Beginners are taught that a set having three members is a single thing, wholly constituted by its members but distinct from them. After this, the theological doctrine of the Trinity as "three in one" should be child's play. ("The Elusiveness of Sets," Review of Metaphysics, June 1971, p. 615)
1. A set in the mathematical (as opposed to commonsense) sense is a single item 'over and above' its members. If the six shoes in my closet form a mathematical set, and it is not obvious that they do, then that set is a one-over-many: it is one single item despite its having six distinct members each of which is distinct from the set, and all of which, taken collectively, are distinct from the set. A set with two or more members is not identical to one of its members, or to each of its members, or to its members taken together, and so the set is distinct from its members taken together, though not wholly distinct from them: it is after all composed of them and its very identity and existence depends on them.
In the above quotation, Black is suggesting that mathematical sets are contradictory entities: they are both one and many. A set is one in that it is a single item 'over and above' its members or elements as I have just explained. It is many in that it is "wholly constituted" by its members. (We leave out of consideration the null set and singleton sets which present problems of their own.) The sense in which sets are "wholly constituted" by their members can be explained in terms of the Axiom of Extensionality: two sets are numerically the same iff they have the same members and numerically different otherwise. Obviously, nothing can be both one and many at the same time and in the same respect. So it seems there is a genuine puzzle here. How remove it?
1. The empty or null set is a strange animal. It is a set, but it has no members. This is of course not a contingent fact about it, but one bound up with its very identity: the null set is essentially null. Intuitively, however, one might have thought that a set is a group of two or more things. Indeed, Georg Cantor famously defines a set (Menge) as "any collection into a whole (Zusammenfassung zu einem Ganzen) of definite and separate objects of our intuition and thought." (Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Transfinite Numbers, Dover 1955, p. 85) In the case of the null set, however, there are no definite objects that it collects. So in what sense is the null set a set? One might ask a similar question about singletons, sets having exactly one member. But I leave this for later.
Aquinas cannot do justice to his own insight into the independence of the intellect from matter from within the hylomorphic scheme of ontological analysis he inherits from Aristotle. His metaphysica generalis is at war with his special-metaphysical insight into the independence of intellect from matter.
To help nail down half of this assertion, the half that credits the Common Doctor with insight, let's look at one of the arguments Aquinas gives for the intellect's independence of matter, the one at Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, Chapter 49, Paragraph 8:
Also, the action of no body is self-reflexive. For it is proved in [Aristotle's] Physics[VIII, 5, 256a2-33] that no body is moved by itself except with respect to a part, so that one part of it is the mover and the other the moved. But in acting the intellect reflects on itself, not only as to a part, but as to the whole of itself. Therefore, it is not a body.
One will be tempted to dismiss this quaint verbiage as just so much medieval mumbo-jumbo, but I think there is an argument here that has a serious claim on our attention. Taking some minor liberties, I would present the argument as a nice, neat syllogism:
The most obvious objection to eliminative materialism (EM) is that it denies obvious data, the very data without which there would be no philosophy of mind in the first place. Introspection directly reveals the existence of pains, beliefs, desires, anxieties, pleasures, and the like. Suppose I have a headache. The pain, qua felt, cannot be doubted or denied. Its esse is its percipi. To identify the pain with a brain state makes a modicum of sense; but it makes no sense at all to deny the existence of the very datum that got us discussing this topic in the first place. But Paul M. Churchland (Matter and Consciousness, rev. ed. MIT Press, 1988, pp. 47-48) has a response to this sort of objection:
In this festive season it is perhaps appropriate that we should relax a little the bonds that tether us to the straight and narrow. A fitting apologia for a bit of indulgence and even overindulgence is found in Seneca, On Tranquility of Mind, XVII, 8-9, tr. Basore:
At times we ought to reach even the point of intoxication, not drowning ourselves in drink, yet succumbing to it; for it washes away troubles, and stirs the mind from its very depths and heals its sorrow just as it does certain ills of the body; and the inventor of wine is not called the Releaser [Liber, Bacchus] on account of the license it gives to the tongue, but because it frees the mind from bondage to cares and emancipates it and gives it new life and makes it bolder in all that it attempts. But, as in freedom, so in wine there is a wholesome moderation.
Sed ut libertatis ita vini salubris moderatio est.
. . .
