The Dining Philosophers - a Problem

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mjranum's avatar
Epicurus muttered, "None of this affects me at all," excused himself, and slipped out the back door practically unnoticed. That left the table unbalanced. On one side were the ancient worlders: Plato and Aristotle, heads together in deep discussion, and Socrates, who appeared to be gently questioning Miletus while Sextus Empiricus studiously withheld judgement on the proceedings.The opposite end of the table was mostly held by the enlightenment gang, with Lao-Tze as the sole outlier, holding down the farthest end of the table as he watched the proceedings, imperturbably. Voltaire had given up on his hopes of getting Lao-Tze to appreciate his witticisms, and shifted his focus to Rousseau, who was trying to hide behind the equally imperturbable bulk of David Hume. Neitzsche was berating Hume, loudly, and making wickedly poetic assertions that made Spinoza occasionally put his head down and "facepalm" though he quickly converted the gesture to what appeared to be a thoughtful forehead-rub. Lao-Tze caught his eye on one of these occasions and his face lit with a brief smile of utter joy, which Spinoza found himself sharing.

In the center of the table, of course, was the guest of honor's seat. When Jesus arrived and sat down, quietly, you could hear a pin drop. The assembled lovers of wisdom stopped what they were doing, Voltaire with his hand raised and crooked, frozen in the middle of an elegantly airy gesture, and Hume with a very fine piece of smoked fish halfway to his mouth. Sextus Empiricus raised a sardonic eyebrow, as The Nazarene made a gesture encompassing them all, "I greet you!" he said.

The silence in the room would make your ears ring, until Socrates stood and asked gently, "Whence, therefore, Evil?"  Neitzsche blew his breath out through his mustache and sat back, "ah!" and Lao-Tze's smile became more joyful, if such a thing was possible, still. Everyone in the room waited for The Nazarene's reply.

My mind does strange things when I'm flying a red-eye coast-to-coast and have had a couple glasses of red wine prior to boarding. I'd been discussing religion with a fellow I'd met recently and one of the things he'd said the day before was that "Jesus was a great philosopher." I know I cringed visibly when I heard that, but at the time I was playing nice so I didn't say anything. Perhaps you've heard similar things about the "great philosophy" in the bible (or, for that matter, the koran, book of mormon, or much of the buddhist literature) The reason that assertion is so cringe-worthy is because those books contain virtually nothing resembling a coherent philosophy, and none of the characters in those books are remotely anything like philosophers. In the case of Jesus, he was a god-man – supposedly part of the supernatural forces that give man morality and free will through assertion (if you're a christian who accepts divine command theory) I was thinking that none of the real philosophers I've read say "Because I said so" and mistook that for a philosophical argument.

If the son of god were a philosopher, and showed up on earth in a form whereby he could be questioned by humans, he'd immediately barraged with important and interesting questions. Not the little piffle like "hey, check out this adulterer we're going to stone, derp, derp!"  or  "can you turn this water into some more wine? Perhaps a good Zinfandel?" but, as Socrates would ask, "Whence, therefore, Evil?"

