In short, Obama is the most impressive sophist of his age. In classical rhetoric, when the speaker was about to equivocate, he added an emphatic adjective or parenthetical that he was never more candid and sincere. Sometimes he inserted “on the one hand / on the other hand” to show his awareness of every point of view other than his own. Rhetoricians often projected their own base motives onto others, using straw men like “some will say” or “there are those who…”, as if illiberal enemies were so ubiquitous that there was no mundane need to name them all. Obama has mastered all that and more.
He excels especially in the expression of dramatic anguish. His attorney general is “upset” that he had to resort to tapping the phone records of reporters. Barack Obama is torn because his drones sometime kill those beyond the four thousand intended. Obama is so bothered that his subordinates have gone after journalists that he wants Congress to stop him from himself, by passing a law to prevent his own team from doing what he finds politically advantageous. It is outrageous, Obama thunders, that the IRS is monitoring his political enemies — and so outrageous that the person who oversaw the illegal program had to be promoted to enforce the fiscal protocols of Obamacare. Benghazi really was a terrorist act, because the president right after the killings jailed a filmmaker for it, blamed the attack on spontaneous demonstrations — and yet in passing said he opposed generic terrorist acts. Presto — he could post facto claim that he meant all the time that Benghazi was just one of those preplanned acts of terror.
Sophists tip their hand in jest — and none better than Barack Obama. Beware when he jokes that he will send the IRS after you, or that Predators will guard his daughters. And be even more vigilant of the preemptory denial. Barack Obama can brag ad nauseam about killing Osama bin Laden, because he first swore that he would never “spike the ball” by referencing the hit.
If you are going to throw Latin, then you ought to try to get it right. One of my correspondents sent me an offprint of a paper of his which had been published in American Philosophical Quarterly, a very good philosophical journal. The title read, Creation Ex Deus. The author's purpose was to develop a notion of creation out of God, as opposed to the traditional notion of creation out of nothing (ex nihilo). He knew that 'God' translates as Deus, and that 'out of' is rendered by ex. Hence, ex Deus. But this is bad Latin, since the preposition ex takes the ablative case. Deus being a second declension masculine noun, its ablative form is Deo. Ex Deo would have been correct. Mistakes like this are not as rare as they ought to be, and we can expect more of them in the future.
It says something that the error just mentioned was caught neither by the author, nor by the editor, nor by the referees, nor by the proofreader. It says something in particular about 'analytic' philosophers. I am sorry to report that many of them are ignoramuses (indeed, ignorabimuses) wholly innocent of foreign languages, knowledge of history (both 'real' history and the history of ideas), and of high culture generally. One name analyst implied in print that the music of John Lennon was on the level of that of Mozart. There are Ph.D.s in philosophy who have never read a Platonic dialogue, and whose dissertations are based solely on the latest ephemera in the journals. Here, as elsewhere, ignorance breeds arrogance. They think they know what they don't know. They think they know what key theses in Kant and Brentano and Meinong mean when they have never studied their texts. And, not knowing foreign languages, they cannot determine whether or not the available translations are accurate. Not knowing the sense of these theses, they read into them contemporary notions. And if you told them that this amounts to eisegesis, they wouldn't know what you are talking about.
Not all analytic philosophers are ignoramuses, of course. Hector-Neri Castañeda, for example, had a grounding in classics. When he founded Noûs, a top analytic journal, in 1967, he placed Nihil philosophicum a nobis alienum putamus on the masthead. It is a take-off on Terence, philosophicum replacing humanum. It is telling that the Latin motto was removed by Castañeda's successors after his untimely death in September, 1991. Princeton University, I understand, removed the language requirement for the Ph.D. in philosophy in 1980. An appalling development. It has been said that if you don't know a foreign language, you don't know your own.
The fact that many analytic philosophers lack historical sense, knowledge of foreign languages, and broad culture is of course no excuse to jump over to the opposite camp, that of the 'Continental' philosophers. For lack of historical sense, they substitute historicism, which is just as bad. For lack of linguistic competence, they substitute a bizarre linguisticism in which the world dissolves into a text, a text susceptible of endless interpretation and re-interpretation. For lack of broad culture, they substitute a super-sophistication that empties into a miasma of sophistry and relativism. Worse, much of Continental philosophy, especially much of what is written in French, is border-line bullshit. Indeed, to cop a line from John Searle, one he applied to Jacques Derrida, Continental philosophy gives bullshit a bad name. Some substantiation here. It is therefore no surprise that the Continental types jump to embrace every loony idea that emanates from the Left.
You can see that I am warming to my theme. I am also brushing in very broad strokes. But details and documentation are readily supplied and have been supplied elsewhere on this site. In short, a pox on both houses. Be a maverick.
What inspired this post was a query of a correspondent. He wanted to know how to render 'seize the world' into Latin. Well, we know that 'seize the day' goes into Latin as carpe diem. And we should have picked up by now that 'world' is mundus. 'Seize' takes the accusative, and since mundus is a second declension masculine noun, we get: Carpe mundum. If I am wrong about this, Michael Gilleland will correct me.
And another thing. I find it appalling that so many people nowadays, college 'educated' people, are completely innocent of grammatical terminology. Words like 'genitive,' 'dative,' 'ablative,' etc. elicit a blank stare. Grammar being a propaedeutic to logic, it is no wonder that there are so many illogical people adrift in the world.
The following first appeared on 15 January 2006 at the old Powerblogs site. Here it is again, considerably reworked.
I saw Daniel Dennett's Sweet Dreams (MIT Press, 2005) on offer a while back at full price, but declined to buy it: why shell out $30 to hear Dennett repeat himself one more time? But the other day it turned up for $13 in a used bookstore. So I bought it, unable to resist the self-infliction of yet more Dennettian sophistry. What am I? A masochist? A completist? A compulsive consciousness and qualia freak?
The subtitle is "Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness." That raises the question of how there could even be philosophical obstacles to such a science. I am not aware that philosophers control the sources of funding for neuroscience projects. And what could a philosopher say that could stymie brain science?
But let's look at a passage:
If we are are to explain the conscious Subject, one way or another the transition from clueless cells to knowing organizations of cells must be made without any magic ingredients. This requirement presents theorists with what some see as a nasty dilemma . . . . If you propose a theory of the knowing Subject that describes whatever it describes as like the working of a vacant automated factory -- not a Subject in sight -- you will seem to many observers to have changed the subject or missed the point. On the other hand, if your theory still has tasks for a Subject to perform, still has a need for a Subject as witness, then . . . you have actually postponed the task of explaining what needs explaining.
To me, one of the most fascinating bifurcations in the intellectual world today is between those to whom it is obvious -- obvious -- that a theory that leaves out the Subject is thereby disqualified as a theory of consciousness (in Chalmer's terms, it evades the Hard Problem), and those to whom it is just as obvious that any theory that doesn't leave out the Subject is disqualified. I submit that the former have to be wrong. . . . (p. 145)
Dennett has done a good job of focusing the issue. On the one side, the eliminativists who hold that the only way to explain the conscious Subject is by explaining it away. On the other side, those who are convinced that one cannot explain a datum by denying its existence.
What we have here fundamentally is a deep philosophical dispute about the nature of explanation, and not a debate confined to the philosophy of mind. What's more, it is not a debate that is going to be resolved by further empirical research. Not all legitimate questions are empirical questions.
