Category Archives: Writing & Literature

Now Trapped in the Material

We are now trapped in the material realm, thus for an age the test has shifted from obedience to deduction.

There is still enough divinity in us, though it be a muted fraction, to enable us to recognize its origin lies outside the material universe.

That part of you that doesn’t seem to belong in time, space, energy and matter — doesn’t.

That pebble in your shoe is your soul. You aren’t supposed to step on it, as if you could crush it. No, you are meant to stand on it to get a better view.

We all feel it. We all sense it, and have from our earliest moments on this Earth: we’re passing through.

Do you have the courage to peek through the window in your prison cell and see all that lies beyond the concrete and barbwire that surrounds you? It is amazing how many prisoners don’t even look outside any more: they have forgotten the glare of sunlight and the heat of the sun.

All the orphans who deny this do not pass the audition.

The children do.

Come to Light.

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Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677)

I. General Notions

Of the two problems left unsolved by Descartes (the determination of the relationship God and the world and between the soul and the body), Spinoza answers the first by affirming the unity of substance and reducing the world to a modification of this single substance. Neo-Platonic thought and the definition of substance given by Descartes (that which so exists as to need no other for its existence) justify, as far as Spinoza is concerned, the abolition of all duality, and the affirmation of the oneness of substance. This accomplished, he logically and inexorably develops all the pantheistic consequences implicit in the oneness of substance.

The second problem left by Descartes (the relationship between the soul — “res cogitans” — and the body — “res extensa”) remains open and unsolved in Spinoza. He reduces these two Cartesian substances to two attributes; and to explain their mutual dependence he is obliged to affirm dogmatically the existence of the psycho-physical law, in virtue of which what happens in the “attribute” of the soul automatically finds its correlative in the “attribute” of the body.

II. Life and Works

Baruch (or, as it was often rendered in its Latin equivalent, Benedictus) Spinoza was born in Amsterdam in 1632 of Jewish parents who had emigrated to Holland from the Iberian Peninsula. He received his early education in the Jewish academy of Amsterdam, where he acquired a knowledge of Scripture and of medieval Hebrew philosophy. The rationalism of his thinking while he was a student for the rabbinate resulted in his being invited to retract certain heterodox views. But in 1656, when he refused to make the retraction, he was expelled and excommunicated from the Synagogue of Amsterdam, and exiled from the city by the Protestant authority.

After a brief period of wandering, he settled down at The Hague, where he lived quietly, absorbed in the formulation of his system of thought. He provided for his limited material needs by preparing optical lenses. A small group of friends also gave him aid. During this time he refused a professorship at Heidelberg rather than compromise his freedom of thought. Wasted away by tuberculosis, he died at The Hague on February 21, 1677. His worldly possessions were barely sufficient to pay the debts contracted during his illness.

His principal works are: Tractatus brevis de Deo, De homine et ejus Felicitate (Short Treatise Concerning God, Man and His Happiness); Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Theological-Political Treatise), which is unfinished; and Ethica More Geometrico Demonstrata (Ethics Demonstrated Through the Method of Geometry), his greatest work, which was published posthumously.

III. Metaphysics

Spinoza begins with the Cartesian concept of substance: that which exists by itself and which is conceived by itself — which means, that thing whose concept has no need of the concept of any other thing in order to be formed. Spinoza logically and rationally develops the latent pantheism of this Cartesian teaching to its extreme consequences.

For Spinoza, substance is the unconditioned, the absolute, God. It is unique and embraces all reality (this is pure pantheism); it is eternal, outside the limits of time, infinite, endowed with infinite attributes or perfections.

Of this infinity of attributes we know only two, thought and extension. Thus Spinoza abolished the Cartesian duality of substance (“res extensa” and “res cogitans”), reducing them to two perfections or attributes of the single substance.

Substance and its attributes constitute the “Natura naturans,” God. From God conceived of as “Natura naturans” necessarily proceed, as the unfolding of God’s very nature, man and the world of things, which Spinoza calls modes or modifications of the substance of God (Natura naturata”). The modes are determinations, temporal and finite aspects, of the divine attributes, thought and extension. They can be likened to the whitecaps on the ocean; they appear for a moment, only to be reabsorbed by the same waters that have produced them. We are thus in the realm of pure monistic-immanentist pantheism, whose terms are represented by substance, attributes and modes.

The supreme law which governs Spinoza’s reality is necessity: ironbound laws bind God to His attributes, and also determine these attributes in their modes of realization. God is free in the sense that nothing can impede the necessary and spontaneous unfolding of His nature, and not in the sense that He can choose different means of self-determination. Causality in God is a natural and necessary process which excludes all purpose or finalism.

Another fundamental law of Spinoza’s metaphysics is that of psycho-physical parallelism, which regulates the world of attributes, both in the divine substance and in its derived modes. The attributes of thought and extension are irreducible, according to the Cartesian concept, and any transition from one to the other is impossible.

Still, the series of phenomena manifesting themselves in thought coincides perfectly with the series of phenomena of extension. In other words, the order of ideas coincides with the order of bodies. This coincidence is guaranteed by the unity of substance of which such phenomena are the appearances or manifestations. Granted the irreducibility of thought to extension, no interaction between soul and body is possible; but granted psycho-physical coincidence or agreement, every manner of being and of operation of thought finds its equivalent in the being and operation of extension. Thus on the one hand there is the idea of a circle and on the other hand, corresponding to it, the actual existing circle.

In virtue of this psycho-parallelism and of the irreducibility of thought to extension, truth for Spinoza does not consist in the agreement of the mind with the thing, but in the correspondence of the mind of the knowing subject with the mind of the known subject.

IV. Man and Ethics

In a pantheistic metaphysics such as that of Spinoza, in which there is a single substance and all things are but finite and temporal modifications of this substance, there is no place for the traditional concept of man as a separate substance existing in himself and composed of a rational soul and a material body. Man, for Spinoza, is a derived mode of the attributes of God; the spirit is a mode of the attribute of thought, and the body a mode of the attribute of extension. Granted the principle of the mutual independence of thought and extension, it would be impossible to have any action of the spirit on the body.

