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.)
When macro-aggression is no more, when wrongs have been righted and justice has been promoted and protected to the extent that it can be by government, it is then that leftists invent micro-aggression to keep themselves in business and assure themselves of an ever-expanding clientele of victims and losers.
The grandpappy of them all is attributable to Hanns Johst: Wenn ich Kultur höre, entsichere ich meinen Browning! "When I hear the word culture, I release the safety on my Browning."
Often misquoted and misattributed. I myself misquoted it once as Wenn ich das Wort 'Kulture' höre, entsichere ich meine Pistole. I apologize for that rare lapse from the high standards of MavPhil. Wikipedia:
When the Nazis achieved power in 1933, Johst wrote the play Schlageter, an expression of Nazi ideology performed on Hitler's 44th birthday, 20 April 1933, to celebrate his victory. It was a heroic biography of the proto-Nazi martyr Albert Leo Schlageter. The famous line "when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun", often associated with Nazi leaders, derives from this play. The actual original line from the play is slightly different: "Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning!" "Whenever I hear of culture... I release the safety catch of my Browning!" (Act 1, Scene 1). It is spoken by another character in conversation with the young Schlageter. In the scene Schlageter and his wartime comrade Friedrich Thiemann are studying for a college examination, but then start disputing whether it is worthwhile doing so when the nation is not free. Thiemann argues he would prefer to fight than to study.
SCHLAGETER: Good old Fritz! (Laughing.) No paradise will entice you out of your barbed wire entanglement!
THIEMANN: That's for damned sure! Barbed wire is barbed wire! I know what I'm up against.... No rose without a thorn!... And the last thing I'll stand for is ideas to get the better of me! I know that rubbish from '18 ..., fraternity, equality, ..., freedom ..., beauty and dignity! You gotta use the right bait to hook 'em. And then, you're right in the middle of a parley and they say: Hands up! You're disarmed..., you republican voting swine!—No, let 'em keep their good distance with their whole ideological kettle of fish ... I shoot with live ammunition! When I hear the word culture ..., I release the safety on my Browning!"
SCHLAGETER: What a thing to say!
THIEMANN: It hits the mark! You can be sure of that.
SCHLAGETER: You've got a hair trigger.
—Hans Johst's Nazi Drama Schlageter. Translated with an introduction by Ford B. Parkes-Perret. Akademischer Verlag Hans-Dieter Heinz, Stuttgart, 1984.
I heard David Brooks on C-Span 2 last night. He uncorked a very funny line. "I am the conservative at The New York Times, which is like being the chief rabbi in Mecca."
By the way, it was a mention by Brooks in his latest book that got my friend Lupu onto Soloveitchik. Now I am reading the good rabbi. I have finished The Lonely Man of Faith and I've started on Halakhic Man. Impressive and important for those of us exercised by the Athenian-Hierosolymanic dialectic.
In other humor news, Heather Wilhelm reports, via Chelsea Clinton, that the Clinton family motto is, wait for it:
“We have a saying in my family—it’s always better to get caught trying (rather than not try at all).”
Full disclosure: When I first read that sentence, I laughed out loud. Next, I read it two more times, just to make sure it was not some glorious figment of my imagination. “Get caught trying?” Who makes this their family motto? Concerned that I was missing the popular resurgence of this wise old adage—a saying that ranks right up there with “There’s more than one way to obliterate an old email server” and “If the silverware is missing, Sandy Berger’s pants are a-jangling”—I decided to Google “get caught trying.” If you’re looking for lots of advice on how to do things like hide an affair from your spouse, illegally sneak over the border, or fight off a wild crow that is trying to eat your lunch, I suggest you do the same.
Here’s the thing: If you “get caught” doing something, it implies that you are doing something secretive, underhanded, or out-and-out bad. What kind of family, outside of the Corleone crime syndicate, instinctively associates “trying” with doing something surreptitious, or an action where one can get “caught”? Moreover, is there any one-liner in the history of the world—with the exception, of course, of “It depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is”—that better sums up the Clinton ethos?
What Miss Wilhelm fails to realize, however, is the signal impetus Bill Cinton gave to a renewed assault upon the question of the meaning of Being, die Frage nach dem Sinn von Sein, a question occluded and forgotten (Seinsvergessenheit!) in political precincts until Bubba re-ignited it with his penetrating inquiry into the manifold meanings of 'is.'
I am reading an article on some arcane topic such as counterfactual conditionals when I encounter a ungrammatical use of 'they' to avoid the supposedly radioactive 'he.' I groan: not another PC-whipped leftist! I am distracted from the content of the article by the political correctness of the author. As I have said more than once, PC comes from the CP, and what commies, and leftists generally, attempt to do is to inject politics into every aspect of life. It is in keeping with their totalitarian agenda.
If you complain that I am injecting politics into this post, I will say that I am merely combating and undoing the mischief of leftists. It is analogous to nonviolent people using violence to defend themselves and their way of life against the violent. We conservatives who want the political kept in its place and who are temperamentally disinclined to be political activists must become somewhat active to undo the damage caused by leftist totalitarians.
By the way, there is nothing sexist about standard English; the view that it is is a leftist doctrine that one is free to reject. It is after all a debatable point. Do you really think that the question whether man is basically good is the question whether males are basically good? If you replace 'he' with 'she,' then you tacitly concede that both can be used gender-neutrally. But then what becomes of your objection to 'he'?
You are of course free to disagree with what I just wrote, and you are free to write as you please. I defend your right to free speech. Do you defend mine? I understand your point of view though I don't agree with it. I can oppose you without abusing you though I may abuse you from time to time to give you a tase taste of your own medicine should you abuse me. Call me a 'sexist' for using standard English and I may return the compliment by calling you a 'destructive PC-whipped leftist.'
It's all for your own good.
Here's a modest proposal. Let's view the whole thing as a free speech issue. Don't harass me for using standard English and I won't mock you for your silly innovations. We contemporary conservatives are tolerant. I fear that you contemporary liberals are not. Prove me wrong.
It's a funny world in which conservatives are the new liberals, and liberals are the new . . . .
He did it again last night. So it is right, fitting, proper, and conducive unto clarity of thought that I re-post the following entry from 16 November 2012.
The other night Bill O'Reilly said that a fetus is a potential human life. Not so! A fetus is an actual human life.
Consider a third-trimester human fetus, alive and well, developing in the normal way in the mother. It is potentially many things: a neonate, a two-year-old, a speaker of some language, an adolescent, an adult, a corpse. And let's be clear that a potential X is not an X. A potential oak tree is not an oak tree. A potential neonate is not a neonate. A potential speaker of Turkish is not a Turkish speaker. 'Potential' in these constructions functions as an alienans adjective. But an acorn, though only potentially an oak tree, is an actual acorn, not a potential acorn. And its potentialities are actually possessed by it, not potentially possessed by it. And the same goes for the acorn's properties: it actually instantiates them.
The typical human fetus is an actual, living, human biological individual that actually possesses various potentialities. So if you accept that there is a general, albeit not exceptionless, prohibition against the taking of innocent human life, then you need to explain why you think a third-trimester fetus does not fall under this prohibition. You need to find a morally relevant difference -- not just any old difference, but a difference that makes a moral difference -- between the fetus and any born human individual.
Bill O'Reilly is not the brightest bulb on the marquee. And like too many conservatives, he has an anti-intellectual tendency. If I ran these simple ideas past him, he night well dismiss them with his standard Joe Sixpack "That's just theory" line. And that's unfortunate. Still, it's good to have this pugnacious Irishman on our side. Night after night, he displays great civil courage, speaking truth to power. It is de rigueur among leftists to despise him. A feather in his cap!
Well, obviously. Only a leftist loon could deny it. It is a pleasure to see the spectacularly obvious point made in a NYT op-ed piece by Peter Wehner:
AMONG liberals, it’s almost universally assumed that of the two major parties, it’s the Republicans who have become more extreme over the years. That’s a self-flattering but false narrative.
This is not to say the Republican Party hasn’t become a more conservative party. It has. But in the last two decades the Democratic Party has moved substantially further to the left than the Republican Party has shifted to the right. On most major issues the Republican Party hasn’t moved very much from where it was during the Gingrich era in the mid-1990s.
This entry from over five years ago stands up well and is worth re-posting. Slightly improved, typos removed, infelicities smoothed. It originally saw the light of the 'sphere on 24 March 2010. As usual the MavPhil doctrine of abrogation is in effect: later posts abrogate earlier ones.
The qualifier 'conservative' borders on pleonasm: there is is scarcely any talk radio in the U.S. worth mentioning that is not conservative. This is part of the reason the Left hates the conservative variety so much. They hate it because of its content, and they hate it because they are incapable of competing with it: their own attempts such as Air America have failed miserably. And so, projecting their own hatred, they label conservative talk 'hate radio.'
In a 22 March op-ed piece in the NYT, Bob Herbert, commenting on the G.O.P., writes, "This is the party that genuflects at the altar of right-wing talk radio, with its insane, nauseating, nonstop commitment to hatred and bigotry."