Yet we ought not to do this often, for fear that the mind may contract an evil habit; nevertheless there are times when it must be drawn into rejoicing and freedom, and gloomy sobriety must be banished for a while.
Time was when I imbibed two ounces of alcohol per day. But abstemiousness has set in, and now I save the sauce for special occasions. But a favorite delivery form remains what I call the Manhattan shot.
Slam a respectably sized shot glass onto the counter. Fill it two thirds to three quarters with your bourbon of choice. Top it off with sweet vermouth, and finish it with two or three drops of Angosturo(anguish) bitters. Now, without engaging in any such tomfoolery as mixing, knock it back in one fluid gesture. Straight: no chaser, no cherry.
A reader inquired about eliminative materialism. In this post I will explain what eliminative materialism is. In later posts, I will indicate why I consider it to be not only false, but irremediably incoherent.
1. An eliminativist about X is simply one who denies the existence of X. Atheists are eliminativists about God; hard determinists are eliminativists about free will; Hume (on one interpretation) and occasionalists (al-Ghazzali, Malebranche) are eliminativists about (productive event) causation; nominalists are eliminativists about universals, and so on. Eliminative materialism(physicalism) is a doctrine in the philosophy of mind according to which the items we phenomenologically classify as mental simply do not exist. It is the most radical or extreme position in the philosophy of mind.
The older I get, the more two things impress me. One is the suggestibility of human beings, their tendency to imbibe and repeat ideas and attitudes from their social environment with nary an attempt at critical examination. The other is the major role envy plays in human affairs. Suggestibility is best left for another occasion as part of an analysis of political correctness.
To feel envy is to feel diminished by another's success or well-being. Schadenfreude is in a certain sense the opposite: it is to take pleasure or satisfaction in another's misfortune. An interesting case of Schadenfreude is pleasure in having incited envy in another.
Envy is a vice of propinquity. Envy erupts only among people who compare themselves with one another, and for comparison there must be propinquity or social proximity whether it be that of friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers. Suppose A and B work in the same office, and A gets a promotion. That is a situation in which envy may arise. Suppose it does: B comes to feel diminished by A's success. Even though the change in B is 'merely Cambridge,' as the philosophers say, merely relational, and thus no real change at all, the real change occurring in A, B nonetheless and quite perversely feels bad that A has done well even though B's feeling bad does nothing to improve his lot, and indeed harms him by befouling his mind and predisposing him to acts worse than envy.
A, noting B's envy, takes umbrage at being the object of B's hateful attitude. Realizing that B has befouled himself -- has shat his own mental pants as it were -- A takes pleasure in this fact. A's pleasure, I want to say, is schadenfreudlich. A takes satisfaction in the harm B has inflicted upon himself by succumbing to envy.
If A were a better man he would feel pity for B's self-harm. If he were better still, he would not even feel pity. See Spinoza on Commiseratio.
To commiserate, to feel compassion, to pity — these come to the same. Might compassion be a mistake? Suppose an evil befalls you. If I am in a position to help, then perhaps I ought to. But it is unnecessary that I 'feel your pain' to use a Clintonian expression. Indeed, my allowing myself to be affected might interfere with my rendering of aid. And even if it doesn't, the affect of pity is bad in itself. Why should I feel bad that you feel bad? Of course, I should not feel good that you feel bad; that would be the diabolical emotion of Schadenfreude. The point is that I should not feel bad that you feel bad. For it is better if only one of us suffer. Better that I should remain unaffected and unperturbed. That way, at least one of us displays ataraxia.
Socrates and Jesus are undoubtedly two of the greatest teachers of humanity. Socrates famously maintained that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it, and Jesus, according to MT 5:39, enjoins us to "Resist not the evildoer" and "Turn the other cheek." No one with any spiritual sensitivity can fail to be deeply impressed by these sayings. It is equally clear that no one with common sense can suppose that they can be applied in the public sphere.
