Sunday, 4 June 2017

Philosophy And Literature

I said here that Philosophy and Literature would make a good combined University degree course. Novels are about people and people have beliefs so sometimes we engage with fiction by discussing beliefs. Poul Anderson's characters address and discuss their own and each other's beliefs:

Peter Berg's experience with the Ythrians makes him question his Church's response to the theological problem of pain;

Aycharaych asks whether mortality is necessary for human creativity;

Dominic Flandry addresses/prays to his murdered fiancee, the future St Kossara, while she lies in the Cathedral where she had been confirmed and they would have been married;

Nicholas van Rijn leaves it to the theologians to rule on whether aliens have souls - that is what they are paid to do.

SM Stirling's Juniper Mackenzie thinks:

"...we are right to fear [death], for it is dreadful to pass through the dark gate, even if you know what waits beyond."
-SM Stirling, The Scourge Of God (New York, 2009), Chapter Four, p. 121.

No one knows! How can anyone make such a claim? Death is:

"The undiscovered country from whose bourn
"No traveler returns..." (see here and here)

Only the Spiritualists claim direct contact with the hereafter but they have not proved their case and their account differs from that of the Wiccans, including Juniper. We did not call it "knowledge" when some said that trans-Atlantic sailors would reach Asia whereas others said that they would fall off the Earth and no one had yet been there to find out. I am permanently amazed at unquestioning acceptance of different versions of a hereafter.

27 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

In a sense, I have to somewhat agree with Juniper Mackenzie and disagree with you. I believe, as the Catholic Church teaches, that all men/women have to make a final and irrevocable choice for or against God at the moment of death. That we have to choose between trusting in God and putting faith in Him or to choose hating God and insisting on damnation. I think the fact that some believe in that is itself a datum worthy of consideration.

And did anyone seriously believe in Columbus' time the world is flat and people could fall off its edge? EDUCATED people had known since Eratosthenes (circa 300 BC) that the world is round. If my recollection is correct, some of Columbus' critics at the court of Ferdinand and Isabel complained he was UNDERESTIMATING the size of the Earth.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
At death, we must let go of this life. Between now and death, we can practise letting go in prayer and meditation (theists) or just meditation (nontheists).
Paul.

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
But people still had different ideas about the size of the Earth and about what would be found by crossing the Atlantic. That analogy still holds with a hereafter. Were you brought up as a Catholic? Can you be confident that, if you had been brought up differently, then you would have converted to Catholicism?
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Of course, but I still believe a choice will need to be made at the moment of physical death.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Yes, I knew scholars, while agreeing the world was round, disagreed on how large it was. So, perhaps Columbus had a not totally unreasonable point.

Yes, I was brought up a Catholic from birth. No, I cannot be SURE what I might have come to believe if I had not been a Catholic. Or that I would have converted. Altho I hope I would have!

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
CS Lewis' best book about life, death and moral choice is THE GREAT DIVORCE. His moral points are valid whether or not we believe in a hereafter. Lewis makes no attempt to prove a hereafter. He merely assumes it.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I have Lewis' THE GREAT DIVORCE as well! There is much to admire and agree with in that book. And I thought it was interesting how Lewis had Hell being Purgatory as well.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

Just as an aside: Columbus -did- underestimate the diameter of the earth, by a factor of about fifty percent. Eratosthenes of Alexandria got it right, to within 1%, but Ptolemy later miscalculated, and Columbus was using his estimate, and may have gotten it even worse by mistranslating the units used in a manuscript to describe the circumference. (Different areas, and even different cities, in Renaissance Europe had different lengths for things like "foot", "yard", and "league". If you think the old Imperial system is bad, contemplate that! You had to be very clear whether you were using the "Genoese league" or the "Venetian league".

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Let's review the beliefs:
(i) there is no consciousness after death;
(ii) moral and spiritual development continue after death;
(iii) only Catholics in a state of grace are saved;
(iv) only Evangelical Christians are saved;
(v) only members of a specified sect are saved;
(vi) only Muslims are saved.
I think that, if (i) is not true, then (ii) must be.
Paul.

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
I left out your and CSL's option:
(vii) only those who make the right moral choice at death are saved.
That is better than (iii)-(vi) but I fail to see why a single choice at a single moment has to be final.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I'll go thru your points (i) to (vii):

(i) Disagree, I do believe the soul or personal consciousness survives bodily death.
(ii) For those who are with God, I do think it makes sense to think some kind of "moral and spiritual development" continues, in Purgatory or Heaven (the beatific vision). I don't understand your comment after (vi), it is contradictory about points (i) and (ii).
(iii) No, it is not true the Church teaches ONLY Catholics are or can be saved. While I do believe the Church is the ordinary means of seeking salvation which God wishes us to use, the Church teaches that we cannot and should not judge the eternal fates of others. Plus, she teaches that honest and upright non-Catholics, seeking God as best they may, despite many errors, might be saved by means unknown to us. But, those who come to believe the Catholic is right and still reject her are endangering their souls.
(iv) Disagree with "Evangelical Protestants."
(v) Disagree, salvation won't be limited to members of a single sect, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses.
(vi) Needless to say, I disagree with Muslims on this and MANY other things.
(vii) Well, that is the CATHOLIC view! (Smiles) But the final choice we all have to make at the moment of death is because at that moment we KNOW what we want, for all eternity, whether to be for or against God.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

I had not known, or had forgotten, that Columbus' erred so badly about the Earth's diameter! Fifty percent??? No wonder his critics at the Spanish court were so disgruntled with him!

