Fitting Friends

Does it say anything about me that I have friends who couldn’t be friends with one another? Probably not anything unique. I suspect that most of us have had the experience of organizing a party and inviting friends from two different contexts only to discover that they don’t get along very well. Last week at a conference, sitting on a veranda in the evening, sipping a Lemon Soda while almost everyone else was having an alcoholic drink of some kind, I thought, “Several of these people are friends, even good friends. Yet they would be very uncomfortable with most of my colleagues from BYU and, perhaps, vice-versa. And some friends from my ward would be shocked that I have friends like these. Nevertheless, I feel comfortable with all three groups as well as others. ”

As I said, I imagine that most people have something like that experience. It isn’t a matter of being a chameleon, of blending into whatever environment one finds oneself in. Yet it is a matter of being a different person in different contexts, while, in another sense, remaining the same. I am both many and one. I am not the same person on Times and Seasons that I am in the university classroom or with my grandchildren or with members of my Sunday School class or with the friends that Janice and I have dinner with regularly. I behave and talk differently with different sets of friends without feeling that I have done something wrong.

How do we know, however, when getting along and fitting into a context has gone too far, when we have given up our integrity? Surely it is more than switching from Lemon Soda to gin and tonic.

57 comments for “Fitting Friends

  1. July 31, 2006 at 10:21 am

    “I behave and talk differently with different sets of friends without feeling that I have done something wrong.”

    When I have done that kind of switching it has made me uncomfortable. At some point, I would be in the presence of a mixed group–perhaps my coworkers and my family. If I acted like “Employee Brian” then my family would think I was being strange. And vice versa if I acted like “Brother Brian.” I felt like a doppleganger.

    I used this to discover myself. I tried to notice the things that came naturally in any company. I took those to be me at the core and I focused on those habits–to the exclusion of those less universal. In many cases, this gave me more confidence to say or do a particular thing in certain crowds–like talk about God at work or ask a question at Church that would reveal my lack of faith.

    I don’t know if this addresses your question about integrity–maybe I don’t actually know what the word means. But as I think about the etymology–integrity…integral…essential–it seems like another word for what I say above: “me at the core.”

    I don’t want you to take this as a “call to repentance.” As you say, I don’t think I was or you are doing “something wrong.” I just know that it didn’t work toward my happiness.

  2. July 31, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    I don’t see anything wrong per se with acting differently with different sets of friends. (Of course, if your acting differently leads you to do things that are wrong, such as drinking that gin and tonic, those things are still wrong.) For example, sitting around discussing your opinion of President Bush may be fine with one group of friends, but may make another group of friends uncomfortable. I don’t think that means you must either talk about Bush with both sets of friends or neither in order to maintain your integrity.

    As long as you are acting the way you think a good friend should act in the situation, then even though your actions may be different on the surface, fundamentally you are acting in the same way toward each set of friends.

  3. Melissa
    July 31, 2006 at 12:24 pm


    The question of how to live with integrity is something I ponder regularly. I think it can be more of a challenge than we believe it to be.

    Like you, I have many different circles in which I move. Some of these are professional, some are religious, and some are social. Within my social world, I associate with a wide variety of folks. For example, I\’m very good friends with a lot of academics. Most of these friends do not participate in any organized religion and consider themselves agnostic. We share a lot of intellectual interests, exchange paper drafts for feedback, discuss work issues, lend each other books, etc. I\’m also very good friends with a lot of evangelical christians. We do different kinds of things together and have different sorts of conversations. One of these friends has invited us to attend his children\’s baptism this week, for example. We talk a lot about theology, scripture, liturgy, and worship when we\’re together. I also have a dinner group, a book group, and a group with whom I go to dinner and watch old movies.

    Each of these circles has a different dynamic and I enjoy the wide variety of friendships I\’ve developed within them. I don\’t feel that I\’m violating my integrity in any way to belong to diverse social worlds.

    That is partly due to the fact that I would never say that \”I am not the same person\” with one set of friends as I am with another. Certainly different individuals bring out different features of one\’s personality, different styles, different language, and so forth. But enduring friends are those with whom I feel like the person I know myself to be. While it is entertaining, intriguing and even challenging to be friends with very different kinds of people, one cannot don or doff one\’s character to fit one\’s company. It\’s not just a matter of what one should do, it\’s a matter of what\’s actually possible. One cannot be all things to all people (or even most things to most people) and still remain a unified coherent self. Character is not like clothing.

    This brings me to what is perhaps my central question. What exactly do you mean when you say that you are one and many? This state of being sounds fractured and fracturing to me. There is a *real* you in there somewhere, Jim.

    Why would your ward friends be shocked to discover you had other sorts of friends? How well can they really know you if this would be shocking to them? If they don\’t know your mind and heart, why do you consider them friends? Perhaps our definition of friendship is different.

    I suppose there will always be those who like the people they think we are even though they don\’t really know us. But only those who know and enjoy us as we truly are in all our complexity can be our most intimate friends.

  4. Jack
    July 31, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    I think you have a serious case of MPD.

    No, seriously–

    I think the change, externally that is, is usually more subtle than we suppose.

  5. July 31, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Sounds like you’ve got a Pirandello novel bottled up in there, Jim.

  6. Eve
    July 31, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    This is a question that’s haunted me from time to time, especially when I’ve moved in very divergent social worlds. I enjoy having different friends with whom I share different points of connection, and that diversity of social experience, the way different people introduce us to and elicit different aspects of ourselves, seems vital to what makes friendship worthwhile. But I too have wondered at what point diversity becomes duplicity. I guess my rough and ready answer to the question of integrity, for myself, is disclosure; it’s important to me that friends know about aspects of my life I don’t necessarily discuss with them. I have conservative friends with whom I won’t discuss politics, but I would feel dishonest if they didn’t have some sense of my political ideas. Similarly, I have a very close friend with whom I share a lot of my personal life but who just isn’t interested in religion. She knows I’m Mormon, and I mention my Mormon activities and beliefs as they have bearing on our conversations, but just as I can’t follow the technical details of her work (she’s a doctor doing basic research), nor am I very interested in them, she simply isn’t very interested in my spiritual life. (If pressed, I suspect she’d say I’m Mormon by inculcation, that I couldn’t stop being if I tried.) But if I kept my faith a secret from her–if she didn’t know I was Mormon–or if I suppressed natural references to attending church, to praying, to general conference in the course of my conversation with her about other matters–I would feel duplicitious.

    I think this issue is actually more complicated in casual relationships, or in clearly defined hierarchical relationships. Do my students need to know I’m Mormon? For the most part, I’ve decided that they don’t. If someone works up the courage to ask me point-blank, I’ll tell, of course, but I try to defer any further discussion to private conversation in office hours. I don’t want my religion–or my ideas on politics or other matters–to become an orthodoxy my students feel pressure to affirm. In that context too much disclosure about my religious life or about other aspects of my personal life would feel wrong, a distraction from the work that needs to be done and an unfair imposition on my students. It seems integrity in these types of relationships demands refraining from disclosure.

  7. Grant
    July 31, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    I, like Jim, have several groups of associates and friends. Other than family, the most significant difference between them is whether they are members of the Church. I am middle-aged and, except when I was a student at BYU, I can\’t remember a time since childhood that I haven\’t felt at least mildly like an outsider as a result of my membership. Outside of the Church, the largest group with whom I have significant contact is professional–my clients and the other lawyers I work with. They are largely secular and generally regard those serious enough to permit their religion to dictate their lives as fanatical and odd. Although I am confident of their affection for me, since my membership in the Church infuses and informs my entire life and determines much about me, I suspect that they consider me to be fanatical and odd too. But I bet they don\’t know the half of it. I sometimes think when I am, say, in the temple or PEC or having a conversation with the Young Women president, that client X or business associate Y has no idea the extent to which being an observant Latter-day Saint sets me apart. I also can\’t help but think that my secular business associates would by surprised if they came to my funeral, heard the Gospel overtly preached and heard me described in a thoroughly religious way. A Jewish colleague, after a discussion about living the Gospel, making covenants and wearing the garment told me I was an undercover fanatic; those in his community similarly devoted were easily identified and set apart by thier beards, hats and long black coats. I was every bit as fanatical but looked just like everyone else. If my colleagues have no idea or would be surprised about the thing that most influences the conduct of my life, then do I need to live and talk about my religion more overtly and loudly to live with integrity? Even if they would think me odd or not be interested? I wonder.