Think about it. If you're a philosopher and suddenly found yourself face to face with a real honest to goodness supreme being, you would not ask it whether it wore boxer shorts or briefs. There are so, so many questions that a real philosopher would immediately ask! In my little fantasy scenario above, I imagine that Jesus would have had a pretty hot and sweaty time once Voltaire started backing up Socrates' questions, and with Plato and Aristotle standing by to check his logic, "because I said so" wouldn't get him very far at all. I assembled my cast of characters carefully, because:
- Socrates would be absolutely fearless in being willing to question a god. He died, apparently quite graciously, because he loved philosophy and did not fear what earthly powers could do to his body. He would not hesitate for a moment to annoy the living fuck out of a god, just as he annoyed so many of the politicians and thinkers of great Athens.
- Plato would no doubt wish to resume the question he voiced through Socrates in my favorite of his dialogs, the Euthyphro, namely, "Is there a piety that the gods love, or is something pious simply because it is loved by the gods?" A real philosopher would not let Jesus stand there without explaining whether he was the source of all morals or whether he adhered to a set of higher morals himself – and, if so, where those morals came from.
- Aristotle would ask Jesus, in his role as god, "where did god come from?" The great systematizer of philosophy would not allow such an important question to hang.
- Thales would doubtless have some questions about the nature and origin of the universe.
- Sextus Empiricus (assisted ably by David Hume) would confuse Jesus unbearably by querying his epistemology: if god is the source of all knowledge, how did god come to know? I am sure that they would do it gracefully – perhaps as a tag team – but Jesus would quickly find himself in an infinite regress (pyrrhonian trope #2) as he attempted to certify his criteria without being dogmatic. I imagine that Hume would watch Sextus at work, while mentally composing a brilliant essay on "Is god naturally dogmatic?" Many of the christian apologists I've encountered have claimed that god is the anchor for all claims of knowledge. "Well, how do you know that?" I wish I could watch Sextus Empiricus and David Hume work that particular topic.
- Lao-Tze and Epicurus both recognized in their philosophies that the actions of the gods are more or less irrelevant to the affairs of men, and that wise men should act accordingly. After all, if the gods chose to serve you as they did Job, then you're going to get fucked and there's nothing you can do about it. Conversely, if they're going to raise you high and make you mighty, you're hardly in a position to take credit for it. I imagine that Epicurus and Lao-Tze would wind up in the garden, enjoying the stars and the breeze. Of all the conversations in philosophy that I would want to hear, it would be this one.
- Spinoza would eventually join Lao-Tze and Epicurus in the garden.
- Nietzsche would be a potentially delightful interlocutor for Jesus, who could ask him, "so, do I appear dead to you?"  "Not until tomorrow," would be Nietzsche's snappiest come-back, though it would be way too brief for him.
- Rousseau would doubtless have some questions for a god, regarding the origin of its authority. If this were a Monty Python sketch, I could see Rousseau asking Jesus, "Supreme authority comes from a mandate from the masses, not from mere supreme power!" ("Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I'm being repressed!")
- Voltaire would provide a witty, clear, and devastatingly arch summary of the discussion.

I'm also sure that Jesus' disciples were not philosophers. Indeed, you've got to wonder "what's wrong with those guys?"  Here they were following around god, and didn't think to ask him any interesting questions? Or, if they did, they didn't take notes. Like the time Matthew was busy re-tying his sandal during the sermon on the mount and missed the part where Jesus said, "By the way, load up on Cisco on its IPO. Stay away from Facebook, it'll tank." Joking aside, you'd think that, as Aristotle almost certainly would have, one of Jesus' disciples would have asked him, "what causes people to sometimes get sick when nobody around them does?" and Jesus could have told the great systematizer about bacteria and viruses. Perhaps, you'd think Jesus would have mentioned en passant to Matthew, "by the way, Matt, Earth goes around the Sun, not the other way around. Write that down in your testament and people'll respect you for actually knowing something."

No, Jesus wasn't a philosopher. Nor were any of his disciples. If you think about it, if Jesus really was god come-to-Earth, he did the most piss-poor performance possible. It could have only been worse if he'd worn a gag arrow-through-the-head hat and played banjo. "Oh, I'm not here to actually talk philosophy or teach, I'm just here to be bloodily slaughtered. And Mel Gibson's going to make $100mil on a movie about it. W00T!"

And people wonder why we atheists laugh at religions.

Addendum:  Note that today's philosophers actually do have a chance to question gods. For one thing, there's good old Tenzin Gyatso, that wretched platitude-spouting conman who allegedly is a multi-incarnated partially supernatural being of supreme wisdom. You'd think that he could explain the problem of evil, or perhaps refute Sextus Empiricus in detail. But, instead, he's concerned with heavy issues like whether oral sex is "sexual misconduct" or whether homosexuals should have human rights. As an armchair philosopher, I am disgusted by the intellectual slack that this cheese-brained theocrat gets granted. Why hasn't someone asked him (as Sextus Empiricus would) "How do you know that you've lived before?" Another diety among us is the Emperor Of Japan. I don't think he makes any specific claims to specialness other than direct descent from goddess amaterasu. But for a divine being, his grasp of geopolitics and warfare are about as good as the dalai lama's grasp of quantum mechanics. For that matter, someone could ask the pope Socrates' question to Euthyphro. I'm sure his little toesie-woesies would curl helplessly in his silk prada slippers, and he wouldn't have an answer. This is a guy who claims divine knowledge regarding who should stick their penis into whom, but doesn't want to tackle the really interesting questions that philosophers grapple with all the time. Whence, therefore Evil? Indeed!
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ShadowDoctrine's avatar

