Welcome to the latest incarnation of Maverick Philosopher. I began this weblog in May of 2004 and have kept it up continuously on different servers, missing only a few days. I'm in this game 'for the duration,' as long as health and eyesight hold out. It has proven to be deeply satisfying, not the least reason for which being that my scribbling has attracted a large number of like-minded individuals, some of whom I have met in the flesh, and have come to value highly as friends.
And for that I am grateful.
What you need to know is that this weblog is just one philosopher's online journal, notebook, common place book, workshop, soapbox, sandbox, and literary litter box. A lot of what I write is unpolished and tentative. I explore the cartography of ideas along many paths. Here below we are in statu viae, and it is fitting that our thinking should be exploratory, meandering, and undogmatic. Nothing human, and thus nothing philosophical, is foreign to me.
The graphic well illustrates my approach. A lonesome traveller meanders along a desert path toward a distant prominence which points up and away to the goal of his Quest, a goal fitfully glimpsed, never grasped. Leastways, not while he is on trail and on trial. The quester quests until his thought rests, but the Rest is far off. Meanwhile there is the Quest, an integral part of which is philosophy, reason's search for the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters. But reason is not reason unless it strives mightily beyond itself to sources of truth that transcend it.
I write about what interests me whether I am expert in it or not. Some find this unseemly; I do not. I oppose hyper-professionalization and excessive specialization. After all, this is only a weblog. Every once in a while I post something that is mistaken, someone corrects me, and I learn something. I admit mistakes if mistakes they be. See how modest I am? On the other hand, this rarely happens. My PhilPapers page currently lists 64 entries and will give you some idea of what I am more or less expert in.
I allow comments on only some posts, usually the more technical ones. And to keep the cyberpunks at bay, Comment Moderation is always on. Comments must address what I say in my posts. If you go off on a tangent, I will most likely not allow your comment to appear. Comments must meet a certain standard, and I do not suffer fools gladly. But on some days I go soft, being only human.
I suppose that in these decadent days of the Decline of the West I should issue a TRIGGER WARNING: this is no place for the politically correct. It is not a 'safe space.' Here you will find free speech, trenchancy of expression, and open inquiry.
One mark of a loser is the inability or unwillingness to lose graciously.
Why are leftists such pansies and whiny losers? Andrew Klavan:
But the left? Never mind the college snowflakes who can't even hear an idea they disagree with without retreating to a safe space. What about the adults?The New York Times, a former newspaper, now reads like a 12-year-old girls' sleepover after a mouse got in. It's embarrassing. "How to Cope With Trump?" "Trump's Threat to the Constitution?" "Trump's Agents of Idiocracy!"
The guy hasn't even done anything yet!
In the Washington Post, Stephanie Land writes a piece headlined, "Trump's Election Stole My Desire to Look for a Partner."
Once it was clear that Donald Trump would be president instead of Hillary Clinton, I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to gather my children in bed with me and cling to them like we would if thunder and lightning were raging outside, with winds high enough that they power might go out. The world felt that precarious to me.
Ben Stein here weighs in on the insanity of the crybaby Left.
You liberal-left crybullies need to get over it and try harder next time. But it looks as if you have a death wish. Nancy Pelosi? Keith Ellison? Joe Biden in 2020? The clown will be 78. What will his campaign slogan be? "Together into senility"?
Monks come in two kinds, the cenobites and the eremites or hermits. The cenobites live in community whereas the hermits go off on their own. Eremos in Greek means desert, and there are many different motives for moving into the desert either literally or figuratively. There are those whose serious psychological conditions make it impossible for them to function in modern society. Chris Knight is such a one, who, when asked about Thoreau, replied in one word, "dilettante." That's saying something inasmuch as Henry David was one monkish and solitary dude even when he wasn't hanging out at Walden Pond. Somewhere in his fascinating journal he writes, "I have no walks to throw away on company."
Others of a monkish bent are wholly sane, unlike Knight, so sane in fact that they perceive and reject the less-than-sane hustle of Big City life. Some are motivated religiously, some philosophically, and some share both motivations. I have always held that a sane religiosity has to be deeply philosophical and vice versa. I think most of the Desert Fathers would agree. Athens and Jerusalem need each other for complementation and mutual correction. Some of the monkish are members of monastic religious orders, some attach themselves as oblates to such orders, and some go it alone. Call the latter the Maverick Variation.
And of course there are degrees of withdrawal from society and its illusions. I have been called a recluse, but on most days I engage in a bit of socializing usually early in the morning in the weight room or at the pool or spa where a certain amount of banter & bullshit is de rigueur. I thereby satisfy my exiguous social needs for the rest of the day. Other mornings, sick of such idle talk and the corrrosive effect it can have on one's seriousness and spiritual focus, I head for the hills to traipse alone with my thoughts as company. But I am not as severe as old Henry David: I will share my walk with you and show you some trails if you are serious, fit, and don't talk too much.
I am a Myers-Briggs INTP introvert. Must one be an introvert to be a hermit? No. The most interesting hermit I know is an extrovert who in his younger days was a BMOC, excellent at sports, successful at 'the chase,' who ended up on Wall Street, became very wealthy, indulged his every appetite, but then had a series of profound religious experiences that inspired him to sell all he owned and follow Christ, first into a cenobium, then into a hermitage.
A tip of the hat and a Merry Christmas to Karl White of London for sending me to this Guardian piece which profiles some contemporary monkish specimens.
A lot of you delusional liberals out there who think that Trump is a 'fascist' are suddenly getting interested in gun ownership. But before you go off 'half-cocked' and shoot yourself in the foot either figuratively or literally, or end up on the wrong side of the law, I recommend that you do a little research.
Larry Correia knows what he is talking about and I recommend his Guide to you. Being a liberal, you probably won't be offended by his 'lively' style of exposition.
Liberal loons continue to whine about 'voter suppression' with the demand for photo identification at polling places being an example of 'voter suppression.'
This view is so contemptibly stupid, and so obviously motivated by the lust for partisan advantage, that it is beneath refutation. You may as well argue that traffic laws amount to 'driver suppression' inasmuch as they suppress creative automotive maneuvers.
Here as elsewhere mockery is the best way to counter liberal insanity.
A while back on C-SPAN I heard one Steve Cobble claim that long lines at polls are 'voter suppression.' Only a leftie could come up with a loony line like that. Suppression requires a suppressor. Who, pray tell, is the suppressive agent behind the long lines?
I am trying to come to grips with Philippa Foot's Natural Goodness (Oxford UP, 2001).
For Foot, norms are ingredient in nature herself; they are not projected by us or expressive of our psychological attitudes. They are ingredient not in all of nature, but in all of living nature. Living things bear within themselves norms that ground the correctness of our evaluations. Evaluation occurs at "the intersection of two types of propositions: on the one hand, Aristotelian categoricals (life form descriptions relating to the species), and on the other, propositions about particular individuals that are the subject of evaluation." (33)
Foot bravely resists the fact-value dichotomy. (You could say she will not stand for it.) Values and norms are neither ideal or abstract objects in a Platonic realm apart, as Continental axiologists such as Max Scheler and Nicolai Hartmann maintained, nor are they psychological projections. They are intrinsically ingredient in natural facts. How does the resistance go? We start with an Aristotelian categorical such as 'The deer is an animal whose form of defense is flight.' The sentence is "about a species at a given historical time . . . ." (29) The individual as a member of its species is intrinsically or naturally good if it is able to serve its species by maintaining itself in existence and reproducing.
I now note something not mentioned by Foot but which I think is true. An individual organism does not reproduce itself; it produces (usually in conjunction with an opposite sexed partner) an organism distinct from itself, the offspring Thus an individual's 'reproduction' is quite unlike an individual's self-maintenance. It is the species that reproduces itself, strictly speaking, not the individual. A biological individual needs ancestors but it doesn't need descendants. The species needs descendants. Otherwise it becomes extinct.
