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JUDAIC LOGIC

© Avi Sion, 1995, 1997 All rights reserved.

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ADDENDA.

Written after the Slatkine edition of 1997.

1.Concerning Adductive Reasoning Relative to Prophecy.

2.A Note on Astronomy.

3.An Example of Secondary A-Fortiori in the Talmud.

4.One More Example of A-Fortiori in the Tanakh.

5.A Note Concerning Anachronisms.

6.Inferences from Context.

7.Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc.

8.Judgment-Calls.

9.Tolerance of Contradictions.

10.Proof of God by Analogy?

11.Disproofs of God?

12.Neither Certainty Nor Faith are Essential to Religious Ethics.

13.The Rabbis’ Antipathy to Philosophy.

14. In Defense of the Rabbis.

1.  Concerning Adductive Reasoning Relative to Prophecy.

With reference to the adductive principles under discussion in Chapter 2.3, relative to which we gave the example in 1 Kings 22 (or 2 Chronicles 18), the following remarks may be added.

We said that when Micah predicted the death of king Achav, he made a correct prediction, confirming his prophetic powers, though not proving them; whereas, when the 400 so-called prophets predicted the king’s victory, they made a wrong prediction, proving their lack of prophetic powers, and not merely diminishing their credibility.

We could have added that Micah’s credibility was double, in that he correctly predicted a negative event, which is harder to do since curses are to the last revocable by God. Similarly, the discredit to the 400 was double, in that they wrongly predicted a positive event, although blessings once decreed by God are irrevocable.

 

On another tack, I would like to reconsider the underlying distinction between positive and negative predictions. The Biblical passage 1 Samuel 15:29 would seem to contradict such a principle. Here, Samuel makes a negative prediction (that Saul will lose the kingship) and considers it irreversible (i.e. to be bound to happen, even if Saul should repent). Samuel says that God does not “lie or repent”, apparently formulating a general principle.

If we review how the principle that prophesies of negatives are not inevitable (proposed by the J.T. and Maimonides, according to Enc. Jud.) is inferred from Jeremiah’s statement in 28:8-9 (quoted in said chapter), we see that it is an a contrario inductive inference. That is, the principle about negatives is not deductively implied or explicitly stated, but merely assumed tacitly intended by the stated principle that prophesies of peace come to pass. Since davka positives only are mentioned, negatives are presumed excluded from the statement. Jeremiah does not actually say that prophesies of war and the like do not necessarily come to pass.

In fact, if we look at Jeremiah’s statement more closely, he is not saying that prophesies of peace are inevitable, but that when they come to pass, then they will have manifestly come from God. This does not formally exclude that prophesies of war and such may be subject to identical rules. This issue of conditionality is already discussed in my text (idem).

We may conclude from all that: in some cases true predictions, whether positive or negative, are inevitable, while in some other cases they are conditional upon a continuation or change of attitude or behavior. The de facto authority of the prophet and the actual outcome allows us ex post facto to estimate which category the case under consideration might fall under. But to the extent that some of those factors are tacit and informal, our assumption that they are implicit is inductive rather than deductive; i.e. we are interpreting rather than inferring.

 

Back to Chapter 2.3

2. A Note on Astronomy.

Concerning the astronomical information conveyed in Chapter 2.4. I wrongly stated that our galaxy has some 100,000 stars (of which the Sun is but an average sized sample), and vaguely numbered a “multitude” of such galaxies in the universe. Forgive my ignorance.

I was myself amazed to read later (in a newspaper) astronomers estimate the Milky Way (our galaxy) as having 200 billion (i.e. 200,000 million) stars and the universe as having 80 billion galaxies with comparable contents each! That amounts, roughly, to:

16,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.

Additionally, the diameter of the universe being estimated as 13.7 billion light years (give or take some), and a light year being 9.461 trillion km, consider the size of the universe in kilometers!