Awesome concepts and I do agree.:) (Smile) 

The bible means the book or should mean a book with 66 short stories.

I was a believer but after my studies in theology I discovered all was written by humans and not god.

They made naive claims of god inspired them to write prophecy and scriptures many years after the death of prophets and Jesus. Amusing, Paul never had written about the four gospels because they were written after his death. Entertaining the stories doesn’t follow any discipline of examination. Religion is okay with me but don’t force your own personal religious beliefs on me. It’s human nature to write about heroes after their deaths and similar to Hollywood the stories get better with new technology. Rewriting the same stories was boring so let’s add some supernatural. Jesus maybe is a nice man but too boring.

TESM's avatar
An astonishingly written piece.

I didn't think it was possible to get everything so wrong about Jesus while simultaneously imposing certain characteristics on history's greatest philosophers. Thinking Jesus might say "Because I said so" is more your critique on non-reflective Christians than Christ and his followers.

The Greeks and the Jews alike values wisdom above all else and it wouldn't be too impossible for Aristotle and Plato to be somewhat sympathetic to what Jesus *might* say in your hypothetical set-up.

No matter that you include no great Christian-Catholic philosopher who exerted profound influence on the history of philosophy.

You take "philosopher" to be some magical idea that grants someone clarity or coherence of thought. I wonder if the rest of your cast would interrogate each other-- I wonder if they would fail as spectacularly as you claim Jesus did. The values that you assume are the "real interesting questions" may have (and probably have) been answered or addressed by Hebrew Scriptures, commentaries, reflections, and the long history of texts that surround them.

As for this dinner party, I doubt you were even invited. You indicate you know very little about philosophy in the process.
tekhiun's avatar
Nice to see a rational post in plain sight like this, instead of hidden in a sceptical or atheist site.
PurpleMadDragon's avatar
Perhaps the Nazarene would reply, " The Hawthorne Effect, free will eclipsed by the very interaction you seem to desire. Growth undone leads to stagnation then to ruin. The fruit did not give sin, it gave choice. I refuse to remove the responsibility man accepted."
Incblob's avatar
this comment section is looking rather deep. so i'll ask a question i've had for a while.
according to christian faith the first sin was in the garden of eden, the whole apple pie thing. and that's what we are all being punished for.
my question is this: the eating of the fruit meant that adam and eve would have knowledge of good and evil...
but surely, you cannot have any moral system, no mater how wrong or right without at least a basic sense of good and bad.
does this mean that if they hadn't eaten the fruit any act would be allowed? killing the animals and setting fire to eden wouldn't be a problem since they couldn't differentiate between good and bad?
of course seeing what religion has been up to these past 2 millennia the view that people acquiring their own sense of right and wrong wouldn't be advantageous is to be expected.
but i find it interesting that the very first sin was to gain a personal moral viewpoint of the world.
I didn't read the other responses because I didn't want to be influenced by them.

I was raised in SE Texas and SW Louisiana. My parents were not religious. I was never told to believe in god. I was never told to NOT believe in god (well, by my parents anyway). I learned very early that it was very important to other children what church I went to. When I said, "I don't go to church." that was met with, "Well you believe in god, right?" Very quickly I learned that the only answer that would get me untangled from this conversation was, "Well, of course I do!". I began to get more curious about discussing this religion thing. But every time I would ask questions of a theist, the ultimate answer was, "You just have to have faith in god." Over and over... "You have to have faith. God answers all prayers. He has a plan, you just are not meant to know what it is." I didn't know what an atheist was at the time...

