In the nine years I have been blogging I have been careful to distinguish between Islam and radical Islam (militant Islam, Islamism, Islamofascism, etc.) I can't say I have had any really good reason for this charitableness on my part. Perhaps it is that I just didn't want to believe that 'moderate Muslim' is as much an oxymoron as 'moderate Nazi.'
In "Calling Islam 'Islam'," Bosch Fawstin argues against distinguishing between Islam and radical Islam (militant Islam, fundamentalist Islam, etc.) But if one doesn't make this distinction, and radical Islam is the enemy, then Islam is the enemy. This seems to have the unpalatable consequence that 1.5 billion Muslims are the enemy. Surely that is false. As I understand Fawstin, he avoids this inference by distinguishing between Muslims who take Islam seriously and those who don't. Actually, he makes a tripartite distinction among Muslims who take Islam seriously, and are a grave existential threat to us; Muslims who do not take Islam seriously and are a threat to us only insofar as they refuse to condemn the radicals; and Muslims who, unlike the second group, practice Islam, but an 'enlightened' Islam. This third group, however, is empty. According to Fawstin, "There’s no separate ideology apart from Islam that’s being practiced by these Muslims in name only, there’s no such thing as 'Western Islam'."
If Fawstin is right, then to speak of Islam having being 'hijacked' by radicals makes as little sense as to speak of National Socialism as having been hijacked by radicals. Islam and Nazism are radical and militant and murderous by their very nature: there are no moderate forms. If you are Muslim or a Nazi then you are a radical since these ideologies admit of no moderate forms; if you are not a radical Muslim or Nazi, then you are not a Muslim or a Nazi at all.
Whether or not you agree with Fawstin's parsing of the terminology, the radicals do pose a real threat both 'explosive' (as in the Boston Marathon bombing) and 'subversive' (as in the building of the ground zero mosque). Curiously, in the case of GZM, the site of the subversion is the same as the site of one of the main 'explosions.'
In Terrorism and Other Religions, Cole argues that "Contrary to what is alleged by bigots like Bill Maher, Muslims are not more violent than people of other religions." Although we conservatives don't think all that highly of Bill Maher, we cheered when he pointed out the obvious, namely, that Islam, and Islam alone at the present time, is the faith whose doctrines drive most of the world's terrorism, and that the Left's moral equivalency 'argument' is "bullshit" to employ Maher's terminus technicus. Why should pointing out what is plainly true get Maher labeled a bigot by Cole?
So I thought I must be missing something and that I needed to be set straight by Professor Cole. So I read his piece carefully numerous times. Cole's main argument is that, while people of "European Christian heritage" killed over 100 million people in the 20th century, Muslims have killed only about two million during that same period. But what does this show? Does it show that Islamic doctrine does not drive most of the world's terrorism at the present time? Of course not.
That is precisely the issue given that Cole is contesting what "the bigot" Maher claimed. What Cole has given us is a text-book example of ignoratio elenchi. This is an informal fallacy of reasoning committed by a person who launches into the refutation of some thesis that is other than the one being forwarded by the dialectical opponent. If the thesis is that Muslims who take Islam seriously are the cause of most of the world's terrorism at the present time, this thesis cannot be refuted by pointing out that people of "European Christian heritage" have killed more people than Muslims. For this is simply irrelevant to the issue in dispute. (I note en passant that this is why ignoratio elenchi is classifed as a fallacy of relevance.)
Someone born and raised in a Christian land can be called a Christian. But it doesn't follow that such a person is a Christian in anything more than a sociological sense. In this loose and external sense the author of The Anti-Christ was a Christian. Nietzsche was raised in a Christian home in a Christian land by a father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche, who was a Lutheran pastor. Similarly, Hitler was a Christian. And Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, was a Muslim. But were Ataturk's actions guided and inspired by Islamic doctrine? As little as Hitler's actions were guided and inspired by the Sermon on the Mount. Here is a list of some of Ataturk's anti-Islamic actions.
Having exposed the fundamental fallacy in Cole's article, there is no need to go through the rest of his distortions such as the one about the Zionist terrorists during the time of the British Mandate.
Why do leftists deny reality? A good part of the answer is that they deny it because reality does not fit their scheme. Leftists confuse the world with their view of the world. In their view of the world, people are all equal and religions are all equal -- equally good or equally bad depending on the stripe of the leftist. They want it to be that way and so they fool themselves into thinking that it is that way. Moral equivalency reigns. If you point out that Muhammad Atta was an Islamic terrorist, they shoot back that Timothy McVeigh was a Christian terrorist -- willfully ignoring the crucial difference that the murderous actions of the former derive from Islamic/Islamist doctrine whereas the actions of the latter do not derive from Christian doctrine.
And then these leftists like Cole compound their willful ignorance of reality by denouncing those who speak the truth as 'Islamophobes.'
That would have been like hurling the epithet 'Nazi-phobe' at a person who, in 1938, warned of the National Socialist threat to civilized values.
This had to be said and Judge Pirro does a wonderful job of it. What I love about the Fox ladies: beauty, brains, and balls -- or the female equivalent thereof.
"We should not be required to breathe the same air as you, we should not be required to share the indignity of your presence" says Judge Jeanine Pirro in her opening statement to the Jihadi mother of the Boston bomber, as she exposes the facts that are being brought to light behind the terrorist attack in the Boston Marathon.
Before getting on to tonight's scheduled presentation, we pause to remember George Jones who died Friday at 81, his longevity proof of the human body's ability to take a sustained licking from John Barleycorn and keep on ticking. I don't believe Jones ever had a crossover hit in the manner of a Don Gibson or a Merle Haggard. He was pure country and highly regarded by aficionados of that genre. Here are two I like:
Bob Dylan, From a Buick 6 (1966), from Highway 61 Revisited with Al Kooper on organ and Mike Bloomfield, lead guitar.
Lovin' Spoonful, Six O'Clock (1967). More proof of the vast superiority of the '60s over every other decade when it comes to popular music. No decade was more creative, engaged, rich, relevant, and diverse. Generational chauvinism? No, just the plain truth! But you had to be there.
For present purposes, an aporia is a set of propositions each member of which has a strong claim on our acceptance, but whose members are collectively inconsistent. Like many a philosophical problem, the philosophical problem of the meaning of life is usefully approached from an aporetic angle. So consider the following aporetic tetrad:
A. If life has a meaning, then it cannot be subjective.
B. The meaning of life must be subjectively appropriable by all.
C. There is no meaning that is both nonsubjective and subjectively appropriable by all.
D. Life has a meaning.
Good though not absolutely compelling reasons have been given for both (A) and (B). But they are in tension with one another, a tension recorded in (C), the third limb of our aporetic tetrad. One who inclines towards compatibilism with respect to existential meaning inclines toward the rejection of (C). Unfortunately, (C) is not easily rejected, as I will try to show in this post. The main difficulty concerns the subjective appropriability of an objective purpose by all even if it is granted that there is an objective purpose applicable to all.
First of all, one cannot appropriate an objective purpose unless one knows or at least has good reasons for believing that there is one. More importantly, one must know what the purpose is and what one must do to live in accordance with it. Three different questions: Is there an objective purpose? What is it? How do I live in accordance with it? Countless millions of people, however, have lived who lacked the abilities or the opportunities to form reasonable beliefs about these matters, let alone to come to have knowledge about them. It is not enough that the objective purpose be knowable by some; it must be knowable by all. This was argued earlier. But for the countless millions just mentioned there was no real possibility of appropriating the objective purpose. By ‘real possibility’ is meant something far stronger than a mere logical possibility or even a nomological possibility. It is logically and nomologically possible for a human being to run a four-minute mile. But it is not possible for me and plenty of others to run that fast. So even if it is logically and nomologically possible for all human beings to know the objective purpose of life, it does not follow that all have any serious possibility of knowing it. It is as impossible for the countless millions just mentioned to know the objective purpose of life, supposing there is one, as it is for people like me to run a four-minute mile. It follows that the objective purpose of life, supposing there is one, is not subjectively appropriable by all, which is to say that it is not subjectively appropriable in the way it would have to be for life to be objectively meaningful. Again, if life has a meaning, it has a purpose, and the purpose must be the same for all and appropriable by all. Redemption from absurdity must be possible for all if it is be possible for any. If the world is so arranged that you are barred from redemption through no fault of your own, then my redemption is not a redemption from absurdity.
Those with the abilities and opportunities to investigate the three questions just mentioned are not in a much better position. For they are confronted with a welter of conflicting doctrines. The fortunate have the leisure to inquire and the intellect with which to inquire, but our intellects are weak and the problems stare us down with a face of seeming intractability. If all we have to rely on are ourselves and the resources of this world, then the conclusion to draw is that human life has no meaning that is both nonsubjective and subjectively appropriable.
Some will reply that what we cannot supply has been supplied by divine revelation. But this is no real solution. Even if God has revealed the purpose of human existence to us, together with the means of achieving that purpose, and in a way that respects our freedom and dignity, this will not do us any good if we do not know the purpose and how to achieve it. That, however, is precisely what we do not know as is clear from the conflicting accounts of the content of revelation, not to mention conflict over whether revelation is actual or even possible. All of these are ‘up for grabs’: the existence of God, the possibility of divine revelation, the actuality of divine revelation, not to mention its content and interpretation. If I merely believe in the content of a particular (putative) revelation, the Christian revelation for example, as interpreted in a certain way by a certain ecclesiastical authority such as the Roman Catholic magisterium, that is not good enough for it leaves me with reasonable doubts. But as long as I doubt the meaning of life and must continue to inquire, I have not yet subjectively appropriated the objective meaning of life. The subjective certainty of faith is not enough. What is needed is the objective certainty of knowledge. And it must be available to all – which is not the case for those who lived before the time of the historical revelation.
D. Life Has a Meaning
A case has been made for each of the first three limbs. Should we therefore conclude that life has no meaning? That would be hasty. It is arguable, though not compellingly arguable, that the living of a life presupposes the objective meaningfulness of life. E. M Adams writes,
Just as belief in the intelligibility of the world is presupposed by our quest for understanding, the meaningfulness of life is presupposed in living a life. We have to believe that life is not absurd, that it is not a tale told by an idiot, that it makes sense, in order to keep on with the struggles of life. (“The Meaning of Life,” International Journal of the Philosophy of Religion 51, 2002, pp. 71-81.)
I take Adams’ point to be that we cannot live without presupposing that our lives have meaning, objective meaning, a meaning whose source is external to us. One who believes, not just in his study, but throughout the activities of his life, that his life and its activities have only the meaning that he gives them must suffer a loss of motivation. If he does not, he is simply fooling himself about what he really believes and lives in a state of self-deception, or else he conveniently forgets his theoretical conviction when it comes time to act. He maintains at the level of theory that his life has only the meaning he confers upon it, but he ‘contradicts’ this theoretical belief by the energy and passion with which he pursues his projects and perhaps also by the passion with which he tries to convince the rest of us that nothing matters except what we make matter. For if he fully appreciated what his subjectivism amounts to he would see that his acts of meaning-bestowal are as meaningless as everything else in his life. You could say that such a person has not subjectively appropriated his subjectivism. This is true whether the subjectivism is extreme or moderate.
Living our lives with zest and vigor and passion and commitment, we presuppose that they are objectively meaningful. One who denies this I would suspect of self-deception or a lack of intelligence or spiritual superficiality. One who responds, “I live a rich and full life despite my conviction that life has no objective meaning applicable to all” simply does not appreciate the existential implications of what he believes. This is a bold assertion, many will disagree with it, some will be offended by it, and I cannot prove it; but it is reasonable to maintain it. It must also be conceded that, even if we cannot live full lives without the presupposition of objective meaningfulness, it does not follow that there is an objective meaning. It is not easy to exclude the possibility that what we must presuppose does not hold in fact. We must presuppose the intelligibility of the world if we are to embark seriously upon the arduous quest for understanding, but it is logically and epistemically possible that the world is unintelligible in itself. Likewise, we must presuppose the objective meaningfulness of life if we are to live rich and full and committed lives, but it is logically and epistemically possible that our lives are objectively meaningless nonetheless.
But if these possibilities are actual, then all the more are our lives meaningless, for then the way things are thwarts us: there is a ‘disconnect’ between what we need and must presuppose and what is true. Given that we cannot know that this is the case, we are entitled to believe that it is not the case. It may be that the ultimate nature of the world is such as to frustrate our purposes. But we cannot know this and there is no point in believing it, while there is every point in believing that the presupposition of meaning is true. Our very lives are the ‘proof’ of it. When it comes to life and its living it is reasonable to hold that the ‘proofs’ will be vital and pragmatic rather than theoretical. We are participants first and spectators second. We are parts of the world-whole and we are beings of meaning; it is reasonable to extrapolate that the world-whole of which we are parts is also a world of meaning and intelligibility. If we are wrong and the truth thwarts us, then why should we value truth? With this I conclude my case that life has meaning, whatever that meaning might be. It has some objective meaning or other and part of what contributes to the zest and passion and subjective meaningfulness of a life is the quest for that objective meaning.
The limbs of the aporetic tetrad are all of them defensible, yet they cannot all be true. I leave it to the reader to find his way forward if he can. If nothing else, I have elucidated the philosophical problem of the meaning of human existence and have blocked some facile (non)solutions.
Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, tr. E. F. J. Payne, vol. II (Dover, 1966), p. 162. This is from Chapter XVII, "On Man's Need for Metaphysics" (emphases added and a paragraph break):
Temples and churches, pagodas and mosques, in all countries and ages, in their splendour and spaciousness, testify to man's need for metaphysics, a need strong and ineradicable, which follows close on the physical. The man of a satirical frame of mind could of course add that this need for metaphysics is a modest fellow content with meagre fare. Sometimes it lets itself be satisfied with clumsy fables and absurd fairy-tales. If only they are imprinted early enough, they are for man adequate explanations of his existence and supports for his morality.
Consider the Koran, for example; this wretched book was sufficient to start a world-religion, to satisfy the metaphysical need for countless millions for twelve hundred years, to become the basis of their morality and of a remarkable contempt for death, and also to inspire them to bloody wars and the most extensive conquests. In this book we find the saddest and poorest form of theism. Much may be lost in translation, but I have not been able to discover in it one single idea of value. Such things show that the capacity for metaphysics does not go hand in hand with the need for it . . . .
We who thrive get used to being alive, and forget we have our lives on loan, a loan that can be called on the spot without advance notice. Compare James 4:13-17 (NIV):
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
He who is ever on the make will never have it made. He will never be a 'made man.' There is a time to strive, and a time to be. Is the universe trying to get somewhere? It already is everywhere. Are you any less cosmic? If you think you have a Maker, is he not a 'made man'? And aren't you a chip off the old block?
Your procreation argument for heterosexual marriage is consistent with polygyny, so if it is sound, it may rule out homosexual marriages, but be of great use to defending polygynists since it maximizes procreation and the perpetuation of the state quantitatively. What is the state's interest in monogamy?
I was afraid my argument could be misinterpreted as promoting increased procreation. But I took no stand on that. My argument does not "maximize procreation." It says nothing about whether there should be more procreation or less. Here is what I wrote: "The state has a legitimate interest in its own perpetuation and maintenance via the production of children, their socializing, their protection, and their transformation into productive citizens who will contribute to the common good." Let me break that down paratactically.
We collectively need some offspring; they need to be socialized and instructed in the rudiments of our culture; they need to be protected; they need to be educated to the point where they can function as productive citizens. No one of those coordinate clauses, or their logical conjunction, entails that levels of procreation should be increased, let alone that the state should have a hand in such an increase.
Is my argument logically consistent with countenancing polygyny? I suppose it is as it stands; but that is only because my argument was restricted to only one aspect of this multi-faceted issue. I was just assuming that marriage is dyadic in order to focus on the question of why the state shouuld recognize opposite-sexed dyadic unions but not same-sexed dyadic unions. The issue of the 'adicity' of marital and quasi-marital unions was not on the table. One cannot talk about everything at once.
Why should the state have an interest in monogamy over polygamy (whether polyandry or polygyny)? I have no answer to that at the moment. I have only started thinking hard about these questions recently and I have an open mind on them.
As a conservative, I of course subscribe to the quite general principle that there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional ways of doing things. But I am open to the possibility that the presumption in favor of traditional marriage (dyadic, between humans only, permanent, exclusive, opposite-sexed, open to procreation) can be defeated. For while I am a conservative, I am also a philosopher, and you can't be a philosopher (in the strict sense!) if you simply assume dogmatically this or that.
I should also add that I play for a draw, not for a win. It sufficies to 'neutralize' the liberal-left arguments. All I have to do is show that they are not compelling. I don't have to refute them. There are precious few refutations in philosophy, and none of them pertain to 'hairy' issues like same-sex 'marriage.'
To grant that marriage could be redefined is to capitulate to a postmodernist anti-realism according to which all social structures and institutions are mere human conventions and there is really no such thing as human nature, understood in traditional metaphysical terms. We must insist that marriage is not something that can be defined and redefined as we see fit. Marriage is a divine institution, not a human social construction like chess or money that we invented for our own purposes. There wasn’t a point in time at which humans ‘defined’ marriage in the way that, say, a foot was once defined as 12 inches. Marriage was bestowed upon us, not created by us.
1. It is certainly true that if marriage is a divine institution, as Professor Anderson says, then it has a nature not subject to human definition or redefinition. For if there are natures, then they are what they are whatever we say about them or think about them. They are what they are whether we frame definitions of them or fail to do so, or do so accurately or inaccurately. But that marriage is a divine institution is a premise that won't be granted by many and perhaps most of the participants in the current debate over same-sex marriage. It is therefore futile to use this premise in the current debate. Or as the pugnacious Irishman Bill O'Reilly said the other night, "No Bible-thumping." Defenders of marriage ought to invoke only those premises that secularists could accept, assuming that the goal is either to persuade them that the traditonal concept of marriage ought not be revised, or to show them that traditionalists have a principled stand that does not arise from biogotry or a desire to discriminate unjustly.
Suppose I want to convince you of something. I must use premises that you accept. For if I mount an argument sporting one or more premises that you do not accept, you will point to that premise or those premises and pronounce my argument unsound no matter how rigorous and cogent my reasoning. I am not saying that marriage is not divinely ordained; I am saying that the claim that it is has no place in a discussion in which the goal is to work out an agreement that will be acceptable to a large group of people, including theists and atheists. (Not that I am sanguine that any such agreement is in the offing.)
2. Whether or not marriage is a divine institution, it can have a nature. That is: the question whether marriage has a nature, and the question whether there are natures at all, are logically independent of the question whether God is the ultimate ontological ground of natures. Or at least this is prima facie the case. Jean-Paul Sartre famously maintained that man cannot have a nature because there is no God to give him one; but it is not at all clear that a godless universe must be one bereft of natures. Aristotle believed in natures even though his Prime Mover was neither the creator nor the ontological ground of natures.
3. Let's assume that there is no God, and that therefore marriage is not divinely instituted, but that some things have natures and some things do not. Water, to coin an example, has a nature, and it took natural philosophers a long time to figure out what it is. Chess, by contrast, does not have a nature. It is a tissue of conventions, an invention of man.
4. Does marriage have a nature? If it has a nature, and that nature requires that marriage be between exactly one man and exactly one woman, then there can be no question of redefining 'marriage' so as to include same-sex 'marriages.' If marriage has the nature just specified, then it is impossible that there be such a thing as same-sex marriage. And if same-sex 'marriage' is impossible, then one cannot sensibly be for it or against it. 'I am for same-sex marriage' would then be on a par with 'I am for carnivorous rabbits.'
'Should homosexuals be allowed to marry?' for traditionalists is like 'Should cats be allowed to philosophize?' The nature of cats is such as to rule out their doing any such thing. Similary, on the traditionalist understanding, marriage has a nature, and its nature is such as to rule out tlhe very possibility of same-sex 'marriage.'
5. Any talk of redefining 'marriage' therefore begs the crucial question as to whether or not marriage has a nature. Such talk presupposes that it does not.
6. If the same-sexer goes POMO on us and adopts antirealism across the board, then he opens himself up to a crapstorm of powerful objections. But needn't go that route. If Anderson is suggesting that the same-sexer must, then I disagree with him. The same-sexer need not embrace antirealism along the lines of a Goodmaniacal worldmaking constructivism; he might simply claim that while there are natures, and some things have them, marriage is not one of those things.
7. Can I show that marriage has a nature? Well, there is very little that one can SHOW in philosophy, so let's retreat a bit. Can I make a plausible case that marriage has a nature? Well, man has a nature and certain powers grounded in that nature, one of them being the power to procreate. The powers of human beings are not like the 'powers' of the chess pieces. It is by arbitrary human stipulation that the bishops move along diagonals only, capture in the same way they move, etc. But the power of a man and woman to produce offspring is not a power that derives from arbitrary human stipulation. It is a a power grounded in the nature of human beings.
Now if 'marriage' refers to what has traditionally been called marriage, i.e., to that the definition of which the same-sexer revisionists want to revise so as to include same-sex unions, then 'marriage' refers to a relation between opposite-sexed human animals that is oriented toward procreation. Of course there are social and cultural factors in addition to this natural substratum. There is more to human marriage than animal mating and care of offspring. But if you grant that human beings have a nature and a procreative power grounded in this nature, then it seems you have to grant that 'marriage' refers to a union between opposite-sexed human beings, a union that has a specific nature. If so, then it is senseless to want to revise the definition of 'marriage.' Marriage is what it is; it has a nature, and that's the end of it.
Suppose two 70-year-olds decide to marry. They can do so, and their marriage will be recognized as valid under the law. And this despite the fact that such elderly couples cannot procreate. But in many places the law does not recognize marriage between same-sex couples who also, obviously, cannot procreate. What is the difference between the opposite-sex and same-sex cases? What is the difference that justifies a difference in legal recognition? (Bear in mind that we are discussing legal recognition of marriage; the issue is not so-called civil unions.) Let us assume that both types of union, the opposite-sex and the same-sex, are guided by the following norms: monogamy, permanence, and exclusivity. So, for the space of this discussion, we assume that the infertile heterosexual union and the homosexual union are both monogamous, permanent, exclusive, and non-procreative.
What then is the difference between the two cases that justifies a difference in treatment? If the only difference is that the one type of union is opposite-sex and the other same-sex, then that is a difference but not one that justifies a difference in treatment. To say that the one is opposite-sex and the other same-sex is to tell us what we already know; it is not to justify differential treatment.
Here is a relevant difference. It is biologically impossible that homosexual unions produce offspring. It is biologically possible, and indeed biologically likely, that heterosexual unions produce offspring. That is a very deep difference grounded in a biological fact and not in the law or in anything conventional. This is the underlying fact that both justifies the state's interest in and regulation of marriage, and justifies the state's restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples.
There are two points here and both need to be discussed.
The first concerns the justification of the state's involvement in marriage in the first place. It is obvious, I hope, that the state ought not be involved in every form of human association. State involvement in any particular type of human association must therefore be justified. We want as much government as we need, but no more. The state is coercive by its very nature, as it must be if it is to be able to enforce its mandates and exercise its legitimate functions, and is therefore at odds with the liberty and autonomy of citizens. It is not obvious that the government should be in the marriage business at all. The burden is on the state to justify its intervention and regulation. But there is a reason for the state to be involved. The state has a legitimate interest in its own perpetuation and maintenance via the production of children, their socializing, their protection, and their transformation into productive citizens who will contribute to the common good. (My use of 'the state' needn't involve an illict hypostatization.) It is this interest that justifies the state's recognition and regulation of marriage as a union of exactly one man and exactly one woman.
I have just specified a reason for state involvement in marriage. But this justification is absent in the case of same-sex couples since they are not and cannot be productive of children. So here we have a reason why the state ought not recognize same-sex marriage. One and the same biological fact both justifies state regulation and recognition of marriage and justifies the restriction of such recognition to opposite-sex couples. The fact, again, is that only heterosexuals can procreate.
Proponents of same-sex 'marriage' will not be satisfied with the foregoing. They will continue to feel that there is something unfair and 'discriminatory,' i.e., unjustly discriminatory, about the state's recognition of the union of infertile heterosexuals as valid marriage but not of homosexual unions. (Obviously, not all discrimination is unjust.) Consider the following argument which is suggested by a recent article by William Saletan entitled Homosexuality as Infertility. Saletan writes, "People who oppose gay marriage can come to accept it as moral, once they understand homosexuality as a kind of infertility."
The issue is not whether same-sex marriage is moral, but whether it ought to be legally recognized as marriage. That quibble aside, Saletan's piece suggests the following argument:
1. Homosexual couples are infertile just like infertile heterosexual couples are infertile: there is no difference in point of infertility. 2. Infertile heterosexual couples are allowed by law to marry. 3. Like cases ought to be treated in a like manner. Therefore 4. Homosexual couples ought to be allowed by law to marry.
One can see why people would be tempted to accept this argument, but it is unsound: the first premise is false.
To show this I will first concede something that perhaps ought not be conceded, namely, that the predicate 'infertile' can be correctly applied to same-sex couples. Justification for this concession would be the proposition that anything not F, even if it cannot be F, is non-F. Thus anything not fertile, even if not possibly fertile, is infertile. So same-sex couples are infertile in the same way that numbers and ball bearings and thoughts are infertile.
But even given this concession, there is an important difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The former are essentially infertile while the opposite-sex infertile couples are only accidentally infertile. What the latter means is that there is nothing in the nature of opposite-sex unions to rule out the possibility of procreation. But in the case of same-sex unions, the very nature of the union rules out the possibility of procreation. So (1) in the argument above is false. Homosexual couples are not infertile in the same way that infertile heterosexual couples are. The former are infertile by their very nature, while the latter are not. This difference is what justifies a difference in treatment.
We must of course treat like cases in a like manner. What I have just shown, however, is that the two cases are not alike.
The point is even more clear if we take the view that 'fertile' and 'infertile' are predicates that can be meaningfully applied only to that whose nature includes the power to procreate. Accordingly, same-sex couples are no more infertile than hammers and nails are dead.
We have two interpretive options, and both supply a difference that justifies a difference in treatment.
