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.)
Here is a white cube. Call it 'Carl.' 'Carl is white' is true. But Carl, though white, might not have been white. (He would not have been white had I painted him red.) So 'Carl is white' is contingently true. There is no necessity that Carl be white. By contrast, 'Carl is three-dimensional' is necessarily true. It is metaphysically necessary that he be three-dimensional. Of course, the necessity here is conditional: given that Carl exists, he cannot fail to be three-dimensional. But Carl might not have existed. So Carl is subject to a two-fold contingency, one of existence and one of property-possession. It is contingent that Carl exists at all -- he is not a necessary being -- and with respect to some of his properties it is contingent that he has them. He exists contingently and he is white contingently. Or, using 'essence' and 'accident,' we can say: Carl is a contingent being that is accidentally white but essentially three-dimensional. By contrast, the number 7 is a necessary being that accidentally enjoys the distinction of being Poindexter's favorite number, but is essentially prime.
Some truths need truth-makers. 'Carl is white' is one of them. Grant me that some truths need truth-makers. My question is this: Can a trope do the truth-making job in a case like this or do we need a concrete fact?
Carl is white. That is given. Some say that (at least some of) the properties of particulars are themselves particulars (unrepeatables). Suppose you think along those lines. You accept that things have properties -- Carl, after all, is white extralinguistically -- and therefore that there are properties, but you deny that properties are universals. Your nominalism is moderate, not extreme. Suppose you think of Carl's whiteness as a trope or as an Husserlian moment or as an Aristotelian accident. (Don't worry about the differences among these items.) That is, you take the phrase 'Carl's whiteness' to refer, not to the fact of Carl's being white, which is a complex having Carl himself as a constituent, but to a simple item: a bit of whiteness. This item depends for its existence on Carl: it cannot exist unless Carl exists, and, being particular, it cannot exist in or at any other thing such as Max the white billiard ball. Nor is it transferrable: the whiteness of Carl cannot migrate to Max.
The truth-maker of a truth is an existing thing in virtue of whose existence the truth is true. Why can't Carl's whiteness trope be the truth-maker of 'Carl is white'? That very trope cannot exist unless it exists 'in' Carl as characterizing Carl. So the mere existence of that simple item suffices to make true the sentence 'Carl is white.' Or so it seems to some distinguished philosophers.
If this is right, then there is no need that the truth-maker of a truth have a sentence-like or proposition-like structure. (For if a proposition-like truth-maker is not needed in a case like that of Carl the cube, then presumably there is no case in which it is needed.) A simple unrepeatable bit of whiteness has no internal structure whatsoever, hence no internal proposition-like structure. A concrete fact or state of affairs, however, does: Carl's being white, for example, has at a bare minimum a subject constituent and a property constituent with the former instantiating the second.
My thesis is not that all truth-makers are proposition-like, but that some are. Presumably, the truth-maker of 'Carl is Carl' and 'Carl exists' is just Carl. But it seems to me that the truth-maker of 'Carl is white' cannot be the particular whiteness of Carl. In cases like this a simple item will not do the job. Why not?
1. If it is legitimate to demand an ontological ground of the truth of a truth-bearer, whether it be a sentence or a proposition or a judgment or whatever, then it is legitimate to demand an ontological ground of the contingency of the truth of a truth-bearer. If we have a right to ask: what makes 'Carl is white' true, then we also have a right to ask: What makes 'Carl is white' contingently or accidentally true as opposed to essentially true? Truth and contingent truth are not the same. And it is contingent truth that needs explaining. If a truth-bearer is necessarily true, it may be such in virtue of its logical form, or because it is true ex vi terminorum; in either case it is not clear that the is any need for a truth-maker. Does 'Bachelors are male' need a truth-maker? Not as far as I can see. But 'Tom is a bachelor' does. Unlike David Armstrong, I am not a truth-maker maximalist. See Truthmaker Maximalism Questioned.
2. The trope Carl's whiteness can perhaps explain why the sentence 'Carl is white' is true, but it cannot explain why it is accidentally true as opposed to essentially true. For the existence of the trope is consistent both with Carl's being essentially white and Carl's being accidentally white. If F is a trope, and F exists, then F is necessarily tied to a concrete individual (this is the case whether one is a trope bundle theorist or a trope substratum theorist like C. B. Martin), and so the concrete indiviual exists and is characterized by F. But this is so whether the concrete individual is essentially F or accidentally F.
3. To explain the contingency of a contingent truth it is not enough that the truth-maker be contingent; there must also be contingency within the truth-maker. Or so it seems to me. The fact theory can accommodate this requirement. For in the fact of Carl's being white, the fact itself is contingent, but so also is the connection between Carl and whiteness. Carl and whiteness can exist without the fact existing. (This assumes that whiteness is a universal) The contingency of the connection of the constituents within the fact accounts for the contingency of the truth of 'Carl is white.' But no trope is contingently connected to any concrete individual of which it is the trope.
