Welcome to the latest incarnation of Maverick Philosopher. I began this weblog in May of 2004 and have kept it up continuously on different servers, missing only a few days. I'm in this game 'for the duration,' as long as health and eyesight hold out. It has proven to be deeply satisfying, not the least reason for which being that my scribbling has attracted a large number of like-minded individuals, some of whom I have met in the flesh, and have come to value highly as friends.
And for that I am grateful.
What you need to know is that this weblog is just one philosopher's online journal, notebook, common place book, workshop, soapbox, sandbox, and literary litter box. A lot of what I write is unpolished and tentative. I explore the cartography of ideas along many paths. Here below we are in statu viae, and it is fitting that our thinking should be exploratory, meandering, and undogmatic. Nothing human, and thus nothing philosophical, is foreign to me.
The graphic well illustrates my approach. A lonesome traveller meanders along a desert path toward a distant prominence which points up and away to the goal of his Quest, a goal fitfully glimpsed, never grasped. Leastways, not while he is on trail and on trial. The quester quests until his thought rests, but the Rest is far off. Meanwhile there is the Quest, an integral part of which is philosophy, reason's search for the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters. But reason is not reason unless it strives mightily beyond itself to sources of truth that transcend it.
I write about what interests me whether I am expert in it or not. Some find this unseemly; I do not. I oppose hyper-professionalization and excessive specialization. After all, this is only a weblog. Every once in a while I post something that is mistaken, someone corrects me, and I learn something. I admit mistakes if mistakes they be. See how modest I am? On the other hand, this rarely happens. My PhilPapers page currently lists 64 entries and will give you some idea of what I am more or less expert in.
I allow comments on only some posts, usually the more technical ones. And to keep the cyberpunks at bay, Comment Moderation is always on. Comments must address what I say in my posts. If you go off on a tangent, I will most likely not allow your comment to appear. Comments must meet a certain standard, and I do not suffer fools gladly. But on some days I go soft, being only human.
I suppose that in these decadent days of the Decline of the West I should issue a TRIGGER WARNING: this is no place for the politically correct. It is not a 'safe space.' Here you will find free speech, trenchancy of expression, and open inquiry.
Apparently, Richard Swinburne, perhaps the most distinguished of contemporary philosophers of religion, had the chutzpah to defend a traditional Christian view of homosexuality at a meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. This provoked the outrage of certain cultural Marxists.
If only a 'trigger warning' had been issued prior to Swinburne's address! Then the whole controversy might have been avoided. The girly girls and pajama boys could have padded off to their sandbox to play with their dolls until the start of the next session.
Many liberals are 'threatening' to leave the country should Trump become president. They have their 'escape countries' all lined up: Canada, Australia, France and others. But to where can a conservative American escape if and when his country becomes a culturally Marxist craphole? Chances are good that the destructive Hillary will weasel her way into the White House. Is there some country we can flee to?
You see, we conservatives have nowhere to go. The USA is the last bastion of liberty, limited government, and free speech, not to mention freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Shouldn't there be at least one country on the face of the earth that champions and promotes traditional American values?
Liberals are big on diversity, but only so long as it is politically correct diversity. They have no interest in a diversity of ideas or of types of government.
As usual, I want to ask you about something (something you're free to blog about).
Since December 2015, I've practised mindfulness meditation, with low intensity. Just 20 minutes or so each or every other day, paying calm (if possible) attention to things as they were happening in my mind or in my body. It's been great, mainly as an antidote against anxiety.
These days I have asked myself, could I gain something more, or something deeper, from my practice? If so, how? By practising more intensively, even painfully? Or by praying during, or after, my practise? The first path is carved with admirable precision in some Buddhist, step-by-step manuals . . . . But it might eventually lead me into a land of -- what seems like -- mental disorder and metaphysical madness (sensory overload, intensive fear or disgust, the impression of no self and of the nullity of classical logic). On the other hand, no comparably detailed manuals for following the latter path seem to be available . . . .
So I wonder, what would be your suggestion to someone who considers meditating more seriously and in line with really good sources yet who wants to turn neither insane nor Buddhist?
First of all, I am glad to hear that you have taken up this practice. Philosophers especially need it since we tend to be afflicted with 'hypertrophy of the critical faculty' to give it a name. We are very good at disciplined thinking, but it is important to develop skill at disciplined nonthinking as well. Disciplined nonthinking is one way to characterize meditation. One attempts to achieve an alert state of mental quiet in which all discursive operations come to a halt.
It is very difficult, however, and 20 minutes every other day is not enough. You need to work up to 40-60 minute sessions every day. Early morning is best, the same time each morning. Same place, a corner of your study, say. Posture? Seated cross-legged on cushions, with the knees lower than the buttocks. Kneeling has spiritual value, but not for long periods of prayer or meditation. Breath? Slow, even, deep, from the belly.
There needn't be any physical pain; indeed, there shouldn't be. If the full lotus is painful, there is the half-lotus, and the Burmese posture. Depending on the state of my legs and joints, I adjust my body as needed for comfort and stability. A lttle hatha yoga is a useful preliminary. Or just plain stretching, holding each stretch for 20-30 seconds.
A certain mild ascesis, though, is sine qua non for successful meditation/contemplation. You have to live a regular life, follow the moral precepts, abstain from spiritual and physical intoxicants, and so on. A little reading the night before of Evagrios Pontikos, say, is indicated; filling your head with mass media dreck & drivel contraindicated.