I find that vile outburst fascinating. There is no insanity, hatred, or bigotry in any of the conservative talk jocks to whom I listen: Laura Ingraham, Bill Bennett, Hugh Hewitt, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager or Michael Medved. There is instead common sense, humanity, excellent advice, warnings against extremism, deep life wisdom, facts, arguments, and a reasonably high level of discourse. Of the six I have mentioned, Prager and Medved are the best, a fact reflected in their large audiences. Don't you liberals fancy yourselves open-minded? Then open your ears!
So what is it about Herbert and people of his ilk that causes them to react routinely in such delusional fashion?
It is a long story, of course, but part of it is that lefties confuse dissent with hate. They don't seem to realize that if I dissent from your view, it doesn't follow that I hate you. It's actually a double confusion. There is first the confusion of dissent with hate, and then the confusion of persons and propositions. If I dissent from your proposition, it does not follow that I hate your proposition; and a fortiori it doesn't follow that I hate the person who advances the proposition. This double confusion goes hand in hand with the strange notion that the Left owns dissent, which I duly refute in a substantial post.
I leave you with a quotation from David Horowitz, Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey (Spence, 2003), p. 273, emphasis added:
The image of the right that the left has concocted -- authoritarian, reactionary, bigoted, mean-spirited -- is an absurd caricature that has no relation to modern conservatism or to the reality of the people I have come to know in my decade-long movement along the political spectrum -- or to the way I see myself. Except for a lunatic fringe, American conservatism is not about "blood and soil" nostalgia or conspiracy paranoia, which figure so largely in imaginations that call themselves "liberal," but are anything but. Modern American conservatism is a reform movement that seeks to reinvent free markets and limited government and to restore somewhat traditional values. Philosophically, conservatism is more accurately seen as a species of liberalism itself -- and would be more often described in this way were it not for the hegemony the left exerts in the political culture and its appropriation of the term "liberal" to obscure its radical agenda.
One more thing. You can see from Herbert's picture that he is black. So now I will be called a racist for exposing his outburst. That is right out of the Left's playbook: if a conservative disagrees with you on any issue, or proffers any sort of criticism, then you heap abuse on him. He's a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe, a 'homophobe,' a bigot, a religious zealot . . . .
Conservatives answer in the negative, liberals in the affirmative. This may be the most important difference between the warring parties. Dennis Prager explains the difference very clearly here.
Liberals will object to the 'radioactive' Man in the above title borrowed from Prager. They think it excludes women. It does not. It only excludes women if you are a liberal.
This points up another key difference between liberals and conservatives. For a liberal, nothing is immune to politicization, and everything, including language, can be pressed into service as a weapon of culture war. No word or phrase is safe from being distorted for an ideological purpose. A particularly egregious recent example is the absurd suggestion that 'thug' is code for 'nigger,' so that if one rightly describes the behavior of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, on the night he died as 'thuggish' one is hurling a racial epithet. Conservatives, by contrast, aim to preserve and protect the language as a neutral means for the exchange of ideas.
Chad McIntosh spotted the sloppiness in something I posted the other day. A retraction is in order. And then a repair.
The simple atheist -- to give him a name -- cannot countenance anything as God that is not ontologically simple. That is, he buys all the arguments classical theists give for the divine simplicity. It is just that he finds the notion of an ontologically simple being incoherent. He accepts, among others, all of Plantinga's arguments on the latter score. His signature argument runs as follows:
1. If God exists, then God is simple. 2. Nothing is or can be simple. Therefore 3. God does not exist.
First of all, one could be a simple atheist (simplicity atheist) as I have defined him without holding that nothing is ontologically simple. Surely there is nothing in the nature of atheism to require that an atheist eschew every ontologically simple item. And the same goes for the character I called the ontic theist, Dale Tuggy being an example of one. Surely there is nothing in the nature of ontic theism, according to which God is not ontologically simple, to require that an ontic theist eschew every ontologically simple item.
Second, while Alvin Plantinga does argue against the divine simplicity in Does God Have a Nature? (Marquette UP, 1980) he does not (as I recall without checking) argue that nothing is ontologically simple.
There is no little irony in my sloppiness inasmuch as in my SEP entry on the divine simplicity I adduce tropes as ontologically simple items to soften up readers for the divine simplicity:
We have surveyed some but not all of the problems DDS faces, and have considered some of the ways of addressing them. We conclude by noting a parallel between the simplicity of God and the simplicity of a popular contemporary philosophical posit: tropes.
Tropes are ontologically simple entities. On trope theory, properties are assayed not as universals but as particulars: the redness of a tomato is as particular, as unrepeatable, as the tomato. Thus a tomato is red, not in virtue of exemplifying a universal, but by having a redness trope as one of its constituents (on one version of trope theory) or by being a substratum in which a redness trope inheres (on a second theory). A trope is a simple entity in that there is no distinction between it and the property it ‘has.’ Thus a redness trope is red , but it is not red by instantiating redness, or by having redness as a constituent, but by being (a bit of) redness. So a trope is what it has. It has redness by being identical to (a bit of) redness. In this respect it is like God who is what he has. God has omniscience by being (identical to) omniscience. Just as there is no distinction between God and his omniscience, there is no distinction in a redness trope between the trope and its redness. And just as the simple God is not a particular exemplifying universals, a trope is not a particular exemplifying a universal. In both cases we have a particular that is also a property, a subject of predication that is also a predicable entity, where the predicable entity is predicated of itself. Given that God is omniscience, he is predicable of himself. Given that a redness trope is a redness, it is predicable of itself. An important difference, of course, is that whereas God is unique, tropes are not: there is and can be only one God, but there are many redness tropes.
Not only is each trope identical to the property it has, in each trope there is an identity of essence and existence. A trope is neither a bare particular nor an uninstantiated property. It is a property-instance, an indissoluble unity of a property and itself as instance of itself. As property, it is an essence; as instance, it is the existence of that essence. Because it is simple, essence and existence are identical in it. Tropes are thus necessary beings (beings whose very possibility entails their actuality) as they must be if they are to serve as the ontological building blocks of everything else (on the dominant one-category version of trope theory). In the necessity of their existence, tropes resemble God.
If one can bring oneself to countenance tropes, then one cannot object to the simple God on the ground that (i) nothing can be identical to its properties, or (ii) in nothing are essence and existence identical. For tropes are counterexamples to (i) and (ii).
Matters are quickly set right if I 'simply' ascribe to the simplicity atheist the following less committal argument:
1. If God exists, then God is simple. 2*. God cannot be simple. Therefore 3. God does not exist.
To the ontic theist we may ascribe:
2*. God cannot be simple. ~3. God exists. Therefore ~1. It is not the case that if God exists, then God is simple.
Question 1: Has anyone ever argued along the lines of the simplicity atheist? Have I stumbled upon a new argument here?
Question 2: Can you think of any non-divine ontologically simple items other than tropes?
More and more, I find myself attempting to have difficult conversations with people who hold very different points of view. And I consider our general failure to have these conversations well—so as to produce an actual convergence of opinion and a general increase in goodwill between the participants—to be the most consequential problem that exists. Apart from violence and other forms of coercion, all we have is conversation with which to influence one another. The fact that it is so difficult for people to have civil and productive conversations about things like U.S. foreign policy, or racial inequality, or religious tolerance and free speech, is profoundly disorienting. And it’s also dangerous. If we fail to do this, we will fail to do everything else of value. Conversation is our only tool for collaborating in a truly open-ended way.
[. . .]
. . . conversation is our only hope.
Fascinating and worthy of careful thought. Here are the main points I take Harris to be making.
1. A successful conversation produces a convergence of opinion and an increase in good will between the participants.
2. The failure to have such conversations is the most consequential problem that exists.
3. Apart from violence and other forms of coercion, all we have is conversation with which to influence one another.
4. Our failure to have civil and productive conversations about important matters of controversy is dangerous.
5. If we fail to do this, we will fail to do everything else of value.
Should we agree with any or all of these points?
Ad (1). We shouldn't agree with this. It would not be reasonable to do so. Neither of the two conditions Harris specifies are necessary for a successful conversation. I have had many successful philosophical and other conversations that do not issue in agreement or convergence of opinion. And I am sure you have as well. What these conversations issue in is clarification. The topic becomes clearer, as well as its implications for and relations with other topics, the arguments on both sides get better understood, as well as one's views and one's interlocutor's views. Mutual clarification, even without agreement, even with intractable disagreement, is sufficient for successful conversation. If we come to understand exactly what it is we disagree about, then that is very important progress even if we never come to agree.
In fact, I consider it utopian and indeed foolish to think that one can achieve (uncoerced, rational) agreement on truly fundamental matters. On some matters rational agreement among competent interlocutors is of course possible; but on others just impossible. If this is right, then agreement on all important matters of controversy cannot be an ideal for us, a goal we ought to pursue. Ought implies can. If we ought to pursue a goal, then it must be possible for us to achieve it. If a certain goal is impossible for us to achieve, then we cannot be obliged to achieve it.
A reachable goal is clarity, not agreement; toleration, not consensus.
Consider religion. Is it a value or not? Conservatives, even those who are atheistic and irreligious, tend to view religion as a value, as conducive to human flourishing. Liberals and leftists tend to view it as a disvalue, as something that impedes human flourishing. This is an important, indeed crucially important, question. Does Sam Harris really think that, via patient, civil, mutually respectful conversation, no matter how protracted, he is going to convince those of us who think religion important for human flourishing to abandon our view?