Back to Chapter 2.4

3. An Example of Secondary A-Fortiori in the Talmud.

I am in slight error in Chapter 4.4, when I say that, with reference to Chulin 24a, the statement about priests is not part of the qal vachomer argument per se, but a preliminary argument of another sort. More precisely, the statements about priests form a preliminary a-fortiori argument, of the type I called secondary a-fortiori in Chapter 3.3, consisting of suffective premises with a commensurative conclusion, namely:

If a priest reaches a certain age (Q), he is not sufficiently unfit (R) to be disqualified (S);

If a priest has bodily blemishes (P), he is sufficiently unfit (R) to be disqualified (S);

therefore: For a priest to have bodily blemishes (P) implies more unfitness for Temple service (R) than for a priest to be past a certain age (Q).

The conclusion of this argument is then generalized, as I previously explained, by effectively dropping the specification of priests and making it applicable to all Temple servers. After that, the proposition can be used as major premise in an a-fortiori of the primary type, concerning the Levites, as already shown.

This discovery answers my question in Chapter 10.2, as to whether cases of secondary a-fortiori are indeed found in the Talmud.

Back to Chapter 4.4

4. One More Example of A-Fortiori in the Tanakh.

 

An acquaintance of mine and reader of Judaic Logic, Mark Leroux, has in early 2001 rightly pointed out to me an additional a-fortiori argument in the Bible, in 1 Samuel 17:37. The passage reads (New York: Judaica Press, 1976):

And David said, “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, He will save me from the hand of the Philistine”

Although this statement is not per se an argument, but has an assertoric form (that of a blunt statement of fact), David’s underlying thought-process is indeed kal va-chomer (we encountered a similar situation in Chapter 6.3, with reference to Daniel 2:9). I easily constructed a positive predicatal a-fortiori reflecting this thought-process, by proposing an appropriate middle term (say, favoring by God):

“God must favor (R) someone at least as much to deliver him from big wild animals (P) as to deliver him from big seasoned warriors (Q); David (S) was favored by God (R) enough to be delivered from a lion and a bear (P); therefore, David (S) will be favored by God (R) enough to be delivered from Goliath (Q).

Notice that I used the egalitarian form of a-fortiori (major premise with “as much as”), which suffices to make the point without too much assumption. But Mark Leroux suggested a bolder, and finally more convincing, interpretation to me.

He pointed out that the lion and bear were innocent animals, merely attempting to feed themselves, and yet God favored David over them. In contrast, the Philistine was a willful enemy of His people, so God had all the more reason to favor David over him.

In other words, David’s argument could be cast as “If God gave me victory over innocent beasts obeying their natural impulses, he will surely give me victory over a rebellious brute out to upset God’s plans.” The result is the same, but the argument is more forceful.

Finally, looking at the Hebrew version, we note first that it contains no logical operators (such as ki); but this does not detract from its being an argument, as we have seen in many previous cases. Furthermore, it contains no keyword (such as ve-ekh or halo), let alone a novel one which might have helped us to discover yet other, similar cases through a concordance.

I want to underline here that Biblical a fortiori arguments usually require interpretation, in that they involve tacit elements, usually the major premise at least. This can also be illustrated with reference to the following two cases (paraphrased).

In 2 Samuel 4:10-11, David states that if he sentenced to death the man who brought him tidings of Saul’s death (whom the man claimed to have killed at the wounded Saul’s own request, see chapter 1), how much more will he so deal with the two men who brought him tidings of Ish-Bosheth’s death (whom they had murdered in his bed). The major premise of the argument being that the latter crime was greater than the former, either because of the circumstances or because of the comparative innocence of the victim.

Similarly, in 2 Samuel 16:11, David states that considering that his own son, Absalom, was seeking his life, how much more could one expect Shimei, a Benjamite supporter of the late Saul, to express opposition to David. Here, the major premise would be that Shimei compared to Absolom either had a better pretext for his actions or that they were less dangerous.

Back to Chapter 5.3

5. A Note Concerning Anachronisms.

In Chapter 9.1, in a footnote, I noted in passing that Numbers 31:22-23 suggested that iron-working in Israel had begun in about 1300 BCE, whereas modern historians placed this event in about 1000 BCE. This remark implied a possible error in the Biblical account, and a source of doubt.