  8. Beijing
    July 31, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Someone wrote in a question somewhat like this to Miss Manners years ago. The writer had moved up several socio-economic strata, and maintained contact with old, poor friends as well as new, rich friends, but took great care that never the twain did meet. Miss Manners gently chastised the writer for assuming that the two sets of friends wouldn’t get along, and said it was more likely that the writer got some sort of pleasure from going back and forth between the two different worlds and roles.

  9. July 31, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    Grant, #7: “…an undercover fanatic” Funny and interesting.

  10. Michael McBride
    July 31, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    I think most people have slightly different personalities in different social contexts. Nothing abnormal here. But it does

    Didn’t George Costanza portray the separate worlds theory? There was “independent George” and “relationship George,” and if those two worlds collided then George ceases to be George. “A George divided against itself cannot stand!” he exclaimed. (But that quote seems to miss it entirely. Shouldn’t it be “A George united cannot stand!”

  11. Jenny
    July 31, 2006 at 6:06 pm

    I’m don’t think our integrity is compromised simply because we exhibit different characteristics/opinions within varying social contexts–to me, such behavior seems more like the reflecting facets of a core identity. I think that the challenge to our integrity is, at times, more subtle: do we allow ourselves to fundamentally change the way we live when it is demanded of us?

    Situations that involve eternal covenants with another individual seem like they ought to change our identity. Marriage as a process of becoming one, parenthood as a process of multiplication of the self–do I allow myself to fully appreciate these changes, accepting them and their demands upon my concept of myself? When I consciously pursue a path of discord with my husband simply to gratify my own feelings, when I resent the needs of my one-year-old daughter and give priority to my own unecessary wants, am I not compromising my integrity? Am I, at least to some degree, not remaining true to the covenants I have made?

    Perhaps more broadly, do I compromise my integrity when I protect the self I have grown to know and love, failing to accept the promise of rebirth and the condition of continual renewal in which I profess faith? Is integrity about remaining or changing?

  12. July 31, 2006 at 8:43 pm

    This is a tough subject, and one I’ve had a lot of experience with. When my husband was in the Air Force, I had to hide my diploma instead of hanging it in a visible place. A degree in mathematics is an amazing conversation-stopper. Mentioning that you have one will actually make people so thirsty that they have to run for the punch bowl and stay there for quite some time. In addition to that, I am a very accomplished person, and if people know about my many accomplishments and talents, they tend to shy away from me and think I’m too good for them. So I have to make a point of hiding many of my talents away, else I would never be able to make any friends at all.

    You might say that I’m “not being myself” or “fracturing” my personality. I think of it more as that I’m not overwhelming people with information about myself. You can only communicate so much at a time, so you choose to communicate that which people need to know. In a business situation, you may choose to tell people about your business qualifications, but not your hobbies. In a neighborhood situation, you might emphasize your history but not your college degrees. In a classroom you might not choose to reveal anything personal at all. It doesn’t turn me into several different people to do this. I’m still me, it’s just that people who haven’t had enough time or enough desire to see all of my facets haven’t seen all of them. Given enough time and the right context, I would gladly reveal it all to them. It’s just that very few people take the time to make the study.

  13. greenfrog
    July 31, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    From Leaves of Grass:

    One’s-self I sing, a simple separate person,

    Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-masse.


    Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son,

    Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking, and breeding,

    No sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them,

    No more modest than immodest.


    I believe a leaf of

    grass is no less than the journey work of the stars…

    He contained multitudes.

    I suspect you might, too.

  14. July 31, 2006 at 10:29 pm

    The trick is when friends who don’t get along are there together due to one thing or an other. And yeah, it is a bit of a pain.

  15. slm
    July 31, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    I haven’t read most of the comments, so perhaps this has already been said.

    I don’t see why integrity is even a question here. _Of course_ different sides of your personality emerge with different sets of friends. That’s not amazing, or dangerous, or strange. You’re a multi-dimensional human being who functions in a variety of contexts, and each context calls forth a different aspect of you — it’s all YOU — just different parts of you.

    The only way I can see this becoming an issue, is if your core values become as interchangeable as your moods/personality facets… but I doubt this is the case for most people who are past adolescence.

  16. August 1, 2006 at 1:02 am

    BrianJ, the switching that I do isn’t usually conscious. I act differently among different friends because different ways of being who I am are called for in different situations. Very rarely have I been in a situation in which my friends, say, from the Catholic University of Leuven are in the same group as my friends from the ward. I don’t have any idea what kind of behavior would be called for then, but I suspect they wouldn’t know either.

    Brian and Melissa both refer to something at the core that is me. However, I’m not so sure there is such a core. To disagree with Melissa, I don’t think there is a real me in there somewhere. However, there is something like a style of being that can be manifest in a variety of situations: though I behave differently in the ward and among colleagues in Europe, I assume/hope that my style remains the same.

    Melissa, my ward friends wouldn’t be shocked to discover that I have other sorts of friends, but I suspect they would find the kind of other friends I have at least surprising, if not shocking. Some of my other friends are heavy-drinking Finns. Others are conspicuously gay. Many are openly hostile to religion, organized or otherwise. I don’t know, but I don’t think that is what the members of my blue-collar ward think I have for friends when I go away for a week or more. But then again, perhaps that is exactly what they imagine—in which case perhaps they would be surprised to discover just how ordinary and friendly my other friends can be.

    Eric James Stone makes a very good point when he says that the key is to be a good friend in each case. If there is a core, that is what it would be.

    Jack, I think you’re right about the external change being subtle. I doubt that there is some easily measurable difference in my behavior when I move from one group to another. Yet it is different.

    A Nonny Mouse, I doubt that I have anyone’s novel bottled up in me, much less a Pirandello novel.

    Eve’s response was particularly helpful: to have integrity requires that I not hide who I am from those I am with, though “not hiding” and “revealing” do not mean the same thing. My friends in Europe know that I am LDS, a grandfather, etc., though those are not often topics of our conversation. My friends in my west-Provo ward know that I am a university professor who teaches philosophy, though that is never a topic of conversation.

    Like Grant, however, though I am friends with many outside the Church, I rarely feel completely at home with those friends or in the situations where we are friends. There are some exceptions, a Belgian friend who is far from being LDS and yet one of my best friends, a Dutch couple. I think we feel quite comfortable together. Based on those exceptions and the terminology that you introduce, Grant, I think there are three stages to friendship outside the community: friends, but you’re still somewhat of an outsider; friends, but the other person has discovered that you’re an undercover fanatic; and friends, but the person no longer thinks of you as a fanatic.

    Jenny, though you spoke of a core identity, and I’m not sure I think there is such a thing, I was intrigued by your point about covenants: they change who I am. I think that if a covenant can change my identity, then it must be false that I have a core identity—but I’ll leave that for some other thread another time. I believe that your point is related to Eric James Stone’s: I am who I am in relation, and some relations are lasting. Indeed, some are eternal.

    Wacky Hermit: I understand the need sometimes to hide who you are. Given time, however, my experience is that you no longer need to do so.

    Greenfrog: as always, you are on the mark. Thank you.

    slm, the question is not whether I have integrity when I behave differently in different groups. As I said, the question is “How do we know when getting along and fitting into a situation has gone too far?” I think that Eric James Stone, Eve and Jenny have given the sketch of an answer.

  17. Eve
    August 1, 2006 at 1:31 am

    Jim, in the interest of integrity as we have here partially sketched it–not concealing oneself–I should now confess that I knew you at BYU. I edited a Philosophy 105 textbook for you in the late 90s, when you were Dean of Honors & General Ed (I vividly remember walking down to the Maeser Building at the far end of campus once a week to meet with you, several times in the scorching heat.) I’m really sorry I never had the chance to take a class from you, but I very much enjoyed both the job and the chance to get to know you.

    A Nonny Mouse, hooray for Pirandello! I did my master’s thesis on narratives of selfhood in _Enrico IV_. It’s a dark, fascinating play that gave me a lot to think about.

  18. Kaimi Wenger
    August 1, 2006 at 3:53 am


    Really, really interesting thoughts. And I’ve really liked the comments as well. Like many of the commenters, I find myself asking these questions often.