If he thinks this he is naive. I respect Harris, something I cannot say about some other New Atheists. But Harris is out beyond his depth in philosophy and religion. And he has a foolish belief in the power of reason to resolve the issues that are of deepest concern to us. Reason is a magnificent thing, of course, but Harris appears to have no inkling of its infirmity.
As for the other condition, an increase in good will, surely it is not necessary for a successful conversation. The quantity of good will may stay the same in a discussion without prejudice to the discussion's being productive. It may even decrease. Admittedly, without a certain amount of initial good will, no fruitful conversation can take place. But it is false to say that a successful conversation increases good will.
Ad (2). If (1) is false or unreasonable, then so is (2). Suppose I have a conversation with an atheist such as Harris and fail to budge him from his position while he fails to budge me from mine. Such a conversation can be very productive, useful, successful, not to mention transcendently enjoyable. The life of the mind is of all lives the highest and best, and its being these things is not predicated on achieving agreement about the lofty topics that engage our interest while quite possibly transcending our ability to resolve them to our mutual satisfaction. The failure to meet Harris's conditions need be no problem at all, let alone the most consequential problem that exists.
Ad (3). Harris tells us that it is either coercion or conversation when it comes to influencing people. This is plainly a false alternative. One way to non-violently and non-coercively influence people is by setting a good example. If I treat other people with kindness, respect, forbearance, etc., this 'sets a good example' and reliably induces many people in the vicinity to do otherwise. In fact I needn't say a word, let alone enter into a conversation. For example, with a friendly gesture I can invite a motorist to enter my lane of traffic. In doing so, I ever-so-slightly increase the good will and fellow feeling in the world, profiting myself in the process. In this connection, a marvellous aphorism from Søren Kierkegaard, Journals, #1056:
The essential sermon is one's own existence.
But more importantly, there is teaching which in most cases is a non-violent but also a non-conversational mode of influencing people. For example, teaching someone how to change a tire, play chess, use a computer. If I have a skill, I don't discuss it with you, I teach it to you. Much of elementary education is non-violent but also non-conversational. Teaching the alphabet, the moves of the chess men, the multiplication tables, and so on. There is nothing to discuss, nothing to have a conversation about. The elements have simply to be learned. Controversial topics open to debate will arise late on. But there is no point in discussing the Peano axioms if one does not know that 1 + 1 = 2.
What about ethical instruction? Only a liberal fool would advocate conversations with young children about theft and murder and lying as if the rightness or wrongness of these acts is subject to reasonable debate or is a matter of mere opinion. They must be taught that these things are wrong for their own good and for the good of others. Discussion of ethical niceties and theories comes later, if at all, and presupposes ethical indoctrination: a child who has not internalized and appropriated ethical prescriptions and proscriptions cannot profit from ethical conversations or courses in ethics. You cannot make a twenty-year-old ethical by requiring him to ake a course in ethics. He must already be ethical by upbringing.
Harris's thesis #3 is plainly false. But this is not to deny that respectful conversation is much to be preferred over coercive methods of securing agreement and should be pursued whenever possible.
Ad (4). Harris tells us that it is "dangerous" to not have civil and productive conversations about important and controversial matters. But why dangerous? Harris must know that even among competent and sincere interlocutors here in the West who share may assumptions and values we are not going to come to any agreement about God, guns, abortion, capital punishment, same-sex 'marriage,' the cluster of questions surrounding 'global warming' and plenty of other economic, political, and social questions. How can it be dangerous to not have interminable, inconclusive conversations? Conversations that go nowhere? That are more productive of dissensus than consensus? That contribute to polarization? Well, I suppose you could say that if we are talking we are not shooting.
Ad (5). Harris is really over the top on this one. Exercise for the reader: supply the refutation.
Conclusion: Conversation is overrated. If it is our only hope we are in very bad shape. We need fewer 'conversations,' not more. And we need more tolerance of opposing points of view. More tolerance and more voluntary separation. We don't need to talk to get along. We need to talk less while respecting boundaries and differences. We need less engagement and more dis-engagement. Everybody needs to back off. Trouble is, totalitarians won't back off. They want a total clamp-down on belief and behavior. And it doesn't matter whether they are 'liberal' totalitarians or Islamist totalitarians.
So there looks to be no way to avoid a fight. Unfortunately, it is reason herself who teaches that it is often the hard fist of unreason that prevails and settles the issue when the appeal to reason is unavailing.
What follows is taken verbatim from Keith Burgess-Jackson's weblog. It is so good, so right, and so important that it deserves to be disseminated widely.
Barry M. Goldwater (1909-1998) on Conservatism
I have been much concerned that so many people today with Conservative instincts feel compelled to apologize for them. Or if not to apologize directly, to qualify their commitment in a way that amounts to breast-beating. “Republican candidates,” Vice President Nixon has said, “should be economic conservatives, but conservatives with a heart.” President Eisenhower announced during his first term, “I am conservative when it comes to economic problems but liberal when it comes to human problems.” Still other Republican leaders have insisted on calling themselves “progressive” Conservatives.These formulations are tantamount to an admission that Conservatism is a narrow, mechanistic economic theory that may work very well as a bookkeeper’s guide, but cannot be relied upon as a comprehensive political philosophy.
The same judgment, though in the form of an attack rather than an admission, is advanced by the radical camp. “We liberals,” they say, “are interested in people. Our concern is with human beings, while you Conservatives are preoccupied with the preservation of economic privilege and status.” Take them a step further, and the Liberals will turn the accusations into a class argument: it is the little people that concern us, not the “malefactors of great wealth.”
Such statements, from friend and foe alike, do great injustice to the Conservative point of view. Conservatism is not an economic theory, though it has economic implications. The shoe is precisely on the other foot: it is Socialism that subordinates all other considerations to man’s material well-being. It is Conservatism that puts material things in their proper place—that has a structured view of the human being and of human society, in which economics plays only a subsidiary role.
The root difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals of today is that Conservatives take account of the whole man, while the Liberals tend to look only at the material side of man’s nature. The Conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man’s nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Conservatism therefore looks upon the enhancement of man’s spiritual nature as the primary concern of political philosophy. Liberals, on the other hand,—in the name of a concern for “human beings”—regard the satisfaction of economic wants as the dominant mission of society. They are, moreover, in a hurry. So that their characteristic approach is to harness the society’s political and economic forces into a collective effort to compel “progress.” In this approach, I believe they fight against Nature.
Surely the first obligation of a political thinker is to understand the nature of man. The Conservative does not claim special powers of perception on this point, but he does claim a familiarity with the accumulated wisdom and experience of history, and he is not too proud to learn from the great minds of the past.
(Barry M. Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative, ed. CC Goldwater, The James Madison Library in American Politics, ed. Sean Wilentz [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007 (first published in 1960)], 1-3 [footnote omitted; italics in original])
Note from KBJ: This is a great book by a great (though, like all of us, imperfect) man. I'm ashamed to say that it took me 58 years to read it. Better late than never.
Comment by BV at Keith's site:
I read it back in '64 when I was 14. 50 years later I see clearly how right he was and how he might have prevented the decline of the last half-century. I remember the political bumper stickers of the day that read: AuH2O64 meaning, of course, Goldwater in 1964.
My mother did not like it that I was reading Conscience of a Conservative since she and her husband were Democrats. She liked it even less when, a few years later, I was reading hard-core Marxist stuff like Ramparts magazine at a time when David Horowitz was an editor and still a commie. Mirabile dictu, Brit Hume of Fox News was for a brief time a Ramparts Washington correspondent! You didn't know that, did you? (I just learned it.)
Further Anecdote by BV:
In those heady days of the mid-1960s I read a wide variety of periodicals and books: The L. A. Free Press, Crawdaddy!, Dick Gregory's Black Like Me, Lenny Bruce's How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media. In order to avoid my mother's 'censorship,' I had to smuggle the stuff into my bedroom. I would place the publications between the screen and window of a bedroom window, enter the house, go into my room, open the window and retrieve the material.
I sure wish I had that stuff now, especially the back issues of Crawdaddy and L. A. Free Press. They must have succumbed to a maternal purge, along with the Lenny Bruce paperback. De Chardin and McLuhan survived the purge and I have them in my library to this day. Gregory didn't make it: the old lady couldn't understand why I was concerned with the plight of black folk. I still am, which is why I'm a conservative and do battle with the destructive Left.
Correction: My old pal J. I. O e-mails to tell me that the author of Black Like Me was not Dick Gregory but John Howard Griffin, a white man who dyed himself black and travelled through the South. I was probably confusing that title with Gregory's autobiography Nigger which appeared in 1964. I believe I read both back then.
Thus the Dustin Hoffman character in Hero. "There ain't no truth; all there is, is bullshit." (HT: Vlastimil V.) This very short video clip would be a good way to get your intro to phil students thinking about truth. Some questions/issues:
1. Is it true that there is no truth? If yes, there there is at least one truth. If no, then there is at least one truth. Therefore, necessarily, there is at least one truth. This simple reflection may seem boring and 'old hat' to you, but it can come as a revelation to a student.