I mention this to underscore the fact that Foot evaluates individuals and their parts, traits and actions in the light of the species to which the individual belongs. The goodness of a living thing "depends directly on the relation of an individual to the 'life form' of its species." (27) This is said to hold for all living things including human animals. It would seem to follow that human individuals have no ultimate intrinsic value or goodness as individuals: their value and goodness is relative to the contribution they make to the health and preservation of the species. Perhaps we could say that for Foot man is a species-being in that his existence and flourishing are necessarily tied to his being a specimen of a species. (It would make an interesting post to explore how this relates, if it does, to the Marxian notion of Gattungswesen.)
For example, suppose a deer is born with deformed limbs that prevent its engaging in swift flight from predators. This fact about it makes it an intrinsically or naturally bad deer. For such a deer will not be able to serve its species by preserving itself in existence until it can reproduce. The evaluation of an individual deer is conducted solely in the light of its relation to its species. It is not evaluated as an individual in its own right. Of course, I am not suggesting that deer be evaluated as individuals in their own right with an intrinsic moral worth that would make it wrong to treat them as means to our ends as opposed to treating them as ends in themselves. What I am doing is preparing to resist Foot's claim that human being can be evaluated in the same way that plants and non-human animals are evaluated.
Or consider the roots of an oak tree. (46) What makes them good roots? In virtue of what do they have this evaluative/normative property? They are good because they are robust, not stunted; they go deep and wide in search of water and nutrients; they do not remain near the surface or near the tree. They are good because they are healthy. They are healthy because they preserve the oak in existence so that it can contribute to the propagation of the species. Bad roots, then, are defective roots.
So evaluative properties are 'rooted in' -- pun intended! -- factual, empirically discernible, characteristics of living things. (The empirical detectability of normative properties makes Foot a cognitivist in meta-ethics.) The vitality of the roots and their goodness are one in reality. We can prise apart the factual from the evaluative mentally, but in reality there is no distinction. Foot does not say this in so many words, but surely this is what her position implies. Somehow, the factual and the normative are one. No dichotomy, split, dualism -- leastways, not in reality outside the mind. The health of the roots and their goodness are somehow the same. This sameness, like the notion of a species, is not entirely pellucid.
Note, however, that this monism is purchased in the coin of an extramental dualism, namely, that between species and specimen. The normative properties are 'inscribed' in the species if you will. A three-legged cat is a defective cat, but still a cat: it is is a defective specimen of its species. The generic generalization 'Cats are four-legged' cannot be refuted by adducing a three-legged cat. This is because 'cat' in the Aristotelian categorical, or generic generalization, is about the species, or, as Foot also writes, the life form of the species, which is distinct from any and all of its specimens. The species is normative for its specimens.
In sum, the sameness or 'monism' of normative and factual properties presupposes the dualism of species and specimen.
A Tenable View?
One problem I mentioned earlier: the notion of a species is exceedingly murky. But at the moment something else makes me nervous.
For Foot life is the ultimate principle of evaluation, physical life, natural life, the life of material beings in space and time, mortal life, life that inevitably loses in the battle against death. So the goodness of a human action or disposition is "simply a fact about a given feature of a certain kind of living thing." (5) Badness, then, is natural defect and this goes for humans too: "moral defect is a form of natural defect." (27) It follows that a moral defect in a person is never a spiritual defect, but in every case a natural defect. The good man is the healthy man, the well-functioning man, where moral health is just a kind of natural health. But the health of a healthy specimen derives from its exercise of its proper function which is dictated by its species. A healthy specimen is one that serves its species. A good tiger is a good predator, and woe to you if you a member of a species that is prey to such a predator. The tiger's job is to eat you and to be a good tiger he must do his job well. And so it seems that a good Aryan man would then be a man who serves the Aryan race by developing all his faculties so that he can most effectively secure the Lebensraum and such that he needs, not just to survive, but to flourish, and above all to procreate and propagate, and woe to you if you are a member of weaker race, a Slavic race, say, fit to be slaves of a master race. As a member of a race incapable of exercising to the full the virtues (powers) of a characteristic member of a master race, one is then, naturally, sub-human, an Untermensch. A Mensch, to be sure, but a defective Mensch, and because naturally defective, or at least naturally inferior, then naturally bad.
This appears to be a consequence of taking life to the the ultimate principle of evaluation.
At this point the fans of Foot are beginning to scream in protest. But my point here is not to smear Foot, but to explore her kind of meta-ethical naturalism. Actually, I am just trying to understand it. But to understand a position you have to understand what it entails. There is philosophy-as-worldview and philosophy-as-inquiry. This is the latter. My intent is not polemical.
Foot's naturalism seems to imply a sort of anti-individualism and anti-personalism. Foot views the individual human being as an organism in nature, objectivistically, biologically, from an external, third-person point of view. She sees a man, not as a person, a subject, but as a specimen of a species, an instance of a type, whose value it tied necessarily to fulfilling the demands of the type. She also seems to be suggesting that one's fulfillment as a human being necessarily involves living in and through and for the species, like a good Gattungswesen.
So even if a position like Foot's has the resources to prevent a slide into eugenics, or into the sort of racism that would justify slavery and the exploitation of the naturally inferior, there is still the troubling anti-personalism of it.
How then could a monk's choice of celibacy for himself be a morally good choice? Presumably only if it contributes to the flourishing of the human species. But suppose our monk is not a scientist, or any other benefactor of humanity, but a hermit wholly devoted to seeking union with God. Could Foot's framework accommodate the goodness of such a life choice? It is not clear to me how. It would seem that the choice to become a celibate monk or nun who lives solely for union with God would have to be evaluated on a Footian meta-ethics as morally bad, as a defective life choice. The implication would seem to be that such a person has thrown his life away.
Now of course that would be the case if there is no God. But suppose that God and the soul are real. Could a Footian stance accommodate the moral choiceworthiness of the eremitic monk's choice on that assumption? It is not clear to me how.
Part of the reason I got embroiled in this [gender identity] controversy was because of what I know about how things went wrong in the Soviet Union. Many of the doctrines that underlie the legislation that I’ve been objecting to share structural similarities with the Marxist ideas that drove Soviet Communism. The thing I object to the most was the insistence that people use these made up words like ‘xe’ and ‘xer’ that are the construction of authoritarians. There isn’t a hope in hell that I’m going to use their language, because I know where that leads.
[. . .]
I was also quite profoundly influenced by [Alexsandr] Solzhenitsyn’s book The Gulag Archipelago. People say that real Marxism has never been tried – not in the Soviet Union, in China, in Cambodia, in Korea, that wasn’t real Marxism. I find that argument specious, appalling, ignorant, and maybe also malevolent all at the same time. Specious because Solzhenitsyn demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the horrors [of the Soviet system] were a logical consequence of the doctrines embedded within Marxist thinking. I think Dostoyevsky saw what was coming and Nietzsche wrote about it extensively in the 1880s, laying out the propositions that are encapsulated in Marxist doctrine, and warning that millions of people would die in the 20th century because of it.
You’ve painted a pretty bleak picture for the future.
There are bleak things going on. To start with, Bill C-16 writes social constructionism into the fabric of the law. Social constructionism is the doctrine that all human roles are socially constructed. They’re detached from the underlying biology and from the underlying objective world. So Bill C-16 contains an assault on biology and an implicit assault on the idea of objective reality. It’s also blatant in the Ontario Human Rights Commission policies and the Ontario Human Rights Act. It says identity is nothing but subjective. So a person can be male one day and female the next, or male one hour and female the next.
She lost for many reasons, despite the incredibly powerful, ruthless, and well-funded machine behind her, not to mention all the illegal and 'dead' votes she got. And despite the fact that it was 'her turn.' One reason was her voice. (Via Burgess-Jackson.)
Do you doubt that significant numbers of illegals and 'dead people' vote? Then read this.