A while back I came across Ernest Gellner's Words and Things (unrevised ed., 1963). It is jam-packed with insights. Here is an example:
Linguistic Philosophy [O. L. philosophy] absolutely requires and presupposes [Logical] Positivism, for without it as a tacit premiss, there is nothing to exclude any metaphysical interpretation of the usages that are to be found, and allegedly "taken as they are," in the world. (p. 86)
Exactly right. For if the anti-metaphysics of logical positivism is not presupposed, how can the O.L. philosopher rule out as meaningless metaphysical ways of talking? People talk in all sorts of ways, not all of them mundane. People talk metaphysics for example. I do it all the time, and it certainly seems to me and some of my interlocutors that I am talking sense. For example, I say things like, 'Existence is a necessary condition of property-possession: nothing has properties unless it exists' and there are people who understand me.
Suppose out in the desert there is a little commune of Bradleyans. Their form of life involves playing a language game in which words like 'internal relation,' 'external relation,' 'Absolute,' 'appearance,' and others have well-defined functions. If meaning is use, these words have meaning because they have a use in this community. How can it be said that language has gone on holiday in a case like this? How distinguish holiday from workaday uses of language?
To make the distinction one has to just assume something like the positivistic stricture on metaphysics. On has to just assume that some language games are meaningless. But there is no basis for this distinction if one takes the uses of words as the source of their meaning.
A massage parlor is given the name Nirvana, the implication being that after a well-executed massage one will be in the eponymous state. This betrays a misunderstanding of Nirvana, no doubt, but that is not the main thing, which is the perverse tendency to attach a religious or spiritual significance to a merely sensuous state of relaxation.
Why can’t the hedonist just enjoy his sensory states without glorifying them? Equivalently, why can’t he admit that there is something beyond him without attempting to drag it down to his level? But no! He wants to have it both ways: he wants both sensuous indulgence and spirituality. He wants sensuality to be a spiritual experience and spirituality to be as easy of access as sensuous enjoyment.
A catalog of currently misused religious terms would have to include ‘heaven,’ ‘seventh heaven,’ ‘hell,’ 'dark night of the soul,' and many others besides.
Take ‘retreat.’ Time was, when one went on a retreat to get away from the world to re-collect oneself, meditating on the state of one's soul and on first and last things. But now one retreats from the world to become even more worldly, to gear up for greater exertions in the realms of business or academe. One retreats from ordinary busy-ness to prepare for even greater busy- ness.
And then there is ‘spirituality.’ The trendy embrace the term but shun its close cousin, ‘religion.’ I had a politically correct Jewish professor in my kitchen a while back whose husband had converted from Roman Catholicism to Judaism. I asked her why he had changed his religion. She objected to the term ‘religion,’ explaining that his change was a ‘spiritual’ one.
Etymologically, ‘religion’ suggests a binding, a God-man ligature, so to speak. But trendy New Age types don’t want to be bound by anything, or submit to anything. I suggest that this is part of the explanation of the favoring of the S word over the R word. Another part of the explanation is political. To those with a Leftward tilt, ‘religion’ reminds them of the Religious Right whose power strikes them as ominous while that of the Religious Left is no cause for concern.
A third part of the explanation may be that religion is closely allied with morality, while spirituality is often portrayed as beyond morality with its dualism of good and evil. One of the worst features of New Age types is their conceit that they are beyond duality when they are firmly enmired in it. Perhaps the truly enlightened are beyond moral dualism and can live free of moral injunctions. But what often happens in practice in that spiritual aspirants and gurus fall into ordinary immorality while pretending to have transcended it. One may recall the famous cases of Rajneesh and Chogyam Trungpa. According to one report, ". . . Trungpa slept with a different woman every night in order to transmit the teaching to them. L. intimated that it was really a hardship for Trungpa to do this, but it was his duty in order to spread the dharma."
Mike Gilleland's erudite disquisition on crappy names (craptronyms?) put me in mind of a chess opponent I once faced in a Las Vegas tournament. The fellow, a German, rejoiced under the name of David Assman. It would really have been a hoot had the tournament's venue been Fucking, Austria, near Salzburg. (If a major tournament can be held at Lone Pine, little more than a wide spot on old U.S. 395, why not there?) Yes, muchachos, there really is such a place. The name is pronounced 'fooking.' Although I lived as a young man in Salzburg for six months, I never got to Fucking.
William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 5th ed., Chapter 13:
1. "Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around a passive verb." A good rule of thumb.
2. "Passive-voice writers," Zinsser tells us, "prefer long words of Latin origin to short Anglo-Saxon words — which compounds their trouble and makes their sentences still more glutinous." (111) Here again we see that Zinsser has a hard time following his own advice. 'Glutinous' is from the Latin, glutinosus, and means having the quality of glue. Why didn't Zinsser just write 'gummy'?
