Welcome to the latest incarnation of Maverick Philosopher. This post will remain at the top of the queue to give new and some old readers an idea of what this site is and isn't, what goes on here, and what is not permitted to go on here. Like the site itself, this introductory page is under permanent construction and reconstruction. It will take shape bit by bit over the coming weeks and months.
1. Why 'Maverick Philosopher'? Since I am a philosopher and what is done here is mainly philosophy, it is appropriate that 'philosopher' be in the title. As for 'maverick,' this word derives from the name of the Texas lawyer Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870) who for a time was a rancher who ran cattle that bore no brand. These unbranded animals of his came to be known as mavericks. The term was then extended to cover any unbranded stock and later any person who holds himself aloof from the herd, bears no 'brand,' resists classification, strives to be independent in his thinking or mode of living, is religiously or politically unaffiliated, and the like. (Cf. Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, p. 473.)
I like food. From the time that I was in the food and beverage industry, I found much of it a delight. There was a beauty to the craftsmanship of creating and serving food and drink. One of my very favorite things to do is to cook a fine meal paired with a great beer and see my wife enjoy both. I consider myself a novice in cooking, so I like to browse through cook books and food magazines. On my breaks from my academic reading, I like to watch videos about food and cooking. So then came a question to my mind: What distinguishes me from the glutton?
I have always been a slim man, so I'm clearly not physically gluttonous. But is that what really constitutes gluttony? Would it not rather be the undue preoccupation of food and its enjoyment that would make one a glutton? Where do you think the balance lies in enjoying food and the sensations it brings because the Lord has made creation and made it good and we can partake of it without being gluttonous?
Being of Italian extraction, I am also attracted to the pleasures of the table. I too like food and I like cooking. I can't quite relate to people who wolf their food without savoring it or think of eating as a chore. And it surprises me that so many men (and contemporary women!) are clueless when it comes to the most basic culinary arts. You can change a tire or fix a toilet but you can't make a meatloaf? I had a housemate once who literally didn't know how to boil water.
Let me begin with the reader's claim that being slim rules out being physically gluttonous. I don't think that is the case. But it depends on what physical gluttony is. Spiritual gluttony, the pursuit for their own sakes of the quasi-sensuous pleasures of prayer and meditation, is not our present topic. Our topic is physical gluttony, or gluttony for short. It is perhaps obvious that the physicality of physical gluttony does not rule out its being a spiritual/moral defect. But what is gluttony?
Gluttony is a vice, and therefore a habit. (Prandial overindulgence now and again does not a glutton make.) At a first approximation, gluttony is the habitual inordinate consumption of food or drink. But if 'inordinate' means 'quantitatively excessive,' then this definition is inadequate. Suppose a man eats an excessive quantity of food and then vomits it up in order to eat some more. Has he consumed the first portion of food? Arguably not. But he is a glutton nonetheless. To consume food is to process it through the gastrointestinal tract, extracting its nutrients, and reducing it to waste matter. So I tentatively suggest the following (inclusively) disjunctive definition:
D1. Gluttony is either the habitual, quantitatively excessive consumption of food or drink, or the habitual pursuit for their own sakes of the pleasures of eating or drinking, or indeed any habitual overconcern with food, its preparation, its enjoyment, etc.
If (D1) is our definition of guttony, then being slim does not rule out being gluttonous. This is also perhaps obvious from the fact that gluttony has not merely to do with the quantity of food eaten but with other factors as well. The following from Wikipedia:
Laute - eating food that is too luxurious, exotic, or costly
Nimis - eating food that is excessive in quantity
Studiose - eating food that is too daintily or elaborately prepared
Praepropere - eating too soon, or at an inappropriate time
Ardenter - eating too eagerly.
I think it is clear that one can be a glutton even if one never eats an excessive quantity of food. The 'foody' who fusses and frets over the freshness and variety of his vegetables, wasting a morning in quest thereof, who worries about the 'virginity' of the olive oil, the presentation of the delectables on the plate, the proper wine for which course, the appropriate pre- and post-prandial liqueurs, who dissertates on the advantages of cooking with gas over electric . . . is a glutton.
There are skinny gluttons and fat gluttons, and not every one who is obese is a glutton, though most are.
In short, gluttony is the inordinate consumption of, and concern for, food and drink, where 'inordinate' does not mean merely 'quantitatively excessive.' It is also worth pointing out that there is nothing gluttonous about enjoying food: there is nothing morally wrong with enjoying the pleasures attendant upon eating nutritious well-prepared food in the proper quantities.
In these politically correct times we hear much of racism, sexism, ageism, speciesism, and even heterosexism. Why not then epochism, the arbitrary denigration of entire historical epochs? Some years back, a television commentator referred to the Islamist beheading of Nicholas Berg as “medieval.” As I remarked to my wife, “That fellow is slamming an entire historical epoch.”
The names of the other epochs are free of pejorative connotations even though horrors occurred in those epochs the equal of any in the medieval period. Why then are the Middle Ages singled out for special treatment? This is no mean chunk of time. It stretches from, say, the birth of Augustine in 354 anno domini , or perhaps from the closing of the Platonic Academy in 529 A. D., to the birth of Descartes in 1596, albeit with plenty of bleed-through on either end: Greek notions reach deep into the Middle Ages, while medieval notions live on in Descartes and beyond.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) counts as an epochist. When he comes to the medieval period in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, he puts on his “seven-league boots” the better to pass over this thousand year period without sullying his fine trousers. (Vol. III, 1) Summing up the “General Standpoint of the Scholastics,” he has this to say: “...this Scholasticism on the whole is a barbarous philosophy of the finite understanding, without real content, which awakens no true interest in us, and to which we cannot return.” “Barren,” and “rubbishy” are other terms with which he describes it. (Vol. III, 94-95)
The politically correct may wish to consider whether the descendants of Hegel should pay reparations to the descendants of Thomas Aquinas, et al.
If Aquinas had any descendants, you’d owe them reparations for slandering his good name at the end of your post. (Then again, if he had descendants, it wouldn’t have been slander.)
I know: you mean philosophical progeny. It’s a funny question though, about reparations. I kind of like the idea of having postmodern “philosophers” having to pay a sum to (actual) philosophers for having taken so many of their jobs since the 1980s.
That's a good one, Dennis. As you may know, I don't much cotton to the notion of reparations, one of my arguments against which is here. (WARNING: at the end of the hyperlink there lies (stands?) a post so exceedingly politically incorrect that leftists and their fellow travellers are hereby issued a strong Internet travel advisory.)
Addendum B, 9/17:
The Swabian genius tells us that "Scholasticism . . . is a barbarous philosophy . . . to which we cannot return."
Judgments in the history of philosophy of the form, There will be no return to X, are parlous.