    I sometimes find it tiring to downplay different aspects of my personality in different contexts. In the academic context, this may mean downplaying my church life — I don’t hide it, but it’s not a regular part of the conversation, either. (Though it very much depends on the person — with some colleagues, I regularly discuss religion.) In the church context, this often means biting my tongue when comments are made by others. Though again, that varies — if it’s in a social setting, I’ll speak up; in Sunday school, less so.

    It relates to Melissa’s question, I think, of what is the self. _Is_ there a real you? And if so, who is that real you? Or are all of the yous (say that with a Brooklyn accent — are all you’se) equally valid expressions of different facets of Jim-ness (or Kaimi-ness, or Melissa-ness, etc)?

    And what do we do when social norms in one situation dictate that we behave in a way that seems untrue to other aspects of our personality? I sat through a talk in church recently where the speaker said that the ACLU was evil. I’m a dues-paying ACLU member. I felt that Mormon social norms required me basically to sit and ignore it; however, afterwards I made jokes with friends in the ward about my ACLU membership. Part of me says that I should challenge the speaker, discuss it with the Bishop, yadda yadda. But I didn’t — the social norms being what they are, and I didn’t really _want_ to highlight my differences.

  19. Lamonte
    August 1, 2006 at 7:58 am

    Jim – Thanks for your thoughts on this matter that has bothered me for some time. I have the same experience in my life between my job, my life at church and my life at home. A few years ago I told my wife that my supervisor, who knew that I was a Mormon, complained to me about another co-worker, himself a devout Catholic, by saying “he was too religious.” I told this story to my wife to illustrate a flaw in my supervisor’s thinking. But my wife’s response was, “Why doesn’t she think that you are ‘too religious?'” On the one hand I’m glad that I don’t offend people by being overbearing about my religion but on the other hand it bothers me that someone might not identify that distinctive feature about me. I suppose there are ways to have a positive influence on others by living the principles of my religion without creating a situation where others define me only by saying, “Oh yeh. He’s a Mormon.”

    I work in the construction industry and for years I blamed that environment for a condition that one friend describes as “a potty mouth.” I have been known to use foul language in certain circumstances but my vocabulary is different at church and so it is, I admit, something for which I have control. At work in the office or out on the construction site I’m not always on my best behavior, at least when it comes to language, and I know that is something I must work on.

    I certainly feel fortunate to have had a rich life experience with friends and associates from many different walks of life but I know that we have been given a blueprint for our lives and I should try for more consistency wherever I find myself. Thanks for your thoughts and for giving me a chance to think out loud.

  20. August 1, 2006 at 10:14 am

    It may be that Brother Faulconer is especially mindful of this integrity issue because he works at BYU. I say that just because when I was a student there I felt it more then than now. BYU is a extremely open environment for bringing up experiences and thoughts concerning the church and the gospel. When I would leave there for a semester or summer to work elsewhere, it felt very unnatural to not have such conversations with the people I spent much time with. Fifteen years down the road, it doesn’t feel so strange. Everyone has a life away from work doing and thinking things that matter to him or her.

    In a case where such a split begins to look like an integrity issue, I taught early-morning seminary for a couple of years as a graduate student in Baltimore. I explicitly never mentioned this to my advisor because I didn’t want him concerned for the time spent away from our research.

  21. DKL
    August 1, 2006 at 10:25 am

    This post reminds me of the many sides of Darth Vadar. The video at this link shows what I mean. (Watch the whole thing, it gets much better toward the middle.)

  22. Melissa
    August 1, 2006 at 10:45 am

    “though I am friends with many outside the Church, I rarely feel completely at home with those friends or in the situations where we are friends”

    This sort of language is revealing, Jim. It constitutes at least a partial answer to my question of how you would define friendship: your friends include include those with whom you don’t feel completely at home. And why don’t you feel completely at home with them? It seems to me that if there is no such thing as the “real” you (the person you know yourself to be), then you wouldn’t have any trouble feeling completely comfortable with anyone anywhere. I think this language betrays the fact that you do indeed have a self independent of these particular friends. That is not deny that we can only become selves in relation or that we only continue as selves in relation. What it does mean is that not all of our relationships are equally self defining (and, similarly, not all of our relationships are friendships). I would suggest that the reason you don’t feel at home with certain “friends” is that their beliefs or behavior (whether it be lifestyle, manner of speech or dress, language, etc) are at odds or conflict with who you really are.

    If you’re going to maintain that you don’t have a unified self (which sounds more like an impossible lack of self-knowlede ) but rather a “style of being,” then please say more about what you mean. Reducing the self to a “style” is morally problematic and would indeed raise questions of integrity.

  23. Rosalynde Welch
    August 1, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Jim, I envy your capacity for transforming acquaintance to intimacy, and I envy your opportunity for doing so among disparate groups.

    Melissa, do you think that the sense of having a real self to be discovered, a robust, continuous, transcendent identity—a sense that, certainly, is the bedrock of most people’s perception of reality—is a manifestation of our eternal spiritual natures, a hard-wired psychological effect of consciousness, an ontological reality, or an effect of the modern psychic regime? Something else entirely, or a combination of several? I confess, perhaps because of my (limited, to be sure) knowledge of the early modern period, that I’m attracted to the contextual-relational self that Jim describes: the real self is not to be discovered in the uncharted interior, but, rather, to be made through ways of being in the world. Perhaps what this post tells us about you, Jim, is that you’re not a modern at the bone. Which in my book is just fine.

  24. Buckeye the Elder
    August 1, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Well, I am a convert from Hinduism. I was an athlete and a fraternity member, and hence my worldview and my interests and habitswere quite different from what is required in our Mormon culture. When I joined our Church, I made the necessary adjustments, but, I did not also give up on a lot of my non-Mormon friends. As I have progressed through live, I find that I too, have 2 sets of friends – Mormon and non-Mormon. However, I dont behave any different with either group. I have tried too incorporate into mylife the lessons I have learnt from being a member of our Church. I try not to impose my religious beliefs on my non-Mormon friends, so that even the verl left-leaning folks are comfortable to remain my friends.
    I think this Mormon versus non-Mormon divide needs to be broken down – how can we teach non-Mormons the Gospel and the truth, if we cant even get along in a friendly manner.
    I think the major reason( at least around here), is that folks come here fromUtah, from BYU, and (1) refuse to have any contact with non-Mormons,since non-Mormons drink, smoke etc and are hence “sinners” or bad people, or (2) try to shove Mormonism down their fellow students or neighbors or co-workers’ throats,

  25. Anna
    August 1, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    Jim, if you don’t have a core identity, then what does it mean for you to get resurrected? Which “you” comes back?

  26. Eve
    August 1, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    Greenfrog’s Whtiman excerpts made me think of Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room”:

    What took me
    completely by surprise
    was that it was me:
    my voice, in my mouth.
    Without thinking at all
    I was my foolish aunt…

    But I felt: you are an I,
    you are an Elizabeth,
    you are one of them.
    Why should you be one, too?

    Why should I be my aunt,
    or me, or anyone?

  27. August 1, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    Melissa, the short answer to the question of how I can be slightly uncomfortable among some of my friends without having a core-self is that, to some degree, my style of being doesn’t fit with theirs.

    I don’t see why arguing that I don’t have a unified self requires “an impossible lack of self-knowledge.” My claim is a philosophical one to which Rosalynde has pointed: I know something of the history of the unified self–its origins in traditional Christianity and its revision in modernism. That history shows, I believe, that the concept of a unified self has come to be over time. If so, then it isn’t universal. In addition, I can’t make philosophical/logical sense of the claim to a core-self. So, I am skeptical that there is one.

    Melissa, why would understanding self in terms of a style of being be morally problematic? I don’t see the moral problem.

    Eve: Hello! Good to see you here.

    Kaimi, I wonder if perhaps it becomes tiring to downplay certain aspects of your personality because you assume you have a core personality with traits that make you who you are. Like everyone else, I assume, there are things that I don’t bring up as issues among any particular group of friends, not that I’m hiding who I am, but that they are either irrelevant or would create problems unnecessarily. However, I don’t think that any of those are core personality traits. Instead, they are behaviors, etc. that are appropriate in one set of circumstances and not in others.