However, subsequent readings, relating to the Hittites[1] (who it turns out inhabited a large portion of the Near East region, from modern Turkey down to Israel), have taught me that archeological sites suggest iron working in the region dates from the 14th-13th Cent. BCE, and texts suggest a date as early as 1800-1700 BCE.

This rather confirms the Biblical claim on this subject.

Notwithstanding, while on the subject of Bible criticism based on archeological findings, I would like to add the following. Faced with apparent anachronisms in the Biblical account, many archeologists tend to overreact (with conscious or unconscious ideological motives, one may suspect).

For instances, the story of the Patriarchs in Genesis mentions Philistines and camels – and yet, according to archeology (i.e. physical traces so far uncovered – or not uncovered), Philistines did not appear in the Land of Canaan till a few centuries later in about 1200 BCE, and camels did not appear there till still later in about 700 BCE. Some historians conclude from such apparently factual data that the story of the Patriarchs was invented, accordingly late in Hebrew history.

But, even assuming the empirical findings indubitable (though, note well, these are often negative, and so less certain than positive findings), such a conclusion is unnecessarily extreme, for it is logically equally conceivable that there was an older and more skeletal Patriarch story and that this was later embellished with anachronistic elements. It is not incredible to suppose that early commentators embedded their comments in the received text (whereas later commentators, such as the writers of the Midrash, avoided such direct interpolation).

One must always be ready and willing to adapt to developing factual evidence. But generally speaking, it is logically permissible (if not often preferable) to retreat gradually and reluctantly from a favored position, yielding only step by step, rather than to surrender everything abruptly and take on a radically contrary position.

Of course, in either case, if the empirical evidence is incontrovertible, the inference one can draw from such anachronisms is that the text, whether partly doctored or wholly fabricated, is to at least some extent post-Exilic.

Back to Chapter 9.1

6. Inferences from Context.

The argument I give as example of contextual inference in Chapter 10.2 can be formalized as follows:

(a) Murder is a capital offense

A is E

Adultery is a capital offense

and B is E

therefore (because textually adjacent)

but C is next to A, B

stealing is a capital offense

therefore, C is E

(b) but also, of the kinds of stealing,

however, of all C

only kidnapping is a capital offense

only D is E

therefore, as intended in the Decalogue,

therefore, here

“stealing” means “kidnapping”

C means specifically D

Thus, judging from this traditional example, inferences from context can be expressed to some extent in formal terms, their common property being a proposition like “C is next to…”. However, such argument has varying force, in view of the vagueness of the copula “next to”, and its inevitable irrelevancy in some cases (as I have argued, there has to be changes of topic).

Note that only (a) is contextual inference; (b) is an additional argument, which takes off from a foregone conclusion (of here unstated source) that kidnapping is a capital offense, and infers that the term stealing in the previous segment was intended to refer specifically to theft of people.

Back to Chapter 10.2

7. Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc.

I have suggested in my analysis of binyan avin Chapter 10.2 that the Rabbis often commit the fallacy[2] of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). This consists in interpreting a sequence of events as causal, rather than merely coincidental, without proper justification.

This kind of thinking is hard to avoid in the context of a closed book like the Bible. Because the characters and events in it seem exemplary and final, we are tempted to accept them as empirical data and generalize from them to our heart’s content, without regard to inductive rules. The Rabbis were conscious of the dangers of excess involved. For instance, that people might wish to imitate Pinchas and kill out of some moral indignation[3]. In such contexts, the Rabbis would designate the event as somehow unique and limited to particular circumstances or to the time and place. The problem is of course that they were not consistently rigorous in their interpretations.

When we read the stories in the Tanakh, we naturally get influenced one way or the other by the characters and events. Indeed, this was the writers’ intention. Writers of religious books, like those of philosophical or political tracts, like many novelists or film-makers, and indeed journalists (who mostly do not report facts but fabricate propaganda), all want to influence people. It doesn’t take much, because people (especially youth, but also tired souls) become absorbed in the fictional universe involved, and identify with certain characters and take example from their attributes, responses and behavior patterns, little realizing the enormous power of the author over his creation.

