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.)
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.
In his magisterial Augustine of Hippo, Peter Brown writes of Augustine, "He wanted complete certainty on ultimate questions." (1st ed., p. 88) If you don't thrill to that line, you are no philosopher. Compare Edmund Husserl: "Ohne Gewissheit kann ich eben nicht leben." "I just can't live without certainty." Yet he managed to live for years after penning that line into his diary, and presumably without certainty.
I would say that the ability to tolerate uncertainty without abandoning the quest for certainty is a mark of intellectual and spiritual maturity. A truth seeker who can tolerate uncertainty is one who will not seek false refuge in dogmas that provide pseudo-certainty. I cannot help but think of Islamo-terrorism in this connection. Had Muhammad Atta and the boys entertained some doubts about the bevy of black-eyed virgins awaiting them at the portals of paradise, they and three thousand others might still be alive.
The trick is to tolerate uncertainty without becoming either a skeptic or a dogmatist.
There is a difference between subjective and objective certainty. If subject S is subjectively certain that p, it does not follow that p is true. That would follow only if S were objectively certain that p. But objective certainty appears attainable only with respect to one's own mental states. I am both subjectively and objectively certain that I have a headache now. This is because the esse of the headache = its percipi. Its being is its being perceived. It therefore cannot be intelligibly supposed that I merely seem to have a headache now, while in reality I do not. With respect to a physical object or state, however, appearance and reality can come apart, and what is subjectively certain can turn out to be false: my seeming to see a mountain is no guarantee that there is a mountain. My seeming to feel elated, however, just is my being elated.
What about states of affairs that involve neither mental data nor physical objects? If S is subjectively certain that torture is always morally impermissible, and T is subjectively certain that torture is sometimes morally permissible, then one of the two must be wrong, which shows that subjective certainty is no proof of objective certainty.
What about this last proposition however, namely, the proposition that apart from mental states, subjective certainty does not entail objective certainty? Is its truth merely subjectively certain, or is it also objectively certain? It is objectively certain. One sees that subjective certainty can exist without objective certainty from the fact that two subjects, S and T, can be subjectively certain of contradictory propositions. Here the mind grasps a truth about a state of affairs transcendent of one's mental state and does so with objective certainty.
I conclude that there are some propositions the truth of which can be grasped with objective certainty even though these propositions are not about such mental data as pleasures and pains. The mind has the power to transcend its own states and not only to know, but to know with objective certainty, truths whose truth is independent of mind. That is amazing.
One some days, existence strikes me as the deepest and most fascinating of philosophical topics. On other days, I give the palm to time: "What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who does ask me, I do not know." (Augustine, Confessions, Bk. 11, Ch. 14) But today, the honor goes to knowledge.
"Duty has the virtue of making us feel the reality of a positive world while at the same time detaching us from it." (From Journal Intime)
This is a penetrating observation, and a perfect specimen of the aphorist's art. It is terse, true, but not trite. The tip of an iceberg of thought, it invites exploration below the water line.
If the world were literally a dream, there would be no need to act in it or take it seriously. One could treat it as one who dreams lucidly can treat a dream: one lies back and enjoys the show in the knowledge that it is only a dream. But to the extent that I feel duty-bound to do this or refrain from that, I take the world to be real, to be more than maya or illusion. Feeling duty-bound, I help realize the world. It is an "unfinished universe" in a Jamesian phrase and I cannot play within it the role of mere spectator. I must play the agent as well; I must participate whether I like it or not, non-participation being but a definicient mode of participation. In a Sartrean phrase, I am "condemned to be free": I am free to do and leave undone, but my being free does not fall within the ambit of my freedom.
And to the extent that I feel duty-bound to do something, to make real what merely ought to be, I am referred to this positive world as to the locus of realization.
But just how real is the world of our ordinary waking experience? Is it the ne plus ultra of reality? Its manifest deficiency gives the lie to this supposition, which is why great philosophers from Plato to Bradley have denied ultimate reality to the sense world. Things are not the way they ought to be, and things are the way they ought not be, and everyone with moral sense feels this to be true. The Real falls short of the Ideal, and, falling short demonstrates its lack of plenary reality. So while the perception of duty realizes the world, it also and by the same stroke de-realizes it by measuring it against a standard from elsewhere.
The moral sense discloses a world poised between the unreality of the dream and the plenary reality of the Absolute. Plato had it right: the human condition is speleological and the true philosopher is a transcendental speleologist.
The sense of duty detaches us from the world of what is by referring us to what ought to be. What ought to be, however, in many cases is not; hence we are referred back to the world of what is as the scene wherein alone ideals can be realized.
It is a curious dialectic. The Real falls short of the Ideal and is what is is in virtue of this falling short. The Ideal, however, is only imperfectly realized here below. Much of the ideal lacks reality just as much of the Real lacks ideality. Each is what it is by not being what it is not. And we moral agents are caught in this interplay. We are citizens of two worlds and must play the ambassador between them.
Here is a question for those of you who champion the linguistic innovation, 'hylemorphic.' Will you also write 'morphelogical' and 'morphelogy'? If not, why not?
'Morphology' is superior to 'morphelogy' in point of euphony. For the same reason, 'hylomorphic' is superior to 'hylemorphic.'