My point is not that he should have written 'gummy,' but that he ought to reexamine his animus against words of Latin origin, an animus he shares with Orwell. Brevity and Anglo-Saxonism are values, but there are competing values.
3. "Most adverbs are unnecessary." Yes. "Most adjectives are also unnecessary." Ditto. I would have preferred the quantifier, 'many,' but let's not quibble.
4. "Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: 'a bit,' 'a little,' 'sort of,' 'kind of,' 'rather,' 'quite,' 'very,' 'too,' 'pretty much,' 'in a sense,' and dozens more." (114) And while we are at it, prune 'out' from the sentence just quoted.
5. ". . . let's retire the pompous 'arguably.' Unarguably we don't need it." (114)
Here I must register my disapprobation. One man's pomposity is another's urbanity. I use 'arguably' to mean it is arguable that or it can be plausibly argued that. Employing this phrase, I signal my awareness that the issue in question is difficult and that intelligent people may well disagree. I indicate that I am a civilized fellow and not a rude dogmatist. Example: 'David Lewis' On the Plurality of Worlds is arguably the best work of analytic metaphysics to appear in English in the 1980s.' 'Arguably' softens an assertion in need of softening: there are no established criteria of good, better, best in philosophy. There is no call for dogmatism. But if I were engaged in polemic with a leftie, and needed to appear firm before an audience, then more bluntness and less urbanity would be in order.
The same goes for 'register my disapprobation.' I could have written, ' Here I must disagree.' If I were an engineer writing a technical report, I would cut to the chase and elide the ornate. But I'm not. Why should I not make use of my vocabulary? Should dancers execute only the simplest steps? Ought all buildings be Bauhaus?
"Style," said Schopenhauer, "is the physiognomy of the mind." I would add that we don't all have the minds of simpletons.
I found William Zinsser, On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, 5th ed., in a discard bin a while back for a quarter. A nice find and a good read. His politics are leftish, are they not? But I won't hold that against him. From what I have read, his advice is good. Like Orwell before him, he urges a style spare and stripped-down: "the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components." (p.7) But, like Orwell, he has trouble taking his own advice:
Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that's already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what — these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.(p.7)
Suppose we rewrite the sentence in accordance with Zinsser's advice:
Every useless word, every word that could be shortened, every adverb whose meaning is already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what — these are the adulterants that weaken a sentence.
Without changing the thought at all, I took a sentence of 54 words and rewrote it in 39 words, saving 15 words. "Thousand and one" is useless filler and false precision, and "weaken the strength of" is pleonasm.
But the deeper issue is whether a lean style is always best. Why should every long word be traded in for a short one? It is a bit like demanding that one always dress in a purely functional way, stripping from one's apparel all ornamentation. That would get rid of all ties, especially those most precious of ties, the bow tie. Think of all the 'fashion accessories' the ladies would have to renounce.
I'm a sartorial functionalist myself, and wouldn't be caught dead in a bow tie or in suspenders. Formal attire for me is anything in excess of my 'loincloth.' But in my writing I compensate: I allow myself a modicum of elegance, a bit of leisurely strut and glide. I thumb my nose at editors and schoolmarms who think all prose must fit the same crabbed mold. I won't apologize for 'modicum' or 'sartorial' or for an allusion to Sartor Resartus; if the reader doesn't get it, that is his problem. Are we writing only for the culturally retarded?
And is it always wrong to use an adverb whose meaning is already in the verb? Mocking Al Franken, I may describe him as a 'lying liar' thus rubbing his nose in his own idiotic redundancy.
These quibbles notwithstanding, Zinsser's book promises both pleasure and instruction.
Light. It is a fire that does not burn. (Notebooks, 21)
Just as the eyes are the most spiritual of the bodily organs, light is the most spiritual of physical phenomena. And there is no light like the lambent light of the desert. The low humidity, the sparseness of vegetation that even in its arboreal forms hugs the ground, the long, long vistas that draw the eye out to shimmering buttes and mesas -- all of these contribute to the illusion that the light is alive. This light does not consume, like fire, but allows things to appear. It licks, like flames, but does not incinerate. ('Lambent' from Latin lambere, to lick.)