Suppose you are father of a daughter who has been brutally raped. The rapist is apprehended, tried, and found guilty. Suppose further than the man convicted really is guilty as charged and pays the penalty prescribed by the law, and that the penalty is a just one (the penalty that justice demands, as I would put it). The man serves his time, is released from prison, and yet you still harbor strong negative feelings toward him. You are assailed by murderous thoughts. You fantasize about killing him. After all, he violated your sensitive daughter in the most demeaning way and scarred her psychologically for life, snuffing out her vibrancy and souring her on life and men. What the miscreant did cannot be undone no matter what punishment he endures. But despite the negative feelings, you decide to forgive the man. And let us further suppose that you forgive him not just for your own peace of mind, but to restore good relations with him. (Suppose he is an acquaintance or co-worker of yours.)
Now if I understood what my young friend Steven was arguing a while back, his point was that this is not a genuine case of forgiveness: because the miscreant has paid his debt, there is nothing to forgive him for. Even if you forgive him before he serves his sentence, knowing that he will serve it, you have not truly forgiven him. Steven's thought, which he takes to be an explication of Christian forgiveness, is that true forgiveness exonerates the person forgiven: it removes the guilt and moral responsibility and with them the need for restitution and punishment. One cannot both truly forgive and demand that justice be served. True forgiveness is such that it cannot be made conditional upon the satisfaction of the demands of justice.
I think only God could forgive in this sense. So if this is Christian forgiveness, then I wonder whether it has any relevance to human action in this world.
That's one concern. Here is another, which may well rest on theological misunderstanding.
Curiously, in orthodox Christianity, God does not forgive man in the above sense: he 'holds his feet to the fire' for the 'infinite' offense of disobeying the infinitely perfect and good God. Is God not a Christian? Because the guilt man incurs by the primal disobedience of the first parents is infinite, there is nothing finite man can do to set things right either individually or collectively. Only God can restore right relations between God and man. So the triune God sends his Son into the world to assume human nature. This God-man is sacrificed in expiation of the infinite guilt incurred by Adam and Eve. Only God can atone, by substitution, for man's infinite sin.
Don't sacrifice your happiness on the altar of activism. Although happiness involves activity as Aristotle observed, it also involves rest, appreciation, enjoyment, gratitude, contentment, and contemplation. These, especially the last five, are deeply conservative. And they lie beyond the political.
We conservatives should be politically active only to the extent that it is necessary to beat back the totalitarians for whom the political is all.
Does it make sense to ask how probable God's existence is? I don't think so. God is more like truth than like a truth. One can sensibly ask after the probability of, say, The Dems will take back the House in 2018. It would make sense to say that this is likely, unlikely, more likely than not; that it has a 40-50% chance, etc.
But to ask after the probability of there being truths at all is to ask an incoherent question. Suppose someone were to say: it is more likely than not that there are truths, or: the likelihood of there being some truths is 27.5%
You can see that this is nonsense.
What I write on this blog and elsewhere implies that this is also nonsense with respect to God. God is not a being among beings, but Being itself. Would it makes sense to say that the probability of there being Being itself is 27.5%?
This old phrase, coined by Patrick J. Buchanan and deployed by Spiro T. Agnew, needs to be dusted off and re-deployed against the petty leftist crapweasels who will pick at everything Trump does or says.What a sorry lot of sore losers!
I coined 'higher infantilization' recently to cover what is going on in so-called institutions of higher learning. (The STEM disciplines excepted.) The New Criterion provides a good explanation of this infantilization which is also a feminization:
“Perpetual childhood.” Is there a better illustration of this enforced immaturity than the regime of “safe spaces,” “microaggressions,” and “trigger warnings” on campus? Increasingly, today’s students—and their tutelary overseers—are bred without intellectual or moral vertebrae. They exist in an amniotic fluid of shared prejudice that admits no challenging ideas from the world outside. The last few years have provided a series of high-profile and pathetic examples of what happens when these embryonic snowflakes collide with an opposing thought. Wailing. Protests. Excoriation. Disinvitation. Repudiation. The election of Donald Trump was the most serious violation of their safe space yet. There were no trigger warnings, for everyone they encountered assured them it was impossible. This was not a microaggression but a frontal assault. They responded accordingly, and with a unanimity that would make a murmuration of starlings seem haphazard.
Read it all, especially you girly girls, girly men, pajama boys, cry bullies and especially the lowest of the low, the cowardly and supine university administrators who by all appearances did their graduate studies in the Department of the Abdication of Authority.
It would be pleasant to think that when one is dead one will be wholly out of harm's way. But is that true? Here is some Epicurean reasoning:
1. Death is annihilation. (Materialist assumption) 2. A harm is a harm to someone or something: for there to be a harm, there must be a subject of harm. (Conceptual truth) 3. Nothing is a subject of a harm at a time at which it does not exist. (Plausible principle) Therefore 4. No dead person is a subject of harm. Therefore 5. Death (being dead) cannot be a harm to one who is dead.
Assuming that (1) is accepted, the only way of resisting this argument is by rejecting (3). And it must be admitted that (3), though plausible, can be reasonably rejected. Suppose I promise a dying man that I will take good care of his young and healthy dog after he dies. But I renege on my promise in order to save myself the hassle by having the dog euthanized. Epicurus in hand, I reason, "There is no harm to my friend since he no longer exists, and there is no harm to the dog because its transition to nonexistence will be quick and painless. Caring for the mangy mutt, however, is a harm to me for years to come."
Thomas Nagel would disagree and call my reneging "an injury to the dead man." ("Death" in Mortal Questions, Cambridge UP, 1979, p. 6) For Nagel, "There are goods and evils which are irreducibly relational; they are features of the relations between a person, with spatial and temporal boundaries of the usual sort, and circumstances which may not coincide with him either in space or in time." (p. 6)
Failing to do what I promised a man I would do after his demise is such an evil to the man. Being dead is a circumstance that does not temporally coincide with the life span of the one who will die. In general, a thing can have properties at times at which it does not exist provided it once existed. Frege's posthumous fame is a property he now possesses even though he no longer exists.
A Nagelian rejection of (3) is respectable and plausible as a means of turning aside the Epicurean argument. But it is scarcely compelling. For the Epicurean can simply insist that there are no relational harms. After all, there is something metaphysically murky about maintaining that a person who is nothing is yet the subject of a harm or injury simply on the strength of his having once existed. If you are now nothing, then you are now nothing: why should your once having been something be relevant?
So it looks like a stand-off, an aporetic impasse. The considerations for and against (3) seem to cancel each other.
One consideration in favor of (3) is presentism, the doctrine that the present time and its contents alone exist. If the present alone exists, then past individuals do not exist at all. If so, they cannot be subject to harms. A consideration contrary to (3) is our strong intuition that harms and injuries can indeed be inflicted upon the dead. The dead, if nonexistent, do not have desires, but we are strongly inclined to say that they have interests, interests subject to violation. (The literary executor who burns the manuscripts entrusted to him; the agent of Stalin who deletes references to Trotsky from historical documents, etc.)
But suppose the dead are subject to harms. If so, then they are presumably also subject to missing out on various goods that they would have enjoyed had they lived longer. Suppose a happy, healthy, well-situated 20-year-old full of life and promise dies suddenly and painlessly in a freak accident. Almost all will agree that in cases like this being dead (which we distinguish from both the process and the event of dying) is an evil, and therefore neither good nor axiologically neutral. It is an evil for the person who is dead whether or not it is an evil for anyone else. It is an evil because it deprives him of all the intrinsic goods he would have enjoyed had he not met an untimely end.
This suggests that, contra Epicurus, one can rationally fear being dead. What one rationally fears when one fears one's being dead is a future state of affairs in which one cannot enjoy goods that one would have enjoyed had one lived longer.
This makes sense but is also raises thorny questions. One concerns the oddness of this state of affairs. Not only does it involve a counterfactual; who or what is the subject of this future state of affairs? There won't be one!