It is also worth keeping in mind that the practical success or failure, or the beauty or ugliness, of such qualities and behaviors, are very often a function of the social milieu. In a theocratic regime, fanatic acts may seem sane and admirable, while rational acts may seem weak, stupid or immoral. In a secular society, depraved or nonsensical acts may impress, while acts of integrity or reason may seem old-fashioned, pompous or laughable. It is because appearances in these matters are very relative that fiction (in all its guises) can so easily manipulate people’s emotions.

Back to Chapter 10.2

8. Judgment-Calls.

A notable feature of Rabbinic exegesis is its attempt to grasp the impact of the propositions in a text on each other.

We see from the example of the Rabbis’ thought processes that a proposition, or set of propositions, may be considered (rightly or wrongly) to cause another to be particularized or generalized, or rendered exclusive or indefinite, or otherwise conditioned. Such dynamic causal relations are inductive, and are to be contrasted to the merely static oppositional relations found in Aristotelian deductive logic (where the respective truths or falsehoods of propositions are declared compatible or incompatible).

By such considerations, induction is raised to a more complicated level. It is a level at which the Subject is making more judgments (in the sense of judgment-calls), since he/she must try and estimate the relative credibility to assign to each appearance, giving this one or that one superior force, and thus decide somewhat the directions of his/her thinking processes[4]. And of course, it is precisely because of this subjective element inherent in judgment-call that the risks of wrongdoing are greatest in it. By that, I mean allowing one’s judgment to be warped by emotional pressures, wishful thinking, dishonesty, etc.

Back to Chapter 11.4

9. Tolerance of Contradictions.

Judaic logic (together with the logics of other religions and mysticisms) is often conveniently tolerant of contradiction, in contrast to Aristotelian and scientific logic which uncompromisingly rejects contradiction. This is a fundamental distinction, due to attachment of the former to certain given beliefs, texts, doctrines and persons.

The religious construct their world view by tacitly accepting all manners of contradiction: between different passages of the Torah and Nakh, between competing statements of Rabbis in the same or different periods, between tradition and scientific discoveries, and so on. They imagine and posit as an article of faith that a resolution somehow exists, whereas the scientific demand a resolution to be found before accepting that there is one. Or perhaps more precisely, the religious presume a resolution compatible with their dogmas to exist, whereas the scientific presume a resolution exists but not necessarily one compatible with their pet theories.

I am sorry to say that Talmudic dialectic often makes me think of the liar who covers up his lie with another lie, and the latter with yet another, and so forth, till he has confused his adversary into silence. Each generation of Rabbis constructs an evasive scenario, to dilute the difficulties they find in the Biblical text or in previous Rabbinical discussions, and make them more palatable. Of course, such dissolution instead of solution, or explaining-away instead of explaining, has to more or less fit the prevailing orthodox views (though sometimes it does shock a bit initially).

Back to Chapter 12.2

10. Proof of God by Analogy?

 

I heard Geneva’s Rabbi Marc Raphaël Guedj recently argue, in a sermon, that “just as Man’s soul sees but is not seen, so God sees but is not seen”. I have seen a similar argument in Rabbinic literature before, or perhaps it was the simpler proposition that God is to the world what the body is to the soul[5]. This is of course an argument by analogy. However, it should be noted that the analogy is imperfect, since we regard God as creating the universe whereas we do not regard Man’s soul as creating his body[6].

In any case, we see from the above objection that, as I have always argued, though analogy is not in itself erroneous, it is rarely if ever conclusive. The analogy admittedly carries some conviction, but this must be weighed against the points of difference. There are always differences – otherwise the things compared would not be two but one! The issue is to estimate the significance of the differences. In the above case, as all will admit, our concepts of God and Man do not merely differ in scale.

Also before we try to infer God from Man, we must more deeply consider whether our concept of Man is knowledge or theory. We (myself included) assume that Man has a ‘soul’ on the basis of the fact of consciousness: phenomena do not just manifest themselves, but they seem to appear to someone – a Subject seems logically required, which experiences things. Nevertheless, many people (in particular, Buddhists) deny this inference, and emphasize the transparency of the ‘soul’, its lack of concrete manifestations, to conclude that the existence of the ‘soul’ is an illusion.