It ought to be self-evident that any explanation that consigns the explanandum (that which is to be explained) to the status of nonexistence is a failure as an explanation. Eliminativist moves are confessions of failure. Any genuine explanation of X presupposes (and so cannot eliminate) the existence of X. One cannot explain something by explaining it away. Two related points:
1. One cannot explain what does not exist. One cannot explain why unicorns roam the Superstition Wilderness, or why the surface of the moon is perfectly smooth. There is nothing to explain. In the case of consciousness, however, there is something to explain. So it at least makes sense to attempt to explain consciousness.
2. An explanation that entails the nonexistence of the explanandum is no explanation at all.
Both (1) and (2) are analytic truths that simply unpack the concept of explanation.
I once heard a proponent of Advaita Vedanta claim that advaitins don't explain the world; they explain it away. Now it is surely dubious in the extreme to think of this insistent and troubling plural world of our ongoing everyday acquaintance as an illusion. Whatever its exact ontological status, it exists. If it didn't there would be nothing to explain or explain away. And if one were to explain it away, as one with Brahman, then one would have precisely failed to explain it.
What Dennet is maintaining about consciousness and the Subject is even worse. There is some vestige of sense in the claim that the world is an illusion. It makes sense, at least initially, to say that there is an Absolute Consciousness and that the world is its illusion. But it is utterly absurd to maintain that consciousness is an illusion. The very distinction between illusion and reality presupposes consciousness. In a world without consciousness, nothing would appear, and so nothing would appear falsely. Necessarily, no consciousness, no illusions. Illusions prove the reality of consciousness.
This is a very simple point. It is an 'armchair' point. All you have to do is think to know that it is true. But neither its being 'armchair' nor its being simple is an argument against it. The law of non-contradiction is simple and 'armchair' too.
The denigration of a priori knowledge is part and parcel of the pseudophilosophy of scientism.
Since consciousness exists, the project of explaining it at least makes sense, by (1). By (2), an eliminativist explanation is no explanation at all.
The thing about consciousness is that the only way to explain it in terms satisfactory to a materialist is by denying its existence. It is to Dennett's 'credit' that he drives to the very end of this dead-end road, thereby showing that it is a dead-end.
If Dennett were right, then we would all be zombies, including Dennett. (See Searle, Dennett, and Zombies.) But then there would be no consciousness to explain and to write fat books about.
The demand that consciousness be exhaustively explained in terms involving no tincture of consciousness is a demand that cannot be met. Explanation of what by whom to whom? Explanation is an inherently mind-involving notion. There are no explanations in nature. There is no way the science of matter can somehow close around the phenomena of mind and include them within its ambit. Science, like explanation, is inherently mind-involving.
Poetically translated: The Going Under of the Land of the Evening. Literally: The Decline of the West.
Victor Davis Hanson, Western Cultural Suicide. The philosopher in me likes it that Hanson begins with a distinction and ends with a paradox. (Philosophers hate a contradiction but love a paradox. And of course they are masters of distinction. Distinguo ergo sum, saith the philosopher.) The distinction, and an important one it is, is between multiculturalism and a multiracial society united by a single culture. A distinction being elided as the melting pot melts and we drift down the path to Balkanization too weak and self-doubting to defend our values.
Is not that the ultimate paradox: The solution to the sort of violence we saw in Britain and Sweden the past week, or to the endless acrimony over “comprehensive immigration reform,” is that the Western hosts will so accede to multiculturalism that the West will be no longer unique — and therefore no longer a uniquely desirable refuge for its present legions of schizophrenic admiring critics. If the immigrant from Oaxaca can recreate Oaxaca in Tulare, or the Pakistani second-generation British subject can carve out Sharia in the London boroughs, or a suburb of Stockholm is to be like in one in Damascus, then would there be any reason to flee to Tulare, London, or Stockholm?
How do we best honor a philosopher, especially one who has passed on? By taking him seriously as an interlocutor and re-enacting his thoughts, sympathetically yet critically.
What follows is pp. 37-42 of my article, "The Moreland-Willard-Lotze Thesis on Being," Philosophia Christi, vol. 6, no. 1 (2004), pp. 27-58.
Willard on Existence: The Question of Univocity
Dallas Willard endorses a theory of existence that he finds in Husserl: "to exist or have being (which are one and the same thing) is simply to possess qualities and relations." ("Is Derrida's View of Ideal Being Rationally Defensible?" in Derrida and Phenomenology, eds. McKenna and Evans, Kluwer 1995, p. 28) Since members of diverse categories of entity have properties and stand in relations, Willard takes this view to imply an ontological (not just semantic) Univocity Thesis: the Being of beings "is the same in every case: a univocity extending across all ontological chasms, including the real and the ideal, the reelle and the irreelle." (p. 28) To supply some examples of my own, the number 2, a token of the numeral '2,' the type of which this token is a token, the proposition expressed by '2 is an even number,' a pair of rocks, a rock, a Husserlian rock-noema, an act of perceiving a rock . . . all of these exist in the same way or in the same mode. Or perhaps it would be better to say that there are no modes or ways of existence, and of course no degrees of existence. An item either exists or it does not.
To exist, then, is to have properties/relations, and each existing item exists in the same way. But can we move directly from
1. To exist = to have properties and relations
2. There are no modes of existence?
This is a valid inference only in the presence of
0. There are no modes of property/relation-possession.
But (0) is not obvious. Why must there be only one way of having properties/relations? Such classical theists as Augustine and Aquinas held to a doctrine of divine simplicity according to which God has his omni-attributes (omniscience, etc.) by being identical to them. A contingent being such as Socrates, however, does not have his properties by being identical to them, but by exemplifying them. But if God and Socrates differ in the way they have properties, then, given the truth of (1), according to which it is the having of properties rather than the properties had that confers existence, God and Socrates also differ in the way they exist. God is (identical to) his existence; Socrates is not.
One may also question whether Socrates himself has all his properties in the same way. If his whiteness is taken to be an accident of him, then he does not have whiteness in the same way he has humanity. Near the beginning of the Categories (1a20 ff.), Aristotle makes a distinction between what is predicable of a subject and what is present in a subject. Humanity is predicable of Socrates but not present in him, while whiteness is present in him but not predicable of him. Whether or not this view in tenable in the end, its existence shows that one cannot move directly from (1) to (2).
And if the substance/accident scheme is coherent, then of course there are at least two further modes of existence, the mode of existence appertaining to contingent substances, and the mode appertaining to their accidents. Substances exist in se, accidents in alio, namely, in a substance. Substances would have an independent mode of existence, whether absolutely as in the case of God or relatively as in the case of Socrates, while accidents would have a dependent mode of existence. All of this in contravention of the Husserl-Willard commitment to the thesis that the Being of beings is "logically independent of independence. . . ." (p. 30)
Thus the first critical point to be made is that the move from (1) to (2) is a non sequitur without the assumption (0), an assumption which is tantamount to the question-begging assumption that there are no modes of existence. One is not entitled to move directly from (1) to (2).
To put it another way, one could easily hold that to exist = to have properties/relations while holding consistently with this a doctrine of modes of existence. Thus a Thomist could maintain that for both God and Socrates, to exist is to have properties, since, necessarily, neither can exist without having properties, and neither can have properties without existing. Indeed, our Thomist could hold this thesis in its strongest form by identifying existence with the having of properties. Consistently with this, he could also hold that the existence of God is identical with God while the existence of Socrates is distinct from Socrates. There is no inconsistency here because existence construed as the property of having properties/relations is quite clearly distinct from the existence of individuals. Call the former general existence, the latter singular existence. If there are no modes of general existence, which seems obvious, it does not follow that there are no modes of singular existence. Let me explain.