Via John Pepple, I just learned that John McAdams, a tenured associate professor of political science at Marquette University, has been suspended with pay and barred from campus for criticizing a graduate student philosophy teacher who shut down a classroom conversation on gay marriage. As McAdams puts it at his weblog Marquette Warrior:
This incident further illustrates what I mean when I say that the universities of the land, most of them, have become leftist seminaries and hotbeds of political correctness. The behavior of the philosophy instructor illustrates the truth that there is little that is classically liberal about contemporary liberals.
The implicit logic of the Draft Warren movement is that after eight years of the Obama presidency, the American people want to move . . . further left.
Well said, my man. And this too:
Amid the recent, violent anti-police protests (whose political consequences will be real but unmeasurable), Smith College President Kathleen McCartney sent the student body an email titled, “All Lives Matter.” The phrase horrified Smith students. Her words, they said, diminished black lives. They demanded that Ms. McCartney issue a public apology. Which she did. This is a scene straight out of the public shamings of officials in China under Mao Zedong.
But Chairman Mao did get one thing right: the line about power emanating from the barrel of a gun. Another reason why the Democrat stupidos are stupid, one not mentioned by Henninger, is that their recent antics are fueling gun and ammo sales. (Pew Research Center report) Why on earth would any citizen need an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle? How about this: to protect oneself, one's family, and one's business against looters and arsonists on the rampage egged on aand enabled by race-baiting, rabble-rousing, hate-America leftist scumbags who undermine the police and contribute to a climate in which people need to take over their own defense. The Obama Admininstration's assault on the rule of law motivates the right-thinking to arm themselves.
By the way, libs and lefties routinely elide the semi-auto vs. full-auto distinction. It is not that they are ignorant of it, or too stupid to understand it; it is worse: they are deeply mendacious and will use any means to further their agenda. Never forget: PC comes from the CP. The end justifies the means. It is on all fours with their elision of the legal vs. illegal immigrant distinction. It is not that lefties are ignorant of it, or too stupid to understand it, etc.
Getting back to 'Fauxcahontas', here is an entry from 21 May 2012:
Let's assume the 1894 document is accurate. That makes Warren one-thirty-second Native American. George Zimmerman, the Florida accused murderer, had a black grandmother. That makes him a quarter black, four times as black as Warren is Indian, though The New York Times describes him as a "white Hispanic."
In the upside-down world of the liberal, the 'white Hispanic' George Zimmerman is transmogrified into a redneck and the lily-white Elizabeth Warren into a redskin.
The Left's diversity fetishism is so preternaturally boneheaded that one has to wonder whether calm critique has any place at all in responses to it. But being somewhat naive, I have been known to try rational persuasion. See Diversity and the Quota Mentality for one example.
We are being inundated by a tsunami of toxic Unsinn from the Left anent race. Sadly, a lot of this sewage comes from blacks, many of them well-placed and privileged, but profiting from the lies and slanders and hence assiduous in cultivating their 'grievances.'
Jeff Hodges just now apprised me of a post of his featuring the following bumpersticker:
My take is as follows.
Just as tautological sentences can be used to express non-tautological propositions, contradictory sentences can be used to express non-contradictory propositions.
Consider 'It is what it is.' What the words mean is not what the speaker means in uttering the words. Sentence meaning and speaker's meaning come apart. The speaker does not literally mean that things are what they are -- for what the hell else could they be? Not what they are? What the speaker means is that (certain) things can't be changed and so must be accepted with resignation. Your dead-end job for example. 'It is what it is.'
There are many examples of the use of tautological sentences to express non-tautological propositions. 'What will be, will be' is an example, as is 'Beer is beer.' When Ayn Rand proclaimed that Existence exists! she did not mean to assert the tautological proposition that each existing thing exists; she was ineptly employing a tautological sentence to express a non-tautological and not uncontroversial thesis of metaphysical realism according to which what exists exists independently of any mind, finite or infinite.
Similarly here except that a contradictory form of words is being employed to convey a non-contradictory thought. But what is the thought, the Fregean Gedanke, the proposition? Perhaps this: Islam is not the religion of peace. Since Islam is supposed to be the religion of peace, to say that Islam has nothing to do with Islam is to say that Islam has nothing to do with peace, i.e., that Islam is not the religion of peace, or not a religion of peace. Since one meaning of 'Islam' is peace, the saying equivocates on 'Islam.' Thus the proposition expressed is: Islam has nothing to do with peace. This proposition, whether true or false, is non-contradictory unlike the form of words used to express it.
Here is another possible reading. Given that many believe that Islam is terroristic, someone who says that Islam has nothing to do with Islam is attempting to convey the non-contradictory thought that real Islam is not terroristic.