Nor is there place in the metaphysics of Spinoza for an ethics in which the end of man is attained through human actions proceeding from free will. Free will is denied by Spinoza as impossible. Acts of the will can be reduced to cognitive acts, because by virtue of the psycho-physical law every act of knowledge has its corresponding act in the practical sphere.

Even though Spinoza denies the existence of the soul and the freedom of man, he recognizes various psychical activities in both the rational and the physical order. He envisions three stages of knowledge: As a further application of his psycho-physical law, he believes that there is complete parallelism between these three stages of knowledge, their three practical consequences, and the three degrees of morality corresponding to them. He explains this as follows:

  1. Sensible cognition is a subjective, inadequate and imperfect method of knowledge. It apprehends the world in the multiplicity of individual beings and not in relation to the eternal, to God. In this stage, man considers all beings as absolutes, contending with each other and opposing him. The practical aspect of this grade of knowledge is passion, for man is here in a state of passivity in his relation to things. Errors appear when man believes that he can make things different from what they actually are, that he can act upon them. The moral condition corresponding to this stage is slavery, for man lives in actual dependence as regards the external world.
  2. General rational knowledge embraces things in their indissoluble bond which, at the summit of the chain of causality, connects them with God. Things are known “sub specie aeternitatis.” This is the stage of science. In its practical aspect, such knowledge frees us from passion. Man is in a state of contemplation of the impassible and imperturbable order of the universe. The moral attitude here is Stoicism.
  3. Intuition is the knowledge of the finite essences in their origin through the consideration of the necessary and immutable order of the infinite essence of God. On this level, the diversity of beings is known in the unity of the divine substance, and man, while he is still limited by time, quantity and number, is freed from the consequences of the mutations and imperfections of nature. This mode of knowledge corresponds in the practical order to intellectual love of God, which is joy and enthusiasm deriving from the knowledge of a particular thing, together with the knowledge of its cause, God. For Spinoza, this love of man for God is returned by God, not as love between persons (for personality is excluded from his metaphysics), but inasmuch as man is identical, in a pantheistic sense, with God. This is a moral state of perfection in which the love of man for God is identical with the love of God for man, as it is merely love of God for Himself.

V. Politics

Spinoza treated the political problem and the religious problem in his Tractatus theologico-politicus.

The methods of government of state and Church, for Spinoza, are not conducive to the elaboration of a rational philosophy. Actions performed in view of the temporal and eternal punishments threatened by the state or by the Church depend on fear and hope, which for Spinoza are irrational passions. For Spinoza, too, the ultimate end of man is, as we realize, for him to know God through reason and to act in conformity with this knowledge. The state must aid man in this rational knowledge of God.

Spinoza holds that the state arose from a pact entered into by men, who at first lived in a condition of irrational nature and in perpetual war. Through this pact the members now composing the state renounced the use of force and violence in favor of authority or a sovereign who is the center of the state. The sovereign may use violence and force against the irrational instincts of his subjects. But this use of force is limited by rationality. Thus, if it should happen that the subjects are more rational than the sovereign, then by psycho-physical parallelism the state would fall, to give place to the rise of another state more rational than the first. Thus, according to Spinoza, has come about the passage from the natural state to the rational state, with a tendency to perfect rationality.

VI. Conclusion

Spinoza developed Cartesian Rationalism to its extreme consequences. He begins with the concept of substance, which, because it does not require another concept in order to be understood and to exist, is a clear concept and must be one. But he concludes with the most absolute pantheism.

Spinoza’s system did not meet with good reception at first, perhaps because it was not understood. Idealism took it over because it found in it the principal lineaments for a metaphysics in the idealist sense.

Continued…

Original article: Benedict Spinoza

René Descartes (1596-1650)

I. General Observations

René Descartes (picture) is justly considered the father of modern philosophy and the founder of the rational method as applied to philosophical research. In fact, he is the first philosopher to begin with the impressions which are in our intellect (intellectual phenomenalism) and lay down the laws which reason must follow in order to arrive at reasonably certain philosophical data.

This phenomenalism does not find its full development in Descartes. Indeed, Descartes reaches metaphysical conclusions which are no different from those of Scholastic philosophy. He maintains the transcendency of God, upholds human liberty and Christian morality.

But pantheism is sown deep in every form of immanentism. The rationalism of Descartes was to be quickly and logically bent in this direction by Spinoza, while other Cartesians, such as Malebranche and Leibniz, tried — with less logic — middle-of-the-road solutions between pantheism and the transcendence of God.

II. Life and Works

Descartes was born in 1596 at La Haye in France of a noble family, and was educated in the celebrated Jesuit college of La Flèche, where he received a philosophical and scientific education according to the principles of the Scholasticism of his day. Not fully satisfied with this first education, and urged on by a desire to better himself, he went first to Paris, and then enlisted in the army during the Thirty Years’ War.

On the ninth of November, 1619, while still in the service in winter quarters, he gave himself up to meditating on how to apply the mathematical method of the sciences to philosophy. During this time he conceived the four laws which he described in his work Discourse on Method. He then abandoned the army, but before dedicating himself completely to philosophical meditation he undertook long travels throughout Europe.

In 1629 he retired to Holland, which offered him tranquillity for meditation and writing. He remained there until 1649. During these twenty years he wrote nearly all his books. In 1649 he went to the court of Queen Christina of Sweden, being summoned there by the Queen, who wished to study philosophy under his direction. Unable to resist the rigors of winter, he died in Sweden during 1650.

Descartes was a scientist and a philosopher. As a scientist he is noted for his studies in mechanics, physics and mathematics. As a philosopher he opened the period of modern philosophy.

Not all the philosophical works written by Descartes were published during his lifetime. His Rule for the Direction of the Mind was published posthumously, as was his treatise on The World.

The philosophical works published by the author were four: Discourse on Method; Meditations on First Philosophy, in which he proves the existence of God and the immortality of the soul; Principles of Philosophy, in four books, a systematic work reviewing the entire thought of the author; The Passions of the Soul, treating of the problem of morality.

III. The Laws of the Cartesian Method

Descartes, in his work Discourse on Method, after giving a criticism of the education which he had received (a criticism which is indirectly an attack on the Scholasticism of his day), goes on to set up the new method, according to him, must be the basis of all scientific and philosophical research.

