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Borges, Berkeley, Tlon, Uqbar, Orbus Tertius, and all that

Summary:
“tlon Uqbar orbus tertius” is an excellent story by Jorge Luis Borges. In it, he imagines a world in which all that exists are minds and ideas. He refers to the assertion that we live in such a world made by the Reverand George Berkeley. In Borges’s wonderful Obis Tertius, objects can be multiplied if someone leaves it somewhere, someone else takes it away without the knowledge of the first person, so the first person finds a copy of it (called a Hronir) where it was left. The story is absolutely wonderful, as usual. I will not spoil any surprises by describing how it turns out. I strongly advise reading it. Borges does quote Hume. Hume said something eloquent which amounts to the assertion that Berkeley’s theory does not admit two

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“tlon Uqbar orbus tertius” is an excellent story by Jorge Luis Borges. In it, he imagines a world in which all that exists are minds and ideas. He refers to the assertion that we live in such a world made by the Reverand George Berkeley.

In Borges’s wonderful Obis Tertius, objects can be multiplied if someone leaves it somewhere, someone else takes it away without the knowledge of the first person, so the first person finds a copy of it (called a Hronir) where it was left.

The story is absolutely wonderful, as usual. I will not spoil any surprises by describing how it turns out. I strongly advise reading it.

Borges does quote Hume. Hume said something eloquent which amounts to the assertion that Berkeley’s theory does not admit two things: refutation or belief. When I looked for the quote, google invited me to study philosophy seriously.

Here I merely note that Borges’s interpretation of the *reverend* George Berkeley is standard and also total nonsense, because he left God out of it. Berkeley did not assert that all that exits are human minds and human ideas. He did believe in an objective reality quite seperate from our beliefs, impressions, and illusions. He just called it the mind of God.

The wonderfully crazy Berkeley has been created by assuming that a clergyman does not believe in God. While this lead to, among other things, a beautiful short story, I think it is a general problem with how we talk about religion.

I think there is a general principle that toleration requires us to avoid any disputes about religion. So we discuss philosophy and the writings of devoutly religious thinkers without mentioning religion.

On a related topic, where I am very assertive, intellectually arrogant and unpleasant so read on at your own risk.

More generally the USA is a country where over 80% of people claim to believe in the God of Abraham and where taking the Old Testament seriously is considered totally nutso (also by people who claim to believe that it is inerrant).

Oh (roughly) september 12 2001 the reverend Jerry Falwell said the recent terrorist attack was God’s punishment of the USA. This was considered totally crazy and going too far even for him. It is, in my view, and absolutely logical inference which undeniably follows from standard religious doctrine. If God is omnipotent, then everything that happens must happen because he decided it should. If God is absolutely good, then everything that happens happens, because it should. This is obvious. It is also considered crazy.

Many (most ?) of the greatest human minds have struggled with this reasoning, and tried to reconcile the assertions that God is omnipotent and benevolent with the data. They have failed completely..

I think I can confidently conclude that there are only three possibilities.

  1. There is no God (my view)
  2. God is not omnipotent (given the standard definition of the word this is the same as 1)
  3. God is cruel and partly evil.

I consider it very rude, impertinent, and out of order (even for me) to write these things.

But they are obviously true.

Robert Waldmann
Robert J. Waldmann is a Professor of Economics at Univeristy of Rome “Tor Vergata” and received his PhD in Economics from Harvard University. Robert runs his personal blog and is an active contributor to Angrybear.

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