he isn't talking the 25th Century; Gore is talking ten years.

Tom Clark's vision of "progressive humanistic naturalism" defines free will as "supernatural." If individuals do not have free will, what do they have that Clark defines as "natural"? He says what is "natural" is that we are "fully caused to want what we want, and to be who we are."

Everything he says is obfuscation. "Fully caused" means that what we "want" and "who we are" are the result of things not in our control, those pesky memes and genes and environmental factors that "fully cause" us. "

"If we reproduced the exact circumstances that obtained at a given time and place, the same behavior would arise: so, in any given situation, we couldn’t have done otherwise, on this view. This means we can’t take ultimate credit or blame for what we do."

He means, if you had something to do all over again, went back in time and encountered the same circumstances, you never would have thought of a different course of action. This is not because in going back we are repeating history. It is because "we are not the ultimate originators of our behavior, but simply the most proximate cause, and other causes surround us in time and space." In time and space we are fully caused by things not in our control, which affect our choices, thereby leaving "free will" to be not only "supernatural" (to be explained below,) but leaving free will to be anything but free.

Why are we not the "ultimate originators of our behavior"?

"According to [the] sciences, we are more or less deterministic, organic, evolved systems, fully embedded within natural causality; so the bottom line is that the empirical debate about free will is essentially over."

There again, Clark uses that non-differential phrasing that means nothing. He says we are "more or less" deterministic. Which is it? And why are we deterministic, if indeed we are? Because the "other causes that surround us in time and space" determine who and what we are for us.

He says we are "organic, evolved systems." That is stating the obvious. We are not rock or gas; we are organic. Does this help his argument? It merely gives it a weightier preponderance of overspeak.

He says we are "fully embedded within natural causality." I'd venture to say we could not be half embedded, or one-tenth embedded, or two-hundred percent embedded. But what does it mean to be embedded "within natural causality?"

Clark uses that phrasing over and over as some sort of mantra, trying to dispell the soul as something man is predisposed to think of as supernatural. It is his goal to "embed" us so deeply into the "natural full-causality" of our determined lives as un-free members of the "common good" that individualism and the knowledge of what we call soul--no matter what it turns out to be be--is dismissed by us as the equivalent of mythology.

"Thanks to neuroscience, there are vastly fewer gaps these days in which the soul can hide." The soul is not an empirical existent, as Clark leads us to infer, something he says we believe is supernaturally reified and existing as something separate and apart from the biology of the human body, floating around it, causing our bodies or our minds to do things while we go on blindly believing that we have free will in order to fulfull the agency of the soul.

It is true that anyone with a belief in traditional religion believes something along these lines. Even Deists believe it. But naturalists don't have to give up defining a "soul" we know exists even by any other name they may choose to give it. We naturalists don't believe it is supernatural. So we naturalists don't believe it is "implanted" supernaturally or otherwise. We believe something exists that has been called soul and is defined as supernatural, but is not supernatural and is the result of our biology. We don't have to search off the beaten track for "memes" and "genes" and environmental agents as "causes" of behavior which are unchangable even if we went back in time to do something all over again.

The soul is precisely that which Clark claims neuroscience dispells: the neurological mechanics of the human organ in its entirety, the act of consciousness looking in upon itself and "feeling" its position in the world, knowing it must decide right from wrong on the basis of extant circumstances.

On that account he is correct; we must make all our decisions based on extant circumstances, on things that we have no control over, such as the light turning red when we're in a hurry to get to work but forcing us to stop, for example. We have no free will to run the light? Why not? We have no free will to calm down by saying the Serenity Prayer? Why not? We have no free will to explode with road rage and scream obscenities at the light and the city that put it there, and at the people going in other directions who didn't have to stop? Why not? Why don't we have the free will to act otherwise than we would have?

Adherents of determinism like him say that determinism is disbelieved by people such as myself because of three lies, "God, immortality, and free will [ ] joined together in a religious narrative, founded in medieval theological dogma [. ] The narrative goes like this: the universe is governed by an all-powerful benevolent spiritual entity – God – who implants a spiritual essence into people at some point following conception. It is this spiritual essence, the soul, that gives people two unique gifts – gifts they did not get from evolution and do not share with any other animal or plant. These two uniquely human spiritual God-given gifts are free will in this life and immortality in the next. According to traditional religion, it is because we have souls that we can transcend the influences of genes and environment, and even triumph over death itself, as our souls fly back up to heaven." Robert Gulack http://www.ethicalfocus.org/index.php?mpage=34/Free_Will.htm

Well, that was not the naturalistic world view of the soul before St. Augustine, but the pre-Augustinian Naturalists did not believe that the soul was implanted by the ruler of the universe. They were well aware of what we now call the "tabula rasa" mind, and that as the mind fills with metaphysical entities, so grows the soul based upon our evaluation of the specific entities we have come to comprehend. They did believe the soul was supernatural, and that it was transcendal of time and space.

They did believe the soul "flew back up to heaven," or some such nonsense as that. But if neuroscience is proving that there is no "implanted" entity we can wrap our minds around, it certainly is proving that what we can wrap our minds around is the idea that emotions are caused by the firing of neurons and the resultant chemical and electrical reactions in our central nervous system.

I've always said the soul is nothing more than the manifestation of the central nervous system, a manifestation of which we are aware within our cognitive capacities. But manifestations can be positively identified, and if the firing of neurons when we are faced with a decision, and the resultant firing of more neurons when we make that decision, can be located within our being it does not have to have the identity of "supernatural" when everything that exists as its cause is necessarily "natural." It is for the greater good of mankind that we identify the soul as individualistic, and neither "contra-causal" or "compatibilist", except that the harder I look the less luck I have finding an actual denotation of either phrase as it relates to free will. "Contra-causal" seems to be a floating abstraction not found in dictionaries but imbued with the anti-virtue of leaving man powerless.

The soul is natural, as natural as the fingernails on your hand, and was no more put inside you at conception by something that supercedes "natural" than your fingernails were implanted supernaturally. But they both exist.

I think Clark has things backward, but for the life of me I don't know how he got it that way. Since our souls are not supernatural, since they are nothing but neurons firing and the resultant emotional responses, then doesn't that indicate individualism, rather than "being one" with nature?

But whether the determinist takes it as "oneness" or or the metaphysical naturalists such as myself takes it to support individualism, neither idea leads to the ethical conclusion that "personal fulfillment [is to] aspire to the greater good of humanity." That aspiration is a very individualistic choice, and has nothing to do with causes which may be out of our control.

Publishing Note:
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