But first a caveat. Strictly speaking, general existence is not existence at all: 'general' functions here as an alienans adjective like artificial' in 'artificial leather' or 'negative' in 'negative net worth.' It is not as if there are two kinds of existence, general and singular. Artificial leather is not leather, but it resembles it closely enough to be confused with it. Similarly, general existence is not existence, but there is sufficient resemblance to the genuine article to beget confusion. If no one ever fell into confusion there would be no need for the phrase 'singular existence.' We would just say 'existence.' 'Singular' in 'singular existence' is not a specifying adjective, but a 'de-alienating' adjective (to coin a term) whose job is to undo the semantic mischief caused by the 'alienating' adjective, 'general,' when it is juxtaposed with 'existence.' In the same way, 'absolute' in 'absolute truth' undoes the semantic mischief caused when 'relative' is brought into juxtaposition with 'truth.'
General Versus Singular Existence
General existence is a property that absolutely everything has. As a supremely general property, general existence, or the property of having properties, is supremely abstract: it abstracts from the specific properties had in specific instances, and it abstracts from the individual havings of these properties. Thus a and b cannot have the (higher-order) property of having properties unless they have certain first-order properties in virtue of whose possession they have the higher-order property; but these first-order properties may be and typically will be different for a and b. Thus it may be that a has the property of having properties in virtue of having F, G, H . . . while b has the higher-order property in virtue of having I, J, K . . . .
Indeed, there are cases in which two individuals share the formal property of having properties without sharing one single 'material' (in the sense of the German sachhaltig) property. The number 2 and a token of the numeral '2' have no 'material' properties in common. The number 2 subsists in serene isolation from the flux and shove of the causal order, something not true of a token of '2.' To press some recently fashionable jargon into service, we may say that the property of having properties -- call it P -- is a supervenient property in the sense that, necessarily, if anything has P, there is a subvenient or base property Q such that it has Q, and necessarily anything that has Q has P. The crucial idea, of course, is that variations in the base properties are logically consistent with strict sameness (univocity) of the supervenient property. (Just as variation in the base properties in respect of which Mary and Martha are morally good persons is consistent with their both being (univocally) morally good.)
Thus general existence is a supervenient property that abstracts from property differences in individual cases. But it also abstracts from the havings of these properties in individual cases. General existence is thereby involved in a double abstraction which completely eviscerates it of all content: abstraction is made from the properties had in individual cases and in the havings of these properties. It should be obvious that these havings are individual havings and thus numerically distinct. Thus a's having of F-ness is distinct from b's having of F-ness. These havings are as distinct as the facts Fa and Fb. Even if you think there is a universal relation Having, this relation is at most the ground of, and not identical to, the particular havings that connect a and F-ness and b and F-ness. The particular connectedness of a and F-ness is numerically distinct from the particular connectedness of b and F-ness, and both are distinct from the ontological ground of the connectednesses, whatever we decide this ground is.
In sum, general existence, involved as it is in the double abstraction lately noted, has absolutely nothing to do with what makes an individual concrete existent exist. That general existence should have no modes is therefore exactly what we should expect. To assert as much would be trivial. But it would not be trivial to claim that singular existence has no modes.
Singular existence is the existence of individuals. It is in every case the existence of some particular thing, the existence of a, the existence of b, etc. Singular existence cannot be existence in general, or existence in abstracto. Singular existence cannot itself exist except as the existence of some definite item, as the existence of a, the existence of b, etc. Moreover, singular existence is not repeated in a, b, etc. in the way a universal is repeated in the things that share it. There are no 'repetitions' or examples of singular existence, strictly speaking. There are no examples of it for the simple reason that singular existence is not a property, and only properties can be exemplified. Not being repeatable, singular existence cannot be a property.
The crucial upshot is that although singular existence is common to all that exists, it cannot be common in the manner of a property. Singular existence therefore has no examples or instances, strictly speaking. Although there are no examples or instances of singular existence, we can say that there are cases of it, and that singular existence itself is a case of it, the prime or paradigm case of it.
The difference between a case and an instance (example) is as follows. Any two instances of a universal property P are qualitatively identical as instances of P; what makes them two is therefore external to their being instances of P. Thus two instances of the universal redness, one in pen A, the other in pen B, are not numerically diverse as instances of redness; their diversity must be grounded in something else, diversity of the pens themselves, perhaps. But it cannot be that any two cases of singular existence are qualitatively identical as cases of singular existence: singular existence is not a quality. Two cases of singular existence differ numerically as cases of singular existence without prejudice to the fact that singular existence is common to all of its cases. This is not a contradiction since singular existence is not a property, and so is not common in the manner of a property. (Compare a common cause: it is common to its effects without being common in the manner of a property they both instantiate. This shows that one cannot assume that the only mode of commonality is property-commonality.) What makes any two cases two is therefore not external to singular existence. Singular existence is implicated in the very individuation of distinct existents. This should come as no surprise given what was said above about aâs having of F-ness being numerically distinct from bâs having of F-ness. Given that these havings are distinct and that the existing of each thick particular is its having of properties rather than a property had, it follows that the two thick particulars are numerically distinct in their very existence.
In sum, once one grasps that (i) it is the having of a property rather than the property had that confers existence, and that (ii) in each case the having of a property is an unrepeatable having, one is in a position to see that (iii) the existing of a is numerically distinct from the existing of b. Thus Socrates and Plato differ in their very existence. Even if they did not differ property-wise, they would differ in their existence. Max Black's famous iron spheres differ in respect of no property or relation, and yet they differ in their existence since there are two havings, one for each sphere, and not one for both of them. If there were one having, then either there would be only one sphere -- contrary to the hypothesis -- or the having would be a universal common to them. But the universal Having (exemplification) relation, as I argued above in critique of Moreland, cannot be what actually connects a thing and its properties. This is not to say that there is no exemplification relation, but that if there is, it cannot play the role of unifier. The ground of particular havings cannot be a universal. Existence itself cannot be a universal, whether a universal relation or a universal property.
Numerical difference is therefore numerical-existential difference. Given that there is a plurality of individuals, and that each differs in its existence from every other one, it follows that existence itself, that which makes them exist, cannot be a property they share no matter how extraordinary it is. Existence itself is implicated in the very individuality of each existing thing as explained above. As such, existence itself cannot be the property of having properties/relations. For this property, being supremely general, can have no bearing on what makes one individual numerically different from another.
This is not to say, but neither is it to deny, that singular existence is the principium individuationis. It is quite natural to say that bare or thin particulars are needed to do the job of numerical differentiation. (J. P. Moreland, Universals, pp. 148-157) But since such particulars cannot exist unless they have properties, and since the having of properties is just what singular existence is, a difficult set of questions arises as to whether numerical differentiation can be assigned to thin particulars or to singular existence or to the two working in tandem. None of this can be pursued here. The main point, however, is that singular existence in some way enters into the very individuation/differentiation of distinct existents.
This implies that each case of singular existence is essentially unique in the manner in which each instance (example) of a property is not essentially unique. A brief excursus into the phenomenology of love will serve to illustrate the crucial distinction between a case of singular existence and an instance of a property. Paramount cases of singular existence are persons.