There was an amazing resurgence of scholasticism, Thomism in particular, in the 20th century, and not just in sleepy Jesuit backwaters. Toward the end of that century, mirabile dictu, mainstream analytic philosophers joined in the renascence. Surely there are more scholastic philosophers at work today than Hegelians, especially if we subtract those whose interest in Hegel is merely historical and scholarly. I'll go further. The School is alive and kicking with young hotshots; but how many proponents of The System are there?
Gilbert Ryle once predicted with absurd confidence, "Gegenstandstheorie . . . is dead, buried, and not going to be resurrected." (Quoted in G. Priest, Towards Non-Being, Oxford, 2005, p. vi, n. 1.) Ryle was wrong, dead wrong, and shown to be wrong just a few years after his cocky prediction. Variations on Meinong's Theory of Objects flourish like never before due to the efforts of such brilliant philosophers as Butchvarov, Castaneda, Lambert, Parsons, Priest, Routley/Sylvan, and Zalta, just to mention those that come first to mind. And the Rylean cockiness has had an ironic upshot: his logical behaviorism is dead while Meinongianism thrives. But Ryle too will be raised if my converse-Gilsonian law of philosophical experience holds.
Etienne Gilson said, famously, "Philosophy always buries its undertakers." I say, rather less famously, "Philosophy always resurrects its dead."
With the example of Ryle in mind, we should approach the following quotation from Paul Guyer with some skepticism:
Kant radically and irreversibly transformed the nature of Western thought. After he wrote, no one could ever again think of either science or morality as a matter of the passive reception of entirely external truth or reality. In reflection upon the methods of science, as well as in many particular areas of science itself, the recognition of our own input into the world we claim to know has become inescapable. In the practical sphere, few can any longer take seriously the idea that moral reasoning consists in the discovery of external norms—for instance, objective perfections in the world or the will of God—as opposed to the construction for ourselves of the most rational way to conduct our lives both severally and jointly. (Paul Guyer, "Introduction: The Starry Heavens and the Moral Law," in The Cambridge Companion to Kant, ed. Paul Guyer [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992], 1-25, at 3)
Guyer quotation lifted from the weblog of Keith Burgess-Jackson.
Addendum C, 9/17:
A quotation from Russell that the shade of Hegel would approve of:
There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. (Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, Simon and Schuster, p. 463)
I will comment on this passage and its spirit in a later entry.
Addendum D, 9/18:
D. M. adds, "Anthony Kenny had a nice quip in reply to the Russell quote. On page 2 of his edited work Aquinas, A Collection of Critical Essays (London, 1969) (cited in Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 19), he says that the remark “comes oddly from a philosopher who took three hundred and sixty dense pages to offer a proof that 1 + 1 = 2.”
Thank you for reminding me of that Kenny riposte. It hits the mark.
It is certainly false to say that, in general, it is unphilosophical or special pleading or an abuse of reason to seek arguments for a proposition antecedently accepted, a proposition the continuing acceptance of which does not depend on whether or not good arguments for it can be produced. But if we are to be charitable to Lord Russell we should read his assertion as restricted to propositions, theological and otherwise, that are manifestly controversial. So restricted, Russell's asseveration cannot be easily counterexampled, which is not to say that it is obviously true.
As we speak I am working on a longish post on this very topic.
Philosophy can fuel intellectual pride. And it manifestly does in far too many of its practitioners. But pursued far enough and deep enough it may lead to insight into the infirmity of reason, an insight one salutary benefit of which is intellectual humility. Our patron saint was known for his knowing nescience, his learned ignorance. It was that which made Socrates wise.
People are generally aware of the importance of good nutrition, physical exercise, and all things health-related. They understand that what they put into their bodies affects their physical health. Underappreciated is a truth just as, if not more important: that what one puts into one's mind affects one's mental and spiritual health. The soul has its foods and its poisons just as the body does. This simple truth, known for centuries, goes unheeded while liberals fall all over each other climbing aboard the various environmental and health bandwagons.
Second-hand smoke the danger of which is negligible much exercises our leftist pals while the soul-destroying toxicity of the mass 'entertainment' media concerns them not at all.
Why are those so concerned with physical toxins so tolerant of cultural and spiritual toxins? This is another example of what I call misplaced moral enthusiasm. You worry about global warming and sidestream smoke when you give no thought to the soul, its foods, and its poisons?
You liberals are a strange breed of cat, crouching behind the First Amendment, quick to defend every form of cultural pollution under the rubric 'free speech.'
Herein are enunciated a number of important truths that few these days have the courage to express. Mr. Pollack concludes:
These commonsense truths are the basis of the widely accepted idea that indigenous societies have a fundamental right to defend and preserve the cultural and demographic integrity of their homelands. Nobody in the liberal West imagines, for example, that the forcible settlement of Han Chinese in Tibet, and the ongoing displacement of traditional Tibetan culture, is conducive to the happiness of the Tibetans.
There is a curious blindness, however, on the part of the educated elites of the liberal West to acknowledge that these obvious principles, the generality of which should be entirely and uncontroversially self-evident to anyone of sound mind, might in fact apply to Western peoples and homelands. Can any person not a child or an imbecile look at, for example, Britain, Sweden, France, or the Netherlands and seriously imagine that the native people of these countries are happier (or freer) now, after decades of mass immigration of Muslims and other non-Europeans, than they were when the populations of these nations were almost exclusively British, Swedish, French, and Dutch? Can anyone even begin to think such a thing is actually true?
Via Malcolm Pollack's recent entry commenting on the Rotherham, England sex slave scandal, here are a couple of formulations of Lawrence Auster's First Law of Majority-Minority Relations in a Liberal Society:
The more egregiously any non-Western or non-white group behaves, the more evil whites are made to appear for noticing and drawing rational conclusions about that group’s bad behavior. (source)
The more troublesome, unassimilable, or dangerous a designated minority or non-Western group actually is, the more favorably it is treated. This undeserved favorable treatment of a troublesome or misbehaving group can take numerous forms, including celebrating the group, giving the group greater rights and privileges, covering up the group’s crimes and dysfunctions, attacking the group’s critics as racists, and blaming the group’s bad behavior on white racism.
For clarity and generality I would rewrite the first formulation as follows:
The more egregiously any non-Western or non-white group or individual behaves, the more whites are made to appear evil for noticing and drawing rational conclusions about that group’s or individual's bad behavior.
At Auster's site you will find many examples in illustration of his First Law. The recent Ted Robinson incident is another. The story is here:
The 49ers have suspended radio broadcaster Ted Robinson two games for comments he made regarding domestic violence on KNBR on Monday afternoon.
In discussing the controversy regarding former Ravens running back Ray Rice, Robinson said the victim, Rice’s wife, Janay, bore some of the responsibility for not speaking up after she was knocked unconscious by her then-fiancee.
“That, to me, is the saddest part of it,” Robinson said.
Robinson also said her decision to marry Rice after she was assaulted was “pathetic.”