Meditation is an inner listening. The receptivity involved, however, opens one to demonic influence. So there is a certain danger in going deep. It is therefore a good idea for a Christian meditator to begin his session with the Sign of the Cross, a confession of weakness in which one admits that one is no match for demonic agents, and a supplication for protection from their influence. I recommend you buy a copy of the spiritual classic, Unseen Warfare by Lorenzo Scupoli. (Available from Amazon.com) Anyone who attempts to make spiritual progress ought to expect demonic opposition. (Cf. St. Paul, Epistle to the Ephesians, 6:12: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.")
Could deep meditation drive one mad? I would say no if you avoid psychedelic drugs and lead an otherwise balanced life. You could meditate two hours per day with no ill effects.
But if you go deep, you will have unusual experiences some of which will be disturbing. There are the makyo phenomena described by Zen Buddhists. (Whether these phenomena should be described as the Zennists describe them is of course a further question.) For example, extremely powerful and distracting sexual images. I once 'heard' the inner locution, "I want to tear you apart." Inner locutions have a phenomenological quality which suggests, though of course it does not prove, that these locutions are not excogitated by the subject in question but come from without. Demonic interference?
But on another occasion I felt myself to be the object of a very powerful unearthly love. An unforgettable experience. A Christian will be inclined to say that what I experienced was the love of Christ, whereas a skeptic will dismiss the experience as a 'brain fart.' The phenomenology, however, cannot be gainsaid.
Will deep meditation and the experiences that result drive you to accepting Buddhist teaching according to which all is impermanent (anicca), unsatisfactory (dukkha), and devoid of self-nature (anatta)? I don't think so. Many Buddhists claim that these doctrine are verified in meditation. I would argue, however, that they bring their doctrines to their experiences and then illictly take the experiences as supporting the doctrines.
For example, if you fail to find the self in deep meditation does it follow that there is no self? Hardly. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Now that was quick and dirty, but I have expatiated on this at length elsewhere.
Does the path of meditation lead to the relativization of classical logic, or perhaps to its utter overthrow? This is a tough question about which I will say something in a subsequent post that examines Plantinga's critique of John Hick in the former's Warranted Christian Belief.
Finally, I want to recommend the two-volumed The Three Ages of the Interior Life (not the one-volumed edition) by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. (Available from Amazon.com) This is the summit of hard-core Catholic mystical theology. This is the real thing by the hardest of the hard-core paleo-Thomists. You must read it. No Francine namby-pamby-ism here.
One way to circumvent 'One man, one vote' is by cheating. That's the liberal way. Vote early and vote often. Vote even if you are dead. Vote by mail and then in person. That liberals intend to make the polling places safe for voter fraud is clear from their breath-takingly sham arguments against photo ID.
The conservative way is to persuade others to vote as one does. Suppose my posts have convinced 100 fence sitters to vote for Trump. Then I will have generated 101 votes for the Orange Man.
Suppose these 100 repeat my arguments to their friends. And these friends . . . . You can see how this could have a serious effect.
George Harrison and friends, Absolutely Sweet Marie. By the way, this self-certified Dylanologist can attest that in the first line it is 'railroad GAUGE,' not 'railroad gate.' 'Gauge' is a measure of the width of the track; that's what our boy can't jump. This one goes out to Marie Benson, from the summer of '65. Where are you tonight, sweet Marie?
Gilbert Ryle once predicted with absurd confidence, "Gegenstandstheorie . . . is dead, buried, and not going to be resurrected." (Quoted in G. Priest, Towards Non-Being, Oxford, 2005, p. vi, n. 1.) Ryle was wrong, dead wrong, and shown to be wrong just a few years after his cocky prediction. Variations on Meinong's Theory of Objects flourish like never before due to the efforts of such brilliant philosophers as Butchvarov, Castaneda, Lambert, Parsons, Priest, Routley/Sylvan, and Zalta, just to mention those that come first to mind. And the Rylean cockiness has had an ironic upshot: his logical behaviorism is temporarily dead while Meinongianism thrives.
What accounts for Meinong's comeback according to Priest?
Why has this change taken place? A hard question. Undoubtedly many factors are involved. Certainly, one important one is that the arguments against noneism are, indeed, bad. Another is that Russell’s theory of descriptions, as applied to names, is now itself history, despatched by Saul Kripke’s onslaught in the 1970s.
The arguments are uncompelling, but not bad. Let's look at a couple.
One of Russell's objections to Meinong was that the denizens of Aussersein, i.e., beingless objects, are apt to infringe the Law of Non-Contradiction. Suppose a Meinongian subscribes to the following principle:
Unrestricted Satisfaction (US): Every definite description is such that some object satisfies it.
For any definite description we can concoct, there is a corresponding object or item, in many cases a beingless object or item. From (US) we infer that some object satisfies the definite description, 'the existent round square.' This object is existent, round, and square. So the existent round square exists, which is a contradiction. This is one Russell-type argument.
A similar argument can be made re: the golden mountain. By (US), not only is some object the golden mountain, some object is the existent golden mountain. This object is existent, golden, and a mountain. So the existent golden mountain exists, which is false, though not contradictory. This is a second Russell-type argument.
