The greatness of man is so evident that it is even proved by his wretchedness. For what in animals is called nature we call wretchedness in man; by which we recognize that, his nature now being like that of animals, he has fallen from a better nature which once was his. For who is unhappy at not being a king except a deposed king? Who is unhappy at having only one mouth? And who is not unhappy at having only one eye? Probably no one ever ventured to mourn at not having three eyes; but anyone would be inconsolable at having none.
Yes indeed, man is wretched and only man is wretched. Man's wretchedness is 'structural': man qua man is wretched. Wretched are not merely the sick, the unloved, and the destitute; all of us are wretched, even those of us who count as well off. Some of us are aware of this, our condition, the rest hide it from themselves by losing themselves in what Pascal calls divertissement, diversion. We are as if fallen from a higher state, our true and rightful state, into a lower one, and the sense of wretchedness is an indicator of our having fallen. We are in a dire state from which we need salvation but are incapable of saving ourselves by our own efforts, whether individual or collective.
Well, suppose you don't accept a word of this. And suppose you don't lapse into nihilism either. What option is left? The illusions of the Left and the notion of the perfectibility of man by his own doing? Then I recommend this passage from Reinhold Niebuhr also quoted by Oakes:
The utopian illusions and sentimental aberrations of modern liberal culture are really all derived from the basic error of negating the fact of original sin. This error . . . continually betrays modern men to equate the goodness of men with the virtue of their various schemes for social justice and international peace. When these schemes fail of realization or are realized only after tragic conflicts, modern men either turn from utopianism to disillusionment and despair, or they seek to place the onus of their failure upon some particular social group, . . . [which is why] both modern liberalism and modern Marxism are always facing the alternatives of moral futility or moral fanaticism. Liberalism in its pure form [that is, pacifism] usually succumbs to the peril of futility. It will not act against evil until it is able to find a vantage point of guiltlessness from which to operate. This means that it cannot act at all. Sometimes it imagines that this inaction is the guiltlessness for which it has been seeking. A minority of liberals and most of the Marxists solve the problem by assuming that they have found a position of guiltlessness in action. Thereby they are betrayed into the error of fanaticism.
I refuse to lapse into nihilism and I refuse to be suckered by the illusions of the Left, which illusions have been amply refuted by the horrors of the 20th century. That is why I take original sin seriously. But I reject Biblical literalism with its tale of a first man and a first woman in a garden. And of course I reject the idea that I am guilty because of what some other people did. So this leaves me with the task of articulating the doctrine of original sin/original ignorance in a way that is philosophically respectable.
This is good news: "SAN'A, Yemen—Al Qaeda figure Anwar al-Awlaki, one of the most wanted terrorists on a U.S. target list, has been killed in Yemen, according to a statement issued by the country's defense ministry."
I liked the interesting argument that the consequences of belief and nonbelief in original sin are both bad and thus evidence of our fallen natures. But I do wonder what either original sin or fallenness mean in a Darwinian world . . .
Jeff has posed an excellent question which I must try to answer.
1. I begin with what it can't mean. It cannot mean that our present fallen condition is one we inherited from Adam and Eve if these names refer to the original parents of the human race. And this for two reasons.
A. The first is that nothing imputable to a person, nothing for which he is morally responsible, can be inherited. For what I inherit I receive ab extra by causal mechanisms not in my control. (It doesn't matter whether these mechanisms are deterministic or merely probabilistic.) That which is imputable to me, however, is only that which I freely bring about. It is a clear deliverance of our ordinary moral sense that a person is morally responsible only for what he does and leaves undone, not for what others do or leave undone. This deliverance is surely more credible than any theory that entails its negation. So one cannot inherit sinfulness, guilt, or desert of punishment. Therefore the actual sins of past persons cannot induce in me a state of sinfulness or guilt or desert of punishment. And that includes the actual sins of our first parents if there were any.
This amounts to a denial of originated original sin. It does not amount to a denial of originating original sin. The distinction is explained in greater detail here. So there can still be original sin even if sinfulness, guilt, and desert of punishment cannot be inherited.
As I said elsewhere, we must distinguish between the putative fact of original sin and the various theories one can have of it. Refuting a particular theory does not amount to refuting the fact.
B. The second reason is that there were in actual historical fact no original parents of the human race who came into existence wthout animal progenitors. We know this from evolutionary biology which is more credible -- more worthy of belief -- than the stories of Genesis interpreted literally. In any conflict between the Bible so interpreted and natural science, the latter will win -- every time. So if one takes both Bible and science seriously, the Bible must be read in such a way that it does not conflict with our best science.
2. To take this whole original sin problematic seriously one must of course assume that in some sense or other 'Man is a fallen being.' I warmly recommend the study of history to those who adhere to such delusions of the Left as that of human perfectibility or the inherent goodness of humanity. Once you disembarrass yourself of those illusions you will be open to something like human fallenness or Kant's radical evil. I am not saying that the horrors of history by themselves entail man's fallenness. Our fallenness is certainly not a plain empirical fact as G. K. Chesterton and others have foolishly and tendentiously suggested. Chesterton's "plain as potatoes" remark was silly bluster. It is rather that a doctrine of the fall is reasonably introuduced, by a sort of inference to the best explanation, to account for man's universal wretchedness and inability to substantially improve his lot. The details of the inferential move from what could count as plain facts to a doctrine of a fall is not my present topic.
3. Now to Jeff's question. If the Genesis stories cannot be read as literally true accounts of actual historical facts, if we accept the findings and theories of evolutionary biology as regards the genesis of human animals, then what can human fallenness mean? There are various possibilities. I will mention just one, which derives from Kant.
What we need is a theory that allows us to embrace all of the following propositions without contradicting any deliverance of natural science or any deliverance of our ordinary sound moral sense:
a. There is a universal propensity to moral evil in human beings which is radical in that it is at the root of every specific act of wrong-doing. b. This propensity to evil is the best explanation of the fathomless horrors of the human condition. c. The radical propensity to moral evil is innate in that it not acquired at any time in a moral agent's life, but is present at every time precisely as the predisposition to specific evil acts. d. The propensity is imputable. e. The propensity is not inherited. f. Imputable actions and states are free and unconditioned.
Here is a quick and dirty sketch of Kant's theory, a theory which allows one to affirm each of the six propositions above.
Man enjoys dual citzenship. As a physical being, and thus as an animal, he he is a member of the phenomenal world, the world of space-time-matter. In this realm determinism reigns: everything that happens is necessitated by the laws of nature plus the initial conditions. But man knows himself to be morally responsible, and so knows himself to be libertarianly free. Since everything phenomenal is determined, and nothing free, man as moral agent is a noumenal being who 'stands apart from the causal nexus.'
Kant sees with blinding clarity that nothing imputable to an agent can be caused by factors external to the agent: only that which the agent does or leaves undone freely and by his own agency is imputable to the agent. It follows that sinfulness, guilt, and desert of punishment cannot be inherited: there is no originated original sin. For what is inherited is caused to be by factors external to the agent. So (e) is true. But the predisposition to moral evil is nonetheless innate in the sense that it is not conditioned by events in time. It is logically prior to every action of the agent in the time-order.
How is the predisposition imputable? It is imputable because it is the result of a free noumenal choice. And so there is originating original sin. Each of us by an atemporal noumenal choice is the origin of the radical evil which is at the root of each specific evil act. So (d) is true.
Kant's theory has its problems which I have no desire to paper over. But it does provide an answer to Jeff's question. His question, in effect, was what original sin or human fallenness could mean if Darwinism is true. Kant's theory counts as an answer to that question. For on Kant's theory there is no need to contradict evolutionary biology by positing two original parents of the human race, nor any need to accept the notion that moral qualities such as guilt are biologically transmissible, or the morally unacceptable notion that such qualities are in any way (biologically, socio-culturally) inheritable.
One cannot live without being onesided, without choosing, preferring, favoring oneself and one's own, without staking out and defending one's bit of ground. One cannot live without being onesided, but one cannot be much of a philosopher if one is. The philosopher's optics are a synoptics, but life's optics are perspectival.
And so philosophy is enlivened at the approach of decline, death, and doom. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk.
Do I live up to this admonition? Or am I posturing? Is my posture perhaps a slouch towards hypocrisy?
Well, it depends on how broadly one takes 'join.' A while back, I joined a neighbor and some of his friends in helping him move furniture. Reasonably construed, the motto does not rule out that sort of thing. And being a fair and balanced guy, as everybody knows, I recently joined the Conservative Book Club to balance out my long-standing membership in the left-leaning and sex-saturated Quality Paperback Book Club. (It would be interesting to compare these two 'clubs' in respect of their target memberships -- but that's another post.)
And what if I join you for lunch, or join in a discussion in a chat room? A good while ago, the anonyblogger who ran The Will to Blog, but then lost the will to blog and deleted his site, opined that my motto ought to preclude my being a conservative. But surely one does not join a set of beliefs. One joins a political party, an organization, a church, and the like. Our anonyblogger might have been making the mistake of thinking that an independent thinker cannot arrive at any conclusions, for, if he did, then he would be joining something, and lose his independence.
In the context of Paul Brunton's thought, "Study everything, join nothing" means that one ought to beware of institutions and organizations with their tendency toward self-corruption and the corruption of their members. (The Catholic Church is a good recent example.) "Join nothing" means avoid group-think; avoid associations which will limit one's ability to think critically and independently; be your own man or woman; draw your identity from your own resources, and not from group membership. Be an individual, and not in the manner of those who want to be treated as individuals but expect to gain special privileges from membership in certain 'oppressed' or 'victimized' or 'disadvantaged' groups.
The proprietor of Beyond Necessity has a post on objective reality which is directed against some New Age mumbo-jumbo. One of the commenters remarks, "Your argument for the existence of objective reality sounds very much like the ontological argument for God, and about as plausible." Ed, the proprietor, responds, ". . . the argument in no way resembles the logical form of the ontological argument."
What I will now do is present a sound ontological argument for objective reality. In so doing I will show that both proprietor and commenter are wrong. The latter because the argument is plausible; the former because it is ontological in form.
Definition. An ontological argument from mere concepts (aus lauter Begriffen, in Kant's famous phrase) is a ratiocinative procedure whereby the being instantiated of a concept is proven by sheer analysis of the concept. It is thus an argument in which one attempts to infer the existence of X from the concept X. For example, the existence of God from the concept God; the existence of a golden mountain from the concept golden mountain; the existence of objective reality from the concept objective reality. Concepts are mental items by definition. So a sound ontological argument will take us from thought to (extramental) being, in a manner to please Parmenides.
To mention a concept I use italics. Thus a word in italics refers to a concept.
1. We have and understand the concept the (total) way things are. It doesn't matter how we acquired this concept. We have it and we understand it. The way things are includes every fact, every obtaining state of affairs. So the way things are is equivalent to the world in Wittgenstein's sense: "Die Welt ist die Gesamtheit der Tatsachen, nicht der Dinge." (Tractatus 1.1) It is also equivalent to objective reality.
2. Now let us entertain the possibility that nothing answers to the concept the way things are, that the concept is not instantiated. We are thus to entertain the possibility that there is the concept in our minds but nothing to which it applies. We can formulate this possibility using the proposition *There is no objective reality.* Call this proposition P.
