We’ll take a look at some objections to reincarnation in this post. My hope is not only to give some helpful advice to those who encounter these objections, but to flesh out some of the ideas we’ve been working with in previous posts as well. Let me start by saying that it’s okay to know that reincarnation occurs without knowing why it does or how it works. Almost all of our knowledge – if not all of it – is to some degree or other like this: who among those with even the most profound understanding of why and how […]
I had planned on continuing a philosophical look into reincarnation for this month’s blog post. However, philosopher Edward Feser took the time to engage a question of mine, and I believe that by responding, it may be possible for a polytheist-monotheist dialogue to open up. Forgive the detour, but I think it may well be worth it! Consider the following propositions: That which is divine cannot be an instance of any kind. There are many Gods. Some thinkers will look at (1) and (2) and see a contradiction. Why? For them, in order for there to be a plurality, there […]
We’re going to start tackling the subject of reincarnation: what it involves and why anyone should think it occurs. I honestly feel that this subject could be covered endlessly with new insights and considerations. We’re just going to scratch the surface today. But, what I’d like to do first is use some of the concepts we’ve recently fleshed out and return to the question of what it is to incarnate in the first place, or, in other words, what is it for one to take on a body? From here, we’ll find — in the swift manner I seem to […]
I first met Proclus through the writings of Edward Butler. I still remember reading Edward’s Polytheism and Individuality in the Henadic Manifold for the first time. He says “In his Platonic Theology, Proclus states that ‘all that have ever touched upon theology have called things first according to nature, Gods; and have said that the theological science concerns these.’ He goes on to explain that since, for some, what ranks first is the corporeal, the Gods are for such as these a certain kind of body. Proclus intends the Stoics here. Others, he continues, regard soul as primary. For these, […]
We touched on something in the last post that may as well be called the convertibility thesis. This thesis holds that individuality and ineffability are convertible with one another, so that both just refer to the same thing in different ways. To return to our analogy with language, individuality is like just saying the subject of a sentence whereas ineffability makes it clear that the subject as such contains no predicates to be described by. The convertibility thesis does a lot of work in a number of different fields. Take philosophical anthropology for an example – which is slightly broader […]
Linguistically, subjects are described by predicates. It might seem then that if you were to look at a subject without any predicates whatsoever, it would be literally indescribable. Description after all just is predication, and so it is a categorical mistake to try and describe a subject without using predicates: we cannot describe subjects with subjects. The statement “Jack is Jill” does not predicate Jill of Jack. If anything, it identifies the two. Insofar as description is just predication and plurality involves predicating one thing of many, grammatically plural subjects will be descriptive. As such, if we really are to […]
This summer’s issue of Walking the Worlds is out and is all about divination. It features a short piece from me called “From the Gods to Divination” (although my name is spelled with a ‘v’, I’ve always thought the ‘ph’ looks more distinguished 😛 ), wherein I attempt to deduce the reality of divination by thinking about what the Gods are like. Many thanks to all those who work so hard to make this journal happen, and a big thanks to Edward Butler who has challenged me and helped me to grow with the Gods in so many ways. Be […]
The condition in which we leave polytheism is the condition in which the next generation will find it. By comparison to the responsibilities and opportunities that we have to and with our traditions, answering objections to polytheism may not seem all that important. But, it is. Some polytheists have and will struggle, not only to understand polytheism – which affects the life of devotion – but even to believe it. This can be especially true for those whose devotions are not well established and only all the more so if they are subjugated to the psychological manipulations of aggressive evangelization, but also […]
Whether it’s on the interwebs, over the phone or in person, chances are that at some point you’ll come across the opportunity to discuss religion with a monotheist. It could be with family, friends, co-workers or even complete strangers: monotheism tends toward proselytism as it is, and is so taken for granted that it can be brought up in just about any situation without fear of awkwardness – at least less so than admitting that you’re not a monotheist. I work in the medical field, and there it is particularly commonplace to be drawn into conversations about “God” or heaven, […]
In the previous post we touched on the death of immortals and took a look at one reason to think we survive the death of our bodies, a reason that can serve as a philosophical foundation not only for the belief that there is an after-life of some sort or other, but also for speculation about what an after-life might be like.
The idea was that individuals qua individuals are not made up of any parts, and so the death of something which is made up of parts — such as a body — is not the death of an individual.
The argument was inspired by Proclus, who in proposition 15 of The Elements of Theology argued that anything capable of self-reversion is immaterial and without parts. Because my concern was only with whether or not we survive the death of our bodies and I wanted the argument to be pithy, I did not include many of Proclus’ other thoughts and arguments on the matter. For example, Proclus doesn’t just argue that we are without parts, but also that we do not inhere within any substrate. This allows him to argue not only that we cannot die by the separation of parts, but that we cannot die by being severed from any substrate.