Such a person, far from expressing a contradiction, would be equivocating on 'Islam,' and in effect distinguishing between real Islam and hijacked Islam, or between Islam and Islamism.
Suppose you believe that man has been created in the image and likeness of God. Can you, consistently with that belief, hold that only some possess a religious disposition?
I often say things like the following:
The religious person perceives our present life, or our natural life, as radically deficient, deficient from the root (radix) up, as fundamentally unsatisfactory; he feels it to be, not a mere condition, but a predicament; it strikes him as vain or empty if taken as an end in itself; he sees himself as homo viator, as a wayfarer or pilgrim treading a via dolorosa through a vale that cannot possibly be a final and fitting resting place; he senses or glimpses from time to time the possibility of a Higher Life; he feels himself in danger of missing out on this Higher Life of true happiness. He feels his fellows to be fools endlessly distracted by bagatelles, sunken deep in Pascalian divertissement, as Platonic troglodytes unaware of the Cave as Cave.
I maintain that one in whom this doesn't strike a chord, or sound a plaintive arpeggio, is one who lacks a religious disposition. In some it is simply lacking, and it cannot be helped. I 'write them off' no matter how analytically sharp they are. One cannot discuss religion with them, for it cannot be real to them, any more than one can share one's delight in poetry with the terminally prosaic, or one's pleasure in mathematics with the mathematically anxious. Religion is not, for those who lack the disposition, what William James in "The Will to Believe" calls a "living option," let alone a "forced" or "momentous" one. It can only be something strained and ridiculous, a tissue of fairy tales, something for children and old ladies, an opiate for the weak and dispossesed, a miserable anthropomorphic projection, albeit unconscious, a wish-fulfillment, something cooked up in the musty medieval cellars of priestcraft where unscrupulous manipulators exploit human gullibility for their own advantage.
A perceptive interlocutor raised an objection that I would put as follows. "You say that some lack a religious disposition. I take it you mean that they are utterly bereft of it. But how is that consistent with the imago dei? For if we are made in the divine image, then we are spiritual beings who must, as spiritual beings, possess at least the potentiality of communion with the divine source of the spirit within us, even if this potentiality is to no degree actual. After all, we are not in the image of God as animals, but as spiritual beings, and part of being a spiritual being is having the potentiality to know itself, and thus to know that one is a creature if in fact one is a creature, and in knowing this to know God in some measure."
How might I meet this objection?
One way is by denying that all biologically human beings bear the divine image, or bear the divine image in its fullness. Maybe it is like this. The existence of specimens of the zoological species to which we belong is accounted for by the theory of evolution. God creates the physical universe in which evolution occurs, and in which human animals evolve from lower forms. The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis is not an account of how human animals came to be that is in competition with the theory of evolution. It is not about human animals at all. Adam is not the first man; there was no first man. Eve is not the first woman; there was no first woman. Adam and Eve are not the first human animals; they are the first human animals that, without ceasing to be animals, became spiritual beings when God bestowed upon them consciousness, self-consciousness, free will, and all their concomitants. But the free divine bestowal was not the same for all: from some he withheld the power to know God and become godlike.
I suspect this is not theologically 'kosher.' But it fits with my experience. I have always felt that some human beings lack depth or spirit or soul or inwardness or whatever you want to call it. It is not that I think of them as zombies as philosophers use this term: I grant that they are conscious and self-conscious. But I sense that there is nothing to them beyond that. The light is on, but no one is there. (In a zombie, the light is off.) There is no depth-dimension: they are surface all the way down.
But it may be that a better line for me is the simpler one of saying that in all there is the religious disposition, but in some it is wholly undeveloped, rather than saying that in some it is not present at all.
UPDATE (12/19): The "perceptive interlocutor" mentioned above responds:
To suppose that some persons lack the religious disposition is certainly not theologically kosher, at least not from the Christian perspective. This is more akin to certain varieties of predestinarian gnosticism to which early Christian theologians (e.g., Origen, Irenaeus, et al.) vehemently objected. These gnostic theories proposed that there were various different classes of human persons, some of whom were structurally determined to realize saving knowledge (gnosis) of Reality whereas others were cruder, baser, and doomed to live unenlightened lives in the body. The difference between classes was not choices they had made or anything of the sort; it was simply their ontological structure to reach enlightenment or not. The early Christians objected to this in two ways: first, it is denial of the freedom of the will of the human person, since some evidently are intrinsically incapable of choosing salvation; second, it is incompatible with God's goodness, since if he is good, he desires the salvation of all and works to accomplish it.
I don't disagree that these are among the theologically orthodox responses to my suggestion above. How good they are, however, is a separate question. First, if God does not grant to some class of persons the religious disposition, that is not a denial to them of freedom of the will. They can be as free as you please; they just lack that particular power. I am not free to fly like a bird, but it doesn't follow that I am not free.