Yes, I had known of how different regions, cities, nations, had different ways of measuring weights, lengths, sizes, etc. Ample room for chaos!

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
I see no contradiction in "If (i) is not true, then (ii) must be."
(i) is "There is no consciousness after death."
(ii) is "Moral and spiritual development continue after death."
Thus, if consciousness continues, then it should continue to develop.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Now I understand better what you meant. I misunderstood you.

Sean

David Birr said...

Sean:
Yes, if there hadn't been a couple of unexpected continents in his path, Columbus probably would never have made it back to Europe.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID!

I agree. I don't think anyone yet had the means and knowledge for building ships capable of such long sea voyages from Europe to China. Absent those two continents, Columbus probably would not have survived.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

Columbus was using a set of consistent wind and current patterns. European voyagers to the Atlantic islands -- the Canaries and the Azores -- had already learned to use the east-to-west winds found in the south and then return by going north until they caught the west-to-east winds which predominate there.

To oversimplify, there's a clockwise pattern in the north Atlantic, and a counterclockwise one in the south Atlantic. Hence the old yachtsman's joke, that to get to the Americas you "sail south until the butter melts, and turn left".

One reason the Norse discovery of "Vineland" didn't amount to anything was that they had to work their way east to west in the very far north, using currents which are much less reliable than the Trades, the Greenland and Irminger currents, and which became completely untenable when berg ice started moving further south in the late medieval cold period.

So Columbus deserves his credit for discovering the Americas; what he actually discovered was a fairly safe and reliable method of getting there and back in sailing ships. It was used until the very end of the sailing era.

Incidentally, this is why the Portuguese discovered Brazil by accident, with a fleet on its way to India around the Cape of Good Hope. Working your way directly down the African coast (their first route) is doable, if you have lanteen-rigged caravels, but it's slow and dangerous. You're sailing into the teeth of the prevailing winds and currents nearly all the time.

But if you turn west off the coast of Morocco, swing far west and then turn south around the Equator, you have following winds. Then you can turn east again just short of the Roaring Forties and run your easting down until you turn north again for the Mozambique Channel and pick up the monsoons for the last bit of the trip to India.

It's much longer in miles, but much shorter in time and danger if you're using sail.

S.M. Stirling said...

Lysdexia strikes. That's "sail south until the butter melts, and turn right". Turning left will run you into Senegal.

S.M. Stirling said...

About Juniper: after the Change, she gets more and more direct evidence that her religion's beliefs about the afterlife are objectively correct. She doesn't have to take it on faith any more. Of course, all the other religions get the same evidence... 8-). The only people left bereft are atheists.

Paul Shackley said...

All this makes me realize how little I know.
I introduced crossing the Atlantic as a metaphor for the hereafter and now we have had a discussion of both!

S.M. Stirling said...

Incidentally, the name "Senegal" may derive from the Wolof phrase "sunu gaal", meaning, "that's my canoe". A Portuguese explorer pointed at the river and asked its name. The local fisherman he was speaking to misinterpreted the gesture...

(There's a town in Madagascar whose name means "You can tie up your boat down there" for the same reason.)

Paul Shackley said...

Weirder and weirder...

Paul Shackley said...

I have also heard of an "It's a bloody river, isn't it?" River and an "I don't know what it's called; ask the chief" River.

David Birr said...

Terry Pratchett made a reference to a mountain named, "Your finger, you fool" for the same sort of reason.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

I do take note of how Columbus still deserve his credit for discovering the Americas and finding better ways of crossing the Atlantic westwards or sailing sough to round the Cape of Good Hope to India. But, if those two continents had not been there, wouldn't the voyage to China, sailing straight westwards, still had been too much to successfully do with the ships and knowledge of his time?

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Yes, I noticed that, about Juniper Mackenzie and her Wiccan religion. But I still can't take neo-paganism seriously. Its "gods" still strikes me as absurd and unconvincing. At least partly because they contradict what we know of the actual paganisms of the past. Which were often pretty grim and included things like human sacrifices.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

Lake Nyasa was changed to Lake Malawi when English-speakers realized that "Nyasa" means "Lake" in Chichechwa... And Lake Chad is still "Lake Lake" ("Chad" means "body of open water".