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.)
On Easter Sunday, it is only fitting that the reliably despicable Ross Douthat should once again rise from the dead with an incoherently dreadful column on Piketty. I will not try to summarize it. As Aristotle observed [I think], shit has no form, and hence cannot easily be apprehended by reason. You may read it for yourself. I take Douthat's column as a good sign, a harbinger of Spring. When the rats on the sinking ship of capitalism pause in their scramble down the hawsers to acknowledge the reemergence of Marx from the dustbin of history [how's that for a mixed metaphor?], there is hope on this annual celebration of resurrection.
Note that Wolff does not address the content of Douthat's essay, though he does have the decency to link to it. What he does is portray Douthat as a reliably despicable zombie and rat, a shill for capitalism, who has penned an incoherently dreadful column, a piece of shit beneath the apprehension of reason.
Well thank you Professor Wolff for this wonderful Easter Sunday illustration of the Central Axiom and for reminding us once again of how dangerous you leftists are, and, indirectly, how important our Second Amendment rights are.
Sorry if you couldn't get through at various times over the last few days. The following from the Typepad geeks:
What happened? Beginning Thursday evening, Typepad was hit with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) off and on through today. A DDoS attack is an attempt to make services unavailable . . . . The attack on Typepad was similar to an attack on Basecamp which you can read about here.
Suppose you are an atheist who considers life to be worth living. You deny God, but affirm life, this life, as it is, here and now. Suppose you take the fact of evil to tell against the existence of God. Do you also take the fact of evil to tell against the affirmability of life? If not, why not?
In this entry I will explain what I take to be one sort of problem of evil for atheists, or rather, for naturalists. (One can be an atheist without being a naturalist, but not vice versa.) For present purposes, an atheist is one who affirms the nonexistence of God, as God is traditionally conceived, and a naturalist is one who affirms that reality, with the possible exception of so-called abstract objects, is exhausted by space-time-matter. Naturalism entails atheism, but atheism does not entail naturalism.
Are the following propositions logically consistent?
a. Life is affirmable.
b. Naturalism is true.
c. Evil objectively exists.
1. What it means for life to be affirmable
To claim that life is affirmable is to claim that it is reasonable to say 'yes' to it. Life is affirmed by the vast majority blindly and instinctually, and so can be; in this trivial sense life is of course affirmable. But I mean 'affirmable' in a non-trivial sense as signifying that life is worthy of affirmation. This is of course not obvious. Otherwise there wouldn't be pessimists and anti-natalists. Let me make this a bit more precise.
To claim that life is affirmable is to maintain that human life has an overall positive value that outweighs the inevitable negatives. Note the restriction to human life. I am glad that there are cats, but I am in no position to affirm feline life in the relevant sense of 'affirm': I am not a cat and so I do not know what it is like 'from the inside' to be a cat.
'Human life' is not to be understood biologically but existentially. What we are concerned with is not an objective phenomenon in nature, but life as lived and experienced from a subjective center. So the question is not whether it is better or worse for the physical universe to contain specimens of a certain zoological species, the species h. sapiens. The question is whether it is on balance a good thing that there is human life as it is subjectively lived from a personal center toward a meaning- and value-laden world of persons and things. The question is whether it is on balance a good thing that there is human subjectivity.
Now it may be that over the course of a particular human life a preponderance of positive noninstrumental good is realized. But that is consistent with human life in general not being worth living. If my life turns out to have been worth living, if I can reasonably affirm it on my death bed and pronounce it good on balance, it doesn't follow that human life in general is worth living. Let us agree that a particular human life is worth living if, over the course of that life, a preponderance of positive noninstrumental value is realized. To say that positive value preponderates is to say that it outweighs the negative.
The question, then, is whether human life, human subjectivity, in general is affirmable. To make the question a bit more concrete, and to bring home the point that the question does not concern oneself alone, consider the question of procreation. To procreate consciously and thoughtfully is to affirm life other than one's own.
Suppose that one's life has been on balance good up to the point of one's procreating. Should one be party to the coming-into-existence of additional centers of consciousness and self-consciousness when there is no guarantee that their lives will be on balance good, and some chance that their lives will be on balance horrendous? Would you have children if you knew that they would be tortured to death in the equivalent of Auschwitz? Note that if a couple has children, then they are directly responsible for the existence of those children; but they are also indirectly responsible in ever diminishing measure for the existence of grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. If life is not affirmable, then it is arguable that it is morally wrong to have children, life being a mistake that ought not be perpetuated. If on the other hand life is affirmable, then, while there might be particular reasons for some people not to have children, there would be no general reason rooted in the nature of things.