    Lamonte, I think you’re right that being at BYU has been one cause of the way that I think about these things. I remember that when I was on leave in Paris for a year, after about three months I began to miss the ability to have certain conversations. As much as I liked living in Paris–and I really liked it–I missed the opportunity to have LDS discussions with colleagues.

    Rosalynde, thanks for the vote of confidence and for the philosophical support.

    Buckeye: I don’t think the question I’ve raised is one about Mormons and non-Mormons. I also feel somewhat out of place among many Mormons. You are right that we need to have friends who are not LDS, but I suspect that most Mormons, especially those in who live in predominately non-LDS populations, do. I don’t see how they could avoid it.

    Anna, I assume that the same being I am now will be resurrected. That is the me that will come back, a me that has temporal identity, is located in a particular body (and, in the end, I think identity is as much a function of bodily identity as anything else), and so on. I don’t need a core identity to be me now. Why would I need one to be resurrected?

  28. August 1, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Eve, you were evidently posting while I was composing. Thanks for that poem. I wasn’t familiar with it, but I’m certainly familiar with the experience. Occasionally I am taken by surprise when I hear my father speaking in my voice or feel myself doing something and recognize my father’s way of doing it.

  29. Buckeye the Elder
    August 1, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    Jim – you would be surprised. Where I live in the midwest, there are few mormons, amybe 800 people in a university town of about 120,000. And what I have noticed is this – our mormon community is a very insular community – kind of like the Hasidic Jews. Most of the people in our Stake ( with a few exceptions) interact socially with only other Mormons. They interact with non-mormons at school and work, and then get together and complain about the non-mormons.
    Which is I think a major problem. I am considered a freak of sorts becasue my social life does not revolve around the Elders Quorum, and I spens time and interact with a lot of non-Mormons. I have been told my friendship with non-members is potentially make me lose my faith!!!

  30. August 1, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    Buckeye: I’ve lived in a number of wards outside of Utah, before I joined the Church, before I came to BYU, and since both. I recognize what you’re talking about. However, it has never seemed as severe to me as you describe it. For example, it is true that in graduate school as well as much later in Paris, much of my social life revolved around the Church. The same was true of most members of those wards. Yet in both places I had many friends who were not part of the ward, and it seemed to me that others did too. I

    I wonder if the difference in our experiences has to do with how many members of our wards are “born and bred” Mormons and how many are converts? Could it be that the more converts to born-and-bred, the more likely that people have other friendships? In most of the wards I’ve lived in outside of Utah, the ratio of converts to born-and-bred has been quite high. It migth be that born-and-bred Mormons have less experience to draw on when making friends who are not also LDS and, so, find it more difficult–just a speculation.

  31. August 1, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    Melissa #22: I think this essay gives a good (non-philosophical) explanation of why Jim F. is (or at least would’ve been in 19993) hesitant to emphasize a self independent of the self-in-context or self-that-chooses. The essay had a significant impact on me (and was the first think I ever read of Jim’s), thanks for writing it Jim….

  32. S.
    August 1, 2006 at 10:17 pm


    It becomes an issue of integrity if, with one group of friends, you say things that you would be mortified to have another group of friends hear you say.

    When you do or say something that you would be uncomfortable having somebody else witness, there is a twinge of guilt, a twinge of unease. Your life is not an open book.

    Of course, what we are discussing here is a manner of degree, and most cases are fairly mild. Maybe you’d feel odd having your work friends hear you discuss proselyting ambitions in correlation meeting, or hear some of your comments about faith in elder’s quorum. Maybe you’d feel odd having your grandmother hear your frank discussion about sex with a non-member friend.

    But if it goes beyond feeling odd to “If X heard what I said to Y, it would end my relationship with X,” then one starts to feel like a hypocrite, like one is pretending around X to be a person that one is not.

    An extreme case would be someone who makes racist remarks with one group of friends while having colleagues of the same race. Or someone who flippantly says things about gays, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, lawyers, etc. that one could _never_ say while looking one of these people in the eye.

    But there are milder forms. And whether or not it is “dishonest” to act in a way around one group that we would not want another group to see, it does contribute to a feeling of insecurity and unease. There is always a risk of “exposure.” The ideal is to adopt a character that you’re not ashamed to have anybody see.

    Easier said than done maybe.

  33. Buckeye the Elder
    August 2, 2006 at 9:38 am

    Bro Jim – I think you are right about the character of the Ward being dependent on the convert to born-n-bred Mormon ration. In my Ward, out of maybe 120 or so families, not more than 20 families and singles are converts. That probably explains what I described.

    BTW, my internet handle is taken from a wonderful short story by the LDS author Brady Udall. It is from brady’s first book which mae him famous in the world of literary fiction. The book is titled “Letting Loose The Hounds”, and I’d highly reommend it!!!

  34. Wilfried
    August 2, 2006 at 11:19 am

    Very interesting post, Jim. I can well relate, living every year in widely divergent cultures, at two widely divergent universities, with non-Mormon family on various sides, with non-Mormons friends from decades in Belgium, and Mormons we know well in both our Antwerp and our Provo ward. I very much agree with the items you brought up. I have found the divergence interesting and enriching, but, indeed, it would not be easy to bring people we know and appreciate, together for easy contact. Not even some members from the Antwerp ward with some in the Provo ward.

    You said: “In most of the wards I’ve lived in outside of Utah, the ratio of converts to born-and-bred has been quite high. It migth be that born-and-bred Mormons have less experience to draw on when making friends who are not also LDS and, so, find it more difficult–just a speculation.”

    An interesting aspect of this is the degree of desire to do missionary work. I wonder if the desire to make friends in order to make Mormons is smaller or larger among born-and-bred Mormons than among converts. Brings up a number of factors in intercultural/interreligious communication.

  35. Melissa
    August 2, 2006 at 12:02 pm


    “Why would understanding self in terms of a style of being be morally problematic?”

    Until you say something about what you mean by a “style of being” I can’t begin to answer this question. However, “style” has the connotation of being of-the-moment and radically changeable. A perpetually protean and plastic self that is wholly determined by one’s immediate company is morally problematic because the sort of reflection and judgment that is required to be a moral agent presuppose a somewhat stable consciousness.

    While we fashion and re-fashion ourselves continually, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have persistent and particular identities which continue and are made up of our memories, our temperaments, our experiences, our relationships, and so forth. Some kind of synthesis of these is necessary to avoid
    personality disorder.

    It is perhaps one of the drawbacks of a forum like this that more can’t be said about such big and important matters as the self and moral identity. I hate it when people do this to me, but I’m going to direct you to my dissertation for further explication of my thoughts of these topics.

    RW, I did not say that the self is something to be “discovered.” On the contrary, as I indicated, I think it is clear that we become selves in relation. The self is undeniably relational. However, the self is reflective and in this world coroporeal as well. We also know that something about us is eternal, without beginning or end. It pre-dates the reception of our bodies and apparently any relationship that we understand. The scriptures call it intelligence but, of course, we don’t know what that really means.

    Robert, I agree with Jim’s distaste for the misbegotten theory of self-esteem and reject it as antithetical to the gospel. It is quite a different issue from rejecting any stable sense of the self, however.

  36. anon
    August 2, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    “I hate it when people do this to me, but I’m going to direct you to my dissertation for further explication of my thoughts of these topics.”

    Could we get a cite? A link? An abstract?

  37. August 2, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    Wilfried, obviously you have this experience much more often and for longer than I do. You are the expert here, not I. And I also think that you’re right about it not being only a Mormon vs. non-Mormon thing. Sometimes the distance between our Mormon friends is as great as that between our Mormon and non-Mormon ones.

    I also like your question about missionary work: how does being a convert or not being one effect missionary work? I don’t think the answer would be easy to figure out. Some converts seem more reluctant to be assertive about their membership and, so, less likely to be engaged in missionary works. Other converts are anxious to tell others. Some lifetime members are eager to share the gospe, others are more timid.

    Melissa, I think you and I are thinking of style quite differently. I am thinking of it in the way that we might identify the style of an author or painter. I seems to me that you are thinking of it in terms more or less the same as “fashion.” Given how I’m using the word, however, I think of style as anything but “of-the-moment and radically changeable.” The materials of a painters style are different from picture to picture, but if we know his work, we can see the sameness, the same style, in each.