3. Could P be true? If P is true, then P is true in objective reality: that is just what 'true' means. So if P is true, then it is true in objective reality that there is no objective reality. This is a contradiction. So we must conclude that If P is true, then P is false. And if P is false, then of course P is false. So, necessarily, P is false, which implies that its negation is not only true but necessarily true: it is necessarily true that there is objective reality. So by sheer analysis of the concept objective reality one can validly infer that there is objective reality. Here then is a case in which an ontological argument from mere concepts is sound.
4. Have I pulled a fast one? Not as far as I can see. I have merely analyzed the concept objective reality, teasing out an implication of the claim that the concept is not instantiated.
5. Response to the commenter. The commenter is right to appreciate that the above sort of reasoning is ontological and thus similar to the God proof found in Descartes' Meditation V and criticized famously by Kant. He is wrong, however, to think that the former reasoning is cogent if and only if the latter is.
6. Response to the proprietor. The proprietor is right, as against the commenter, when it comes to the cogency of the above sort of reasoning. But the commenter is wrong to fail to see that it is ontological reasoning in a clear sense of that term. It is a priori reasoning from thought to being, from concept to existence.
Some time ago I wrote a post entitled Meditation: What and Why? I was meaning to write a follow-up on the how of meditation, but didn't get around to it. But recently a friend asked for some practical suggestions. So here goes. I recommend first reading the What and Why entry. There I explain what meditation is and list some of its uses.
Time. The best time to meditate is early in the morning, before sunrise. Any monk will tell you that. One can meditate at other times, but it is easiest in the morning for obvious reasons: it is dark, cool, and quiet, and one's mind, refreshed by sleep, has not yet been sullied by the day's doings.
Posture. There is only one really good meditation posture and that is seated on the ground or floor on a comfortable mat and cushion. Shankara reputedly could meditate while sitting in snow, but you and I are not Shankara. I use a regulation Zen black meditation mat and cushion. The mat should be thick and large enough so that no part of the legs or buttocks touches the floor. The cushion, which should be very thick and almost spherical in shape, is placed between the buttocks and the mat. The idea is to elevate the buttocks in such a way that one comfortably achieves a posture in which the back is straight. I do not recommend sitting crosslegged in the full- or half-lotus positions, as this can be hard on the knees. I recommend the Burmese posture as illustrated on the left. The knees and shins are flat against the mat, making for comfort and stability, in a posture that can be maintained easily for an hour or more without moving.
Stretching. I like to do a little stretching before beginning the meditation. While seated in the Burmese position, I bend forward and slowly bring my forehead down to the mat. This is more easily achieved if the hands are clasped behind the back and elevated. Breath deeply and proceed slowly. After a few repetitions, stretch the hands toward the ceiling and extend upwards as far as possible. If you are the bhaktic (devotional) type, this gesture can be one of supplication. I then twist my trunk and neck to the right (left) after placing my left (right) hand on my right (left) knee. Be careful, no jerking. Finally, I do a series of neck rotations. Placing my chin on my chest, I slowly rotate the neck around, keeping the head as close to the body as possible, Do this a few times in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions.
Breath. Now that you are properly seated, concentrate on your breathing. The main thing is to 'belly breath.' Push the diaphragm out and draw the breath slowly and deeply into the lungs. Then exhale fully without holding your breath at any time. Imagine on the out-breath that you are exhaling not only air but all manner of mental detritus: negative thoughts, useless memories, worries, etc. Attend carefully to the breathing process. This attending is already a form of meditation, a form of entering into the Inner Citadel. Imagine that you are trying to draw your center of gravity lower and lower toward the mat and farther and farther away from the discursive mind.
Relaxation. The next step is to relax every part of your body while keeping the spine straight. Starting from the top of the head with the scalp, forehead, facial muscles, release any tension encountered, proceeding to the neck and shoulders, and all the way down. 'Exhale' all physical tensions along with stale air and useless thoughts. If nothing else, this feels good and will lower blood pressure.
Theme. So much for preliminaries. One now needs a theme upon which to focus one's attention. There is no end to the number of themes; one must choose one that is appealing to oneself. One might start discursively, by running through a mantram, but the idea is to achieve a nondiscursive one-pointedness of attention. Some suggestions.
1. A Christian of a bhaktic disposition might start with the Jesus Prayer which is used by the mystics of Eastern Orthodoxy: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." One tethers one's mind to the mantram to the exclusion of all other thoughts, repeating it (in thought) over and over. One then gradually whittles it down to one word, say, 'Lord' by progressively dropping 'a sinner,' 'on me a sinner,' 'have mercy on me a sinner,' and so on. One then repeats 'Lord,' 'Lord, 'Lord,' . . . in an attempt to sink into mental quiet. I describe mental quiet in the above-linked post.
If one feels oneself slipping into mental quiet, then one must let go of the mantram and simply abide passively in the state of quietude, without reflecting on it, analyzing it, or recalling how one got to it. The approach to mental quiet is a phase of active working; this is difficult enough. Even more difficult is the phase in which one lets go of this work and simply rests in it. There will be a very strong temptation to analyze it. If at all possible, resist this temptation.
2. A more metaphysically inclined Christian who is fond of St. Augustine might experiment with the phrase, 'Lord, eternal Truth, unchanging Light,' reducing it to one word, whether 'Lord' or 'Truth' or 'Light.'
3. I have had good results with a line from Plotinus' Enneads, "It is by the One that all beings are beings." This is a very rich saying that can be mulled over from several directions. Everything that is, IS. What is it for a thing TO BE? And what is the source of the being of that-which-is? It is by the One that all beings are. What does 'by' mean? And what is the One? Although one starts discursively, the idea is to penetrate this ONE, to become at-one with it. As Plotinus would say, it is a flight of the alone to the all-One. Of course, it cannot be grasped: any grasping is discursive. One is digging for the nondiscursive root of the discursive mind, a root that is itself rooted in the ONE which is the source of all phenomenal entities and unities.
4. A classical theme of meditation is the Self, or, if you insist, the absence of a Self. Here is one of the ways I approach this theme. I start by closely attending to my breath. I think of it objectively as air entering though my nostrils and travelling to my lungs. And then I think about my body and its parts. Here on this mat is this animated body; but am I this animated body? How could I be identical to this animated body? I have properties it doesn't have, and vice versa. Am I this breath, these lungs, this cardiovascular system, this animated body? Or am I the awareness of all of this? How could I be any object? Am I not rather the subject for whom all objects are objects? Am I not other than every object? But what is this subject if it is not itself an object? How could there be a subject that was not an object or a potential object? Is it nothing at all? But there is awareness, and awareness is not any object. There is patently a difference between the awareness of O and O, for any O. To be for a human being is to be in this transcendental difference. Is this difference nothing? If it is not nothing, what differs in this difference?
One can pursue this meditation in two ways. One can reduce it to a koan: I am awareness and I am not nothing, but I am not something either. Not nothing and not something. How? I am something, I am nothing, I can't be both, I can't be neither. What then is this I that is nothing and something and not nothing and something? One can take this as a koan, an intellectual knot that has no discursive solution but is not a mere nugatory puzzle of linguistic origin, to be relieved by some Wittgensteinian pseudo-therapy, but a pointer to a dimension beyong the discursive mind. The active phase of the meditation then consists in energetically trying to penetrate this riddle.
Note that one needn't dogmatically assume or affirm that there is a dimension beyond the discursive mind. This is open inquiry, exploration without anticipation of result.
Or, instead of bashing one's head against this brick wall of a koan, one can just repeat 'I,' 'I', 'I' in an attempt at peacefully bringing the discursive intellect to subsidence.
More later. Further topics: duration; pre-meditation; post-meditation; strange phenomena regularity of practice; ethical prerequisites.
1. Let's start with the word 'mortal' and remind ourselves of some obvious points. 'Mortal' is from the Latin mors, mortis meaning death. That which is mortal is either subject to death, or conducive to death, or in some way expressive of death. Thus when we say of a human being that he is mortal we do not mean that he is dead, but that he is subject to death. My being mortal is consistent with my being alive and kicking. Indeed, if I weren't alive I could not be said to be either mortal or immortal. Spark plugs are neither mortal nor immortal. Some will say of a car that it has 'died.' But that is a loose and metaphorical way of talking. Only that which was once alive can properly be said to have died.
We also apply 'mortal' to wounds and sins. A mortal wound is not one that is subject to death but one that has a high probability of causing the death of the body of the one whose wound it is. A mortal as opposed to a venial sin is one that is conducive to the death of the soul in the sense of the separation of the soul from its ultimate good, God. Thomas Nagel has a collection of essays entitled Mortal Questions. These questions are neither subject to death nor conducive to death, but they are questions raised by mortals especially insofar as they are mortal. Thus the first essay in the collection is appropriately entitled "Death." And an excellent essay it is.
2. Although 'mortal' applies to all living things, what interests us particularly is 'mortal' as a predicate of human beings. To be mortal in this sense is to be subject to death. But this phrase has at least two senses, one weak the other strong.
WEAK sense: X is mortal =df X is able to die, liable to die, has the potential to die. Mortality as posse mori.
STRONG sense: X is mortal =df X has to die, is subject to the necessity of dying, cannot evade death by any action of its own, is going to die, will die in the normal course of events. Mortality as necessitas moriendi.
Correspondingly, there are strong and weak senses of 'immortal':
STRONG sense: X is immortal =df X is not able to die.
WEAK sense: X is immortal =df X is able to die, but is kept alive forever by a factor distinct from X.
3. Let's run through some cases to illustrate the distinction. God is not mortal in either the weak or the strong sense. It is built into the divine nature (essence) that he cannot die. 'God is dead,' taken literally is nonsense. (Of course, that is not the way Nietzsche intended it to be taken; he was making a cultural point.) God is a necessary being, a being that exists in all possible worlds and at all times in those worlds containing time.
Your humble correspondent is mortal in both senses. Not only can I die, I must die, I cannot do anything to avoid eventually dying: I am subject to the necessitas moriendi. Cryogenics won't help for reasons I won't belabor at the moment. It is worth noting that, according to Christian doctrine, my having-to-die is a contingent attribute of me unlike my being-able-to-die. My having-to-die is punishment for original sin and is as contingent as that sin. My being-able-to-die, however, is grounded in my nature as a soul-body composite, and I am essentially such a composite. Thus it is not my nature to be immortal (in the strong sense), whence it follows that if I achieve immortality (in the weak sense) it is due to a supernatural gift: God freely grants me immortality; I don't have it apart from free divine donation. In this sense I am not naturally immortal: I am not immortal in virtue of my nature or essence the way God is.
Prelapsarian human beings are mortal in the WEAK sense but not in the STRONG. Unlike God, there is nothing in the nature (essence) of such beings to prevent them from dying if they should will to die. But if they do not will to die, God grants them unending life. Postlapsarian human beings, however, are mortal in both the weak and the strong senses.
4. Now what about Jesus Christ? He is one person in two natures; fully man and fully God. But all men are mortal in the weak sense: they can die. So Christ is mortal in the weak sense. But he is not mortal in the strong sense: he is not subject to the necessitas moriendi. He freely chose his death.