Are these arguments compelling refutations of Meinong's signature thesis? No, but they are certainly not bad arguments. Here is one way one might try to evade the Russellian objections, a way similar to one Meinong himself treads. Make a distinction between nuclear properties and extranuclear properties. (See Terence Parsons, Nonexistent Objects, Yale UP, 1980, p. 42) Nuclear properties are those that are included in an object's Sosein (so-being, what-being, quiddity). Extranuclear properties are those that are not so included. The distinction can be made with respect to existence. There is nuclear existence and extranuclear existence. 'Existent' picks out nuclear existence while 'exists' picks out extranuclear existence.
This distinction blocks the inference from 'The existent round square is existent, round, and square' to the 'The existent round square exists.' Similarly in the golden mountain case. You will be forgiven for finding this distinction between nuclear and extranuclear existence bogus. It looks to be nothing more than an ad hoc theory-saving move.
But there may be a better Meinongian response. The Russellian arguments assume an Unrestricted Characterization Principle:
UCP: An object exemplifies each of the properties referenced in the definite description it satisfies.
From (US) we get the object, the existent golden mountain, and the object, the existent round square. But without (UCP) one cannot move to the claim that the existent golden mountain exists or to the claim that the existent round square exists.
A Meinongian can therefore defeat the Russellian arguments by substituting a restricted characterization principle for (UCP). And he can do this without distinguishing between nuclear and extranuclear existence.
Did Kripke "despatch" Russell's theory of descriptions. More chutzpah on Priest's part. You are nothing but a blind partisan if you fail to acknowledge the problems with Kripke's views.
You have heard me say it before. There is a deep link between the Left and Islam in respect of the assault on reason and the substitution of narrative for truth. This linkage helps explain the otherwise puzzling Islamophilia of leftists. Leftists hate religion except for 'the religion of peace.'
The most consequential organization in radical Islam is the Muslim Brotherhood. Laying the groundwork for its American network, the Brotherhood gave pride of place to an intellectual enterprise, the International Institute of Islamic Thought. The IIIT’s explicit, unapologetic mission is the “Islamization of knowledge.”
It is not a slogan or an idle phrase. The mission traces back to the ninth century. Its purpose was to defeat human reason. In this fundamentalist interpretation, Islam is a revealed, non-negotiable truth. Reason, rather than hailed as mankind’s path to knowledge and salvation, is condemned for diverting us from dogma. Knowledge therefore has to be Islamized — reality must be bent and history revised to accord with the Muslim narrative.
But with the demise of reason comes the demise of progress, of the wisdom that enables us to solve problems. That is why Islamic societies stagnated, and why the resurgence of fundamentalism has made them even more backward and dysfunctional.
It is this way with every totalitarian ideology. We’d be foolish to assume it can’t happen to us. Slaves to narrative are fugitives from reason. Their societies die.
We humans naturally philosophize. But we don't naturally philosophize well. So when science journalists and scientists try their hands at it they often make a mess of it. (See my Scientism category for plenty of examples.) This is why there is need of the discipline of philosophy one of whose chief offices is the exposure and debunking of bad philosophy and pseudo-philosophy of the sort exhibited in so many 'scientific' articles. Although it would be a grave mistake to think that the value of philosophy resides in its social utility, philosophy does earn its social keep in its critical and debunking function.
Religion can appear under the guise of a childish refusal to face the supposed truth that we are but a species of clever land mammal with no higher origin or destiny. It can also appear under the guise of transcendence and maturity: the religious seek to transcend the childish and the merely human whereas worldlings wallow in it.
Religion must remain a riddle here below, as much of a riddle as the predicament it is supposed to cure. If religion wants a symbol, let it be:
And if anyone should say that only the sick need medicine, then let the reply be: We are all sick.
If you practice the custody of the heart, it may save you from unnecessary folly -- as delightful as romantic follies can be. Do you feel yourself falling in love with your neighbor's wife? Don't tell yourself you can't help it. Don't hijack Pascal's "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." Get a grip on yourself.
Don't follow the musical example of 'The King.' "Wise men say/ Only fools rush in/ But I can't help/ Falling in love with you."
A liberal will accuse me of 'preaching.' Damned straight I'm preaching. Perhaps I should have saved this for Sunday morning.
I am not worried about American fascism. We Americans are not a bunch of Germans about to start goose-stepping behind some dictator. Our traditions of liberty and self-reliance are long-standing and deep-running. A sizeable contingent of Trump supporters are gun rights activists who would be open to an extra-political remedy should anyone seek to instantiate the role of Der Fuehrer or Il Duce. True, Trump appeals to those having an authoritarian personality structure. But his supporters are also cussedly individualistic and liberty-loving. I expect the latter characteristic to mitigate the former.
There is also the following interesting question wanting our attention: why is it better to have the personality structure of the typical leftist? Why is it better to be a rebellious, adolescent, alienated, destructive, irreverent, tradition-despising, anti-authoritarian, ungrateful, utopian, dweller in Cloud Cuckoo Land?
Someone told me today that Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals is dedicated to Lucifer. Lucifer, not Lucifer Schwarz of Poughkeepsie, New York. Makes perfect sense.
Addendum (9/24): While the dominant press, the liberal press, is 'in the tank' for Hillary and her ilk, this won't be the case should the Orange Man make it to the White House. The lamestream media will be at his throat from Day One. This will serve as a brake on any incipient fascismo.