    Based on what you say to Rosalynde, I suspect that if we were to understand each other’s terms better, we would largely agree. You describe multiple selves in your paragraph to her–relation, reflection (that which says “I”), body, “intelligence.” I would add to these at least non-conscious thought, genetics (though perhaps that is already included with “body”), and history. I am all of these things together without one of them being the “real” me and the others being in some sense subservient to it. A different analogy: my body is neither my brain nor my liver nor any other organ that I can name. It is a unity, but there is no core thing that gives it that unity, not even the brain which is only the core of the nervous system, not the core of the body as a whole. My body is a multiplicity acting in concert (and sometimes not). I take the self to be also such a multiplicity and, so, to be multiple.

    anon: you’re right, an abstract would be nice, but since Melissa’s dissertation isn’t yet finished, I assume that there’s no citation or link to give. I took this as a promise more than a reference.

  38. Anna
    August 2, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Jim, I admit to being a bit unsatisfied with your answer (#27) to my question (#25) about identity and the resurrection, but your latest response to Melissa has placated me more. If the self is only multiple, with nothing unifying or persistent about it, then I have trouble making any sense of the idea of resurrection of that multiple self. Resurrection of a self that is a multiplicity but also a unity (as you describe it) seems less problematic to my feeble brain, although I still think resurrection poses some very perplexing Ship of Theseus-type questions. Of course, resurrection isn’t really the heart of this thread, so I’ll shut up now.

  39. August 2, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    Anna: I think that resurrection poses a lot of preplexing ship-of Theseus type questions, regardless of how we think about the self.

  40. Mark Butler
    August 2, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    Robert C.,

    Thanks for linking to that article of Jim’s. I think he has it almost exactly right, so close to the mark that I could hardly quibble with anything, allowing for my limitations of course.

    I tend to think of personal identity in strict metaphysical terms, in other words hard identity, not soft identity. Anything not essential about us is strictly speaking not part of our natural identity at all, it is part of our adopted identification.

    Hard identity is that which cannot be other than what it is, a sort of ‘haeccity’ or metaphysical label permanently and indelibily attached to an object from all eternity. There are not many things that can be shown to have such a label, but I believe an intelligence is one of them, having identity (distinguishability) without which the plan of salvation does not make a lot of sense.

    I am not speaking of an adopted identity, especially not a self-image independent and apart from the world, for that is pride, but simple distinguishability. Now in physics terms, suppose we took two intelligences and stuck them in two cannons, and fired them so that they collided with each other and ricocheted off in different directions. The question of identity is whether there would be any way to tell after the fact which intelligence came from which cannon. This includes of course, the self-awareness and primitive memory of the intelligences themselves.

    If an “exchange” of identity is possible in such a collision, a large number of aspects of the gospel start to be problematic. And the very first is delayed justice or reward (blessings). If intelligence A committed a serious injustice and intelligence B did not, then they collided with each other such that a swap of identity was utterly ambiguous, how can God justly require anything of either of them in terms of repentance, or reformation, or restitution?

    Or what if A did something that God felt to reward with his spirit of grace and comfort? After the collision, how does God know who to place his spirit upon? In fact strictly speaking we require no collision at all, because if intelligences are indistinguishable, personal names are meaningles, we can swap labels at any time without any material effect. That is the Quantum Mechanics definition of indistinguishability, one with profound consequences.

    In short, unless the locus of moral responsibility is located with the intelligence, and not with the body, the whole system of divine justice fails. Instead of punishing people so that they can reform, God end up punishing bodies. Punishing bodies is something profoundly silly. God could change a body to anything he wanted to right? Why not just create all good bodies?

    Moral responsibility is dependent on free will – how does a body choose good or evil? Majority vote? Without a locus of discretion, it is hard to see how divine justice for the union of body and soul makes any sense whatsoever. We should just do whatever surgery is required to make a body good, or annihilate bad bodies without a qualm of remorse whatsoever.

  41. Sarah
    August 2, 2006 at 8:45 pm

    I try not to make any of my friends uncomfortable — I don’t bear my testimony over lunch or in line for Star Wars — but I can’t imagine there’s anyone who’s known me for more than a few weeks who doesn’t know I’m LDS. And I doubt any of my LDS friends would be surprised by the kinds of people I know, considering I’m the girl who usually resorts to “I stood in line for Star Wars for six weeks in Hollywood last year” at YSA events where we’re required to say something unique about ourselves. I’m always me, it’s just that sometimes I’m in line for Star Wars and other times I’m at a testimony meeting.

    On the other hand, considering I have siblings who’ve never met each other (my mom’s daughters and my dad’s son and daughter,) perhaps unnerving dichotomies and dual personality issues just don’t affect me like they do normal people. I do remember the birthday where my two best friends each refused to come if the other was there with some trauma (I told them both not to come if they were going to be like that; they both came and managed not to say anything really awful.) But that was elementary school, and I generally don’t make friends with adults who act like 7-year-olds — and I expect everyone in the family to show up at my wedding and be nice to one another, if I ever get married (note: if the universe implodes due to a rip in the fabric of space-time, that’s just my whole family being in the same room at the same time for the first time in history; my advance apologies to anyone inconvenienced by the potential catastrophe.)

  42. August 2, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    Mark Butler: I don’t see why either persons or intelligences would have to have haeccity in order to be distinguishable. Some very good metaphysicians, such as D. M. Armstrong, seem to think that identity doesn’t require it, and he is hardly alone. Nor do I know why we should assume that intelligences have any kind of self-awareness or primitive memory. We have far too little information about them to make either positive or negative assumptions about their mental states or, indeed, whether they have them. And if by “body” we mean, as I do, “lived body” rather than body considered apart from its lived being-in-the-world (i.e., if we don’t consider the body as if it were a corpse), then I don’t think it makes sense to make the hard distinction between intelligence and body that you make–and what happened to the spirit in your metaphysics?

    The short version of my response is, “I can see the coherence of what you say, but it requires so many speculative assumptions that I can’t see its probability.” But why don’t you submit something to the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology? (Here is the call for papers) Fleshed out, this might be a very interesting discussion.

  43. Mark Butler
    August 3, 2006 at 12:45 am

    Jim F.,

    One difference here is that most metaphysicians do not rely on the testimony of Joseph Smith that intelligences are self-existent on the same principle that God is self-existent, that we are co-eternal with him.

    That assertion aside, I think there are many good theological argument to be made for the eternality of hard identity (not soft – the gospel is all about changing soft identity).

    For example:

    Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.
    (2 Nephi 2:25)

    Granted the doctrine that we existed among the great and noble ones when all the sons (and daughters) of God shouted for joy in the pre-mortal life, we must read this scripture as follows:

    Adam did what he did that mankind might enter in to the state we are now in, and the state that we are now in is so that we might find joy.

    Now we have two common options here, either God created our souls out of stuff (or out of nothing) that has no identity, or he did not, and per Joseph Smith, our spirit-intelligences are co-eternal with God.

    Let us take the first. God creates a whole host of persons out of amorphous material, then he writes a plan for their salvation, then he asks those persons for a sustaining vote. 1/3 of those persons which he created out of stuff rebel. But instead of wiping them out as a design mistake or a bad seed, he kicks them out of heaven to endure endless torment, apparently due to a nature within them that they had no control over – God made them that way.

    Then, according to plan they all come down to earth where they further play out the nature that God created for them, and God gets angry at them! Of course God realizes that getting angry at his creations is a relatively fruitless exercise, so he asks his eternal Son, whom apparently he did not create, to redeem them by taking upon himself the burden of their sins.

    Now why do we suppose that God would make his Son suffer so much for what were just a bunch of engineering mistakes on the part of God himself? God had the power to create all these persons out of amorphous stuff, so why not just tweak their internal circuits so that they will behave properly?

    Or even better why not save his Son, as well as all his creations a long tenure in this vale of tears, by just creating them properly in the first place? In other words what distinguishes a person in their present state from the state when they were created out of nothing remarkable in particular? Is God that incompetent that we have to suffer for his mistakes? Or even worse is God so incompetent that his eternal Son has to suffer for what he could have done correctly in the first place?