Robinson was punished for "noticing and drawing rational conclusions" about this case. Obviously, you are pathetic if you marry a man who has knocked you unconscious. You are pathetic, foolish, and uninterested in your own long-term happiness. A man who has the power to kill you with one blow and has revealed his character by landing such a blow is obviously not a good marital prospect. As I have said many times, if you want to gamble, go right ahead and gamble with money you can afford to lose; but you are a fool if you gamble with your happiness. Besides, if you reward such a man by marrying him, you set a bad example for other women and encourage the man to do it again. One has a moral obligation not to aid and abet criminal behavior.
Suppose what I said is obvious is not obvious to you. That doesn't change the fact that Robinson has a right to express his opinion. If you have any common sense you will agree that what Robinson said is correct. Correct or not, he has a right to state his view. After all, he is a broadcaster and a commentator. (Of course, this right is not a First Amendment right; what sort of right it is would make for an interesting discussion.)
Was there anything 'racist' about what Robinson said? Obviously not. Race doesn't come into it at all. It is foolish to marry a man who pounds on you. That's true for white couples, black couples, and interracial couples. Remember Nicole Brown Simpson? O. J. pounded on her, but she stood by her man until she couldn't stand any more because she was lying in a pool of blood.
So what we have here in the Robinson incident is one more of many instances of mass race delusion.
From time to time it is perhaps appropriate that we should relax a little the bonds that tether us to the straight and narrow. A fitting apologia for a bit of indulgence and even overindulgence is found in Seneca, On Tranquillity of Mind, XVII, 8-9, tr. Basore:
At times we ought to reach even the point of intoxication, not drowning ourselves in drink, yet succumbing to it; for it washes away troubles, and stirs the mind from its very depths and heals its sorrow just as it does certain ills of the body; and the inventor of wine is not called the Releaser [Liber, Bacchus] on account of the license it gives to the tongue, but because it frees the mind from bondage to cares and emancipates it and gives it new life and makes it bolder in all that it attempts. But, as in freedom, so in wine there is a wholesome moderation.
Sed ut libertatis ita vini salubris moderatio est.
. . .
Yet we ought not to do this often, for fear that the mind may contract an evil habit; nevertheless there are times when it must be drawn into rejoicing and freedom, and gloomy sobriety must be banished for a while.
Joan Baez, Rock Salt and Nails. "If the ladies was squirrels with high bushy tails/I'd fill up my shotgun with rock salt and nails." This is undoubtedly (!)the best version of this great Utah Phillips song.
It is a funny world. A man who claims to be white called me a racist because of my post, Self-Control and Respect for Authority. I ignored him, my policy being that scurrilous attacks from unknowns are ignored (and they are read only up to the point where the scurrilousness manifests itself). Scurrilous attacks from known cyberpunks like Brian Leiter, the academic gossip-monger, however, cannot go unanswered.
As I said, it is a funny world. The day before the attack by the unknown, Professor Laurence Thomas, Professor in the Department of Philosophy and in the Department of Political Science in the Maxwell School, Syracuse University, sent me this:
Dear Dr. Vallicella:
I write to thank you for having the courage to be ever so forthright. That is trait that I so very much admire. I do not claim that I agree with all that you say. But I do claim that I have learnt so very much as a result of reflecting upon your ideas. There is profound agreement between us is with respect to the following remarks by you:
There is no decency on the Left, no wisdom, and, increasingly, no sanity. For example, the crazy comparison of Trayvon Martin with Emmett Till. But perhaps I should put the point disjunctively: you are either crazy if you make that comparison, or moral scum. You are moral scum if you wittingly make a statement that is highly inflammatory and yet absurdly false.
Indeed, the two cases are quite unalike even if one holds that a wrong was done in each instance—a view that I unequivocally do not hold. Indeed, when I looked up the Emmett Till case, upon hearing that the Martin case was analogous to it, my very first thought was that there is simply no comparison between the two cases. And that is exactly where I continue to stand. Holding that the two cases are analogous bespeaks a horrendous level of moral depravity. There is simply no way in which the killing of Till can be characterized as self-defense by those who killed him; whereas it is manifestly obvious that it was out of self- defense that Zimmerman drew his gun and shot Martin. And the rush to characterize Zimmerman as a racist was simply stupefying given his very rich history of blacks. [Prof. Thomas is referring to Zimmerman's black ancestry. See here.]
People have noted that Zimmerman’s behavior has been more than a little erratic since the court ruling in his favor. It is stunning to me that people cannot make sense of why that is so, given the horrendous attitude of so many people who claim to be ever so committed to justice. A former student of mine recently brought to my attention your essay “Self-Control and Respect for Authority”. And once again, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Whenever I approach a police officer while I am walking, I display a simple measure of deference. That is how I behave regardless of the ethnicity of the officer. And never in my life has any police officer made the presumption that I might have committed a wrongdoing, although given my physical features there can no doubt whatsoever that I am a black person.
So I bear witness to the reality that being black is not at all a sufficient condition to raise a policeman’s concern about one’s behavior even if the police officer is white. Am I servile? Absolutely not. But having a deep, deep sense of self-respect is perfectly compatible with showing all sorts of people, including police officers a measure of respect, just as giving one’s seat to a pregnant woman who boards a crowded metro train is perfectly compatible with having a deep sense of self-respect. There is no incompatibility at all between have full measure of self-respect and yet showing others respect, be they law officers or “ordinary” citizens. I typically refer to myself as a radical conservative. Quite simply, my radical view is that acting responsibly is a gift that we give to ourselves. What is more, I hold that we should act responsibly even if we have been the victims of wrongful behavior in the past. It is utterly horrendous to hold that having been the object of wrongdoing constitutes an excuse to do what undermines one’s own sense of worth. I have gone on long enough. I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful remarks over the years. And while I have not left academia, I can indeed understand why you have done so. Be well and flourish, sir.
Recently I have been pinching myself a lot, figuratively speaking, to see if I am awake and not dreaming all the delusional race nonsense I keep hearing about. Herewith, a very recent example.
Bruce Levenson, owner of the Atlanta Hawks, sold his controlling interest in the NBA franchise because of this piece of 'racist' e-mail that he very foolishly sent in naive ignorance of the climate of the country. I excerpt the 'offensive' part, bad writing, bad punctuation and all. Emphasis added.
Regarding game ops [operations?], i need to start with some background. for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn't much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off [went on?]. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can't get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs [tickets] and they are the primary demo [demographic] for season tickets around the league. when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following:
-- it's 70 pct black -- the cheerleaders are black -- the music is hip hop -- at the bars it's 90 pct black -- there are few fathers and sons at the games -- we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel.
Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.
Before we bought the hawks and for those couple years immediately after in an effort to make the arena look full (at the nba's urging) thousands and thousands of tickets were being giving away, predominantly in the black community, adding to the overwhelming black audience.
My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean [arena] back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority. On fan sites i would read comments about how dangerous it is around philips yet in our 9 years, i don't know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident. This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.