Option A. Anything that is not fertile is infertile; hence, same-sex unons are infertile. But they are not infertile in the same way that opposite-sex unions are. Same-sex unions are essentially infertile, infertile by their very nature, while opposite-sex unions, when infertile, are only accidentally infertile. (This is why infertile opposite-sex couples can sometimes become fertile through medical intervention.)
Option B. If x is either fertile or infertile, then x has a nature that includes the power to procreate. Hence same-sex couples are neither fertile not infertile.
On either option, Saletan's "Homosexuality is a kind of infertility" is false. This is also clear from the consideration that a couple is called 'infertile' because one of both of the partners is infertile or impotent. But a union of two homosexuals is in most cases a union of two fertile women or of two potent men. To call a homosexual couple 'infertile' is therefore to use 'infertile' in a different way than the way it is used when we call a heterosexual couple 'infertile.' Homosexual couples are infertile because, to put it bluntly, dildos or fingers in vaginas and penises in anuses do not lead to procreation -- and not because of some defect or abnormality or age-induced impairment in the partners.
I have just shown that the (1)-(4) argument for extending the legal recognition of marriage to same-sex unions is not compelling. Nevertheless, some will still feel that there is something unfair about, say, two opposite-sexed 70-year-olds being allowed to marry when homosexuals are not. It may seem irrelevant that the nature of the opposite-sex union does not rule out procreation in the way the same-sex union does. Why do the 70-year-olds get to have their union recognized as marriage by the state when it cannot be productive of offspring?
At this point I would remind the reader that the law cannot cater to individual cases or even to unusual classes of cases. Consider laws regulating driving age. If the legal driving age is 16, this is unfair to all the 13-16 year-olds who are competent drivers. (E.g., farm boys and girls who learned to operate safely heavy machinery before the age of 16.) If the law were to cater to these cases, the law would become excessively complex and its application and enforcement much more difficult. Practical legislation must issue in demarcations that are clear and easily recognized, and therefore 'unfair' to some.
But a better analogy is voting. One is allowed to vote if one satisfies quite minimal requirements of age, residency, etc. Thus the voting law countenances a situation in which the well-informed and thoughtful votes of mature, successful, and productive members of society are given the same weight as the votes of people who for various reasons have no business in a voting booth. We don't, for example, prevent the senile elderly from voting even though they are living in the past out of touch with the issues of the day and incapable of thinking coherently about them. We don't exclude them or other groups for a very good reason: it would complicate the voting law enormously and in highly contentious ways. (Picture armies of gray panthers with plenty of time on their hands roaming the corridors of Congress armed with pitchforks.) Now there is a certain unfairness in this permissiveness: it is unfair to thoughtful and competent voters that their votes be cancelled out by the votes of the thoughtless and incompetent. But we of the thoughtful and competent tribe must simply 'eat' (i.e., accept) the unfairness as an unavoidable byproduct of workable voting laws.
In the same way, whatever residual unfairness to homosexuals there is in allowing infertile oldsters to marry (after my foregoing arguments have been duly digested) is an unfairness that simply must be accepted if there are to be workable marriage laws.
To sum up. The right place to start this debate is with the logically prior question: What justifies the state's involvement in marriage? The only good answer is that state involvement is justified because of the state's interest in its own perpetuation via the production of children and their development into productive citizens. (There is also, secondarily, the protection of those upon whom the burden of procreation mainly falls, women.) It is the possibility of procreation that justifies the states' recognition and regulation of marriage. But there is no possibility of procreation in same-sex unions. Therefore, same-sex unions do not deserve to be recognized by the state as marriage. This is not to oppose civil unions that make possible the transfer of social security benefits, etc.
The infertility argument for the extension of legal recognition to same-sex unions has been neutralized above.
The meaning of life, if there is one, cannot be subjective. This was argued in an earlier entry in this series on the meaning of life. But the meaning of life cannot be purely objective either. The meaning of life, if there is one, must somehow involve a mediation of the subjective and the objective: the meaning of life must be subjectively appropriable. I will now explain what I mean by ‘objective,’ ‘purely objective’ and ‘subjectively appropriable.’
An objective meaning or purpose of X is a purpose that is as it were assigned to X from without. An objective purpose is exogenous while a subjective purpose is endogenous. A purely objective purpose of X is one that is objective, but also such that X cannot subjectively appropriate or make its own the objective purpose. Thus if X has a purely objective purpose, then X plays no role in the realization or enactment or embodiment of its purpose.
A tool made for a specific purpose is an example of something that has a purely objective purpose. The Phillips head screwdriver has the specific purpose of driving crosshead screws. It was designed for just that job. Such a tool has an objective purpose which derives from the plans and intentions of human artificers. To invert the famous formula of Jean-Paul Sartre's manifesto, "Existentialism is a Humanism," its essence precedes its existence. Artifacts like screwdrivers are produced according to a plan or design that is logically and temporally antecedent to their production. But the purpose of a screwdriver is not only objective, it is also purely objective in that there is no possibility of a screwdriver's subjectively appropriating its objective purpose. And this for the simple reason that no screwdriver is a subject of experience. It is not just that screwdrivers are not biologically alive; they lack subjectivity. No inanimate artifact can discern its purpose, let alone freely and consciously accept or reject it. It makes no sense to speak of a screwdriver existentially realizing, or subjectively appropriating, or living, or enacting its purpose. The purpose a screwdriver has, it cannot be. No screwdriver is in a position to complain that the purpose it has been assigned is not its purpose.
With us it is different. We may or may not have an objective purpose, but if we have one, it cannot be a purely objective purpose; it must be a purpose that can be made our purpose. But it is best to speak in the first-person. A purpose that I cannot make my purpose is of no consequence to me. Such a purpose would be meaningless to me. An objective purpose that I could not come to know about, or could not realize, or an objective purpose that I knew about and could realize but whose realization would destroy me or cause a preponderance of misery over happiness or thwart my flourishing or destroy my autonomy would not be a purpose I could make my own. It is essential to realize that the question of the meaning (purpose) of human life arises within the subjectivity of the individual: it cannot be understood in a purely objective way. We are not asking about the purpose of a certain zoological species, or even of the purpose of a given specimen of this species viewed objectively, 'from outside.' The question, properly understood, is necessarily such that each must pose the question for himself using the first-person singular pronoun. The question is not: What is the purpose of the human species? Nor is it: What is the purpose of this specimen of the human species? The questions are: What is the purpose of my existence? Why am I here? and the like. The question must be posed from within one's life, and not directed at one's life from a third-person point of view. It is man as subject who asks the question, man as Dasein in Heidegger's lingo, not man as object.
We can sum this up by saying that an objective purpose, if there is one, must be subjectively appropriable if it is to be relevant to existential meaning. To appropriate a thing is to make it one's own, to take possession of it. This is not to be taken in a crass material sense. To subjectively appropriate an objective purpose is to existentially realize it, to realize or embody it in one's Existenz (to borrow a term from the German existentialist lexicon). It is to adopt it freely and consciously and live it as an organizing and unifying principle of one's life. This subjective appropriation is obviously consistent with the purpose's remaining objective. It is a bit like realizing an ideal. If a couple realizes the ideal marriage, the ideal does not cease being ideal in being realized. Or if you do what you ought to do, your doing it, which is a translation of a norm into a fact, does not obliterate the distinction between facts and norms. Similarly, the subjective appropriation of an objective purpose does not render the purpose subjective; what is subjective is the appropriation, not the purpose.
Subjective appropriability has a normative element. Suppose a slave knows the purpose assigned to him by his master and comes freely to accept that purpose as his purpose, a purpose he then carries out in his daily activities. On my use of terms, although the slave has freely accepted the master’s purpose as his purpose, he has not subjectively appropriated the purpose. And this for the reason that the slave’s acceptation is inconsistent with his autonomy and dignity. The subjectively appropriable is not merely that which is able to be appropriated, but that which is worthy of being appropriated. I take it as axiomatic that a meaningful life for a human being must be a life worthy of a human being.
What is meant by 'objective'? An objective purpose is (i) exogenous and (ii) available to all, the same for all, applicable to all. But to avoid triviality, a codicil must be appended: the objective purpose cannot be a vacuously general meta-purpose. It cannot be something like: the purpose of life is to do whatever you want to do and can do within the limits of your situation. That would apply to everyone but in a vacuous way that would allow the purpose of life for one person to consist in exterminating Jews, for another in collecting beer cans, for a third in medical research, etc. The question about the meaning of life is not a question about a vacuously general meta-purpose, but about a substantively general first-order purpose. An objective purpose must impose first-level constraints on our behavior. At the same time, an objective purpose is one whose realization contributes to human flourishing.
But why must an objective purpose be available to all persons? Why can't it be available only to some and still be objective? Why couldn't some be excluded from the meaning of life, 'predestined' as it were to be left in the cold? It is built into the very notion of an objective purpose for rational beings that it be available to every rational being. We have insisted that the philosophical problem of the meaning of life has an answer only if human life has an objective purpose, the same for all. If this purpose were not also available to all, then it could not be claimed to be ingredient in an answer to the completely general philosophical problem, one that must not be confused with the psychological problem of the meaning of a life. This might sound too sketchy to be satisfactory. A bit more can be said.
One source of a sense of life's absurdity is the observation that suffering is irrationally distributed. An observation as old as Ecclesiastes and the Book of Job is that often the wicked prosper and the just suffer. Happiness and virtue are not properly adjusted one to the other in this life as Kant observed. Reason is scandalized, not by the mere fact of suffering, but by its intensity and unfair distribution. Now if human life, rational life, has an objective meaning or purpose, then this meaning or purpose must be rational. This strikes me as a near-tautology: life cannot make objective sense unless it makes sense, i.e., is rational, understandable, intelligible. And if the objective meaning or purpose of life is rational, then no person can be arbitrarily excluded from partaking of it. For that would be a form of evil. If the world’s constitution were such that only some rational beings could partake of life’s meaning, then that would be a decidedly suboptimal arrangement, indeed an evil arrangement. Recall our earier point that the meaning-of-life question can be formulated as a human or ‘anthropic’ question but also as a ‘cosmic’ question. Anthopic question: What is the objective purpose of human existence? Cosmic question: Is the nature of the world-whole such as to enable and further the meaningfulness of human existence? My present point is that the world-whole must be such that no rational being is excluded from partaking in the objective meaning of life. The meaning of life, if there is one, must be the same for all and available to all. A rational world plays no favorites. If the objective meaning of life were not available to all, then that would be an evil arrangement, one that could not be objectively meaningful. An illustration follows.
On a theistic scheme, the objective purpose of life is to participate in the divine life. Now if God were arbitrarily to exclude some from participating in it, for no reason, but just as a display of power, that would make no sense. It would be irrational, and indeed evil. But then would it not be obvious that the meaning of life would not be guaranteed on such a theistic scheme? If God is an arbitrary despot, then God is a threat to life's having an objective meaning. A theism of divine despotism is a higher-order absurdity: both life here below and life beyond would be absurd on such a theism. So I cannot see how life could have an objective purpose if that purpose is not available to all. It is perhaps not unnecessary to point out that not all will avail themselves of the available.
Putting together the results of this post and one preceding it in this series, we can say that the meaning of life cannot be subjective, but it must be subjectively appropriable, not just be some, but by all.
Learn Ralph Peters' lessons of Boston, or there may be a pressure cooker in your future.
As for the moral equivalency of Christianity and Islam, Bill Maher, certainly no friend of religion, achieves the right tone, "That's liberal bullshit." When some academic leftist says something that is plainly false, his pronouncement should not be treated with respect as if worthy of calm consideration. Call it what it is.
Are all Muslims terrorists? Of course not, and no one said so. Most are not. But most terrorists are Muslims. That is the point.
There an important distinction that ought to be observed. Someone who is a 'Christian' in a merely sociological sense of the term might commit a terrorist act such as blowing up a federal building, it being quite clear that no support for such a deed is forthcoming from Christian doctrine. But your typical Muslim terrorist is not just a punk from a Muslim land; he is someone whose actions flow from Islamist doctrine.
I have been told that there are a few 'Buddhists' who are also terrorists. But if you know anything about Buddhism, you know that there is no support for terrorism in the Buddhist sutras and shastras. So a 'Buddhist' who is also a terrorist is only a Buddhist in some loose and accidental sense of the term -- he happens to be a native of a Buddhist land or has acquired some Buddhist acculturation -- but there is no connection between his terrorist activities and Buddhist teaching.
Islam is unique among the great faiths in that it is as much a political ideology as it is a religion. In respect of the former, it is like communism, and, like communism, bent on world domination. Islam is the communism of the 21st century.
In this fine piece, Marilyn Penn takes Thomas Friedman to task. Her article begins thusly (emphasis added):
In Thomas Friedman’s op ed on the Boston marathon massacre (Bring On the Next Marathon, NYT 4/17), the boldface caption insists “We’re just not afraid anymore.” Perhaps this is true for a traveling journalist who doesn’t use the subway daily or who isn’t forced to spend all his days in the 9/11 city of New York, but for most thinking people who work and live here, there is a great deal to fear. We live in a porous society where criminals roam free yet politicians complain about the “discriminatory” stop and frisk policies of the police, even though they have successfully reduced crime precisely in the neighborhoods that most affect the complaining minorities and their liberal champions. If you ride the subways, you know how many passengers wear enormous back-packs, large enough to conceal an arsenal of weapons. These are allowed to be carried into movie theaters, playgrounds, parks, sports arenas, shopping centers, department stores and restaurants with no security checks whatsoever. On the national front, immigration policies are more concerned with politically correct equality than with the reality of which groups are fomenting most of the terror around the world today. Our northern and southern borders are infiltrated daily by undocumented people slipping in beyond the government’s surveillance or control.