Light as phenomenon, as appearance, is not something merely physical. It is as much mind as matter. Without its appearance to mind it would not be what it, phenomenologically, is. But the light that allows rocks and coyotes to appear, itself appears. This seen light is seen within a clearing, eine Lichtung, which is light in a transcendental sense. But this transcendental light in whose light both illuminated objects and physical light appear, points back to the onto-theological Source of this transcendental light.
Augustine claims to have glimpsed this eternal Source Light upon entering into his "inmost being." Entering there, he saw with his soul's eye, "above that same eye of my soul, above my mind, an unchangeable light." He continues:
It was not this common light, plain to all flesh, nor a greater light of the same kind . . . Not such was that light, but different, far different from all other lights. Nor was it above my mind, as oil is above water, or sky above earth. It was above my mind, because it made me, and I was beneath it, because I was made by it. He who knows the truth, knows that light, and he who knows it knows eternity. (Confessions, Book VII, Chapter 10)
'Light,' then, has several senses. There is the light of physics, which is but a theoretical posit. There is physical light as we see it, whether in the form of illuminated things such as yonder mesa, or sources of illumination such as the sun, or the lambent space between them. There is the transcendental light of mind without which nothing at all would appear. There is, above this transcendental light, its Source.
One could characterize a materialist as one who is blind to the light, except in the first of the four senses lately mentioned.
And you thought blogging could only be a shameless expression of vanity?
But a quotidian assembling in this newfangled medium of reminders, admonitions, maxims and the like, performed in the right spirit, is no less a spiritual exercise than the daily jottings of a Marcus Aurelius.
Conversation in the frigidarium one morning drifted onto the weighty topic of extended service warranties. A poolmate explained how a zealous salesman tried to sell her such a warranty on a filing cabinet! It occurred to me that even more absurd would be extended warranties on ball peen hammers and anvils. Or how about coffins?
"If in the first one hundred years of your subterranean repose you should ever experience any moisture or other intrusion due to a failure of the seals, just call our toll-free number conveniently stamped on the underside of the coffin lid, and a repairman will come to your gravesite, exhume your coffin, make necessary repairs, and restore everything to its original condition. All at no additional expense."
What is my life's point and purpose? How silly to say, as many do, that it is wholly up to the individual to give it sense and purpose! If I must give my life meaning, then it has no meaning prior to and independent of my giving it meaning, which is to say that it has no meaning, full stop. Am I my own source? Can I 'recuperate' every aspect of my facticity by acts of goal-positing? If my life depends on me for its meaning, then it has no meaning. To suppose that an otherwise meaningless existence can be made meaningful by subjective acts of meaning-bestowal is like supposing that one can pull oneself up by one's own bootstraps.
If, for whatever reason, one denies that human life possesses objective meaning, then one ought to have the intellectual honesty to maintain that it has no meaning, and not seek refuge in the shabby evasion of subjective meaning.
Unless you live in a cave you will by now have heard of Bernard Madoff and his Ponzi-scheme. Interesting name he bears, quasi-aptronymic: he made off with his investors' money. The wealthy fools who lost everything have in part themselves to blame: they allowed their good sense to be suborned by greed and ill-placed trust. Diversification is such a simple concept. But it is not a matter of the intellectual grasp of a simple concept. It is a moral matter. Appetites unruled will suborn the sharpest head. Our financial and political and social decline is rooted in moral decline.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not money, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not money, it profiteth me nothing. Money suffereth long, and it is kind; money envieth not; money vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. . . . And now abideth faith, hope, money, these three; but the greatest of these is money.
George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" (1946) is an essay all should read. As timely now as it was sixty two years ago, it is available in several anthologies and on-line here. Orwell lays down the following rules for good writing.
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. 2. Never us a long word where a short one will do. 3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. 4. Never use the passive where you can use the active. 5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. 6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (A Collection of Essays, Harvest, 1981, p. 170)
On balance, this is excellent advice. Orwell's formulation of these rules, however, is excessively schoolmarmish, so much so that he himself cannot abide by them. Take (3) for example. It's a rule violated by its own formulation. Had Orwell followed his own advice, he would have deleted 'always.' Or consider this sentence near the beginning of his essay: "Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse." (p. 156) Surely, 'inevitably' is redundant. Or else 'must' is redundant. The sentence as Orwell wrote it, however, is not a bad sentence. My point is that his rules are too restrictive.