Now could any reasonable person, as opposed to a person in the grip of a delusion, take offence at any of this? Of course not. Levenson is a business man who is offering an explanation of why ticket sales are low. His explanation is two-fold. First, the black crowd scares away the southern whites who are uncomfortable with being in a minority and who do not enjoy black entertainment (hip hop, all black cheerleaders) and do not want to be in a family-unfriendly environment (few fathers with sons). Second, there is a lack of affluent black fans.
Now whether or not Levenson's explanation is correct, it is surely plausible. But the main thing is that there is nothing racist about it. To report that certain whites are scared by certain blacks is to report a fact about the way those whites feel. It is not to imply that the whites are justified in feeling the way they do. Maybe they are and maybe they aren't.
The mistake that liberals (whether white or black) make is to confuse a racial explanation with a racist explanation.
It is a special case of the confusion of a racial statement (a statement whose subject-matter is race) with a racist statement. For example, the statement that blacks are 13-14% of the U. S. population is a racial statement, but not a racist statement. Capiche?
Suppose I state that men, on average, are taller than women, on average. Is that a hateful thing to say? Is it sexist or 'tallist'? Does it express a 'bias' that I need to overcome? Of course not, it is true.
Now here is another distinction that is probably wasted on a liberal. It is the distinction beween the content of an assertion and the asserting of that content. I see a man with no legs. His name is Joe Blow. I assert within earshot of Joe Blow, Joe Blow has no legs! The content of my assertion is true and unobjectionable. But my asserting of it in this context is morally objectionable and for obvious reasons. But in other contexts both the content and my asserting of it would be unobjectionable.
What is going on here? How do we explain the mass race delusion of liberals? Some possibilities:
Liberals are in general very stupid people who cannot think but only emote and associate.
Liberals are not, on average, any dumber than conservatives, but on certain topics they stupefy, or perhaps I should say enstupidate themselves consciously and willfully and in a way that makes them the just recipients of moral censure.
Liberals are not, on average, any dumber than conservatives, but on certain topics they stupefy, or perhaps I should say enstupidate themselves unconsciously -- they are infected with a PeeCee virus but are unaware of being infected.
UPDATE: A reader comments:
I don’t know if you saw it, but after the remarks came out Levenson stated that he’s not worthy of owning an NBA franchise. Now, I assume you know about the recent kerfuffle about Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers (another NBA team). He made some racial comments in a private conversation that were leaked to the broader world, and as a result was forced to sell his team.
That’s the background, and now a theory: Levenson did all of this as a trick to be forced to sell his team as profitably as possible. Because the league is forcing him to sell, they have to assure him of getting the price that an auditor deems it to be worth rather than what it would get in the real world. In other words, it may just a cynical trick to make more money/divest himself of what he perceives to be a bad investment.
The reader may have something here. Levenson's grovelling is suspicious. Businessmen in a position to buy a controlling interest in an NBA franchise tend to have big egos. One expects them to fight and not act the part of a pussy, especially when the accusations made against him are so palpably absurd.
Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (Norton, 2000), p. 122:
Latin mottoes adorn the crests of many of these schools, boasting of "light" and "truth." [BV interjects: Harvard's crest shows Veritas] The reality, however, is something very different, as thousands of these institutions have literal or de facto open admissions policies in the name of "democracy." The democratization of desire means that virtually anyone can go to college, the purpose being to get a job; and in an educational world now subsumed under business values, students show up -- with administrative blessing -- believing that they are consumers who are buying a product. Within this context, a faculty member who actually attempts to enforce the tradition of the humanities as an uplifting and transformative experience, who challenges his charges to think hard about complex issues, will provoke negative evaluations and soon be told by the dean that he had better look elsewhere for a job. Objecting to a purely utilitarian dimension for education is regarded as quaint, and quickly labelled as "elitist" (horror of horrors!); but the truth is that there an be no genuine liberal education without such an objection.
I agree completely.
You may recall Obama opining that everyone should go to college.* A preposterous notion. It is a bit like maintaining that everyone should receive Navy SEAL training. To profit from such training one must be SEAL 'material.' It is the same, mutatis mutandis, with college: you must be 'college material.' The very fact that that phrase is no longer heard speaks volumes. I heard my seventh grade teacher apply it to your humble correspondent, but that was in the early 'sixties.
So perhaps we can add to Berman's 'democratization of desire,' 'democratization of potentiality' as if we are all equal in our powers and capacities.
Student teaching evaluations contribute to the consumer mentality to which Berman refers. Students ought to have a way to register legitimate complaints about faculty, but the use of teaching evaluations in tenure and promotion decisions and in the apportionment of merit pay leads to a further erosion of standards and to abdication of authority.
A confession. On the eve of tenure, the semester before the decision, I was conducting a seminar in the library while we were all seated at a big beautiful table. I observed one of my students carving into its surface. I said not a word: I needed strong teaching evaluations for my final academic hurdle. Succeed or fail -- for good. It was a bad market. Up or out. I made it easily with a 9 to 3 vote. But shame on me for not objecting to the defacement of common property. A clear case of abdication of authority.
The irony is that, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the increasing political correctness of the university, I resigned my tenured position seven years later. Psychologically, there is of course a huge difference between being given the boot and leaving of one's own free will.
*Dennis Monokroussos supplies documentation. Scroll down to the final three quotations from Obama.
There is much to be said in favor of a voluntary military, but on the debit side there is this: only those with 'skin in the game' -- either their own or that of their loved ones -- properly appreciate the costs of foreign military interventions. I say that as a conservative, not a libertarian.
There is also this to consider: In the bad old days of the draft people of different stations -- to use a good old word that will not be allowed to fall into desuetude, leastways not on my watch -- were forced to associate with one another -- with some good effects. It is 'broadening' to mingle and have to get along with different sorts of people. And when the veteran of foreign wars returns and takes up a profession in, say, academe, he brings with him precious hard-won experience of all sorts of people in different lands in trying circumstances. He is then more likely to exhibit the sense of a Winston Churchill as opposed to the nonsense of a Ward Churchill.
One of the reasons Obama is such a disaster as a president is that his experience does not extend beyond the merely verbal: that of the adjunct law professor and the senator. He is well-spoken and talks a good game, but his talk rarely hooks onto reality. He is a master of the manifold modes of mendacity. Compare him with Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. Ike couldn't pronounce 'nuclear' but he knew something about the world. He saw the Nazi extermination camps and demanded that the atrocities be recorded for history.
After 9/11, no one should be surprised to learn that Islam is turning the West’s superiority back on itself. What is surprising is that a lone historian saw this coming in the 1930s. [emphasis added.] The great Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc, friend of G.K. Chesterton and a prolific historian, was prescient as no other writer about the resurgence of Islam in our own era.
Here are just of the more salient passages from his work on the threat of Islam to the West:
“We shall almost certainly have to reckon with Islam in the near future. Perhaps if we lose our Faith it will rise.”