Furthermore, solipsism remains a philosophical possibility (though not one I personally incline towards). I, the Subject, perceive some things closest to my apparent center of perception, which things I call ‘my body’; and I perceive (more wholly, though less intimately) other bodies beyond mine, which resemble mine and behave like mine; and from that I conclude that ‘there are other people out there’, i.e. entities who are conscious, and seemingly volitional, and emotive, in short who seemingly like me ‘have a soul’. But that inference, though a good working hypothesis, has no deductive certainty; it is still quite conceivable that the ‘other people’ I perceive are empty fantasms.

Clearly these deeper doubts (though picky) make the argument by analogy we mentioned to start with even more tenuous. If Man’s soul is in doubt, it cannot be adduced very convincingly in support of a world soul (i.e. God).

Back to Chapter 14.1

11. Disproofs of God?

a. The counterargument I have given in Chapter 14.1, that if the world requires explanation, how much more does God require it, is an excellent way to neutralize certain traditional proofs of God. A Being capable of creating a world as great and marvelous as this, has to be still greater and more marvelous; to posit such a Being increases rather than decreases theoretical difficulties, and therefore presents no logical advantage.

This is comparable to the well-known counterargument that if the world requires a cause, then so does God, for if the antecedent is based on the principle that everything requires a cause, then the consequent has to submit to the same principle. In other words, the idea that everything has a cause is a thesis that the causal chain is infinite; we cannot therefore consistently use it to justify a first-cause thesis. I believe we must admit of first causes within the world – for instance, in freely willed acts by humans (influences on whom do not constitute causes in the deterministic sense here used); in that case, the world may need no cause or may have as first cause a causeless God.

We can join and contrapose the two statements and say if God requires no cause or explanation, nor does the world. My counterargument is I think original, but finally merely a broadening of an older counterargument[7]. In any event these arguments do not disprove God, they merely neutralize alleged proofs of God; that is, they demonstrate that those so-called proofs are not conclusive.

b. I have said that you cannot conclusively disprove God, either. Sure, theodicy – since the Book of Job[8] – gives us ample reasons to doubt God, as we conceive Him through Judaism. If God is perfectly just and full of love for His creatures, then how come terrible crimes are not prevented and innocent victims are not protected? There is no excuse for such negligence[9]: if human freedom would have otherwise been impossible to create (as some argue[10]), there was still the option of not creating humankind at all (and regarding why we were created no plausible argument is found by anybody).

Such argument convinces many people that God does not exist, or at least that He is not as described by apologists, since there are evidently contradictions between the expectations raised by religion and historical and personal experience. Nevertheless, while powerful, such argument does not strictly disprove God: (i) What is just or unjust is sometimes if not always unclear or problematic; judges or jurors often disagree, for a variety of reasons. (ii) There may be hidden pathways to justice which in the long term restore the balance, as defenders of faith have often argued.

I am personally not greatly impressed by such defenses, for to (i) I would respond that only the (innocent) victim can decide whether it feels justly dealt with or not, if he/she is still alive and fit, and to (ii) I would respond that justice hidden or delayed is justice denied, the issue is prevention not mere cure. Nevertheless, we must grant that none of such arguments or counterarguments logically permits us to draw a decisive conclusion. Arguments from theodicy result in at best the improbability of the existence of God as we imagine Him (i.e. just and loving).

c. There is another old objection that puts God in serious doubt, or at least God as we conceive Him. It is: if God is eternal, perfect, self-sufficient and satisfied, then He is immune to any danger or desire, and therefore has no need or motive to create/destroy or pursue/avoid anything, no use for temporal things or events. God, alone, without need of others since complete, with nothing to fear since eternal, would not suddenly put in motion unnecessary turbulences in His unity, generating lies[11] and suffering for no conceivable reason. He is not lonely or bored, nothing exists to affect Him or which is capable of doing so, so why would He bother?