As for the second point, there may be a confusion of damnation with non-knowledge of God. The suggestion above is that only some biologically human persons are disposed to seek God and possibly know God. That is not to say that these persons are predestined to a state in which they are conscious of God's existence but cut off from God.
God desires the ultimate beatitude of all that have the power to achieve it -- but not all have this power on the above suggestion. If God desires the ultimate beatitude of all whether or not they have the power to know God, then God desires the ultimate beatitude of dolphins and apes and cats and dogs.
I suppose these are the two greatest problems for the quasi-gnostic position you consider in that post. Another problem would be that it might ethically justify mistreatment and prejudice against persons deemed to lack a religious disposition. After all, if they cannot sense God's existence and enjoy communion with him, how are they any different from animals? If God himself didn't care to make them such that they could know him, why should theists and those having the religious disposition care for them any more than for a dog?
I don't see any problem here either. Not all human beings have the same powers but people like me and my interlocutor would not dream of using this fact to justify mistreatment of certain classes of people.
I have argued that that which exists at no location or at no point in time, by definition exists never and nowhere, which is by definition not existing.
'Nowhere' means 'at no place' and 'never' means 'at no time.' By definition. So far, so good. Now suppose it is true that whatever exists exists in space and time. Could this be true by definition? Of course not! One cannot settle substantive metaphysical questions by framing definitions.
I stumbled upon this word yesterday on p. 140 of John Williams' 1965 novel, Stoner. (Don't let the title of this underappreciated masterpiece put you off: it is not about a stoner but about a professor of English, surname 'Stoner.') Williams puts the following words in the mouth of Charles Walker, "Confronted as we are by the mystery of literature, and by its inenarrable power, we are behooved to discover the source of the power and mystery."
As you might have guessed, 'inenarrable' means: incapable of being narrated, untellable, indescribable, ineffable, unutterable, unspeakable, incommunicable. One would apply this high-falutin' word to something of a lofty nature, the hypostatic union, say, and not to some miserable sensory quale such as the smell of sewer gas.
Serendipitously, given recent Christological inquiries, I just now came across the word in this passage from Cyril of Alexandria:
We affirm that different are the natures united in real unity, but from both comes only one Christ and Son, not that because of the unity the difference of the natures is eliminated, but rather because divinity and humanity, united in unspeakable and inennarrable unity, produced for us One Lord and Christ and Son.
I like animals because I think they're a higher form of life. They have no pretenses about what they are; a dog can achieve levels of serenity and fulfillment of which I cannot conceive by merely being a dog and doing dog things. Myself, on the other hand, I could be the next Einstein with the face of James Dean and still very likely be miserable all my life.
I like animals too, but not because they are a higher form of life. They are lower forms of life. The ascription of pretentiousness to a cat or dog is of course absurd, but equally so is the ascription of serenity and fulfillment to them if these words carry the meaning that we attach to them. It is because man is a spiritual being that he can pretend and fake and dissemble and posture and blow up his ego like a balloon to blot out the sun. And it is because man is a spiritual being that he can know serenity, fulfillment, and in rare cases the peace that surpasseth all understanding. Man has not only the power of thought but also the mystical power to transcend thought. All of this is beyond the animal. If you disagree, then I will ask you to produce the mathematical and metaphysical and mystical treatises of the dolphins and the apes. Who among them is a Paul Erdös or a Plato or a Juan de la Cruz? As Heidegger says somewhere, "An abyss yawns between man and animal."
On the other hand no animal knows misery like we do. Barred out heights, they are also barred our depths of wretchedness and despair.
So while I have many bones to pick with John Stuart Mill on the score of his utilitarianism and his hedonism and his psychologism in logic and his internally inconsistent attempt at distinguishing higher from lower pleasures, his is a noble soul and I agree with the sentiment expressed in this well-known passage from Utilitarianism, Chapter II:
It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they know only their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
I wonder if Mill can validate this noble thought within his paltry hedonist scheme. It is in any case a value judgment and I am not sure I would be able to refute someone who preferred the life of a cat or a dog or a contented cow to that of a man, half-angel, half-beast, tormented, crazed, but participant in highest bliss. But I agree with Nietzsche that man is something to be overcome, though not along the lines he proposes. He needs perfecting. I cannot forbear to quote his marvellous jab at the English hedonists from The Twilight of the Idols:
If we have our own why of life, we shall get along with almost any how. Man does not strive for pleasure; only the Englishman does. ("Maxims and Arrows," #12, tr. W. Kaufmann.)
4. Note the poetically pleasing addition by the author of his name to his title.
5. The well-made hard-bound, acquired via Amazon, is a Mount Mary College (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) library discard. There is no evidence that it is a second copy. How naive of me to think that libraries ought to be permanent repositories of high culture. But the folly of reliably liberal librarians redounds to the benefit of the bookman.
