Monday, September 12, 2005

the irrelevance of God's death

If God is dead then everything is permitted, they say. But would it not be more correct to say that if god is dead then nothing is taboo? Frankfurt wants to say that if we have no restrictions placed upon us, then we cannot begin to form our identity. His idea is that we need a starting point from which to continue, this starting point in some way 'showing us the way' or some such. So if this initial lesson is not given then we are not capable of becoming a person.

But this seems to assume much, particularly that the intial limitations placed on us are of such an extent that they actually do constrict our options. And not just constrict but also reduce them in an actual way. I bring this up because once there are no limits we would have infinitely many choices. And even if our choices were constricted by half, we would still have infinitely many options. So indeed it would seem that in order for our actions to be limited/reduced in a real way, so that we actually had fewer choices, they would need to be positively, rather than negatively, described (for this is the only way to say that 'this is all the options available').

No, I don't think that any system does this, let alone the system of Dostoevsky's soon to be ex God. And thus, despite God's ability to forbid a large number of choices, the removal of these restrictions does not actually enlarge our possible options. So such a removal could, I believe, in no way lead to an identity crisis, as Frankfurt would have us believe.

So the only way one can come to a crisis of identity is by finding one's self required to do mutually exclusive things. Then one is forced to choose.

11 comments:

Samuel Douglas said...

As is often the case, in either direction between us Michael, I am not 100% sure what you are quibbling on about. A few points however:

I bring this up because once there are no limits we would have infinitely many choices.

As I'm sure you would agree, there are always limits. Is that your point? Only an omnipotent being in a truly infinite universe can have infinitely many choices. I think. Maybe. Hey, look there's a dead bird flying! There's your infinite choice.

And even if our choices were constricted by half, we would still have infinitely many options.

This would only be the case if our choices were indeed infinite. Since they aren't, and could never be, anything that restricts them does actually reduce the choices we have.

Be careful with this 'infinity' talk. It can lead to strage places mentally.

michael said...

our options can be infinite but still limited; there is no problem here. for instance, the set of cardinal numbers is infinite. so is the set of even cardinal numbers. so I agree with your comments on your first quote. But your second quote doesn't quite follow, my point being that within a highly restricted situation we can still have infinitely many choices. this would be the case if our choices are limited negatively rather than positively. so if we are only told what we are not allowed/able to do then our choices can still be infinite no matter the amount of restriction. but if our options are proscribed, then we truly do not have infinitely many choices, as we are told what we can do and can only do what we are told.

my point was rather to state that it is an unsatisfactory view of our personal conception to say that we require limitation to begin producing ourself as ourself, because certain types of limitation are only nominal and not practical limitations, and the other kind I doubt that Frankfurt would want to subscribe to. and so such nominal restrictions can in no way cut off at the pass an oncoming identity crisis.

My conclusion is that restrictions are in no way required for the formation of individuals' identities.

Samuel Douglas said...

I think I see your point. When you say 'limited' you mean defined or restricted in terms of what is in the set (if you like) rather than the actual size. I was more thinking tha within a range of possible options between two points on a line for example, there are an infinite number of choices/points in that range, but only in theory. In reality there is a limit to how small the increments can be. it's small, atom or even quark sized (on a side note, what is the physical size of a quanta? Never mind.), but it is there. On a more pragmatic note there seems a point past which, as humans, we cannot be reaonably expected to distinguish between two options. If this is the case, can we say that they are 'different' choices? I suspect not. This was my basis for the questioning the infinite choice thing.

I think your overall point is interesting. As a side issue I wonder if negative definition of self is less repressive than positive. I would say that restrictions have in the past been a big part of forming identities, but they dn't seem that way now. Whether that indicates a change, or just a sweeping under the carpet of our inherent limitations remains to be seen.

michael said...

Your emphasis on practically different in terms of the range of choices available is quite pertinent, and one that I had not looked at. Though I think what with Foucault's whole analysis of systems down to the micro-structures on which they are built gives an idea, at least to Taylor, of an ever deeper possibility of understanding, and so ever more choices to be made, or at least made available within a given 'larger choice'.