These laws are four:

  1. To accept nothing as true that is not recognized by the reason as clear and distinct;
    To analyze complex ideas by breaking them down into their simple constitutive elements, which reason can intuitively apprehend;
  2. To reconstruct, beginning with simple ideas and working synthetically to the complex;
  3. To make an accurate and complete enumeration of the data of the problem, using in this step both the methods of induction and deduction.
  4. To better understand these laws, we must note that for Descartes the point of departure is the ideas, clearly and distinctly known by the intellect — the subjective impressions on the intellect. Beyond these clear and distinct ideas one cannot go, and hence the ultimate principle of truth consists in the clearness of the idea. Clear and distinct intuitions of the intellect are true. For Descartes, such clear and distinct intuitions are thought itself (“cogito”) and the idea of extension.

Having arrived at this starting point (clear and distinct ideas), the intellect begins its discursive and deductive operation (represented by the second and third rules). The second law (called analysis) directs that the elementary notions be reunited with the clear and distinct ideas (the minor of the Scholastic syllogism). The third law (synthesis) presents them as the conclusion flowing from the premises. The final law (complete enumeration) stresses that no link in the deductive chain should be omitted and that every step should be logically deduced from the starting point (i.e., from the clear and distinct ideas). Thus, working from one step to the next, there will be achieved a system of truths all of which are clear and distinct, because all participate in the same degree of truth enjoyed by the first idea, which was clear and distinct.

This, as we know, is the method adopted in mathematics. Descartes transferred it to philosophy with the intention of finding clear and distinct concrete ideas, and of deducing from these, through reason alone, an entire system of truths which would also be real or objective.

The Aristotelio-Scholastic method (as well as that of classical realism in general) is also deductive, but it is very different from that of Descartes. Scholastic deduction is connected with objective reality because ideas are abstractions of the forms of the objects which experience presents. Thus both the concreteness of the ideas and the concreteness of the deductions based on these ideas are justified.

In Descartes ideas do not come from experience, but the intellect finds them within itself. Descartes declares that only these ideas are valid in the field of reality. Thus the concreteness (or the objective validity) of an idea is dependent upon its own clearness and distinction.

IV. Metaphysics: From Methodical Doubt to “Cogito Ergo Sum”

Descartes, as a result of the principles already established in his method, had first of all to seek out a solid starting point (a clear and distinct concrete idea), and from this opens his deductive process. To arrive at this solid starting point, he begins with methodical doubt, that is, a doubt which will be the means of arriving at certitude. This differs from the systematic doubt of the Skeptics, who doubt in order to remain in doubt.

I can doubt all the impressions that exist within my knowing faculties, whether they be those impressions which come to me through the senses or through the intellect. Indeed, I may doubt even mathematical truths, in so far as it could be that the human intelligence is under the influence of a malignant genius which takes sport in making what is objectively irrational appear to me as rational.

Doubt is thus carried to its extreme form. But notwithstanding this fact, doubt causes to rise in me the most luminous and indisputable certainty. Even presupposing that the entire content of my thought is false, the incontestable truth is that I think: one cannot doubt without thinking; and if I think, I exist: “Cogito ergo sum.”

It is to be observed that for Descartes the validity of “Cogito ergo sum” rests in this, that the doubt presents intuitively to the mind the subject who doubts, that is, the thinking substance. In this, Cartesian doubt differs from that of St. Augustine (“Si fallor, sum”), which embodies a truth sufficiently strong to overcome the position of Skepticism. In Descartes, “Cogito ergo sum” is assumed, not only in order to overcome the Skeptic position but as a foundation for the primary reality (the existence of the “res cogitans”), from which the way to further research is to be taken.

This is the point which distinguishes the classic realistic philosophy from Cartesian and modern philosophy. With Descartes, philosophy ceases to be the science of being, and becomes the science of thought (epistemology). Whereas, at first, being conditioned thought, now it is thought that conditions being. This principle, more or less realized by the philosophers immediately following Descartes, was to reach its full consciousness in Kant and modern Idealism. (See: Meditations on First Philosophy, I and II; Discourse on Method, IV.)

V. From “Cogito” to the Proof of the Existence of God

The “cogito” reveals the existence of the subject, limited and imperfect because liable to doubt. It is necessary to arrive at an objective and perfect reality, i.e., to prove the existence of God.

Descartes makes use of three arguments which can be summarized thus:

“Cogito” has given me a consciousness of my own limited and imperfect being. This proves that I have not given existence to myself, for in such a case I would have given myself a perfect nature and not the one I have, which is subject to doubt.
I have the idea of the perfect: If I did not possess it, I could never know that I am imperfect. Now, whence comes this idea of the perfect? Not from myself, for I am imperfect, and the perfect cannot arise from the imperfect. Hence it comes from a Perfect Being, that is, from God.

The very analysis of the idea of the perfect includes the existence of the perfect being, for just as the valley is included in the idea of a mountain, so also existence is included in the idea of the perfect. (the argument of St. Anselm). (See: Meditations on First Philosophy, V; Discourse on Method, IV.)

Regarding the nature of God, Descartes ascribes to it more or less the same attributes as does traditional Christian theistic thought. In Descartes, however, these attributes assume a different significance and value. God, above all, is absolute substance: the only substance, properly so-called (hence the way is open to the pantheism of Spinoza). An attribute which has great value for Descartes is the veracity of God.

God, the most perfect being, cannot be deceived and cannot deceive. Thus the veracity of God serves as a guarantee for the entire series of clear and distinct ideas. They are true because if they are not true, I, having proved the existence of God, would have to say that He is deceiving by creating a rational creature who is deceived even in the apprehension of clear and distinct ideas. Thus, with the proof of the existence of God, the hypothesis of a malignant genius falls of its own weight.

Regarding the origin of ideas, Descartes holds that the idea of God, all primitive notions, all logical, mathematical, moral principles, and so forth, are innate. God is the guarantee of the truth of these innate ideas. Alongside these innate ideas Descartes distinguishes two other groups of ideas:

  • the adventitious, which are derived from the senses; and
  • the fictitious, which are fashioned by the thinking subject out of the former.