A second question concerns whether or not states of affairs can be said to be good or bad if they do not involve living beings. If I understand Philippa Foot, her view is that good and bad are grounded in living organisms and in nothing else where, roughly, goodness is proper functioning, and evil a natural defect or lack of proper functioning. If so, there cannot be any good or bad states of affairs whose subject is a dead animal.
Here is one way to construe the Epicurean argument:
A. No person P can rationally fear any state S such that, in S, P isn't having any experiences. B. A dead person is in a state, being dead, such that he is not having any experiences. Ergo C. No person P can rationally fear being dead.
A correspondent suggests that this is indeed the Epicurean argument, but goes on to question (A).
I too question (A). Suppose a man makes sure that his wife and children will be provided for should he die by doing such things as eliminating debts, taking out a life insurance policy, etc. He rationally fears a future state in which he won't be having any experiences, namely, the state in which his wife and children survive his demise but lack the wherewithal to live in the style to which they have become accustomed.
It thus appears that (A) is false. If so, the above argument is unsound. But is the above argument the only or best construal of the Epicurean reasoning?
I take the major premise to be, not (A), but
A*. No person P can rationally fear any state S of P such that, in S, P isn't having any experiences.
Now isn't (A*) self-evidently true?
Why then do so many find the Epicurean reasoning sophistical? To Philip Larkin in "Aubade" it is "specious stuff":
This is a special way of being afraid No trick dispels. Religion used to try, That vast moth-eaten musical brocade Created to pretend we never die, And specious stuff that says No rational being Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing That this is what we fear — no sight, no sound, No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, Nothing to love or link with, The anaesthetic from which none come round.
This is good poetry but bad philosophy. Larkin seems not to grasp that the question is not whether we fear "The anaesthetic from which none come round," but whether it is rational to fear it.
UPDATE (2 December):
Daniel M. writes,
(A*) isn't self-evident to me. Suppose you're told there's a 1/10 chance you'll die in your sleep tonight. Supposing you desire to keep living, wouldn't you fear ending up in the state of death tonight? And given your desires, wouldn't the fear be rational?
BV: I would say that the object of your rational fear is not being dead, but the transition to being dead which I described in my original post as ego loss, the sensation of your self irrevocably dissolving. The hour of death is a living dying, not a being dead. It is that living dying, or conscious dying, that reasonably horrifies us, and for which there is no Epicurean, but there is a Christian, cure. (See my original post.)
D. M. goes on to point that there are intrinsic and extrinsic aspects to one's being dead that affect the overall Epicurean argument. Discussing them would require a separate post.
In a piece entitled, "Mr. Trump, Meet the Constitution," the editorial board of The New York Times betrays a failure to grasp the distinction between the U. S. Constitution and Supreme Court rulings about it. In the 1989 case "Texas v. Johnson," SCOTUS handed down a 5-4 ruling according to which flag burning was a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Now if you read the amendment you will find no reference to flag burning. The subsumption of flag burning under protected speech required interpretation and argument and a vote among the justices. The 5-4 vote could easily have gone the other way, and arguably should have.
So Trump's tweet, "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag . . . ," does not show a lack of understanding of the Constitution. After all, SCOTUS rulings can be overturned. On a charitable interpretation, Trump was advocating an overturning of the 1989 and 1990 flag burning rulings.
Ought flag burning come under the rubric of protected speech? Logically prior question: Is it speech at all? What if I make some such rude gesture in your face as 'giving you the finger.' Is that speech? If it is, I would like to know what proposition it expresses. 'Fuck you!' does not express a proposition. Likewise for the corresponding gesture with the middle finger. And if some punk burns a flag, I would like to know what proposition the punk is expressing.
The Founders were interested in protecting reasoned dissent, but the typical act of flag burning by the typical leftist punk does not rise to that level. To have reasoned or even unreasoned dissent there has to be some proposition that one is dissenting from and some counter-proposition that one is advancing, and one's performance has to make more or less clear what those propositions are. I think one ought to be skeptical of arguments that try to subsume gestures and physical actions under speech.
The First Amendment also mentions religion. If flag desecration counts as speech, what would not count as religion? Is godless communism a religion? Why not, if a majority of the black-robed ones say it is?
The Constitution is a magnificent document worthy of great respect and a sort of secular reverence, attitudes one might hesitate to cherish with respect to certain members of the Supreme Court.
Am I saying that there should be a flag burning amendment? No. Let the states decide what to do with the punks who desecrate the flag.
As for Hampshire College, pull their federal funding if they refuse to fly the flag. That should get their attention.
It's not hard to understand why many secular people in the West were fascinated by a figure like Fidel Castro. Where religion retreats, political faiths tend to advance to fill the absence of meaning, purpose, authority (yes, people crave that, too). Add a bold, charismatic leader willing to fight – even die – for something? It was the Iliad, Robin Hood, Star Wars, in hip scraggly beards, jungle fatigues, defiantly smoking Cuban cigars.
But why many religious people over decades were taken with the now departed máximo lider is harder to grasp. Vaticanist Sandro Magister has wittily observed: Pope Francis cried at his passing, Patriarch Kirill wept, but among those close to the situation – the Cuban bishops – it’s dry eyes all around.
Over the weekend, Donald Trump bragged in signature style that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Lefties are calling the statement a lie. But it is no such thing. In the typical case, a lie is a false statement made with the intention to deceive. In the typical case, one who lies knows the truth, but misrepresents it to his audience out of a desire to deceive them. But no one knows the truth-value of Trump's braggadocious conditional. It could be true, but neither Trump nor anyone else has any evidence of its truth. Although verifiable in principle, it is not practically verifiable.
When lefties call a statement a lie which is not a lie should we say that they are lying about what it is?
Was Trump exaggerating when he made his remark? That's not right either.
I think what we have here is a species of bullshit in the sense pinned down by a noted philosopher. According to Harry Frankfurt, a statement is bullshit if it is
. . . grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit." (emphasis added)
Professor Frankfurt has a fine nose for the essence of bullshit. The bullshitter is one who 'doesn't give a shit' about the truth value of what he is saying. He doesn't care how things stand with reality. The liar, by contrast, must care: he must know (or at least attempt to know) how things are if he is to have any chance of deceiving his audience. Think of it this way: the bullshitter doesn't care whether he gets things right or gets them wrong; the liar cares to get them right so he can deceive you about them.
Now if the bullshitter does not care about truth, what does he care about? He cares about himself, about making a certain impression. His aim is to (mis)represent himself as knowing what he does not know or more than he actually knows. Frankfurt again:
. . . bullshitting involves a kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely than to telling a lie. But what is implied concerning its nature by the fact that it is more like the former than it is like the latter? Just what is the relevant difference here between a bluff and a lie? Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. Bluffing too is typically devoted to conveying something false. Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. In order to appreciate this distinction, one must recognize that a fake or a phony need not be in any respect (apart from authenticity itself) inferior to the real thing. What is not genuine need not also be defective in some other way. It may be, after all, an exact copy. What is wrong with a counterfeit is not what it is like, but how it was made. This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong. (emphasis added)
When did the Age of Bullshit begin in American politics? Perhaps with the inauguration of Bill Clinton. But it really gets underway with Barack Obama. Obama is the shuck-and-jive precursor of Trump. So let's recall some of his antics.
As Frankfurt points out, the essence of bullshit is a lack of concern for truth. But truth and consistency are closely related notions. Two statements are consistent (inconsistent) just in case they can (cannot) both be true. Now I do not know if there are any cases of Obama contradicting himself synchronically (at a time), but there are plenty of examples of him contradicting himself diachronically. He said things as a senator the opposite of which he says now. Victor Davis Hanson supplies numerous examples in Obama as Chaos:
. . . when the president takes up a line of argument against his opponents, it cannot really be taken seriously — not just because it is usually not factual, but also because it always contradicts positions that Obama himself has taken earlier or things he has previously asserted. Whom to believe — Obama 1.0, Obama 2.0, or Obama 3.0?