The most arresting sentence of the week came from a sophisticated Manhattan man friendly with all sides. I asked if he knows what he’ll do in November. “I know exactly,” he said with some spirit. “I will be one of the 40 million who will deny, the day after the election, that they voted for him. But I will.”
A high elected official, a Republican, got a faraway took when I asked what he thought was going to happen. “This is the unpollable election,” he said. People don’t want to tell you who they’re for. A lot aren’t sure. A lot don’t want to be pressed.
That’s exactly what I’ve seen the past few weeks in North Carolina, New Jersey, Tennessee and Minnesota.
[. . .]
Mr. Trump’s advantage? “Americans love to say they think outside the box. Trump lives outside the box. Hillary is the box.” [Noonan quoting Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager.]
The Left is dangerous for a number of reasons with its disregard for truth being high on the list. For the Left it is the 'narrative' that counts, the 'script,' the 'story,' whether true of false, that supports their agenda. An agenda is a list of things to do, and for an activist, Lenin's question, What is to be done? trumps the question, What is the case? Paraphrasing Karl Marx's 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, the point for a leftist is to change the world, not understand it. See here: "Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kömmt drauf an, sie zu verändern." "The philosophers have only variously interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it." (my trans.)
The leftist's aim is the realization of 'progressive' ideals, and if the truth stands in the way, then so much the worse for it. Inconvenient truths are not confronted and subjected to examination; their messengers are attacked and denounced.
So when Larry Summers, then the president of Harvard University, speculated in 2005 that women might be naturally less gifted in math and science, the intense backlash contributed to his ouster.
Two years later, when famed scientist James Watson noted the low average IQ scores of sub-Saharan Africans, he was forced to resign from his lab, taking his Nobel Prize with him.
When a Harvard law student was discovered in 2010 to have suggestedin a private email that the black-white IQ gap might have a genetic component, the dean publicly condemned her amid a campus-wide outcry. Only profuse apologies seem to have saved her career.
When a leftist looks at the world, he does not see it as it is, but as he wants it to be. He sees it through the distorting lenses of his ideals. A central ideal for leftists is equality. And not in any such merely formal sense as equality under the law or equality of opportunity. The leftist aims at material equality: equality of outcome both socially and economically, equality in point of power and pelf. But the leftist goes beyond even this. He thinks that no inequalities are natural, and therefore that any inequalities that manifest themselves must be due to some form of oppression or 'racism.' But because this is demonstrably false, the leftist must demonize the messengers of such politically incorrect messages or even suggestions as that the black-white IQ gap might have a genetic component.
This truth-indifferent and reality-denying attitude of the leftist leaves the conservative dumbfounded. For he stands on the terra firma of a reality logically and ontologically and epistemologically antecedent to anyone's wishes and hopes and dreams. For the conservative, it is self-evident that first we have to get the world right, understand it, before any truly ameliorative praxis can commence. It is not that the conservative lacks ideals; it is rather that he believes, rightly, that they must be grounded in what is possible, where the really possible, in turn, is grounded in what is actual. (See Can What is Impossible for Us to Achieve be an Ideal for Us?) And so the conservative might reply to the activist, parodying Marx, as follows:
You lefties have only variously screwed up the world; the point, however, is to understand it so that you don't screw it up any further.
There is a paradox at the heart of the radically egalitarian position of the leftist. He wants equality, and will do anything to enforce it, including denying the truth (and in consequence reality) and violating the liberties of individuals. But to enforce equality he must possess and retain power vastly unequal to the power of those he would 'equalize.' He must go totalitarian. But then the quest for liberation ends in enslavement. This paradox is explained in Money, Power, and Equality.
On classical Christology, as defined at the Council of Chalcedon in anno domini 451, Christ is one person with two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. But isn't this just logically impossible inasmuch as it entails a contradiction? If Christ is divine, then he is immaterial; but if he is human, then he is material. So one and the same person is both material and not material. Again, if Christ is divine, then he is a necessary being; but if he is human, then he is a contingent being. So one and the same person is both necessary and not necessary.
There are several ways to remove contradictions like these. One way is by using reduplicative constructions, another invokes relative identity theory, and a third is mereological. This entry will examine Michael Gorman's version of a fourth approach, the restriction strategy. (See Michael Gorman, "Classical Theism, Classical Anthropology, and the Christological Coherence Problem" in Faith and Philosophy, vol. 33, no. 3, July 2016, pp. 278-292.) Glance back at the first example of putative contradiction. The argument requires for its validity two unstated premises:
Necessarily, every divine being is immaterial
Necessarily, every human being is material.
If so, and if Christ is both divine and human as orthodoxy maintains, then Christ is both immaterial and material. We can defuse the contradiction if we follow Gorman and replace the first of these with a restricted version:
R. Necessarily, every solely divine being is immaterial.
From this restricted premise, a contradiction cannot be derived. Christ, though divine, is not solely divine because he is also human. "Saying that every solely divine being is immaterial does not imply that Christ is immaterial, because Christ is not solely divine; therefore, it leaves open the door to saying that Christ is material." (283) In this way, 'Christ is divine' and 'Christ is human' can be shown to be a non-contradictory pair of propositions.
Now there is more to Gorman's article than this, but the above restriction is the central move he makes. Unfortunately, I cannot see how this is satisfactory as a defense of the Chalcedonian definition.