2. What exactly is bullshit? Is a bullshit statement one that is false? Presumably every bullshit statement is a false statement, but not conversely. There are plenty of false statements that are not bullshit. So the property of being bullshit is not the property of being false. Nor is it the property of being meaningless, or the property of being self-contradictory.
3. In ordinary English, 'bullshit' is often used to describe a statement that is plainly false, or a statement that one believes is plainly false, or one that either is or is believed to be a lie. But none of these uses get at the 'essence' of bullshit.
. . . grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit." (emphasis added)
Professor Frankfurt has a fine nose for the essence of bullshit. The bullshitter is one who 'doesn't give a shit' about the truth value of what he is saying. He doesn't care how things stand with reality. The liar, by contrast, must care: he must know (or at least attempt to know) how things are if he is to have any chance of deceiving his audience. Think of it this way: the bullshitter doesn't care whether he gets things right or gets them wrong; the liar cares to get them right so he can deceive you about them.
Now if the bullshitter does not care about truth, what does he care about? He cares about himself, about making a certain impression. His aim is to (mis)represent himself as knowing what he does not know or more than he actually knows. Frankfurt again:
. . . bullshitting involves a kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely than to telling a lie. But what is implied concerning its nature by the fact that it is more like the former than it is like the latter? Just what is the relevant difference here between a bluff and a lie? Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. Bluffing too is typically devoted to conveying something false. Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. In order to appreciate this distinction, one must recognize that a fake or a phony need not be in any respect (apart from authenticity itself) inferior to the real thing. What is not genuine need not also be defective in some other way. It may be, after all, an exact copy. What is wrong with a counterfeit is not what it is like, but how it was made. This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong. (emphasis added)
If a philosopher seeks the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters, then he should do so by all available routes. Qua philosopher he operates in the aether of abstract thought, on the plane of discursive reason, but he cannot consistently with his calling ignore other avenues of advance. It is after all the truth that is sought, not merely the truth as philosophically accessible. There is surely no justification for the identification of truth with philosophically accessible truth.
Meditation is difficult for intellectual types because of their tendency to overvalue their mental facility and cleverness. They are good at dialectics and mental jugglery, and people tend to value and overvalue what they are good at. Philosophers can become as obsessed with their cleverness and gamesmanship as body builders with muscular hypertrophy. Indeed, it is not too much of a stretch to say that the typical analytic philosopher suffers from hypertrophy of the critical/discursive/dialectical faculty. He can chop logic, he can mentally and verbally jabber, jabber, jabber, and scribble, scribble, scribble, but he can't be silent, listen, attend. He would sneer, to his own detriment, at this thought of Simone Weil (Gravity and Grace, tr. Craufurd, Routledge 1995, p. 107):
The capacity to drive away a thought once and for all is the gateway to eternity.
Compare this striking line from Evagrius Ponticus (The Praktikos and Chapters of Prayer, tr. Bamberger, Cistercian Publications, 1972, p. 66, #70):
Not because of content, but because of presentation. The content is fine and in some cases excellent. But if I am reading a piece by Victor Davis Hanson or Kevin D. Williamson I am immediately put off and pissed off by a piece of freaking advertising right in the main body of the text. Not on the right sidebar, where it belongs, but smack in the text. And then there are hyperlinks, right in the main body of the text, to the articles of other writers. That's an outrage and ought to be protested by any writer who takes his work seriously. If I were Hanson I would write a nasty letter to the editor and say something like, "You want to publish my work? Then show me some respect. Get those advertisements and hyperlinks out of my text."
Relevant hyperlinks can be placed at the bottom of the main text.
And of course I am not objecting to advertising. Just don't assault me with noises and moving images and other distracting clutter. Isn't NRO supposed to be a conservative publication?
NRO is not unique in its offensiveness; indeed there are sites that are worse.
Now that my blood is up, I'm heading for the weight room.
The simple atheist -- to give him a name -- cannot countenance anything as God that is not ontologically simple. That is, he buys all the arguments classical theists give for the divine simplicity. It is just that he finds the notion of an ontologically simple being incoherent. He accepts, among others, all of Plantinga's arguments on the latter score. His signature argument runs as follows:
1. If God exists, then God is simple. 2. Nothing is or can be simple. Therefore 3. God does not exist.
The classical theist makes a modus ponens of the above modus tollens, arguing:
1. If God exists, then God is simple. ~3. God exists. Therefore ~2. Something is and can be simple.
The ontic theist -- to give him a name -- holds that God is a being among beings. He argues:
2. Nothing is or can be simple. ~3. God exists. Therefore ~1. It is not the case that if God exists, then God is simple.
Why don't leftists -- who obviously do not share the characteristic values and beliefs of Islamists -- grant what is spectacularly obvious to everyone else, namely, that radical Islam poses a grave threat to what we in the West cherish as civilization, which includes commitments to free speech, open inquiry, separation of church and state, freedom of religion, freedom to reject religion, and so on? In particular, why don't leftists recognize the grave threat radical Islam poses to them? Why do leftists either deny the threat or downplay its gravity?
Here is a quickly-composed list of twelve related reasons based on my own thinking and reading and on discussions with Peter Lupu and Mike Valle. A work in progress. The reasons are not necessarily in the order of importance. I suspect that each of them has a role to play in a complete explanation of why leftists are soft on radical Islam.
1. Many leftists hold that no one really believes in the Islamic paradise. The expansionist Soviets could be kept in check by the threat of nuclear destruction because, as communists, they were atheists and mortalists for whom this world is the last stop. But the threat from radical Islam, to a conservative, is far more chilling since jihadis murder in the expectation of prolonged disportation with black-eyed virgins in a carnal post mortem paradise. For them this world is not the last stop but a way station to that garden of carnal delights they are forbidden from enjoying here and now. Most leftists, however, don't take religion seriously, and, projecting, think that no one else really does either despite what the religionists say and (according to leftists) pretend to believe. So leftists think that jihadis are not really motivated by the belief in paradise as pay off for detonating themselves and murdering 'infidels.' In this way they downplay the gravity of the threat.
This is a very dangerous mistake based on a very foolish sort of psychological projection! Conservatives know better than to assume that everyone shares the same values, attitudes, and goals. See Does Anyone Really Believe in the Muslim Paradise? which refers to Sam Harris's debate with anthropologist Scott Atran on this point.
2. Leftists tend to think that deep down everyone is the same and wants the same things. They think that Muslims want what most Westerners want: money, cars, big houses, creature comforts, the freedom to live and think and speak and criticize and give offense as they please, ready access to alcohol and other intoxicants, equality for women, toleration of homosexuals, same-sex 'marriage' . . . .
3. Leftists typically deny that there is radical evil; the bad behavior of Muslims can be explained socially, politically, and economically. The denial of the reality of evil is perhaps the deepest error of the Left. And so the beheadings, crucifixions, and other atrocities committed by ISIS and other Muslim savages are not expressions of radical evil, but reflective of contingent and ameliorable states of affairs such as a lack of jobs.
4. Leftists tend to think any critique of Islam is an attack on Muslims and as such is sheer bigotry. But this is pure confusion. To point out the obvious, Islam is a religion, but no Muslim is a religion. Muslims are people who adhere to the religion, Islam. Capiche?
When a leftist looks at a conservative he 'sees' a racist, a xenophobe, a nativist, a flag-waving, my-country-right-or-wrong jingoist, a rube who knows nothing of foreign cultures and who reflexively hates the Other simply as Other. In a word, he 'sees' a bigot. So he thinks that any critique of Islam or Islamism -- if you care to distinguish them -- is motivated solely by bigotry directed at certain people. In doing this, however, the leftist confuses the worldview with its adherents. The target of conservative animus is the destructive political-religious ideology, not the people who have been brainwashed into accepting it and who know no better.
5. Some leftists think that to criticize Islam is racist. But this too is hopeless confusion. Islam is a religion, not a race. There is no race of Muslims. You might think that no liberal-leftist is so stupid as not to know that Islam is not a race. You would be wrong. See Richard Dawkins on Muslims.
6. Many leftists succumb to the Obama Fallacy: Religion is good; Islam is a religion; ergo, Islam is good; ISIS is bad; ergo, ISIS -- the premier instantiation of Islamist terror at the moment -- is not Islamic. See Obama: "ISIL is not Islamic."
7. Leftists tend to be cultural relativists. This is part of what drives the Obama Fallacy. If all cultures are equally good, then the same holds for religions: they are all equally good, and no religion can be said to be superior to any other either in terms of truth value or contribution to human flourishing. Islam is not worse that Christianity or Buddhism; it is just different, and only a bigot thinks otherwise.
But of course most leftists think that all religions are bad, equally bad. But if so, then again one cannot maintain that one is superior or inferior to another.
Leftists are also, many of them, moral relativists, though inconsistently so. They think that it is morally wrong (absolutely!) to criticize or condemn the practices of another culture (stoning of adulterers, e.g.) because each culture has its own morality that is valid for it and thus only relatively valid. The incoherence of this ought to be obvious. If morality is relative, then we in our culture have all the justification we need and could have to condemn and indeed suppress and eliminate the barbaric practices of radical Muslims.