When the president derides the idea of shutting down the government over the debt ceiling, we almost automatically assume that he himself tried to do just that when as a senator he voted against the Bush administration request in 2006, when the debt was about $6 trillion less than it is now.
The problem here is not merely logical; it is also ethical: the man is not truthful. Truth, falsity, consistency, inconsistency pertain to propositions, not persons. Truthfulness, deceitfulness, lack of concern for truth and consistency -- these are ethical attributes, properties of persons. Obama the bullshitter is an ethically defective president. When Nixon lied, he could be shamed by calling him on it. That is because he was brought up properly, to value truth and truthfulness. But the POMO Obama, like that "first black president" Bill Clinton, apparently can't be shamed. It's all bullshit and fakery and shuckin' and jivin'. There is no gravitas in these two 'black' presidents, the one wholly white, the other half-white. Everything's a 'narrative' -- good POMO word, that -- and the only question is whether the narrative works in the moment for political advantage. A narrative needn't be true to be a narrative, which is why the POMO types like it. Hanson has Obama's number:
But a third explanation is more likely. Obama simply couldn’t care less about what he says at any given moment, whether it is weighing in on the football name “Redskins” or the Travyon Martin trial. He is detached and unconcerned about the history of an issue, about which he is usually poorly informed. Raising the debt ceiling is an abstraction; all that matters is that when he is president it is a good thing and when he is opposing a president it is a bad one. Let aides sort out the chaos. Obamacare will lower premiums, not affect existing medical plans, and not require increased taxes; that all of the above are untrue matters nothing. Who could sort out the chaos?
[. . .]
The media, of course, accepts that what Obama says on any given day will contradict what he has said or done earlier, or will be an exaggeration or caricature of his opponents’ position, or simply be detached from reality. But in their daily calculus, that resulting chaos is minor in comparison to the symbolic meaning of Obama. He is, after all, both the nation’s first African-American president and our first left-wing progressive since Franklin Roosevelt.
In comparison with those two facts, no others really matter.
Here are some notes on Chapter Two, "Natural Norms," of Philippa Foot's Natural Goodness, Oxford UP, 2001.
As I mentioned previously, Foot essays "a naturalistic theory of ethics: to break really radically both with G. E. Moore's anti-naturalism and with the subjectivist theories such as emotivism and prescriptivism that have been seen as clarifications and developments of Moore's original thought." (p. 5)
"The main thesis of this book is that propositions about goodness and defect in a human being -- even those that have to do with goodness of character and action -- are not to be understood in such psychological terms." (37) Her point is that when we evaluate living things, whether plants, animals, or humans, our uses of 'good' do not need to be explained in terms of commendation or any other speech act, or in terms of any psychological attitude. Goodness and defect in living things are intrinsic to them and not parasitic upon attitudes or stances we take up with respect to them.
On to the details.
Earlier we were discussing the peculiarities of generic statements. A generic statement is one that is neither singular nor logically quantifiable. 'The cat is four-legged,' unlike 'The cat is sleeping,' is typically used to express a general not a singular proposition. But 'The cat is four-legged,' typically used, is not equivalent to 'All cats are four-legged' or to any quantified statement. One three-legged cat suffices to falsify the universal quantification, but it does not falsify the generic generalization. The fact that many adult humans lack the full complement of 32 teeth does not falsify the generic 'Adult humans have 32 teeth.' 'Rabbits are herbivorous' is a further example. It would seem to entail 'Some rabbits are herbivorous.' Even so, one is saying much more with an utterance of the former than with the latter.
The following wrinkles now occur to me. If 'some' imports present existence, then the generic 'Velociraptors are carnivorous' does not entail 'Some velociraptors are carnivorous.' But let's not get hung up on this, or on the entailments of the presumably generic 'Unicorns are four-legged.' But we should note, en passant, the presumably different phenomenon of plural predication. 'Velociraptors are extinct' is not about individual velociraptors; it is not equivalent to 'Each velociraptor is extinct.' Presumably, it is the species that is extinct, whatever exactly species are. A species goes extinct when its last specimen expires; but one cannot say that the specimen goes extinct. Assuming that Obama is not a species unto himself, his death will not be his extinction. Compare 'Horses fill the field' with 'Horses are four-legged.' The first is a plural predication; the second is not. It is false that each horse fills the field, but true that each normal horse is four-legged. But both sentences have in common that they are not about each horse.
But I digress. Back to Foot.
Foot, following Michael Thompson, speaks of Aristotelian categoricals. "The deer is an animal whose form of defence is flight" is an example. (34) The sentence is "about a species at a given historical time . . . ." (29) Foot is not assuming the immutability of species. But species must have a "relative stability" if true Aristotelian categoricals are to be possible at all. (29) "They tell us how a kind of plant or animal , considered at a particular time, and in its natural habitat, develops, sustains itself, defends itself, and reproduces." (29)
Foot, stepping beyond Thompson, stresses the teleological aspect of Aristotelian categoricals. "There is an Aristotelian categorical about the species peacock to the effect that the male peacock displays his brilliant tail in order to attract a female during the mating season." (31) Not that the male strutting his stuff has any such telos in mind. The thought here is that there is a teleology in nature that works itself out below the level of conscious mind. The heliotropism in plants is a kind of teleology in nature below the level of conscious mind. Plants 'strive' to get into the light, but not consciously. Migrating birds are not trying to get somewhere warmer with better eats; they do not have this end in view. And yet the migratory operation is teleologically directed. Why do the birds head south? In order to survive the winter, find food, and reproduce.
Can we say of an individual plant or animal that it is intrinsically good or bad independently of our interests or desires? This is the crucial question that Foot answers in the affirmative. Norms are ingredient in nature herself; they are not projected by us or expressive of our psychological attitudes. Ingredient not in all of nature, but in all of living nature. Living things bear within them norms that ground the correctness of our evaluations. Evaluation occurs at "the intersection of two types of propositions: on the one hand, Aristotelian categoricals (life form descriptions relating to the species), and on the other, propositions about particular individuals that are the subject of evaluation." (33)
Foot is bravely resisting the fact-value dichotomy. Values and norms are neither ideal objects in a Platonic realm apart, nor are they psychological projections. They are intrinsically ingredient in natural facts. How does the resistance go? We start with an Aristotelian categorical such as 'The deer is an animal whose form of defence is flight.' The sentence is "about a species at a given historical time . . . ." (29) The individual as a member of its species is intrinsically or naturally good if it is able to serve its species by maintaining itself in existence and reproducing. Note that an individual organism does not reproduce itself; it reproduces (usually in conjunction with an opposite sexed partner) an organism distinct from itself, the offspring Thus an individual's reproduction is quite unlike an individual's self-maintenance. An individual needs ancestors but it doesn't need descendants. The species needs descendants. Now suppose a deer is born with deformed limbs that prevent its engaging in swift flight from predators. This fact about it makes it an intrinsically or naturally bad deer. For such a deer will not be able to serve its species by preserving itself in existence until it can reproduce. That's my gloss, anyway.
The idea, then, is that the species to which the individual organism belongs encapsulates norms of goodness/badness for its members which the individual either meets or fails to meet.
Interim Critical Remarks
A. This naturalistic scheme strikes me as obscure because the status of species has not been sufficiently clarified. Aristotelian categoricals are about species, but what exactly are species or the "life forms of species"? The species peacock presumably exists only in individual peacocks, but is not identical to any such individual or to the whole lot of them. (The species is not an extensional entity such as a mereological sum, or a set.) It looks to be an immanent universal, a one-in-many. But then it is not natural in the very same sense in which an individual peacock is natural, i.e., in space and time at a definite spatiotemporal location, and only there. (Universals are multiply located.) So Foot's natural norms are not natural in the same sense in which the organisms of which they are the norms are natural.
