Philosophical Problems with Centered Set Thinking

Centered Set Thinking Problems – So, we are not really supposed to view others as “others”, but they are simply closer or farther from any particular point than we are.  This is not a bad goal in and of itself, however, in reality there truly are people who have views that are so far apart that any meaningful discussion is impossible.  When you take this view to the extreme, what we are left with is humanity that has NO convictions, we have negated them or blurred all the lines so that no one really believes in anything, just some generalized “what is best for humanity” belief.  Examples of this are the Ecumenical Councils on Inter-Faith dialog.  Sounds good, except that the only way you can truly have this discussion is to discard some of your beliefs in order to have dialog.  I speak of this from experience – when I attended the ELCA Seminary in Chicago we went to a Mosque to have an inter-faith dialog.  We not only talked but were able to take part in a worship service.  We were asked to participate which meant bowing down toward Mecca and saying or listening to the leader say that their god was the only god and there is no other.  Most of the people did this, but I did not.  This would be a direct violation of my beliefs.

Centered Set Thinking would say that it is not wrong because they are simply farther from my beliefs, but in Bounded Set Thinking they are apart from me.  This is the downfall of taking a Centered Set Thinking approach to philosophy and religion, unless you are a Universalists that believes we are all going to heaven irregardless of what we believe or do.

I also believe that the only way Centered Set Thinking actually works intellectually, is you must start with a belief that there are not absolute right and wrong or good and evil.  If so, then we are truly just so many dots of faith and belief on an endless and meaningless medium that has no cosmic or moral compass.  If you walk far enough west in the United States you will eventually walk off the continent and will no longer be a point in the US.  The same holds true for faith.  If you walk far enough away you are no longer within the Bounded Set of Orthodoxy of any faith.


5 thoughts on “Philosophical Problems with Centered Set Thinking

  1. Interesting reflections on Centered Set thinking. If I may be honest, I don’t think you’re logic is quite right here, though. Partially, it may be informed by still viewing Centered Set from a Bounded Set position. If I might share my take on things you’ve expressed, here’s what I’d point out …

    I’m deeply Aristotelian in my approach to life. I believe the life of virtue is found in living in the mean between extremes. So I’m not sure our objective should be to take Centered Set to the extreme, though I understand you are seeking to make a point. About that point (that we would arrive at a place of having NO convictions), however, I would have to say that I think you are mistaking Centered Set thinking for relativism. I do not think they are the same thing, nor do they need to be. The very notion of Centered Set upholds the ideal that there is fact an actual Center we should all be aiming at (so the law of noncontradiction is actually upheld here). So when you say that Centered Set would not suggest something is wrong, I feel like you may have misunderstand Centered Set, if I may be so bold.

    In your story about visiting the Mosque, I would suggest that you in fact can still seek to approach things from a Centered Set perspective and do exactly what you did. If Jesus is that center, as I believe him to be, than every situation I am in is something I try to examine and as this question of: does this move me closer or further away from Jesus. So in that situation you mentioned of going to the Mosque, I believe you can both be Centered Set in thinking and also sense that engaging in worship practices of another religious group likely do not help you move closer to Jesus. And therefore, it makes sense to me why you might abstain from participation.

    The point of Center Set, as I approach it at least, is that even in that scenario at the Mosque, I would suggest that the practicing Muslims you were there with are still ultimately part of the “us” that is humanity. That it is not helpful, even in this situation, to view these individuals as “them” or completely separate from us. This is not to say that my theological position may not differ significantly from their own. However, I never stop seeing each person as someone who is on a spiritual journey and whose arrow (or arrows, as I hold to a more multi-arrowed view of Centered Set) might point more towards Jesus at any time.

    Again, I would simply point out that Centered Set does not equal relativism. In fact, but it’s very nature it can’t equal relativism. After all, true relativism would have center and would simply ask, “Is your arrow pointing?” But pointing at what? The point in relativism would be simply that your arrow points … at whatever, not what it points at. But Centered Set still fully holds to the notion that there is fact a center: Jesus. After all, we are either moving closer to that center or we are not (law of noncontradiction again), but we cannot simultaneously be moving closer to the center and further away from the center at any one given moment.

    Those are my thoughts at least, and why I find value in Centered Set thinking.

    • I see your point on Centered Set and realativism, and agree in the context you used. To clarify what I was attempting to say – if, as some have done such as Interfaith councils, you simply say that Centered Set means that each one of us are our own center and everyone else is either closer or farther and either moving toward or away from our position but that there is not a true Center. This is where Centered Set is realativistic, right? It would say that each of us has a center and each of those center points are just as valid as the others. This logically leads to a belief that there is no ultimate truth or good and evil.

      Now, if you define Centered Set as a belief that Christ is the center and people are closer/farther and approaching/departing from the center, I then believe that this type of thinking is indeed a powerful means of helping others come closer to Christ. It would enable us to reach out to anyone and not be blinded by a wall that we have constructed that essentially keeps them out.

      How does that sound, Mikel?

      • That sounds spot on! I agree with you. I think the problem is when Centered Set is combined with relativism, which as I pointed out, is contradictory to the Centered Set idea that there is an actual true center we would be better off by aiming at. So ideologically, I would differentiate the two ideas as not synonymous, though some people may try to combine the two.

        As for me … your second paragraph directly above describes perfectly my view of Centered Set.

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