Now look at (5). This rule contradicts what he himself says on the preceding page. There (p. 169) he asks what his defence of the English language does not imply. One of the things it does not imply is "in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one...." This obviously contradicts rule (5).
At the root of the problem is the tendency most of have to reach for such universal quantifiers as 'all,' 'every,' 'no' and 'never' when strict accuracy demands something less ringing. If the great Orwell can fall into the trap, then we lesser mortals need to be especially careful. Good writing cannot be reduced to the application of rules. Rules are at best guidelines.
These quibbles aside, this essay is required reading.
Seneca, Tranquillitate Animi, X, 5 (tr. Basore) counsels the chastening but not the extirpation of desire:
. . . we must not send our desires upon a distant quest, but we should permit them to have access to what is near, since they do not endure to be shut up altogether. Leaving those things that either cannot be done, or can be done only with difficulty, let us pursue what lies near at hand and allures our hope, but let us be aware that they are all equally trivial, diverse outwardly in appearance, within alike vain. And let us not envy those who stand in higher places; where there are heights to be seen, there are precipices. (Emphasis added.)
I modified the last sentence of Basore's translation, substituting 'where there are heights to be seen' for 'where there appeared heights' which is bad English and appears to be a mistranslation from the Latin.
The abuse of the physical frame by the young and seemingly immortal is a folly to be warned against but not prevented, a folly for which the pains of premature decrepitude are the just tax; whereas a youth spent cultivating the delights of study pays rich dividends as the years roll on. For, as Holbrook Jackson (The Anatomy of Bibliomania, 121 f.) maintains:
No labour in the world is like unto study, for no other labour is less dependent upon the rise and fall of bodily condition; and, although learning is not quickly got, there are ripe wits and scholarly capacities among men of all physical degrees, whilst for those of advancing years study is of unsurpassed advantage, both for enjoyment and as a preventative of mental decay. Old men retain their intellects well enough, said Cicero, then on the full tide of his own vigorous old age, if only they keep their minds active and fully employed; [De Senectate, 22, tr. E. S. Shuckburgh, 38] and Dr. Johnson holds the same opinion: There must be a diseased mind, he said, where there is a failure of memory at seventy. [Life, ed. Hill, iii, 191] Cato (so Cicero tells us) was a tireless student in old age; when past sixty he composed the seventh book of his Origins, collected and revised his speeches, wrote a treatise on augural, pontifical, and civil law, and studied Greek to keep his memory in working order; he held that such studies were the training grounds of the mind, and prophylactics against consciousness of old age. [Op. cit. 61-62]
The indefatigable Mr. Jackson continues in this vein for another closely printed page, most interestingly, but most taxingly for your humble transcriber.
1. Toleration is the touchstone of classical liberalism, and there is no denying its value. Our doxastic predicament requires it of us. We have beliefs galore but precious little knowledge, especially as regards the large and enduring questions. Lacking knowledge, we must inquire. For that we need freedom of inquiry, and a social and political environment in which inquiry is, if not encouraged, at least allowed. But people who are convinced that they have the truth would stop us. "Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies." (Human All-Too-Human #483) This is typical Nietzschean exaggeration, but there is a sound point at its core: People who are convinced that they have the truth will not inquire whether it really is the truth. Worse, they will tend to impose their 'truth' on us and prevent our inquiry into truth. Many of them will not hesitate to suppress and murder their opponents.
My first point, then, is that toleration is a good because truth is a good. We must tolerate a diversity of views, and the people who maintain them, because we lack the truth and must find it, and to do so we must search. But we cannot search if we are under threat from fanatics and the intolerant. Freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression are important because truth is important.
This implies that we must tolerate many views and actions and people who are deeply offensive to us. The 'artist' Serrano of "Piss-Christ" notoriety is a good example. He has a right to express himself as he does, just as we have a right to protest against him. He has no right to taxpayer money, however, and any liberal who thinks that a refusal of government sponsorship amounts to censorship is an idiot pure and simple.
Having recently returned from the Geneva conference on Bradley's regress, I have much to ruminate upon and digest. I'll start my ruminations with some comments on Richard Gaskin's work.