Both groups are considered of little worth by Descartes because they do not enjoy the guarantee of the divine veracity, and hence are fonts of error. Only innate ideas and the rational deduction made from them have the value of truth. (See: Meditations on First Philosophy, III.)

Continued…

Original article: René Descartes

The Message of Lu-diĝira to His Mother

1-8. Royal courier, start the journey! I want to send you to Nibru — deliver this message! You are going on a long journey. My mother {is worried, she cannot sleep} {(1 ms. has instead:) is too (?) …… to sleep}. Although the way to {her} {(1 ms. has instead:) the closed} woman’s domain is blocked, deliver my letter of greeting into her hands, {as she keeps asking} {(1 ms. has instead:) and then she will not keep asking} the {travellers} {(1 ms. has instead:) wayfarers} about my well-being. Then my mother will be delighted, and will treat you most kindly (?) for it.

9-20. In case you should not recognise my mother, let me describe her to you. Her name is {Šat-Eštar} {(1 ms. has instead:Šimat-Eštar}, {…… by her words} {(some mss. have instead:) ……} ……. Her body, face and limbs, and outer appearance are ……. She is the fair goddess of her city-quarter. Her fate has been decided since the days of her youth. Single-handed she keeps in order the house of her father-in-law. She serves humbly before her divine mistress. She knows how to look after Inana’s place. She never disobeys the {orders} {(1 ms. has instead:) wishes} of the king. She is energetic and causes possessions to multiply. She is loving, gentle, and lively. By nature she is a lamb, sweet butter, honey, flowing ghee.

21-31. Let me give you another description of my mother: My mother is like the bright light {in the sky} {(1 ms. has instead:) on the horizon}, a doe on the hillsides. She is the morning star, {shining even at noon-time} {(1 ms. has instead:) providing plenty of light}. She is precious cornelian, a topaz from Marḫaši. She is the jewellery of a king’s brother, full of beauty. She is {a cylinder seal of nir stone, an ornament like the sun} {(1 ms. has instead:) a cornelian jewel, an ornamental drinking cup} {(1 ms. has instead:) a cornelian ……, an ornament of nir stone} {(1 ms. has instead:) a …… jewel, a beautiful drinking cup}. She is a bracelet of tin, a ring of antasura metal. She is a nugget of shining gold and silver, {but which is living and draws breath ……} {(1 ms. has instead:) …… and breathing} {(1 ms. has instead:) …… place ……}. She is an alabaster statuette of a protective goddess standing on a pedestal of lapis lazuli. She is {a polished rod of ivory} {(2 mss. have instead:) a living figurine (?)}, {with limbs full of beauty} {(1 ms. has instead:) ……} {(1 ms. has instead:) full of pleasure}.

32-39. Let me give you a third description of my mother: My mother is {rain from heaven} {(1 ms. has instead:) timely rain}, water for the finest seeds. She is a bountiful harvest of {fully-grown fine barley} {(1 ms. has instead:) ripe, exceedingly fine barley} {(1 ms. has instead:) heavenly ……} {(1 ms. has instead:) ripe maturity (?) ……}. She is a garden of {……} {(1 ms. has instead:) delights}, {full of laughter} {(1 ms. has instead:) filled with rejoicing}. She is a well-irrigated pine tree, {an adorned juniper} {(1 ms. has instead:) adorned with pine-cones}. She is early fruit, the {products} {(1 ms. has instead:) garden’s yield} of the first month. She is an irrigation ditch bringing fertilising water to the garden plots. She is a sweet Dilmun date, a prime date much sought after.

40-46. Let me give you a fourth description of my mother: My mother fills the festivals and offerings with joy. She is {an akitum offering} {(1 ms. has instead:) the akitum festival}, awesome (?) to look upon. She is the offspring, {the child} {(1 ms. has instead:) the daughter} of the king, a song of abundance. She is a place of entertainment set up for delights. {(1 ms. adds:) …… fruit …… abundance.} She is a lover, a loving heart who never becomes sated with pleasure. She is the good news that the captive will return {to his mother} {(1 ms. has instead:) to celebrate}.

47-52. Let me give you a fifth description of my mother: My mother is a palm-tree, with the sweetest fragrance. She is a chariot of juniper wood, a sedan chair of boxwood. She is {a fine cloth} {(1 ms. has instead:) a good ……} perfumed with refined oil. She is a bunch of grapes, a garland (?) {growing luxuriantly} {(1 ms. has instead:) perfect in luxuriant growth}. {She} {(1 ms. has instead:) My mother} is a phial made from an ostrich egg, {overflowing} {(1 ms. has instead:) full} with {finest} {(1 ms. has instead:) perfumed} oil. {(1 ms. adds:) She is a fair woman, accompanied by a protective goddess ……. She is a woman who will show you compassion like (?) Aruru, …… born …….}

53-54. {When, thanks to the descriptions I have given you, you stand in her (?) radiant presence, tell her: “Your beloved son Lu-diĝira is in good health.”} {(1 ms. has instead:) The descriptions I have given you describe (?) her (?) appearance. A most fair woman accompanied by many protective goddesses, she is my mother. Pay attention, …… joyfully ……: “Your beloved son Lu-diĝira is in good health ……”, tell her …….
1 line fragmentary}

Original article: Ludigira’s Message to His Mother

The 2nd Amendment

As the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reminds us there are many who would take away your life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness at the point of a knife or the barrel of a gun.

The Far Left reminds us they are also willing to take them away with a stroke of a pen.

All instruments become evil in the hands of evil men.

Sumerian Language

Sumerian Tablet

Context

Sumerian is a long-extinct language documented throughout the ancient Middle East, in particular in the south of modern Iraq. It is arguably the first language for which we have written evidence, the rival candidate being ancient Egyptian. This evidence is spread over more than 3,000 years, the first sources dating to the late fourth millennium BCE and the last to the first century AD. When Sumerian ceased to be spoken is difficult to determine; according to some estimates this took place during the early second millennium BCE. Afterwards it was an élite language, used only in royal, ritual and scholarly contexts, the first two of which often overlapped.

Sumerian is a language isolate, that is no languages related to it have so far been convincingly identified, although many of its grammatical features are attested in other living languages outside of the Indo-European family to which English belongs.