So is Christ a counterexample to 'All men are mortal'? It depends on what is meant by 'mortal.' Taken in the weak sense, Christ is not; taken in the strong sense, he is.
5. But there is still a Christological problem that wants solving. If Jesus Christ is God (or, to be precise, the Second Person of the Trinity), then JC is strongly immortal. But if JC is fully human, then he is not strongly immortal, but weakly immortal. How can one and the same person have contradictory attributes?
The Republicans were accused of 'politicizing' the debt crisis. But how can you politicize what is inherently political? The debt in question is the debt of the federal government. Since a government is a political entity, questions concerning federal debts are political questions. As inherently political, such questions cannot be politicized.
If to hypostatize is to illicitly treat as a substance that which is not a substance, to politicize is to illictly treat as political what is not political. Since governmental debt questions are 'already' political, they cannot be politicized.
This is not to say that 'politicize' does not have a legitimate use.
Questions about global warming are not inherently political. They are questions about the earth and its climate. Since the earth is not a political entity, these questions are not political, nor can they be made political. It is therefore illict to politicize these questions as both conservatives and leftists do. Here are three global warming questions that are at the top of the list with respect to logical priority:
1. Is global warming (GW) occurring?
2. If yes to (1), is it naturally irreversible, or is it likely to reverse itself on its own?
3. If GW is occurring, and will not reverse itself on its own, to what extent is it anthropogenic, i.e., caused by human activity? This is the crucial empirical question. It is obviously distinct from (1) and (2). If there is naturally irreversible global warming, this is not to say that it is caused by human activity. It may or may not be.
None of these is a political question. Therefore, it is illicit to 'politicize' them.
Unfortunately, too much of present day 'science' is ideologically-infected. Global warming alarmism is yet another ersatz religion for liberals. See here. Of course, I also condemn those conservatives and libertarians whose knee-jerk rejection of GW is premised on hostitlity to any empirical finding that might lead to policies that limit the freedom of the market.
I received one of these e-mails this morning. Of course, I did not click on the link. It's a malware scam and is explained here.
Being a conservative, I am a firm believer in 'blaming the victim' (within limits of course!) If you allow yourself to be victimized, then you share some of the responsibility for the crime. So I say you have a moral responsibility to not allow yourself to become a victim, to the extent that this is possible. You have a moral responsibility to yourself and to others.
"Study everything, join nothing." I am sometimes asked for examples. Here are some from Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary under the entry Regalia. (Borrowed from Gilleland the Erudite):
. . . Knights of Adam; Visionaries of Detectable Bosh; the Ancient Order of Modern Troglodytes; the League of Holy Humbug; the Golden Phalanx of Phalangers; the Genteel Society of Expurgated Hoodlums; the Mystic Alliances of Gorgeous Regalians; Knights and Ladies of the Yellow Dog; the Oriental Order of Sons of the West; the Blatherhood of Insufferable Stuff; Warriors of the Long Bow; Guardians of the Great Horn Spoon; the Band of Brutes; the Impenitent Order of Wife-Beaters; the Sublime Legion of Flamboyant Conspicuants; Worshipers at the Electroplated Shrine; Shining Inaccessibles; Fee-Faw-Fummers of the Inimitable Grip; Jannissaries of the Broad-Blown Peacock; Plumed Increscencies of the Magic Temple; the Grand Cabal of Able-Bodied Sedentarians; Associated Deities of the Butter Trade; the Garden of Galoots; the Affectionate Fraternity of Men Similarly Warted; the Flashing Astonishers; Ladies of Horror; Cooperative Association for Breaking into the Spotlight; Dukes of Eden; Disciples Militant of the Hidden Faith; Knights-Champions of the Domestic Dog; the Holy Gregarians; the Resolute Optimists; the Ancient Sodality of Inhospitable Hogs; Associated Sovereigns of Mendacity; Dukes-Guardian of the Mystic Cess-Pool; the Society for Prevention of Prevalence; Kings of Drink; Polite Federation of Gents-Consequential; the Mysterious Order of the Undecipherable Scroll; Uniformed Rank of Lousy Cats; Monarchs of Worth and Hunger; Sons of the South Star; Prelates of the Tub-and-Sword.
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.
2. But how far does toleration extend? Ought one tolerate those who do not respect the principle of toleration? To me it is self-evident that one ought not. If toleration is truly a value, then one ought to demand it not only of oneself but of others. My toleration meets its limit in your intolerance. I cannot tolerate your intolerance, for if I do, I jeopardize the very principle of toleration, and with it the search for truth.
Radical Islam, in its fanaticism and murderous intolerance, has no claim on the West's tolerance. It is no breach of tolerance on our part to demand that they behave themselves. We must also demand of them that if they want to be tolerated, they must tolerate others, Jews for example. They must not be allowed to benefit from the West's tolerance in order to preach intolerance and hate. Just as they have right to their beliefs, we have a right to ours, and a right to enforce our beliefs about toleration on them if they would live in our midst.
3. Toleration is a value because truth is a value. A toleration worth wanting and having is therefore not to be confused with indifference towards truth, or relativism about truth. Leszek Kolakowski makes this point very well:
It is important to notice, however, that when tolerance is enjoined upon us nowadays, it is often in the sense of indifference: we are asked, in effect, to refrain from expressing -- or indeed holding -- any opinion, and sometimes even to condone every conceivable type of behaviour or opinion in others. This kind of tolerance is something entirely different, and demanding it is part of our hedonistic culture, in which nothing really matters to us; it is a philosophy of life without responsibility and without beliefs. It is encouraged by a variety of philosophies in fashion today, which teach us there is no such thing as truth in the traditional sense, and therefore that when we persist in our beliefs, even if we do so without aggression, we are ipso facto sinning against tolerance.
This is nonsense, and harmful nonsense. Contempt for truth harms our civilization no less than fanatical insistence on [what one takes to be] the truth. In addition, an indifferent majority clears the way for fanatics, of whom there will always be plenty around. Our civilization encourages the belief that everything should be just fun and games -- as indeed it is in the infantile philosophies of the so-called 'New Age.' Their content is impossible to describe, for they mean anything one wants them to; that is what they are for. ("On Toleration" in Freedom, Fame, Lying, and Betrayal, Penguin 1999, pp. 36-37.)
4. To sum up. A toleration worth wanting and having is valuable because truth is valuable. It is threatened in two ways. It is threatened both by those who think that have the truth when they don't and those who are indifferent to truth. What is interesting is that the postmodernist nincompoops who deny truth in the name of toleration are powerless to oppose the fanatics who will impose their 'truth' by force. If all is relative, then the fanatics have all the justification they need to impose their 'truth' on us: it is true for them that they possess the absolute 'truth.'
There is a sleazy singer who calls herself 'Madonna.' That moniker is offensive to many. But we in the West are tolerant, perhaps excessively so, and we tolerate the singer, her name, and her antics. Muslims need to understand the premium we place on toleration if they want to live among us.
A San Juan Capistrano councilman named his dog 'Muhammad' and mentioned the fact in public. Certain Muslim groups took offense and demanded an apology. The councilman should stand firm. One owes no apology to the hypersensitive and inappropriately sensitive. We must exercise our free speech rights if we want to keep them. Use 'em or lose 'em.
The notion that dogs are 'unclean' is a silly one. So if some Muslims are offended by some guy's naming his dog 'Muhammad,' their being offended is not something we should validate. Their being offended is their problem.
Am I saying that we should act in ways that we know are offensive to others? Of course not. We should be kind to our fellow mortals whenever possible. But sometimes principles are at stake and they must be defended. Truth and principle trump feelings. Free speech is one such principle. I exercised it when I wrote that the notion that dogs are 'unclean' is a silly one.
Some will be offended by that. I say their being offended is their problem. What I said is true. They are free to explain why dogs are 'unclean' and I wish them the best of luck. But equally, I am free to label them fools.
With some people being conciliatory is a mistake. They interpret your conciliation and willingness to compromise as weakness. These people need to be opposed vigorously. For the councilman to apologize would be foolish.
How to disentangle profundity from puffery in any obscure formulation? Clear thought stops short, a victim of its own probity; the other kind, vague and indecisive, extends into the distance and escapes by its suspect but unassailable mystery.
Excellent except perhaps for ‘victim,’ which betrays Cioran’s mannered negativism. Substitute ‘beneficiary’ and the thought’s expression approaches perfection.
Indolence saves us from prolixity and thereby from the shamelessness inherent in production. (133)
An exaggeration, but something for bloggers to consider.
To be is to be cornered. (93)
Striking, and certainly no worse than W. V. Quine’s “To be is to be the value of a variable.”
Nothing makes us modest, not even the sight of a corpse. (87)
Cioran hits the mark here: the plain truth is set before us without exaggeration in a concise and striking manner.
Conversation is fruitful only between minds given to consolidating their perplexities. (163)
Brilliant. Philosophy, as Plato remarks (Theaetetus St. 155) and Aristotle repeats (Metaphysics 982b10), originates in wonder or perplexity. Fruitful philosophical conversation, rare as it is and must be given the woeful state of humanity, is therefore a consolidation and appreciation of problems and aporiai, much more than an attempt to convince one’s interlocutor of something. Herein lies a key difference between philosophy and ideology. The ideologue has answers, or thinks he has. And so his conversation is either apologetics or polemics, but not dialog. The philosopher has questions and so with him dialog is possible.
Time, accomplice of exterminators, disposes of morality. Who, today, bears a grudge against Nebuchadnezzar? (178)
This is quite bad, and not become of its literary form, but because the thought is false. If enough time passes, people forget about past injustices. True. But how does it follow that morality is abrogated? Cioran is confusing two distinct propositions. One is that the passage of time disposes of moral memories, memories of acts just and unjust. The other is that the passage of time disposes of morality itself, rightness and wrongness themselves, so that unjust acts eventually become neither just not unjust. The fact that Cioran’s aphorism conflates these two propositions is enough to condemn it, quite apart from the fact that the second proposition is arguably false. A good aphorism cannot merely be clever; it must also express an insight. An insight, of course, is an insight only if it is true. Nor is an aphorism good if it merely betrays a mental quirk of its author. For then it would be of merely psychological or biographical interest.
There is no other world. Nor even this one. What, then, is there? The inner smile provoked in us by the patent nonexistence of both. (134)
A statement of Cioran’s nihilism. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for us, it is self-contradictory. It cannot be true both that nothing exists and that an inner smile, a bemused realization that nothing exists, exists. So what is he trying to tell us? If you say that he is not trying to tell us anything, then what is he doing? If you say that he is merely playing at being clever, then I say to hell with him: he stands condemned by the very probity that he himself invokes in the first aphorism quoted supra.
Everything is nothing, including the consciousness of nothing. (144)
An even more pithy statement of Cioran’s nihilism. But if the consciousness of nothing is nothing, then there is no consciousness of nothing, which implies that the nihilist of Cioran’s type cannot be aware of himself as a nihilist. Thus Cioran’s thought undermines the very possibility of its own expression. That can’t be good.
Will you accuse me of applying logic to Cioran’s aphorism? But what exempts nihilists from logic? Note that his language is not imperative, interrogative, or optative, but declarative. He is purporting to state a fact, in a broad sense of ‘fact.’ He is saying: this is the way it is. But if there is a way things are, then it cannot be true that everything is nothing. The way things are is not nothing.