9. Leftists tend to deny reality. The reality of terrorism and its source is there for all to see: not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terrorists at the present time are Muslims. Deny that, and you deny reality. But why do leftists deny reality?
A good part of the answer is that they deny it because reality does not fit their scheme. Leftists confuse the world with their view of the world. In their view of the world, people are all equal and religions are all equal -- equally good or equally bad depending on the stripe of the leftist. They want it to be that way and so they fool themselves into thinking that it is that way. Moral equivalency reigns. If you point out that Muhammad Atta was an Islamic terrorist, they shoot back that Timothy McVeigh was a Christian terrorist -- willfully ignoring the crucial difference that the murderous actions of the former derive from Islamic/Islamist doctrine whereas the actions of the latter do not derive from Christian doctrine.
And then these leftists like Juan Cole compound their willful ignorance of reality by denouncing those who speak the truth as 'Islamophobes.' That would have been like hurling the epithet 'Naziphobe' at a person who, in 1938, warned of the National Socialist threat to civilized values. "You, sir, are suffering from a phobia, an irrational fear; you need treatment, not refutation."
When a leftist hurls the 'Islamophobe!' epithet that is his way of evading rational discussion by reducing his interlocutor to someone subrational, someone suffering from cognitive dysfunction. Now how liberal and tolerant and respectful of persons is that?
10. Leftists hate conservatives because of the collapse of the USSR and the failure of communism; hence they reflexively oppose anything conservatives promote or maintain. (This was Peter Lupu's suggestion.) So when conservatives sound the alarm, leftists go into knee-jerk oppositional mode. They willfully enter into a delusional state wherein they think, e.g., that the threat of Christian theocracy is real and imminent, but that there is nothing to fear from Islamic theocracy.
11. Many leftists are cowards. They will not admit the threat of radical Islam or speak out against it because of fear of reprisal. It is a rational fear, of course. And so the very same people who accuse conservatives of an irrational fear of radical Islam stick up for it out of a quite rational fear of what would happen to them if they condemned it the way they would condemn Christian terrorism if such a thing existed.
12. Leftists are fundamentally negative and oppositional. In Faust, Goethe refers to Mephistopheles as Der Geist der stets verneint, the spirit that always negates. That is the spirit of the Left: destructive, nay-saying, reactionary. So leftists take the side of Islamists because the latter oppose traditional American values despite the deadly threat Islamists pose to their own values. Compare Robert Tracinski:
The left is fundamentally reactionary. It is a reaction against capitalism and against America. The left are defined by what they are against, or more accurately who they hate. So they are drawn to sympathy toward Islam because it is not-us: non-Western, non-American, neither Christian nor a product of the Enlightenment. And I guess that’s what the two ideologies have in common: they are both reactions against the supposed evils of the West. Which explains why leftists tend to find themselves uncomfortable and look for excuses to retreat when they are called upon to defend the West against this rival group of reactionaries.
The following entry draws heavily upon W. Matthews Grant, "Divine Simplicity, Contingent Truths, and Extrinsic Models of Divine Knowing," Faith and Philosophy, vol. 29, no. 3, July 2012, pp. 254-274.
It also bears upon my discussion with Professor Dale Tuggy. He holds that God is a being among beings. I deny that God is a being among beings, holding instead that God is Being itself. This is not to deny that God is; but it does entail affirming that God is in a radically unique way distinct from the way creatures are. We can call this radically unique way or mode of Being, simplicity. So my denial, and Dale's affirmation, that God is a being among beings is logically equivalent to my affirming, and Dale's denying, the doctrine of divine simplicity.
A particularly vexing problem for defenders of the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS) is to explain how an ontologically simple God could know contingent truths.
The problem may be cast in the mold of an aporetic tetrad:
1. God is simple: there is nothing intrinsic to God that is distinct from God.
2. God knows some contingent truths.
3. Necessarily, if God knows some truth t, then (i) there an item intrinsic to God such as a mental act or a belief state (ii) whereby God knows t.
4. God exists necessarily.
The plausibility of (3) may be appreciated as follows. Whatever else knowledge is, it is plausibly regarded as a species of true belief. A belief is an intrinsic state of a subject. Moreover, beliefs are individuated by their contents: beliefs or believings with different contents are different beliefs or believings. It cannot be that one and the same act of believing has different contents at different times or in different possible worlds.
That the tetrad is inconsistent can be seen as follows. Suppose God, who knows everything there is to be known, knows some contingent truth t. He knows, for example, that I have two cats. It follows from (3) that there is some item intrinsic to God such as a belief state whereby God knows t. Given (1), this state, as intrinsic to God, is not distinct from God. Given (4), the state whereby God knows t exists necessarily. But then t is necessarily true. This contradicts (2) according to which t is contingent.
Opponents of the divine simplicity will turn the tetrad into an argument against (1). They will argue from the conjunction of (2) & (3) & (4) to the negation of (1). The classical theist, however, accepts (1), (2), and (4). If he is to solve the tetrad, he needs to find a way to reject (3). He needs to find a way to reject the idea that when a knower knows something, there is, intrinsic to the knower, some mediating item that is individuated by the object known.
So consider an externalist conception of knowledge. I see a cat and seeing it I know it -- that it is and what it is. Now the cat is not in my head; but it could be in my mind on an externalist theory of mind. My awareness of the cat somehow 'bodily' includes the cat, the whole cat, all 25 lbs of him, fur, dander, and all. Knowledge is immediate, not mediated by sense data, representations, mental acts, occurrent believings, or any other sort of epistemic intermediary or deputy. Seeing a cat, I see the cat itself directly, not indirectly via some other items that I see directly such as an Husserlian noema, a Castanedan ontological guise, a Meinongian incomplete object, or any other sort of merely intentional object. On this sort of scheme, the mind is not a container, hence has no contents in the strict sense of this term. The mind is directly at the things themselves.
If this externalism is coherent, then then we can say of God's knowledge that it does not involve any intrinsic states of God that would be different were God to know different things than he does know. For example, God knows that I have two cats. That I have two cats is an actual, but contingent fact. If God's knowledge of this fact were mediated by an item intrinsic to God, a mental act say, an item individuated by its accusative, then given the divine simplicity, this item could not be distinct from God with the consequence that the act and its accusative would be necessary. This consequence is blocked if there is nothing intrinsic to God whereby he knows that I have two cats.
We will have to take a closer look at externalism. But if it is coherent, then the aporetic tetrad can be solved by rejecting (3).
I admire Dale Tuggy's resolve to continue this difficult discussion despite the manifold demands on his time and energy. (This Gen-X dude is no slacker! If one of us is a slacker, it's this Boomer. Or, if you prefer, I am a man of leisure, otium liberale, in the classical sense.) The core question, you will recall, is whether God is best thought of as a being among beings, or as Being itself. The best way to push forward, I think, is via very short exchanges. In Part 2, near the top, we read:
“Being itself,” I take it, is something like a universal property, an abstract and not a concrete object. (Or at least, it’s not supposed to be concrete; maybe he thinks that it is neither abstract nor concrete.) I’m not sure if Bill would accept those characterizations, but if not, I invite him to say a little more about what he means by “Being itself.” The “itself,” I assume, entails not being a self. But God – that is, the God of Christianity, or of biblical monotheism – is a god, and a god is, analytically, a self. I’m pretty sure that no self can be “Being itself” in the way that Bill means it, but again, I invite him to say more about what it is to be “Being itself.”
1. First a comment on 'itself' in 'Being itself.' I don't understand why Dale thinks that 'itself' entails not being a self or person. In expressions of the form 'X itself,' the 'itself' in typical instances functions as a device to focus attention on X in its difference from items with which it could be conflated or confused. In a Platonic dialogue Socrates might say to an interlocutor: "You gave me an instance of a just act, but I want to know what justice itself is." Justice itself is justice as distinct from just acts whether the latter are taken distributively or collectively. The same goes for knowledge itself, virtue itself, piety itself. Piety itself is not any given pious act or the collection of pious acts, but that in virtue of which pious acts are pious. It is that which 'makes' pious acts pious. 'Itself' in these constructions is a device of emphasis. It is a form of pleonasm that serves a sort of underlining function. Compare the sentence, 'Obama himself called for transparency in government.' 'Himself' adds a nuance absent without it. It serves to insure that the reader appreciates that it is Obama and not some other person who made the call for transparency; Obama, that very man, who is not known for his contributions to transparency.
Similarly with Being itself and Existence itself. When I speak of Being/Existence itself, I speak of Being/Existence in its difference from beings/existents. I am making it clear that I intend Being as other than each being and from the whole lot of beings. I am emphasizing the difference between Being and beings. I am warning against their conflation or confusion or (thoughtless) identification. I am implying, among other things, that Being does not divide without remainder into beings. Or rather, I am raising this as a question. For after investigation we may decide that Being does, in the end, divide without remainder into beings. But note that to make this assertion one has to have distinguished Being from beings. Otherwise, the assertion would be a miserable tautology along the lines of: beings are beings.