The other language for which we have extensive written evidence in the ancient Middle East is Akkadian. Being a Semitic language with modern counterparts, Akkadian is much better understood than Sumerian. Part of the evidence for both languages consists of lexical lists, some indicating how cuneiform signs were pronounced and others giving Akkadian equivalents to Sumerian words. Consequently, our reconstruction of the sounds and meanings of different cuneiform signs has been much influenced by our understanding of Akkadian. The word Sumerian is itself an anglicisation of an Akkadian term, Šumeru, the language’s users referring to it instead as Emegir, possibly meaning ‘native tongue’.

Inevitably uncertainties remain in our reconstruction of Sumerian. A further problem in describing the language is that it varied across both space and time. The following account aims to be no more than an introduction to some of Sumerian’s basic grammatical features, following the conventional hierarchy of its phonemes (smallest sound units), morphemes (smallest grammatical units), words, phrases (groups of related words without a finite verb) and clauses (groups of related words with a finite verb).

Phonemes

 Sumerian is thought to have had eight vowel sounds: short and long aei, and u . Vowel length is, however, not indicated in transliteration, that is the sign-by-sign representation of the cuneiform. (Throughout this introduction, italics are used to refer to Sumerian sounds, and bold to refer to signs.)

Fifteen consonants are usually recognised in transliterating the language: bdgĝ (as in sing),  (as in loch), klmnprsš (as in ship), t and z.

Two adjacent vowels typically contract. For various reasons, including instances in which such contraction does not occur, Sumerian has been argued to have further, weak, consonants, in particular hy and  (a glottal stop). These are again not specified in transliteration.

In addition, an early stage of the language is thought to have had a further consonant whose identity remains uncertain. In the period of the corpus this consonant appears to have merged in some contexts with d and in others with r, or sometimes simply to have been dropped.

The other consonants found in the corpus (and in the sign list) occur in non-Sumerian names. All of these alphabetic representations need to be regarded as approximations.

Morphemes

 The term morpheme is used to refer to the smallest grammatical units in a language. Most linguists distinguish between bases and affixes, an English example being runs in which run is a base and s is an affix. As this example indicates a base morpheme can correspond to the higher grammatical category of the word.

Many linguists also recognise a class of morphemes, referred to as clitics, which are indeterminate on a continuum between affixes and words, English examples being ‘m in I’m and ‘s in the man’s dog. The term bound morpheme is then used to include both affixes and clitics. One criterion for identifying a clitic is that it is indifferent to the class of the word to which it attaches, as in, for example, the man’s dog , the man who was running’s dog and the man who was shouting loudly’s dog. A further characteristic of ‘s is that it is always phrase-final, that is it always occurs at the end of a noun phrase.

Unsurprisingly the grammatical function of an affix in one language can be performed by a clitic or word in another, some of the functions of the English preposition to, for example, being performed by a dative affix in Latin. In Sumerian the functional equivalents to prepositions (and postpositions in some other languages) are referred to as case markers. Like English ‘s they are always phrase-final and are indifferent to the class of the word to which they are attached. They are thus also classifiable as clitics, or more precisely as enclitics, indicating that they lean backwards onto their host, the word to which they are phonologically bound.

The plural of certain nouns in Sumerian is indicated by a morpheme, called a plural marker, which also behaves in a similar way. The principal other enclitics in the language are the determiners, morphemes which modify a noun and typically also have a corresponding pronominal form (an English example being that which is a determiner in that book but a pronoun in give me that ). In addition, as in English the verb me ‘to be’ occurs both as a word and in enclitic forms.

In the transliteration conventions followed by the corpus most enclitics are preceded by a hyphen linking them to their host. The exceptions are the demonstrative and indefinite determiners, although bi, which functions both as a demonstrative (‘this’) and as a possessive (‘its, their’), is preceded by a hyphen in both functions.

Because so many bound morphemes are enclitics, rather than affixes as in a language like Latin, morphological change in most Sumerian word classes is limited. Many word classes are morphologically invariant, and for nouns and adjectives variation is restricted to base-reduplication. Verbs are the striking exception: these can occur in highly complex affixed forms which also feature base-reduplication.

Word Classes

 The minor word classes in Sumerian are numbers, conjunctions, interjections, adverbs, adjectives and circumpositions (functional equivalents to such complex English prepositions as behind and in front of ), as well as related sets of pronouns (personal, demonstrative, indefinite, interrogative and reflexive) and determiners (possessive, demonstrative and an indefinite). Unlike English, Sumerian has no definite or indefinite article. The primary word classes are nouns and verbs.

Nouns

Sumerian nouns can be subcategorized into two classes on the basis of gender, the distinction being between human nouns (referring to people and deities) and non-human nouns (referring to animals and inanimates). This is a semantically based distinction to which there are some socially conditioned exceptions, saĝ ‘slave’, for example, sometimes being construed as a non-human noun. In addition, animals and inanimates can be personified in literary compositions and thus construed as human nouns.

This gender distinction is only morphologically apparent in most parts of the language’s third person pronominal system (first and second person reference necessarily being solely human). It is also syntactically apparent in restrictions on how the case markers and the plural marker are used.

Only a noun phrase whose head (grammatically dominant word) is a human noun can contain a plural marker, non-human nouns consequently being indeterminate in terms of number. However, this plural marker appears to have an individualising force and if reference is to a group of people or deities it is omitted, that is the noun is construed as if it were non-human. This is particularly the case for nouns with a group meaning, such as erin2 ‘troop’. Similarly non-human pronominal morphemes can be used to refer to groups of people or deities. (As far as we can judge some Sumerian signs were pronounced in the same way. The subscript numeral in the earlier example is a modern convention to associate a sound sequence with a particular sign. So, for example, du, a form of the verb ‘to go’, was written with the sign referred to as DU, while du3 ‘to erect’ was written with the sign referred to as KAK.)

While the plural marker is restricted to human nouns, base-reduplication occurs in both classes of noun, appearing to express a form of totality (all).

Along with verbs, nouns are the principal open word class, that is the class of word most likely to form new members. New nouns are primarily formed by compounding, such as dub-sar ‘scribe’ (literally ‘(someone) tablet writing’).