“It is of no importance to know who I am since some day I shall no longer be” – that is what each of us should answer those who bother about our identity and desire at any price to coop us up in a category or a definition. (144)
This presupposes that only the absolutely permanent is real and important. It is this (Platonic) assumption that drives Cioran’s nihilism: this world is nothing since it fails to satisfy the Platonic criterion of reality and importance. Now if Cioran were consistently sceptical, he would call this criterion into question, and with it, his nihilism. He would learn to embrace the finite as finite and cheerfully abandon his mannered negativism. If, on the other hand, he really believes in the Platonic criterion – as he must if he is to use it to affirm, by contrast, the nullity of the experienced world – then he ought to ask whence derives its validity. This might lead him away from nihilism to an affirmation of the ens realissimum.
X, who instead of looking at things directly has spent his life juggling with concepts and abusing abstract terms, now that he must envisage his own death, is in desperate straits. Fortunately for him, he flings himself, as is his custom, into abstractions, into commonplaces illustrated by jargon. A glamorous hocus-pocus, such is philosophy. But ultimately, everything is hocus-pocus, except for this very assertion that participates in an order of propositions one dares not question because they emanate from an unverifiable certitude, one somehow anterior to the brain’s career. (153)
A statement of Cioran’s scepticism. But his scepticism is half-hearted since he insulates his central claim from sceptical corrosion. To asseverate that his central claim issues from “an unverifiable certitude” is sheer dogmatism since there is no way that this certitude can become a self-certitude luminous to itself. Compare the Cartesian cogito. In the cogito situation, a self’s indubitability is revealed to itself, and thus grounds itself. But Cioran invokes something anterior to the mind, something which, precisely because of it anteriority, cannot be known by any mind. Why then should we not consider his central claim – according to which everything is a vain and empty posturing – to be itself a vain and empty posturing?
Indeed, is this not the way we must interpret it given Cioran’s two statements of nihilism cited above? If everything is nothing, then surely there cannot be “an unverifiable certitude” anterior to the mind that is impervious to sceptical assault.
Again, one may protest that I am applying logic in that I am comparing different aphorisms with an eye towards evaluating their mutual consistency. It might be suggested that our man is imply not trying to be consistent. But then I say that he is an unserious literary scribbler with no claim on our attention. But the truth of the matter lies a bit deeper: he is trying have it both ways at once. He is trying to say something true but without satisfying the canons satisfaction of which is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of anything’s being true.
My interim judgement, then, is this. What we have before us is a form of cognitive malfunction brought about by hypertrophy of the sceptical faculty. Doubt is the engine of inquiry. Thus there is a healthy form of scepticism. But Cioran’s extreme scepticism is a disease of cognition rather than a means to it. The writing, though, is brilliant.
The quotations are from E. M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered (New York: Seaver Books, 1983), translated from the French by Richard Howard.
Is all production vain and shameless? Perhaps not if one keeps one's productions to oneself. But writing books, articles and blog posts is not just production, but publishing, making public. Is publishing mere vanity and self-promotion?
In given cases it can be. And whether one of those cases is my case is not for me to decide. But surely it would be absurd to claim that all publishing by anyone is mere vanity and shameless self-promotion. Take the books of John Searle. He thinks he has solved the mind-body problem. He has done no such thing. Yet his books are enormously rich and stimulating despite some error and confusion. I am glad he has written his many books and made his contribution to our common ongoing philosophical quest. He has given me many hours of pleasure and elevated thought.
All living is self-asserting. But there is self-assertion and there is self-assertion. Personal assertion in the service of the impersonal truth is more than mere personal assertion. Thereby is vanity substantiated and shamelessness redeemed.
The eminent cleric was poking fun at original sin. ‘That sin is your meal ticket. Without it, you’d die of hunger, for your ministry would then no longer have any meaning. If man is not fallen from the very beginning, why did Christ come? to redeem whom and what?’ To my objections, his only response was a condescending smile.
A religion is finished when only its adversaries try to preserve its integrity.
An old friend from college, who has a Masters in English, regularly sends me stuff like this which I have no trouble understanding:
I trust that you ahve emelreis of going pacles with your presnts in cars before the days when the shapr devide came and deliniated clearly the music that our presnts like and the stuff that was aethetically unreachabable to many of thier generation. That was a haunting melody, The Waywared Wind, and it spoke of an experiencethat was really more coon to a ahlf generation away from the WWII generation. It was actually a toad bod for its time. Same year bourght us Fale Storms come Donw From YOur Ivorty Towe, the great pretender, and other romantic and innocent songs. But it also brought Hound Dog, which shocked the blazes out of my parents and all of their peers. It was even sexual. It was just animal. And, no it was not specificailly Negrol; it was worse it was p;oor white trash with side burns on a motocycle. It woldn't matterif the B Side of every platter ahd been one of those great gospel tunes those guys did; that stuff was not urban, mainline, Protestant stuff, but anekly backwoods stuff where there are stills and 13-year-olf brides, that the Northern boys had heard about in the WWII barracks and hoped that they would never have hear about again as they went back to either their Main Line P:rotestant or Catholic urban llive, whether they belonged to a country het or not or woudl have to wait a while, say until their GI Bill college educations started enabling them to play golf. But that was still a good summer of rthe last of the sweet songs that memebers of several gneratons could enjoy together
Talk about spontaneous prose! No grammatical hang-ups here. My friend is an old Keroauc aficionado too, and this is one of the more entertaining of his missives. Is it the approach of October that frees and inspires his pen? My friend's a strange bird, and the above just came straight out of his febrile pate; he didn't compose it that way to prove that typographical errors are compatible with transmission of sense.
A curious watershed era it was in which the sweet & tender was found cheek-by-jowl with the explicitly referenced raw hydraulics of sexual intercourse. Take Little Richard, perhaps the chief exponent, worse than old Swivel Hips, of the devil's music. "Good Golly Miss Molly," he screamed, "she sure likes to ball/When you're rockin' and a rollin' can't you hear yo mama call." That was actually played on the radio in the '50s. To ball is to have sex, and 'rock and roll' means the same thing. And so there were Southern rednecks who wanted the stuff banned claiming that R & R music was "was bringing the white man down to the level of the nigger."
I maintain that the best R & R manages to marry the Dionysian thrust with the tender embrace, the animalic with the sweetly romantic. The prime example? Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman. One thing I love about Orbison is that instead of saying 'Fuck!,' like some crude rap punk, he says, 'Mercy!' Another little indicator of how right my friend is in his analysis above.
In a previous complaint about the travails of travel, I quoted a line from Emerson's "Self-Reliance": "Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places." I claimed that the thought was Seneca's before it was Emerson's. In the meantime the passage has been located in my hardcopy of the Loeb Classical Library, no. 75 (Seneca IV, Epistle XXVIII ad Lucilium, trans. R. M. Gummere, p. 199):
Though you may cross vast spaces of sea, and though, as our Vergil (Aeneid, iii. 72) remarks, "Lands and cities are left astern, your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel." Socrates made the same remark to one who complained; he said: "Why do you wonder that globe-trotting does not help you, seeing that you always take yourself with you? The reason that set you wandering is ever at your heels."
Licet vastum traieceris mare, licet, ut ait Vergilius noster, "Terraeque urbesque recedant, sequentur te, quocumque perveneris, vitia." Hoc videm quaerenti cuidam Socrates ait: "Quid miraris nihil tibi peregrinationes prodesse, cum te circumferas? Premit te eadem causa, quae expulit."
These days I have money to travel, time, and opportunities. In close communion with my 'inner Kantian,' however, I resist the blandishments and with them the vexations of spatial translation. By my present count, there are three chief reasons to keep to my Southwestern Koenigsberg, the Emersonian, the Pascalian, and the Vallicellan. The first is that travel does not deliver what it promises; the second is that it delivers us into temptation and vexation; the third is that it knocks us out of our natural orbit, to return to which wastes time.
The first reason is from Ralph Waldo Emerson's wonderful essay, "Self-Reliance," wherein he writes, "Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places." (Selected Essays, ed. Ziff, p. 198) This notion of the indifference of places is one I believe Emerson borrowed from the Roman Stoic Seneca (4 B.C. - 65 A.D.), though I can't remember where Seneca says this. The idea is simple and sound.
Wherever we are, we see the world through the same pair of eyeballs, and filter its deliverances through the same set of conceptions, preconceptions, anxieties, aversions, and what-not. If I travel to Naples, thinking to get away from myself, what I find when I wake up there is "...the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from." (Ibid.) Shift your spatial horizon as you will, you may not effect any change in your mental horizon. If you can't find enlightenment in Buffalo, where the water is potable and mosquitoes are rare, what makes you think you will find it in Benares where mosquitoes are ubiquitous and the water will give you dysentery?
Forty years ago I had a conversation with a young Austrian at the train station in Salzburg, Austria. He told me he was headed for Istanbul "to make holiness." But could he not have made holiness in Salzburg? Could he not have found a Pauline 'closet' somewhere in that beautiful city of Mozart wherein to shut himself away from the world and pray to his Father in secret?
But to the young and romantic the lure of foreign destinations is well-nigh irresistible.
The second reason is from Blaise Pascal who sees "the sole cause of man's unhappiness" in the fact that "he does not know how to stay quietly in his room." (Pensees, trans. Krailsheimer, p. 67.) Sallying forth from his monastery, the monk exposes himself to every manner of distraction and vexation. The alluring world may even lure him to his destruction. Had Thomas Merton remained in his hermitage at Gethsemane, instead of flying off to a useless conference in Bangkok, he would not have met his early death by accidental electrocution.
The third reason is that vacations tend to require a recovery period for getting reestablished in our natural orbits. In the summer of 2000, two weeks in Poland and Germany cost me another two weeks of recovery time before I could get back into the philosophy writing groove. Is the time spent travelling wisely used? It is not clear to me. But then I may have been unduly influenced by Kant, who never strayed from Koenigsberg. Your mileage may vary.
Few philosophers nowadays would maintain the bald thesis that the mind is identical to the brain, but it is a view that one hears among the laity. So it is worth refuting, this being a blog that I hope is somewhat accessible to the proverbial 'educated layman.' (One of my motives in starting it over seven years ago was to offer free philosophy lessons, thereby doing my bit to enlighten the masses and counteract, if ever so slightly, their immersion in panem et circenses.) But note: proving that the mind cannot be identical to the brain does not amount to proving that the mind is capable of existing apart from some material embodiment or other.
So my question is this: Are mind and brain identical? To answer the question one must know what one means by 'identity.' I mean strict numerical sameness. Consider the sole of my boot and the print it leaves on the trail. Are boot sole and boot print identical? Well, if you permit the phrase 'qualitatively identical,' then they are qualitatively identical, identical in respect of at least one quality, namely, having the same shape. But they are obviously numerically distinct. Count 'em: one, two. You could say that there is a correlation between the two. But correlation is not identity. If x and y are correlated, then they are precisely not numerically identical but numerically distinct. Correlation entails numerical distinctness.