The problem with Alvin Plantinga’s defense of theism is a simple but wholly vitiating one [Where the Conflict Really Lies, reviewed by Thomas Nagel in “A Philosopher Defends Religion,” NYR, September 27, 2012]. It is that it rests on the fallacy of informal logic known as petitio principii. Plantinga wishes to claim that we can know there is a deity because the deity has provided us with a cognitive modality, which Plantinga calls “a sensus divinitatis,” or sense of the divine, by which we detect its existence. So, we know there is a god because that god arranges matters so that we know there is a god. The circularity is perfect, and perfectly fallacious. I can claim with equal cogency that I know there are goblins in my garden because they provide me with a goblin-sensing faculty of mind…and so for anything else whatever that we would antecedently like to exist.
Plantinga assumes that everyone has a sensus divinitatis but in some of us it is faulty. The name of this fault is “rationality.”
Anthony Grayling’s charge of circularity would be right if Plantinga offered the sensus divinitatis as evidence for the existence of God, but he does not. He says merely that belief in God is knowledge if it is in fact caused by God in this way, much as perceptual belief in the external physical world is knowledge if it is in fact caused by the external world in the appropriate way. It would be just as circular to try to prove the existence of the external world by appealing to perception as it would be to try to prove the existence of God by appealing to the sensus divinitatis. But Plantinga holds that it is nevertheless reasonable to hold either type of belief in this basic way, without further proof. I assume he would deny that anyone has, or thinks he has, a basic, unmediated belief in goblins.
Clearly, Grayling is not at the level of Plantinga and Nagel. He is more of a New Atheist ideologue and polemicist than a genuine philosopher. This is shown by the sophomoric zeal with which he attempts to pin an elementary informal fallacy on Plantinga, one that "wholly vitiates" his defense of theism. It takes chutzpah and lack of respect for a formidable opponent to think one can blow him out of the water in this way. This is typical cyberpunk behavior. The punks hurl fallacy labels at each other: fallacy of composition! Hypostatization! Begging the question!
And then there is the polemical swipe Grayling takes at the end of his letter. Polemics has its place, but not in philosophy.
Man's greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals is wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature is today like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own. (Pensées, Penguin, p. 59, #117, tr. Krailsheimer)
"What is nature in animals is wretchedness in man." That is a profound insight brilliantly expressed, although I don't think anyone lacking a religious sensibility could receive it as such. The very notion of wretchedness is religious. If it resonates within you, you have a religious nature. If, and only if.
Man's wretchedness is 'structural': man qua man is wretched. Wretched are not merely the sick, the unloved, and the destitute; all of us are wretched, even those of us who count as healthy and well off. Some of us are aware of this, our condition, the rest hide it from themselves by losing themselves in Pascalian divertissement, diversion. We are as if fallen from a higher state, our true and rightful state, into a lower one, and the sense of wretchedness is an indicator of our having fallen. Pascal writes that we "must have fallen from some better state." That is not obvious. But the fact remains that we are in a dire state from which we need salvation, a salvation we are incapable of achieving by our own efforts, whether individual or collective.
How do we know that? From thousands of years of collective experience.
People complain of the undue influence of special interest groups in Washington, D. C. Government itself, however, is a special interest group. For it profits those who work for it, and those who, while not working for it, depend on it for their livelihood, having been made dependent on it by policies and gimmicks that create dependency, a dependency that government then exploits for its own expansion. The services to the rest of us that government at all levels provides are costly, frequently substandard, sometimes nonexistent, often unnecessary, and sometimes positively injurious.
There is a semi-competent article in The Guardian entitled Philosophy Isn't Dead Yet that is worth a look. Why 'semi-competent'?
The author characterizes metaphysics as ". . . the branch of philosophy that aspires to the most general understanding of nature – of space and time, the fundamental stuff of the world." That is just wrong. If I were in a snarky mood I would say it is hilariously wrong. For it forecloses on the possibility that there is more to reality than nature, the realm of space-time-matter. You can't define out of existence, or out of the province of metaphysics, God, the soul, unexemplified universals and the rest of the Platonic menagerie. If they aren't metaphysical topics, nothing is.
The author would have done much better had he defined metaphysics as the branch of philosophy that aspires to an understanding of reality. A central question in philosophy is precisely whether reality is exhausted by nature.
Beyond these domestic problems there is the failure of physics to accommodate conscious beings. The attempt to fit consciousness into the material world, usually by identifying it with activity in the brain, has failed dismally, if only because there is no way of accounting for the fact that certain nerve impulses are supposed to be conscious (of themselves or of the world) while the overwhelming majority (physically essentially the same) are not. In short, physics does not allow for the strange fact that matter reveals itself to material objects (such as physicists).
The middle sentence in this paragraph is exactly right. But it is sandwiched between two very dubious sentences. First of all, why is it a failure of physics to accommodate conscious beings? It is undoubtedly a failure of naturalistic metaphysics, but the latter is not physics. Don't confuse physics with a scientistic metaphysics based on physics. Physics cannot be said to fail to accommodate consciousness for the simple reason that that is not the job of physics to do any such thing.. Physics abstracts from consciousness. Conscious beintgs such as me and my cats can be studied from the point of view of physics since we are physical objects, though not just physical objects.
Suppose you throw a rock, a cactus, a coyote, and me off a cliff at the same time. Rock, cactus, coyote and man will fall at the same rate: 32 ft per sec per sec. (Ignore my arm-flailing and the resultant wind resistance.) The foursome is subject to the same physical laws, the same physical constants, the same idealizations (center of mass, center of gravity, etc). Physics abstracts from reason, self-consciousness, intentionality, qualia, animal life, vegetative life. To expect physics to "accommodate" life, consciousneness, self-consciousness, agency, intentionality and all the rest is to tax it beyond its powers.
In his third sentence, the author tells us that ". . . physics does not allow for the strange fact that matter reveals itself to material objects (such as physicists)." This is an inept and confused way of making an important point. The important point is that matter is known: Our physics gives us knowledge of the physical universe. It is indeed a strange and wonderful fact that matter reveals itself to us, that it possesses an inherent intelligibility that we are in some measure able to discern. The author spoils things, however, by adding that matter reveals itself to material objects. Of course, physicists are material beings; but it is to the minds of these material beings that matter reveals itself.
The author is making an absurd demand: he is demanding that physics explain how knowledge is possible. But it is actually worse than that: he is demanding that physics explain how knoweldge of the material world is possible by wholly material beings. Good luck with that.
We are also told that current physics "mishandles time." Smolin is mentioned. Really? Why demand that physics accommodate the full reality of time? Physics, I would argue, does well, for its limited purposes, to abstract from the A-series. The B-series is all it needs. (See "Why Do We Need Philosophy?" below for an explanation of the distinction.) Physics can't account for temporal becoming? Why should it? One possibility is that temporal becoming is mind-dependent and not part of reality as she is in herself. Another possibility is that physics simply abstracts from temporal becoming in the way it abstracts from life, consciousness, self-consciousness, intentionality, etc.
The author is right, however, to smell "conceptual confusion beneath mathematical sophistication" when it comes to attempts by Lawrence Krauss and others to explain how the universe arose ex nihilo from spontaneous fluctuations in a quantum vacuum, as if theose fluctuations and that vacuum were not precisely something.