So there still is a fact-norm distinction in the form of the distinction between a member of a species and the species. This whole scheme will remain murky until it is explained what a species is and how it is present in its members. We are in the vicinity of the ancient problem of universals. Foot's norms are not outside of things in a realm apart, not in the mind; they are 'in' things. But what does this 'in' mean exactly?
B. My second remark concerns an individual organism that cannot serve its species such as an infertile human male, or a human female who cannot have children and is therefore biologically defective in this respect. Does her biological defect make her a bad human being? Foot would seem to have to say yes: the defective woman does not come up to the norm for her species. She is abnormal in a normative sense and not merely in a statistical sense. She is not a good woman! How is this any different from the case of the lame deer? A lame deer is a defective deer, hence not a good deer. It is not a good deer because it cannot flee from predators thereby maintaining its life so that it can go on to procreate and serve its species by so doing.
Foot wants to bring normativity down to earth from Plato's heaven; at the same time she wants to extrude it from the mind and install it in natural things outside the mind. This makes plenty of sense with respect to plants and non-human animals. But of course she want to extend her scheme to humans as well. This is where trouble starts.
Foot sees the individual organism in the light of the species: as a specimen of the species and not as an individual in its own right. This is not a problem for plants and non-human animals, with the possible exception of our pets. But Foot wants to extend her natural normativity scheme to humans as well. But how can what I ought to do, and what I ought not to do, and what I should be and how I should be be dictated by my species membership? Am I just an animal, a bit of the world's fauna? I am an animal, but I am also a person: not just a material object in a material world, but a conscious and self-conscious subject for whom there is a world.
Examine a coastal Democratic establishmentarian, and there is little discernable difference in his lifestyle, income, or material tastes from those conservatives (usually poorer) whom he accuses of all sorts of politically incorrect behaviors.
I should think a conservative would want to resist all pointless innovations. The correct spelling points back to the Latin. Leibniz spoke of the identitas indiscernibilium not the identitas indiscernabilium.
I want the link to the Latin maintained out of a sort of salutary piety for our tradition.
This is why I write 'tranquillity' rather than 'tranquility.'
Pedantic punctilios? No doubt, which is why I will not draw my weapon if you disagree.
Now go read Hanson's excellent column which is more important than my picayune points supra.
Finally, Castro’s death and the outpouring of praise from his fans should remind us about the essence of the Cold War: it will never really be over, because it was always more than a geopolitical struggle between two nation-states. It was and is a struggle between those who value the liberty of the individual above all else versus those who embrace utopian dreams of a state than can solve all problems and make everyone happy, as long as the “right people” are in charge.
I pity people who celebrate the life of Fidel Castro in a knee-jerk reaction to salve their consciences for years of having committed themselves to failed and morally bankrupt ideas. They are not ignorant or stupid: they know Castro was a murderous tyrant who built a slave-state and ruined his country and has handed on that legacy to his brother who is even now planning to leave it to their heirs, helped along by the foolish policies of the American president and others in the West who always think their goodwill gestures and magnanimity will bring everyone around to a better way. Pity them or not, however, we cannot absolve them of accommodating the Castro brothers’ crimes.
Imagine having seven pints of your blood forcibly extracted prior to being executed for your political dissent. You are not allowed to face the firing squad with dignity, but murdered while dazed and confused from blood loss. And yet the Left sings the dictator's praises. Here:
Castro’s body count varies depending on who you ask. The Cuba Archive Project has one of the most reliable data sets. The group’s records cover a period from May 1952 to the present. In order to be counted, the stories of each victim must be verified by two independent sources. To date, the Archive attributes some 10,723 deaths to the regime. Including nearly 1,000 deaths linked to “disappearances,” more than 2,000 extrajudicial killings, and over 3,100 people killed by firing squad. Some 100 minor children have been murdered by the regime via beating, the withholding of medical attention, and other methods. In addition to these killings, some 78,000 people are estimated to have died while trying to flee the country.
To those unconvinced by mass murder that Castro was a lamentable dictator, consider his government’s practice of forced blood donation. This can range from taking a person’s blood forcibly without their consent to coercing individuals to offer their blood.
The Cuba Archive has credible information on at least 11 cases of forced blood extraction prior to execution. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of States (OAS) 1967 report regarding the practice at Havana’s La Cabaña prison, an average of seven pints of blood were forcibly taken from prisoners on their way to be executed, causing “cerebral anemia and a state of unconscious paralysis.” (For perspective, the average adult has around 10 pints of blood in their body.) Victims would then be taken to the firing squad on a stretcher.
The Cuban government would then sell the blood to the North Vietnamese for around $50 a pint.
Today, Cubans are required to “donate” blood before even minor medical procedures. Year-round media campaigns encourage citizens to donate in an effort to “save lives.” In reality, the Cuban government has kept up with its history of exporting blood products. According to Cuba’s Oficina Nacionel de Estadísticas (National Office of Statistics), the country exported some $622.5 million—an average of $31 million per year—of blood products between 1995 and 2014. (It’s worth noting that these numbers may very well be understated. Other products made from blood derivatives may not be classified as blood products when exported.)
President Obama welcomed Black Lives Matter activists several times to the White House. He racialized the entire criminal-justice system, repeatedly accusing it of discriminating, often lethally, against blacks. At the memorial service for five Dallas police officers gunned down in July 2016, Obama declared that black parents were right to fear that “something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door”—that the child will be shot by a cop simply for being “stupid.”
Obama put Brittany Packnett, a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, on his President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Packnett’s postelection essay on Vox, “White People: what is your plan for the Trump presidency?” is emblematic of the racial demonology that is now core Democratic thinking. Packnett announces that she is “tired of continuously being assaulted” by her country with its pervasive “white supremacy.” She calls on “white people” to “deal with what white people cause,” because “people of color have enough work to do for ourselves—to protect, free, and find joy for our people.”
Packnett’s plaint about crushing racial oppression echoes media darling Ta-Nehesi Coates, whose locus classicus of maudlin racial victimology, Between the World and Me, won a prominent place on Obama’s 2015 summer reading list. Coates has received almost every prize that the elite establishment can bestow; Between the World and Me is now a staple of college summer reading lists.
According to Coates, police officers who kill black men are not “uniquely evil”; rather, their evil is the essence of America itself. These “destroyers” (i.e., police officers) are “merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. This legacy aspires to the shackling of black bodies.” In America, Mr. Coates claims, “it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Coates’s melodramatic rhetoric comes right out of the academy, the inexhaustible source of Democratic identity politics. The Democratic Party is now merely an extension of left-wing campus culture; few institutions exist wherein the skew toward Democratic allegiance is more pronounced. The claims of life-destroying trauma that have convulsed academia since the election are simply a continuation of last year’s campus Black Lives Matter protests, which also claimed that “white privilege” and white oppression were making existence impossible for black students and other favored victim groups. Black students at Bard College, for example, an elite school in New York’s Hudson Valley, called for an end to “systemic and structural racism on campus . . . so that Black students can go to class without fear.” If any black Bard student had ever been assaulted by a white faculty member, administrator, or student, the record does not reflect it.
These claims of “structural racism and institutional oppression,” in the words of Brown University’s allegedly threatened black students, overlook the fact that every selective college in the country employs massive racial preferences in admissions favoring less academically qualified black and Hispanic students over more academically qualified white and Asian ones. Every faculty hiring search is a desperate exercise in finding black and Hispanic candidates whom rival colleges have not already scooped up at inflated prices. Far from being “post-racial,” campuses spend millions on racially and ethnically separate programming, separate dorms, separate administrators, and separate student centers. They have created entire fields devoted to specializing in one’s own “identity,” so long as that identity is non-white, non-male, or non-heterosexual. The central theme of those identity-based fields is that heterosexual, white (one could also add Christian) males are the source of all injustice in the world. Speaking on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show in the wake of Trump’s election, Emory philosophy professor George Yancy, author of Look, A White!, called for a nationwide “critique of whiteness,” which, per Yancy, is at the “core side of hegemony” in the U.S.