So don't confuse qualitative with numerical identity, and don't confuse identity with correlation. That's the beginning of wisdom, but only the beginning.
I now introduce a principle known in the trade as the Indiscernibility of Identicals. Stated roughly, it says that if x and y are numerically identical, then they share all properties. (A precise formulation would have to address the question as to what exactly counts as a property. Does 'is identical to Obama' pick out a property?) The Indiscernibility of Identicals is not only true, but necessarily true in the sense that it is impossible that x and y differ property-wise if they are numerically identical.
Given the self-evident necessary truth of the Indiscernibility of Identicals, if my mind is identical to my brain, then my mind and my brain share all properties: everything true of the one is true of the other, and vice versa. But it is clear that they do not share all properties. The brain is a physical thing with a definite mass, weight, location, size, shape. One can inject dyes into various of its subregions. One can insert electrodes into it. One can remove and discard parts of it. One can add parts. I can literally give you a piece of my brain. (And you hope I won't.) But can I literally give you a piece of my mind? Does my mind have a weight in grams? Is it divisible? Do my thoughts have a location or a volume? if one thought has a second as its object, as when I reflect, is the second thought located above the second? How far above? Can we intelligibly speak of the voltage drop across a thought?
It is true that my mind is now wholly occupied with the mind-body problem. But it is either false or makes no sense to say that my brain is now wholly occupied with the mind-body problem. It follows from these facts alone that my mind and my brain cannot be identical. The argument is very simple, and because so simple, very compelling (simplex sigillum veri):
If x and y differ property-wise, then x is not y. Mind and brain differ in respect of the property of being wholly occupied with the mind-body problem. Ergo, Mind is not brain.
The most we could say is that a proper part of the brain is thinking about the mind-body problem. Not everything the brain does is concerned with consciousness or with thinking. The parts that control cardiac and respiratory functions have nothing directly to do with mental activity. Connected with this is the fact that, even if every mental event is a brain event, not every brain event is a mental event. A blockage of a brain-internal blood vessel is a brain event, but not one that is mental. The brain has perhaps 100 different structures and some of these such as the vascular and bony structures have nothing directly to do with mental phenomena. In simple terms, the brain cannot function without oxygenated blood pumped through a system of blood vessels, but those processes are not conscious processes. There is nothing mental about them.
So it is clear that the mind cannot be identical to the brain. If that identity held, then every brain state would be mental, which is obviously false. But what is wrong with holding the converse, namely, that every mental state is a brain state?
A similar indiscernibility objection can be made. If every mental state is a brain state, then every belief (e.g. my belief that Boston is on the Charles River) is a brain state. But beliefs have properties that brain states cannot have. One is the property of being either true or false; another is intentionality. So no belief is a brain state. But then there are mental states that are not brain states.
Here is another way to look at it. For reasons already given, it is obvious that there are brain states that are not mental states. So if there are mental states that are brain states, then there must be some properties that distinguish these brain states that are mental states from the brain states that are not mental states. These properties will have to be specifically mental: no physical property could do the trick. But then, applying the Indiscernibility of Identicals once again, any brain state that was initially supposed to be a mental state would be seen to have a property that would entail its non-identity witha brain state. Think about it.
The Mayo Clinic sent me a brochure containing the line, "Most patients begin their experience at the outpatient clinic." Now I don't know about you, but when I seek medical attention it is not an experience I want but treatment. If I could get the treatment without the experience, so much the better.
Similarly, when I take the old buggy to Jiffy Lube it is not an automotive experience I am after but an oil change.
In both cases one pays for work to be done on a physical thing, not for experiences to be induced in the mind of the owner of the physical thing.
The aestheticism of the '60s and beyond, with its emphasis on doing things for the experience of doing them regardless of any real-world outcome positive or negative, is probably at the root of this overuse of 'experience.'
1. An important distinction for understanding the doctrine of original sin is that between originating original sin (peccatum originale originans) and originated original sin (peccatum originale originatum). This post will explain the distinction and then consider Immanuel Kant's reasons for rejecting originated original sin. It is important to realize that Kant does accept something like original sin under the rubric 'radical evil,' a topic to be explored in subsequent posts. It is also important to realize that Kierkegaard's seminal thoughts about original sin as expressed in The Concept of Dread were influenced by Kant, and that Reinhold Niebuhr's influential treatment is in turn derivative from Kierkegaard.
2. So what's the distinction? According to the Genesis story, the Fall of Man was precipitated by specific sinful acts, acts of disobedience, by Adam and Eve. The sins of Adam and Eve were originating original sins. They were the first sins for the first human beings, but also the first sins for the human race. Their sin somehow got transmitted to their descendants inducing in them a state of sinfulness. The sinfulness of the descendants is originated original sin. This originated original sin is hereitary sin: it is inherited and innate for postlapsarians and so does not depend on any specific sin of a person who inherits it. Nevertheless it brings with it guilt and desert of punishment. Socrates, then, or any post-Adamic man, is guilty and deserving of punishment whether or not he commits any actual sins of his own. And so a man who was perfectly sinless in the sense that he committed no actual sin of his own would nonetheless stand condemned in virtue of what an earlier man had one. This doctrine has the consequence that an infant, who as an infant is of course innocent of any actual sin, and who dies unbaptized, is justly excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Such an infant, on Catholic doctrine at least, ends up in limbo, or to be precise, in limbus infantium. A cognate consequence is that a perfectly sinless adult who lives and dies before Christ's redemptive act is also excluded from heaven. Such a person lands in limbus patrum. (See here for the Catholic doctrine.)
3. The stumbling block is obvious: How can one justly be held morally accountable for what someone else has done or left undone? How can one be guilty and deserving of punishment without having committed any specific transgression? How can guilt be inherited? Aren't these moral absurdities? Aren't we morally distinct as persons, each responsible only for what he does and leaves undone? There might well be originating original sin, but how could there be originated original sin? It is worth noting that to reject originated original sin is not to reject originating original sin, or original sin as such. There could be a deep structural flaw in humans as humans, universal and unameliorable by human effort, which deserves the title 'original sin/sinfulness' without it being the case that sin is inheritable.
Again I revert to my distinction between the putative fact of our fallenness and the various theories about it. To refute a theory is not to refute a fact.
4. Kant rejects the Augustinian notion of inherited sin. Sinfulness, guilt, desert of punishment -- these cannot be inherited. So for Kant there is no originated original sin. Of the various explanations of the spread of moral evil through the members and generations of the human race, "the most inept is that which describes it as descending to us as an inheritance from our first parents." (Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, trs. Greene and Hudson, Harper 1960, p. 35) But this is not to say that Kant rejects the notion of original sin. He himself speaks of peccatum originarium, which he distinguishes from peccatum derivatum. (26) For Kant, original sin is a propensity in us toward moral evil which is universal and logically prior to specific immoral acts. I hope to say more about this in a subsequent post.
5. But what is Kant's argument against hereditary guilt and originated original sin? Kant as I read him accepts it as a fact that in all human beings there is radical moral evil, a peccatum originarium that lies deeper than, and makes possible, specific peccata derivata. What he objects to is the explanation of this fact in terms of a propagation of guilt from the original parents. The main point is that a temporal explanation in terms of antecedent causes cannot account for something for which we are morally responsible. If we are morally responsible, then we are free; but free actions cannot be explained in terms of temporally prior causes. For if an action is caused, it is necessitated, and what is necessitated by its causes cannot be free.
What is true of actions is true of moral character insofar as moral character is something for which one is morally responsible. Therefore our radically evil moral character which predisposes us to specific acts of wrongdoing cannot be explained in terms of temporally antececent causes. Hence it cannot be explained by any propagation of guilt from the original parents to us. Thus there is no originated guilt. Our being guilty must be viewed "as though the individual had fallen into it directly from a state of innocence." (36) Thus all actions which make us guilty are original employments of the will. All original sin is originating original sin.
Perhaps we can put it this way. Adam has nothing over Socrates. It is not as if Adam went directly from a state of innocence into a state of sin while Socrates inherited sinfulness and was never in a state of innocence. If there is such a thing as original sin then both are equally originative of it.
The Genesis account gives us a temporal representation of a logical and thus atemporal relationship. The state of innocence is set at the temporal beginning of humanity, and the fall from innocence is depicted as an event in time. But then we get the problems raised in #3 above. The mistake is to "look for an origin in time of a moral character for which we are to be held responsible . . . ." (38) We make this mistake because we want an explanation of the contingent existence of our radically evil moral predisposition. An explanation, however, is not to be had. The rational origin of the perversion of our will "remains inscrutable to us." (38)
6. Kant thus does accept something like original sin. We have within us a deep propensity to moral evil that makes us guilty and deserving of punishment. But there is no deterministic causal explanation for it. So while there is a sense in which our fallenness is innate, it is not inherited. For it is morally absurd to suppose that I could be guilty of being in a state that I am caused to be in. Each one of us is originally guilty but by a free atemporal choice. This makes the presence of the radical flaw in each of us inscrutable and inexplicable. The mystery of radical evil points us to the mystery of free will. On Kant's view, then, there is only originating original sin. Each of us by his own free noumenal agency plunges from innocence into guilt!
We shall have to continue these ruminations later. Some questions on the menu of rumination:
Q1. Is Kant's account with its appeal to atemporal noumenal agency really any better than Augustine's biological propagation account?
Q2. How can guilt be innate but not inherited, as Kant maintains?
Q3. Why believe in radical evil in the first place? If the evidence for it is empirical, how can such evidence show that radical evil is both universal (and thus inscribed in man's very nature) and ineradicable by human effort?
[Texas Governor Rick] Perry’s identification as a strong supporter of “a culture of life” and what he called the “ultimate justice” of capital punishment, however, raises some potentially thorny questions about the meaning of being “pro-life.” In campaign season, the question is whether American voters, especially voters who identify as “pro-life,” are going to raise concerns about why Perry’s position doesn’t represent what some Catholic theologians call “a consistent ethic of life,” opposition to both legalized abortion and capital punishment.
The above-mentioned Catholic theologians are most likely just confused. There is no defensible sense in which it is 'inconsistent' to be both pro-life and pro-death penalty. I prove this here.
Some warn of the militarization of space as if it has not already been militarized. It has been, and for a long time now. How long depending on how high up you deem space begins. Are they who warn unaware of spy satellites? Of Gary Powers and the U-2 incident? Of the V-2s that crashed down on London? Of the crude Luftwaffen, air-weapons, of the First World War? The Roman catapults? The first javelin thrown by some Neanderthal spear chucker? It travelled through space to pierce the heart of some poor effer and was an early weaponization of the space between chucker and effer.
"I will not weaponize space," said Obama while a candidate in 2008. That empty promise comes too late, and is irresponsible to boot: if our weapons are not there, theirs will be.
The very notion that outer space could be reserved for wholly peaceful purposes shows a deep lack of understanding of the human condition. Show me a space with human beings in it and I will show you a space that potentially if not actually is militarized and weaponized. Man is, was, and will be a bellicose son of a bitch. If you doubt this, study history, with particular attention to the 20th century. You can bet that the future will resemble the past in this respect. Note that the turn of the millenium has not brought anything new in this regard.
Older is not wiser. All spaces, near, far, inner, outer, are potential scenes of contention, which is why I subscribe to the Latin saying:
Si vis pacem, para bellum.
