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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Thurvan and the Tomb of the Liche Lord

Thurvan, a dungeon delving dwarven adventurer, was raiding the Tomb of the Liche Lord which he has learned contains the singing sword of Shanana, worth all the treasury of the Crystal Kingdom. But the Liche Lord is king of the undead with terrible supernatural powers, including the power to absorb the lifeforce of any living creature and transform it into his undead mindslave forever, the power to see into the future, and the power to assume any size and shape and become like any object. What Thurvan could never determine was when the Liche Lord could be expected to be in or out of his keep, since he had not been seen or heard of in the country for centuries.

Bravely entering the black obsidian structure, Thurvan's torchlight reflects over and over again against the black glassy walls as he makes his way down the steps into the antichamber, shivering from the unnatural chill. As he enters the chamber, several skeletons stationed like sentries along each side wall light up like torches in a greenish fire, illuminating the room. In the center of the room is a mahogany pedestal. As Thurvan approached the pedestal (keeping a careful eye on the skeletons), he noticed an ancient parchment. The paper and ink were clearly ancient, written obviously generations ago during the reign of his father's father before the wars of the East, and so fragile that he dared not pick it up with his hands.

But as he looked at the ancient document, he was shocked to see that it was written in Hill Dwarven, the language he grew up speaking and that it seemed to be addressed to him. It read:

"Sir Thurvan Stoneblade, of the Hill Kingdoms beneath the cliffs of Katerwaller; I have seen your coming from the days long past into my keep for the sword of Shanana. You profess to seek the strength of your father's Kingdom but you also have your race's lust for treasure and precison weaponry. My life has been to long to simply dispatch theives without effort and I long for diversion and distraction and to test the mettle of nobles. Therefore, I have left you this note and guide to the Tomb. You seek the sword but there are other rooms filled with gold and precious gems but this is all a pittance compared to the value of the sword. The main treasure room where the sword is kept is in the last chamber of the Tomb. You must decide what rooms to visit and what treasure to take, but even now in my time I can see what you have decided. So this is my bargain; if you decide to visit only the main treasure room and take only the sword, then I have left the sword in its place in the main treasure room for you and you may take it and go. But if you decide to take any other treasure from any other room, you are welcome to it but you will not find the sword of Shanana in its place. And now, knowing which you have decided, I have thus left everything according to your decision and as I have promised, knowing that from my time until yours this tomb will never have been disturbed by another, including myself. Fare thee well, warrior. (signed in blood)THE LICHE LORD ABINIDAZ OF THE DEAD

Thurvan read the document several times to make sure he understood it and then leaned up to stroke the tangles out of his thick beard and mind. He thought, "No matter what I choose, it is already true that the sword is in its place or it is not. I might as well visit all the chambers and take whatever treasure I find for nothing I do will make the sword appear in the chamber if it is not there already, nor make the sword disappear if it is there." And so through with his plodding the eager dwarf developed a glint in his eye at the prospect of great treasure. Discovering an opening into rest of the tomb between the skeletons, just as the guide had indicated, he went into the depths of the tomb.

After several hours and not a little peril (for though no other person indeed disturbed it, the tomb had become the resting place of all kinds of restless spirits and dire creatures which grew possessive of what treasure were to be found and thus had protected their new lairs fiercely), the dwarf finally came to the last chamber of the tomb. He was only that much more treasure-hungry to find the sword since, as had been written in the parchment, the other gems and gold were paltry indeed in comparison to the object of his quest and only whetted his longing for it to a raging pitch. Opening the final door of the tomb, he was almost suprised and greatly relieved to see what it contained. For the room was a natural crystal formation of enormous size, with each crystal giving if a different colored but still very bright light. And in the middle of the room and inserted through a crystal slab was an enormous and spectacular sword. From the silver sheen of the blade, from its emerald encrusted grip, from the ancient Eastern runes, and from the eerie ringing that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, Thurven had no doubt in his own mind that this was the Singing Sword of Shanana!

Question: Should Thurvan take the sword?


Some Slightly Ambitious Anselmianism

I wrote this after reading a collection of standard essys on the ontological argument.