2. Now does 'Being itself' imply that Being is not a self? 'Self' has a narrow use and a wide use. In the narrow use, a self is a person. Now suppose it were said that God himself is a person. Would that imply that God is not a person? Of course not. In the wide use, a self is anything that has what Buddhists call self-nature or own-being. The Buddhist anatta doctrine amounts to the claim that nothing has self-nature, that nothing is a self in the broad sense. This could be interpreted to mean that nothing is a substance in the Aristotelian sense. (Cf. T. R. V. Murti) A mark of substance in this sense is independence: X is a substance iff x is logically capable of independent existence. Now God is either a substance or analogous to a substance. If God is a self in the broad sense, than this is consistent with God's being a person either univocally or analogically.
3. Can an abstract object be a person? No! On this point I am confident that Dale and I will rejoice in agreement. Here is a quick argument. Persons are agents. Agents do things. No abstract object does anything: abstracta are causally inert. They cannot act or be acted upon. Therefore, no person is an abstract object.
Dale operates within a certain general-metaphysical scheme common to most analytic philosophers, a scheme that he does not question and that perhaps seems obvious to him. On this scheme, every object or being is either abstract or concrete, no object is both, and no object is neither. For Dale, then, persons are concrete objects; God is a person; hence God is a concrete object.
On this understanding of 'concrete,' a concretum is anything that is either capable of being causally active or capable of being causally passive. And this, whether or not the item is a denizen of space and time. For Dale, God is not in space or time without prejudice to his being concrete. I don't know whether Dale thinks of God as impassible, and I rather doubt that he does; but one could hold that God is impassible while also holding that God is concrete given the definition above. On some conceptions, God acts but cannot be acted upon.
4. But is Being an abstract object? No! First of all, I question Dale's general-metaphysical scheme according to which everything is either abstract or concrete, nothing is neither, and nothing is both. So I don't feel any dialectical pressure to cram Being or Existence into this scheme. Being is not a being among beings; therefore, it is not an abstract being or a concrete being.
Being is that which makes beings be: outside their causes, outside the mind, outside language and its logic, outside of nothing. Being is that without which beings are nothing at all.
5. Is Being a property of beings? No. But this denial does not give aid and comfort to the Fregean view that Being or existence is a property of properties. There is a clear sense in which Being belongs to beings: one cannot kick it upstairs in the Fressellian manner. But while Being belongs to beings, it is not a property of them in any standard sense of 'property.' Suppose we agree with this definition that I got from Roderick Chisholm:
P is a property =df P is possibly such that it is instantiated.
Accordingly, every property is an instantiable item, and every instantiable item is a property. The question whether Being is a property of beings then becomes the question whether Being is instantiated by beings. In simpler terms, are beings instances of Being in the way Max and Manny are instances of felinity? I argue against this in my existence book. Being (existence) does not and cannot have instances or examples. Max is an instance of felinity, an example of cat; he is not an instance or example of Being.
Here is one consideration among several. If x, y are instances of F-ness, then x, y are not numerically distinct just in virtue of being instances of F-ness. Qua instances of F-ness, x, y are identical and interchangeable. Whatever it is that makes x, y two and not one has nothing to do with their being instances of F-ness. Max and Manny, for example, are numerically distinct, but not numerically distinct as cats, i.e., as instances of felinity. But they are numerically distinct as existents. Therefore, existents are not instances of existence. If you think otherwise, you are thinking of existence as a quidditative determination, a highest what-property. But existence pertains not to what a thing is, but to its very Being. Two cats are not numerically different as cats, but they are numerically different as existents: existence enters into their numerical diversity. For this reason, existence is not common to existents in the manner of a property or essence or quiddity or what-determination or concept.
Here is a second argument. First-level instantiation is a dyadic relation that connects an individual to a property. Now it is a necessary truth about relations that if a relation holds between or among two or more items, then all of these items exist. For example, Socrates cannot be an instance of the property of being a philosopher, as he is, unless he exists and unless the property exists. But then it should be clear that nothing exists in virtue of being an instance of a property, including the putative property of existence.
6. Is Being universal? Yes. It is common to every being, and in that sense universal. But it is not universal in the manner of a property or concept. If existence itself is God, then existence is common to existents in the manner of a common metaphysical cause, or as I prefer to say, common metaphysical ground. (I reserve 'cause' for so-called 'secondary causes.')
7. I suspect the above won't make much sense to Dale. It is very difficult to get analytically-trained philosophers to 'think outside the box.' They (the vast majority of them anyway) are boxed in by dogmas that they never question such as that "existence is what existential quantification expresses" (Quine); that there are no modes of existence; that properties are 'abstract objects,' and others.
I fear that we are coming apart as a nation. We need to face the fact that we do not agree on a large number of divisive, passion-inspiring issues. Among these are abortion, gun rights, capital punishment, affirmative action, legal and illegal immigration, same-sex 'marriage,' taxation, the need for fiscal responsibility in government, the legitimacy of public-sector unions, wealth redistribution, the role of the federal government in education, the very purpose of government, the limits, if any, on governmental power, and numerous others.
We need also to face the fact that we will never agree on them. These are not merely academic issues since they directly affect the lives and livelihoods and liberties of people. And they are not easily resolved because they are deeply rooted in fundamental worldview differences, in a "conflict of visions," to borrow a phrase from Thomas Sowell. When you violate a man's liberty, or mock his moral sense, or threaten to destroy his way of life, or use the power to the state to force him to violate his conscience, you are spoiling for a fight and you will get it.
We ought also to realize that calls for civility and comity and social cohesion are pretty much empty. Comity (social harmony) in whose terms? On what common ground? Peace is always possible if one side just gives in. If conservatives all converted to leftism, or vice versa, then harmony would reign. But to think such a thing will happen is just silly, as silly as the silly hope that Obama, a leftist, could 'bring us together.' We can come together only on common ground, or to invert the metaphor, only under the umbrella of shared principles. And what would these be?
There is no point in papering over very real differences.
Not only are we disagreeing about issues concerning which there can be reasonable disagreement, we are also disagreeing about things that it is unreasonable to disagree about, for example, whether photo ID ought to be required at polling places, and about what really happened in the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin cases. When disagreement spreads to ascertainable facts, then things are well-nigh hopeless.
The rifts are deep and nasty. Polarization and demonization of the opponent are the order of the day. Do you want more of this? Then give government more say in your life. The bigger the government, the more to fight over. Do you want less? Then support limited government and federalism. A return to federalism may be a way to ease the tensions, some of them anyway, not that I am sanguine about any solution.
What is Federalism?
Federalism, roughly, is (i) a form of political organization in which governmental power is divided among a central government and various constituent governing entities such as states, counties, and cities; (ii) subject to the proviso that both the central and the constituent governments retain their separate identities and assigned duties. A government that is not a federation would allow for the central government to create and reorganize constituent governments at will and meddle in their affairs. Federalism is implied by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Federalism would make for less contention, because people who support high taxes and liberal schemes could head for states like Massachusetts or California, while the conservatively inclined who support gun rights and capital punishment could gravitate toward states like Texas.
We see the world differently. Worldview differences in turn reflect differences in values. Now values are not like tastes. Tastes cannot be reasonably discussed and disputed while values can. (De gustibus non est disputandum.) But value differences, though they can be fruitfully discussed, cannot be objectively resolved because any attempted resolution will end up relying on higher-order value judgments. There is no exit from the axiological circle. We can articulate and defend our values and clarify our value differences. What we cannot do is resolve our value differences to the satisfaction of all sincere, intelligent, and informed discussants.
Consider religion. Is it a value or not? Conservatives, even those who are atheistic and irreligious, tend to view religion as a value, as conducive to human flourishing. Liberals and leftists tend to view it as a disvalue, as something that impedes human flourishing. The question is not whether religion, or rather some particular religion, is true. Nor is the question whether religion, or some particular religion, is rationally defensible. The question is whether the teaching and learning and practice of a religion contributes to our well-being, not just as individuals, but in our relations with others. For example, would we be better off as a society if every vestige of religion were removed from the public square? Or does Bible study and other forms of religious education tend to make us better people?
For a conservative like Dennis Prager, the answer to both questions is obvious. No and Yes, respectively. As I recall, he gives an example something like the following. You are walking down the street in a bad part of town. On one side of the street people are leaving a Bible study class. On the other side, a bunch of Hells [sic] Angels are coming out of the Pussy Cat Lounge. Which side of the street do you want to be on? For a conservative the answer is obvious. People who study and take to heart the Bible with its Ten Commandments, etc. are less likely to mug or injure you than drunken bikers who have been getting in touch with their inner demons for the last three hours. But of course this little thought experiment won't cut any ice with a dedicated leftist.
I won't spell out the leftist response. I will say only that you will enter a morass of consideration and counter-consideration that cannot be objectively adjudicated. You won't get Christopher Hitchens to give up his view.
My thesis is that there can be no objective resolution, satisfactory to every sincere, intelligent, and well-informed discussant, of the question of the value of religion. And this is a special case of a general thesis about the objective insolubility of value questions with respect to the issues that most concern us.