First order of the cyberday is the correction of the previous day's typographical errors. I astonish myself at my obliviousness to my own mistakes of typography. Four corrections already this fine morn. Add that to a couple I made yesterday. A variation on the theme that "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."
The sense swims before my mind while the fingers limp to catch up, stumbling as they go.
Of course they do. All lives matter. Black lives, white lives, yellow lives, red lives, even redneck lives. And let's not forget the lives of black cops. They too matter. Did someone well-placed proclaim that black lives don't matter? Who? When? Where can I find him?
All lives matter. It follows that black lives matter, including the lives of the peaceful, law-abiding, hard-working black residents of Ferguson, Missouri. And because these black lives matter, it matters that laws be enforced. All reasonable laws from traffic laws to laws against looting and arson.
As if to prove once again that that there is no coward like a university administrator, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, after having said in an e-mail to students that all lives matter, has retracted her statement and apologized.
Horribile dictu. And yet another proof that the universities of the land, most of them, have turned into leftist seminaries and hothouses of political correctness. And yet another example of abdication of authority.
And so I pinch myself once again. Am I awake? Or is this all a bad dream? Could this stuff really be happening?
Memo to President McCartney: grow a pair, or the female equivalent thereof. You don't apologize for speaking the truth; you stand up for the truth and fight back against the the foolish know-nothings who you are supposed to be 'educating.'
Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno is exasperating but exciting. Although as sloppy as one expects Continental thinkers to be, he is nonetheless a force to be reckoned with, a serious man who is seriously grappling with ultimates at the outer limits of intelligibility. Derrida I dismiss as a bullshitter; indeed, to cop a line from John Searle, he is someone who "gives bullshit a bad name." But I can't dismiss Adorno. I confess to being partial to the Germans. They are nothing if not serious, and I'm a serious man. Among the French there is an excess of façade and frippery. But now let's get to work — like good Germans.
Suppose we focus on just part of one of Adorno's serpentine sentences. This is from Negative Dialektik (Suhrkamp, p. 354):
Dass das Unveraenderliche Wahrheit sei und das Bewegte, Vergaengliche Schein, die Gleichgueltigkeit von Zeitlichem und ewigen Ideen gegeneinander, ist nicht laenger zu behaupten . . . .
Adorno is telling us that
It can no longer be asserted that the true is the unchangeable while the mobile and mutable is mere appearance, or that eternal Ideas and the temporal realm are indifferent to each other . . . .
So what is our man saying? He is saying that after Auschwitz — where 'Auschwitz' collects all the genocidal and totalitarian horrors of the Third Reich — one can no longer take Platonism seriously, or the people's Platonism either, Christianity. And indeed most traditional philosophy, consisting as it does, in Whitehead's phrase, of a series of footnotes to Plato. The old metaphysics is dead, the metaphysics according to which Being itself has a positive and hence affirmable character. An experience has refuted the old metaphysics, the experience of Auschwitz.
But if it can no longer be asserted that that the true is the immutable, then it once could be asserted. And indeed, by 'assert' is intended assert with truth or at least justification. Note the ambiguity of 'assertible' as between capable of being asserted and worth of being asserted. And make a meta-note of how a broadly analytic thinker like me pedantically points out something like this whereas your typical Continental head would find my procedure boorish or somehow gauche. "How low class of you to be so careful and precise!"
But I digress. My point, again, is that if a proposition can no longer be asserted and believed, then it once could be asserted and believed. But if a metaphysical proposition was once true or believed with justification, then it is now true or believable with justification. For a metaphysical assertion is necessarily true if true at all. The structure of being cannot be contingent upon our contingent experiences, even experiences as shattering as that of the Nazi horror. (It is telling of course that Adorno, good man of the Left that he is, does not mention the Stalinist horrors which were known since 1956 — but that is a separate post.)
What I am objecting to is Adorno's apparent historical relativism. By this I mean the view that truth itself is historically conditioned and thus capable of being different in different historical epochs. Metaphysical conceptions are of course historically variable, but not their objects, the structures of being. Adorno is doing the the Continental Shuffle, sliding from the epistemic/doxastic to the ontic and back again. That views of truth are historically conditioned is trivial and scarcely in need of being pointed out; but that truth itself is historically conditioned is incoherent.
More fundamentally, what I am objecting to is Adorno's lack of any argument for his view that historical experience can refute a metaphysical thesis and his lack of consideration of the sort of (obvious) objection I am now raising.