I agree with her entire piece. Read it.
It has been a week since the Boston Marathon bombing. There was a moment of silence today in remembrance of the victims. But let's keep things in perspective. Only three people were killed. I know you are supposed to gush over these relatively minor events and the undoubtedly horrendous suffering of the victims, but most of the gushing is the false and foolish response of feel-good liberals who have no intention of doing what is necessary to protect against the threat of radical Islam. The Patriot's Day event was nothing compared to what could happen. How about half of Manhattan being rendered uninhabitable by dirty bombs?
When that or something similar happens, will you liberals start yammering about how 'unimaginable' it was? Look, I'm imagining it right now. Liberals can imagine the utopian nonsense imagined by John Lennon in his asinine "Imagine." Is their imagination 'selective'? They can imagine the impossible but not the likely. It is worth recalling that Teddy Kennedy's favorite song was Impossible Dream.
Yesterday's killer hike, commencing at First Water Trailhead at 7:30 AM, took us to the top of Black Top Mesa (not to be confused with cholla-forested Black Mesa, also accessible via First Water). It is a leisurely saunter over Parker Pass and across some now-almost-dry streams until you arrive at the Bull Pass upgrade which is not only steep but slippery as hell. At Bull Pass, a cairn marks an unofficial spur that leads to the top of the mesa and some fine views. It is easy to miss it and end up on a very different (false but seductive) spur that peters out only after one has been well-seduced. (Been there, done that.) It got warm and our start was late, James having driven up from Tucson, so the two old men spent 8 1/2 hours on the trail including leisurely rests and a half-hour lunch atop the mesa. We were out of water and well-trashed by the time the death march was over and we climbed back into the Jeep with visions of Fat Tire Ale dancing in our heads. Mileage is about 12 round-trip with accumulated elevation gain of about 1600 feet. Details here. Weaver's Needle from the top of the mesa:
In the off-chance that you haven't had an occasion to bust your gut over Jeff Dunham's ventriloquy, check this out.
Mockery and derision are important weapons in the culture war. It is not enough to argue rigorously and patiently against the liberal-left enablers and apologists of radical Islam. Also needed is to make them and their clients look stupid. The young are more impressed by the cool than the cogent.
We should distinguish between an extreme and a moderate version of the thesis that the meaning of life is subjective. They can be referred to as extreme and moderate subjectivism about existential meaning. ‘Subjective’ in my thesis covers both. The thesis, agaiin, is that if life has a meaning, then it cannot be subjective.
Note that the subjectivist theory in either version is intended to be identitarian as opposed to eliminativist. The subjectivist claim is not that there is no meaning, which would amount to nihilism. The claim is that there is meaning but it is subjective by its very nature. Nevertheless, despite its identitarian intentions, both extreme and moderate subjectivism collapse into nihilism as will be argued below. As here used, ‘nihilism’ is just eliminativism about objective meaning. So if human life has a meaning, in the sense of ‘meaning’ relevant to the philosophical question about the meaning of life, then it cannot be subjective.
On extreme subjectivism any meaning or purpose your life has is one you give it. Meaning is conferred or bestowed on a life by the agent of the life. In themselves, lives lack meaning, and they acquire meaning only when and if the agents of the lives impart meaning to them. That a life has meaning and what that meaning is are both up to the agent. This goes well beyond the notion that the agent’s appropriation of existential meaning is up to the agent. For on any theory it is up to the agent whether he realize or live out the meaning that he takes to be the meaning of his life. Extreme subjectivism involves the further notion that the meaning the agent takes to be the meaning of his life is a meaning he takes from himself: it is a meaning he invents for himself. On extreme subjectivism, then, the agent freely decides (i) whether or not his life will have meaning, (ii) what meaning it will have, and (iii) whether and to what extent he will live out this meaning day by day.
Since a meaningful life cannot be merely purpose-driven but must also have positive value at least for the agent, one route to subjectivism is via the subjectivity of value: the value of the goals one pursues —— the goals in terms of which one's life assumes point and purpose —— is due to the individual's valuations, and these valuations are irremediably subjective and thus potentially different for different individuals. Accordingly, no goal is objectively worth pursuing or objectively more worth pursuing than any other goal. By freely selecting which goals will constitute the point and purpose of his life, the individual freely creates and maintains his own meaning and he freely creates it out of nothing or out of himself. This endogenous theory of meaning implies that there are no exogenous or objective constraints on existential meaning. A life has meaning if and only if the agent of the life is sincerely convinced that it does: your conviction that your life has meaning is both necessary and sufficient for its having meaning.
The extreme subjectivist view of existential meaning is deeply incoherent. To be blunt, anyone who answers the meaning question by saying ‘The meaning of one’s life is the meaning one gives it’ simply has not understood the question. The question arises concretely when one begins to doubt the value of the dominant projects and purposes one has been pursuing. A novelist, a stockbroker, a philosopher, a professional chess player, even if successful, can come to doubt the point of being a novelist, a stockbroker, a philosopher, a professional chess player. ‘Have I wasted my life helping the rich get richer?’ ‘Have I dribbled my life away among bloodless abstractions in an illusory quest for an unattainable knowledge?’ ‘Am I squandering my life’s energies on a mere game?’ These are possible questions. Even if one has been entirely successful in achieving one’s life-goals, these questions can and do arise. They are not questions about success or failure within a life-plan but questions about the success or failure of a life-plan as a whole. Anyone who sincerely asks himself whether he is wasting or has wasted his life presupposes by his very posing of the question that there are objective factors that bear on the question of the meaning of life. To raise the question is to presuppose that existential meaning cannot be identified with agent-conferred meaning. One who wonders whether he is wasting his life perhaps does not thereby presuppose that there is exactly one recipe for a meaningful life applicable to all, but he does presuppose that there are one or more objectively meaningful uses of a human life. He presupposes that one can throw away one’s life, waste one’s time, fail to live a meaningful life. But if the meaning of one’s life is the meaning one gives it, then one cannot fail to live a meaningful life since any meaning is as good as any other. To tell such a person that it suffices for his life to have meaning that he invest it with meaning shows a failure to understand the question. The person can respond with an analog of G. E. Moore’s Open Question Argument: “You tell me that the meaning of my life is identical to the style of life I choose as meaningful. But is this style of life truly meaningful?” The fact that the question remains open even after the subjectivist answer has been proffered shows that the subjectivist answer is no answer at all.
So my first argument against extreme subjectivism may be summed up as follows. The extreme subjectivist answers the question, What is the meaning of human life? by identifying existential meaning with agent-conferred meaning. This answer, however, negates the presupposition of the question, namely, that one can waste one’s life and fail to live meaningfully. Since the question obviously makes sense, but the answer negates the presupposition of the question, a presupposition essential to the very sense of the question, the answer is mistaken.
My second argument is that extreme subjectivism collapses into nihilism or eliminativism about existential meaning. For if the meaning of my life is the meaning I give it, then my life has no meaning in the sense of ‘meaning’ that gave rise both to the question and the extreme subjectivist answer. There is no real or nonverbal difference between ‘Human life is meaningless’ and ‘Human life has the meanings that agents give it.’ A conferred meaning is no meaning. Intellectual honesty demands that the subjectivist speak plainly and say ’Life has no meaning’ rather than obfuscate the issue by saying ‘Life has the meaning one gives it.’
My third argument is that extreme subjectivism entails a vicious infinite regress. If the activities of my life have only the meaning that I give them, then this would have to hold also for the acts of meaning-bestowal whereby certain goals and activities become meaningful for me. These acts, which are integral to my life, must be meaningful if my life is to be meaningful. But the acts of meaning-bestowal cannot be intrinsically meaningful on the subjectivist theory: nothing is intrinsically meaningful on the subjectivist theory, but meaningful only in relation to one who confers meaning. So I must be the source of the meaning of my acts of meaning-bestowal if these acts are to have meaning. And this seems to lead to an infinite vicious regress. Suppose we spell this out.
Let A be an act of meaning-bestowal. A is either meaningful, meaningless, or neither. Those are the only three possibilities worth considering. If A is meaningful, and no meaning is intrinsic as per the extreme subjectivist theory, then A can acquire meaning only if the agent freely bestows meaning on A by means of a distinct act of meaning-bestowal A*. Now if A* is meaningful, then its meaning must derive from a third act of meaning-bestowal A**. And so on into an infinite regress. The regress is vicious because every A is in need of a meaning that it cannot itself provide.
If, on the other hand, A is meaningless, then the life of which A is a part is meaningless. For if a life is meaningful due to acts of meaning-bestowal, and these latter are meaningless, then the life as a whole is meaningless. Consider a person who organizes his life around the central goal of the alleviation of animal suffering. On subjectivism, this goal is worthwhile, not intrinsically, but only in relation to a free decision on the part of the agent to give it meaning and value. But if this free donation of meaning and value is itself meaningless, then it is difficult to see how the person's life can be said to be meaningful. As soon as the agent reflects that the bestowal of meaning on his chosen purpose is not a response to any objective value such as the elimination of unnecessary suffering, he should see that his meaning-bestowal is a gratuitous and arbitrary and meaningless act. A meaningful life, one wants to protest, is one in response to objective values, where one's responding is itself an objective value. But the objectivity of value is precisely what the subjectivist will not countenance.
Could it be said that the acts of meaning-bestowal are themselves neither meaningful nor meaningless inasmuch as they are at the foundation of all existential meaning? It is difficult to attach any sense to this. These acts of meaning-projection are integral to a life as meaningful. It is difficult to see how they could fail to be meaningful if the life of which they are parts is meaningful. So in the end the subjectivist appears to be astride the horns of a dilemma. Either the acts of meaning-bestowal are meaningful or they are meaningless. If the former, then a vicious infinite regress ensues. If the latter, then the life of which they are essential parts is meaningless.
On moderate subjectivism about existential meaning there is due recognition of the fact that the satisfaction of certain objective conditions is necessary for a life to be meaningful, but this is held in tandem with the thesis that there is no general answer to the meaning-of-life question applicable to every life. So moderate subjectivism is midway between extreme subjectivism and objectivism. On extreme subjectivism, the sincere conviction that one’s life has meaning is both necessary and sufficient for it to have meaning. On moderate subjectivism, the sincere conviction that one’s life has meaning is necessary but not sufficient for the life’s having meaning: consideration of objective factors, factors not in the control of the agent, are also relevant for assessing the meaningfulness of a life. A moderate subjectivist will point out, for example, that not having one’s wants manipulated from the outside by other people, the media or the gods is a necessary condition of a meaningful life, and that this absence of manipulation is an objective factor. Other objective considerations are whether one’s chosen goal is achievable and not self-destructive. If one’s central goal is to get drunk and stay drunk, then this goal is achievable but self-destructive, and meaningless because self-destructive. The goal’s being achievable is an objective matter as is also its being self-destructive. Despite these objective factors, there is on the moderate subjectivist approach no such thing as the meaning of life. But on objectivism there is. For the objectivist, human life has meaning only if it has an objective purpose, the same for all, which is nevertheless subjectively appropriable by each, albeit in different ways.
It is undeniable that moderate subjectivism is superior to extreme subjectivism. It cannot be that the meaning of a life depends entirely on the agent of the life. Objective factors, factors outside of the control of the agent, come into consideration. But it doesn’t follow straightaway that there is one objective meaning-conferring requirement that applies equally to all lives. It may be that the blank in ‘The meaning of life is _____’ cannot be filled. This is John Kekes’ pluralistic view: “. . . there is no such thing as the meaning of life.” The philosophical problem of the meaning of life “. . . has a general form, but it does not have a general solution.” (John Kekes, Pluralism in Philosophy: Changing the Subject (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000, p. 83 et passim.)
Although there is no general solution, individuals can “resolve the problem for themselves.” (Ibid.) So although there is no general answer to the meaning question, it is possible to list conditions individually necessary and jointly sufficient for a life’s being meaningful. I won’t reproduce Kekes’ entire list but it includes such constraints as that the life not be pointless, misdirected, trivial, futile or vitiated by the belief that all human projects are absurd. Crucial to his list are that the objective conditions of a meaningful life be located in the natural world, and that the projects one pursues be either morally good, immoral, or nonmoral. Kekes thereby rules out a general solution applicable to all in terms of religion or morality. Irreligious and immoral lives can be just as meaningful as any life. The life of a mass murder such as Stalin fulfills all of Kekes’ conditions for a meaningful life. Kekes allows that religious and moral lives may be meaningful; what he disallows is that only religious and moral lives are meaningful.