For even if Christ is unproblematically both divine and human, how is he unproblematically both immaterial and material? Clearly he must be both. Gorman removes contradiction at one level only to have it re-appear at a lower level. He shows how something can be coherently conceived to be both divine and human, but not how it can be coherently conceived to be both immaterial and material.
Can Gorman's move be iterated? Can we say that an immaterial entity need not be solely immaterial? Can we say, coherently, that while Christ is immaterial he is also material? I don't see how. It is a contradiction to say that one and the same x is both F and not F at the same time, in the same respect, and in the same sense of 'F.' If you say that Christ is immaterial qua God but material qua man, then you have abandoned the restriction strategy and are back with reduplication.
Consider three types of case. (a) A Muslim terrorist who was born in the USA and whose terrorism derives from his Islamic faith. (b) A Muslim terrorist who was not born in the USA but is a citizen of the USA or legally resides in the USA and whose terrorism derives from his Islamic faith. (c) A terrorist such as Timothy McVeigh who was born in the USA but whose terrorism does not derive from Islamic doctrine.
As a foe of obfuscatory terminology, I object to booking the (a) and (b) cases under the 'homegrown terrorist' rubric. In the (a)-case, the terrorist doctrine, which inspires the terrorist deeds, is of foreign origin. There is nothing 'homegrown' about it. Compare the foreign terrorist doctrine to a terrorist doctrine that takes its inspiration, rightly or wrongly, from American sources such as certain quotations from Thomas Jefferson or from the life and views of the abolitionist John Brown.
The same holds a fortiori for the (b)-cases. Here neither the doctrine nor the perpetrator are 'homegrown.'
There is no justification for referring to an act of Islamic terrorism that occurs in the homeland as an act of 'homegrown' terrorism.
The (c)-type cases are the only ones that legitimately fall under the 'homegrown terrorist' rubric.
So please don't refer to Ahmad Khan Rahami as a 'homegrown terrorist.' He is a (b)-type terrorist. There is nothing 'homegrown' about the Islamic doctrine that drove his evil deeds, nor is there anything 'homegrown' about the 'gentleman' himself. Call him what he is: a Muslim terrorist whose terrorism is fueled by Islamic doctrine.
The obfuscatory appellation is in use, of course, because it is politically correct.
Language matters. And political correctness be damned.
Hillary is a supine defeatist in the face of Islamic terror and ought to be held in contempt for that and other reasons, as witness her recent remark that Trump is a recruiter for ISIS.
It's a good thing Hillary wasn't around when the Axis Powers were the main threat to civilization. She would have argued that we cannot name and condemn the ideology driving the Wehrmacht lest we antagonize Germans and cause more Nazis to rise up against us.
A tip of the hat to London Karl for bringing the following to my attention. Karl writes, "I love your country, but it gets more absurd by the day."
It does indeed. Contemporary liberals are engaged in a project of "willful enstupidation," to borrow a fine phrase from John Derbyshire. Every day there are multiple new examples, a tsunami of folderol most deserving of a Critique of POOR Reason.
Here is a little consideration that would of course escape the shallow pate of your typical emotion-driven liberal: If Kant's great works can be denigrated as products of their time, and as expressive of values different from present-day values, then of course the same can be said a fortiori of the drivel and dreck that oozes from the mephitic orifices of contemporary liberals.
Ed Buckner raises this question, and he wants my help with it. How can I refuse? I'll say a little now, and perhaps more later.
Kant was brought up a rationalist within the Wolffian school, but then along came David Hume who awoke him from his dogmatic slumber. This awakening begins his Critical period in which he struggles mightily to find a via media between rationalism and empiricism. The result of his struggle, the Critical philosophy, is of great historical significance but is also an unstable tissue of irresolvable tensions. As a result there are competing interpretations of his doctrines.
I will propose two readings relevant to Ed's question. But first a reformulation and exfoliation of the question.
Can one think about God and meaningfully predicate properties of him? For example, can one meaningfully say of God that he exists, is omnipotent, and is the cause of the existence of the natural world? Or is it rather the case that such assertions are meaningless and that the category of causality, for example, has a meaningful application only within the realm of phenomena but not between the phenomenal realm as a whole and a putative transcendent causa prima? Are the bounds of sensibility (Sinnlichkeit) also the bounds of sense (Sinn), or are there senseful, meaningful assertions that transgress the bounds of sensibility?
Weak or Moderate Reading. On this reading, we can think about God and meaningfully make predications of him, but we cannot have any knowledge of God and his attributes. We cannot have knowledge of God because knowledge necessarily involves the interplay of two very different factors, conceptual interpretation via the categories of the understanding, and sensory givenness. God, however, is not given to the senses, outer or inner. In Kantian jargon, there is no intuition, keine Anschauung, of God. All intuition is sensible intuition. The Sage of Koenigsberg will not countenance any mystical intuition, any Platonic or Plotinian visio intellectualis, at least not in this life. That sort of thing he dismisses in the Enlightenment manner as Schwaermerei, 'enthusiasm' in an obsolete 18th century sense of the English term.
But while Kant denies that there is knowledge of God here below whether by pure reason or by mystical intuition, he aims to secure a 'safe space' for faith: "I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith." (Preface to 2nd ed. of Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1787, B xxx.) Now if God and the soul are objects of faith, this would imply that we can think of them and thus refer to them even if we cannot have knowledge of them.