I think this points to a weighty contradiction. What it means is that the hypothesis that a God exists with such and such characteristics (eternity, etc.) is belied by the empirical data that a temporal world at all exists (quite apart from the lies and suffering in it). Thus, what we apparently have here in inductive terms is not mere reduction in probability and putting in doubt of a thesis, but its decisive rejection and elimination. The world is not only not a proof, but it is a disproof of God!

This counterargument is not new to philosophy, but I failed to consider it previously and to see its strength. I was taken in by arguments found in Rabbinic literature, which referred to God’s spontaneous will to create the world and humanity out of pure love, to share His life and joy – but now, upon reflection, I realize such theses do not stand to reason! It follows that we do not merely have (a) an absence of proof for God, or (b) complaints which make Him improbable – we have (c) in the very existence of a temporal world, an actual disproof.

But upon further reflection, I am not too sure of the finality of the above objection. For the description of God relied on here makes Him resemble a stone! We rather conceive God as in the image and likeness of humans, that is as having freewill (and that to an extreme degree). And I believe, though I have not yet demonstrated it, that freedom of the will conceptually requires the ability (though not necessity) to act quite anarchically, without purpose (not even the goal of acting without purpose). If this is indeed a characteristic of human volition, then there is no reason to deny a similar feature to Divine will.

d. Another strong argument in favor of atheism is the perspective modern science has given mankind regarding how very little space and time it occupies in this universe.

Modern science has of course raised considerable doubts about the veracity and accuracy of Biblical and other religious accounts, taken literally, of the universe and of mankind’s position in it. Examples of such deficiency are countless. Critics often point out the numerous and important deficiencies of the Biblical narrative of Creation (e.g. with regard to the duration and order of universal development, the non-mention of extinct species and geological changes, and so forth); but there are many other issues (e.g. the proposed listing of ethnic groups and their relations). Also in other religions there are, according to modern science, serious errors (for example, the Hindu-Buddhist belief in an eternal cyclical universe).

However, the issue I wish to focus on here is not related to specific traditional claims, but has a more theological character:

(i) Although modern science has concluded that the universe is not infinite (but about 15 billion light years in diameter, according to some), it has also made clear how comparatively minuscule our home is (a planet some 12’750 km in diameter). We are living on a mere speck of dust, in one galaxy comprising some 200 billion stars like the Sun, in a world of some 80 billion galaxies (according to one article I read).

(ii) Also, our planet is a rather late arrival on the world scene (being some 4.5 billion years old, I read), and the human species as such is a very late arrival on it (although life is considered to have started here say 4 billion years ago, homo sapiens appeared in the evolutionary chain perhaps some 200’000 years ago). History (comprising the remnants of human culture) stretches barely 6’000 years (or rather, lately, some 10’000 years): it is a puny detail in the story of life on Earth.

Thus, modern science has shown mankind to be a very, very tiny detail in space and time – and the theological question naturally arises: why would God create such a spatially and temporally enormous theatre, if His purpose in creation was only the drama of human redemption?

Before the advent of modern science (starting with the Copernican revolution), people imagined their life at centre-stage, and the stage as not much larger than the earth and not much older than human history. But now we know ourselves to be a mere detail in a very grand tapestry.

Galileo was persecuted by some Churchmen, because they realized the danger he posed to their religious doctrines; and they were not far wrong in that assumption. Modern atheism is largely based on the perspective modern science (astronomy, biology) gives on humanity. Paradoxically, today’s human arrogance is based on a humble realization of human insignificance in the larger scheme of things.

The issue is not only what the Bible stated incorrectly or did not say – but moreover an issue of dimensions, of the disproportion between us and the rest of the universe. This thought, tacitly or explicitly, is a strong force for atheism in today’s world. Defenders of religion must take it into account and propose convincing replies. And indeed, upon reflection, the argument of perspective is not unbeatable.

We could turn it around and say: God made a world so enormous around us so as to give us a hint of His infinite greatness. Our whole universe, for all its immensity in our eyes, is perhaps in turn a mere speck of dust in God’s eyes. The faithful have always acknowledged God’s greatness in comparison to humans, and indeed have considered it an argument in favor of awe and worship.