The main problem with Kekes’ moderate subjectivism is that he changes the subject. Since “Changing the Subject” is the subtitle of his book, Kekes is unlikely to see this as a problem. But it seems to me that it is since he substitutes the psychological problem of the meaning of life for the philosophical problem while at the same time seeming to be grappling with the philosophical problem. He tells us that the problem of the meaning of life “. . . has a general form but it does not have a general solution.” He also tells us that individuals can “resolve the problem for themselves.” But is there one problem that both lacks a general solution and can yet be resolved in many different particular ways (though not all particular ways given that certain objective constraints must be satisfied)? What would that one problem be? It cannot be the philosophical problem of the meaning of life. The philosophical problem is a completely general problem, and is not to be conflated with any psychological problem about the meaning of a life. The distinction was esplained above near the end of section II. If the philosophical problem has a solution, then it has a general solution. For it is a general problem.
If an individual “resolves the problem of life for himself” in a sense that allows the resolutions to be different for different people, the problem he has resolved is not the impersonal philosophical problem but a personal psychological problem. Suppose a twenty year old doesn’t know what to do with himself. His life lacks direction. But gradually he comes to ‘find himself.’ He manages to choose an attainable nontrivial nondestructive goal, one right for him, that satisfies all of Kekes’ constraints. Our young man has surmounted his identity crisis and has installed himself in a subjectively meaningful mode of existence. He has solved a psychological problem, a problem of adjustment and motivation, but it cannot be said that he has “resolved for himself” the philosophical problem of the meaning of life. The latter might not be a problem for him at all. He may be firmly convinced that the purpose of human life is to serve God in this world and be happy with him in the next. But he cannot decide which line of work to choose, or he doubts his abilities, or he cannot muster the motivation to persevere in anything, or ‘life throws him a curve ball’ in the form of ill-health or unrequited love or financial trouble.
My conclusion, then, is that moderate subjectivism as exemplified by Kekes’ position changes the subject: it does not address the philosophical problem of the meaning of life but diverts attention to a related but distinct psychological problem. Once the two questions are cleanly distinguished one sees that Kekes’ view is just as eliminativist about objective meaning as is the view of an extreme subjectivist like Richard Taylor. What I am opposing in both is the identification of existential meaning with agent-conferred meaning, without the concomitant admission that such an identification collapses into an elimination of existential meaning. This concludes my defense of the thesis that If life has a meaning in the sense of ‘meaning’ relevant to the impersonal philosophical question about the meaning of life, then this meaning cannot be subjective, whether Taylor-subjective or Kekes-subjective. It must be objective in the sense of being the same for all and applicable to all.
Here is a passage from Thomas McGuane, Nothing but Blue Skies, Houghton-Mifflin, 1992, pp. 201-202, to which I have added hyperlinks.
He [Frank Copenhaver] turned on the radio and listened to an old song called "Big John": everybody falls down a mine shaft; nobody can get them out because of something too big to pry; Big John comes along and pries everybody loose but ends up getting stuck himself; end of Big John. Frank guessed it was a story of what can happen to those on the top of the food chain.
On to an oldies station and the joy of finding Bob Dylan: "You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend." No one compares with this guy, thought Frank. I feel sorry for the young people of today with their stupid fucking tuneless horseshit; that may be a generational judgment but I seriously doubt it. Frank paused in his thinking , then realized he was suiting up for his arrival in Missoula. In a hurricane of logging trucks, he heard, out of a hole in the sky the voice of Sam Cooke: "But I do know that I love you." Frank began to sweat. "And I know that if you love me too, what a wonderful world this would be."
What follows is the whole of Victor Davis Hanson's Promiscuous Prudes with a bit of commentary.
More than 500 people were murdered in Chicago last year. Yet Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel still found time to berate the fast food franchise Chick-fil-A for not sharing "Chicago values" -- apparently because its founder does not approve of gay marriage.
[A case of what I call misplaced moral enthusiasm. Emanuel's view is particularly offensive because conservative opposition to gay 'marriage' is principled and rationally argued. It does not derive from bigotry or 'homophobia.']
Two states have legalized marijuana, with more to come. Yet social taboos against tobacco smoking make it nearly impossible to light up a cigarette in public places. Marijuana, like alcohol, causes far greater short-term impairment than does nicotine. But legal cigarette smoking is now seen as a corporate-sponsored, uncool and dirty habit that leads to long-term health costs for society at large -- in a way homegrown, hip and mostly illegal pot smoking apparently does not.
[The church of liberalism must have its demon, and his name is tobacco. (See Cigarettes, Rationality, and Hitchens.) There is also the absurdity, not mentioned by Hanson, that tobacco use is demonized while drinking alcohol is widely accepted. Ask yourself: how many auto accidents have been caused by people under abnd because of the influence of nicotine? More or less than the number of such accidents caused by people under the influence of alcohol? The question answers itself. Now repeat the question substituting 'marijuana' for 'alcohol.' Marijuana use impairs driving skills. Nicotine use enhances concentration and alertness. Liberals have a knee-jerk hatred of corporations. When big corporations market dope will the lefties change their tune?]
Graphic language, nudity and sex are now commonplace in movies and on cable television. At the same time, there is now almost no tolerance for casual and slang banter in the media or the workplace. A boss who calls an employee "honey" might face accusations of fostering a hostile work environment, yet a television producer whose program shows an 18-year-old having sex does not. Many colleges offer courses on lurid themes from masturbation to prostitution, even as campus sexual-harassment suits over hurtful language are at an all-time high.
[There is also the double-standard: you can get away with calling a Jew a 'kike' but not a black 'nigger.' Why is 'nigger' more offensive than 'kike'? Why is 'So-and-so is nigger-rich' more offensive than 'I got a great deal; I jewed him down to $150'? You may recall Jesse Jackson's reference to New York as 'himey town.' But what if someone referred to Detroit as 'nigger town'?
In a blog post on the difference between 'asshole' and 'honkey,' a philosophy professor who wrote a book entitled Assholes starts off, "Here I mean not only 'honkey,' but any pejorative term directed toward a particular group of people ('honkey' and whites; 'wop' and Italians; 'kike' and Jews; 'chink' and Chinese people; 'limeys' and Irish people; 'n—-r' and Afro-Americans).
Notice how the PC prof refuses to write out 'nigger,' but has no qualms about 'wop,' 'kike,' and 'chink.'
As a philosophy teacher he ought to be aware of the distinction between use and mention. He is talking about those words, not applying them to people. Why then is he so squeamish about writing out the word 'nigger'?]
A federal judge in New York recently ruled that the so-called morning-after birth control pill must be made available to all "women" regardless of age or parental consent, and without a prescription. The judge determined that it was unfair for those under 16 to be denied access to such emergency contraceptives. But if vast numbers of girls younger than 16 need after-sex options to prevent unwanted pregnancies, will there be a flood of statutory rape charges lodged against older teenagers who had such consensual relations with younger girls?
Our schizophrenic morality also affects the military. When America was a far more traditional society, few seemed to care that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower carried on an unusual relationship at the front in Normandy with his young female chauffeur, Kay Summersby. As the Third Army chased the Germans across France, Gen. George S. Patton was not discreet about his female liaisons. Contrast that live-and-let-live attitude of a supposedly uptight society with our own hip culture's tabloid interest in Gen. David Petraeus' career-ending affair with Paula Broadwell, or in the private emails of Gen. John Allen.
What explains these contradictions in our wide-open but prudish society?
Decades after the rise of feminism, popular culture still seems confused by it. If women should be able to approach sexuality like men, does it follow that commentary about sex should follow the same gender-neutral rules? Yet wearing provocative or inappropriate clothing is often considered less offensive than remarking upon it. Calling a near-nude Madonna onstage a "hussy" or "tart" would be considered crudity in a way that her mock crucifixion and simulated sex acts are not.
Criminal sexual activity is sometimes not as professionally injurious as politically incorrect thoughts about sex and gender. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer -- found to have hired prostitutes on a number of occasions during his time in office -- was given a CNN news show despite the scandal. But when former Miss California Carrie Prejean was asked in the Miss USA Pageant whether she endorsed gay marriage, she said no -- and thereby earned nearly as much popular condemnation for her candid defense of traditional marriage as Spitzer had for his purchased affairs.
Critics were outraged that talk-show host Rush Limbaugh grossly insulted birth-control activist Sandra Fluke. Amid the attention, Fluke was canonized for her position that federal health-care plans should pay for the contraceptive costs of all women.
Yet in comparison to Fluke's well-publicized victimhood, there has been a veritable news blackout for the trial of the macabre Dr. Kermit Gosnell, charged with killing and mutilating in gruesome fashion seven babies during a long career of conducting sometimes illegal late-term abortions. Had Gosnell's aborted victims been canines instead of humans -- compare the minimal coverage of the Gosnell trial with the widespread media condemnation of dog-killing quarterback Michael Vick -- perhaps the doctor's mayhem likewise would have been front-page news outside of Philadelphia.
Modern society also resorts to empty, symbolic moral action when it cannot deal with real problems. So-called assault weapons account for less than 1 percent of gun deaths in America. But the country whips itself into a frenzy to ban them, apparently to prove that at least it can do something -- without wading into the polarized racial and class controversies of going after illegal urban handguns, the real source of the nation's high gun-related body count.
Not since the late-19th-century juxtaposition of the Wild West with the Victorian East has popular morality been so unbridled and yet so uptight.
In short, we have become a nation of promiscuous prudes.
What are we asking when we ask about the meaning of life? Herewith, some preliminary distinctions.
Existential versus Linguistic Meaning
Those for whom meaning is primarily at home in the semantic domain might wonder whether it makes sense to speak of the meaning of a life or of the actions and projects and events that make up a life. But surely it does make sense. Pace some older writers, there is no category mistake or any other fallacy involved in asking about the meaning of human life, or what I will call existential meaning. When we ask philosophically about the meaning of life we are asking about the ultimate and objective point, purpose, end, or goal of human willing and striving, if there is one. We are asking whether there is an ultimate and objective point, and what it is. These questions about existential as opposed to linguistic meaning obviously make sense and there is no need to waste ink defending their sense. The days of a crabbed positivism are long gone.
That being said, the similarities and differences of existential and linguistic meaning are worth noting. Two quick points. One is that a human life could be construed as a vehicle of linguistic meaning. Suppose a misspent youth issues in a man’s life-long incarceration. One might say of such a man, ‘His life shows that crime does not pay.’ This is a bit of evidence for the thesis that a life can have linguistic meaning: the miscreant’s life can be reasonably taken to express the proposition that crime does not pay. There is also the phenomenon of meaningful gestures and looks. There is the look that says, ‘I don’t believe a word you are saying.’ From some students I have received the look that bespeaks, ‘I don’t believe a word you are saying, and you don’t either.’ So if looks and gestures can carry rather specific linguistic meanings, then perhaps lives can as well. This is not to say that existential meaning is a species of linguistic meaning, but that there are analogies between them worth exploring. Indeed, if one were to assimilate one to the other, it would be more plausible to assimilate linguistic meaning to existential meaning.
The second point is that there is an analogy between the way in which context is essential for both linguistic and existential meaning. Words and sentences have their meanings only in wider linguistic contexts. An individual life, too, has what meaning it has only in a wider social and perhaps even cosmic context. This will be explored further below when a distinction is made between anthropic and cosmic existential meaning.
Teleological and Axiological Aspects of Existential Meaning.
Meaning bears a teleological aspect in that a meaningful life is a purpose-driven life. It is difficult to see how a human life devoid of purposes could be meaningful, and indeed purposes organized by a central purpose such as advancing knowledge or alleviating suffering. The central purpose must be one the agent freely and self-transparently chooses for himself, a condition that would not be satisfied by Sisyphus if the gods, to modify Taylor-style a classical example, had implanted in him a burning desire endlessly to roll stones. Of course, the dominating purpose must be both nontrivial and achievable. A life devoted to the collecting of beer cans is purpose-driven but meaningless on the score of triviality while a life in quest of a perpetuum mobile is purpose-driven but meaningless on the score of futility. But even if a life has a focal purpose that is freely and consciously chosen by the agent of the life, nontrivial, and achievable, this still does not suffice for meaningfulness.
A meaningful life also bears an axiological aspect in that a meaningful life is one that embodies some if not a preponderance of positive noninstrumental value at least for the agent of the life. A life wholly devoid of personal satisfaction cannot be called meaningful. But even this is not enough. The lives of some terrorists and mass murderers are driven by nontrivial and nonfutile purposes and are satisfying to their agents. We ought, however, to resist the notion that such lives are meaningful. A necessary condition of a life’s being meaningful is that it realize some if not preponderance of positive noninstrumental objective value. A radically immoral life cannot be a meaningful life.
Restriction to Human Life
The question about the meaning of life is restricted to human life. We are not asking about the purpose of life in general. For what concerns us is not life as such, life in its full biological range, but our type of life, life that supports subjectivity, life that is lived from a subjective center, life that can express itself and question itself using the first-person singular pronoun as in the questions Who am I? and Why am I here? Human life is self-questioning life. And as far as we know, only human life is self-questioning life.
