random musings: the value of a sex slave

1) what is the value of a sex slave?

2) picture in your mind a young girl, sold by her parents into the sex industry when she was but eleven years of age; her body and her mind ravished by drugs and hordes of foul men.  Perhaps the value of such a girl is merely a matter of utility.  If this is the case, she is only as valuable as she is useful.  But what is her use to society?  She is uneducated, she is addicted to drugs, she is psychologically damaged . . . how useful to society is such a person?  Perhaps, her usefulness is tied to the only job she has ever known?  Perhaps the only thing which shall ever define her is one word: prostitute.  Is this her identity?  Is this her fate?

3) tell me, dear ethicist, does such a girl cease to have value when she ceases to be useful? Do your ethical theories align you with the slave drivers–those dealers in human flesh?  When the slaver deems his product useless, the product losses its value–and it is only fitting, in the mind of such a business man, to destroy what has become a worthless commodity.  After all, this is only good business.

4) how wretched is this thought!  How degrading!  How base!  That a human life should be reduced to mere utility . . . but, if God is dead, if we are simply the endless motion of atoms, what else shall we conclude?

5) I thank my Father in heaven, the Creator and sustainer of all life, that such is not the fate of this young sex slave.  For she is made in your ineffable  image–in the likeness of Beauty, and Life, and Goodness Himself.  I thank you that she has value and dignity–that she is worthy of love and compassion–that she is worthy of our respect.  For her identity, her nature, will never be destroyed because her circumstances do not define her.  For as long as she has being, no amount of torture or abuse can destroy the image of the invisible God that constitutes her essence.

6) I extol the wonders of our Lord who loves this young girl, who bled for this girl, who died for this girl–that she might have life.  Truly you ground our being; our very existence depends upon You.  Truly, it is in you that human beings find their eternal value; and, in turn, their usefulness.

the nature of physical law: a dialogue between St. Athanasius, Jaegwon Kim, and Jeffery Poland

Let us suspend reality for just a moment and imagine St. Athanasius has returned from the grave and is desperately craving a cup of hot coffee.  After locating the nearest coffee shop, he walks in with a huge smile on his face, only to discover that the imminent physicalists Jagewon Kim and Jeffery Poland are enjoying their morning brew before delivering a series of lectures at the local university. What sort of dialog might take place? . . .

Athanasius: “Good morning gentlemen! Grace to you and peace from our heavenly Father who spoke all things into existence through His own eternal Logos, through which all things hold together harmoniously and in good order!”

Jeffery Poland: “Good god man, you can’t be serious! If you please, I’m attempting to enjoy a cup of coffee before my next lecture.

Athanasius: “My apologies my friend, but surely one can not help but extol the wonders of the Logos who holds all things together!”

Jaegwon Kim: “You’re somewhat of an odd fellow. Are you not aware that what holds all things together are the fundamental laws of physics? My dear friend, there is no God. For, all things that exist in this world are bits of matter and structures aggregated out of bits of matter, all behaving in accordance with laws of physics . . . any phenomenon of the world can be physically explained if it can be explained at all. (1) So, enough of this nonsense about a divine logos.”

Athanasius: “I see. But, if you will, please explain to me the nature of these laws. Are the laws of physics themselves physical?

Jaegwon Kim: “Do we not experience them in the physical world? For all the things we experience are physical. Is this not obvious?

Athanasius: “Obvious indeed. So what you are saying is that the fundamental laws of physics . . . are the fundamental laws of physics?

Jaegwon Kim: “No, that would be circular reasoning.”

Athanasius: “My dear friend, if your ontology is correct then the only possible answer to the question of the nature of the laws of physics is that they are ultimately bits of matter and structures aggregated out of bits of matter all behaving in accordance with the laws of physics. For, as you say, “any phenomenon of the world can be physically explained if it can be explained at all.”

Jaegwon Kim: “Yes, I did say that.  But  . . . “

Jeffery Poland: “I didn’t want to get involved in this discussion, but I can hardly sit quietly any longer!  The relevant point here is that physicalists are (or should be) concerned with what exists in nature: i.e. with what can be spatially and temporally related to us, with that with which we can interact and by which we can be influenced, and with that of which we and the things around us are made . . . sets, propositions, universals, and so on, when abstractly conceived, are not considered to be in nature at all. Nor are they within the scope of the physicalists domain of study. (2)  Hence, your argument is superfluous.”

Athanasius: “But Mr. Poland, do you not state in your writings that ‘everything that exists is either an element of the physical basis or is constituted by elements in that basis?” and do you not further assert that, ‘everything that exists is, in this sense, ‘ontologically grounded’ in the physical domain?” (3)

Jeffery Poland: “Well yes . . .”

Athanasius: “So, physicalism is committed to the belief that everything which exists is ultimately grounded in the physical domain?

Jeffery Poland: ” . . . yes.”

Athanasius: “Tell me, Mr. Poland, do the laws of physics exist?

Jeffery Poland: “Well, of course . . .”

Athanasius: “Clearly, then, the laws of physics fall within the explanatory scope of physicalism!”

Jeffery Poland: “But that would lead to a tautology.”

Athanasius:  “Exactly!  And you’ve only two ways in which to avoid this tautology:  (1) you can accept that the laws of physics are nonphysical universal truths, or (2) you can reformulate physicalism as being a methodological doctrine rather than an ontological one.  Perhaps the notion of a divine logos is not so foolish after-all?”

(1) Kim, Jaegwon. Physicalism or Something Near Enough. New York: Princeton University Press, 2001. 149-150.

(2) Poland, Jeffrey. Physicalism:  The Philosophical Foundations. New York: Oxford, 1994. 228.

(3) Ibid. 18.

Random Musings: the nature of beauty

1)  Does beauty truly exist?

2)  Perhaps beauty is merely a feeling; an inner subjective experience; my impression of a perception . . . an emotion.  Perhaps beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  If this is the case, it is false to believe anything truly is beautiful.  When I look at the sunrise and exclaim in awe, “how beautiful!” I am merely expressing a feeling—I am communicating something private.  For the sunrise is not beautiful in any objective, concrete, sense; it is just an object within space and time.  Like all objects, it has no intrinsic value, no purpose, no meaning, it conforms to no pattern.  I, the observer, give it meaning . . .

3)  If beauty is simply a subjective experience, a feeling, then to speak of beauty is no different than to speak of indigestion.  In effect, the expression, “how beautiful,” is functionally equivalent to the expression, “my stomach hurts.”

4)   How wretched life would be if beauty did not exist!  I look at my wife, an angel, the radiance of the sun instantiated in human form . . . yet, this isn’t real.  The beauty of my wife is nothing but maya—an illusion.  In reality she is the endless shifting of atoms, the constant flux of matter and energy; as am I.  To say that my wife is beautiful is really to say that one shifting batch of atoms (my wife) collided with another shifting batch of atoms (my eyes) creating a chemical response in my brain and producing a particular emotion.  Her beauty is but one euphoric chemical reaction—an animal instinct, a sexual desire.

5)  In a world devoid of intrinsic value, beauty is degraded—it becomes something base.

6)   But surely beauty must exist!  Surely the sunrise is more than the endless shifting of atoms; more than the sense of awe engendered by a brute biochemical response to perception.  Surely such reactions occur in the presence of great beauty—a beauty woven into the very fabric of reality.  A form . . . an idea . . . a logos . . .