If all's well that ends well, the author ends well with a paragraph that earns the coveted MavPhil stamp of approval and nihil obstat:
Perhaps even more important, we should reflect on how a scientific image of the world that relies on up to 10 dimensions of space and rests on ideas, such as fundamental particles, that have neither identity nor location, connects with our everyday experience. This should open up larger questions, such as the extent to which mathematical portraits capture the reality of our world – and what we mean by "reality". The dismissive "Just shut up and calculate!" to those who are dissatisfied with the incomprehensibility of the physicists' picture of the universe is simply inadequate. [. . .]This sounds like a job for a philosophy not yet dead
The Gibson Guitar raid, the IRS intimidation of Tea Party groups and the fraudulently obtained warrant naming Fox News reporter James Rosen as an "aider, abettor, co-conspirator" in stealing government secrets are but a few examples of the abuse of power by the Obama administration to intimidate those on its enemies list.
These maxims work for me; they may work for you. Experiment. The art of living can only learned by living and trying and failing.
0. Make it a goal of your life to be as happy as circumstances permit. Think of it as a moral obligation: a duty to oneself and to others.
1. Avoid unhappy people. Most of them live in hells of their own devising; you cannot help them, but they can harm you.
2. Avoid negativity. Squelch negative and useless thoughts as they arise. Your mind is your domain and you have (limited) control over it. Don't dwell on the limits; push against them and expand them. Refuse entry to all unwanted guests. With practice, the power of the mind to control itself can be developed. There is no happiness without mind control. Don't dwell on the evil and sordid sides of life. Study them unflinchingly to learn the truths of the human predicament, but know how to look away when study time is over.
3. Set aside one hour per morning for formal meditation and the ruminative reading of high-grade self-help literature, e.g., the Stoics, but not just them. Go ahead, read Seligman, but read Seneca first.
4. Cultivate realistic expectations concerning the world and the people in it. This may require adjusting expectations downward. But this must be done without rancour, resentment, cynicism, or misanthropy. If you are shocked at the low level of your fellow human beings, blame yourself for having failed to cultivate reality-grounded expectations.
Negative people typically feel well-justified in their negative assessments of the world and its denizens. Therein lies a snare and a delusion. Justified or not, they poison themselves with their negativity and dig their hole deeper. Not wise.
Know and accept your own limitations. Curtail ambition, especially as the years roll on. Don't overreach. Enjoy what you have here and now. Don't let hankering after a nonexistent future poison the solely existent present.
5. Blame yourself as far as possible for everything bad that happens to you. This is one of the attitudinal differences between a conservative and a liberal. When a conservative gets up in the morning, he looks into the mirror and says, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul. What happens to me today is up to me and in my control." He thereby exaggerates, but in a life-enhancing way. The liberal, by contrast, starts his day with the blame game: "I was bullied, people were mean to me, blah, blah, people suck, I'm a victim, I need a government program to stop me from mainlining heroin, blah, blah, et cetera ad nauseam. A caricature? Of course. But it lays bare some important home truths like all good caricatures do.
Perhaps we could say that the right-thinking person begins with a defeasible presumption in favor of his ability to rely on himself, to cope, to negotiate life's twists and turns, to get his head together, to be happy, to flourish. He thus places the burden of proof on the people and things outside him to defeat the presumption. Sometimes life defeats our presumption of well-being; but if we start with the presumption of ill-being, then we defeat ourselves.
We should presume ourselves to be successful in our pursuit of happiness until proven wrong.
6. Rely on yourself for your well-being as far as possible. Don't look to others. You have no right to happiness and others have no obligation to provide it for you. Your right is to the pursuit of happiness. Learn to cultivate the soil of solitude. Happy solitude is the sole beatitude. O beata solitudo, sola beatitudo. An exaggeration to be sure, but justifed by the truth it contains. In the end, the individual is responsible for his happiness.
7. Practice mental self-control as difficult as it is. Master desire and aversion.
9. Limit comparisons with others. Comparisons often breed envy. The envious do not achieve well-being. Be yourself.
10. Fight the good fight against ignorance, evil, thoughtlessness, and tyranny, but don't sacrifice your happiness on the altar of activism. We are not here to improve the world so much as to be improved by it. It cannot be changed in any truly ameliorative and fundamental ways by our own efforts whether individual or collective. If you fancy it can be, then go ahead and learn the hard way, assuming you don't make things worse.
11. Hope beyond this life. One cannot live well in this life without hope. Life is enhanced if you can bring yourself to believe beyond it as well. No one knows whether we have a higher destiny. If you are so inclined, investigate the matter. But better than inquiry into the immortality of the soul is living in such a way as to deserve it.
The 2012 election season was filled with angry cries of “voter suppression,” almost all of them regarding attempts by states to require voter ID and otherwise improve ballot integrity. Bill Clinton warned that “there has never been — in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the other Jim Crow burdens on voting — the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.” Democratic-party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said “photo-ID laws, we think, are very similar to a poll tax.”
All of this proved to be twaddle.
'Twaddle' is far too polite a word for the absurd and willfully mendacious Clintonian hyperbole emitted regularly by leftists on this score. See my articles below.
I will quibble, however, in a manner most pedantic, with one of Fund's sentences: "Indeed, several conservative groups I talked with said they were directly impacted by having their non-profit status delayed by either IRS inaction or burdensome and intrusive questioning."
Are we to understand that the members of these groups suffered constipation as a result of the IRS shenanigans? Presumably not. Why then write 'impacted' when the perfectly good word 'affected' is available?
He peered over the keyboard bespectacled and thoughtful, playing the professor to Jim Morrison's wild man, an Apollo of musical order to anchor the drunken Dionysian front man. Morrison joined the 27 Club in the summer of 1971, expiring of his excesses in a Parisian bath tub, while Manzarek lived on another 40 some years to die on May 20th at age 74. He seems to have negotiated those calm anticlimactic years well.
Here is a beautiful 'Crystal Ship" solo from 2012. The original 1967 Crystal Ship.
The other day I headed for the sporting goods department at a local Wal-Mart. I was looking to stock up on .38 and .45 rounds. Shelves were nearly bare and the pickin's were slim. They were out of almost everything except 20 gauge and .410 shotgun shells. A sign stated that each customer is limited to three boxes per day. This is not just a local phenomenon due to the proximity of gun-totin' Apache Junction rednecks.
A Wal-Mart employee said that 7:15 A.M. was the time to get there on days when shipments arrived. But he couldn't tell me which days those were and he had no opinion about the allegation of some that the Feds are buying up ammo like crazy in a sort of 'arms race' against civilian gun owners. According to the Associated Press (AP), Homeland Security is aiming to buy 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition. That is the same AP that has recently been the target of Obama administration document seizures. Something strange is going on here. Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?
Now would our wise and benevolent government, a government that Obama insists "is us," do a thing like buy ammo to starve the civilian supply? Well, would our government use the IRS to target and harrass conservative groups and individuals such as Frank Vandersloot? Would it lie about Benghazi?
How do these shots differ? Find at least four differences. Trivia Test:
Who is the lady in red? Who is on the cover of Time Magazine? What year is it? What is the name of the album behind the lady in red and who is the artist? Who is the guitarist doffing his hat? The name 'Lotte' appears. The first name of whom? The second shot appears on the album cover of which Dylan album in which year?
According to David Hume, "Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent." (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) I've long believed Hume to be right about this. I would put it this way, trading Latin for plain Anglo-Saxon: Our minds are necessarily such that, no matter what we think of as existing, we can just as easily think of as not existing. This includes God. Now God, to be divine, must be a necessary being, indeed a necessary concretum. (God cannot be an abstract entity.) Therefore, even a necessary being such as God is conceivable or thinkable as nonexistent.