Life and Subjectivity
The restriction of the meaning question to human life is not a restriction to human life as a biological phenomenon but a restriction to human subjectivity. We must distinguish between the occurrence in nature of biologically human animals and human subjectivity, the subjectivity that encounters itself in human animals. Our concern is not with the purpose of human animals but with the purpose of human existence, human subjectivity, human Dasein to use Heidegger’s term. What is the purpose of my existence as a subject, as a conscious and self-conscious being whose Being is an issue for it? Not: Why do human animals like me exist? It might be better to speak of the meaning of consciousness rather than of the meaning of life. What is the meaning of our being conscious with all that that entails: the positing of goals, the questioning of goals, the experiencing of moods, the being driven by desire while being haunted by conscience?
To appreciate the distinction between human life as a biological phenomenon and human subjectivity, note that the meaning question could arise even if I were not a human animal. If I were a finite pure spirit, my living would not be a biological living but it would be a conscious and self-conscious living nonetheless. A finite pure spirit could ask: Why do I exist? For what purpose? What is the meaning of my life? Imagine surviving your bodily death and finding yourself wondering about the point of your post-mortem existence. Wondering about the meaning of your post-mortem life you would not be wondering about the meaning of your biological life or the purpose of your embodiment (since you are disembodied) but about your life as a pure spirit. But I am now a human animal, and it may well be that my subjectivity cannot exist without the support of my human animality. Nevertheless, it is not the meaning (purpose) of the biological living of this animal that is me that I am inquiring into when I ask about the meaning of my life, but the meaning of my subjectivity, the meaning of my being a subject who lives in and though his projects and wonders about their ultimate point and purpose. The body is the vehicle of my projects in this material world, and it may be that I cannot exist without this vehicle. (I am certainly not identical to it.) But the meaning question does not concern the purpose in nature of this animal that is my vehicle, but the purpose of my willing and striving as a subject of experience for whom there is a natural world. The subject of experience is not just another object in the natural world, but precisely a subject for whom there is a natural world. The intelligent reader will of course appreciate that nothing said above presupposes the truth of substance dualism in the philosophy of mind.
The Irreducibly Subjective Tenor of the Meaning Question
What the foregoing implies is that the question about the meaning of human existence has an irreducibly subjective tenor. It cannot be posed as a purely objective question about either the cause or the purpose of the occurrence in nature of a certain zoological species. If this is right, then we shouldn’t expect natural science to provide any insight into why we are here and what our existence means. We should not take the following oft-quoted passage from Stephen Hawking as having any relevance to our question:
However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we should know the mind of God. (A Brief History of Time, Bantam 1988, p. 175)
Total natural science, including evolutionary theory, is in a position to provide a causal explanation of why we are here as members of a zoological species. But even if natural science could tell us the purpose of the human species, it cannot give us any insight into why we exist if this question means: for what ultimate purpose do we individual subjects of experience exist? Hawking conflates the question of the ultimate meaning (purpose) of human existence with the question of the causal explanation of a certain zoological species. That is a mistake. And this for two reasons.
First, to assign a cause is not to assign a purpose. Second, an animal species could have a purpose even if no specimen of that species has that purpose or any purpose. There is a logical gap between ‘Species S has purpose P’ and ‘Each member of S has P.’ To think otherwise is to commit the Fallacy of Division. Suppose the purpose of the human species is to serve as food for a race of farsighted and very clever extraterrestrials who long ago interfered with evolution on Earth so as to have delectable provisions for an extraterrestrial delicatessen which is projected to come online in 2050. On this scenario the human species has an objective purpose. But it is not a purpose that could serve as the meaning of the life of any member of the human species. Such a purpose is not subjectively appropriable. It cannot be the meaning of my life to be eaten or to have progeny who will be eaten. A purpose whose realization would destroy me or impede my flourishing or negate my dignity and autonomy is not a purpose that could serve as the meaning of my life. We will return to the topic of subjective appropriability.
In sum, the idiomatic ‘Why are we here?’ does not ask why certain organisms are on the Earth, or why certain organisms are parts of the physical universe. Nor does it ask about the purpose of an animal species. It asks: What is the ultimate and objective, yet subjectively appropriable, purpose of human subjectivity, if there is one? To exist for a human being is to exist as a subject of experience; it is not to be a mere object in a world of natural objects. No adequate treatment of the meaning-of-life question can ignore the insights of the existentialists.
Anthropic and Cosmic Aspects of the Meaning Question
Although the question of the meaning of human existence has an irreducibly subjective tenor as just explained, there is no denying that the question has a ‘cosmic’ side in addition to its ‘human’ side. A meaningful life is one that in some measure fits into a wider context and has its meaning in part supplied by that context. Meaningfulness is connected with belongingness. We feel our lives to be meaningful when we feel them as parts of something larger than ourselves. Now the widest context is the world whole. It embraces everything of every ontological category. The world whole is the totality of what exists including God if God exists. And we are parts of the world whole. Even if you understand that the agent and subject of a life is not identical to a specimen of a zoological species, you must grant that we as subjects of experience are parts of the world whole. Since we are parts of the world whole, and the world whole is the widest context in which our lives unfold, the nature of the world whole cannot be unrelated to the meaningfulness or lack thereof of human existence. Thus the meaning-of-life question can be formulated ‘cosmically’ as follows: Is the world, the totality of what has being, of such a nature as to confer meaning and purpose, wholly or in part, on human life? Relative to us, is the world benign, hostile, indifferent, or none of these? Is the ultimate nature of the world such as to frustrate our purposes, as a cosmic pessimist would maintain, or such as to enable and further them, as the cosmic optimist would say? Or neither?
Thus the meaning-of-life question can be formulated as a human or anthropic question but also as a ‘cosmic’ question. Anthropic question: What is the objective purpose of human existence? Cosmic question: Is the nature of the world whole such as to enable and further the meaningfulness of human existence?
Exogenous versus Endogenous Meaning
Our problem concerns the objective meaning of human life in general, if any, and not the subjectively posited meaning of any particular human life, or the intersubjectively posited meaning of a group of particular human lives. An objective meaning is one that is assigned by God or some other external agent or 'assigned' by the nature of things, as opposed to one that is subjectively or intersubjectively posited. Objective meaning is exogenous as opposed to endogenous. It comes from without as opposed to from within. For example, if the purpose of our lives is to live in accordance with God’s will, then our lives have a meaning that is objective inasmuch as it is assigned by God. But even if there is no God as traditionally conceived, there could still be an objective meaning, one inscribed in the nature of things. On the atheistic cosmic scheme of Buddhism, entry into Nirvana is the summum bonum, the ultimate end (both goal and cessation) of all human striving. Similar points could be made about Hinduism, Taoism, neo-Platonism and other systems. Life could have an objective point even if there is no God.
Philosophical and Psychological Problems of the Meaning of Life
Suppose a person’s bipolar disorder renders his particular life subjectively meaningless. That is compatible with life’s having an objective meaning. It is equally obvious that life’s lacking an objective meaning is compatible with a particular life’s being subjectively meaningful. Our question is the philosophical question about the objective meaning of human life in general, whether there is one and what it is. It is not to be confused with any personal or psychological question.
There are existential drifters, directionless individuals whose lives are desultory because they cannot muster the motivation to pursue any definite goal. Imagine a person who believes that the ultimate purpose of human existence is to attain Nirvana, but simply has no motivation to meditate, practice austerities, etc. This person’s problem is psychological, not philosophical. This is not to deny that the philosophical problem cannot become a psychological problem for a given person. A person who is led by philosophical inquiry from a naive belief in the meaning of life to a conviction of life’s absurdity might be plunged into debilitating mental anguish. Compare this case to one in which a person arrives by philosophical means at a conviction of the absurdity of human existence and then calmly considers Camus’ question whether absurdity demands suicide as the only appropriate response. If the person, disagreeing with Camus, decides that suicide is the proper response and commits the act, we should not say that his philosophical inquiry has induced in him a psychological problem, but that he has put into practice his theoretical conviction. So when I insist that the meaning-of-life question is a philosophical, not a psychological, question, that is not to be taken as implying that it is a merely theoretical question with no possible practical upshot for an individual life.
Two Sides of the Philosophical Problem
Our question is not only a question about the objective meaning of human existence, but also a question about this very question, a question about its sense and solubility. Call this the meta-side of the question. It is our focus here. I have just said something about the sense of the question. The next step is to question its solubility.
One of Dylan's great 'finger-pointing' songs. Live version.
Today Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught They lowered him down as a king But when the shadowy sun sets on the one that fired the gun He'll see by his grave on the stone that remains Carved next to his name his epitaph plain "Only a pawn in their game."
The dignity of the king allows no such thing. He never leaves the board during the game. When the game is over, however, he goes into the same box with the lowly pawns. Which is to say: all earthly dignity is as naught before the tribunal of the Great Equalizer.
Blogging attracts the like-minded, some of whom one meets face-to-face. Sunday's breakfast has long since passed through the mortal coil, but I am still digesting the thoughts and insights of Peter and Steven. I would never have met these wonderful people had it not been for this weblog.
You bait your hook and cast your line into the vasty deep. Occasionally you snag a scum-sucker or bottom-feeder. But they are easily dealt with. Your patience is rewarded when you hook unto yourself a worthy denizen of Neptune's realm.
Tony H. e-mails: "I wonder if we can now expect Diane Feinstein to introduce a bill in the Senate to ban pressure cookers." I wouldn't put it past that idiot. A typical liberal, for her it is the weapon not the wielder that is the focus of attention.
We ought not not speculate about the identity of the perpetrator or perpetrators. Let the investigation proceed.
No, I am not opposed to paying taxes. I am not anti-tax any more than I am anti-government. We need government, and we need to fund it somehow. It does not follow, however, that there must be an income tax. A consumption tax would be the way to go. But that will never happen.
Yesterday I said I was opposed to ". . . misquotation, misattribution, the retailing of unsourced quotations, the passing off of unchecked second-hand quotations, and sense-altering context suppression." An example of the last-mentioned follows.
Here is a famous passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance" rarely quoted in full:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. (Ziff, 183)
People routinely rip the initial clause of this passage out of its context and take Emerson to be attacking logical consistency. Or else they quote only the first sentence, or the first two sentences. An example by someone who really ought to know better is provided by Robert Fogelin in his book, Walking the Tightrope of Reason (Oxford UP, 2001). Chapter One, "Why Obey the Laws of Logic?," has among its mottoes (p. 14) the first two sentences of the Emerson quotation above. The other three mottoes, from Whitman, Nietzsche, and Aristotle, are plainly about logical consistency.
It should be clear to anyone who reads the entire passage quoted above in the context of Emerson's essay that Emerson’s dictum has nothing to do with logical consistency and everything to do with consistency of beliefs over time. The consistency in question is diachronic rather than synchronic. A “little mind” is “foolishly consistent” if it refuses to change its beliefs when change is needed due to changing circumstances, further experience, or clearer thinking. It should be clear that if I believe that p at time t, but believe that ~p at later time t*, then there is no time at which I hold logically inconsistent beliefs. Doxastic alteration, like alteration in general, is noncontradictory for the simple reason that properties which are contradictory when taken in abstracto are had at different times. My coffee changes from hot to non-hot, and thus has contradictory attributes when we abstract from the time of their instantiation. But since the coffee instantiates them at different times, there is no contradiction such as would cause us to join Parmenides in denying the reality of the changeful world.
Belief change is just a special case of this. Suppose a politician changes her position for some good reason. There is not only nothing wrong with this, it shows an admirable openness. She goes from believing in a progressive tax scheme to believing in a flat tax, say. Surely there is no logical contradiction involved, and for two reasons.
First, the property of believing that a progressive tax is warranted is not the contradictory, but merely the contrary, of the property of believing that a flat tax is warranted. (They cannot both be instantiated at the same time, but it is possible that neither be instantiated.) Second, the properties are had at different times. A logical contradiction ensues only when one simultaneously maintains both that p and that ~p.
Emerson’s sound point, then, is that one should not make a fetish out of doxastic stasis: there is nothing wrong with being ‘inconsistent’ in the sense of changing one’s beliefs when circumstances change and as one gains in experience and insight. But this is not to say that one should adopt the antics of the flibbertigibbet. Relative stability of views over time is an indicator of character.
Before leaving this topic, let's consider what Walt Whitman has to say in the penultimate section 51 of “Song of Myself” in Leaves of Grass:
Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Here it appears that Whitman is thumbing his nose at logical consistency. If so, the Emersonic and Whitmanic dicta ought not be confused. But confuse them is precisely what Fogelin does when he places the Emerson and Whitman quotations cheek-by-jowl on p. 14 of his book.
So why do gun owners resist Washington and do-gooders such as Nocera? "You don't understand guns," Baum said, "and you don't know gun guys, yet you want to make rules for things you don't understand for people you don't know."
. . . the following surprising statement by Joe Nocera: "But it is equally true that anyone who goes into a school with a semiautomatic and kills 20 children and six adults is, by definition, mentally ill." (Emphasis added.) Well, maybe it isn't so surprising given that Mr. Nocera is a NYT op-ed writer. Surprising or not, Nocera's claim is not only false, but illustrative of complete confusion about the meaning of 'by definition.'
