Great series of exchanges folks...
(a few comments - chronologically ordered for your pleasure)
I appreciate the Ideal Gas Law example and how while in all practical
situations we fall short of actually "proving" it we can see where
everything seems to be pointing. I sometimes use the idea of "trajectory"
or "confluence" to also provide clarity in situations where limited
knowledge is the rule. While I may not know the big picture, if what is and
can be known seems to have a certain common vectors (emphasis on direction
here) I continue moving in that direction and judge that if it is the
"right" direction that I will generally pickup more supporting data along
the way while always open to adjustments as necessary. Good science
operates in a very similar fashion, but sadly this openness to adjustments
is not guaranteed by this method as the history of science itself bears out
(how much more for philosophers!). Now in the end certainty is of course
limited by our own limitedness, but that does not mean we are condemned to
existential passivity as some seem to argue since our decisions are
generally going to be based on less-than-perfect knowledge. Proofs seem to
always be demanded in certain instances while completely ignored in others.
While I do think that Solomon is making universal statements regarding
various aspects of human nature the poll we took at our last session
regarding this question displayed both extremes as well as a fair range
between the two. Frankly, I am happy to leave it at that. The recent
exchange seems to have gone into the exploration of whether any
universals/absolutes exist at all, but I am still of the opinion (and maybe
I'm the only one) that the insights expressed in the book offer poignant
commentary on the human condition. And here I would echo Doug's point that
the criticism directed at this book ("subjective," "the view of one man,"
"his opinions" etc...) can be directed at any book or other form of
expressed human thought. While it may be tempting to simply dismiss all of
human consideration and exposition in the same vein, this view is nothing if
not unfair given that our own judgments are always conveniently excepted
from this selfsame criteria. Again, perhaps I am the only one, but I do
believe that the wisdom and discernment embodied in this book has tremendous
weight, not only due to the fact that it has withstood the millennia, but
because it speaks not only to the mind, but the heart/soul as well (and here
I will put a serious disclaimer on that statement - I am not the
touchy-feely type so it takes a lot for me to say this). Since I am more
than content to allow each one to exercise his or her liberty on this
matter, I don't expect everyone to agree with me on this, but I do expect to
be given the same consideration. That is until I become the cult leader...
I think you are right on with the observation that Solomon makes certain
absolute statements without attempting to prove they are true. I think he
also makes many observations regarding the state of affairs of mankind
without pointing to the universal(s) behind them expecting us to make that
connection (which makes this a very difficult book to understand on some
levels). I think practically it is very hard to "walk alongside" an author
depending on what your own presuppositions are regarding your own beliefs as
well as the presumed beliefs of the author. Personally, I don't usually
assume the tenets of an author in order to try to understand him/her (but I
can see this way of thinking as helpful in the arts though). I hope to be
fair-minded, considerate and even sympathetic to as great a degree that I
can humanly manage, but if the author has something compelling to say and it
holds some sort of promise for me personally, then the onus is on him/her to
drive that home. But again, that's just me...
I love pickles...
Raising the ante on proofs does show some of the inherent human tendency to
assume that all dogmas are wrong except our own. Honestly I don't believe
the "burden of proof" lies on any one side, per se. No one has the luxury
of hanging around with their own set of beliefs taunting others to disprove
them (nah-nah!). I would challenge everyone (and myself first at that) to
dissect their own beliefs with the same chainsaws, augers and scalpels that
are regularly used to dismember (in the very best sense of the word) their
What do you mean you are "not impressed with Solomon??!!" OK then, you're
You are correct, the majority vs. minority opinion has little bearing on the
question of absolutes (these are not voted upon or subjective by
I think I pretty much agree with your "base absolutes" engendering a vast
number of "unique non-absolute phenomena." And I take you at your word when
you say that you are not saying absolutes don't exist, but is it
intellectual hari-kari to posit that there may be reasons to believe they
exist even if those reasons are not personally compelling?
I can't agree that the sciences that you mention have done a great job of
telling us who we are. They can weigh my heart, tell me how many cubic
centimeters are in my cranium, but they can't ever come close to telling the
world how funky I am... (keep an eye out for an e-mail with a certain
I appreciate your analytical approach to the subject. I think Solomon's
views are much more than anecdotal or a blog-type rant and he himself states
that he did indeed approach his topic as very much an experiment or case
study. Though Doug is not as easily impressed (at least to date), Herman
Melville said "the truest of all books is Solomon's and Ecclesiastes is the
fine hammered steel of woe." Thomas Wolfe said that "Ecclesiastes is the
greatest single piece of writing I have ever known and the wisdom expressed
in it the most lasting and profound." While I take all human opinion of
any author with a grain of salt, one has to consider carefully that the same
is not easily said of just any author or just any work.
I'm not sure that I quite understand the phrase "willing to accept as
absolute." While my autonomous self would like to think that my own will
grants me the power to accept or deny any reality, that just isn't so. My
assent is not at all necessary or even considered in the matter. I'm
working on an angle to change that, but I've come up with nothing so far.
Becoming a prominent cult leader may be as far as I get...
In other words, "To err is human." Anyone disagree? The deeper matter here
is that an error or wrong of course implies a correct or right way of
being/doing...standards of some sort. Of course many of these are very
human conventions (a strikeout vs. a grand slam, perhaps), but I don't think
that quite covers everything. So where do the standards come from?
Pontius Pilate seems to me to be just one poignant example of a lack of
absolutes leading to a horrific series of events. He was able to ask during
the trial of Jesus, in proper philosophical (agnostic?) fashion, "What is
truth?" yet soon after concluded, based on the evidence, that the man before
him was innocent ("I find no fault in him") only to deny that very
conclusion for political expediency. For all his feigned protest regarding
truth, he knew what it was and chose to ignore it. The symbolic "washing of
the hands" seems to have been his means of dealing with this dissonance.
This truly odd little event makes me wonder why the potentate of Judea,
representative of the most powerful nation on earth at the time would have
to put on such a quaint show? Was it for others or for himself? But that's
a different discussion... Others probably have other examples, but this one
came to mind.
OK, enough already... you guys are killing me... I'm done for the night...
From: [address removed] [mailto:[address removed]] On
Behalf Of Anna
Sent: Monday, July 12,[masked]:28 PM
To: [address removed]
Subject: Re: [questioningrel-83] Stop talking about absolutes...
RE: James's comment
"Nobody's perfect" does not mean God exists, nor are the two even
And to state again, I'm not saying NO ABSOLUTES exist. I'm saying that
you'd better be damn sure that what you're seeing is an absolute
because acting on something as though it is an absolute for some set X
while having no or little evidence of such has given human cultures
problems for as long as human cultures have existed. Have there been
such issues as a result of assuming that things aren't absolute for
some set X?
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