The first time I realized I was an atheist was when I said to myself, "That's it... That really is it. I will never be able to accept, "Because god said so." as an answer. That is NOT an answer. It makes no sense. It does not explain anything. It just makes me ask more questions. I was not comfortable with that at first... "Does that make me immoral? Evil?" I finally realized, "NO! I am not a bad person. I am not evil. I just don't believe in god." I have no explanation for how "things" came to be... But I'm damned sure it wasn't magic, wishful thinking, or a god who passes judgment on the day to day happenings of the world. There just is NO evidence of that. God is irrelevant in my life. That doesn't make me an ungrateful child who refuses to say a "prayer of thanks"... That makes me realistic. Show me some evidence that does not involve "faith"? Oh you can't? Well then I don't believe.

That's what I have to say...
AndreasAvester's avatar
I'm afraid that if there was a conversation between these philosophers and Jesus, it wouldn't be any good. Jesus could answer in politician style and ignore the question. Or he could give a long speech, which doesn't really say anything. Or he could say “evil is the punishment to men for sticking their penises in the wrong people”. And what's worse, if such a conversation was aired on TV, most spectators wouldn't even realize what's happening. It never stops amazing me how politicians can talk total crap, yet spectators doesn't recognize it for what it is.

Of course in some way it still would be fun for me to watch this. I could giggle about God's inability to answer questions.

Also I owed you a comment on Pyrrhonism.

About Pyrrhonism in general. It really made sense in Ancient Greece and Middle Ages. Then people's beliefs about physics, chemistry, biology or neurology were so problematic that suspending judgment was a really good idea. But nowadays it's different. Then people had only their faculties, but now in addition to our own eyes we have also scientific measuring instruments, which are more reliable. So many of Sextus arguments (differences of human and animal senses, our inability to see in long distances) no longer hold.

What is left is the regress argument, which still is a problem. So we still can't escape some assertions. And here my decision is to make a couple of initial assertions, which seem to be the most logical ones.

But should we suspend judgment even nowadays? We have:
1. Stupid claims (for example, ghosts, reincarnation, Freud's psychology). We already know it's bullshit, so why suspending judgment?

2. Proven science (for example, speed of sound). It's pretty well proved, so one might as well consider this to be quite likely to be true (no need to suspend judgment either).

3. Scientific hypothesis and stuff that is researched at the moment (for example, the origins of universe or how genetics influence human behavior). Here some hypothesis sound believable, but they aren't totally proved, so suspending judgment really is a good idea. I could add to this category also hypothesis in subjects like psychology or psycholinguistics. Some of them sound possible, but try proving anything there!

4. Matters of opinion (for example, aesthetics, purpose of one's life, the best lifestyle, what's the best way, how to govern a country). OK, since this is a matter of opinion, one shouldn't say “I am right and you are wrong”. But we still need a criterion for action. Most people seem to strive for career, earn money in speculative real estate deals, have children, and change their smartphones every 2 months, so I should do that as well. Really? Only I don't think so – my decision about whether I should marry shouldn't be decided by a poll.

I find this to be an important problem with scepticism. “Since I am not capable of choosing, I accept other people's choice”. If I can't choose, then why should I think that others can choose? Besides a sceptic is making a choice anyway – she chooses to trust other people's judgment instead of hers. And this is a choice too. One can't escape making a choice.

But laws and customs of the society was only one of Pyrrhonist's criteria for action. There were also natural inclinations and appearances. And basically that's what we all are following (for example, “it seems to me that babies are cute, so I'll make some” or “it seems to me that classical art is beautiful, so I paint in this style”).

5. Unimportant matters of opinion (for example, what clothing to wear, although here everyone may consider different things to be unimportant). Here following the society's customs really is a pretty good idea, because it doesn't really matter anyways.

About Popkin's “The History of Scepticism”. I found it very interesting.

Firstly because I find history to be very interesting, so I liked finding out more about what people were thinking back then. That definitely helps one to understand history and the specific time period better.