Try it for yourself. Think of God together with all his omni-attributes and then think of God as not existing. Our atheist pals have no trouble on this score. The nonexistence of God is thinkable without logical contradiction.*
Note the ambiguity of 'conceivable.' It could mean thinkable, or it could mean thinkable without (internal) logical contradiction. Round squares are conceivable in the first sense but not in the second. If round squares were in no sense conceivable, how could we think about them and pronounce them broadly logically impossible? Think about it!
Now try the experiment with an abstract necessary being such as the number 7 or the proposition *7 is prime.* Nominalists have no trouble conceiving the nonexistence of such Platonica, and surely we who are not nominalists can understand their point of view. In short, absolutely everything can be thought of, without logical contradiction, as not existing.
Humius vindicatus est.
I now define the sense of contingency as the sense that everything is thinkable without logical contradiction as nonexistent. I claim that this sense is essential to the type of mind we have. I also claim that the sense of contingency does not entail that everything is modally contingent, i.e., existent in some but not all metaphysically (broadly logically) possible worlds. So from the mere fact that I can think the nonexistence of God without logical contradiction, it does not follow that God is a contingent being. I further claim that we have a hard-to-resist tendency to conflate illicitly the sense of contingency (precisely as I have just defined it) with genuine modal contingency.
So, if someone argues a contingentia mundi to God as causa prima, he can expect the knee-jerk response: what caused God? Behind that reflexive question is the sense of contingency: if the universe is contingent (because conceivably nonexistent) and needs a cause, then so is anything posited as first cause. What then caused the First Cause? If nothing caused it, the knee-jerk responder continues, then it just exists as a matter of brute fact; and if we can accept brute-factuality at the level of the First Cause, then we can accept it at the level of the universe and be done with this nonsense. We can say, with Russell, that the universe just exists and that's all.
My point is that it is the sense of contingency, together with the illicit conflation just mentioned, that fuels the knee-jerk response to the argument to a causa prima.
The sense of absurdity as described by Thomas Nagel is analogous to the sense of contingency, or so I claim. The sense that our lives are Nagel-absurd does not entail that they are objectively absurd. And yet we are necessarily such that we cannot avoid the sense of Nagel-absurdity. About absolutely everything we can ask: what is the purpose of it? What is it good for? What is the point of it? The subjectively serious, under the aspect of eternity, viewed wth detachment from nowhere, comes to appear objectively gratuitous. This holds for every context of meaning, no matter how wide, including the ultimate context. Suppose the ultimate context is eternal fellowship with God. Reflecting on it from our present perspective, viewing it from outside, we can ask what the point of it would be, just as we can ask what caused God.
The classical answer to 'What caused God?' is that God is a necessary being. He has no external cause or explanation, but his existence is not a brute fact either. God is self-existent or self-grounding or self-explanatory. Nagel has trouble with this idea: "But it's very hard to understand how there could be such a thing." (WDIAM, 99) Why does our man have trouble? Because there is nothing that could put a stop to our explanation-seeking 'Why?' questions. In a sense he is right. The structure of our finite discursive intellects makes it impossible to stop definitively, makes it impossible to have self-evident, question-squelching, positive insight into the absolute metaphysical necessity of God's existence in the way have self-evident positive insight into the impossibility of round squares or the necessity of colors being extended. The best we can do is see the failure of entailment from 'Everything is conceivably nonexistent' to 'Everything is modally contingent.'
Just as Nagel cannot suppress the question 'What explains God?,' he cannot suppress the question 'What is the point of God?' or 'What is the point of fulfilling God's purpose for our lives?' Nagel cannot see how there could be something that gives point to everything else by encompassing it, but has no external point itself. He cannot see how God can be self-purposing, i.e., without external purpose but also not purposeless. Nagel thinks that if the point of our lives is supplied by a pointless God, and a pointless God is acceptable, then we ought to find pointless lives acceptable.
Nagel can't see how the ultimate point could be God or eternal life with God. "Something whose point cannot be questioned from outside because there is no outside?" (100) Given the very structure of our embodied awareness, there is always the possibility of the 'outside view' which then collides with the situated subjective 'inside view.' It is this unavoidable duality within finite embodied consciousness, and essential to it, that makes it impossible for Nagel to accept a self-purposing, self-significant, self-intelligible ultimate context.
So for Nagel objective meaninglessness is the last word. For me it is not: our lives are ultimately and objectively meaningful. But Nagel has a point: we cannot, given the present configuration of finite, discursive, embodied awareness, truly understand with positive insight God's metaphysical necessity or how there could be an ultimate context of existential meaning that is self-grounding axiologically, teleologically, and ontologically.
So I suggest that ultimate felicity and ultimate meaningfulness can be had only by a transfiguration and transformation of our 'present' type of finite, discursive consciousness with its built-in duality of the subjective and the objective.
But I can only gesture in the direction of that Transfiguration. I cannot present it to you while we inhabit the discursive plane. All I can do is point to the Transdiscursive, and motivate the pointing by exfoliating the antinomies and aporiai that remain insoluble this side of the Great Divide.
*One way to oppose this is via the Anderson-Welty argument lately examined. If the exsistence of God is the ultimate presupposition of the laws of logic, then all reasoning, whether valid or invalid, to God or away from God or neither, and all considerations anent logical possibility, necessity, impossibility, contradiction and the like presuppose the existence of God.
A second way of opposition was tread by me in my A Paradigm Theory of Existence.
I heard there was a beheading in London. At first I thought the perpetrator had to have been a Catholic nun or maybe a Buddhist monk. Imagine my shock when I learned that a practitioner of the Religion of Peace did the dastardly deed!
But of course only an Islamophobe would conclude that the U.K. needs to examine its immigration policy. Concern over incidents like these is surely irrational and motivated only by nativism, bigotry, racism, and xenophobia, not to mention the superciliousness and arrogance the English are known for.
Thomas Nagel suggests as much at the end of Chapter 10, "The Meaning of Life," of his little introductory text, What Does It All Mean? (Oxford UP, 1987):
If life is not real, life is not earnest, and the grave is its goal, perhaps it's ridiculous to take ourselves so seriously. On the other hand, if we can't help taking ourselves so seriously, perhaps we just have to put up with being ridiculous. Life may be not only meaningless, but absurd. (101)
Did you catch the allusion to Longfellow? It is to the second stanza of "A Psalm of LIfe":
Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest, Was not spoken of the soul.
Now one might naturally think that life is meaningless if and only if life is absurd, that in this context 'meaningless' and 'absurd' are equivalent expressions. The Nagel quotation, however, suggests that the equivalence fails. While an absurd life is a meaningless life, a meaningless life needn't be absurd.
But how? How can a life be meaningless but not absurd?
Well, suppose your life (and everyone's life) is objectively meaningless, objectively without point or purpose. That does not translate into the "philosophical sense of absurdity" (phrase from Nagel's 1971 article) unless one takes one's life seriously. To take one's life seriously, Nagel suggests, is to aim at more than comfort and survival. It is to dedicate oneself to something important, "not just important to you, but important in some larger sense: important, period." (101) The problem, as we have seen from earlier discussions, is that seriousness collides with the view from nowhere. Viewing my life from the outside tends to drain it of seriousness. The sense of absurdity arises when "the incurable tendency to take ourselves seriously" comes into conflict with the view "from the outside." The serious appears gratuitous under the aspect of eternity.