Verbs

 A particular characteristic of verbs is their ability to distinguish tense and/or aspect, that is to locate an action in time or to express its quality in some way. They can be subcategorised in terms of their semantics, syntactic requirements and regularity. In addition, they have different finite and non-finite forms.

Reconstructing the tense and/or aspect system of Sumerian verbs is difficult. Most scholars agree that the primary distinction is between a completed and an uncompleted action, but differ as to whether this reflects a distinction of tense (past versus non-past) or of aspect (completive versus incompletive). Many scholars have therefore adopted instead two terms used by Akkadian grammarians, ḫamṭu (‘quick’) and marû (‘fat’) respectively. For the sake of convenience, in this introduction the primary distinction is assumed to be aspectual.

In intransitive finite verbal forms, that is those without a direct object, completive aspect is unmarked while incompletive aspect is indicated by the suffix ed immediately after the base. In languages like Latin, a person-number-gender (PNG) suffix is used to express in pronominal form the subject of the verb (as in am+o ‘I love’, am+as ‘you love’ etc.). The same applies to Sumerian intransitive verbs, the PNG suffix following ed in the case of incompletive forms.

Sumerian extends this principle to also marking the direct object in transitive verbal forms. In such verbs it is the distribution and form of these subject and direct object morphemes (consisting of prefixes to the base, suffixes after the base and some circumfixes on either side of the base) that serve to express the aspectual distinction.

The difference between finite and non-finite verbal forms is partly morphological, the latter having far fewer morphemes than the former. Among the morphemes excluded from Sumerian non-finite forms are PNG affixes, the aspectual distinction being expressed instead with an aspect suffix. Non-finite forms are more nuanced and have stronger temporal connotations than finite forms, distinguishing between completive (marked with a and having past reference), habitual (zero-marked (Ø) and having present reference), and incompletive (marked with ed(a) and having non-past reference). The only other affix non-finite forms can have is a prefix nu expressing negation. The non-finite forms function as verbal adjectives (participles) and nouns (gerunds), and in non-finite relative and adverbial clauses (for example, of purpose and time).

In terms of semantics Sumerian verbs can be divided into two classes, stative verbs that refer to persisting states or situations, such as pel ‘to be defiled’, and dynamic verbs which refer to an action or process, such as ra ‘to beat’. In the same way as English stative verbs are excluded from progressive aspect (I am knowing Sumerian, for example, being an unacceptable clause), Sumerian stative verbs are excluded from incompletive aspect. Consequently only context indicates whether they have past or non-past reference. In non-finite verbal forms the distribution of stative verbs appears to be syntactic, intransitive verbs occurring in completive aspect and transitive ones in habitual aspect. All verbs can have reduplicated bases: in stative instances this expresses intensity, and in dynamic instances iterativity.

However, this semantic distinction is less of one of classes and more one of usages, some verbs occurring in both classes. For example, pel can also be used dynamically to mean ‘to make something be defiled’, that is ‘to defile’ something, in which meaning it can occur in incompletive aspect.

In terms of syntactic requirements Sumerian verbs can be divided into four principal classes: intransitive verbs which require no object, such as 2 ‘to die’; extended intransitive verbs which require a non-direct object, such as kur9 ‘to enter’ into a place; transitive verbs which require only a direct object, such as du3 ‘to erect’ something; and, finally, extended transitive verbs which require both a direct and a non-direct object, such as ĝar ‘to place’ something on something.

Again, however, this is more a distinction in usages rather than classes, some verbs occurring both intransitively and transitively. For example, 2 can be used transitively with the meaning ‘to kill’ (‘to make someone die’).

This ability of a verb to determine its syntactic environment is sometimes referred to as its valency, and the non-direct object as a complement, as distinct from an adjunct, a phrase that can be easily deleted from a clause (in London being a complement in he lives in London but an adjunct in he bought a house in London).

A further syntactic class has only one member, me ‘to be’. While the English verb to be has both a copular (linking) and a locational function, me has only a copular function, location being expressed instead by the verb ĝal2. Sumerian me conjugates like an intransitive stative verb and consequently is never found in incompletive forms. It differs, however, in that it always requires what is referred to as a predicative complement, such as a noun or an adjective, which refers back to the subject of the verb (as in he is the king and he is handsome). The copular verb occurs both as a word and as an enclitic attached to its predicative complement. It also has various abbreviated forms, such as the third-person negative nu, which are arguably also enclitics.

In terms of regularity Sumerian verbs can be divided into four classes: regular verbs (the majority) which have the same base regardless of aspect and/or number (such as ra ‘to beat’); suppletive verbs which have a different base depending on aspect and/or number (such as singular tuš ‘to sit’ but plural durun); reduplicating verbs which have a (partly) reduplicated base in incompletive aspect (such as completive and habitual ĝar ‘to place’ but incompletive ĝa2-ĝa2); and a small class of extending verbs which have a base extended with a consonant in incompletive aspect (such as completive and habitual te ‘to approach’ but incompletive teĝ3).

Expansion of the class of verbs is primarily by multiword constructions in which a nominal element and a verb combine in a semantic unit. The nominal element is typically a noun, in particular a body-part, functioning as the verb’s direct object. These multiword constructions can be divided into two types. In one the verb is dug4 ‘to say’ or ak ‘to do’ and the semantic load is carried by the nominal element, an example being šu dug4 ‘to tend’ (literally ‘to express the hand’, although the Sumerian word order is the reverse of the English). A wider range of verbs occurs in the other subclass and the semantic load is more evenly spread, an example being ĝiš tag ‘to sacrifice’ something (literally ‘to touch wood’ to something, again in the reverse order). The high incidence of multiword constructions in Sumerian means that it has many more non-direct objects than a language such as English.

Noun Phrases

 At the level of the noun phrase Sumerian is left-headed, that is the noun which is the head of the phrase occurs at its beginning. In outline the sequence is noun, modifier(s), determiner, plural marker and then case marker. However, a few adjectives, kug ‘shining’ and gal ‘big’, sometimes precede the noun. The plural marker only occurs in a phrase with a human noun as its head. And the indefinite and most demonstrative determiners do not occur with modifiers.