Another sort of value difference concerns not what we count as values, but how we weight or prioritize them. Presumably both conservatives and liberals value both liberty and security. But they will differ bitterly over which trumps the other and in what circumstances. Here too it is naive to expect an objective resolution of the issue satisfactory to all participants, even those who meet the most stringent standards of moral probity, intellectual acuity, knowledgeability with respect to relevant empirical issues, etc.
Liberal and conservative, when locked in polemic, like to call each other stupid. But of course intelligence or the lack thereof has nothing to do with the intractability of the debates. The intractability is rooted in value differences about which consensus is impossible. On the abortion question, for example, there is no empirical evidence that can resolve the dispute. Empirical data from biology and other sciences are of course relevant to the correct formulation of the problem, but contribute nothing to its resolution. Nor can reason whose organon is logic resolve the dispute. You would have to be as naive as Ayn Rand to think that Reason dictates a solution.
Recognizing these facts, we must ask ourselves: How can we keep from tearing each other apart literally or figuratively? Guns, God, abortion, illegal immigration -- these are issues that get the blood up. I am floating the suggestion that federalism and severe limitations on the reach of the central government are what we need to lessen tensions. (But isn't border enforcement a federal job? Yes, of course. In this example, what needs to be curtailed is Federal interference with a border state's reasonable enforcement of its borders with a foreign country. Remember Arizona Senate Bill 1070?)
Suppose Roe v. Wade is overturned and the question of the legality of abortion is returned to the states. Some states will make it legal, others illegal. This would be a modest step in the direction of mitigating the tensions between the warring camps. If abortion is a question for the states, then no federal monies could be allocated to the support of abortion. People who want to live in abortion states can move there; people who don't can move to states in which abortion is illegal. Each can live with their own kind and avoid having their values and sensibilities disrespected.
I understand that my proposal will not be acceptable to either liberals or conservatives. Both want to use the power of the central government to enforce what they consider right. Both sides are convinced that they are right. But of course they cannot both be right. So how do they propose to heal the splits in the body politic?
Playlist 1. "Riding with the King" 2. "Ten Long Years" 3. "Key to the Highway" 4. "Marry You" 5. "Three O'Clock Blues" 6. "Help the Poor" 7. "I Wanna Be" 8. "Worried Life Blues" 9. "Days of Old" 10. "When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer" 11. "Hold On, I'm Comin'" 12. "Come Rain or Come Shine"
I'm on a bit of a Jewish jag at the moment, in part under the influence of my Jewish friend Peter who turned me on to Soloveitchik. But Peter should labor under no false expectation that he will convert me to any version of Judaism; it is more likely that I shall get him out on the Rio Salado on a truck tire inner tube whereupon I shall baptize him in nomine Patris et Fillii, et Spiritus Sancti, and indeed by full immersion, not by the 'watered down' Roman rite.
Joking aside, here is an interesting passage from Moses Maimonides (The Guide to the Perplexed, Dover, p. 80) which is related to my ongoing conversation with Dale Tuggy, the Protestant theistic personalist:
It is known that existence is an accident appertaining to all things, and therefore an element superadded to their essence. This must evidently be the case as regards everything the existence of which is due to some cause: its existence is an element superadded to its essence. But as regards a being whose existence is not due to any cause -- God alone is that being, for His existence, as we have said, is absolute -- existence and essence are perfectly identical; He is not a substance to which existence is joined as an accident, as an additional element. His existence is always absolute, and has never been a new element or an accident in Him. Consequently God exists without possessing the attribute of existence. Similarly He lives, without possessing the attribute of life; knows, without possessing the attribute of knowledge; is omnipotent without possessing the attribute of omnipotence; is wise, without possessing the attribute of wisdom: all this reduces itself to one and the same entity; there is no plurality in Him, as will be shown.
Question: Could existence be an accident of all things that are due to some cause? And if it is not an accident, is it essential to them?
Max, a cat of my acquaintance, exists and exists contingently: there is no broadly logical necessity that he exist. His nonexistence is broadly logically possible. So one may be tempted to say that existence is to Max as accident to substance. One may be tempted to say that existence is accidental to Max. In general, the temptation is to say that existence is an accidental property of contingent beings, and that this accidentality is what makes them contingent.
But this can't be right. On a standard definition, if P is an accidental property of x, then x can exist without P. So if existence were an accidental property of Max, then, Max could exist without existing. Contradiction.
Ought we conclude that existence is an essential property of Max? If P is an essential property of x, then x cannot exist without P. So if existence were an essential property of Max, then Max cannot exist without existing. The consequent of the conditional is true, but tautologically so.
From this one can infer either that (i) Max is a necessary being (because he has existence essentially) or that (ii) existence construed as an essential property is not the genuine article. Now Max is surely not a necessary being. It is true that if he exists, then he exists, but from this one cannot validly infer that he exists. Suppose existence is a first-level property. Then it would makes sense to say that existence is an essential property of everything. (Plantinga says this.) After all, in every possible world in which Max exists, he exists! But all this shows is that existence construed as an essential property is not gen-u-ine, pound-the-table existence. Gen-u-ine existence, the only kind I care to have truck with, is existence that makes a thing be or exist, and, to be sure: outside the mind, outside language and its logic, outside its causes, outside of nothing. With a quasi-poetic, Heideggerian flourish: existence is that which establishes a thing in its Aufstand gegen das Nichts, its insurrection against Nothingness.
We ought to conclude that existence is neither accidental to a contingent thing, nor essential to it. No contingent thing is such that existence follows from its essence. And no contingent thing is such that its contingency can be understood by thinking of its existence as an accidental property of it. The contingency of Max's being sleepy can be understood in terms of his instantiation of an accidental property; but the contingency of his very existence cannot be so understood.
If every first-level property is either accidental or essential, then existence is not a first-level-property. But, as I have argued many times, it does not follow that existence is a second-level property. The Fregean tradition went off the rails: existence cannot be a second-level property. Instantiation is a second-level property, but not existence. And of course it cannot be a second-level property if one takes the real distinction seriously, this being a distinction between essence and existence 'in' the thing or 'at' the thing.
Where does this leave us? Max exists. Pace Russell, saying that Max exists is NOT like saying that Max is numerous. 'Exists,' unlike 'numerous,' has a legitimate first-level use. So existence belongs to Max. It belongs to him without being a property of him. One argument has already been sketched. To put it explicitly: Every first-level property is either essential or accidental; Existence is neither an essential nor an accidental first-level property; ergo, Existence is not a first-level property.
Existence belongs to Max without being a property of him. How is existence 'related' to Max if it is not a property of him?
There is a sleazy singer who calls herself 'Madonna.' That moniker is offensive to many. But we in the West are tolerant, perhaps excessively so, and we tolerate the singer, her name, and her antics. Muslims need to understand the premium we place on toleration if they want to live among us.
A San Juan Capistrano councilman named his dog 'Muhammad' and mentioned the fact in public. Certain Muslim groups took offense and demanded an apology. The councilman should stand firm. One owes no apology to the hypersensitive and inappropriately sensitive. We must exercise our free speech rights if we want to keep them. Use 'em or lose 'em. And support the Second Amendment while you're at it. It is the Second that backs up the First.
The notion that dogs are 'unclean' is a silly one. So if some Muslims are offended by some guy's naming his dog 'Muhammad,' their being offended is not something we should validate. Their being offended is their problem.
Am I saying that we should act in ways that we know are offensive to others? Of course not. We should be kind to our fellow mortals whenever possible. But sometimes principles are at stake and they must be defended. Truth and principle trump feelings. Free speech is one such principle. I exercised it when I wrote that the notion that dogs are 'unclean' is a silly one.
Some will be offended by that. I say their being offended is their problem. What I said is true. They are free to explain why dogs are 'unclean' and I wish them the best of luck. But equally, I am free to label them fools.
With some people being conciliatory is a mistake. They interpret your conciliation and willingness to compromise as weakness. These people need to be opposed vigorously. For the councilman to apologize would be foolish.
At least the ChiComs have the cojones to defend their civilization against the Islamist barbarians. Not that I approve of the method, the use of state power to force shop keepers to sell alcohol and tobacco products. But if you put a gun to my head and force me to choose between Communist and Islamist totalitarianism, I'll go with the former. Here in the States we have an ever-more-totalitarian leftist government that coddles and excuses and refuses to face and name the reality of Islamist terrorism. (You may recall that the 2009 Fort Hood Islamist terrorist rampage of Nidal Malik Hasan was dismissed by the Obama administration as "work-place violence.") So you can't count on Stateside leftists to go after radical Muslims under that description; they have their hands full persecuting the Christian owners of obscure pizza joints, bakeries and floral shops.
Chinese authorities have ordered Muslim shopkeepers and restaurant owners in a village in its troubled Xinjiang region to sell alcohol and cigarettes, and promote them in “eye-catching displays,” in an attempt to undermine Islam’s hold on local residents, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported. Establishments that failed to comply were threatened with closure and their owners with prosecution.
Facing widespread discontent over its repressive rule in the mainly Muslim province of Xinjiang, and mounting violence in the past two years, China has launched a series of “strike hard” campaigns to weaken the hold of Islam in the western region. Government employees and children have been barred from attending mosques or observing the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. In many places, women have been barred from wearing face-covering veils, and men discouraged from growing long beards.