If you want peace, prepare for war.
One must simply face reality and realize that the undoubtedly great good of peace comes at a cost, the cost of a credible defense. A credible defense is what keeps aggressors at bay. I mean this to hold at all levels, intrapsychically, interpersonally, intranationally, internationally, and in every other way. Weakness provokes. Strength pacifies. That is just the way it is. Conservatives, being reality-based, understand what eludes leftists who are based in u-topia (nowhere) and who rely on their unsupportable faith in the inherent goodness of human beings.
They should read Kant on the radical evil in human nature. Then they should go back to Genesis, chapters 2 and 3.
Here we have one of those deep defining differences between conservatives and leftists. Vote for the candidate of your choice, but just understand what set of ideas and values you are voting for.
It is important to distinguish between the putative fact of human fallenness and the various theories and doctrines about what this fall consists in and how it came about. The necessity of this distinction is obvious: different philosophers and theologians and denominations who accept the Fall have different views about the exact nature of this event or state. I use 'fact' advisedly. It is unlikely that we will be able to peel back to a level of bare factuality uncontaminated by any theory or interpretation. Surely G. K. Chesterton is involved in an egregious exaggeration when he writes in effect that our fallen condition is a fact as "plain as potatoes." (See here for quotation and critique.) But while it is not a plain empirical fact that we are fallen beings, it is not a groundless speculation or bit of theological mystification either.
It is widely recognized that there is something deeply unsatisfactory about the human condition, and that this deep unsatisfactoriness is both universal across time and space and apparently unameliorable by anything we do, either individually or collectively. Indeed, the prodigious efforts made in amelioration have in notable cases made things vastly worse. (The Communists, to take but one example, murdered 100 million in their ill-starred attempt at fundamentally improving the human condition.) This sort of 'ameliorative backfire' is a feature of our fallenness as is the refusal of many to admit that we are fallen, not to mention the cacophany of conficting theories as to what our fallenness consists in. We are up to our necks in every manner of contention, crime and depravity. One would have to be quite the polyanna to deny that there is something deeply wrong with the world and the people in it, or to think that we are going to set things right by our own efforts. We know from experience that there is no good reason to believe that. The problem is not 'society' or anything external to us. The problem is us. In particular, the problem is not them as opposed to us, but us, all of us.
So that's an important first distinction. There is the fact or quasi-fact of fallenness and there are the various theories about it. If you fail to make this distinction and identify the Fall with some particular theory of it, then you may end up like the foolish biologist who thought that the Fall is refuted by evolutionary biology according to which there were no such original human animals as Adam and Eve. To refute one of the theories of the Fall is not to refute the 'fact' of the Fall.
Lev Shestov, the Russian existentialist and irrationalist, has an interesting theory which it is the purpose of this post briefly to characterize and criticize. I take as my text an address he delivered at the Academy of Religion and Philosophy in Paris, May 5, 1935.
Start with the 'fact' of deep, universal, unameliorable-by-us unsatisfactoriness. Is this unsatisfactoriness inscribed into the very structure of Being? Is it therefore necessary and unavoidable except by entry into nonbeing? Shestov thinks that for the philosophers of West and East it is so: "In being itself human thought has discovered something wrong, a defect, a sickness, a sin, and accordingly wisdom has demanded the vanquishing of that sin at its roots; in other words, a renunciation of being which, since it has a beginning, is fated inevitably to end." (p. 2) Buddha and Schopenhauer serve as good illustrations, though Shestov doesn't mention them. Shestov, of course, is one of those for whom Athens and Jerusalem are mortal enemies ever at loggerheads. And so it comes as no surprise that he opposes the revealed truth of the Book of books, the Bible, to the wisdom of the philosophers. For the philosophers, the deep wrongness of the world is rooted in its very Being and is therefore essential to it; but for the Bible the world is good, as having been created by a good God, and its deep deficiency is contingent, not necessary:
What is said in it [the Bible] directly contradicts what men have found out through their intellectual vision. Everything, as we read in the very beginning of the Book of Genesis, was made by the Creator, everything had a beginning. But this not only is not seen as a precondition of the decay, imperfection, corruption, and sinfulness of being; on the contrary, it is an assurance of all possible good in the universe. (2)
Since the source of all being, God, is all-good, to be, as such, is good. But whence then evil? The Bible-based theist cannot say that being itself harbors imperfection and evil; so where did evil come from?
Scripture gives a definite answer to this question. God planted among the other trees in the Garden of Eden the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And He said to the first man: "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." But the tempter . . . said: "No, ye shall not die; your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing." Man succumbed to temptation, ate of the forbidden fruit; his eyes were opened and he became knowing. What was revealed to him? What did he find out? He learned the same thing that the Greek philosophers and Hindu sages had learned: the "it is good" uttered by God was not justified—all is not good in the created world. There must be evil and, what is more, much evil, intolerable evil, in the created world, precisely because it is created. Everything around us—the immediate data of consciousness—testifies to this with unquestionable evidence; he who looks at the world with open eyes," he who "knows," can draw no other conclusion. At the very moment when man became "knowing," sin entered the world; in other words, it entered together with "knowledge"—and after sin came evil. This is what the Bible tells us. (p. 3, emphasis added)
Whence the horrors of life, the deep-going unsatisfactoriness that the Buddha announces in the first of his Noble Truths, Sarvam dukkham? The answer from Athens and Benares is that being is defective in itself, essentially and irremediably. And it doesn't matter whether finite being is created by God or uncreated. Finite being as being is intrinsically defective. The answer from the Bible according to Shestov is that "sin and evil arise from 'knowledge,' from 'open eyes,' from 'intellectual vision,' that is, from the fruit of the forbidden tree."
This is an amazing interpretation. Shestov is claiming that the Fall of Man consists in his embracing of philosophy and its child science, his discovery and use of reason, his attempt to figure things out for himself by laying hold of law-like and thus necessary structures of the world. The Fall is the fall into knowledge. Like his mentor Kierkegaard, Shestov rails against the hyper-rationalism of Hegel who "accepts from the Bible only what can be 'justified' before rational consciousness" (p. 5). "And it never for a moment entered into Hegel's mind that in this lies the terrible, fatal Fall, that 'knowledge' does not make a man equal to God, but tears him away from God, putting him in the clutches of a dead and deadening 'truth.' (p. 6)
My first problem with this is the substitution of 'tree of knowledge' for 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil.' I don't find any justification for that substitution in the text under examination. Surely moral knowledge, if knowledge at all, is but a proper part of knowledge in general.
But it is worse than this. Shestov thinks of God as a being for whom all things are possible. This is connected with his beef with necessity and with reason as revelatory of necessity. "What handed man over to the power of Necessity?" (p. 12) He quotes Kierkegaard: "God signifies that everything is possible, and that everything is possible signifies God." But this leads straightaway to absurdities -- a fact that will of course not disturb the equanimity of an absurdist and irrationalist like Shestov.
If God is defined as the being for whom all is possible, then nothing is necessary and everything that exists is contingent, including God, all truths about God, and the moral laws. And if all things are possible, then it is possible that some things are impossible. Therefore, possibly (All things are possible & Some things are not possible), whence it follows that it is possible that some contradictions are true.
So the position Shestov is absurd, which fact will not budge him, he being an embracer of absurdities. But it does give us a reason to ignore him and his interpretation of the Fall. So I consider his theory of the Fall refuted.
. . . when the government fails to do what it is constitutionally mandated to do such as secure the borders (Article I, Section 8), yet does all sorts of things for which there is no constitutional justification? Or has my reading of the U. S. Constitution been too spotty for me to find the mandate for Social Security?
Whether the Federal government should administer such programs as SS, or a substitute system suitably streamlined and reformed, is negotiable. But that border control is an indisputably legitimate and undeniably necessary function of government is not open to reasonable debate.
. . . aren't all numbers inventions? It is not like they grow on trees! They live in our heads. We made them all up.
The author of the quotation is introducing a discussion of the imaginary number i = the square root of -1. His point is that we are free to introduce this number since all numbers are inventions. So we can make up any number we like. The actual argument given is self-contradictory: The point of saying that numbers do not grow on trees is that they do not occur in nature. But if they live in our heads, then they are part of nature, because our heads ae in nature and what is in our heads is part of nature.
But let's be charitable. The argument the author is trying to give is something like this:
1. Numbers are not physical objects Therefore 2. Numbers are mental constructions.
That this is a non sequitur should be obvious. For there is a third possibility: numbers are abstract or ideal or Platonic objects. This third possibility is of course the actual view of numerous distinguished thinkers and is seen to be plausible once one considers the difficulties with the view that numbers are mental constructions.
Note first that an abstract object is not one produced by a mental act of abstraction. For present purposes we can say that an abstract object is any entity that necessarily exists but is causally inert.
Note second that a number is not the same as a numeral. One and the same number can be represented by different numerals. Thus the same number is denoted by the Arabic '9' and the Roman 'IX.' Numerals are signs of numbers, while numbers are not. So no number is a numeral. Numerals are typically physical (marks on paper, for instance); no number is physical. Ergo, etv.
We also note that 9 in a base-10 or decimal system is equivalent to 1001 in a base-2 or binary system. When I speak of the number 9 I am referring to the denotatum of the numeral '9' as this numeral functions within our ordinary base-10 system. That denotatum is the same as the denotatum of '1001' as the latter functions within a base-2 system.
One and the same proposition can be expressed by different indicative sentences. Thus the binary sentence '1 + 1 = 10' expresses the same true proposition as is expressed by the decimal sentence '1 + 1 = 2.' But if the two sentences are both interpreted relative to the decimal system, then they express different propositions, one true and the other false.
Our question is whether numbers themselves are mental constructions, not whether numerals are mental constructions. This is connected with the question of whether mathematics is in any sense conventional. No doubt notation systems are conventional, i.e. decided upon by human beings (or whatever other intelligent critters there might be elsewhere); but it doesn't follow that numbers or other mathematical objects are.
If numbers themselves are mental constructions, then they depend on our existence for their existence. Their existence is a mental existnce in or before our minds, and thus a dependent mode of existence. (Forget about extraterrestrial intelligences for the nonce.) The same goes for the truths in which they are involved. (Thus 7 and 9 and 16 are involved in the truth expressed by '7 + 9 = 16'.) But we didn't always exist. So if numbers depend ion us, they they didn't always exist. Consider a time before any minds existed, some time after the Big Bang and before the emergence of life on earth, say.
During that interval, the speed of light and the speed of sound were the same as they are now, and during that time the former was greater than the latter, as is the case now. Let 'c' denote the speed of light in a vacuum. C is identical to some number, which number depending on the units of measurement one employs. So c = 186,000 miles/sec (approximately). In the metric system, c = 300,000 km/sec (approximately). The point is that once the system of measurement is fixed -- which of course is conventional -- then some definite number is the SOL. Similarly with the speed of sound, SOS. Now
1. SOL > SOS
is true now and was true at the time when no humans existed. Of course, at that time the concept or notion or idea greater than (taken in its mathematical sense) did not exist since concepts (notions, ideas) cannot exist except 'in' a mind. ('In' here not to be taken spatially.) But the mathematical relation picked out by '>' existed.