Like English ‘s the case markers are always phrase-final. And in the same way that ‘s is sometimes called a genitive, they are referred to with the same types of label as are used for case affixes in other languages. The case markers can be divided into three groups. All except one typically indicate the syntactic role which a phrase plays in relation to a verb in a clause, consequently being described as adverbal. Those adverbal case-markers that are functionally equivalent to English prepositions can be termed non-core and those that mark the subject and any direct object of the verb as core. The final case marker, the genitive, is adnominal only, that is it functions only to indicate a relationship between noun phrases.

Non-Core Adverbal Case Markers

 The non-core adverbal case markers include the ablative (ta ‘from’), allative (še ‘to(wards)’), comitative (da ‘with’), dative (ra, ‘to/for’; restricted to phrases with a human noun as the head), directive (e ‘in(to) contact with’; restricted to phrases with a non-human noun as the head), and locative (a ‘in(to)’; again restricted to phrases with a non-human noun as the head). These case markers occur at the end of phrases that can be complements or adjuncts, depending on the valency of the verb in the clause. A similar but more nuanced set of morphemes is incorporated in finite verbal forms.

Two further non-core adverbal case markers are only used to express adjuncts and have no equivalent morpheme in finite verbs, the adverbiative (‘in the manner of’) and the similative (gin ‘like’).

Core Adverbal Case Markers

 The two final adverbal case markers have a more grammatical, core function. Most languages have a strategy for distinguishing the subject of a transitive verb from its direct object. In English this is done mainly by word order, although a case system still operates in pronouns (he hates him). This distinction made, different languages mark the subject of an intransitive verb in different ways. In English both subjects are marked in the same way (he runs). This is referred to as nominative-accusative alignment. However, in Sumerian noun phrases the subject of an intransitive verb is marked in the same way as the direct object of a transitive verb. This is referred to as ergative-absolutive alignment, the subject of a Sumerian transitive verb being marked by an ergative case marker e (morphologically the same as the directive from which it possibly derives), and the intransitive subject and transitive direct object being zero-marked with what is termed the absolutive case marker.

However, ergative-absolutive alignment applies only in noun phrases which have a noun as their head. Noun phrases with a personal pronoun as their head can be regarded as nominative-accusative in alignment because they have the same zero case marking regardless of the transitivity of the verb whose subject they are. Sumerian is thus one of many languages which have a syntactic split determined by the class of the word functioning as the head of the noun phrase.

Adnominal Case Marker

 The genitive case marker, ak ‘of’, is adnominal only and consequently also has no equivalent morpheme in finite verbal forms. Typically a genitive noun phrase occurs embedded within another noun phrase ending with an adverbal case marker:

itid šu-numun-a-ka
itid šu-numun=ak=a
month Šu-numun=GEN=LOC
‘in the month of Šu-numun’
 

As this example indicates there is not always a one-one correspondence in the writing system between bound morpheme and sign, the genitive ak here being written across two signs, and the locative a as part of one sign. (The abbreviations used in the morphemic analysis of the Sumerian are explained at the end of this introduction.)

However, in the same way as an English direct object can be shifted to the beginning of a clause and its original position marked by a pronoun (snakes, I hate them), so too can a Sumerian genitive noun phrase be front-shifted, a possessive determiner then marking its original position

e2-a ni2 gal-bi
e=ak ni gal=bi=Ø
temple=GEN awesomeness great=3NHUM.POSS=ABS
‘the great awesomeness of the temple’
(literally ‘of the temple its great awesomeness’)

In this example a is the reduced form of the genitive that occurs when it is not followed by a vowel. Because the genitive is the only solely adnominal case marker its semantic field covers much more than possession, also being used, for example, to express a location:

bad3 iri kug-ga-ka-ni
bad iri kug=ak=ani=Ø
wall city holy=GEN=3HUM.SG.POSS=ABS
‘her wall in the Holy City’

This example indicates another characteristic of the writing system, the g which precedes the genitive arguably having no phonological significance but simply being a graphic resumption of the preceding consonant.

Clauses

 At the level of the clause Sumerian is right-headed, that is the verb which is the head of the clause occurs at its end, the typical sequence being subject, object and then verb. However, because a finite verbal form includes PNG affixes expressing in pronominal form the core functions of the subject and any direct object of a verb, a Sumerian clause can consist of only a finite verb.

Clause Structure

 In addition to the core PNG affixes, a finite verbal form can include further prefixes expressing a complement or an adjunct of a verb in pronominal form. These morphemes consist of a set of non-core PNG prefixes and a set of ‘case’ prefixes that are related to the non-core case markers. Just as a case marker follows a noun in a noun phrase, so the ‘case’ prefixes are postpositional to the PNG prefix. More than one ‘case’ prefix can occur in a finite verbal form, but only the first can be preceded by a PNG prefix. There are, however, some restrictions on the occurrence of the non-core PNG prefix:

ba-ra-an-e3-en
ba-ra-n-e-en
MID-ABL-3HUM.SG.S-go out-1HUM.SG.DO
he drove me out of it

In this example a further prefix, ba (whose functions are described in more detail below), excludes the presence of a non-human PNG prefix before the ablative ra (its form after a vowel, being ta after a consonant).

A clause of this type can be expanded to include noun phrases:

agrig-ge e2-ta ba-ra-an-e3-en
agrig=e e=ta ba-ra-n-e-en
steward=ERG house=ABL MID-ABL-3HUM.SG.S-go out-1HUM.SG.DO
‘the steward drove me out of the house’

In an expanded clause the core PNG affixes are always retained in the verb. The non-core PNG prefix and ‘case’ prefixes are, however, sometimes omitted.

The further prefixes possible in a finite verbal form include middle ba, ventive m(u) and a vowel-initial prefix. In outline a finite verb can consequently have the following structure: vowel, ventive, middle, non-core PNG, ‘case(s)’, core PNG, (reduplicated) base, aspect, core PNG.

The middle prefix ba is a single morpheme which is ambiguous with a sequence of two morphemes from which it arguably derives, that is the non-core non-human PNG prefix b (‘it, them’) and the dative prefix a(‘to’). If the argument is correct, it helps to explain the absence of the non-core non-human PNG prefix in the previous examples, the etymology of the middle prefix excluding repetition of one of the prefixes from which it derives. Middle ba can, however, be followed by a non-core human PNG prefix.