    Or even worse than that are both the Father and the Son evolutionary accidents of nature who have no eternal identity, no necessary being of any kind, who are likewise vulnerable to annihilation and death?

    I see no way to answer these conundrums without the idea of an eternal personal intelligence whose moral characteristics are a consequence of freely willed choices that are distinguished from the freely willed choices of all others.

    Otherwise either God is the author of sin, or the hylozoistic stuff within us should just be reassembled until we behave correctly. I have a hard time thinking of my body as a democracy, with bad actors that should be locked up or thrust out, so the good ones can prevail.

  44. Mark Butler
    August 3, 2006 at 12:54 am

    Of course that is roughly what Orson Pratt thought, except where bodily atoms were intelligences who entered into a covenant of good behavior or were persuaded by the other adjacent atoms to come into the same emotional and spiritual state as the master directory atom. Of course in Orson Pratt’s system these atoms had identity, and the plan of salvation for each was to eventually partake of the same absolute divine attributes after a tenure in many bodies until hopefully an atom could be a master commander of a divine body.

    Unfortunately, then quantum mechanics happened, and the statistical indistinguishability of the particles that make of ordinary matter is a proven fact, a fact which bodes ill for the Whitehead-Hartshorne system as well.

  45. August 3, 2006 at 1:20 am

    Mark Butler: Of course I know that non-LDS metaphysicians don’t accept that intelligences are eternal and self-existent in the same way that God is. And I assume you know that I accept what Joseph Smith says. Those are not in question. But, logically and without contradicting the revelations of the Restoration, one can accept the eternality of individual intelligences without assuming that they are originally conscious or that they have what you call “hard identity.” That’s my point.

  46. Mark Butler
    August 3, 2006 at 2:35 am

    Jim F.,

    I wrote in more explicit terms to attempt give context to others who may not be as knowledgable as you are. Thank you for clarifying your position. Now, I understand you to hold the following position:

    (1) one can adhere to the doctrine the eternality of individual intelligences without assuming that they are originally conscious or have “hard identity”

    That position is so soft that I cannot disagree. Is anyone forced to assume anything? So let me suggest a harder position that I suspect you might defend:

    (2) one can coherently adhere to the doctrine of the eternality of individual intelligences while denying that they were originally conscious or have “hard identity”

    Now there is a proposition that can be debated. (2) implies the following, in the schema proposed:

    (1) intelligences are temporally everlasting, without beginning or end
    (2) intelligences are essentially individual, i.e. in a context such as scattering them across a broad region of space, we could draw a rough boundary between them, somewhere between where one intelligence effectively ended, and another effectively began.
    (3) intelligences are countably distinct


    (4) intelligences have no “hard identity”

    I defined “hard identity” the way physicists define distinguishable particles, i.e. swapping two particles makes a significant difference as to the future state of the system (the world).

    Thus (4) implies:

    (5) intelligences are indistinguishable particles, like electrons

    (6) the swapping of any two intelligences results in no significant difference in the present or future state of the world.

    However, per Joseph Smith

    (7) Our heavenly father is, in *essentials* an eternal intelligence, as are we. There is no necessary ontological distinction between us.

    (6) and (7) entail:

    (8) Swapping our heavenly father’s intelligence for any mortal person’s intelligence, makes no difference to the present or future state of the world.

    This begs the question: What possible function does an intelligence have if it makes no difference which one we possess? Isn’t such a conception of an intelligence a wheel that is not connected to the rest of the system, sort of like an intestinal appendix that can be removed without consequence?

    Or alternatively, is the role of the intelligence essential in a person, sort of like a grain of sand is to a pearl, but any grain of sand will do?

    And finally, if an intelligence has no essential relationship to moral responsibility over any period of time, what exactly is it that God blesses or condemns? Is God blessing or condemning an assembly? Why is it an assemblies fault for the way it is?

    And furthermore, how did the assembly of a wicked person get to be that way if the intelligence residing within had nothing to do with it, recognizing corollary (6) in this schema, i.e. that whether intelligences of bodily persons are swapped any number of times makes no difference to the present or future state of the world? Where does the moral responsiblity for the character of the sinner actually lie?

    If God has the moral responsibility, then he must have had the choice to create or influence the sinner other than he is. If he did have such power, God had morally significant free will.

    However, Joseph Smith said that we are ontologically comparable to our heavenly father. Thus if God has morally significant free will, so do we.

    So either:

    (10) God does not have morally significant free will


    (11) No one has morally significant free will

    Rejecting (11) as contrary to the gospel,

    Where is the locus of God’s morally significant free will. It cannot be his intelligence in this schema per (8), so what exactly about God gives him his free will? Is it the matter he is made of? Is it an emergent accident of his assembly?

    Or contrary to the hypothesis here, does God actually have a distinguishable intelligence that is the locus of both his free will and his moral responsibility, such that if we swapped God’s intelligence for another person’s intelligence, the resulting parties would both be rather different, each intelligence gradually conforming the body and manifest character in ways radically different from the status quo before the swap?

  47. Mark Butler
    August 3, 2006 at 2:38 am

    (10) should be “God has morally significant free will”

  48. comet
    August 3, 2006 at 11:57 am

    #37 Jim, I’m wondering what the source of your thinking on this might be. Your description here, especially the internal organ illustration, sounds very much like the Buddhist dependent-origination/ arguments about the self, except that they use a chariot instead of a body to illustrate it. No identity independent of the elements that supposedly constitute it exists in the permanent, core way that many of us are used to thinking about it. You can’t pare the self down to some underlying substrate that is unconditioned, the penultimate condition of everything else; every element is ultimately conditioned interdependently with all the other elements in the unity.

  49. August 3, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    Mark Butler: I was merely making the point that is, you say, too soft for you to disagree with: we do not have to agree with the assumptions—there are reasonable alternatives within an orthodox understanding of LDS teachings—so we also do not have to agree with your conclusion. You give your argument more rhetorical weight than its logic will bear.

    It is possible that your conjectures are right. However, they require a number of assumptions about things for which we have no information, scriptural or prophetic. Each such speculative/interpretive assumption made reduces the probability of the conclusion being likely. Four such assumptions, each with a 90% probability, yields a conclusion with only a 73% probability. Even if each assumption has a probability of 90%, the conclusion will be less than 50% probable if there are seven of them—such a conclusion is unlikely to be true. I doubt that your assumptions each have that high a probability of being true, so however many speculative assumptions you make (such as that intelligences have some kind of consciousness or memory) I doubt also your conclusions and the force of the arguments that take you to them.

    That said, I also don’t think that it is impossible or unreasonable or contradictory of prophetic teachings to understand the identity of an eternal entity in terms of soft identity; doing so doesn’t require one to deny any of the doctrine on which you base the argument you outline. I think that the arguments against hard identity are sound, so I don’t believe that eternal intelligences have hard identity. Not believing that doesn’t require me to have any particular alternative theory unless there is only one alternative. I don’t think there is only one, so I don’t have to have an alternative theory, though, as I say below, based on contemporary metaphysical discussions of identity, I lean in the direction of an alternative.

    My main objection to your argument comes in your definition of hard identity: I don’t think that human beings are well understood by comparing them to the objects of science, so I reject the use of a definition of identity that requires that comparison. Your definition is, I believe, an ill-founded way of thinking about the being of living things, particularly of humans.

    I don’t know enough about intelligences to say very much about them, and I don’t think anyone else does either. However, though I don’t argue for the soft identity of intelligence, preferring to leave that question in the realm of that which we do not know, I lean towards the soft identity theory. I can only understand identity in terms of what I presently know, and based on that I can perhaps extrapolate. What I know about the philosophy of identity leads me to reject the belief that we have a core identity, whether that core is intelligence or not. The extrapolation that results is that perhaps soft identity explains intelligence.

    I hope that you will take up my suggestion that you submit a paper to the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. This is a discussion that would fit well in our meetings and would be beneficial to the audience and, presumably, also to you.

    Comet: I’m not sure what the origins of my thinking on these things are, but I don’t know enough about Buddhism for that to be the source. My thinking is mostly indebted to thinkers like Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (scroll down to read about Merleau-Ponty). The latter seems especially relevant to this particular discussion though, of course, he talks only about mortal, embodied persons, not about intelligences.