The Continental 'trope' or 'move' — such-and-such can no longer be believed --ought to be defended or dropped. Why, for example, should it no longer be possible to believe in God after the horrendous events of the 20th century when people believed in God at the time of the Lisbon earthquake and the time of the Bubonic plague? What is so special about these 20th century horrors? The fact of evil may well rule out the existence of God, or more generally, the affirmability of Being. But if it does, this is surely no recent development.
The following quotations are from Martin Buber's I and Thou (tr. Walter Kaufmann, Scribner's, 1970, pp. 140-141):
Nor does he [Buddha] lead the unified being further to that supreme You-saying that is open to it. His inmost decision seems to aim at the annulment of the ability to say You . . . .
All doctrines of immersion are based on the gigantic delusion of human spirit bent back into itself -- the delusion that spirit occurs in man. In truth it occurs from man - between man and what he is not. As the spirit bent back into itself renounces this sense, this sense of relation, he must draw into man that which is not man, he must psychologize world and God. This is the psychical delusion of the spirit.
The context of the above quotations is a section of I and Thou that runs from pp. 131 to 143. Here are some quickly composed thoughts on this stretch of text.
In this section Buber offers a critique of Buddhism, Hinduism and other forms of mysticism (including Christian forms such as the one we find in Meister Eckhart) which relativize the I-Thou relation between man and God by re-ducing it (leading it back) to a primordial unity logically and ontologically prior to the terms of the relation. According to these traditions, this primordial unity can be experienced directly in Versenkung, which Kaufmann translates, not incorrectly, as 'immersion,' but which I think is better rendered as 'meditation.' As the German word suggests, one sinks down into the depths of the self and comes to the realization that, at bottom, there is no self or ego (as Buddhism proclaims with its central doctrine of anatta or anatman) or else that there is a Self, but that it is the eternal and universal Atman ( = Brahman) of Hinduism, "the One that thinks and is." (131)
Either way duality is overcome and seen to be not ultimately real. Buber rejects this because the I-Thou relation presupposes the ultimate ineliminability of duality, not only the man-God duality but also the duality of world and God. Perhaps the underlying issue can be put, roughly, like this: in the end, does the One absorb everything and extinguish all finite individuality, or in the end does duality and (transformed) finite individuality remain? In soteriological terms: does salvation in the end consist in a becoming one with the One or is duality and difference preserve even at the highest soteriological levels?
Mysticism "annuls relationship" (132) psychologizing both world and God. (141). Verseelen is the word Kaufmann translates as 'psychologize.' A more literal translation is 'soulifies.' Mysticism drags both God and the world into the soul where they are supposedly to be found in their ultimate reality by meditation. But spirit is not in man, Buber thinks, but between man and what is not man. (141). I take it he means that spirit is not in an individual man, to be reaized in the depths of his isolated interiority, but between individual human beings and individual humans beings and between individual human beings and what is not human. Spirit is thus actualized only in the relation of man to man, man to world, man to God.
At this point I would put a question to Buber. If spirit subsists only in relation, ought we conclude that God needs man to be a spiritual being in the same way that finite persons need each other to be spiritual beings? Is God dependent on man to be who he is? If yes, then the aseity of God is compromised. A Christian could say that the divine personhood subsists in intradivine relations, relations among and between the persons of the Trinity. But as far as I know Trinitarian thought is foreign to Judaism. Anyway, that is a question that occurs to me.
The "primal actuality of dialogue" (133) requires Two irreducible one to the other. It is not a relation internal to the self.
Buber is not opposed to Versenkung as a preliminary and indeed a prerequisite for encounter with the transcendent Other. Meditative Versenkung leads to inner concentration, interior unification, recollectedness. But this samadhi (which I think is etymologically related to the German sammeln (to gather, collect, concentrate) is not to be enjoyed for its own sake, but is properly preparatory for the encounter with the transcendent Other. "Concentrated into a unity, a human being can proceed to his encounter -- wholly successful only now -- with mystery and perfection. But he can also savor the bliss of his unity and, without incurring the supreme duty, return into distraction." (134)
Buber's point is that the mystic who, treading the inward path, arrives at the unitary ground of his soul and experiences sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss) shirks his supreme duty if he merely enjoys this state and then returns to the world of multiplicity and diremption. The soulic unity must be used for the sake of the encounter with God. Samadhi is not an end in itself but a means to an end.