To avoid absurdity, then, we must stop taking our lives seriously. Nagel's message, at least in his little 1987 text, seems to be that our lives are objectively meaningless whether or not we take ourselves seriously. If we take ourselves seriously, then our lives are both meaningless and absurd. If we stop taking our lives seriously, then our lives will be meaningless but not absurd.
We ought to distinguish two problems:
P1. How are we to deal with the objective meaninglessness of human existence?
P2. How are we to deal with the absurdity of human existence?
Nagel seems to be saying that we solve the first problem by simply accepting objective meaninglessness, and that we solve the second by taking short views and not worrying about the point or pointlessness of one's life as a whole: "The trick is to keep your eye's on what's in front of you, and allow justifications to come to an end within your life, and inside the lives of others to whom you are connected." (100)
Objective meaninglessness is not up to us: it is a given. Absurdity, which for Nagel is indistinguishable from the sense of absurdity, is up to us: we can mitigate it by taking short views even if we cannot entirely eliminate it.
So absurdity is not much of a problem for Nagel. It certainly does not call for suicide or for existentialist heroics of the Camusian sort whereby man shakes his fist in defiance at the unintelligible and heartless universe. Irony, Nagel tells us, is the proper response.
But is human existence objectively absurd? Problem (P1) above presupposes that it is. But is it? Nagel gives an argument in WDIAM that we ought to examine. Please note that he is is arguing, not from the sense of absurdity as he describes it, but from objective considerations. Note also that his argument seems to contradict his rejection of the "chains of justification" argument he examines near the beginning of the 1971 article. (MQ, p. 12) The WDIAM argument seems to be the following.
1. If x has meaning, then x is a proper part of a whole within which it has its meaning. Thus the particular activities and projects of my life have their existential meaning within the whole of my life. Therefore
2. My life as a whole has meaning only if there is a wider whole within which my life as a whole has meaning. Such a wider context might be my family, my profession, a political movement.
3. But each such wider context can be viewed from outside and questioned as to its meaning. This includes the ultimate context if there is one, for example, God's plan for humanity. Therefore
4. The ultimate context, if there is one, must be meaningless. This is because nothing has meaning apart from a context, and no context is immune from questioning as to its point or purpose. Therefore
5. Since the ultimate context must be meaningless, my life as a whole must be ultimately meaningless, whatever proximate meaning it may have for my family, my profession, the party, etc.
By way of illustration, consider the catechism answer to the question of the purpose of human existence: Our purpose is to love and serve God in this world and be happy with him forever in the next. In Thomistic terms, the purpose of life is to achieve the visio beata, the Beatific Vision.
Now should anyone who accepts this Thomistic answer be troubled by Nagel's argument? He needn't be. For the argument rests on a questionable assumption, namely, that no context is the source of its own meaningfulness. Now that is true of all sub-ultimate contexts, but why should it be true of the ultimate context?
What is the point of the Beatific Vision? That is like asking, What caused God? God is causa sui, a necessary being. He is self-existent. Similarly, the Beatific Vision is self-intelligible, self-purposive, self-significant. The buck stops there.
Of course, given the nature of our consciousness with its in-built duality of subjective and objective modes of consideration, we can question the point of the BV (or the VB if you prefer). But we have no reason to think that this questioning by us reveals anything objective about the VB. Similarly, one can question whether God exists and why God exists, but that does not show that there is a real distinction in him between essence and existence.
The fact that I can think of God as nonexistent does not show that God is not a necessary being. The fact that I can wonder about the point of the ultimate context does not show that the ultimate context is without point, that it is not self-intelligible, self-purposive, and self-significant.
The sense of the absurd will always be with us in this life. But the sense of the absurd does not entail objective or absolute absurdity. Life can be absurd without being meaningless, just as it can be meaningless without being absurd.
mid-15c., "plot where plants are raised from seeds," from Latin seminarium "plant nursery," figuratively, "breeding ground," from seminarius "of seed," from semen (genitive seminis) "seed" (see semen). Meaning "school for training priests" first recorded 1580s; commonly used for any school (especially academies for young ladies) from 1580s to 1930s. Seminarian "seminary student" is attested from 1580s.
The universities today are places where the seeds of leftism are planted in skulls full of mush.
I am told that the consumption of paleolithic vittles conduces to weight loss. Maybe it does. But I say unto you: What doth it profit a man to lose weight if he suffereth the clogging of his arteries or the loss of his mortal anus to colorectal cancer? On the other hand, you are not going to take away my olive oil and nuts.
So I'm sticking with the Mediterranean diet as a via media between every Scylla and Charybdis the food faddists can fabricate. But don't make a religion of this stuff. Brother Jackass needs to be kept in shape. Well maintained, he will carry you and your worldly loads over many a pons ansinorum. Just don't expect him to convey you to the summum bonum.
Avoid fads and extremes. Where is the extremist Nathan Pritikin now? Long dead. A little butter won't kill you. Use common sense. Eat less, move more. Keep things in perspective. Just one pornographic movie can damage your soul irreparably, but one greasy double bacon cheeseburger will have no adverse effect on your body worth talking about. And fight the nanny-staters and food fascists every chance you get. A pox upon their houses of cards.
And now the anti-gluten craze is abroad in the land. Those with Celiac Disease need to avoid the stuff. But I don't see that that the rest of us need to fear it or that our well-being will be improved by abstaining from it. Be skeptical.
I said a few entries back that liberals lack common sense. Here is further proof, as if further proof is needed:
This week, the Los Angeles Unified School District—the second-largest in the nation—decided to end the practice of suspending or expelling students for "willful defiance," starting this fall. District officials said the practice disproportionately affects minority students' education and leads to more disciplinary problems for students down the line.
Both the policy and the justification for it are insane. That the policy is crazy is self-evident to anyone of sound mind. The justification too is completely crack-brained. It assumes that the only reason minority students are disproportionately affected by the old expulsion rule is because they are unjustly discriminated against on the basis of their skin color. But that is obviously false: the minorities are disproportionately affected and 'overrepresented' among the ones expelled because they are disproportionately trouble-causing. It is not their skin color, but their bad behavior that explains why they get expelled and suspended more often.
Liberals cannot see this because they are blinded by their politically correct notion that all groups are equal in every respect and so differential outcomes have to be chalked up to racism. Too many liberals are willfully stupid people in willful defiance of common sense and we ought to expel them from the precincts of the reasonable before they do any more damage to educational institutions.
Contemporary liberals have something like the opposite of the Midas Touch. Everything King Midas touched turned to gold. Everything a liberal touches turns to dreck.
There are vows, oaths, and solemn promises the breaking of which can be costly. There are Nixonian and Clintonian lies and cover-ups that exact a high price in the end. There are verbal assaults that bring reprisals that don't always remain verbal. And there are other sorts of 'fighting words' and incendiary speech.
What is to be done about the threat of radical Islam? After explaining the problem, Pat Buchanan gives his answer:
How do we deal with this irreconcilable conflict between a secular West and a resurgent Islam?
First, as it is our presence in their world that enrages so many, we should end our interventions, shut down the empire and let Muslim rulers deal with Muslim radicals.
Second, we need a moratorium on immigration from the Islamic world. Inevitably, some of the young we bring in, like the Tsarnaevs, will yield to radicalization and seek to strike a blow for Islam against us.
What benefit do we derive as a people to justify the risks we take by opening up America to mass migration from a world aflame with hatred and hostility over race, ethnicity, culture, history and faith?
Why are we bringing all of the world's quarrelsome minorities, and all the world's quarrels with them, into our home?