  50. Mark Butler
    August 3, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    Jim F.,

    I am not just assuming “hard identity”, I made an argument for it. The argument is presumably valid if one accepts all the premises. Therefore, to avoid the force of the argument, one must dispute either the premises or point to an error in the logic.

    I might add that it seems to me is that the whole point of logic in the first place is to derive reliable conclusions in the presence of missing information – i.e. we do not have to know everything in order to know something, and in particular that certain somethings that are strictly entailed by certain premises, particularly certain absolutistic premises that many are fond of, for both good and ill.

    Absolutes are uniquely easy to either defend or shoot down, because the implications of absolutes, or the implications of their negations, are so very definite. I do not see any way to avoid the force of such an argument, unless one maintains that God is irrational and the world, and the word, is per se undefinable.

  51. August 3, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    Mark Butler, I wasn’t claiming that you were merely assuming hard identity. I’m sorry that I didn’t make that more clear. The argument is valid whether one accepts the premises or not, since validity is a matter of form rather than truth. But valid arguments can have false conclusions. I was arguing that your argument is unsound.

    I argued, first of all, against the probability of the assumptions you make about intelligences and, second, specifically against your assumption that intelligences can be profitably be compared to sub-atomic particles on this point.

    In addition, I gave an argument for favoring a soft identity theory of intelligence: (1) Assume for the purposes of the argument that the only two possibilities for explaining identity are hard identity and soft identity. (2) I accept the contemporary metaphysical arguments against hard identity; the arguments are convincing. (3) So, unless there turns out be be another explanation (an important caveat, I believe), the identity of intelligences is soft.

    However, since I am not willing to assume that there aren’t better explanations of identity than the two we presently discuss, I can only describe myself as “leaning” toward soft identity.

  52. Mark Butler
    August 3, 2006 at 11:06 pm

    Jim F.,

    At the risk of boring anyone else who may be paying attention:

    (1) In the context of the argument, I started with the everlasting eternality and indestructibility of intelligences as a premise, not a conclusion, based on the testimony of Joseph Smith. The purpose of the argument was to establish the essential metaphysical distinguishability of such entities, as such, separate from any accidents of the body.

    (2) The definition I adopted of distinguishibility has nothing to do with requiring an intelligence to be a sub atomic particle. No analogical reasoning here. It simply requires an intelligence to be, roughly speaking, in a certain place at a certain time, a doctrine well established of spiritual things (e.g. God exists in a certain location at any given time).

    So if we have two persons, temporal or spiritual, standing an adequate distance apart, it seems hard to dispute the idea that the intelligence of one is centered on the left, and the intelligence of one is centered on the right, in a location that is correlated with the location of the body thereof.

    Thus if an intelligence exists roughly some-where right now, presumably it could exist some-where else in the future. Also, as an uncreated and indestructible entity, per Joseph Smith, it meets the metaphysical requirements of atomicity, even if it is not atomic in size or extent. All it needs to be considered quasi-material (immanent in the world) is a central location, and ability to be acted upon by other material objects or forces.

    If one steps onto an elevator, presumably the force of the elevator on one’s feet propagates upward to the general centroid of the intelligence, such that the intelligence remains colocated with the body. If an intelligence could neither act on the material world nor be acted upon by the material world, it is hard to say it it can be said to be a real world, existent entity in a certain place at a certain time at all.

    (3) We further take the premise from Joseph Smith that there is exactly one spirit-intelligence per person, and that both spirit bodies and “physical” bodies have material form (All spirit is matter, see also D&C 129). It is a scriptural principle that physical bodies are created of the dust of the earth. So unless we wish to nullify the creativity of God or the adopt the exceedingly unlikely proposition that the human form is a metaphysical primitive, we must accept the idea that a spirit body, or tabernacle of spirit, is created largely out of spiritual dust (spirit matter).

    (4) However per Joseph Smith, a spirit-intelligence is uncreate, self-existent, and indestrucible, thus a spirit-intelligence must be considered to be distinct from the contingent assembly of the tabernacle of spirit, unless again, God had nothing to do with how many eyes and fingers a spirit has (cf. pre-mortal appearance of Christ to the brother of Jared in Ether 3, also D&C 129).

    (5) The idea that bodily forms are self-existent is generally contradicted by all scriptural creation accounts, some of which refer to the creation of things spiritually before they were temporally upon the earth, that in the very beginning, before divine creative or organizing activity, matter was generally speaking, without form, that the forms were authored by God. (cf. Gen 1:2, Abr 4:2, Moses 3:7).

    (6) The joint implication of spiritual creation and self-existence of eternal intelligences implies that the latter are generally speaking without human or animal form, but are to be identified with us as persons, i.e. we temporally preceded the creation of our tabernacles of spirit. “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence or the light of truth was not created or made, neither can be” (D&C 93:29). In other words, God created our spirit bodies, per Moses 3:7, but did not create, nor is capable of creating our eternal intelligences, or indeed “us” (per D&C 93:29).

    Now, unless one is willing to dispute Joseph Smith’s clear statements on the matter, that should practically settle the question, for if we can exist as persons prior to the gift or creation of a tabernacle of spirit, it almost goes without saying that the spirit-intelligence of any one of us must have been distinguishable from the spirit intelligence of our heavenly father. The scripture states “Man was in the beginning with God”. It does not state “Intelligences were in the beginning with intelligences”.

    So how are we to distinguish our intelligences in the beginning from God’s intelligence in the beginning if not for some “hard” personal identity, such that we can never get our identity confused with his? That if we bumped into each other “on the street” we would clearly remember which one was which?

    The only other possibility remotely compatible with the doctrine of self-existent, uncreate, temporally everlasting, and indestructible personal intelligences seems to be that intelligences are perfectly interchangable, and personality is a strict accident. This is the proposition I was arguing against, not the general determinations of metaphysicians who give Joseph Smith’s statements no particular credence.

    And my argument for that is based on the implausibility of swap degeneracy, as if intelligences were eternal, but interchangeable parts without even a “serial number”, “label” or essentially distinguishing attributes of any kind.

    The argument against that has several aspects. First what does it mean for “man” to be in the beginning with God if we are not even concious and self aware. Why not just say “stuff” was in the beginning with God. The term “man” implies that personality was in the beginning with god, that intelligences are *persons* without tabernacles.

    The other aspects derive from the purpose of the plan of salvation. What does it mean to have joy? Can God synthesize or create artifical joy out of stuff? Why the very long, effectively eternal road to joy? Wouldn’t that be contrary to the divine economy if joy were a contingent aspect of the structure of the tabernacle, rather than a very difficult to acheive property of the relationship between the eternal intelligence and other eternal intelligences.

    If joy were structural, then God should have just created us with a joy-structure. Since we agree that God is presumably not so incompetent as not to be able to create joy-structure, we must conclude that joy is *not* structural, that it is a consequence of the freely willed decisions of eternal intelligences (primal persons) to enter into a loving relationship one with the other. A drug induced euphoria is a structural, chemical counterfeit of joy. But has there ever been a drug that can produce a joy substitute that is indistinguishable from the real thing?

    There are dozens of other similar arguments based on the nature of morality, moral responsibility, the natural constraints on the plan of salvation, the distinction between love and hate, and so on.

  53. August 4, 2006 at 8:30 pm

    Mark, I agree that we may be boring people, so I will make a few remarks on some particulars and then quit. I still encourage you to develop something like this and to submit it to SMPT.

    You said: (1) In the context of the argument, I started with the everlasting eternality and indestructibility of intelligences as a premise, not a conclusion, based on the testimony of Joseph Smith. The purpose of the argument was to establish the essential metaphysical distinguishability of such entities, as such, separate from any accidents of the body.

    I agree, both that you began with that premise and that Joseph Smith teaches it. (However, as you know and as Church history teaches well, that intelligences are individual from eternity was not clearly taught by the Prophet.) I did not disagree with the assumption that intelligence is eternal and uncreated.

    You also said: As an uncreated and indestructible entity, per Joseph Smith, it meets the metaphysical requirements of atomicity, even if it is not atomic in size or extent. All it needs to be considered quasi-material (immanent in the world) is a central location, and ability to be acted upon by other material objects or forces.

