Welcome to Philosopher Fridays. The purpose of this series is not to give a comprehensive overview of any particular thinker, but rather to explain what I find compelling in the work of each, particularly as it informs my view of narrative, language, images, storytelling, and reason.
Philosopher Fridays Sub-Series: Expecting Ambiguity
It’s no accident that theology and religion have historically been seen as rich sources of inspiration for artists, poets, musicians, philosophers, and even scientists (though not so much lately). Built into the nature of any kind of deification is a sense of wonder and possibility that we might somehow find a way to connect to that which exceeds our known human power. In many ways, to affirm any kind of divinity is to affirm the possibility of infinite knowledge, truth, and creativity. To affirm an expressly religious divinity is to give finite, limited humans a way to tap into that infinite well of possibility and find something in it that is fit to overwhelm our feeble intellects.
But theology and religion also have a less inspiring side. When this overwhelming well of infinite possibility is taken up as determinate truth, it can be stifling. When we assign a precise meaning to a broad concept, we cut off its edges and effectively take up only a distorted fragment as an idol, and then worship that idol to our own detriment and degradation. Such an idol is doomed to disappoint us, and to fall easily to rational argument. Averroes warns us of just this in his Decisive Treatise. Pseudo-Dionysius tells us to abandon our intellects almost entirely to avoid this self-undermining hubris.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing my Friday philosophy posts around some of the most infamous proofs for the existence of God: Aquinas’ Five Ways, Anselm’s Ontological Argument, and Pascal’s Wager, as well as Augustine’s reliance on Hope in his City of God.
While each of these arguments have been soundly critiqued, they’ve also been – and often are – thoughtlessly cast in oversimplified terms that miss their openness, their richness, and – most of all – their ambiguity. Hasty rejections of these famous philosophical passages more often than not charge them with determinate assertions of particularized perfection, or assume that the authors are simply begging the question. But each of the selections I’ve chosen has in it a much more nuanced sense of ambiguity and a self-awareness that makes each far more interesting than a simple attempt to convert non-believers. I hope to explore the relationship between that ambiguity and the nature of human creativity.