The soul is the object of the branch of metaphysica specialis called rational psychology. Since all our intuition is sensible, there is no sensible intuition of the soul. As is well-known, Kant denies that special metaphysics in all three branches (psychology, cosmology, and theology) is possible as science, als Wissenschaft. To be science it would have to include synthetic a priori judgments, but these are possible only with respect to phenomena.
Kant's key question is: How are synthetic a priori judgments possible? He believes they are actual in mathematics and physics, and would have to be actual in metaphysics if the latter were a science. To put it quick and dirty: synthetic a priori judgments are possible in math and physics because the phenomenal world is our construction. The dignity and necessity of the synthetic causal principle -- every event has a cause -- is rescued from the jaws of Humean skepticism, but the price is high: the only world we can know is the world of phenomena. Things in themselves (noumena in the negative sense) are beyond our ken. And yet we must posit them since the appearances are appearances of something (obj. gen.). This restriction of human knowledge to the physical rules out any knowledge of the metaphysical.
On the moderate reading, then, Kant restricts the cognitive employment of the categories of the understanding to phenomena but not their thinking employment. We can think about and refer to the positive noumena, God, the soul, and the world as a whole, but we cannot have any knowledge of them. (And the same goes for the negative noumena that correspond to sensible appearances.) We can talk sense about God and the soul, and predicate properties of these entities, but we cannot come to have knowledge of them. Thus we can meaningfully speak of the soul as a simple substance which remains numerically self-same over time and through its changing states, but we cannot know that it has these properties.
The arguments against the traditional soul substance of the rationalists are in the Paralogisms section of KdrV, and they are extremely interesting.
Strong or Extreme Reading. On this reading, we cannot talk sense about positive or negative noumena: such categories as substance and causality cannot be meaningfully applied beyond the bounds of sensibility. Riffing on P. F. Strawson one could say that on the strong reading the bounds of sensibility are the bounds of sense. This reading wins the day in post-Kantian philosophy. Fichte liquidates the Ding an sich, the neo-Kantians reduce the transcendental ego to a mere concept (Rickert, e.g.), the categories which for Kant were ahistorical and fixed become historicized and relativized, and we end up with a conceptual relativism which fuels a lot of the nonsense of the present day, e.g., race and sex are social constructs, etc.
How's that for bloggity-blog quick and dirty?
So my answer to Ed Buckner's title question is: It depends. It depends on whether we read Kant in the weak way or in the strong way.
Andrew Sullivan recounts the perils of life in the information superhighway's fast lane.
But our man certainly is verbose. One would have thought that all that smartphone use and all that manic tweeting and updating would have induced a bit of pithiness into his writing.
I love the Internet and use it everyday except when I'm on retreat. But I have never sent a text message in my life; I do not have a Twitter account; my Facebook page languishes; I do not own a smartphone; my TracPhone account costs me a paltry $99 per year and I have thousands of unused minutes; I have a laptop and an ipad for backup but rarely use them; in the wild I use map and compass, never having bothered to buy a GPS device; I am never out and about with something stuck into my ear.
I know people who begin their day by checking text messages. You do what you want, but I say that's no way to live.
Yes, but only in the febrile 'mind' of an Hillarious liberal.
You have to realize that when Trump is 'off script,' he talks like a rude New York working man in a bar. He does this in part because it is his nature to be rude and vulgar, but also because he realizes that this helps him gin up his base.
Let me try to put his point in a more 'measured' way. His point was not that Hillary's bodyguards ought to be disarmed so that she could more easily be 'taken out.' His point is that if guns cause crime and have no legitimate uses, then why are her bodyguards armed to the teeth with the sorts of weapons that she would like to make it illegal for law-abiding citizens to possess and carry?
If guns are never the answer, why are they 'the answer' for government agents? If law-abiding citizens cannot be trusted with semi-automatic pistols and long guns, how is it that government agents can be trusted with them?
The graphic makes the point very well. Trump was not inciting violence. But if you say he was then you are slandering him and his supporters. Be careful, the Second Amendment types may 'come after you.' Politically.
UPDATE (9:25 AM). Here is what Trump said:
She [Hillary] goes around with armed bodyguards like you have never seen before. I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons. They should disarm. Right? Right? I think they should disarm immediately. What do you think? Yes? Yes. Yeah. Take their guns away. She doesn’t want guns. … Let’s see what happens to her. Take their guns away, okay? It would be very dangerous.
This is another one or those questions that never goes away and about which reams of rubbish have been written.
In Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006), in the section Are Atheists Evil?, Sam Harris writes:
If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers. In fact, they should be utterly immoral. (pp. 38-39)
Harris then goes on to point out something that I don't doubt is true, namely, that atheists ". . . are at least as well behaved as the general population." (Ibid.) Harris' enthymeme can be spelled out as an instance of modus tollendo tollens, if you will forgive the pedantry:
1. If religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.
2. Atheists are not less moral than believers.
3. Religious faith does not offer the only real basis for morality.
The problem with this argument lies in its first premise. It simply doesn't follow that if religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than theists. This blatant non sequitur trades on a confusion of two questions which it is essential to distinguish.
Q1. Given some agreed-upon moral code, are people who profess some version of theism more 'moral,' i.e., more likely to live in accordance with the agreed-upon code, than those who profess some version of atheism?