Buber seems to be maintaining that Buddhist and other mysticism is an escape into illusion, an escape into a mere annihilation of dual awareness for the sake of an illusory nondual awareness: "insofar as this doctrine contains directions for immersion in true being, it does not lead into lived actuality but into 'annihilation' in which there is no consciousness, from which no memory survives -- and the man who has emerged from it may profess the experience by using the limit-word of non-duality, but without any right to proclaim this as unity." (136)
Buber continues, "We, however, are resolved to tend with holy care the holy treasure of our actuality that has been given us for this life and perhaps for no other life that might be closer to the truth." (136-7, emphasis added)
This prompts me to put a second and more important question to Buber. If there is no other life, no higher life, whether accessible in this life via Versenkung or after the death of the body, and we are stuck with this miserable crapstorm of a life, then what good is God? What work does he do if he doesn't secure our redemption and our continuance beyond death? This is what puzzles me about Judaism. It is a worldly religion, a religion for this life -- which is almost a contradiction in terms. It offers no final solution as do the admittedly life-denying religions of Buddhism and Christianity. Some will praise it for that very reason: it is not life-denying but life-affirming. Jews love life, this life here and now, and they don't seem too concerned about any afterlife. But then they don't have the sort of soteriological interest that is definitive of religion. "On whose definition?" you will object. And you will have a point.
On my definition. "And where did you get it?" From examning the great religions, the greatest of which are Buddhism and Christianity.
UPDATE (12/15). Karl White comments:
I assume Buber and many strains in Judaism would answer that loving God for his own sake and the world for its own sake is the highest form of religiosity. To ask what 'use' is God would be tantamount to idolatry, as it consists in an instrumentalisation of God in order to serve one's own needs or less prosaically, to save one's own sorry ass.
Cf. Yeshayahu Leibowitz: Those who would question, indeed those who lost their faith in God as a result of Auschwitz “never believed in God but in God's help… [for] one who believes in God … does not relate this to belief in God's help” (Accepting the Yoke, 21).
This is a very trenchant and very good comment that opens up numerous further cans of theological worms. I am immediately reminded of the the extremism of the jewess Simone Weil. Here is part of what I say in the just-referenced entry:
Although Weilian disinterest may appear morally superior to Pascalian self-interest, I would say that the former is merely an example of a perverse strain in Weil’s thinking. One mistake she makes is to drive a wedge between the question of the good and the question of human happiness, thereby breaking the necessary linkage between the two. This is a mistake because a good out of all relation to the satisfaction of human desire cannot count as a good for us.
What “good” is a good out of all relation to our self-interest? The absolute good must be at least possibly such as to satisfy (purified) human desire. The possibility of such satisfaction is a necessary feature of the absolute good. Otherwise, the absolute good could not be an ideal for us, an object of aspiration or reverence, a norm. But although the absolute good is ideal relative to us, it is real in itself. Once these two aspects (ideal for us, real in itself) are distinguished, it is easy to see how the absoluteness of the absolute good is consistent with its necessary relatedness to the possibility of human happiness. What makes the absolute good absolute is not its being out of all relation to the actual or possible satisfaction of human desire; what makes it absolute is its being self-existent, a reality in itself. The absolute good, existing absolutely (ab solus, a se), is absolute in its existence without prejudice to its being necessarily related to us in its goodness. If God is (agapic) love, then God necessarily bestows His love on any creatures there might be. It is not necessary that there be creatures, but it is necessary that God love the creatures that there are and that they find their final good in Him.
The Leibowitz remark deserves to be mulled over carefully. Part of what Leibowitz suggests is right: Auschwitz is no compelling argument against the existence of God. (Sorry Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno.) But I humbly suggest that it is border-line crazy to suggest, if this is what Leibowitz is suggesting, that belief in God is wholly out of relation to the human desire for ultimate happiness and to belief in God's help in securing such felicity.
There is more to say but I must get on with the day.
One of the pleasures in the life of a bookman is the delight of the 'find.' As a reader reports:
I saw that your cat is named Max Black. You might appreciate this anecdote.
Twice a year here in Ithaca there is a three-week long used book sale. The price drops each week, so if you can hold out to the end you can make out with some really good deals. This past time I got Hempel's Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Peter Geach's Reference and Generality for 50 cents each! The best find of all, though, was a first edition of [Hans] Reichenbach's classic The Rise of Scientific Philosophy that bore the signature of its previous owner on the inside: Max Black!
Great story! Curiously, I acquired all three titles similarly and for pennies: either from used book bins or from former graduate students. Back in '76 or '77 in Freiburg, Germany, I found a book by Hans Lipps that had been in Heidegger's library and bore his inscription.
I have often regretted the books that I didn't snatch from the remainder bins. Or rather it is my not snatching them that I regret. My mind drifts back to my impecunious days as a graduate student in Boston, must have been '73 or '74. I was in Harvard Square where I espied Reinhardt Grossmann's Ontological Reduction, or maybe it was his early book on Frege. I didn't buy it and I still regret not doing so.
I have repeatedly had the experience of buying a book the subject matter of which did not particularly interest me at the time only to find that a year or ten or twenty later that very book was what I needed. My copy of C. L. Hamblin's Fallacies (Methuen 1970) was pulled from a used book den in Harvard Square in July of 1974. It sat on my shelf unread for four years until I devoured it while boning up to teach logic, one of my duties at my first job.