The middle prefix is restricted to completive aspect. Its range of functions, some of which remain unclear, is broader than the conventional term middle suggests.

With stative verbs it has an inchoative function, that is it expresses the coming into existence of a state: ba-an-tuku ‘he married her’ (literally ‘he came to have her’). In this and the following examples both the third person transitive direct object and the third person intransitive subject are zero-marked in the verb, a further example of ergative-absolutive alignment in Sumerian.

With dynamic verbs ba is used in particular when the subject of the verb is affected by the action of the verb. Consequently it functions as an invariant reflexive indicating that the endpoint of the verb’s action is the same entity as the subject of the verb: ba-an-zuḫ ‘he stole it (for himself)’. By extension it was also used to form the equivalent to the English middle voice in which the subject of the verb no longer has an agentive role but continues to be affected by the action of the verb: ud ba-bur2 ‘the weather improved’. Expressing such agent-less or spontaneous events is often referred to as an anticausative function (although in the external world this type of event obviously does have a cause). The functional range of ba was extended still further to include forming the equivalent to the English passive, that is to non-spontaneous events which consequently do have an implied agent: ba-ḫul ‘it was destroyed’.

The ventive (or cislocative) prefix m(u) has a more restricted range of functions. It can be regarded as orienting a verb towards the speaker or narrator and can occur in both completive and incompletive aspects.

The vowel-initial prefixes are i and a(l). The former has no semantic function but is used with dynamic verbs before two consonants, and before an otherwise unprefixed verbal base or core PNG prefix; a(l)performs a similar function with stative verbs.

However, a(l) is also used with dynamic verbs, in which occurrences it has a semantic function. In completive aspect this includes expressing a statal passive: al-du3 ‘it is built’. In incompletive aspect its functions possibly include expressing a habitual action:

šag4-ga-ni ab-ḫul2-le-en6
šag=ani=Ø a-b-ḫul-en
heart=3HUM.SG.POSS=ABS STAT-3NHUM.DO-be happy-1HUM.SG.S
‘I will (habitually) make his heart happy’

However, this still leaves many incompletive instances of a(l) unaccounted for.

Clause Type

 Clauses can be analysed in terms of their status, the basic distinction being between main clauses which can stand on their own and subordinate clauses which can’t, and also in terms of their contribution to what is termed discourse function. That is, whether they make a statement or express a question.

Most Sumerian clauses simply make a statement and, like the English indicative, are zero-marked. However, the same applies to closed questions, that is ones requiring only a yes or no answer, the implication being that they were signalled with a change in intonation (compare you’re going out?). Open questions are signalled by an interrogative pronoun (such as a-na ‘what?’) or adverb (such as me-še3 ‘where?’).

More complex types of discourse function, such as commands, prohibitions and wishes, are expressed primarily by morphological changes to the finite verb. In most cases a verb-initial prefix is added. However, for second-person positive commands the imperative is used in which what are prefixes in other verbal forms are instead suffixes (compare dites-le-moi ‘tell it to me’). This is regarded as untypical behaviour for affixes and raises some doubt about where on the continuum between clitics and affixes these bound morphemes lie. Another characteristic of the imperative is that it deletes both the singular intransitive and transitive subject. It can therefore be regarded as a further example of nominative-accusative alignment in Sumerian.

These verb-initial prefixes themselves lie on a different type of continuum, one between signalling a change in verbal mood and connecting clauses. In some contexts, the prefix ḫu, for example, has a clear modal function:

ḫu-mu-na-ab-šum2-mu
ḫu-mu-n-a-b-šum-u
MOD-VENT-3HUM.SG-DAT-3NHUM.DO-give-3HUM.SG.S
‘he should give it to him’

In other contexts, it combines modality with clause-connection, forming a type of conditional, and subordinate, clause (compare the English conditional subjunctive should he give it to him, he will suffer). Other verb-initial prefixes have a more straightforward connective function, u, for example, indicating that the action expressed by its verb precedes the action expressed by the verb that follows, and thus being translatable with the English subordinating conjunction after.

Sumerian also has the three more conventional types of subordinate clause: relative clauses which modify a noun and thus occur within the noun phrase; nominal clauses which can function as, for example, the subject of a verb; and adjunct (or adverbial) clauses which are subordinate to a main clause and have, for example, a causal or a temporal function.

In English the first two of these types can be signaled by a subordinator, that , and the third by a subordinating conjunction, such as before. The functional equivalent in Sumerian to the subordinator is a verb-final suffix a. Analysis of adjunct clauses is, however, less straightforward. Sumerian has very few simple subordinating conjunctions. More often a complex construction is used which begins with a noun and ends with a case marker, the suffix a again being bound to the verb. For example, eĝer …-ta, literally ‘from the back that something had happened’, can be translated as after. A less literal analysis is that in such constructions the noun has been bleached of its lexical content and combines with the case marker to form a complex subordinating conjunction.

Abbreviations

1 first person
3 third person
ABL ablative
ABS absolutive
DO direct object
ERG ergative
GEN genitive
HUM human in gender
LOC locative
MID middle
MOD modal
NHUM non-human in gender
POSS possessive
S subject
SG singular
STAT stative

 

The Change

eye

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

1 Corinthians 2:9

Allow me to paraphrase:

No man has ever seen, or ever heard, or ever imagined in his wildest dreams those things God has prepared for His children.

Many people confuse the prophecies of the Bible with mere poetry simply because they lack the imagination to see them as mechanical statements.

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Isaiah 46:10

If you had told someone in the 1st century that Man will one day fly through the sky across the world, even to the moon and beyond, he would have scoffed at you, believing that you were selling allegory or a child’s fable.

Why? Because he lacked the imagination and future engineering to conceive of your claim, let alone embrace it.

Of all the Free Will operating in the world, the entity we crudely refer to as “God” has the lion’s share of it.

Of course, the problem with 1 Corinthians 2:9 is the opposite is also true:

No one can conceive of what Hell is truly like: it is beyond anguish.

The so-called “Problem of Evil” doesn’t even exist. It is only a stumbling block that unbelievers concocted to trip up other unbelievers and only the skeptic is tricked by it.

After the 21st chapter of Revelation, there is no “problem of evil”.