For if it did not, then (1) could not have been true at the time in question. And the same goes for the relational fact of SOL's being greater than SOS. That fact obtained at the time when no minds existed. So its constituents (the numbers and the greater than relation) had to exist at that time as well.
Therefore, mathematical objects cannot be our mental creations.
Twice the government has argued before the Supreme Court that Social Security is not insurance. In 1960, Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Arthur Sherwood Flemming submitted a brief to the courts stating: "The contribution exacted under the Social Security plan is a true tax. It is not comparable to a premium promising the payment of an annuity commencing at a designated age."
In a ruling that denied a man's property claim to Social Security benefits, the Supreme Court said, "It is apparent that the noncontractual interest of an employee covered by the Act cannot be soundly analogized to that of the holder of an annuity, whose right to benefits is bottomed on his contractual premium payments."
Nessun maggior segno d'essere poco filosofo e poco savio, che volere savia e filosofica tutta la vita.
There's no greater sign of being a poor philosopher and wise man than wanting all of life to be wise and philosophical.
(Giacomo Leopardi, Pensieri, tr. W. S. Di Piero, Baton Rouge: Lousiana State University Press, 1981, p. 69) Do you see how the translation imports an ambiguity that is not present in the Italian original?
(This first appeared on the predecessor blog on 15 April 2005.)
Many supporters of the current Social Security system claim that it is a form of insurance. (See AARP Bulletin, April 2005, p. 38) I would like to ask these supporters some questions.
(Q1) If SS is a form of insurance, what eventuality does it insure one against? (Q2) If SS is a form of insurance, why are the premiums so large? (Q3) If SS is a form of insurance, why does one receive a payout even if one does not suffer the loss against which one is insured?
To answer (Q1), one might say that SS -- or at least the retirement program thereof -- insures workers against destitution in their old age. But if this is the answer to (Q1), then (Q2) kicks in: why are the premiums for destitution insurance so large? Surely only relatively few become destitute after retirement, and to keep them off of cat food, it is not necessary for everyone to pay huge insurance premiums. If a worker makes 90 K per annum and (with the help of his employer) pays 12.4% for the destitution insurance, then he pays $11,160 per annum for the insurance, which comes to $930 per month. I say that is a lousy deal.
It is a lousy deal even if you make only $45 K a year. Would you pay it you weren't forced to? ($90 K is the 2005, cap, and if you don't see that the worker is shouldering the entire 12.4% burden, then your grip on economic reality is weak indeed.) And don't forget that the 'cap' is not much of a cap inasmuch as it is temporary: it will increase. Indeed, a few short months ago it was $87,900. And not only will the cap move up, the retirement age will most likely be increased. What a deal! And don't forget this. If you are a blue collar worker who puts his body on the line to make a living, then you really get the shaft if the retirement age is increased. A seventy year old professor can function passably well at that age, but not so a seventy year old iron worker high up on a scaffold.
But of course, under the current system, one receives a payout whether or not one ends up destitute. As long as you have contributed for 40 quarters, you receive a payout regardless of how much or how little net worth or income you have at the time the payout begins. But then in what sense is SS insurance? If it is not insurance against destitution, what is it insurance against?
My point is that there is no clear sense in which SS is insurance. It is more like a retirement program. But if so, why aren't there private accounts? You have your very own SS number, but there is no account corresponding to it. What's worse, the SS trust fund has no money in it. What it contains are intragovernmental bonds.
Do you understand what I am saying? The whole thing is a bloody conceptual muddle -- which is part of the reason why there is endless partisan bickering over it. It is not insurance and it is not a retirement program. It is better described as an intergenerational wealth transfer arrangement with the the long-term sustainability of a Ponzi scheme. It takes money from the young who (most of them) need it and gives it to the old who (manyof them) do not need it.
I am not writing this out of self-interest. I've made mine. Any SS I get will be blown on computers, books and mountain bikes. I'm thinking about you young whippersnappers -- you ought to be outraged at this SS ripoff. Admittedly, my motivations are not entirely altruistic: I greatly enjoy thinking, writing, and 'bullshit management.'
Why do people exaggerate in serious contexts? The logically prior question is: What is exaggeration, and how does it differ from lying, bullshitting, and metaphorical uses of language? A physician in a radio broadcast one morning said, "You can't be too thin, too rich, or have too low a cholesterol level."
Note first that the medico was not joking but making a serious point. But he couched this serious point in a sentence which is plainly false, indeed triply false. Since he had no intention of deceiving his audience, and since the point he was making (not merely trying to make) about cholesterol is true, he was not lying. He was not bullshitting either since he was not trying to misrepresent himself as knowing something he does not know or more than he knows.
Exaggeration bears some resemblance to metaphor. If I say, 'Sally is a block of ice,' I speak metaphorically or figuratively. What I say is literally false. But by saying it, I manage to convey to the listener some such proposition as that Sally is unemotional and (perhaps) sexually unresponsive. And when the sawbones exaggerated, though he said something literally false, he managed to convey to his audience the true proposition that total cholesterol levels for most of us need reducing.
But I wouldn't want to say that the good doctor was speaking metaphorically. I am merely pointing to a similarity between metaphor and exaggeration. The similarity may consist in the coming apart of sentence meaning and speaker's meaning. In both examples, the sentence meaning is that of a falsehood. The speaker, however, using those literally false sentences means something different from what the words 'by themselves' mean, and manages to convey truths to his hearers.
So I suggest that to understand exaggeration we need to understand metaphor so that we can delimit the former from the latter. But what exactly is metaphor? That's a tough one.
One more example. I heard an intelligent-looking M.D. say on C-Span one moring that any exposure to sunlight is damaging. Now that is an unconscionably stupid exaggeration. Why say such a silly thing? The sawbones must know that sunlight is a source of Vitamin D, and is good for other reasons as well.
So it is a puzzling phenomwenon. Why do intelligent people exaggerate, and exaggerate wildly, when they must know that it diminishes their credibility? Is it perhaps a rhetorical technique to get people to pay attention to them?
In the case of the tobacco-wackos, who exaggerate the harmfulness of smoking and of sidestream smoke, their exaggerative distortions are readily understandable. These types are leftists who hate corporations as such. Their exaggeration is ideologically-driven. I wonder whether they use Microsoft Word when they write their screeds. Do they understand that Microsoft is --gasp! -- a corporation?
Dennis Prager warns against exaggeration. He says, rightly, that to exaggerate is to lose credibility. But he himself exaggerates when he refers to the Social Security sytem as a Ponzi scheme. Obviously, it is not. Admittedly, in its present configuration it is fiscally unsustainable like a Ponzi a scheme. But it is not a Ponzi scheme for a very simple reason: it is not driven by fraudulent intent. The liberals who set it up and the liberals who defend its present configuration are by and large not crooks. They had and have good intentions. (Yes!) Mitt Romney was right in last night's Tea Party debate to say that that it is "over the top" to refer to the SS sytem as a Ponzi scheme.
So why does a bright guy like Prager exaggerate in practically the same breath in which he warns against it?
A second example. Prager has an animus against 'studies.' And with justification. He regularly states that if a study confirms commonsense then it is unnecessary, and if it does not, then it is wrong. As someone who likes pithy formulations, I can see why he repeats this cute 'mantra.' Unfortunately, it is an exaggeration. Must I explain why? Not to the elite readers of this blog.
Prager has his acolytes Google his name. (He addressed one of my posts on the air a while back.) So if he comes across this post, I want to say to him, "I love you, man; you do more for this country in one hour than I could do in a life time of scribbling. I correct you because I love you."
There are good reasons to introduce facts as truth-makers for contingently true atomic sentences. (Some supporting reasoning here.) But if there are facts, and they make-true contingent atomic sentences, then what is the semantic relation between these declarative sentences and their truth-makers? It seems we should say that such sentences name facts. But some remarks of Leo Mollica suggest that this will lead to trouble. Consider this aporetic triad:
1. 'Al is fat' is the name of the fact of Al's being fat. 2. 'Al is fat' has a referent only if it is true. 3. Names are essentially names: a name names whether or not it has a referent.
Each limb of the triad is very plausible, but they can't all be true. The conjunction of (1) and (3) entails the negation of (2). Which limb should we abandon? It cannot be (1) given the cogency of the Truth Maker Argument and the plausible assumption that the only semantic relation between a sentence and the corresponding fact is one of naming.
(2) also seems 'ungiveupable.' There are false sentences, and there may be false (Fregean) propositions: but a fact is not a truth-bearer but a truth-maker. It is very hard to swallow the notion that there are 'false' or nonobtaining facts. If 'Al is fat' is false it is because Al and fatness do not form a fact. The existence of a fact is the unity of its constituents. Where there is the unity of the right sort of constituents you have a fact; where there is not, you don't.
As for (3), suppose that names are only accidentally names, than a name names only on condition that it have a referent. We would then have to conclude that if the bearer of a name ceases to exist, that the name ceases to be a name. And that seems wrong. When Le Verrier put forth the hypothesis of an intra-Mercurial planent that came to be called 'Vulcan,' he did not know whether there was indeed such a planet, but he thought he had good evidence of its existence. When it was later decided that there was no good evidence of the planet in question, 'Vulcan' did not cease to be a name. If we now say, truly, that Vlucan does not exist we employ a name whose naming is not exhausted by its having a referent.
So it seems that names name essentially. This is the linguistic analog of intentionality: one cannot just think; if one thinks, then necessarily one thinks of something, something that may or may not exist. If I am thinking of something, and it ceases to exist, my thinking does not cease to be object-directed. Thinking is essentially object-directed. Analogously, names are essentially names.
So far, then, today's triad looks to be another addition the list of insolubilia. The limbs of the triad are more reasonably accepted than rejected, but they cannot all be true. A pretty pickle.
Liberty and security stand in a dialectical relation to each other in that (i) each requires the other to be what it is, and yet (ii) each is opposed to the other. Let me explain.
Ad (i). LIberty is something worth having. But a liberty worth having is a liberty capable of being exercised fruitfully and often. Liberty in this concrete sense requires security to be what it is. My liberty to leave my house at any time of the day or night would be worth little or nothing if I were to be mugged every time I stepped over the threshold. On the other hand, a security worth having is a security that makes possible the exercise of as much liberty as is consistent with the liberty of all. The security of a prison or of a police state is not a security worth having. A security worth having, therefore, requires liberty to be what it is, something worth having.
Ad (ii). Nevertheless, liberty and security oppose each other. The security of all requires limitations on the liberty of each. For if the liberty of each were allowed untrammelled expression, no one would be secure in his life and property. Thus security opposes and limits liberty. Equally, liberty opposes and limits security. The right to keep and bear arms, for example, poses a certain threat to security, as everyone must admit whether liberal, conservative, or libertarian. The question is not whether it poses a threat, but whether the threat it poses is acceptable given the desirability of the liberty it allows.
Ad (i) + (ii). The situation is complex. Liberty requires the very security that it limits, just as security limits the very liberty that it requires. It follows that any attack on our security is also an attack on our liberty. It seems to me that this is a point that liberals and leftists do not sufficiently appreciate, and that some of them do not appreciate at all. The 9/11 attack on the Trade Towers and the Pentagon did not merely destroy the security of those working in them, it also destroyed their liberty, while impeding to greater and lesser degrees the liberty of all the rest of us. But it must also be said that any restriction on our liberties also negatively affects the value of our security -- a point conservatives need to bear in mind.