Moreover, it could be argued that God also wanted to give us a hint of His great love for us. How so? If one considers a task of little worth, one devotes little time and effort to it. But God took billions of years of complex preparation before producing mankind – forming and destroying stars, forming our planet, developing life on it, making and breaking numerous habitats and species, until finally the (still very perfectible) human species emerged historically.

We may in this context, for example, quote Psalms 113:5-6 –

“Who is like the Eternal our God, Who, [though] enthroned on high, lowers Himself to look upon the heavens and the earth?”

Like an artist of great genius, God has created a massive masterpiece around the detail that mattered most to Him, to give it richness and depth. In His infinite love, He has made a free gift of attention and care to inferior creatures like us (a bit as if we were to adopt microbes as pets!)

Back to Chapter 14.1

12. Neither Certainty Nor Faith are Essential to Religious Ethics.

It has to be made clear that my insistent skepticism regarding religion, and the arguments in its defense, cannot be interpreted as categorical rejection of all religiously motivated behavior. For even a secular ethics has to admit the inevitable limits of human knowledge. Many actions, whatever their standard of value, are based on conditional judgments.

We can never be absolutely sure that such or such a course of action will indeed lead to our goal, that it is the only way to it and will not have negative side-effects, that our goal really is consistent and feasible, and so forth. Things are not always immediately clear or predictable. Our actions are often based on hypotheses and on more or less accurate probability estimates[12]. Assuming this, I should do that. Supposing so and so, I ought to act thus. To be realistic, ethics has to adapt to our epistemological framework.

Thus, it is quite legitimate from the point of view of logic to motivate one’s behavior by means of conditional judgments. There is no proof or disproof that God exists or is thus or thus; but just in case it is true, I will behave in such or such a way. Or again: I doubt there is life after death, or judgment and reward or punishment, yet just to be on the safe side, I will act as if I was sure.[13] Such judgments are not in any way logically reprehensible.

It follows that neither certainty nor faith are essential to religious ethics.

People are free to invest their efforts where they want, but of course they have to be aware that such courses of action, based on conditional judgments, have and are bound to have definite consequences of their own, whether in accord with expectations or totally unexpectedly. Gambling, however unavoidable, still involves real risk. That is, by justifying the form of such judgments, ethical science makes no claim that it is justifying their content!

Nevertheless, in many cases the consequences are clearly benign. If one goes to the synagogue occasionally, say for social interactions, one has at worst wasted one’s time, which one might have wasted instead at the beach or shopping around. One could of course often argue the matter further (e.g. that by so doing one is reinforcing the power of religious cadres); but excessive rigidity can also be a disvalue.

Back to Chapter 14. 2

13. The Rabbis’ Antipathy to Philosophy.

In answer to the Rabbis’ distrust of philosophy, and their attempt to muzzle it or its study at least, I say this. Philosophy is a necessity for humans; we have to research the issues for the sake of our sanity and survival[14].

Admittedly, to affirm that philosophy, as a science, as a disciplined pursuit of knowledge, is a valuable thing, is not necessarily to accept all particular philosophies, all attempted formulations of what philosophy’s problems and solutions are. Nevertheless, philosophy is a trial and error process, and therefore all views contribute something to our collective understanding. Even wildly erroneous views, products of mixed-up minds, are interesting, in that they awake more intelligent philosophers to the need for appropriate comments in the area concerned. Often, what seems obvious to the latter is far from obvious to others, and it is only when the others manifest their confusion that better thinkers realize they must be more explicit.

Additionally, Judaism often mistakenly prides itself in the originality of its explanations of things, while at the same time usually attributing them to Biblical personalities. Only by study of the actual history of philosophy can we be properly informed regarding the sources of our ideas, and when and in what context they made their appearance on the world scene.

I do agree with the Rabbis in this: the idea of God cannot be objectively discussed by someone with an impure mind – for an impure mind is necessarily biased away from or against this idea. A person whose thoughts (and consequently, eventually, actions) tend towards impurity is well nigh bound to doubt or deny God. Under the influence of powerful carnal and egotistic desires, one naturally opposes and mocks all ideas that demand one restrain or restrict one’s ‘evil impulses’. However, one must not allow one’s good intentions to bias one’s judgment, either.