“The future always comes as surprise. . . .but I for my part cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam.”
“And in the contrast between our religious chaos and the religious certitude still strong throughout the Mohammedan world. . .lies our peril.”
“There is nothing inherent to Mohammedanism to make it incapable of modern science and modern war.”
“[Islam] still converts pagan savages wholesale. . . .No fragment of Islam ever abandons its sacred book, its code of morality, its organized system of prayer, its code of morals, its simple doctrine. In view of this, anyone with a knowledge of history is bound to ask himself whether we shall not see in the future a rival of Mohammedan political power, and the renewal of the old pressure of Islam on Christendom.”
There are still some posts from my first weblog that have not been tranferred to this, the latest incarnation of MavPhil. What follows was first posted over ten years ago, on 4 August 2004. Reproduced verbatim.
I am reading Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000, paperback ed. 2001, xiv + 205 pp.). This Spenglerian jeremiad is required reading for anyone interested in culture-critique. I’ve had to force myself to put it down, it is that fascinating. Unfortunately, Morris Berman (not to be confused with Paul Berman, who is also an astute culture critic) is a bit of a liberal, and this interferes, as one might expect, with the clarity and rigor of his thought. Perhaps I will get around to launching a full-scale critique of his book over the next weeks and months, but for now I zero in on just one passage.
At the top of p. 56, we find the following paragraph which I reproduce verbatim:
It is also the case that New Age inanities, as well as various other myths and historical falsifications, get published by the large commercial publishing firms because they are guaranteed to sell, whereas books that debunk such myths, or are based on careful scholarship, can get published only by university presses (if at all), which accounted for 0.77 percent of the number of books sold in the United States in 1998. This effectively amounts to a new form of censorship, Benjamin Barber’s “default totalitarianism.”
The main problem with this passage is Berman’s slovenly misuse of ‘censorship,’ a misuse that clearly indicates liberal-leftist bias. In the situation he describes, there is no censorship at all. Censorship involves the active suppression of free expression, typically, by a government agency. In the situation described, however, there are simply impersonal market forces at work: the market for scholarly works, which typically demand hard work and intelligence on the part of the reader, is small, unlike the market for drivel which makes minimal demands on its readers. Since there is little demand for scholarly books, the large commercial firms have no economic reason to publish them. To call this censorship or a form of censorship is absurd. Why ruin a perfectly good word?
Analogy: suppose you try to use a screwdriver as a crowbar. Chances are excellent that you will fail to pry loose what you are trying to pry loose but will destroy the screwdriver in the process. Use the right tool for the right job. Similarly, use the right word for the right concept, on pain of entering into the Spenglerian twilight.
Berman’s fallacy could be called ‘verbal inflation.’ One takes a perfectly useful word and inflates it so that it becomes useless and misleading. He commits the fallacy a second time when he cites Barber’s “default totalitarianism.” In what sense is a free market totalitarian? This needs to be explained.
An even more serious problem with the passage cited is that it refutes itself. It amounts to a performative self-refutation analogous to ‘No one is speaking now’ spoken by me now. Let me explain. Berman claims that books based on careful scholarship get published, if at all, only by university presses. Now his book is based on careful scholarship, but it is not published by a university press. It is published by Norton, and is touted on its cover as a “national bestseller.” Therefore, the existence and widespread availability of Berman’s book refutes the central thesis of the paragraph cited above. For the record, I found my copy of his book in paperback in a Borders bookstore, not exactly an arcane locale accessible only to pointy-headed intellectuals. So where is the censorship?
Am I being pedantic? Well, if you are going to preach high standards, then, dangblastit, you must adhere to them yourself. Of course, it is easy to zero in on a passage and tear it to pieces. But I’m a serious man with a serious point. Berman is on the right track, and we need culture critique; but we need to extrude the liberal-leftist nonsense from it. What we really need is conservative culture-critique. In addition, we need a conservative metacritique of the extant culture-critiques, a metacritique that extrudes the bad elements in them, which are mostly of liberal-leftist provenience, and retains the good elements, which are mostly of conservative provenience.
Although Weilian disinterest may appear morally superior to Pascalian self-interest, I would say that the former is merely an example of a perverse strain in Weil’s thinking. One mistake she makes is to drive a wedge between the question of the good and the question of human happiness, thereby breaking the necessary linkage between the two. This is a mistake because a good out of all relation to the satisfaction of human desire cannot count as a good for us.
What “good” is a good out of all relation to our self-interest? The absolute good must be at least possibly such as to satisfy (purified) human desire. The possibility of such satisfaction is a necessary feature of the absolute good. Otherwise, the absolute good could not be an ideal for us, an object of aspiration or reverence, a norm. But although the absolute good is ideal relative to us, it is real in itself. Once these two aspects (ideal for us, real in itself) are distinguished, it is easy to see how the absoluteness of the absolute good is consistent with its necessary relatedness to the possibility of human happiness. What makes the absolute good absolute is not its being out of all relation to the actual or possible satisfaction of human desire; what makes it absolute is its being self-existent, a reality in itself. The absolute good, existing absolutely (ab solus, a se), is absolute in its existence without prejudice to its being necessarily related to us in its goodness. If God is (agapic) love, then God necessarily bestows His love on any creatures there might be. It is not necessary that there be creatures, but it is necessary that God love the creatures that there are and that they find their final good in Him.
But not only does Weil divorce the absolute good from the possibility of human happiness, she also makes a second mistake by divorcing it from existence. Thus we read:
If God should be an illusion from the point of view of existence, He is the sole reality from the point of view of the good. I know that for certain, because it is a definition. “God is the good” is as certain as “I am.”[viii]
But this is surely incoherent: God cannot be a reality if He does not exist. At most, a nonexistent God could only be an empty and impotent ideal, not a reality but a mere cogitatum, or excogitatum, if you will. To say that a nonexistent God is yet a reality from the point of view of the good is to divorce the good from what exists, while misusing the word “reality.” And although it is certain that “God is the good,” this is a merely analytic truth consistent with the nonexistence of God. As such, “God is the good” is wholly unlike “I am,” the truth of which is obviously not consistent with my nonexistence.
In divorcing the good from existence, Weil makes the opposite mistake of Richard Taylor. Taylor identifies the good with what is desired, thereby collapsing ought into is and eliminating the normativity of the good. Weil, sundering the good from desire, cuts it off from everything that exists thereby exalting the normativity and ideality of the good while rendering it impotent. The truth of the matter is that God, the absolute good, is a unity of ideality and reality. As a real Ideal, the absolute good cannot be identified with any mundane fact; as an ideal Reality, the absolute good must exist.
So although there may be no trace of self-interest in Weil’s Wager, this gives us no reason to suppose it morally superior to Pascal”s Wager. For the very absence of self-interest shows that Weil’s Wager is built upon an incoherent moral doctrine.