You shouldn't be. The election result is in part a massive repudiation of the insanity of the Left of which there is new evidence almost every day. A couple of recent examples: The flag incident at Hampshire College; FDNY's hiring of ex-cons for diversity.
Ah yes, Diversity! The goddess before whom the loons of the Left genuflect when they are not genuflecting before that god of diversity, Barack Hussein Obama, the self-diverse apotheosis of diversity, both black and white, he who brought the races together. What a legacy!
This post floats the suggestion that deflationism about truth is inconsistent with relativism about truth. Not that one should be a deflationist. But it would be interesting if deflationism entailed the nonrelativity of truth.
There is a sense in which deflationary theories of truth deny the very existence of truth. For what these theories deny is that anything of a unitary and substantial nature corresponds to the predicate 'true' or 'is true.' To get a feel for the issue, start with the platitude that some of the things people say are true and some of the things people say are not true. People who say that Hitler died by his own hand in the Spring of 1945 say something true, while those who say that no Jews were gassed at Auschwitz say something that is not true. Given the platitude that there are truths and untruths, classically-inclined philosophers will inquire: What is it that all and only the truths have in common in virtue of which they are truths? What is truth? What is the property of being-true?
A deflationist is one who denies that there is any property of truth, or at least, any property of truth robust enough to support a substantive traditional-type inquiry into its nature. Truth is either not a property, or it is a rather 'thin' property about which nothing very interesting can be said. An example of an interesting theory would be one that identifies truth with some epistemic/doxastic property such as warranted assertibility, or rational acceptability, or rational acceptability at the ideal limit of inquiry, or with a relation of coherence among beliefs, or with a relation of correspondence to facts, or with what is conducive to our flourishing (the Jamesian good by way of belief), or with that which enhances the feeling of power, or with what God decides, etc. For the classically-inclined, truth is a deep topic; for the deflationist it is very thin beer.
The deflationist, then, is denying that truth has a unitary and substantial nature into which it would make sense to inquire. There is no Truth with a capital 'T.' Does it follow that the deflationist is committed to relativism about truth? Must he say that there is no such thing as objective correctness?
It seems not. For although the deflationist denies Truth, he need not deny truths. There are truths galore on the views of prominent deflationists; it is just that they have nothing non-linguistic in common in virtue of which they are true. The deflationist tendency is to say that there is no more to Truth than is captured in such equivalences as:
Sentence 'S' (in language L) is true iff S
The proposition that p is true iff p.
One version of deflationism is Quine's disquotationalism according to which the function of the truth-predicate is to remove the quotation marks from a quoted sentence. Thus "'Snow is white' is true" says exactly what 'Snow is white' says, namely, that snow is white. And "'Grass is green' is true" says exactly what 'Grass is green' says, namely, that grass is green. And so on. There is nothing common to these sentences in virtue of which they are true. 'True' is just a device of disquotation; it does not pick out a genuine property.
It is easy to see that there is nothing here that is inconsistent with the absolutness of snow's being white or of grass's being green, etc. What's more interesting is that deflationary theories of truth would seem to rule out alethic relativism. Suppose a Nietzschean maintains that truth is the property of being power-enhancing, a property of those beliefs that enhance the power of the one who holds them. Deflationism rules out this substantive theory of truth along with every other substantive theory of truth. For if deflationism is true, then Truth has no nature; it is in a sense nothing at all. As such, it cannot be identified with the property of being power-enhancing.
This looks to be a general result. For truth to be relative, it would have to be identified with some relative property such as acceptability or rational acceptability, or rational acceptability by some ideally situated cognizers, or whatever. But such an identification could be made only if truth has an analyzable nature. On deflationism, however, truth lacks a nature. So truth on deflationism is non-relative. Indeed, this seems to be a consequence of the above equivalence schemata. For the schemata imply that every proposition, if true, is true simpliciter, which rules out any proposition's being true-for-X, for some relativizing factor X.
To sum up.
No deflationary theory of truth is a substantive theory of truth. All relativistic theories are substantive theories. Ergo, no deflationary theory of truth is a relativistic theory of truth.
I suppose he means something else than that people disagree, also something else than that truth is seldom certain.
b) ... what's the most clear way to criticize R?
BV: (R) is a substantive and highly controversial thesis about the nature of truth. So it is not to be confused with the Moorean fact or datum that different people often have different beliefs about one and the same topic. Nor is it to be confused with any epistemological thesis about the knowledge of truth such as the thesis that nothing is known with certainty. For this latter thesis is consistent with truth being absolute. Fallibilism and absolutism are consistent. And of course, to hold as I do that truth is absolute (nonrelative) is not to hold that every truth is necessary. If a proposition is true, then it is absolutely true whether it is contingent or necessary. No matter how paltry the proposition -- I had gyro meat with my eggs this morning -- if true, then absolutely true.
Note that I would not speak, redundantly, of absolute truth were it not for the mischief caused by those who speak, incoherently, of relative truth. I would simply speak of truth. Truth is truth. There is no such animal as relative truth.
VV: Suppose the alethic relativist is fine acknowledging that, given R,(R1) R itself is a relative truth -- as well as R1 (or any further meta-claim R2, R3, etc.). Once you provided an interesting retort: the alethic relativist "cannot say that ... nonrelativism is only relatively true. If he said that, he would be assuming that relativism is nonrelatively true ..." I don't follow this implication, so I would appreciate your further elaboration.
BV: If (R) is true, then it is either absolutely true or relatively true. If the former, then self-refererential inconsistency and self-refutation. So the relativist is forced to retreat, on pain of inconsistency, to (RR): It is relatively true that every truth is relative. But then I object that this cannot have any general or global application or relevance. "Fine, truth is relative for you and your pals, but this has nothing to do with me, and so I may reasonably ignore your quirky local view."
The point here is that the relative relativist cannot exclude the nonrelativist view: he must admit that it is possible that nonrelativism (NR) be nonrelatively true. But then the relative relativist seems to fall into contradiction inasmuch as he must embrace both limbs of the following inconsistent dyad:
It is possible that (NR) be true in every locality It is impossible that (NR) be true in every locality.
Our relative relativist must embrace the first limb since he cannot logically exclude the possibility of the truth of (NR). And he must embrace the second limb because (NR) and (RR) cannot both be true in the relative relativist's locality.
The relative relativist confuses truth with local understanding. The relative relativist is a slippery fellow. It is not clear what he is up to, though one senses that he is up to no good. Is he simply changing the subject by speaking of local understanding rather than truth? Is he making an eliminativist move by denying that there is truth? Is he trying to reduce truth to local understanding? These are all dead ends.
VV: Also, once you wrote: "The aletheic relativist either asserts his thesis (R) as absolutely true or as relatively true. If the former, his thesis is self-refuting. If the latter, then his thesis avoids self-contradiction only to face a dilemma: either relative-truth is the same as the property of being-believed, or it is not. If the former, then the relativity of truth boils down to an uninteresting triviality. If the latter, then it remains wholly unclear what could be meant by the property of relative-truth, and the thesis (R) perishes of semantic indeterminacy."
What I'm wondering here about is whether the alethic relativist really cannot specify R non-trivially yet consistently.
BV: The following is an uninteresting triviality: one and the same proposition can be believed by one person but not believed by another. Let the proposition be: Hillary lied about Benghazi. Speaking loosely, once could say that theproposition istrue-for Tom but not true-for Chelsea. This sloppy way of talking suggests that to be true = to be believed by someone. Now if the property of being true = the property of being believed by someone, then alethic relativism becomes trivially true.
But the thesis of althetic relativism is not trivially true. So what is truth for the alethic relativist if it is not the property of being believed by someone?
My challenge to the relativist: Tell us what you mean by 'truth' such that truth can be coherently conceived to be relative. If you cannot do this then you have no thesis.
●He turned Cuba into a colony of the Soviet Union and nearly caused a nuclear holocaust.
●He sponsored terrorism wherever he could and allied himself with many of the worst dictators on earth.