Back to Chapter 15.1

14. In Defense of the Rabbis.

I recently overheard a congregant in a synagogue, during the third meal on a Sabbath, loudly declare for all to hear: “I fully believe in the Torah, but have no faith in what the Rabbis say – since they are only human!” (Let me hasten to add that this is a very surprising remark for someone attending a service.) Another congregant got very upset with him and (rightly) pointed out that this was the viewpoint of the Karaite sect (which split off from normative, Rabbinic Judaism as of the 8th Cent. CE).

Not keen to get into a shouting match, I did not get involved in the argument then. But after the service, I approached him and argued with him in private approximately as follows.

First, I pointed out, what you are saying is that only your own reading of the Torah is valid; in other words, while you claim to distrust human claims to knowledge, you are in fact considering your own claim exempt and superior. He of course denied having such arrogance, and included his own reading as flawed as that of any other person. He realized then the self-contradiction of his position.

Second, I pointed out, if you admit your own fallibility, yet your judgment is trustworthy enough to dismiss the Rabbis’ claims, does it not follow that other humans, though sometimes perhaps wrong, may sometimes also occasionally be right? He admitted that indeed people were not always wrong, but could be right.

I pursued further: Does the mere fact that the source of some knowledge is someone else make it wrong? Is it not conceivable to you that someone else might have more knowledge or understanding of something than you, and might be able to teach you some of it? Are you not sometimes freely convinced by other people’s arguments? To his credit, the man conceded.

Clearly, to deny the Rabbis invariable truth is not the same as to invariably deny them truth. If they cannot convince us of something – too bad. But if they manage to convince us of it in good faith – so well and good!

 

[1] Notably O.R. Gurney’s The Hittites (England: Penguin, 1952. Rev. ed. 1964).

[2] According to the History of Philosophical Systems. (Ed. Vergilius Ferm. Paterson, N.J.: Littlefield Adams, 1961. P. 67) hermeneutics for purposes of Halakhah consist of “strict logical rules”. I quote this here quite incidentally, to show how far the myth of a Rabbinic logic is spread.

[3] The assassination of Y. Rabin comes to mind.

[4] I have given more formal attention to these matters in the context of my analysis of factorial induction in my Future Logic.

[5] Which argument is, incidentally, found in Indian philosophy, specifically in Ramajuna (1100 CE). (See Ferm, p. 15.)

[6] And in fact I doubt that the view that God is in a similar relation to the world as Man’s soul is to his body is strictly kosher; it could be interpreted as a sort of pantheism, which the Rabbis dislike.

[7] Which I learned from Ayn Rand, but which I seem to remember Aristotle previously taught.

[8] Incidentally, referring to my comments in Chapter 13.4 concerning those who add insult to injury, and without cause accuse all victims of crime or misfortune of having somehow deserved it. It occurs to me that Job had said it already, in his complaints against the unfair and unkind accusations by his three friends (see also Ferm p. 61-62).

[9] To argue that ‘God gives the criminal time to repent’ is absurd, since the victim is thus forgotten.

[10] But I do not see why a timely destruction of Hitler and his ilk would have been a problem. Since the world is well able to exist for long periods without such horrors, it follows that human freedom does not require them.

[11] When I speak of lies here, I mean that if existence is essentially unitary, then it follows that the world of plurality is all illusions, and created illusions are lies.

[12] In whatever mode of modality — natural, temporal, extensional or logical.

[13] Such discourse underlies the Believer’s Wager mentioned in Chapter 14.2.

[14] Furthermore, one might argue: why would God not want us to enjoy the philosophical aspects of His world, whatever they are, just as we enjoy a sunrise, a flower or a fruit. Surely He would take pleasure and pride in humans exercising the intellectual faculties He granted them to the full, and solving the riddles inherent in their limited perspectives on the world as best they can. But such argument is open to rebuttal: we have other capacities which God apparently does not want us to actualize, so why not those intellectual ones.

2016-08-21T13:23:42+00:00