I had already heard somewhere or figured out on my own many of the arguments, which were mentioned in this book. Although some were new for me. From these new ones my favorite was this one – “If your views are based on no facts or reasoning, then I shouldn't accept them. If, on the contrary, you base your views on judgment and reason, then you are inconsistent when asking me to simply believe you”. This sounds really nice and I often meet people, to whom this can be said.

What else. My favorite part was how in the beginning of reformation Catholics and Protestants were using the same Pyrrhonian arguments against each other. It was really fun how both of them were searching for a criterion for the true faith and both were having exactly the same problems. In my opinion these discussions were much more fun than majority of those stupid jokes, which I get to hear from my classmates in university.

And this wasn't the only beautiful irony in this story of the use of sceptical arguments. Back then scepticism was used to undermine confidence in reason and leave us faith only. Few centuries later it was used to destroy faith.

I also liked some parallels with what we have nowadays. For example, it was funny to compare how ad hominem arguments were used few centuries ago with how they are used now. Then whenever you wanted to call somebody in a rude name, you called him atheist. But the tendency was the same – if you are too lazy to bother refuting an argument, just go for an ad hominem attack.

And there was one more quote I remember very brightly. It was from Jean de Silhon - “if the Christians who have protected Pyrrhonism had foreseen the consequences of this error, I do not doubt that they would have abandoned it”. OK, I know that many people lie to themselves. They like believing X, so they are unwilling to hear anything that might prove X to be wrong. But very few people actually admit this loudly. They will scream that they are searching for truth and truth so nicely happens to be what they have been blindly believing for ages. But this guy actually admitted that instead of searching for truth he preferred conscious delusion. And I'm not sure what to think in such situations. Usually I prefer people to tell the truth instead of being hypocrites. But when people actually admit such things, it's hard not to be shocked.
Sinned-angel-stock's avatar
Oh, man, Marcus, you slay me. This had me rolling.
LoquaciousQuidnunc's avatar
Love the words.
Makes brain ache.
Must return with brain cell*

*[last brain cell put in storage when married]
mjranum's avatar
Return with a beer! It works as well as a brain cell and it's cheaper! :D
mixdouble's avatar
Hello Marcus...
My comment on this journal:
The Dining Philosophers - a Problem
The priority can bee:
1: a Problem...
2: Philosophers...
3: The Dining...

1: By accepting there is a problem...
you have walked straight in to their trap...
Christians have good and evil as a vertical axis...
but the trap is the split...!
All gods and all humans are made of: Good AND Bad...!
2: It is the way we treat these sides of ours...
that defines our value for others...
Putting Jesus on trial for answers...
makes your philosophers fall in that same trap...
In a defines the split between:
Head aka brain aka more important...and Body...
But they are also one...!
3: Coming to the Dinner...makes Jesus a body...
a hungry one...
and I am back at the beginning...
Gods are hungry too...
also for knowledge...
but not at the same time...!

Let me finnish with a homemade joke:
Jesus Muhammed and Buddha are sitting talkin together...
Buddha: "Who's turn is it to make dinner"...?
Muhammed:" It's Jesus"...
Buddha:"Oh again"...!

Greetings Jakob.
mjranum's avatar
Putting Jesus on trial for answers...
makes your philosophers fall in that same trap...

If you had the chance to ask your god questions, what would you do or not do?
mixdouble's avatar
Marcus…Thank you for replying to my comment…Means a lot to me…

I will answer…But first…
let me make a remark:
Your LOGO…!
when I see it…I read:

I will Answer this your question…
First…Let me look at the parts it is made of:

To meet gods
Had the Chance to ask
My god

My answer to your question:

To meet gods:
I do not have any plans on meeting any gods…
I see the risk of then being labeled “special”…
I do not accept it…
We must live: "AS IF" we are the children of gods...
because we are clearly NOT...
we humans have equal rights and with each other only…
I must rely on my own sense of…
and my established knowledge level of right and wrong…
Being responsible…means:
My response to the challenge of: This Now…

Had the Chance to ask:
I do not see it as my chance…
I have nothing gods need to answer to…
The trap here:
“You are making the god your slave”…
They now Has to answer to you…!
I will never have a slave…

I will make a statement:
“We humans have a lot of trouble...
dealing with good and bad…
You gods…and all your special powers...
must have it even harder”…!

my god:
I have not one god… I have no god…and I accept all gods…
I have the belief that:
All gods live together somewhere…
as we people do here...
Much like in Norse Mythology…
we create ALL “gods” with our imagination …
we are religious…
have a religious way of doing things…
it comes long before established religions…!