Suppose a Palestinian Arab terrorist enters a yeshiva with a semi-automatic rifle and kills 20 children and six adults. May you validly infer that the terrorist is mentally ill? Of course not. He may or may not be. Were the 9/11 hijackers mentally ill? No. They collectively committed an unspeakably evil act. But only a liberal would confuse an evil act with an insane act. Suppose a young SS soldier is ordered to shoot a group of 26 defenceless Jews, toppling them into a mass grave they were forced to dig. He does so, acting sanely and rationally, knowing that if he does not commit mass murder he himself will be shot to death.
Conceptual confusion and emotive uses of language are trademarks of liberal feel-good 'thinking.' To give one more example from Nocera's piece, he refers to semi-automatics as "killing machines." Question: would a semi-auto pistol or rifle be a "killing machine" if it were used purely defensively or to stop a would-be mass murderer? Suppose it were used to deter an attack without being fired. Is an 'assault weapon' an assault weapon when used for defense? Is a liberal a liberal on the rare occasions when he talks sense?
No weapon is inherently assaultive or defensive. Any weapon can be used for both assault and defense. I can block your attack with my spear, and bash you over the head with my shield. Remember Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative? Reagan claimed that SDI was purely defensive. But even if such a nuclear shield were used for purely defensive purposes, it could be used as part of an offensive strategy -- which is what made the Russkis nervous.
The best proof that liberals do not want to have a serious gun 'conversation' is that they refuse to use the proper terminology. 'Assault weapon' has no definite meaning and it is emotive to boot. The whole point of is is to appeal to people's emotions and occlude rational thought. The correct phrase is 'semi-automatic rifle' or 'semi-automatic long gun.' These phrases are purely descriptive: neither emotive, nor normatively loaded.
Suppose I want to have a 'conversation' with you about abortion, but I keep referring to you as a 'baby-killer' or a 'murderer.' Do you think a productive discussion will ensue?
We may also tax our liberal pals with intellectual dishonesty when they elide the distinction -- which most of them full-well understand -- between semi-auto and full-auto. They ride roughshod over that obvious distinction because it serves their agenda to do so. This shows that they are not interested in truth, but in power.
It is the same with liberals and libertarians who elide the distinction between legal immigrants and illegal immigrants. They ride roughshod over that obvious distinction because it serves their agenda to do so. This shows that, in this respect at least, they are not interested in truth and clarity of thought, but in power and in winning at all costs.
And then they expect us to be civil. Civility, like toleration, has limits.
I am a foe of misquotation, misattribution, the retailing of unsourced quotations, the passing off of unchecked second-hand quotations, and sense-altering context suppression. Have I ever done any of these things? Probably. 'Suffering' as I do from cacoethes scribendi, it is a good bet that I have committed one or more of the above. But I try to avoid these 'sins.'
This morning I was reading from Karl Menninger, M.D., Whatever Became of Sin? (Hawthorn Books, 1973). On p. 156, I found this quotation:
Our youth today love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect for older people. Children nowadays are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.
At the bottom of the page there is a footnote that reads: "Socrates, circa 425 B. C. Quoted in Joel Fort, The Pleasure Seekers (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969)."
I was immediately skeptical of this 'quotation.' In part because I had never encountered the passage in the Platonic dialogues I have read, but also because the quotation is second-hand. So I took to the 'Net and found what appears to be a reputable site, Quote Investigator.
. . . was crafted by a student, Kenneth John Freeman, for his Cambridge dissertation published in 1907. Freeman did not claim that the passage under analysis was a direct quotation of anyone; instead, he was presenting his own summary of the complaints directed against young people in ancient times.
Joni Mitchell wrote the song and her version is my favorite at the moment. Judy Collins made it famous. I am on a Dave van Ronk kick these days and his rendition, though less 'accessible,' is a haunting contender.
According to the Wikipedia entry on van Ronk, "Joni Mitchell often said that his rendition of her song "Both Sides Now" (which he called "Clouds") was the finest ever."
Bill reveals in his post, Could the Meaning of Life Be the Quest for the Meaning of Life, that he “toyed with the notion that the meaning of life just is the search for its meaning.” He concludes that if the meaning of life were merely the searching for it, then there would be no meaning, strictly speaking. Why? In Part A I outline Bill’s reasoning in the form of a reductio where (*) sentences are assumptions and (1*) is the assumption Bill entertains. In Part B I outline Bill’s argument that he gives elsewhere that supports the crucial premises of his Reductio Argument. In Part C I will show that his argument outlined in Part B is not sound and briefly describe a theory that is not subject to his argument.
A. Bill’s Reductio Argument
Suppose for the sake of the argument that
1*. The meaning of life is identical to the search for meaning;
2. If the meaning of life is the search for it, then the meaning of life is subjective;
3. If the meaning of life is subjective, then life has no meaning;
4. If the meaning of life is the search for it, then life has no meaning; (from 2 and 3)
5. If life has meaning, then it cannot be identical to the search for meaning; (from 4)
Suppose one holds that
6*. Life has meaning.
It follows that
7. Necessarily, the meaning of life is not identical to the search for meaning.
7. (1*) is false.
BV responds: So far, so good, except that there is no call for the importation of the modal operator 'necessarily' in (7). (7) follows from the conjunction of (5) and (6), but from the necessity of the consequence one cannot validly infer the necessity of the consequent. The modal fallacy is explained here. I am not denying that (7) is necessarily true; I think it is. My point is that its necessity is not supported by the premises Peter adduces.
Bill wholeheartedly endorses the view that the search for meaning is necessary in order to enjoy a meaningful life. He rejects, however, (1*) (his (1)), I suspect due to something like the argument I outlined above. However, I do not think that Bill’s short post and my outline of his argument tells the most important part of the story; far from it.
B. Bill’s Sling-Shot Argument
Bill’s reductio argument heavily depends upon premises (2) and (3). Both are in dire need of justification. Bill offers no such justification in this post, but he does in some others. What justifies premises (2) and (3)? I will outline what I take to be Bill’s argument for (2) and (3) and call it “Bill’s Sling-Shot Argument”.
I think Bill has in mind an argument he gave in a previous post titled “We Cannot Be the Source of Our Own Existential Meaning” (Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 12:49 pm; henceforth, ‘EM’). We are assuming throughout that by ‘meaning’ we do not mean linguistic meaning, but rather what Bill calls existential meaning.
Bill thinks that any theory of meaning that identifies meaning with a source internal to the individual will ultimately collapse into an eliminativist theory: i.e., a theory that denies that there is any meaning to life. Premises (2) and (3) together summarize this view. It follows, then, that if there is going to be any meaning to life, then its source must be external to the individual.
Why should one think that any internalist theory of meaning collapses into an eliminativist theory? Bill offers what I have called the “Sling-Shot-Argument” in order to establish this claim. Bill thinks that all internalist theories are subject to the Sling-Shot Argument. Below is Bill’s Sling-Shot-Argument:
(SI) All internalist theories are committed to the view that the source of meaning is some action (typically mental) of individuals.
(SII) If the source of meaning is some action(s) of individuals, then meaning itself is a consequence of such actions.
(SIII) If meaning is a consequence of actions of individuals, then there cannot be any meaning prior to, and independently from, the resulting consequences of such actions.
(SIV) But “logically and temporally” (EM) individuals must exist prior to undertaking any meaning-bestowal actions and actions must exist prior to their consequences.
The above entails that:
(SV) “…the acts of meaning-bestowal and the subject whose acts they are, exist meaninglessly.” (EM) 4th paragraph)
(SVI) “…my existence and my acts of meaning-bestowal are meaningless.” (ibid)
The “Sling-Shot-Argument”purports to show that any internalist theory must collapse into an eliminativist theory. Is the Sling-Shot-Argument sound? I don’t think so.
C. The Sling-Shot Criticized
I deny premise (SI) of Bill’s Sling-Shot-Argument: i.e., I deny that all internalist theories must hold that the source of meaning is some action of individuals and that, therefore, meaning is a consequence of such actions. I deny this premise because I think that it is compatible with an internalist theory to hold that the source of meaning (or its ground) is a certain kind of property that all individual agents possess; namely, the potential of self-reflection. Actions (mental or otherwise) enter the picture only as the means to realize this potential. The picture is this. The meaning of life is the potential to self-reflect. All agents have the potential to self-reflect in virtue of being agents. Therefore, all agents have meaning to their life essentially and not merely as a result of the consequences of undertaking certain actions. The more one self-reflects (i.e., performs suitable mental actions), the more one realizes this potential and, therefore, the more one fulfills the meaning of his life. So far as I can see, this version of an internalist account, which we may call The Potentiality Account of Meaning (PAM) is not vulnerable to Bill’s Sling-Shot-Argument. Therefore, such an internalist theory does not collapse into an eliminativist theory. Hence, Bill’s Sling-Shot-Argument is not sound. I view Thomas Nagel’s theory of the meaning of life as a good example of an internalist theory which is at heart a PAM.
BV asks: reference?
Nevertheless, I agree with Bill that (1*) is too strong. The meaning of life is not identical to the search for meaning, if by ‘search’ we mean undertaking certain actions the consequences of which result in a meaningful life. On the other hand, if we think of searching for meaning as essentially a self-reflective activity, then searching for meaning is essential in order to realize the meaning of our life; namely, the potential we already posses. Therefore, viewed in this light, searching for meaning just is part of having meaning.
Peter tells us that we have a certain power or potential, the potential to reflect upon our lives. I of course agree. Peter then goes on to say, rather more controversially, that "The meaning of life is the potential to self-reflect." His thought is that our lives have meaning in virtue of their possession of a certain dispositional property (the property of being disposed to self-reflect). This is a property that we all have, and indeed essentially as opposed to accidentally. Since we have the property essentially, it is not in our power to either possess it or not, which implies that our possessing it is not a consequence of anything we say or do. The possession of theproperty is thus not a consequence of acts of meaning bestowal. So if the meaning of life consists in the possession of this dispositional property, then the meaning of life is objective as opposed to subjective. And yet on Peter's theory, meaning is endogenic rather than exogenic: it has its source in us, not in something outside of us such as God. Peter's theory, then, is a theory on which the meaning of life is both objective and internal.
If Peter is right, then I am wrong. For what I maintain is that internalist theories of existential meaning, according to which meaning is conferred upon one's life by acts of meaning-bestowal, are unable to confer meaning upon the objective presupposition of meaning-bestowal, namely, the acts themselves and their subjects, which acts and subjects must be logically and temporally prior to the meanings bestowed. In consequence, internalist theories deliver only subjective meaning. But if the meaning of life can only be subjective, then there is no such thing as THE meaning of life.
Do I have a good reason to reject Peter's theory? He tells us that "The meaning of life is the potential to self-reflect." But surely the actual meaning of my life -- if it has one -- cannot be identified with a power I possess, a power that is what it is whether or not it is ever exercised. A man who lives the unexamined life, who goes through life unreflectively, never pondering the why or the wherefore, arguably lives a meaningless life despite his power to reflect. I am assuming that one cannot live meaningfully without choosing and appropriating meanings -- which acts require reflection. But now suppose our man begins to actualize his reflection potential. Now his life begins to acquire actual meaning by his choices and decisions. But now the problem I raised arises again. The decisions and choices whereby a person's life acquires actual and concrete meaning are, in themselves, meaningless, as is their subject.
Peter is telling us that there is a property objective and essential possession of which by individuals confers existential meaning upon them. But of course they cannot have this or any property unless they exist. Since their existence cannot be accounted for by their possession of this or any property, the meaning (purpose) of their existence cannot be accounted for by possession of this or any property.
I go to Peter. I ask him, "What is the purpose of my existence?" He tells me, "The purpose of your existence and of every agent's is to reflect on its existence." That seems no better than saying: You exist for no purpose except to reflect on your purposeless existence.
Whereas the extrovert finds himself in socializing, the introvert loses himself in it: he experiences the loss of his inwardness, which is precious to him, a pearl of great price, not willingly surrendered. The clearest expression of this dismay at self-loss that I am aware of finds expression is an early (1836) journal entry of Søren Kierkegaard:
I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; witty banter flowed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me -- but I came away, indeed the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth's orbit ------------------------------------------- wanting to shoot myself. (The Diary of Søren Kierkegaard, ed. Peter P. Rohde, p. 13)
Academic tenure is sometimes described as 'up or out.' You either gain
tenure, within a limited probationary period, or you must leave. I
tend to think of life like that: either up or out, either promotion to a Higher Life or
annihilation. I wouldn't want an indefinitely prolonged stay in this
vale of probation.
In plain English: I wouldn't want to live forever
in this world. Thus for metaphysical reasons alone I have no interest
in cryogenic or cryonic life extension. Up or out!
It would be interesting to delve into some of the issues surrounding
cryonics and the transhumanist fantasies that subserve this hare-brained scheme. The possibilities of fraud and foul play seem endless. Some controversies reported here. But for now I will merely note that Alcor is located in
Scottsdale, Arizona. The infernal Valle del Sol would not be my first
choice for such an operation. One hopes that they have good backup in
case of a power outage.
Here. Are the Obaminations of the current administration inadvertently building a libertarian-leaning youth movement that will unseat both the RINOs and the leftists? One can hope.