The answer to this question is No. But even if the answer is Yes, I am willing to concede arguendo to Harris that it is No. In any case (Q1) is not philosophically interesting, except as part of the run-up to a genuine philosophical question, though (Q1) is of interest sociologically. Now contrast (Q1) with
Q2. Given some agreed-upon moral code, are atheists justified in adhering to the code?
The agreed-upon code is one that most or many atheists and theists would accept. Thus, don't we all object to child molestation, wanton killing of human beings, rape, theft, lying, and the swindling of investors by people like Bernard Madoff? And in objecting to these actions, we mean our objections to be more than merely subjectively valid. When our property is stolen or a neighbor murdered, we consider that an objective wrong has been done. And when the thief or murderer is apprehended, tried, and convicted we judge that something objectively right has been done. Let's not worry about the details or the special cases: killing in self-defense, abortion, etc. Just imagine some minimal objectively binding code that all or most of us, theists and atheists alike, accept.
What (Q2) asks about is the foundation or basis of the agreed-upon objectively binding moral code. This is not a sociological or any kind of empirical question. Nor is it a question in normative ethics. The question is not what we ought to do and leave undone, for we are assuming that we already have a rough answer to that. The question is meta-ethical: what does morality rest on, if on anything? For example, what justifies the shared judgment that the swindling of investors is morally wrong? Or rape, or wanton killing of people, or slavery?
There are different meta-ethical theories. Some will say that morality requires a supernatural foundation, others that a natural foundation suffices. Here you can read the transcript of a debate between Richard Taylor and William Lane Craig on this topic. I incline toward the side ably defended by Craig. Although I respect Taylor very much as a philosopher and have learned from his work, he seems to me to come across in this debate as something of a sophist and a smart-ass.
But the point of this post is not to take sides on the question of the basis of morality, but simply to point out that Sam Harris has confused two quite obviously distinct questions. For if he had kept them distinct, he would have seen that the question whether morality requires a basis in religion is logically independent of the question whether theists are more moral than atheists. He would have seen that invoking the platitude that atheists can be as morally decent as theists has no tendency to show that morality does not require a supernatural foundation. He would have seen that (1) is false.
I should add, however, that while the two questions are distinct, they are related. For if people come to believe that there is no justification for the agreed-upon moral code, then they will be less likely to adhere to it. Or suppose a person thinks that the justification for the prohibition against rape is merely prudential: it is imprudent to rape women because you may get caught and go to prison. If that were the justification, then a man without a conscience who encounters a defenceless solitary woman in an isolated place would have no reason not to have his way with her. But if the man had the belief that the moral wrongness of rape is grounded in the holy will of an omniscient deity, then the man would have a reason to resist his inclination.
Remember Fred Neil? One of the luminaries of the '60s folk scene, he didn't do much musically thereafter. Neil is probably best remembered for having penned 'Everybody's Talkin' which was made famous by Harry Nilsson as the theme of Midnight Cowboy. Here is Neil's version. Nilsson's rendition.
Another of my Fred Neil favorites is "Other Side of This Life." Here is Peter, Paul, and Mary's version.
What exactly is the alternative right (alt-right), and how does it differ from other views on the right?
Yesterday I argued that John Derbyshire's definition is useless because too broad. Jacques by e-mail contributes the following:
If the alt-right is simply the (or a) right-wing alternative to the mainstream or dominant kind of conservatism, you count as alt-right if and only if you reject at least some of the central ideas of the mainstream dominant kind of conservatism and your general orientation is right-wing. The definition does imply that the alt-right differs from some other forms of conservatism or rightism, and we can specify these kinds of differences by specifying the central tenets of mainstream conservatism. You might well be alt-right under this definition.
For example, it's a tenet of mainstream conservatism that there are no important natural racial differences; if you disagree, you're in the alt-right. You might not think so, because you don't agree with tribalists and anti-semites who also oppose mainstream conservatism for different reasons, and with different right-wing agendas. But my definition is appropriately broad and vague: the alt-right is a big tent, since there are so many things wrong with mainstream conservatism that otherwise right-wing people can object to for many different and incompatible reasons. This is how the term is being used, anyway. Lots of people who call themselves 'alt-right' and get called 'alt-right' by others are not anti-semites, for example; some of them are even (non-anti-semitic) Jews. You can be 'alt-right' under my definition even though you disagree with lots of others in the 'alt-right' about lots of important things. Just like a Calvinist and an Anglican can both be Protestants. What do you think?
I take Jacques to be saying that if I disagree with even one tenet of mainstream conservatism, then that makes me a 'big tent' alt-rightist. He brings up the question whether there are important natural racial differences, and maintains that it is a "tenet of mainstream conservatism" that there are none. I think this is correct if we take the mainstream conservative to be maintaining, not that there are no natural (as opposed to socially constructed) racial differences, but that such differences are not important. The idea is that 'blood' does not, or rather ought not matter, when it comes to questions of public policy. Consider immigration policy. Should U. S. immigration policy favor Englishmen over Zulus? If race doesn't matter, why should Englishmen be preferred? If race doesn't matter, both groups should assimilate just as well and be beneficial to the host population in the same measure.
So one question concerns what a mainstream conservative is:
Q1. Do mainstream conservatives hold that there are natural racial differences but that they don't matter, or that that there are no such natural differences to matter?
The answer depends on who best represents mainstream conservatism. What do you say, Jacques?