2. Is life affirmable in the face of evil?
More precisely: Is life affirmable by naturalists given the fact of evil? There is a problem here if you grant, as I hope you will for the sake of this discussion at least, that natural and moral evils are objective realities. Thus evil exists and it exists objectively. It is not an illusion, nor is it subjective.
The question could be put as follows: Is it rational to ascribe to human life in general an overall positive value, a value sufficient to justify procreation, given that (i) evil exists and that (ii) naturalism is true?
If naturalism is true, then there are unredeemed evils. Let us say that an unredeemed evil is an evil that does not serve a greater good for the person who experiences the evil and is not compensated for or made good in this life or in an afterlife. Thus the countless lives of those who were born and who died in slavery were lives containing unredeemed evils. In many of these countless cases, there were not only unredeemed evils, but a preponderance of unredeemed evil. Whatever these sufferers believed, their lives were not worth living. It would have been better had they never been born. If naturalism is true, then those sufferers who believed that they would be compensated in the hereafter were just wrong. Their false beliefs helped them get through their worthless existence but did nothing to make it worthwhile.
Here is an argument from evil for the nonaffirmability of life:
1. Human life in general is affirmable, i.e., possesses an overall positive value sufficient to justify procreation, only if the majority of human subjects led, lead, and will lead, lives which are on balance good.
2. It is not the case (or it is highly improbably that) that the majority of human subjects led, lead, or will lead such lives: the majority of lives are lives in which unredeemed evil predominates.
3. Human life in general is not affirmable, i.e., does not (or probably does not) possess an overall positive value sufficient to justify procreation.
It seems to me that a naturalist who squarely and in full awareness faces the fact of evil ought to be a pessimist and an anti-natalist. If he is not, then I suspect him of being in denial or else of believing in some progressive 'pie in the future.' But even if, per impossibile, some progressive utopia were attained in the distant future, it would not redeem the countless injustices of the past.
Long-time friend of and commenter at MavPhil sends me the very good news that he is on board at NRO. Congratulations, Spencer! We definitely need more philosophically-trained journalists, and given the corruption and ever-worsening decline of the academic world 'thanks' to leftists, young philosophers like Case do well to consider alternative careers in which they can write and think and preserve their liberty far from the hothouses of political correctness.
Spencer's debut article is Polemics and Philosophy from a British Contrarian, a review of two new books by Roger Scruton, the novel Notes from Underground, and the philosophical work, The Soul of the World. Case's description of the novel make me want to read it, especially given my visit to Prague last September:
Notes from Underground is mainly set in 1985 in Communist-occupied Prague. Earlier in his career, Scruton covertly visited Prague behind the Iron Curtain, traveling as a lecturer, so the harsh descriptions have an authentic ring to them. Such descriptions allow Scruton to argue against leftist collectivism merely by describing its effects. Sometimes the storyline is coupled with searing polemics, which are most effective when they catch the reader off-guard. For instance, his protagonist observes, “Defenestration is a Czech tradition, the only one that the Communists had retained.”
The story is told in the first person by Jan Reichl, a Czech academic in the United States, who recounts his youth under Communism. Once valued for his past as a dissident writer, he now finds his worth diminishing in the eyes of the academy. Jan writes about his experiences from a meditative distance, full of references to the literature of Kafka, Dostoyevsky, and Zweig, as well as to the music of Schubert and Mahler. The book’s title itself is a reference to Dostoyevsky, whose novella Notes from the Underground is considered one of the first works of existentialist literature. The narrator’s distance from events reduces the emotional immediacy of some scenes, but it also gives the whole story a thoughtful melancholy.
Spencer has some meaty things to say in criticism of Scruton, so I suggest you all head over to the former's ComBox to register your approbation, disapprobation, congratulations, whatever. My guess is that he will be evaluated by the NRO editors in part by the length and quality of the comment threads he generates.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, tr. Craufurd, Routledge 1995, p. 75:
The infinite which is in man is at the mercy of a little piece of iron; such is the human condition; space and time are the cause of it. It is impossible to handle this piece of iron without suddenly reducing the infinite which is in man to a point on the pointed part, a point on the handle, at the cost of a harrowing pain. The whole being is stricken in the instant; there is no place left for God, even in the case of Christ, where the thought of God is not more at least [at last?] than that of privation. This stage has to be reached if there is to be incarnation. The whole being becomes privation of God: how can we go beyond? After that there is only the resurrection. To reach this stage the cold touch of naked iron is necessary.