Many young people voted for Obama because they think him 'cool.' Well, he is one cool dude, no doubt about it, except that the criterion of cool is not germane. Appreciation of that truth, however, tends to come after the bloom of youth has worn off. In the meantime, opponents of nanny-statism need to front a cool candidate. Maybe the vigorous young Rand Paul can supply the cool the youngsters crave. But first they need to learn that they are only screwing themselves by supporting the fiscally irresponsible Dems.
In the nearly nine years I have been posting my thoughts on this weblog I don't believe I have said anything about so-called same-sex marriage, except for a non-substantive swipe at Matt Salmon a few days ago. There are some entries in my Marriage category, but nothing about same-sex marriage. It is high time for me to get clear about this issue. (The elite readers I attract will have noticed the pun in the preceding sentence: 'marriage' in German is Hochzeit, high time.)
Being a conservative, I advocate limited government. Big government leads to big trouble as we fight endlessly, acrimoniously, and fruitlessly over all sorts of issues that we really ought not be fighting over. As one of my slogans has it, "The bigger the government, the more to fight over." The final clause of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution enshrines the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." So the more the government does things that grieve us, by intruding into our lives and limiting our liberties, the more we will petition, lobby, and generally raise hell with the government and with our political opponents. If you try to tell me how much soda I can buy at a pop, or how capacious my ammo mags must be, or how I must speak to assuage the tender sensitivities of the Pee Cee, or if you try to stop me from home-schooling my kids, or force me to buy health insurance, then you are spoiling for a fight and you will get it. Think of how much time, energy, and money we waste battling our political enemies, working to undo what we take to be their damage, the damage of ObamaCare being a prime example.
So if you want less contention, work for smaller government. The smaller the government, the less to fight over.
Along these lines, one might think it wise to sidestep the acrimony of the marriage debate by simply privatizing marriage. But this would be a mistake. There are certain legitimate functions of government, and regulating marriage is one of them. Here is an argument from an important paper entitled "What is Marriage?" by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson. (I thank Peter Lupu for bringing this article to my attention.)
Although some libertarians propose to “privatize” marriage, treating marriages the way we treat baptisms and bar mitzvahs, supporters of limited government should recognize that marriage privatization would be a catastrophe for limited government. In the absence of a flourishing marriage culture, families often fail to form, or to achieve and maintain stability. As absentee fathers and out-of‐wedlock births become common, a train of social pathologies follows. Naturally, the demand for governmental policing and social services grows. According to a Brookings Institute study, $229 billion in welfare expenditures between 1970 and 1996 can be attributed to the breakdown of the marriage culture and the resulting exacerbation of social ills: teen pregnancy, poverty, crime, drug abuse, and health problems. Sociologists David Popenoe and Alan Wolfe have conducted research on Scandinavian countries that supports the conclusion that as marriage culture declines, state spending rises.
(270, footnotes omitted.)
A very interesting argument the gist of which is that the cause of limited government is best served by keeping in place government regulation of marriage. A libertarian hard-ass might say, well, just let the victims and perpetrators of the social pathologies perish. But of course we won't let that happen. The pressure will be on for more and more government programs to deal with the drug-addicted, the criminally incorrigible, and the terminally unemployable. So, somewhat paradoxically, if you want a government limited to essential functions, there is one function that the government ought to perform, namely, the regulation of marriage.
It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
Half-right, say I. I am the captain of the ship of soul, my soul; I control rudder and sails and chart my course. But I am not the master of the sea or the wind or the monsters of the deep or the visibility of the stars by which I steer, or the stars themselves.
Nor am I the master of that which I control, my soul. That I am a soul is beyond my control.
And so my captaincy, sovereign in its own domain, and undeniable there, is bound round and denied by conditions and contingencies beyond my control.
I am not the master of my fate; at most I am the master of my attitude to it.
Here is a particularly egregious example of a liberal straw man argument. In a New Yorker piece, Margaret Talbot writes:
As a nation, we’re a little vague on what the Second Amendment’s protections of a citizen militia mean for gun ownership today. The N.R.A. insists that they mean virtually unlimited access to firearms for every American. . . .
Note the weasel word 'virtually' that pseudo-qualifies Talbot's falsehood, and allows her to pass it off with a show of plausibility. Or is Talbot flat out lying? A lie is not the same as a falsehood, the difference being the intention to deceive which is necessary for an utterance to count as a lie. I am not in a position to peer into Talbot's soul, so I hesitate to impute a lie to her. But if she is not lying, then she is ignorant, indeed culpably ignorant since on a minimal understanding of journalistic ethics one ought to become informed of the positions of an outfit such as the N.R.A. before confidently reporting on them.
How does the Straw Man fallacy come into this? The fallacy is committed when one (mis)represents one's opponent as holding a position he does not in fact hold and then attacking the position he does not hold. So Talbot falsely represents the N. R. A. has advocating the nonexistent right of all Americans, including felons, the mentally unstable, and the underaged, to keep and bear all types of firearms. Having set up the strawman, Talbot then earnestly argues against it.
I exposed another example the other day when I refuted the Wolff-Obama "You didn't build that!" argument.
A third example is the liberal complaint that conservatives are anti-government, as if advocating limited government makes one anti-government. Such a willful misrepresentation speaks volumes about the moral character of the ones who make it.
The AP [Associated Press] Stylebook has opened a new chapter on the non-"offensive" Engllsh-language lexicon to parse the war on the world waged by Islam. The wire service bible (can I say that?) has decreed that "Islamist" is out as a "a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals."
Bowdoin College is a small private "liberal arts" school in Brunswick, Maine. Its admissions standards are demanding. Bowdoin accepts fewer than one in five who apply (though the school admits about a third of black and other "underrepresented" applicants to satisfy its commitment to "diversity"). The cost of tuition, room, board and fees for the school's roughly 1,800 students is hefty: $56,128 for the 2012-13 academic year, a sum that exceeds the annual income for half of all American households.
[. . .]
Bowdoin requires all freshmen to take a first-year seminar, which is supposed to provide the gateway to the "critical thinking" skills the college purports to value. Among the 35 courses from which students must pick, easily half are either frivolous or, worse, tendentious exercises in identity politics. The titles alone tell the story: "Fan Fiction and Cult Classics," "Beyond Pocahontas: Native American Stereotypes," "Racism," "Fictions of Freedom," "Sexual Life of Colonialism," "Prostitutes in Modern Western Culture" and "Queer Gardens," to name a few. The latter course "examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces." One can only infer that the college deems such knowledge a necessary building block to every student's intellectual development.
[. . .]
The study also looks at the college's implicit promotion of sexual promiscuity and the "hook-up" culture among students, which begins during first-year orientation. A play called "Speak About It," which all incoming students must attend, includes what its authors say are autobiographical sketches from current and former Bowdoin students. The play depicts graphic on-stage sexual encounters between heterosexual and gay couples -- complete with simulated orgasms. Paradoxically, the Bowdoin community also seems obsessed with preventing sexual assault, which administrators seem to believe is rampant on campus despite the low incidence of reporting alleged attacks.
If Bowdoin were unique in its abandonment of traditional liberal education, this study might be of no more than passing interest. What the authors found at Bowdoin, however, exists to some degree at many if not most elite colleges and universities. This study deserves widespread dissemination and discussion -- first among Bowdoin's alumni, donors and the parents of current and potential students. But anyone interested in the future of higher education in America should take note.
Our colleges and universities shape the next generation of leaders and citizens, for better or worse. And the country's most elite schools will influence disproportionately who we become as a nation and a people in the future. What has happened to Bowdoin College should matter to all of us.
Imagine paying $225,000 or going into debt for such garbage.
A trifecta of corruption: government, the universities, business. The federal government makes irresponsible student loans. The universities respond by greedily inflating tuitions and fees while ignoring the traditional purposes of the university. Businesses demand bachelor's degrees for jobs high school graduates could do.
I was surprised, but pleased, to see that the late Lawrence Auster, traditionalist conservative, photo to the left, 1973, had a deep appreciation and a wide-ranging knowledge of Dylan's art. Born in 1949, Auster is generationally situated for that appreciation, and as late as '73 was still flying the '60s colors, if we can go by the photo, but age is at best only a necessary condition for digging Dylan. Auster's Jewishness may play a minor role, but the main thing is Auster's attunement to Dylan's particularism. See the quotation below. Herewith, some Dylan songs with commentary by Auster.
This Dylan song can seem amorphous and mystical in the negative sense, especially as it became a kind of countercultural anthem and meaningless through overuse. But the lyrics are coherent and profound, especially the first verse:
They say everything can be replaced They say every distance is not near But I remember every face Of every man who put me here.
The modern world tells us that everything is fungible, nothing is of real value, everything can and should be replaced—our spouse, our culture, our religion, our history, our sexual nature, our race, everything. It is the view of atomistic liberal man, forever creating himself out of his preferences, not dependent on any larger world of which he is a part. The singer is saying, No, this isn’t true. Things have real and particular values and they cannot be cast off and replaced by other things. And, though we seem to be distant, we are connected. I am connected to all the men, the creators and builders and poets and philosophers, and my own relatives and friends, who have come before me or influenced me, who created the world in which I live.
First off, some comments of mine on the video which accompanies the touched-up Blonde on Blonde track. The video is very cleverly constructed, providing a synopsis of milestones in Dylan's career. The first girl the guy with the acoustic guitar case is walking with is a stand-in for Suze Rotolo, the girl 'immortalized' on the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album cover. But now we see the pair from the back instead of from the front. She is replaced by a second girl representing Joan Baez. (Dylan's affair with Baez helped destroy his relationship with Rotolo.) Then the guy gets into a car and emerges on the other side with an electric guitar case. This signifies Dylan's going electric in '65 at the Newport Folk Festival, a change which enraged the die-hard folkies and doctrinaire leftists who thought they owned Dylan as a mouthpiece for their views. A quick shot of a newpaper in a trash can with the headline "Dylan Goes Electric" appears just in case you missed the subtlety of the auto entry-exit sequence. After that we see a downed motorcycle representing Dylan's motorcycle accident, an event that brings to a close the existentialist-absurdist-surrealist phase of the mid-60s trilogy, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. After the accident Dylan is further from the mind and closer to the earth. Dylan the psychedelically deracinated returns to his roots in the Bible and Americana with John Wesley Harding. The girl in the brass bed is an allusion to "Lay Lady Lay" ("lay across my big brass bed") from the Nashville Skyline album. Dylan then colaesces with the man in black (Johnny Cash), and steps over and through the detritus of what remains the hippy-trippy 60's and into the disco era, his Christian period, marked by the 1979 Slow Train Coming and a couple of subsequent albums, his marriage to a black back-up singer, and on into the later phases of the life of this protean bard on never-ending tour.
By the way, that’s the first time I’ve seen “judge” rhymed with “grudge” since Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine),” from Blonde on Blonde. Here’s the recording.
Dylan’s lyric (not for the first time) is pretty appropriate to our situation:
Well the judge He holds a grudge He’s gonna call on you. But he’s badly built And he walks on stilts Watch out he don’t fall on you.
There is now on the U.S. Supreme Court an intellectually sub-par Puerto Rican woman whose entire career has been essentially founded on a grudge against whites, a judge who makes her pro-Hispanic, anti-white agenda an explicit element in her judging. “The judge, she holds a grudge.”
Sotomayor is not the first of that kind, however. Another Supreme Court sub-competent, Thurgood Marshall, openly stated to one of his colleagues that the philosophy behind his judging was that “It’s our [blacks’] turn now.”
Thinking about the murder of motivational speaker and “positive, loving energy” guru Jeff Locker in East Harlem this week, where he had been pursuing an assignation with a young lady not his wife but got himself strangled and stabbed to death in his car by the damsel and her two male accomplices instead, I realized that this is yet another contemporary event that Bob Dylan has, in a manner of speaking, got covered. Here is the recording and below are the lyrics of Dylan’s 1964 song, “Spanish Harlem Incident,” where the singer, with his “pale face,” seeks liberating love from an exotic dark skinned woman, and is “surrounded” and “slayed” by her. The song reflects back ironically on the Jeff Locker case, presenting the more poetical side of the desires that, on a much coarser and stupider level, led Locker to his horrible death. By quoting it, I’m not making light of murder, readers know how seriously I take murder. But when a man gets himself killed through such an accumulation of sin and gross folly, a man, moreover, whose New Agey belief in positive energy and transformative love apparently left him unable to see the obvious dangers he had put himself in, there is, unavoidably, a humorous aspect to it.
SPANISH HARLEM INCIDENT
Gypsy gal, the hands of Harlem Cannot hold you to its heat. Your temperature is too hot for taming, Your flaming feet are burning up the street. I am homeless, come and take me To the reach of your rattling drums. Let me know, babe, all about my fortune Down along my restless palms.
Gypsy gal, you’ve got me swallowed. I have fallen far beneath Your pearly eyes, so fast and slashing, And your flashing diamond teeth. The night is pitch black, come and make my Pale face fit into place, oh, please! Let me know, babe, I’m nearly drowning, If it’s you my lifelines trace.
I’ve been wonderin’ all about me Ever since I seen you there. On the cliffs of your wildcat charms I’m riding, I know I’m ‘round you but I don’t know where. You have slayed me, you have made me, I got to laugh halfways off my heels. I got to know, babe, ah, when you surround me, So I can know if I am really real.