The Argument:

(1) God is, by definition, the greatest conceivable being.
(2) Existing is a great making feature, that is, a being that has certain features plus the feature of existing is greater that a being with the same features but without the feature of existing.
(3) God has features but not the feature of existing. (assumed for reductio)
(4) We can conceive of a being, greater than God, such that it has the same features as God plus the feature of existing. (From 2,3)
(5) Therefore, there is a being greater than the greatest conceivable being. (From 1,4)
(6) Therefore, it is not the case that God has features but not the feature of existing. (From 1-5, reductio ad absurdum)
(7) Therefore, it is not the case that God has no features. (From 1,6)
(8.) Therefore, God has the feature of existing, that is, God exists. (From 6,7)

Objections and Replies:

(A) (2) is false. Existing cannot be a feature. Whenever we say of anything that it exists we are not saying anything further about what it is. Reply: There is no reason to think that existing can never be a feature. It is for all we know theoretically possible for something to posess existing as a feature of what it is, even though ordinarily most things do not posess exiting as a feature. Admittedly, to say that something posesses existence as a feature is to say that it necessarily exists.

(B) Even if something could posess existing as a feature, necessary existence is inadequate. It only leads us to conclude that either God exists or that God cannot exist. Reply: It is conceded that necessary existence is inadequate to conclude that God exists. We may suppose that not only is the posession of existing as a feature a great making property but that there is a further feature, call it "Feature E", that explains how God has existing as a feature. Since this is intuitively a great making feature also, God, the greatest conceivable being must have this feature too. And this feature explains why there is a God rather than not.

(C) Feature E, whatever it it, must be something like self-existence, and this is simply incoherent, like something bringing itself into being from non-being, which is impossible. Reply: It is conceded that self-existence is impossible and that Feature E is like self-existence, but it is not conceded that Feature E is self-existence. Like the concept of the infinite, we do not have a clear conception of what Feature E is, and we don't have a proper way of formulating it, but inconceivability and unformulablity are not guides to impossibility. But we can still see that it is a great making feature and that the greatest conceivable being must have it.

(D) No one can have a concept of Feature E. Reply: It is clear that many people are persistently and frequently involved in a form of life and a language game that presupposes having a concept of Feature E in virtue of worshipping God who must not only be seen as necessarily existing but also as possessing this further magnificient trait. Further, there is also the philosophical game based on the hypothesis of the principle of sufficient reason which poses that there is a reason that explains why there is everything that there is and not nothing, which reason also cannot properly be formulated and which must altimately come to rest on Feature E. So it seems that one can have a concept of Feature E.

(E) Without an account of Feature E, the whole argument is question-begging since we have nothing on the table to describe the necessary feature and can only assume it to be available. Further, without already having some positive idea of how such an analysis might go, you could never even know when you have discovered it. Reply: It is conceded that the defender of the argument owes the critic an analysis of Feature E and it is admitted that all that can be offered is a promissory note. However, if the greatest conceivable being exists, He may yet illumine our minds to see what analysis is required even while we have as yet no idea about how to procede to the answer. And in this as well as any other case, we will be better people if we risk assuming that analyses of concepts that we think we may have are available to be found than if we dispair of the possibility of knowing the answer.

(F) Given that response, the definition that God is the greatest conceivable being, and that no non-question-begging evidence is available for any philosophical position, there is no motivation for pursuing an analysis of Feature E since acceptance of belief in God is already sufficiently motivated through prudential grounds. Reply redux: It is conceded that no non-question-begging evidence is available, This is true also of this argument, since it tacitly assumes the debatable premise that conceivability is a test for possibility, so know conclusive public demonstration is possible, even if we had the analysis of Feature E available. Even so, it is at least suggested that having the concept of Feature E in mind makes a difference in the structure of plausibility for a person (or group or tradition or form of life). In particular, it makes the idea something could exist without Feature E being instantiated more implausible. Concepts are firmly grasped and transferable between conceptual reasoners as they are made explicit. Also, showing that a concept is explicable shows that the concept's effect in the plausibility structure is motivated independently of other psychological factors. I suggest that having the concept of Feature F firmly in mind makes theism objectively more plausible and naturalism less so. Since, ex hypothesi, if God exists, the pursuit of truth is important, and since there is no way to break up a stalemate between conflicting perspectives, but we still may provide a personal objective ground for a person to rationally prefer one perspective over another, we have an obligation to truth to pursue and work for the discovery of the analysis of Feature E.