'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' There we have the real proof that Christianity is something divine. (p. 79)
George F. Will, drawing upon Timothy Sandefur, maintains that
The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected.
[. . .]
The argument is between conservatives who say U.S. politics is basically about a condition, liberty, and progressives who say it is about a process, democracy. Progressives, who consider democracy the source of liberty, reverse the Founders’ premise, which was: Liberty preexists governments, which, the Declaration says, are legitimate when “instituted” to “secure” natural rights.
Progressives consider, for example, the rights to property and free speech as, in Sandefur’s formulation, “spaces of privacy” that government chooses “to carve out and protect” to the extent that these rights serve democracy. Conservatives believe that liberty, understood as a general absence of interference, and individual rights, which cannot be exhaustively listed, are natural and that governmental restrictions on them must be as few as possible and rigorously justified. Merely invoking the right of a majority to have its way is an insufficient justification.
This from a recent comment by Ed, see article below:
I am starting with a few claims, with the additional claim that the claims are Moorean. Not only do I claim we use fictional or empty names to tell people which individual we are talking about, I claim that this is uncontroversial. Developing a theory to explain the apparent contractions that arise from these Moorean facts is more difficult. But that's the business of philosophy: start with facts that are apparently uncontroversial, move to the contradictions that appear to arise from them, and uncover the hidden assumptions or premisses that lead to the contradictions. Deduce the falsity of the hidden premisses. We have already stumbled across one hidden premiss, hardly noticing it. We agree that the sentence " 'Frodo' refers to Frodo" is relational in form. That's also Moorean. But does it follow that a sentence which is relational in form, really expresses a relation?
So in overall summary. It is Moorean that there aren't and never were such things as hobbits, and hence never such persons as Frodo, Bilbo, Sam, Smeagol. But it is also Moorean that at the end of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien tells us which hobbits carried the ring to Mount Doom, and which hobbit fell into the fiery depths of the mountain, carrying the Ring. The rest is philosophy: is there any contradiction buried in these Moorean facts, and if not, how do we explain the appearance of contradiction?
Here is my distillation of Ed's approach:
1. There are certain facts that cannot be reasonably denied. Call them 'Moorean.'
2. Reflection upon Moorean facts often brings to light certain tensions or problems or apparent contradictions.
3. The contradictions that arise when we reflect on Moorean data are merely apparent. Data cannot be contradictory. (Sentences that record data are true, and truths cannot be contradictory.)
4. The merely apparent contradictions derive from hidden assumptions that are not Moorean.
5. The task of philosophy is to solve (dissolve?) the problems by exposing and rejecting the hidden assumptions that give rise to them.
6. The task of philosophy is conservative, not revisionary. Our ordinary ways of talking and thinking are in order as they stand. Any problems that arise are due to false assumptions that we bring to the Moorean data. Apparent inconsistencies that arise when when we reflect upon Moorean data are to be explained away as merely apparent.
To illustrate via an aporetic pentad:
a. 'Frodo' (or a tokening thereof) refers to Frodo.
b. Reference is a dyadic relation.
c. Every relation is such that if one of its terms (relata) exists, then all the others do as well.
d. 'Frodo' (or a tokening thereof) exists.
e. Frodo does not exist. (He is a purely fictional item.)
(a), (d), and (e) are all Moorean or as I say, 'datanic.' (b) and (c) are in contrast theoretical. If I understand Ed, he would say that (b) and (c) are the "hidden assumptions" that generate the contradiction in the pentad. To remove the contradiction, and with it the problem, it suffices to reject one or the other of the theoretical assumptions.
I am pretty sure that Ed will reject (b). He will not, I am sure, hold to (b) and reject (c) by maintaining that an existent can stand in a genuine relation to a Meinongian nonexistent. But then Ed owes us an account of what it is for 'Frodo' to refer to or be about Frodo, as opposed to Gandalf, if reference is not a relation. I suspect that any theory he gives will involve difficulties of its own.
How does my metaphilosophy differ from Ed's?
Ed seems to think that philosophical problems such as the one embodied in the above pentad are soluble by the exposure and rejection of false assumptions such as (b) above. There is no need for such exotic posits as Meinongian nonentities or merely intentional objects. Ed seems to think that the task of philosophy is to remove confusions and puzzles that arise when philosophers import false assumptions into the data, thereby causing trouble for themselves. The Moorean data are unproblematic, and we will come to see this when we sweep aside false theoretical assumptions.
My view is entirely different. The problems are genuine, but they do not have satisfactory solutions. It is no solution simply to reject (b) above without giving a positive account of what reference or aboutness is. (b) is not a gratuitous assumption we are making, but a plausibility, despite its not being a Moorean fact. One cannot simply reject it; one must put something it its place.