Suppose the mainstream conservative holds that there are natural racial differences, but that they don't matter. If I hold that they do matter, then I am not a mainstream conservative, and my position is some sort of alternative to mainstream conservatism. But I don't think that this difference alone would justify calling me an alt-rightist since 'alt-right' picks out a rather more specific constellation of theses.
John Derbyshire gives the following answer (HT: Malcolm Pollack):
So what, in my opinion, makes the Alt-Right a distinct thing — not by any means a party, a faction, or a movement, but a collection of souls with something in common?
Here's my answer: We don't like flagrant nonsense in the discussion of human affairs. We don't like being lied to. We especially don't like being lied to by credentialed academics like Jerry Coyne.
The lies are so flagrant, so outrageously obvious, you'd have to laugh at them, if not for the fact that laughing at them is close to being a criminal offense. "There is no such thing as race!" What a preposterous thing to say! What a multiply preposterous thing for an academic in the human sciences to say. Yet look! — they say it!
As Ann Coulter has quipped: It's like saying "there are no such things as mountains." When, after all, is a mountain just a hill? Similarly with "there are no such things as colors," since, after all, no-one can tell you how many colors there are, or the precise wavelength at which turquoise is more blue-ish than green-ish. How many neighborhoods are there in New York City? Beats me; so are there no such things as neighborhoods? This is infantile.
Much more to the point, it's like saying "there are no such things as families." When do you stop being a member of my family? Fourth cousin? Ninth cousin by marriage? So are there no such things as families?
But of course there are such things as families. And that's all races are: big old extended families of mostly-common deep ancestry.
This acquiescence in obvious lies — even by academics, who should be the guardians of truth — is characteristic of totalitarian societies. The money quote here is from Tony Daniels, a/k/a "Theodore Dalrymple." Quote:
>>In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is … in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.<<
Tony himself, I should say, lines up with Goodwhites in the Cold Civil War, not with us Badwhites of the Alt-Right. I very seriously doubt he'd consider himself a member of the Alt-Right. His insight there, however, is very penetrating, and could be inscribed on an Alt-Right banner, if we ever get around to brandishing banners.
And so it is with the NYU Student Council ninnies and the Student Diversity Initiative bedwetters, not one of whom is fit to shine James Watson's shoes.
They don't want to shine his shoes. They don't want to persuade or convince him. They want to humiliate him. They, midgets and mites, want to humiliate a giant, one of the world's greatest living scientists. And the cringing administrators at New York University want to help them!
That's what the Alt-Right is about; that's what unites us; disgust with, and resistance to, these liars and weasels and commissars.
While I agree with everything Derbyshire says above, though not with everything he says, the above is useless as a definition of Alt-Right. Suppose I 'define' an airplane as a vehicle. This fails as a definition, not because it is false, but because it specifies only a necessary condition for a thing's being an airplane. Every airplane is a vehicle, but not every vehicle is an airplane. An adequate definition lays down individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for the application of a concept. An adequate definition of 'airplane' must list those features that make airplanes different from other vehicles.
Similarly, an adequate definition of 'alternative Right' must list those features that make alt-rightists different from other sorts of conservatives. On Derb's definition, I count as alt-right, when I am no such thing.
I hate leftist liars and crapweasels. I have contempt for Jerry Coyne, or rather his attitudes and views. (See here.) I hold that the silencing of James Watson is an outrage and a betrayal of the values and purposes of the university. I find absurd the notion that race is a social construct. No doubt racial theories are social constructs, but the notion that race and racial differences are is preposterous. I agree with Dalrymple as quoted above. And I share Derb's "disgust with, and resistance to, these liars and weasels and commissars."
So I have some serious conservative 'cred' in the sense of both credentials and credibility, not to mention the civil courage to speak the truth as I sincerely see it under my real name publicly as I have been doing since 2004.
But none of these attitudes or commitments or virtues make me alt-right.
I am not exactly sure what 'alt-right' refers to, and apparently those who fly this flag don't either, as witness Derbyshire above, but I get the impression that the position includes some very specific theses that differentiate it from other types of conservatism. I hope to go into this in more detail later, but for now I'll mention the following: white tribalism, anti-semitism, rejection of classically liberal notions such as the value of toleration, rejection of the formal (as opposed to empirical) equality of persons and with it key elements in the documents of the American founding as well as in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and a rejection of the normative universality of truth and value.
A YouTube video by William S. Lind with footage of Martin Jay, David Horowitz and Roger Kimball. Traces the origin of cultural Marxism from the breakdown of economic Marxism and the role of the Frankfurt School including discussion of the '60s New Left guru, Herbert Marcuse.
By the time I began as a freshman at Loyola University of Los Angeles in 1968, the old Thomism that had been taught out of scholastic manuals was long gone to be replaced by a hodge-podge of existentialism, phenomenology, and critical theory. The only analytic fellow in the department at the time was an adjunct with an M. A. from Glasgow. I pay tribute to him in In Praise of a Lowly Adjunct. The scholasticism taught by sleepy Jesuits before the ferment of the '60s was in many ways moribund, but at least it was systematic and presented a coherent worldview. The manuals, besides being systematic, also introduced the greats: Plato, Aristotle, Thomas, et al. By contrast, we were assigned stuff like Marcuse's Eros and Civilization. The abdication of authority on the part of Catholic universities has been going on for a long time.