In the present circumstances, however, when the threats to our security are grave indeed, it is reasonable to tolerate greater than usual restrictions on our liberty. Any liberal or leftist who disagrees with this should be unceremoniously confronted with the question: How much liberty did the victims of the 9/11 attack enjoy while they were being crushed under girders, burned alive, or falling to their deaths?
Redundancy is a stylistic flaw at worst. A noted chess writer advises, "You need to get psyched up within your own mind." One does indeed need to get psyched up to play well. But is it possible to get psyched up in someone else's mind, or outside any mind?
So the admonition is redundant and serves no purpose. Sometimes, however, redundancy serves the purpose of clarity. A noted writer on universals speaks of two particulars sharing a universal in common. This is a redundant formulation: if the universal is shared by the two particulars, then they have it in common. But the redundancy helps explain what 'share' means and thus serves clarity. So I offer this aphorism:
Pleonasm in pursuit of precision is no logical sin, but at worst a stylistic peccadillo.
An archeologist who claimed to have uncovered the site of Plato's Cave would be dismissed as either a prankster or a lunatic. There never was any such cave as is described in the magnificent Book VII of Plato's Republic. And there never were any such cave-dwellers or goings-on as the ones described in Plato's story. And yet this, the most famous allegory in the history of philosophy, gives us the truth about the human condition. It lays bare the human predicament in which shadow is taken for substance, and substance for shadow, the truth-teller for a deceiver, and the deceiver for a truth-teller.
The reader will have guessed where I am going with this. If the allegory of the Cave delivers the truth about the human predicament despite its falsity when taken as an historical narrative, the same could be true for the stories in the Bible. No reasonable person nowadays could take Genesis as reporting historical facts. To take but one example, at Genesis 3, 8 we read that Adam and Eve, after having tasted of the forbidden fruit, "heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the Garden . . . ." Taken literally, this implies that God has feet. But if he has feet was he shod on that day or not? If shod, what was his shoe size? 10 1/2? Obviously, nothing can have feet without having feet of a determinate size! And given that the original parents heard God stomping around, then he had to be fairly large: if God were the size of a flea, he wouldn't have made any noise. If God were a physical being, why couldn't he be the size of a flea or a microbe? The answer to these absurdities is the double-barreled denial that God is a physical being and that Genesis is an historical account. I could give further examples. (And you hope I won't.)
This is why the deliverances of evolutionary biology do not refute the Fall. (I grant that said deliverances refute some doctrines of the Fall, those doctrines that posit an original pair of humans, without animal progenitors, from whom the whole human race is descended.) Indeed, it is quite stupid to think that the Fall can be refuted from biology. It would as stupid as to think that the truths about the human condition that are expressed in Plato's famous allegory can be negated or disconfirmed by the failure of archeologists to locate the site of Plato's Cave, or by any physical proof that a structure like that of Plato's Cave is nomologically impossible.
And yet wasn't that what Jerry Coyne, the University of Chicago biologist, was quoted as maintaining?
I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness.
I suppose this shows that the wages of scientism are (topical) stupidity.
Addenda (10 September 2011)
1. I said that the Allegory of the Cave "gives us the truth about the human condition." Suppose you disagree. Suppose you think the story provides no insight into the human condition. My point goes through nonetheless. The point is that the truth or falsity of the story is unaffected by empirical discoveries and nondiscoveries. Anthropological and archeological investigations are simply irrelevant to the assessment of the claims being made in the allegory. That, I hope, is perfectly obvious.
2. There is another point that I thought of making but did not because it struck me as too obvious, namely, that the Allegory of the Cave is clearly an allegory, and is indeed explicitly presented as such in Chapter VII of the Republic (cf. 514a et passim), whereas the Genesis account is neither clearly an allegory, nor explicitly presented in the text as one. But that too is irrelevant to my main point. The point is that biological, anthropological, and geological investigations are simply irrelevant for the evaluation of what Genesis discloses or purports to disclose about the human condition. For example, at Gen 1, 26 we are told that God made man in his image and likeness. That means: Man is a spiritual being. (See my post Imago Dei) Obviously, that proposition can neither be established nor refuted by any empirical investigation. The sciences of matter cannot be expected to disclose any truths about spirit. And if, standing firm on the natural sciences, you deny that there is anything other than matter, then you fall into the easily-refuted mistake of scientism. Furthermore, Genesis is simply incoherent if taken as presenting facts about history or facts about cosmology and physical cosmogenesis. Not only is it incoherent; it is contradicted by what we know from the physical sciences. Clearly, in any conflict between the Bible and natural science, the Bible will lose.
The upshot is that the point I am making about Genesis cannot be refuted by adducing the obvious difference between a piece of writing that presents itself as an allegory and a piece of writing that does not. Plato's intention was to write an allegory. The authors of Genesis presumably did not have the intention of writing an allegory. But that is irrelevant to the question whether the stories can be taken as reporting historical and physical facts. It is obvious that Plato's story cannot be so taken. It is less obvious, but nonetheless true, that the Genesis story cannot be so taken. For if you take it as historical reportage, then it is mostly false or incoherent, and you miss what is important: the spiritual, not the physical, meaning.
3. The mistake of those who think that biology refutes the Fall is the mirror-image of those benighted fundamentalists and literalists who think that the Fall 'stands or falls' with the historical accuracy of tales about original parents, trees, serpents, etc. The opposing groups are made for each other. The scientistic atheist biologist attacks a fundamentalist straw man while the benighted fundamentalist knocks himself out propping up his straw man. Go at it, boys! The spectacle is entertaining but not edifying.
Jean-Paul Sartre put the following into the mouth of a character in the play, No Exit: "Hell is other people." What then would hell be for philosophers? To be locked in a room forever with a philosopher with whom one has little or no common ground. David Stove and Theodor Adorno, for example. Or Sartre and Etienne Gilson.
I have long been fascinated by forms of philosophical refutation that exploit the overt or covert self-reference of a thesis. To warm up, consider
1. All generalizations are false.
Since (1) is a generalization, (1) refers to itself. So if (1) is true, then (1) is false. On the other hand, if (1) is false, as it surely is, then (1) is false. Therefore, necessarily (1) is false. It follows that the negation of (1), namely, Some generalizations are true, is not just true, but necessarily true. (1) is self-refuting and its negation is self-verifying. Some generalizations are true is an instance of itself which shows that it itself is true: one instance suffices to verify a particular generalization.
There are those who dismiss arguments like this as quick and facile. Some even call them 'sophomoric,' presumably because any intelligent and properly caffeinated sophomore can grasp them -- as if that could constitute a valid objection. I see it differently. The very simplicity of such arguments is what makes them so powerful. A simple argument with few premises and few inferential moves offers few opportunities to go wrong. Here, then, is a case where simplex sigillum veri, where simplicity is the seal of truth. Now consider a more philosophically interesting example, one beloved by Buddhists:
2. All is impermanent.
(2) applies to itself: if all is impermanent, then (2), or rather the propositional content thereof, is impermanent. That could mean one of two things. Either the truth-value of the proposition expressed by (2) is subject to change, or the proposition itself is subject to change, perhaps by becoming a different proposition with a different sense, or by passing out of existence altogether. (There is also a stronger reading of 'impermanent' according to which the impermanent is not merely subject to change, but changing.)
Note also that if (2) is true, then every part of (2)'s propositional content is impermanent. Thus the property (concept) of impermanence is impermanent, and so is the copulative tie and the universal quantifier. If the property of impermanence is impermanent, then so is the property of permanence along with the distinction between permanence and impermanence.
In short, (2), if true, undermines the very contrast that gives it a determinate sense. If true, (2) undermines the permanence/impermanence contrast. For if all is impermanent, then so is this contrast and this distinction. This leaves us wondering what sense (2) might have and whether in the end it is not nonsense.
What I am arguing is not just that (2) refutes itself in the sense that it proves itself false, but refutes itself in the much stronger sense of proving itself meaningless or else proving itself on the brink of collapsing into meaninglessness.
No doubt (2) is meaningful 'at first blush.' But all it takes is a few preliminary pokes and its starts collapsing in upon itself.
Michael Krausz ("Relativism and Beyond: A Tribute to Bimal Matilal" in Bilimoria and Mohanty, pp. 93-104) arrives at a similar result by a different route. He writes:
Paradoxically, because all things are contexted, the idea of permanence cannot be permanent. But it does not follow that in the end all things are impermanent either, for impermanence too is contexted and it too finally drops out of any fixed constellation of concepts. (101)
Krausz invokes the premise,
3. All things are contexted.
Krausz writes as if (3) is unproblematic. But surely it too 'deconstructs' itself. Just apply the same reasoning to (3) that we applied to (2). Clearly, (3) is self-referential. So (3) cannot express an invariant structure of being. It cannot be taken to mean, context-independently, that every being qua being is contexted.
Note also that if (3) is true, then every part of (3)'s propositional content is contexted: the universal quantifier, the concept thing, the copulative tie, and the concept of being contexted are all contexted. What's more, the very contrast of the context-free and the context-bound is contexted.
In short, (3), if true, undermines the very contrast that confers upon it a determinate sense, namely, the contrast between the context-free and the context-bound. For if all is contexted, then so is this contrast and this distinction.
(3) collapses in upon itself and perishes for want of a determinate sense. And the same goes for all its parts. Copulative Being collapses into indeterminacy along with every other sense of Being: the existential, the identitative, the veritative, the locative, the class-theoretic. Being ends up with no structure at all. If Being and Thinking are one, as Father Parmendides had it, then the collapse of Being brings Thinking down with it.
Clearly, we are sinking into some seriously deep shit here, and it is of the worst kind: the formless kind, crap that won't own up to its own crapiness, the kind that deconstructionists, whether Continental or Asian, like to serve up. It is stuff so unstable that one cannot even say that it stinks. Do we really want to wallow in this mess?
Wouldn't it be better to admit that there is an Absolute?
Max Scheler describes a form of ressentiment that leads to "indiscriminate criticism without any positive aims." (Ressentiment, ed. Coser, Schocken 1972, p. 51) Although Scheler was writing in the years before the First World War, his description put me in mind of contemporary liberals and leftists, especially when they are out of power. He continues:
This particular kind of "ressentiment criticism" is characterized by the fact that improvements in the conditions criticized cause no satisfaction -- they merely cause discontent, for they destroy the growing pleasure afforded by invective and negation. Many modern political parties will be extremely annoyed by a partial satisfaction of their demands or by the constructive participation of their representatives in public life, for such participation mars the delight of oppositionism. It is peculiar to "ressentiment criticism" that it does not seriously desire that it demands be fulfilled. It does not want to cure the evil: the evil is merely a pretext for the criticism. We all know certain representatives in our parliaments whose criticism is absolute and uninhibited, precisely because they count on never being ministers. (Ibid.)
About a generation later, on the other side of the Channel, George Orwell wrote in a strikingly similar vein in his "The Lion and the Unicorn":
The mentality of the the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power.