So Ed needs to tell us what his positive theory is. Once he presents it in a form clear enough to be discussed, then I will show why it is unsatisfactory. And I will do that with every theory that is proposed. If I am able to pull that off, then I will have given a very good reason to regard the problem as insoluble.
Last night, the first episode of Fargo, the TV series, which is loosely based on the 1996 Coen Brothers movie of the same name. Another cause and effect of the decline of a culture unravelling with each passing day?
Friedrich Nietzsche, Der Wille zur Macht #585 (Kroener Ausgabe):
Ein Nihilist ist der Mensch, welcher von der Welt, wie sie ist, urteilt, sie sollte nicht sein, und von der Welt, wie sie sein sollte, urteilt, sie existiert nicht.
A nihilist is one who judges of the world as it is, that it ought not be, and of the world as it ought to be, that it does not exist.
I would like to bounce some of the central ideas [of a book] off you. The idea at the very centre is that fictional names, i.e. empty names, individuate. A fictional name like 'Frodo', in the sense it is used in The Lord of the Rings, tells us which character Tolkien is talking about. For example, in chapter II of Book II ("The Council of Elrond"), it says that Frodo is the one chosen to carry the Ring to Mordor, out of the nine characters in the Fellowship of the Ring. I.e. the name 'Frodo', as Tolkien uses it, tells us which character is chosen to carry the Ring.
Is that true? Can a fictional name, an empty name, a name that has no bearer, a name that refers to nothing, tell us which individual the writer is talking about? Can the writer even be said to be talking about anyone? In my view, he can. When Tolkien writes (p. 264 of my edition) "'I will take the Ring', he said, 'though I do not know the way'", he is talking about Frodo. That is, the sentence 'Tolkien is talking about Frodo' is true, and 'Tolkien is talking about Gandalf' is false.
So that's the central idea of the book, that fictional names individuate. Does it even make sense?
1. You seem to think that all and only fictional names are empty names. 'Vulcan,' however, used to refer to a hypothetical planet in an orbit between Mercury and the Sun, is an empty name, but not a fictional name. (In the "Star Trek" series, however, 'Vulcan' is a fictional name since it n ames, not a hypothetical planet, but a fictional one.) So not every empty name is a fictional name. And I should think that not every fictional name is empty. Names of real people as they (the names) figure in historical novels, legends, songs, movies, and whatnot are non-empty but arguably fictional. Think of the Faust legends, or the many stories and books and movies about Doc Holliday.
2. But although it is not perfectly obvious, I grant that every purely fictional name is empty, at least in the sense that no purely fictional name has an existing bearer or referent.
3. You maintain that purely fictional names like 'Frodo' do not refer to anything. They don't refer to anything that exists, obviously, but they also do not refer to Meinongian nonexistent objects or to merely intentional objects.
4. So I take it you do not make the following distinction that I make between two senses of 'empty':
Empty1: A name is empty1 iff it has no existing referent.
Empty2: A name is empty2 iff it has no referent whatsoever, whether existing, subsisting, Meinongian, or merely intentional.
5. Here is a question for you. If 'Frodo' and 'Gandalf' do not refer to anything at all, and therefore are without referents of any sort, then they have the same extension, the null extension or null set. Does it follow that the names have the same meaning? Is meaning exhausted by reference? If yes, then the two names have the same meaning, which is wrong. Or do the names differ in sense? If yes, then what are senses? What is the sense of an empty proper name?
6. To talk about Frodo is not the same as to talk about Gandalf. But you don't admit that there is anything at all that these names refer to. So how can one talk about either character? Can a term be about something if there is nothing the term refers to? What is aboutness? How can it be the case that both (i) 'Frodo' does not refer to anything and (ii) one can use 'Frodo' to talk about Frodo? Is talk about Frodo talk about the sense of 'Frodo'? Surely talk about is talk about something.
7. You maintain that fictional names individuate. What would it be for them not to individuate? Which theory or theories are you opposing? And what exactly do you mean by 'individuate'? There are no fictional individuals on your view, so how could any name individuate one?
Ambition is driven by the ego and serves it. It is good within limits, and for a time, the time it takes to secure the worldly wherewithal that permits an advance to something better than mere ambition, aspiration. Aspiration aims beyond the ego to its source. Both target self-improvement, but the selves are different. The self of ambition seeks self-aggrandizement. Its project is doomed to failure: the consolidation and securing of the bubble of the separative self, a bubble inevitably to burst, if not today, then the day after. The true self of aspiration humbles itself before its source and absolute, seeking to secure its center in it, where alone there is some hope for success.