America is experiencing immigration problems somewhat like Australia's. The idea of 'multiculturalism' some would say is beginning to show its flaws. Who do you believe should be allowed to enter your country? Please feel free to be as politically incorrect as you like.
1. First of all, one must insist on a distinction that many on the Left willfully ignore, that between legal and illegal immigration. (Libertarians also typically elide the distinction.) Legal and illegal immigration are separate, logically independent, issues. To oppose illegal immigration, as any right-thinking person must, is not to oppose legal immigration. So, to answer one of the reader's questions, no one should be allowed to enter illegally. But why exactly? What's wrong with illegal immigration? Aren't those who oppose it racists and xenophobes and nativists? Doesn't everyone have a right to migrate wherever he wants?
2. The most general reason for not allowing illegal immigration is precisely because it is illegal. If the rule of law is to be upheld, then reasonable laws cannot be allowed to be violated with impunity simply because they are difficult to enforce or are being violated by huge numbers of people. Someone who questions the value of the rule of law is not someone it is wise to waste time debating.
3. There are several sound specific reasons for demanding that the Federal government exercise its legitimate, constitutionally grounded (see Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. constitution) function of securing the national borders, and none of these reasons has anything to do with racism or xenophobia or nativism or any other derogatory epithet that slanderous leftists and libertarians want to attach to those of us who can think clearly about this issue.
There are reasons having to do with national security in an age of terrorism. There are reasons having to do with assimilation, national identity, and comity. How likely is it that illegals will assimilate, and how likely is social harmony among citizens and unassimilated illegals? There are considerations of fairness in respect of those who have entered the country legally by satisfying the requirements of so doing. Is it fair that they should be put through a lengthy process when others are allowed in illegally.
There are reasons having to do with the importation of contraband substances into the country. There are reasons having to do with increased crime. Last but not least, there are reasons pertaining to public health. With the concern over avian influenza, tuberculosis, ebola, and all sorts of tropical diseases, we have all the more reason to demand border control.
Borders are a body politic's immune system. Unregulated borders are deficient immune systems. Diseases that were once thought to have been eradicated have made a comeback north of the Rio Grande due to the unregulated influx of population. These diseases include tuberculosis, Chagas disease, leprosy, Dengue fever, polio, and malaria.
You will have noticed how liberals want to transform into public health issues problems that are manifestly not public but matters of private concern, obesity for example. But here we have an issue that is clearly a public health issue, one concerning which Federal involvement is justified, and what do our dear liberals do? They ignore it. Of course, the problem cannot be blamed solely on the Democrat Party. Republicans like Bush and McCain are just as guilty. On immigration, Bush was clearly no conservative; he was a libertarian on this issue. A libertarian on some issues, a liberal on others, and a conservative on far too few.
4. Many liberals think that opposition to illegal immigration is anti-Hispanic. Not so. It is true that most of those who violate the nation's borders are Hispanic. But the opposition is not to Hispanics but to illegal entrants whether Hispanic or not. It is a contingent fact that Mexico is to the south of the U.S. If Turkey or Iran or Italy were to the south, the issue would be the same. And if Iran were to the south, and there were an influx of illegals, then then leftists would speak of anti-Persian bias.
A salient feature of liberals and leftists -- there isn't much difference nowadays -- is their willingness to 'play the race card,' to inject race into every issue. The issue of illegal immigration has nothing to do with race since illegal immigrants do not constitute a race. There is no such race as the race of 'llegal aliens.' Opposition to them, therefore, cannot be racist. Suppose England were to the south of the U. S. and Englishmen were streaming north. Would they be opposed because they are white? No, because they are illegal aliens.
"But aren't some of those who oppose illegal immigration racists?" That may be so, but it is irrelevant. That one takes the right stance for the wrong reason does not negate the fact that one has taken the right stance. One only wishes they would take the right stance for the right reasons. Even if everyone who opposed illegal immigration were a foaming-at-the-mouth redneck of a racist, that would not detract one iota of cogency from the cogent arguments against allowing illegal immigration. To think otherwise is to embrace the Genetic Fallacy. Not good.
5. The rule of law is a precious thing. It is one of the supports of a civilized life. The toleration of mass breaking of reasonable and just laws undermines the rule of law.
6. Part of the problem is that we let liberals get away with obfuscatory rhetoric, such as 'undocumented worker.' The term does not have the same extension as 'illegal alien.' I discuss this in a separate post. But having written thousands of posts, I don't quite know where it is.
7. How long can a welfare state survive with open borders? Think about it. The trend in the USA for a long time now has been towards bigger and bigger government, more and more 'entitlements.' It is obviously impossible for purely fiscal reasons to provide cradle-to-grave security for everyone who wants to come here. So something has to give. Either you strip the government down to its essential functions or you control the borders. The first has no real chance of happening. Quixotic is the quest of strict constructionists and libertarians who call for it. Rather than tilting at windmills, they should work with reasonable conservatives to limit and eventually stop the expansion of government. Think of what a roll-back to a government in accordance with a strictly construed constitution would look like. For one thing, the social security system would have to be eliminated. That won't happen. Libertarians are 'losertarian' dreamers. They should wake up and realize that politics is a practical business and should aim at the possible. By the way, the pursuit of impossible dreams is common to both libertarians and leftists.
8. Even though contemporary liberals show little or no understanding for the above arguments, there are actually what might be called 'liberal' arguments for controlling the borders:
A. The Labor Argument. To give credit where credit is due, it was not the conservatives of old who championed the working man, agitated for the 40 hour work week, demanded safe working conditions, etc., but the liberals of those days. They can be proud of this. But it is not only consistent with their concern for workers that they oppose illegal immigration, but demanded by their concern. For when the labor market is flooded with people who will work for low wages, the bargaining power of the U.S. worker is diminished. Liberals should therefore oppose the unregulated influx of cheap labor, and they should oppose it precisely because of their concern for U. S. workers.
By the way, it is simply false to say, as Bush, McCain and other pandering politicians have said, that U.S. workers will not pick lettuce, clean hotel rooms, and the like. Of course they will if they are paid a decent wage. People who won't work for $5 an hour will work for $20. But they won't be able to command $20 if there is a limitless supply of indigentes who will accept $5-10.
B. The Environmental Argument. Although there are 'green' conservatives, concern for the natural environment, and its preservation and protection from industrial exploitation, is more a liberal than a conservative issue. (By the way, I'm a 'green' conservative.) So liberals ought to be concerned about the environmental degradation caused by hordes of illegals crossing the border. It is not just that they degrade the lands they physically cross, it is that people whose main concern is economic survival are not likely to be concerned about environmental protection. They are unlikely to become Sierra Club members or to make contributions to the Nature Conservancy. Love of nature comes more easily to middle class white collar workers for whom nature is a scene of recreation than for those who must wrest a livelihood from it by hard toil.
C. The Population Argument. This is closely related to, but distinct from, the Environmental Argument. To the extent that liberals are concerned about the negative effects of explosive population increase, they should worry about an unchecked influx of people whose women have a high birth-rate.