I have no questions for gods…
I am a human…
I have questions only for humans…

I would first try and find out…
if they want comunication at all…

So Marcus:
If I meet some god…
I will behave only as a human towards another human…
Start from scratch and try to make a friendship…
“Coffee anyone”…?!

Greetings for now…Jakob.
SergioKodemo's avatar
I was once questioning a priest about the Holy Trinity's mystery. After a lot of blah blah, no satisfactory explanation. Then he lost his patience and responded "it's a matter of faith". Wrong answer! At 12 years old, this was the starting point for me fleeing religion. With age, I learned about the evil religions had and are spreading in our world for THEIR convenience, not to worship any deity, and that was it.

Humans are inquisitive by nature in a quest for knowledge and wisdom. Anyone going against this basic principle, should be ruled out.
mjranum's avatar
I was once questioning a priest about the Holy Trinity's mystery. After a lot of blah blah, no satisfactory explanation. Then he lost his patience and responded "it's a matter of faith". Wrong answer!

Exactly! If you can't explain something, what can you say you know about it? Nothing!

Humans are inquisitive by nature in a quest for knowledge and wisdom. Anyone going against this basic principle, should be ruled out.

Well said. "Philosophy" broken down into its ancient Greek components means "love of wisdom" For who would not prefer to love wisdom than imaginary gods?
SergioKodemo's avatar
Thank you Marcus. :)

Since 2003, we are having governments of liberal thinking (leave economics aside). Recently, a law for legal abortion under certain circumstances was approved. Its application is proving to be a bumpy road, since the Church and conservative sectors of our society are scandalized. They call themselves "prolife", while we call them "candlelickers" and other worse things. Ironically, these sectors are historically the ones that least respect life and human rights, while doing their abortions with a good amount of money and under the table. Naturally, they will not discuss matters related to faith. They hate all the advanced changes that are taking plate in our society, to the point of being pathetic and irrational. You just can't argue with them, as they have no points to make.
Nudimmud's avatar
I realize that the statements are public, but why to people act like you tried to trash a christian web forum? Your blog, your rules.
mjranum's avatar
Christians have, for thousands of years, been able to punish, ostracize, or otherwise criticize (with impunity) atheists. They're just pissed off to have their assumed hegemony challenged.
Nudimmud's avatar
Nothing new there, really. Though quite a few are pretty naive about their position. The "true believers" tend to be comparatively socially isolated, or completely unaware how many of the christians around them are merely being secular on the surface. So they actually believe that the country is being inundated by "those damned atheists."

The average christian is likely just misguided (it's amazing how many people graduate from highschool without knowing basic algebra). Not really capable of calculated malice, but more respouting what was spouted at them. The people who take leadership roles are the really scary ones. Though, even then, you'll have a lot in the mix who never took a theology class and blindly take their book as literal truth.
mjranum's avatar
You're right - most of them tend to be authoritarian followers, who accept the transmitted view of reality around them. If what's transmitted is that suddenly there are a lot of uppity atheists, well, then, that's what's what.
asaph70's avatar
hey I like Steve Martin!
mjranum's avatar
I like Steve Martin, too!
lenindcruz's avatar
"John fasted, and you called him possessed of Demons.
The Son of Man feasts, and you call him a glutton." (SSV)

I consider that the words of a Philosopher, albeit one who prefers being straightforward instead of "sophisticated".

Also, something to learn about prejudice from those two lines.
mjranum's avatar
I consider that the words of a Philosopher, albeit one who prefers being straightforward instead of "sophisticated".

It's a clever aphorism but it amounts to an observation of how humans behave; it doesn't explain anything unless you want to read into it and make your own assumptions beyond it.

It's neither dialectic or rhetoric - it's more of a sound bite.

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