Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Project Capua: Introduction

Welcome to Project Capua, an experiment in linguistics and metaphysics.

Why experiment? Philosophers at Yale put it this way:
Experimental philosophy, called x-phi for short, is a new philosophical movement that supplements the traditional tools of analytic philosophy with the scientific methods of cognitive science. So experimental philosophers actually go out and run systematic experiments aimed at understanding how people ordinarily think about the issues at the foundation of the philosophical discussion.
Why Capua? This project is inspired by the Siege of Capua in 1098, where St. Anselm of Canterbury met with Muslim soldiers serving under the Norman lord of Sicily. (The Normans conquered Sicily about the same time they conquered England, and Anselm was temporarily in exile because of a church/state dispute with his own Norman king back in Britain.) The Saracen troops had heard reports of Anselm's deep spirituality and were eager to talk theology with him.

We don't know what St. Anselm and the Saracens talked about, but we can imagine--beacuse imagination may well be the core of what they talked about. Anselm defined God as "that being greater than which nothing can be imagined." It's important to be precise here: Wikipedia misquotes Anselm as calling God "the greatest possible being we can conceive."

If Anselm thought God was whatever he imagined, his discussion with the Saracens would have broken down pretty quickly. The two sides would have staked out antithetical positions: "God is One!" "No, God is Three!" "No, God is One!" But if God is that being Who is greater than our imagination, the discussion would be very different.

Imagine Anselm saying something like this:
Muslims say that Allah is one, and Christians call God three. Buddhists seek nirvana more like zero while Hindus worship 330,000,000 deities. Perhaps we are all making the same mistake--using the created category of numbers to count the Uncreated.
This kind of answer is what George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel would have referred to as a "synthesis." Project Capua is designed to explore the contours of our collective imagination in the spirit of St. Anselm.