●He was responsible for so many thousands of executions and disappearances in Cuba that a precise number is hard to reckon.
●He brooked no dissent and built concentration camps and prisons at an unprecedented rate, filling them to capacity, incarcerating a higher percentage of his own people than most other modern dictators, including Stalin.
●He condoned and encouraged torture and extrajudicial killings.
●He forced nearly 20 percent of his people into exile, and prompted thousands to meet their deaths at sea, unseen and uncounted, while fleeing from him in crude vessels.
●He claimed all property for himself and his henchmen, strangled food production and impoverished the vast majority of his people.
●He outlawed private enterprise and labor unions, wiped out Cuba’s large middle class and turned Cubans into slaves of the state.
●He persecuted gay people and tried to eradicate religion.
●He censored all means of expression and communication.
●He established a fraudulent school system that provided indoctrination rather than education, and created a two-tier health-care system, with inferior medical care for the majority of Cubans and superior care for himself and his oligarchy, and then claimed that all his repressive measures were absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of these two ostensibly “free” social welfare projects.
●He turned Cuba into a labyrinth of ruins and established an apartheid society in which millions of foreign visitors enjoyed rights and privileges forbidden to his people.
●He never apologized for any of his crimes and never stood trial for them.
Paul Manata reminded me of the source of the story about Thales and the servant girl from Thrace.
"Thales was studying the stars and gazing into the sky, when he fell into a well, and a jolly and witty Thracian servant girl made fun of him, saying that he was crazy to know about what was up in the heavens while he could not see what was in front of him beneath his feet." (Theaetetus 174a)
I checked the reference and Paul got it right. He was inspired to provide the quotation upon reading my 'bad drivers' post below.
The whole context surrounding 174a is just marvellous, but then so is all of Plato. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Philosophy is Plato, and Plato philosophy." (I'd better check the quotation!)
Sed Contra sends this from Aristotle's Politics:
The story goes that some people reproached Thales for being poor, on the grounds that it showed his philosophy was useless. But because of his knowledge of the stars, he realized there would be a bumper crop of olives in the following year. So, while it was still winter, he raised a little money and used it to secure all the olive presses in Miletus and Chios for future lease. He got them at a low rate because no one bid against him. When the olive season came, and the demand for olive presses was suddenly very heavy, he was able to sub-lease them at whatever rate he chose. He made a lot of money, thereby showing that philosophers could easily become wealthy if they wished, but that this is not something they care much about. (I.11 1259a)
There is dying, there is being dead, and there is the momentary transition from the one to the other.
While we rightly fear the suffering and indignity of dying, especially if the process is drawn out over weeks or months, it is the anticipation of the moment of death that some of us find horrifying. This horror is something like Heideggerian Angst which, unlike fear (Furcht), has no definite object. Fear has a definite object; in this case the dying process. Anxiety is directed -- but at the unknown, at nothing in particular.
For what horrifies some of us is the prospect of sliding into the state of nonbeing, both the sliding and the state. Can Epicurus help?
If the Epicurean reasoning works for the state of being dead, it cannot work for the transition from dying to being dead. Epicurus reasoned: When I am, death is not; when death is; I am not. So what is there to fear? If death is the utter annihilation of the subject of experience, then, after death, there will be nothing left of me to experience anything and indeed nothing to be in a state whether I experience it or not. Clearly, a state is a state of a thing in that state. No thing, no state.
This reasoning strikes me as cogent. On the assumption that physical death is the annihilation of the person or self, then surely it is irrational to fear the state one will be in when one no longer exists. Again, no thing, no state; hence no state of fear or horror or bliss or anything. Of course, coming to see rationally that one's fear is irrational may do little or nothing to alleviate the fear. But it may help if one is committed to living rationally. I'm a believer in the limited value of 'logotherapy' or self-help via the application of reason to one's life.
I suffer from acrophobia, but it hasn't kept me away from high places and precipitous drop-offs on backpacking trips. On one trip into the Grand Canyon I had to take myself in hand to get up the courage to cross the Colorado River on a high, narrow, and swaying suspension bridge. I simply reasoned the thing out and marched briskly across staring straight ahead and not looking down. But then I am a philosopher, one who works at incorporating rationality into his daily life.
Why then do so many find the Epicurean reasoning sophistical? To Philip Larkin in "Aubade" it is "specious stuff":
This is a special way of being afraid No trick dispels. Religion used to try, That vast moth-eaten musical brocade Created to pretend we never die, And specious stuff that says No rational being Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing That this is what we fear — no sight, no sound, No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, Nothing to love or link with, The anaesthetic from which none come round.
It seems clear that our boozy poet has failed to grasp the Epicurean reasoning.
Still, there is the moment of death, the moment in which the self helplessly dissolves, knowing that it is dissolving. My claim is that it is this loss of control, this ego loss, that horrifies us. Ever since the sense of 'I' developed in us we have been keeping it together, maintaining our self-identity in and through the crap storm of experience. But at the moment of dying, we can no longer hold on, keep it together. We will want to cling to the familiar, and not let go. This I suggest is what horrifies us about dying. And for this horror the reasoning of Epicurus is no anodyne.
So I grant that there is something quick and specious about the Epicurean cure. If one is rational, it has the power to assuage the fear of being dead, but not the fear of dying, the fear of ego loss.
I consider it salutary to cultivate this fear of dying. It is the sovereign cure to the illusions and idolatries of worldliness. But the cultivation is hard to accomplish, and I confess to rarely feeling the horror of dying. It is hard to feel because our natural tendency is to view everything without exception objectively, as an object. The flow of intentionality is ever outward toward objects, so much so that thinkers such as John-Paul Sartre have denied that there is any subject of experience, any source of the stream of intentionality. (See his The Transcendence of the Ego.)
Everyone knows that one will die; the trick, however is not just to think, but to appreciate, the thought that I will die, this unique subjective unity of consciousness and self-consciousness. This is a thought that is not at home in the Discursive Framework, but straddles the boundary between the Sayable and the Unsayable. My irreducible ipseity and haecceity of which I am somehow aware resists conceptualization. Metaphysics, just as much as physics, misses the true source of the horror of death. For if metaphysics transforms the I or ego into a soul substance, then it transforms it into an object. (Cf. the Boethian objectifying view of the person as an individual substance of a rational nature.) An immaterial object is still an object. As long as I think of myself from the outside, objectively, from a third-person point of view, it is difficult to appreciate that it is I, the first person, this subjective center and source of acts who will slide into nonbeing.
Now we come to "that vast moth-eaten musical brocade," religion, "created to pretend we never die." Although this is poetic exuberance and drunken braggadocio, there is a bit of truth that can be squeezed out of Larkin's effusion. The religious belief in immortality can hide from us the horror and the reality of death. It depends on how 'platonizing' the religion is.
Christianity, however, despite its undeniable affinities with Platonism (as well appreciated by Joseph Ratzinger, the pope 'emeritus,' in Introduction to Christianity), resolutely denies our natural immortality as against what is standardly taken to be the Platonic view. On Christianity we die utterly, and if there is any hope for our continuance, that hope is hope in the grace of God.
Is there then any cure for the horror of death? In my healthy present, my horror is that of anticipation of the horror to come. The real horror, the horror mortis, will be upon us at the hora mortis, the hour of death, when we feel ourselves sliding into the abyss.
In extremis, there is only one cure left, that of the trust of the little child mentioned at Matthew 18:3. One must let oneself go hoping and trusting that one will get oneself back. Absent that, you are stuck with the horror.
Nothing would be more foolish and futile than to take the advice of a different drunken poet, and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." The dim light of the ego must die to rise again as spirit. In fact, it is the ego in us that 'proves' in a back-handed sort of way that we are spiritual beings. Only a spiritual being can say 'I' and saying it and thinking it isolate himself, distancing himself from his Source and from other finite selves even unto the ultimate Luciferian conceit that one is self-sufficient.