Tayor's point here is interesting because seemingly the same action can be done, but done by the actor on a different understanding, and this would seem to make it a different action. This breaks the emphasis away from how the social structure views the action and brings to the fore the manner in which the actor himself views his action. To follow this through, since there are undeniably infinitely many ways of viewing or articulating a situation (made obvious once you enable a given action to be defined as 'not this other action') then there really does open up before us an idea of real infinite choice.

Repression (by which I am assuming you mean external repression) is a whole other kettle of fish. for answers to that the best I can do at the moment is: 'Foucault'.

Samuel Douglas said...

As I suspected, the infinetly small rather than the infinietly large.

Samuel Douglas said...

I've been re-reading your post and comments, and I think you hae serious problems of the logical putting-the-cart-before-the-horse type. If removing God does add options that we can choose (eg: being mean to kiddies, eating human flesh, kinky sex practices and wearing that shirt you have that looks like wallpaper from the '70's), then the only way that you can say that this does not increase our range of choice is if you have already viably shown that we have an infinite number of choices. 'One (1) plus an infinite number = an infinite number' is sound as well as simply valid if, and only if, you have actually shown that it is an infinite number that we are adding 1 to. And that is exactly what you have not done, and cannot do!

MH said...

Just to check - are you claiming that a fundamental premise of Michael's argument doesn't hold and thus the entire argument needs to be rejected?

michael said...

Ah, Sam. I assumed that infintely masny choices were available, and until shown otherwise I will continue to do so. So yes, this is an assumption in my argument, but I made no attempt to hide it. Why is the burden of proof on my side? As I said, the only way I can see that the choices may not be infinite is if they are positively proscribed, and such a view, as I said, I did not think anyone would happily prescribe to. But if you would like to prescribe such a view you are welcome, I just do't know how you would justify it - please enlighten me.

Martin, you vulture, wait until its dead before salivating.

MH said...

You see, Mr Pender, the vulture salivates while it circles waiting for the staggering prey to die; once it is dead it rejoices and dines ... Aphoristic enough for you? Thanks, I appreciate the vulture compliment.

I was simply seeking a point of clarification; given that certain positions in this discourse have been shrouded in an obscurity a dense as the smoke bellowing forth from the bush-fire I'm presently watching out my window, I feel that it is my right to gain what little clarity might be available.

michael said...

fair enough, though I will make an order of operations point; the preditor gets the pick of the kill before leaving the refuse to the vulture.

Sam, I'm not sure I understand, thinking it over some more, your point about 'infinitely small'. The difference in the actions being the conception of them by the actor doesn't seem to have any spacial component, or suggestion of such. Which reminds me that I did put forward an argument as to why there actualy are infinitely many possibilities: an argument that you did not quibble.

the point still seems to remain, however, that an identity crisis cannot be created by a removal of constrains, and so identity must be achieved through some manner that is selective of the options, rather than as grandly eclectic as the constraints allow for.

Samuel Douglas said...

Ok, I'll use small words (as much as I can) this time so you understand.

I assumed that infintely masny choices were available, and until shown otherwise I will continue to do so. So yes, this is an assumption in my argument, but I made no attempt to hide it.

I know. No one said you were hiding it.

As I said, the only way I can see that the choices may not be infinite is if they are positively proscribed

Your choice of phrasing clouds the issue. Mode of proscription be damned, it does not matter! As I have said, there are two reasons that we might not have infinite choice:

1. When a point is reached where two choices are indistinguishable from each other, it is plausible to argue that they are not actually two different options. An infinite range of choice will only have a finite number of distinuishable choices with in that range.

2. An infinite number of choices requires that the increments that separate then are infintely small (as is also expressed above). News flash: Scientists discovered some years ago that matter does not work like that.

You made a claim, I made a counter argument. The ball is in your court and the burden of proof is on you. All premises in arguments need some justification if it is asked of them. Failure to respond need not render the argment completely unsound, but we have no reason to accept your conclusion until these objections are properly dealt with. Less pseudo-literature driven post-everything hand waving and more actual philosophy, please.

I don't mean to go on about this but you need to develop this idea better, otherwise someone who matters will smack you down. I don't actually mind the overall idea, I would like to think that we are more than the sum of our contraints, and that we won't go to pieces if they are removed (though I have seen that happen).