I searched for an image of Max Black and found this:
I did not name my cat after this acolyte of high culture. Here is the real Max Black, the philosopher after whom I named my cat, circa 1965:
It's a bit of a paradox. Things are bad in the world, very bad, and the future looks grim. The country slides, the ship of state, 'manned' by fools, lists, and the center will not hold. But I've never been happier! I am sure my experience is not unique. I expect many of you who have entered the country of old age will resonate to at least some of the following.
You now have money enough and time enough. The time left is shrinking, but it is your own. There is little left to prove. What needed proving has been proven by now or will forever remain unproved. And now it doesn't much matter one way or the other.
You are free to be yourself and live beyond comparisons with others. You can enjoy the social without being oppressed by it. You understand the child's fathership of the man, and in some measure are able to undo it. You have survived those who would define you, and now you define yourself. And all of this without rancour or resentment. Defiant self-assertion gives way to benign indifference, Angst to Gelassenheit.
You now either enjoy the benefits of a thick skin or else it was never in the cards that you should develop one. You have been inoculated by experience against the illusions of life. Unrealistic expectations and foolish ambitions are a thing of the past. You know that the Rousseauean transports induced by a chance encounter with a charming member of the opposite sex do not presage the presence of the Absolute in human form. Less likely to be made a fool of in love, you are more likely to see sisters and brothers in sexual others.
The Grim Reaper is gaining on you but you now realize that he is Janus-faced: he is also a Benign Releaser. Your life is mostly over, but what the past lacks in presentness it gains in length and necessity. What you had, though logically contingent, now glistens in the light of that medieval modality necessitas per accidens: it is all there, accessible to memory as long as memory holds out, and no one can take it from you.
What is over is over, but it has been. The country of the past is a realm of being inacccessible except to memory but in compensation unalterable. Kierkegaard's fiftieth year never was, yours was. Better has-been than never-was. Not much by way of compensation, perhaps, but one takes what one can get.
You know your own character by now and can take satisfaction in possessing a good one if that is what experienced has disclosed.
After socializing I often feel vaguely annoyed with myself. Why? Because I allowed myself to be drawn into pointless conversation that makes a mockery of true conversation. The New Testament has harsh words for idle words:
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. (MT 12:36, King James)
A hard saying! Somewhat softer is Will Rogers' advice:
Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.
The social lifts us from the animal, but in almost every case impedes individuation which is our main spiritual vocation. Individuation is not given, but to be achieved. Its connection with theosis ought to be explored.
This beautifully written, erudite piece by George F. Will is the best thing I've read so far about the Eric Garner case. Excerpts:
Garner died at the dangerous intersection of something wise, known as “broken windows” policing, and something worse than foolish: decades of overcriminalization. The policing applies the wisdom that where signs of disorder, such as broken windows, proliferate and persist, a general diminution of restraint and good comportment takes hold. So, because minor infractions are, cumulatively, not minor, police should not be lackadaisical about offenses such as jumping over subway turnstiles.
Overcriminalization has become a national plague. And when more and more behaviors are criminalized, there are more and more occasions for police, who embody the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence, and who fully participate in humanity’s flaws, to make mistakes.
The scandal of mass incarceration is partly produced by the frivolity of the political class, which uses the multiplication of criminal offenses as a form of moral exhibitionism. This, like Eric Garner’s death, is a pebble in the mountain of evidence that American government is increasingly characterized by an ugly and sometimes lethal irresponsibility.
"If the product is so superior, why does it have to live on the tit of the State?" (Charles Krauthammer)
One answer is that the booboisie of these United States is too backward and benighted to appreciate the high level of NPR programming. The rubes of fly-over country are too much enamoured of wrestling, tractor pulls, and reality shows, and, to be blunt, too stupid and lazy to take in superior product.
Being something of an elitist myself, I am sympathetic to this answer. The problem for me is twofold. NPR is run by lefties for lefties. That in itself is not a problem. But it is a most serious problem when part of the funding comes from the taxpayer. But lefties, blind to their own bias, don't see the problem. Very simply, it is wrong to take money by force from people and then use it to promote causes that those people find offensive or worse when the causes have nothing to do with the legitimate functions of government. Planned Parenthood and abortion. NEA and "Piss Christ." Get it?
Second, we are in fiscal crisis. If we can't remove NPR from the "tit of the State," from the milky mammaries of massive Mama Obama government, what outfit can we remove from said mammaries? If we can't zero out NPR how are we going to cut back on the 'entitlement' programs such as Social Security?
Ah, but no one wants to talk about a real crisis when there is 'Ferguson' to talk about.
Don't get me wrong. I like or rather liked "Car Talk" despite the paucity of automotive advice and the excess of joking around. I even like the PBS "Keeping Up Appearances" in small doses. But if frivolous flab like this can't be excised, what can?