In an earlier post I suggested that we ought to make a tripartite distinction among vicious, benign (harmless), and virtuous (helpful) infinite regresses. To put it crudely, a vicious regress prevents an explanatory job from getting done; a benign regress does not prevent an explanatory job from getting done; and a virtuous regress makes a positive contribution to an explanatory job's getting done. I gave an example of a putative virtuous regress in the earlier post which example I will not repeat here. In this post I draw your attention to a second putative example from the work of Richard Gaskin, whom I was happy to meet at the Geneva conference on Bradley's Regress. Gaskin's proposal is that "Bradley's regress is, contrary to to the tradition, so far from being harmful that it is even the availability of the regress which guarantees our ability to say anything at all. Bradley's regress is the metaphysical ground of the unity of the proposition." ("Bradley's Regress, the Copula, and the Unity of the Proposition," The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 179, April 1995, p. 176) In terms of my schema above, Gaskin is claiming that Bradley's regress is positively virtuous (not merely benign) in that it plays a positive explanatory role: it explains (metaphysically grounds) the unity of the proposition.
I will now attempt to summarize and evaluate Gaskin's position on the basis of two papers of his that I have read, and on the basis of his presentation in Geneva. (I should say that he has just published a book, The Unity of the Proposition, which I have not yet secured, so the following remarks may need revision in light of his later work.)
Often it is like this. He is not admirable; it is your unadmirable propensity to admire that confers upon him a quality he does not possess. She is not contemptible; it is your contemptible tendency to contemn that makes of her what she is not.
One ideal is to so apportion admiration and contempt that it is only the intrinsically admirable and contemptible that become the objects of these attitudes. An ideal Stoic and stricter is to regard nothing as admirable or the opposite, not even the propensities to admire and contemn. Is this what Horace meant by nil admirari?
How far should we take the mortification of desire and aversion? You could take it all the way into a world-denying asceticism. But I suspect the Sage is a man of balance. Able to control desire and aversion, he has no need to extirpate them. Why uproot a tree that you can trim and manage? You say it is messy when its blossoms fall. But before they fell were they not beautiful and fragrant? The leaves are a bother to rake, but is not the shade they afford agreeable?
The Sage can enjoy the transient in its transiency without clinging and without hankering after the absent transient. He can oppose the bad and the disagreeable without losing his equanimity or exaggerating their negativity. He neither idolizes nor demonizes.
My attempts to lessen his negativity are not meeting with much success. It's as if he cannot see that it would be desirable should he learn to control his mind. Part of the problem is that people feel so justified in their hatreds. Their feeling of justification makes it impossible for them to appreciate the folly of allowing negative thoughts rent-free lodging in their heads.
There are not a few situations in life in which we are tempted to say or think of another, 'Your behavior is annoying!' Thinking this, we only make ourselves more annoyed. Saying it is even worse. For then two are annoyed. Instead of saying or thinking of something external to oneself that he, she, or it is annoying, think to oneself: I am annoying myself, or I am allowing myself to become annnoyed.
Just as one enjoys oneself, one annoys oneself. Enjoyment of a thing external to oneself is enjoyment of oneself in relation to the thing. The same goes for annoyance. There is of course an objective stimulus, not in one's power. One's tablemate, for example, is slurping his soup. His slurping is not in one's power, or else not conveniently in one's power. (Shooting him only makes matters worse.) But how one responds to the slurping is within one's power.
Stoicism may not take us very far along the road to happiness, but where it takes us is worth visiting.
It goes without saying that adjusting one's attitude is the appropriate response only in some of life's difficult situations. One does not adjust one's attitude to the 'annoying' behavior of a terrorist: one literally shoots him, thereby inducing a radical attitude adjustment in him. If the shooting adversely affects one's ataraxia, too bad. Better a little less tranquillitas animi than death or submission to the religion of 'peace.' Better his being red than your being dead.
I concluded my Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on the divine simplicity with an attempt at softening up the contemporary reader for the possible coherence of the doctrine of divine simplicity by adducing some garden variety examples of contemporary philosophical posits that are ontologically simple in one or more of the ways in which God is said to be simple. I gave the example of tropes. One might of course proceed in the opposite direction by tarring tropes with a close cousin of the (alleged) absurdity of the doctrine of divine simplicity. You decide whether there is anything to my comparison:
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).