In the village of Aktash in southern Xinjiang, Communist Party official Adil Sulayman, told RFA that many local shopkeepers had stopped selling alcohol and cigarettes from 2012 “because they fear public scorn,” while many locals had decided to abstain from drinking and smoking.
The Koran calls the use of “intoxicants” sinful, while some Muslim religious leaders have also forbidden smoking.
"God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob -- not of the philosophers and scholars." Thus exclaimed Blaise Pascal in the famous memorial in which he recorded the overwhelming religious/mystical experience of the night of 23 November 1654. Martin Buber comments (Eclipse of God, Humanity Books, 1952, p. 49):
These words represent Pascal's change of heart. He turned, not from a state of being where there is no God to one where there is a God, but from the God of the philosophers to the God of Abraham. Overwhelmed by faith, he no longer knew what to do with the God of the philosophers; that is, with the God who occupies a definite position in a definite system of thought. The God of Abraham . . . is not susceptible of introduction into a system of thought precisely because He is God. He is beyond each and every one of those systems, absolutely and by virtue of his nature. What the philosophers describe by the name of God cannot be more than an idea. (emphasis added)
Buber here expresses a sentiment often heard. We encountered it before when we found Timothy Ware accusing late Scholastic theology of turning God into an abstract idea. But the sentiment is no less wrongheaded for being widespread. As I see it, it simply makes no sense to oppose the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- the God of religion -- to the God of philosophy. In fact, I am always astonished when otherwise distinguished thinkers retail this bogus distinction. Let's try to sort this out.
It is first of all obvious that God, if he exists, transcends every system of human thought, and cannot be reduced to any element internal to such a system whether it be a concept, a proposition, an argument, a set of arguments, etc. But by the same token, the chair I am sitting on cannot be reduced to my concept of it or to the judgments I make about it. I am sitting on a chair, not a concept of a chair. The chair, like God, is transcendent of my conceptualizations and judgments. The transcendence of God, however, is a more radical form of transcendence, that of a person as opposed to that of a material object. And among persons, God is at the outer limit of transcendence, so much so that it is plausibly argued that 'person' in application to God can only be used analogically.
Now if Buber were merely saying something along these lines then I would have no quarrel with him. But he is saying something more, namely, that when a philosopher in his capacity as philosopher conceptualizes God, he reduces him to a concept or idea, to something abstract, to something merely immanent to his thought, and therefore to something that is not God. In saying this, Buber commits a grotesque non sequitur. He moves from the unproblematically true
1. God by his very nature is transcendent of every system of thought or scheme of representation
to the breathtakingly false
2. Any thought about God or representation of God (such as we find, say in Aquinas's Summa Theologica) is not a thought or representation of God, but of a thought or representation, which, of course, by its very nature is not God.
As I said, I am astonished that anyone could fall into this error. When I think about something I don't in thinking about it turn it into a mere thought. When I think about my wife's body, for example, I don't turn it into a mere thought: it remains transcendent of my thought as a material thing. A fortiori, I am unable by thinking about my wife as a person, an other mind, to transmogrify her personhood into a mere concept in my mind. She remains in her interiority as a person delightfully transcendent of my acts of thinking.
It is interesting to observe that it is built into the very concept God that God cannot be a concept. This concept is the concept of something that cannot by its very nature be a concept. This is the case whether or not God exists. The concept God is the concept of something that cannot be a concept even if nothing falls under the concept.
It is therefore bogus to oppose the God of the philosophers to the God of Abraham, et al. Or at least it is bogus to make this oppositin for the reason Buber supplies. There is and can be only one God. But there are different approaches to this one God. By my count, there are four ways of approaching God: by reason, by faith, by mystical experience, and by our moral sense. To employ a hackneyed metaphor, if there are four routes to the summit of a mountain, it does not follow that there are four summits, with only one of them being genuine, the others being merely immanent to their respective routes. Suppose Tom, Dick, Harry, and Mary each summit by a different route. Mary cannot denigrate the accomplishments of the males by asserting that they didn't really summit on the ground that their respective termini were merely immanent to their routes. She cannot say, "You guys didn't really reach the summit; you merely reached a point on your map."
I should think that direct acquaintance with God via mystical/religious experience is superior to contact via faith or reason or morality. It is better to taste food than to read about it on a menu. But that's not to say that the menu is about itself: it is about the very same stuff that one encounters by eating. The fact that it is better to eat food than read about it does not imply that when one is reading one is not reading about it. Imagine how silly it would be be for me to exclaim, while seated before a delicacy: "Food of Wolfgang Puck, Food of Julia Child, Food of Emeril Lagasse, not of the nutritionists and menu-writers!"
I believe I have established my point against Buber conclusively. But to appreciate this, you must not confuse the question I am discussing with another question in the vicinity.
Suppose one philosopher argues to an unmoved mover, another to an ultimate ground of moral obligation, and a third to an absolute source of truth. How do we know that thesee three notionally distinct philosophical Gods are the same as each other in reality and the same as the God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob, in reality? This is an important question, but not the one I am addressing in this entry. The present question is whether a philosophical treatment of God transforms God into a mere concept or mere idea. The answer is resoundingly in the negative. Such a treatment purports to treat of the very same real God that is addressed in prayer, seen in mystical vision, and sensed in the deliverances of conscience.
Joseph B. Soloveitchik's The Lonely Man of Faith (Doubleday 2006) is rich and stimulating and packed with insights. I thank Peter Lupu for having a copy sent to me. But there is a long footnote on p. 49 with which I heartily disagree. Here is part of it:
The trouble with all rational demonstrations of the existence of God, with which the history of philosophy abounds, consists in their being exactly what they were meant to be by those who formulated them: abstract logical demonstrations divorced from the living primal experiences in which these demonstrations are rooted. For instance, the cosmic experience was transformed into a cosmological proof, the ontic experience into an ontological proof, et cetera. Instead of stating that the the most elementary existential awareness as a subjective 'I exist' and an objective 'the world around me exists' awareness is unsustainable as long as the the ultimate reality of God is not part of this experience, the theologians engaged in formal postulating and deducing in an experiential vacuum. Because of this they exposed themselves to Hume's and Kant's biting criticism that logical categories are applicable only within the limits of the human scientific experience.
Does the loving bride in the embrace of her beloved ask for proof that he is alive and real? Must the prayerful soul clinging in passionate love ecstasy to her Beloved demonstrate that He exists? So asked Soren Kierkegaard sarcastically when told that Anselm of Canterbury, the father of the very abstract and complex ontological proof, spent many days in prayer and supplication that he be presented with rational evidence of the existence of God.
A man like me has one foot in Jerusalem and the other in Athens. Soloveitchik and Kierkegaard, however, have both feet in Jerusalem. They just can't understand what drives the philosopher to seek a rational demonstration of the existence of God. Soloveitchik's analogy betrays him as a two-footed Hierosolymian. Obviously, the bride in the embrace of the beloved needs no proof of his reality. The bride's experience of the beloved is ongoing and coherent and repeatable ad libitum. If she leaves him for a while, she can come back and be assured that he is the same as the person she left. She can taste his kisses and enjoy his scent while seeing him and touching him and hearing him. He remains self-same as a unity in and through the manifold of sensory modes whereby he is presented to her. And in any given mode, he is a unity across a manifold. Shifting her position, she can see him from different angles with the visual noemata cohering in such a way as to present a self-same individual. What's more, her intercourse with his body fits coherently with her intercourse with his mind as mediated by his voice and gestures.
I could go on, but point is plain. There is simply no room for any practical doubt as to the beloved's reality given the forceful, coherent, vivacious, and obtrusive character of the bride's experience of him. She is compelled to accept his reality. There is no room here for any doxastic vountarism. The will does not play a role in her believing that he is real. There is no need for decision or faith or a leap of faith in her acceptance of his reality.
Our experience of God is very different. It comes by fleeting glimpses and gleanings and intimations. The sensus divinitatis is weak and experienced only by some. The bite of conscience is not unambiguously of higher origin than Freudian superego and social suggestion. Mystical experiences are few and far-between. Though unquestionable as to their occurrence, they are questionable as to their veridicality because of their fitful and fragmentary character. They are not validated in the ongoing way of ordinary sense perception. They don't integrate well with ordinary perceptual experiences. And so the truth of these mystical and religious experiences can and perhaps should be doubted. It is this fact that motivates philosophers to seek independent confirmation of the reality of the object of these experiences by the arguments that Soloveitchik and Co. dismiss.
The claim above that the awareness expressed by 'I exist' is unsustainable unless the awareness of God is part of the experience is simply false. That I exist is certain to me. But it is far from certain what the I is in its inner nature and what existence is and whether the I requires God as its ultimate support. The cogito is not an experience of God even if God exists and no cogito is possible without him. The same goes for the existence of the world. The existence of God is not co-given with the existence of the world. It is plain to the bride's senses that the beloved is real. It is not plain to our senses that nature is God's nature, that the cosmos is a divine artifact. That is why one cannot rely solely on the cosmic experience of nature as of a divine artifact, but must proceed cosmologically by inference from what is evident to what is non-evident.
Soloveitchik is making the same kind of move that St. Paul makes in Romans 1: 18-20. My critique of that move here.