    As I understand it, atomicity requires that the being in question have no parts. However, it is logically possible for an indestructible and eternal being to have parts. So, I do not believe that intelligence must be properly atomic. Perhaps they are, perhaps they aren’t. I don’t know. However, as I said before, given what I know about temporal existence and about metaphysics, I take it as more reasonable to believe that they are not–given current knowledge.

    I have not suggested nor do I believe that intelligences can neither act on the world nor be acted upon by it. I have no idea how that became part of the discussion.

    You say: it almost goes without saying that the spirit-intelligence of any one of us must have been distinguishable from the spirit intelligence of our heavenly father.

    I’m not sure what led you to think I said anything that would contradict this.

    You ask: So how are we to distinguish our intelligences in the beginning from God’s intelligence in the beginning if not for some “hard� personal identity, such that we can never get our identity confused with his? That if we bumped into each other “on the street� we would clearly remember which one was which?

    As I understand the current metaphysical debate, it is possible to distinguish between particular entities without hard identity. If that is true for ordinary objects, then it is equally true for eternal ones.

    You say: The only other possibility remotely compatible with the doctrine of self-existent, uncreate, temporally everlasting, and indestructible personal intelligences seems to be that intelligences are perfectly interchangable, and personality is a strict accident.

    I disagree that this is the only other possible explanation. I believe that most contemporary metaphysicians who discuss the problem of identity agree with me on that.

    This is the proposition I was arguing against, not the general determinations of metaphysicians who give Joseph Smith’s statements no particular credence.

    The question is not whether they give Joseph Smith’s statements credence. It is whether their thinking about identity is relevant. I give Joseph Smith’s statements credence, and I believe that current metaphysical discussion of the issue is relevant.

    You ask rhetorically: What does it mean for “man� to be in the beginning with God if we are not even concious and self aware?

    As you well know, is not obvious what the word “beginning” means in the scriptures. Since there was no absolute beginning, it could mean any of a number of different points of beginning. Or, it could refer to spirit life in general. I don’t think the scripture you cite helps us decide anything about the nature of intelligences. You are probably right that “man” refers to us in a state of some kind of consciousness, but I don’t think you are right that we should understand the claim that “we were in the beginning with God” to describe our condition as intelligences (or intelligence).

  54. Mark Butler
    August 4, 2006 at 10:40 pm

    Jim F.,

    I concede that something indestructibly eternal may have “parts” in some sense, but certainly no ordinary parts. I completely disagree with the assertion that Joseph Smith “did not teach that personal intelligences are individual from all eternity”. Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie believed in the doctrine of personal annihilation and/or its exact opposite, creation of personality out of amorphous intelligence, a sort of hylozoistic materialism, but Joseph Smith explicitly taught quite the opposite. I quote the critical passage in full

    I have another subject to dwell upon, which is calculated to exalt man; but it is impossible for me to say much on this subject, I shall therefore just touch upon it, for time will not permit me to say all. It is associated with the subject of the resurrection of the dead,—namely, the soul—the mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better. Hear it, all ye ends of the world; for God has told me so; and if you don’t believe me, it will not make the truth without effect. I will make a man appear a fool before I get through; if he does not believe it. I am going to tell of things more noble.

    We say that God Himself is a self-existing being. Who told you so? It is correct enough; but how did it get into your heads? Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles? Man does exist upon the same principles. God made a tabernacle and put a spirit into it, and it became a living soul. (Refers to the Bible.) How does it read in the Hebrew? It does not say in the Hebrew that God created the spirit of man. It says, “God made man out of the earth and put into him Adam’s spirit, and so became a living body.”

    The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal [co-eternal] with God himself. I know that my testimony is true; hence, when I talk to these mourners, what have they lost? Their relatives and friends are only separated from their bodies for a short season: their spirits which existed with God have left the tabernacle of clay only for a little moment, as it were; and they now exist in a place where they converse together the same as we do on the earth,

    I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it has a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven.

    I want to reason more on the spirit of man; for I am dwelling on the body and spirit of man—on the subject of the dead. I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man—the immortal part, because it had no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation, who say that the spirit of man had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that doctrine is true, then the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house-tops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself.

    Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.
    (TPJS, 352, emphasis added)

    Now if you ask me, it takes a remarkable amount of creativity to spin that passage into a creation of the spirit of man out of amorphous intelligence. Joseph Smith explicitly contradicted the idea that God created the spirit of man. He said that “intelligence is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it”. He uses spirit in a personal sense throughout this passage.

    He explicitly denies the doctrine of annihilation. He says that there never was a time when there were not spirits (note discrete plural), that spirits were co-equal (eternal) with our Father in heaven, self-existing *beings* on the same principle.

    He his not speaking of eternal element or matter. That was the topic of the previous section of his sermon, where he says that chaotic matter or element had an existent from the time God had existence. Then he switches subjects with the phrase “I have another subject to dwell upon, which is calculated to exalt man”.

    He says “the soul-the mind of man-the immortal spirit. Where did it come from?”. Then he procedes to deny that God created it. i.e. in Joseph Smiths’s own words the soul, the mind of man is uncreate.

    Then he says that God and man are both self-existing *beings* on the same principles. He again denies that God created the spirit of man. And again he says thtat there *never* was a time when their were no spirits, denies the doctrine of annihilation (the idea that a personality can be destroyed), and says that intelligence is a “spirit from age to age” – not an amorphous substance, but a “spirit”, and says that “all the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement”.

    Anyone who thinks Joseph Smith taught a doctrine of amorphous, non-personal intelligence in that passage is reading their own opinion into his words. He could hardly be more explicit to the contrary. The division is clear either Joseph Smith is right and Bruce R. McConkie is wrong on this point, or Joseph Smith was wrong and Bruce R. McConkie is right. The only remotely tenable variation is that of Orson Pratt’s, which is akin to Joseph Smith’s on the crucial point of the eternality of conciousness and identity for each particle of intelligence.

  55. August 5, 2006 at 12:46 am

    Mark Butler, though I, too, think that the most plausible reading is that intelligence was always plural, that our individuality is eternal, I don’t think that the Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie “requires a remarkable amount of creativity.” They offer one reading, a reading that I think is less plausible than that which you and I take from the Joseph Smith quotations, but hardly a fanciful reading.

    I don’t see anything in the passages that requires that they be read as we do, so I don’t think it is accurate to say that Joseph Smith “could hardly be more explicit to the contrary.” Indeed, he could have been considerably more explicit. Had he, I doubt that President Young and Elder McConkie would have read him as they did.

  56. Mark Butler
    August 5, 2006 at 1:32 am

    I think it is much more likely that both thought that Joseph Smith was *wrong* on that point. How could Brigham Young preach the doctrine of annihilation just a couple of decades after Joseph Smith preached that it was impossible?

    Elder McConkie’s entry on “Intelligence” in Mormon Doctrine quotes *Way to Perfection* but does not bother to mention Joseph Smith’s non-canonical teachings at all.

    Not only that he contradicts (and fails to mention) Abraham 3:18 which states:

    Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.
    (Abr 3:18)

    This scripture plainly teaches that spirits are temporally everlasting and eternal. Now it is true that verse 22 speaks of “organized intelligences”, but in the context of verse 18 (and other creation accounts), one can only conclude that organized intelligences are a eternal “spirits” that have been enlarged with a tabernacle of material element, or otherwise disciplined or ordered. Otherwise Abraham contradicts himself in the most serious way. If there was any ambiguity here, Joseph Smith settled it on April 7, 1844.

    The problem, by the way, of reading that passage any other way, it that it begs the question of what the passage was for in the first place. Without that doctrine, it teaches nothing, certainly nothing that had not been the published doctrine of the Church for nearly a decade. In fact, Joseph Smith seems to be at pains to contradict exactly what Elder McConkie would later proclaim to be “Mormon Doctrine” in 1958: the idea that God created spirits.

    Now this is not exactly a new thing either, James E. Talmage contradicted Joseph Smith’s KFD teaching on the proper semantics of Elohim some half a century earlier. And Charles Penrose was not exactly a fan of the King Follett Discourse either. They all seem to think that Joseph Smith didn’t know what he was talking about that day. And of course the technical rules of canon give them some license to do so.

  57. Mark Butler
    August 5, 2006 at 2:33 am

    That should be “seemed to think”. I am sure they all agree now.

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