D. The Social Services Argument. Liberals believe in a vast panoply of social services provided by government and thus funded by taxation. But the quality of these services must degrade as the number of people who demand them rises. To take but one example, laws requiring hospitals to treat those in dire need whether or not they have a means of paying are reasonable and humane -- or at least that can be argued with some show of plausibility. But such laws are reasonably enacted and reasonably enforced only in a context of social order. Without border control, not only will the burden placed on hospitals become unbearable, but the justification for the federal government's imposition of these laws on hospitals will evaporate. According to one source, California hospitals are closing their doors. "Anchor babies" born to illegal aliens instantly qualify as citizens for welfare benefits and have caused enormous rises in Medicaid costs and stipends under Supplemental Security Income and Disability Income.
The point is that you can be a good liberal and oppose illegal immigration. You can oppose it even if you don't care about about increased crime, terrorism, drug smuggling, disease, national identity, national sovereignty, assimilation, the rule of law, or fairness to those who have immigrated legally. But a 'good liberal' who is not concerned with these things is a sorry human being.
I hope I have been politically incorrect enough for my reader's taste.
When I asked Harry if he uses the Internet to look up old friends, "Let sleeping dogs lie" was his reply. His attitude, qualified, recommends itself.
The friendships of old were many of them mere friendships of propinquity. They were born of time and place and circumstance, and they died the death of distance, whether temporal or spatial or circumstantial. They are relics that can be fingered but not reanimated. They are best left in the boneyard of memory.
I was one of those who saw "Last Tango in Paris" when it was first released, in 1972. I haven't seen it since and I don't remember anything specific about it except one scene, the scene you remember too, the 'butter scene,' in which the Marlon Brando character sodomizes the Maria Schneider character. In a post from February, 2011 written on the occasion of her death, I had this to say:
Islamic culture is in many ways benighted and backward, fanatical and anti-Enlightenment, but our trash culture is not much better. Suppose you are a Muslim and you look to the West. What do you see? Decadence. And an opportunity to bury the West.
If Muslims think that our decadent culture is what Western values are all about, and something we are trying to impose on them, then we are in trouble. They do and we are.
This brings me to the Jewish comedienne Joan Rivers who died recently at the the age of 81. No conservative can celebrate her life and influence without qualification. For she played a role in making our culture cruder and trashier. By how much? I'll leave that for you to ponder. And of course the comediennes among her admirers will take it, and have taken it, further still, and without the curbs on excess deriving from her education and upbringing.
That being said, conservatives of my stripe defend her right to free speech as against both the Islamists and their leftist enablers who have shown time and again that they have no interest in free speech except insofar as it politically correct free speech.
One of the ironies of the present day is that we conservatives are the 'new liberals,' 'liberal' being used in the good, old-fashioned sense to mean a person who champions toleration.
But of course you must never forget that toleration has limits. Ought one tolerate those who do not respect the principle of toleration? Of course not. If toleration is truly a value, then one ought to demand it not only of oneself but of others. My toleration meets its limit in your intolerance. I cannot tolerate your intolerance, for if I do, I jeopardize the very principle of toleration, and with it the search for truth.
Radical Islam, in its fanaticism and murderous intolerance, has no claim on the West's tolerance. It is no breach of tolerance on our part to demand that they behave themselves. We must also demand of them that if they want to be tolerated, they must tolerate others, Jews for example. They must not be allowed to benefit from the West's tolerance in order to preach intolerance and hate. Just as they have a right to their beliefs, we have a right to ours, and a right to enforce our beliefs about toleration on them if they would live in our midst.
Toleration is a value because truth is a value. A toleration worth wanting and having is therefore not to be confused with indifference towards truth, or relativism about truth. The great Leszek Kolakowski makes this point very well:
It is important to notice, however, that when tolerance is enjoined upon us nowadays, it is often in the sense of indifference: we are asked, in effect, to refrain from expressing -- or indeed holding -- any opinion, and sometimes even to condone every conceivable type of behaviour or opinion in others. This kind of tolerance is something entirely different, and demanding it is part of our hedonistic culture, in which nothing really matters to us; it is a philosophy of life without responsibility and without beliefs. It is encouraged by a variety of philosophies in fashion today, which teach us there is no such thing as truth in the traditional sense, and therefore that when we persist in our beliefs, even if we do so without aggression, we are ipso facto sinning against tolerance.
This is nonsense, and harmful nonsense. Contempt for truth harms our civilization no less than fanatical insistence on [what one takes to be] the truth. In addition, an indifferent majority clears the way for fanatics, of whom there will always be plenty around. Our civilization encourages the belief that everything should be just fun and games -- as indeed it is in the infantile philosophies of the so-called 'New Age.' Their content is impossible to describe, for they mean anything one wants them to; that is what they are for. ("On Toleration" in Freedom, Fame, Lying, and Betrayal, Penguin 1999, pp. 36-37.)
For many philosophers, their technical philosophical work bears little or no relation to the implicit or explicit set of action-guiding beliefs and values that constitutes their worldview. Saul Kripke, for example, is an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath and rejects naturalism and materialism. But you would never know it from his technical work which has no direct relevance to the Big Questions. (Possible qualification: the business about the necessity of identity discussed in Naming and Necessity allows for a Cartesian-style argument for mind-body dualism. See here.)
So I would characterize Kripke as a compartmentalizer. (My use of this term does not have a pejorative connotation, at least not yet.) His work in philosophy occupies one of his mental compartments while his religious convictions and practices occupy another with little or no influence of the one on the other. It is not that his technical work is inconsistent with his religious worldview; my point is that the two are largely irrelevant to each other. No doubt some of Kripke's examples 'betray' his religious upbringing -- e.g., the fascinating bit about Moloch as a misvocalization of the Hebrew 'melech' in Reference and Existence, p. 70 ff. et passim -- but his technical work, or at least his published technical work, is not a means to either the articulation or the rational justification of his worldview.
You may appreciate my point if you compare Kripke with Alvin Plantinga. He too is a religious man and a theist, an anti-naturalist, and an anti-materialist. But all of Plantinga's books that I am aware of contribute directly to the articulation and defense of his theistic worldview. He is out to explain and justify theistic belief and turn aside such objections to it as the ever-popular arguments from evil. This is clear from the titles of God and Other Minds, God, Freedom, and Evil, Does God Have a Nature. But it is also clear from Nature of Necessity the penultimate chapter of which treats of God, evil, and freedom, and the ultimate chapter of which is about God and necessity. The same is true of his two volumes on warrant one of which includes a critique of naturalism, not to mention his last book, Where the Conflict Really Lies.