But even if you disagree with my last point, you still have to explain why you don't apply your principle consistently.
Why don't you write and say 'morphelogy,' 'epistemelogy,' 'gelogy' (instead of 'geology'), etc.?
We linguistic conservatives are not opposed to change, but we are opposed to unnecessary changes. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Addendum (8 April 2014)
Patrick Toner writes:
Loved your post on the spelling of hylemorphism. I must disagree on the charge that the 'e' spelling is a novelty. I say this without any firsthand evidence. But Gideon Manning has a paper that covers the appearance of the term. According to him it showed up in English in 1888. By 1907, at least, there is an 'e' spelling of the term, in the translation of some scholastic volume into English. (DeWulf, maybe?) So both spellings go back almost all the way to the origin of the term in English. Manning himself uses the o spelling, but claims both are legitimate.
I make or imply essentially three claims in my post. The first is that the use of 'hylemorphism' is an innovation. I now see thanks to Toner that this claim is mistaken. So I withdraw it. The second claim is that 'hylomorphism' is superior to 'hylemorphism' in point of eupohony. I stick by this claim, though I admit it is somewhat subjective: one man's euphony is, if not another man's cacophany, then at least the other's non-euphony. The third claim is that the fans of 'hylemorphism' and cognates do not apply their principle consistently. For as far as I know they do not go on to say and write 'epistemelogy,' etc.
Here is a fourth point. Although the use of 'hylemorphism' and cognates is not wrong, and is not an absolute innovation (as Manning documents), it does diverge from the more common use at the present time. So what is the point of this relative innovation?
Dick Dale and the Deltones, Misirlou. Before Clapton, before Bloomfield, my first guitar hero. "King of the Surf Guitar." Pipeline (with Stevie Ray Vaughan). Nitro (with So Cal scenes). Let's Go Trippin', 1961. The first surf instrumental?
Are all infinite regresses (regressions?) vicious? Why the pejorative label? Of the many things I don't understand, this must be near the top of my list, and it's an ignorance that dates back to my undergrad Intro to Philosophy days. When I first read the Thomistic cosmological proofs, I found myself wondering why Aquinas had such trouble countenancing the possibility that, as the lady says, "it's turtles all the way down."
Without a first, there can't be a second... so what? It doesn't follow that there must be a first element to a series. What makes a temporally infinite series (of moments, causes/effects, etc.) impossible?
No, not all infinite regresses are vicious. Some are, if not 'virtuous,' at least innocuous or benign. The term 'benign' is standardly used. The truth regress is an example of a benign infinite regress. Let p be any true proposition. And let 'T' stand for the operator 'It is true that ( ).' Clearly, p entails T(p). For example, *Snow is white* entails *It is true that snow is white.* The operation is iterable. So T(p) entails T(T(p)). And so on, ad infinitum or ad indefinitum if you prefer. The resulting infinite series is unproblematic. Whether you call this a progression or a regression, it doesn't cause any conceptual trouble. Nor does it matter whether you think that infinity is potential only, or hold to actual infinities. Either way, the truth regress is a nice clear example of an infinite regress that is benign.
So some infinite regresses are benign.
Setting aside the lady and her turtles, suppose, contrary to current cosmology, that the universe has an infinite past, and that each phase of the universe is caused by an earlier phase. Suppose further thatthere is nothing problematic in the notion of an actual (as opposed to potential) infinity, and that there is a good answer to the question of how, given the actual infinity of the past, we ever arrived at thepresent moment. Granting all that, the infinite regress of causes is benign.
But note that one cannot explain why the universe exists by saying that it always existed. For even if there is no time at which it did not exist, there remains the question why it exists at all. The universe is contingent: it might not have existed. So even if it exists at every time with earlier phases causing later phases, that does not explain why it exists at all.
To say that the universe always existed is to say that it has no temporal beginning, no temporally first cause. But this gives no answer to the question why this temporally beginningless universe exists in the first place.
Here is where the theist invokes God. God is the ontologically, not temporally, first cause. Now if Mill asks, "But what causes God?" the answer is that God is a necessary being. If God were a contingent being, then a vicious infinite regress would arise. For one cannot get an ultimate explanation of U if one invokes a contingent G. And if there were an infinite regress of Gs, the whole series would be without ultimate explanation. Thts is true whether the regress is potentially infinite or actually infinite.
If we compare the truth regress with the regress just mentioned, we can perhaps see what makes the latter vicious. The viciousness consists in the failure to satisfy the need for an explanation. P if and only it is true that p. No one will take either side of this biconditional as explaining the other. But explanation comes in when you ask why the universe U exists. If you say that U exists because G caused it to exist, then you can reasonably ask: what caused G? The classical answer is that G is causa sui, i.e., a necessary being. The buck stops here. If, on the other hand, you say that G is contingent, then it cannot be causa sui, in which case the regress is up and running. Because the explanatory demand cannot be satisfied by embarking upon the regress, the regress is said to be vicious.
To answer the reader's question, there is perhaps nothing vicious about a temporally infinite regress of empirical causes. But that gives us no explanation of why a temporally infinite universe exists in the first place.