A post that moves me to find Larkin's Letters to Monica. Kurp quotes Larkin:
I seem to walk on a transparent surface and see beneath me all the bones and wrecks and tentacles that will eventually claim me: in other words, old age, incapacity, loneliness, death of others & myself . . . .
Weight lifters and body builders in their advanced states of muscular development appear ridiculous to us. All that time and money spent on the grotesque overdevelopment of one's merely physical attributes ___ when in a few short years one will be dust and ashes. But isn't the intellectual equally unbalanced who overdevelops his logical and analytical skills to the neglect of body, emotions, and spirit? Is the intellectual wrestler all that superior to the physical one? Is one kind of hypertrophy better than another? What good is discursive hypertrophy if it is paid for in the coin of mystical and moral and physical atrophy?
Properly enacted, independent thinking is not in the service of self-will or subjective opining, but in the service of submission to a higher authority, truth itself. We think for ourselves in order to find a truth that is not from ourselves, but from reality. The idea is to become dependent on reality, rather than on institutional and social distortions of reality. Independence subserves a higher dependence.
It is worth noting that thinking for oneself is no guarantee that one will arrive at truth. Far from it. The maverick's trail may issue in a dead end. Or it may not. The world is littered with conflicting opinions generated from the febrile heads of people with too much trust in their own powers. But neither is submission to an institution's authority any assurance of safe passage to the harbor of truth. Both the one who questions authority and the one who submits to it can end up on a reef. 'Think for yourself' and 'Submit to authority' are both onesided pieces of advice.
Here is the penultimate paragraph of John Lach's In Love with Life: Reflections on the Joy of Living and Why We Hate to Die (Vanderbilt UP, 1998):
When the time comes [to die], we must surround ourselves with life. In a bustling hospital or a loving home, let everyone get on with their [sic] activities. To die in the midst of energy is not to die at all, but to transfer one's life and hopes to those who carry on. The continuity of our lives and our personalities makes the death of any one individual an event of little moment: the great celebration of existence goes on. (p. 123)
This is an example of one sort of self-deception secularists fall into when they attempt to affirm the value of life. If this is it, it is at least a serious question whether this life can be ascribed a positive value. One doesn't have to go all the way with Schopenhauer to appreciate that this life with its manifold miseries and horrors and injustices is of dubious value. It is certainly not obvious that "Life is good" as one sees emblazoned on the spare tire covers of SUVs in the tonier neighborhoods.
One response to the evils of the world is denial of such facts as are adduced by Schopenhauer:
The truth is, we ought to be wretched and we are so. The chief source of the serious evils which affect men is man himself: homo homini lupus. Whoever keeps this last fact clearly in view beholds the world as a hell, which surpasses that of Dante in this respect, that one man must be the devil of another. (The Will to Live, p. 204)
Judging from the above passage, Lachs appears to be in denial. Surely the following is a silly and well-nigh meaningless assurance: " To die in the midst of energy is not to die at all, but to transfer one's life and hopes to those who carry on." So if I die in the midst of energetic people I haven't died? That is false to the point of being delusional, a flat denial of the fact of death. It is an evasion of the fact and finality of death. And it is nonsense to say that at death "one's life" is transferred to others. One's life is one's individual life; on a secular understanding it ceases to exist at death. It is nontransferrable. As for the "celebration of existence," try explaining that to Syrian refugees or to those who at this very moment are being tortured to death.
Other secularists such as Adorno deny value in a manner most extreme to this present life, but look to the future of this life for redemption. This too is delusional in my judgment. See After Auschwitz.
Secularists need to face the problem of evil. This is not a problem for theists only. It is a problem for anyone who affirms the value of life. If the fact of evil is evidence (whether demonstrative or inductive) of the nonexistence of God, then it is also evidence of the nonaffirmability of this life.
Philosophers should be sure to avail themselves of the Transcendental Deduction this year as it has been substantially increased, the truculent opposition of the NRA (National Realist Association) notwithstanding. But to take the deduction philosophers will need the Platonic Form. Be advised that attempts to copy the Platonic Form have been known to cause the dreaded glitch commonly referred to as the Third (Tax) Man.
Years ago an acquaintance wrote me about a book he had published which, he said, had "made quite a splash." The metaphor is unfortunately double-edged. When an object hits the water it makes a splash. But only moments later the water returns to its quiescent state as if nothing had happened. So it is an apt metaphor. It captures both the immediate significance of an event and its long-term insignificance.