The late David M. Armstrong is an interesting case. While he respects religion and is not a militant naturalist or atheist, his technical work articulates and defends his thoroughly naturalist worldview, where naturalism is the thesis that all that exists is the space-time world and its contents. The naturalist worldview comes first for Armstrong, both temporally and logically, and sets the agenda for the technical investigations of particulars, universals, states of affairs, classes, numbers, causation, laws of nature, dispositions, modality, mind, and so on. Broadly characterized, the agenda is to show how everything, including what appear to be 'abstract objects,' can be accounted for naturalistically using only those resources supplied by the natural world, without recourse to anything nonnatural or supernatural.
For Plantinga, by contrast, it is his theistic worldview that comes first both temporally and logically and sets the agenda for his technical work.
And then there is an acquaintance of mine who attends Greek Orthodox services on Sunday but during working hours is something close to a logical positivist.
This suggests a three-fold classification. There are philosophers whose
A. Technical work is consistent with but does not support their worldview;
B. Technical work is consistent with and does support their worldview;
C. Technical work is inconsistent with and hence does not support their worldview.
I will assume that (C) is an unacceptable form of compartmentalization, but I won't try to explain why in this post. Brevity is the soul of blog. This leaves (B) and (C).
Now it has always seemed obvious to me that (B) is to be preferred over (A). But do I have an argument? But first I should try to make my thesis more precise. To that end, a few more distinctions and observations.
I distinguish philosophy-as-inquiry from philosophy-as-worldview. (And you should too.) Roughly, a worldview is a more or less comprehensive system of more or less precisely articulated action-guiding beliefs and values. (Transfinite cardinal arithmetic is not a worldview: you can't 'take it to the streets.') Obviously, there are many philosophies in this sense, and therefore no such thing as philosophy in this sense. There is the philosophy of your crazy uncle who has an opinion about everything, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, the philosophy of Kant, the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Observe also that a philosophy in the sense of a worldview need not be arrived at by rational inquiry. Philosophy-as-inquiry, by contrast is rational inquiry by definition. To put it paradoxically, there needn't be anything philosophical about a philosophy. I trust my meaning is clear.
Note too that philosophy-as-inquiry need not result in a worldview. It can end aporetically, at an impasse, the way a number of the Platonic dialogs do, in Socratic nescience, even if the intention was to arrive at a worldview. And sometimes even the intention is lacking: there are philosophers who are content to devote their professional hours to some such narrow topic as counterfactual conditionals or epistemic closure principles, or anaphora. They can be said to engage in hyperspecialization. There are also those less extreme specialists who are concerned with ethics or epistemology but give no thought to the metaphysical presuppositions of either.
We should also distinguish between engaging in philosophy-as-inquiry in order to arrive at a worldview versus engaging in philosophy-as-inquiry in order to shore up or defend a worldview that one antecedently accepts. This is the difference between one who seeks the truth by philosophical means, a truth he does not possess, and one who possesses or thinks he possesses the truth or most of the truth and employs philosophical means to the end of defending and securing and promoting the truth that he already has and has received from some extraphilosophical source such as revelation or religious/mystical experience. The latter could be called philosophy-as-inquiry in the service of apologetics, 'apologetics' broadly construed.
It should now be evident that (B) conflates two ideas that need to be split apart. There are philosophers whose
B1. Technical work is consistent with and supports an antecedently held worldview whose source is extraphilosophical and whose source is not philosophy-as-inquiry;
B2. Technical work is consistent with and supports a worldview the source of which is philosophy-as-inquiry.
My main thesis is that (B2) is superior to (A), but I also incline to the view that (B1) is superior to (A). But for now I set aside (B1).
But why is (B2) superior to (A)? I am not saying that there is anything wrong with satisfying a purely theoretical interest either by (i) hyperspecializing and concentrating on one or a few narrow topics, or (ii) specializing as in the case of Kripke by working on a fairly wide range of topics. What I want to say is that there is something better than either of (i) or (ii).
My thesis: Since philosophy is a search for the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters, one is not true to the spirit of philosophy in the full and normative sense of the word if one is content to theorize about minutiae that in the end have no 'existential' relevance where 'existential' is to be taken in the sense of Kierkegaard, Jaspers, et. al, and their distinguished predecessors, Socrates, Augustine, Pascal, et al. One's own existence, fate, moral responsibility, and existential meaning are surely part of the ultimate matters; so to abstract from these matters by pursuing a purely theoretical interest is, if not logically absurd, then existentially absurd. In philosophy one cannot leave oneself out and be objective in the way the sciences must leave out the subject and be objective.
Of course I am not a narrow existentialist who rejects technical philosophy.
What I am maintaining is that one ought not compartmentalize: one's technical work ought to subserve a higher end, the articulation and defense of a comprehensive view of things. As Wilfrid Sellars says, "It is . . . the 'eye on the whole' which distinguishes the philosophical enterprise." (SPR 3) "The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term." (SPR 1) But I am saying more than this, and words like 'view' and 'worldview' don't quite convey it since philosophy as I 'view' it ought not be purely theoretical. Somehow, oner's theory and one's Existenz need to achieve unity.
I still haven't made my thesis all that clear, but it is perhaps clear enough.
One argument for my thesis is that specialization gets us nowhere. It is notorious that philosophers have not convinced one another and that progress in philosophy has not occurred. And the best and brightest have been at it for going on three thousand years. That progress will occur in future is therefore the shakiest of inductions. Given that shakiness, it is existentially if not logically absurd to lose oneself in, say, the technical labyrinth of the philosophy of language, as fascinating as it is. Who on his deathbed will care whether reference is routed through sense or is direct? The following may help clarify my meaning.
Fred Sommers, The Logic of Natural Language (Oxford, 1982), p. xii:
My interest in Ryle's 'category mistakes' turned me away from the study of Whitehead's metaphysical writings (on which I had written a doctoral thesis at Columbia University) to the study of problems that could be arranged for possible solution.
The suggestion is that the problems of logic, but not those of metaphysics, can be "arranged for possible solution." Although I sympathize with Sommers' sentiment, he must surely have noticed that his attempt to rehabilitate pre-Fregean logical theory issues in results that are controversial, and perhaps just as controversial as the claims of metaphysicians. Or do all his colleagues in logic agree with him?
If by 'pulling in our horns' and confining ourselves to problems of language and logic we were able to attain sure and incontrovertible results, then there might well be justification for setting metaphysics aside and working on problems amenable to solution. But if it turns out that logical, linguistic, phenomenological, epistemological and all other such preliminary inquiries arrive at results that are also widely and vigorously contested, then the advantage of 'pulling in our horns' is lost and we may as well concentrate on the questions that really matter, which are most assuredly not questions of logic and language — fascinating as these may be.
Sommers' is a rich and fascinating book. But, at the end of the day, how important is it to prove that the inference embedded in 'Some girl is loved by every boy so every boy loves a girl' really is capturable, pace the dogmatic partisans of modern predicate logic, by a refurbished traditional term logic? (See pp. 144-145)
As one draws one's last breath, which is more salutary: to be worried about a silly bagatelle such as the one just mentioned, or to be contemplating God and the soul?