“God” might be great

by Chris Bertram on November 20, 2007

A real conversation among analytical philosophers:

A: You know Hitchens’s God is Not Great—doesn’t that title convey an existential commitment?

B: Not necessarily, “God” might be the name of a fictional character.

A: Well, the name of several different fiction characters actually.

B: Yes, but some of those fictional characters are great ….

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Crooked Timber » » It looks like I’m an analytic philosopher, after all
11.21.07 at 1:27 pm

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1

norbizness 11.20.07 at 7:08 pm

I think I was there as well (call me “N”)

A: Well, the name of several different fiction characters actually.

B: Yes, but some of those fictional characters are great …

N: (shoots self in head)

2

mathpants 11.20.07 at 7:39 pm

what is the truth value of the utterance:

“the present King of France is hey where’s everybody going?”

3

Steve LaBonne 11.20.07 at 8:07 pm

If God looked into our minds he would not be able to see there whom we were speaking of. So what’s so great about him?

4

Frank 11.20.07 at 8:14 pm

If God looked into our minds, as we were looking back–we would be on Thought For The Day.

5

Patrick 11.20.07 at 9:51 pm

If they were all that great, they wouldn’t be fictional, now would they? QED.

6

Martin 11.20.07 at 10:16 pm

I think Patrick has just reinvented the ontological proof.

7

david 11.20.07 at 10:59 pm

I think we all can agree that the merit of an academic field is best evaluated on the basis of the unfunny jokes people make to fill the empty space in a conversation. This is kind of like how you can evaluate whether someone is a total douchebag on the basis of whether he uses a public forum to make unfunny jokes at the expense of other people.

8

Chris Bertram 11.20.07 at 11:12 pm

Um no, David, if you think that what I was doing. I am an analytic philosopher and, yes, I think that conversation was funny, and I’m aware that I sometimes say similar things, and think it’s kind of nice (and slightly odd) that we do sometimes talk like that.

My partner and I were driving once and she said “Those two cars are identical”. I said nothing. She then said, “Go on, you _wanted_ to object, didn’t you?” She was right.

Get yourself a copy of Anne Fine’s _Taking the Devil’s Advice_, and chill out a bit.

9

Dave Maier 11.21.07 at 12:16 am

See, Chris, that’s where we differ. One perfectly good meaning of “identical” is “qualitatively identical”; there’s no reason to think she meant “numerically identical,” or even that she needed to qualify her statement in order to disambiguate. So I wouldn’t have felt a desire to object at all. Does that mean that (although still a pedant – I did, after all, know what you meant!) I’m not an analytic philosopher?

On the other hand, I do agree that the original conversation was funny.

10

shwe 11.21.07 at 12:20 am

But God was great–when he wore the no. 9 shirt for us anyway…

11

noen 11.21.07 at 12:30 am

You see, for me identical means “Exactly alike; incapable of being perceived as different” This qualitative vs numerical distinction strikes as wrong. If your use of a particular word only leads to misunderstandings then wouldn’t it just be better to use a different word?

My partner and I were driving once and she said “Those two cars are identical”. I said nothing.

Now there is an existential commitment.

12

Phill Hallam-Baker 11.21.07 at 1:43 am

It works better with the correct punctuation:

God is Not! – GREAT!

13

John Emerson 11.21.07 at 5:46 am

Oi. And didn’t Heidegger say that no two things can be identical, because if they were, they wouldn’t be two things? Thus, no identity.

Don’t bother to correct me, I don’t care.

14

Chris Bertram 11.21.07 at 7:52 am

Indeed Shwe – nothing fictional about him either!

15

Clayton 11.21.07 at 2:43 pm

You see, for me identical means “Exactly alike; incapable of being perceived as different” This qualitative vs numerical distinction strikes as wrong. If your use of a particular word only leads to misunderstandings then wouldn’t it just be better to use a different word?

My partner and I were driving once and she said “Those two cars are identical”. I said nothing.

Now there is an existential commitment.

16

Clayton 11.21.07 at 2:43 pm

I am one with noen.

17

ajay 11.21.07 at 2:58 pm

Partner: “All right then, that one car is identical.”
Chris: (head explodes)

18

Daniel Koffler 11.21.07 at 7:55 pm

I trust you all know what a goy is — a girl if observed before t, and a boy if perceived after t.

19

Mike Otsuka 11.24.07 at 7:52 am

Philosophers prove that identical twins can’t possibly exist.

20

Dhananjay 11.24.07 at 3:59 pm

There’s no reason to suppose we can’t attach predicates to things to which we have no ontological commitment, fictional or not.

A sentence I take to be true: Phlogiston would explain why things oxidize.

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