His case is elegant, thorough and systematically rigorous; covering a great many of the bases that we’re passing over for the sake of simplicity. I am not sure that anything can take the place of just reading his work. But, the idea here is to engage other thinkers critically and creatively in order to determine what genuinely seems to be the case, not to perfunctorily repeat their arguments or even simply to repackage them in more digestible ways.
Concluding that we survive the death of our bodies was the purpose of the previous post. Having done so, we are now prepared to look further into propositions that are relevant to a Pagan philosophical anthropology; the first of which will be the historically Pagan thesis of pre-existence. Pre-existence is the idea that we (or some part of us) existed prior to our embodiment. Once again, we will look to Proclus for inspiration.
In proposition 43 of The Elements of Theology, Proclus argues that anything capable of self-reversion is self-constituted (or the source of one’s own being), and in proposition 45 that anything that is self-constituted is without temporal origin. It follows from these two propositions that anything capable of self-reversion is without temporal origin. Since our human bodies do have temporal origins and we are capable of self-reversion, this conclusion would secure the belief in pre-existence.
However, so stated, this argument involves a step that we do not need to make here: instead of arguing that anything capable of self-reversion is self-constituted, we can just argue that we are self-constituted. Simplifying the argument by eliminating this step yields the following: we are self-constituted; whatever is self-constituted is without temporal origin; therefore, we are without temporal origin.
So, why should we think either premise is true? Let’s take each in turn.
Premise (1): We are self-constituted
The manner in which a thing reverts is determined by what it reverts to. For example, if what one reverts to is a form of being, then one reverts formally or by her form; if what one reverts to is herself, then one reverts ‘ipseically’ or by her individuality. If, in turn, what one reverts to is the source of her being, then one reverts existentially or by her nature. As such, to revert by nature just is to revert to one’s source of being. (Cf. prop. 34 for a more expanded argument to this end)
But, we revert by nature upon ourselves; for as we have seen, our individuality is sustained across time by an inherent self-reversive tendency. (If we had to consciously or deliberately revert upon ourselves in order to sustain our individuality across time, we’d cease to exist as individuals the moment we stopped!) It follows that we are the source of our own being.
So, we have the following argument: what one reverts to, if one reverts to it by nature, is the source of one’s being. We revert by nature to ourselves. Therefore, we are the source of our own being.
Some may have the impression that (1) is unacceptable because all things are caused by the Gods. But, such a worry is based on too narrow an understanding of divine causation; for to cause all things is for the Gods to cause each thing as it is. Thus, the Gods cause necessary things to be necessary things just as they cause our free choices to be our free choices: all things derive in every way from the Gods, and so the Gods are not parts of reality but the very foundations upon which all of it rests. For this reason, (1) is not incompatible with divine causality: the Gods cause the self-constituted to be self-constituted. We’ll have to settle with such bare assertions for now, but we’ll return to them in future posts.
Having argued that we are self-constituted, all that remains is to argue that whatever is self-constituted is without temporal origin.
Premise (2): Whatever is self-constituted is without temporal origin
Suppose that one is self-constituted and has a temporal origin. By virtue of being self-constituted, such a one is the source of her own being: she is responsible for the fact of her own existence. But, by virtue of having a temporal origin, such a one is not responsible for the fact of her existence, since she is not “around” until the fact of her existence has already been established. Indeed, this is all it is for one to originate: it is for the fact of one’s existence to be outside of her control. (Cf. prop. 45 for Proclus’ own argument to this end) As such, it follows from our initial supposition that one is and is not responsible for the fact of her existence, which is a contradiction.
As this brief reductio ad absurdum illustrates, the idea of being the source of one’s own being is inherently opposed to the idea of originating at some point in time, such that the conjunction of the two results in a contradiction.
We have presented a very simple Proclean argument for pre-existence:
- We are self-constituted.
- Whatever is self-constituted is without temporal origin.
- Therefore, we are without temporal origin. (From 2, 1)
As in the previous post, the sense in which “we” are being referred to is in that of our individuality or ‘who-ness’. By relying on our pre-philosophical grasp of its conceptual contours instead of proposing an analysis of individuality, we are avoiding controversies not immediately relevant to establishing our conclusion.
Pre-existence can be an exciting idea and it raises the question of why we take on bodies in the first place. We’ll look into that in later posts, and draw the conclusion that we undergo a sort of cycle whereby we descend into bodies and return to our initial state over and over again.
We’ll get into some more apologetic material in the upcoming posts however including a tip for talking with monotheists about religion and some responses to objections to polytheism, so be sure to check back in!