What we saw in Boston was the dark side of diversity.
Buchanan is right. We will never be able to teach the backward denizens of these God-forsaken regions how to live. And certainly not by invasion and bombing. Besides, what moral authority do we have at this point? We are a country in dangerous fiscal, political, and moral decline. The owl of Minerva is about to spread her wings. We will have our hands full keeping ourselves afloat for a few more years. Until we wise up and shape up, a moratorium on immigration from Muslim lands is only common sense.
Common sense, however, is precisely what liberals lack. So I fear things will have to get much worse before they get better.
Suddenly in 2013, what was once sure has become suspect. All the old referents are not as they once were. The world is turned upside down, and whether the government taps, politicizes, or lies is not so important if it subsidizes the 47%. Does anyone care that five departments of government are either breaking the law or lying or both (State [Benghazi], Defense [the harassment issues], Justice [monitoring of phone lines], Treasury [corruption at the IRS], Health and Human Services [shaking down companies to pay for PR for Obamacare])?
The National Rifle Association is now supposed to be a suspect paramilitary group, in the way the Boy Scouts are homophobes. One day we woke up and learned that by fiat women were suddenly eligible to serve in front-line combat units—no discussion, no hearings, no public debate. We had a “war on women” over whether upscale Sandra Fluke could get free birth control from the government, but snoozed through the Dr. Gosnell trial. The latter may have been the most lethal serial killer in U.S. history, if his last few years of snipping spinal cords were indicative of the his first three unmonitored decades of late-term aborting.
The Obama administration had decided to shut down as many coal plants as it can, stop most new gas and oil drilling on federal lands, and go after private companies ranging from huge aircraft manufacturers to the small guitar concerns [link added by BV]—based not on law, but on certain theories of climate change and labor equity. As in the case with the IRS, the EPA is now synonymous with politically motivated activism designed to circumvent the law. The president in his State of the Union address assured us that cap-and-trade will be back, given, he says, the atypical violent weather that hit the U.S. in his term—even as global temperatures have not risen in 15 years, and hurricanes are now occurring more rarely than during the last administration.
The government, we were also told, would not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, and would grant de facto amnesty for large numbers of illegal aliens as the election approached. Enforcement of existing law now is a fluid idea, always up for discussion For the first time in my life, I can not even find rifle shells on the store shelves—amid rumors that the Department of Homeland Security, at a time of national acrimony over the Second Amendments, believes it is an opportune moment to stockpile gargantuan amounts of ammunition—again, a sort of force multiplier in ensuring panic buying.
Are You a Correct Citizen?
So we are in unchartered territory. The IRS has lost our trust, both for its rank partisanship and its inability to come forward and explain its crimes. Eric Holder wants us to believe that he has no idea why his office was monitoring the communications of journalists, and yet now warrants the renewed trust of the president. Susan Rice serially misled on national television about Benghazi and so will probably be promoted to national security advisor. Even the Washington Post has decided that the president was lying in his defense about Benghazi (albeit with the funny sort of childhood rating of “four Pinocchios”) after the president’s team serially blamed the violence on an internet video, while the president simultaneously claimed that he also identified the crime immediately as a terrorist hit.
On campuses, the Departments of Justice and Education have issued new race/class/gender guidelines that would effectively deny constitutionally protected free speech in universities, a sort of politically correct idea that proper thinking is preferable to free thinking.
If you oppose “comprehensive immigration reform” you become a nativist or worse—and apparently are one of the “enemies” the president wants to “punish.” The president just condemned American guns that wind up in Mexico–implying right-wingers opposed his own remedies of new gun control and neglecting to mention that his own Fast and Furious operation sold thousands of lethal weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
The end of the revolving doors, lobbyists, and non-transparency resulted in Jack Lew—recipient of a $1 million bonus from Citibank as it both lost money and gulped down federal bailout money—taking over from the tax-dodger Timothy Geithner as our new Treasury secretary to oversee the new IRS. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is now pumping corporations for money to help spread the gospel about how eager we are for the implementation of Obamacare, as the government now sort of freelances on its own—the federal equivalent of California Highway Patrol officers suddenly ubiquitous along our roadsides ticketing in a frenzy, in fear of their bankrupt state pension funds.
What happens to a corporation that says “nope” to Sebelius? An IRS audit? Phone monitoring? Presidential denunciation as a “fat cat”? Talking points? Harry Reid taking to the floor to claim it had not paid its fair share in taxes?
Government has become a sort of malignant metasisizing tumor, growing on its own, parasitical on healthy cells, always searching for new sources of nourishment, its purpose nothing other than growing bigger and faster and more powerful—until the exhausted host collapses. We have a sunshine king and our government has become a sort of virtual Versailles palace.
I suppose that when a presidential candidate urges his supporters to get in someone’s face, and to take a gun to a knife fight, from now on you better believe him. And, finally, the strangest thing about nearing the threshold of 1984? It comes with a whimper, not a bang, with a charismatic smile and mellifluous nonsense—with politically correct, egalitarian-minded bureaucrats with glasses and iPhones instead of fist-shaking jack-booted thugs.
Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One (Simon and Shuster, 2004), p. 13:
He was different from the rest of the teen idols, had a great guitarist who played like a cross between a honky-tonk hero and a barn-dance fiddler. Nelson had never been a bold innovator like the early singers who sang like they were navigating burning ships. He didn't sing desperately, do a lot of damage, and you'd never mistake him for a shaman.
Nosiree, Bob, no shaman was he. There is more interesting material on Nelson in the vicinity of this excerpt. Dylan discusses Ricky Nelson in connection with his 1961 hit, Travelin' Man. But the great guitar work of James Burton to which Dylan alludes was much more in evidence in Hello Mary Lou. The Dylan Chronicles look like they will hold the interest of this old 60's Dylan fanatic.
Here is a better taste of James Burton and his Fender Telecaster with E. P. And here he is with the Big O dueling with Springsteen. Here he jams with Nelson's sons. Orbison on Nelson.
It has been over twenty five years now since Nelson died in a plane crash while touring. The plane, purchased from Jerry Lee Lewis, went down on New Year's Eve 1985. That travelin' man died with his boots on -- as I suspect he would have wanted to. In an interview in 1977 he said that he could not see himself growing old.
James N. Anderson and Greg Welty have published a paper entitled The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic. Having worked out similar arguments in unpublished manuscripts, I am very sympathetic to the project of arguing from the existence of necessary truths to the necessary existence of divine mind.
Here is a quick sketch of the Anderson-Welty argument as I construe it:
1. There are laws of logic, e.g., the law of non-contradiction.
2. The laws of logic are truths.
3. The laws of logic are necessary truths.
4. A truth is a true proposition, where propositions are the primary truth-bearers or primary vehicles of the truth values.
5. Propositions exist. Argument: there are truths (from 1, 2); a truth is a true proposition (3); if an item has a property such as the property of being true, then it exists. Ergo, propositions exist.
6. Necessarily true propositions necessarily exist. For if a proposition has the property of being true in every possible world, then it exists in every possible world. Remark: in play here are 'Fregean' as opposed to 'Russellian' propositions. See here for an explanation of the distinction as I see it. If the proposition expressed by 'Socrates is Socrates' is Russellian, then it has Socrates himself, warts and all, as a constituent. But then, though the proposition is in some sense necessarily true, being a truth of logic, it is surely not necessarily existent.
7. Propositions are not physical entities. This is because no physical entity such as a string of marks on paper could be a primary truth-bearer. A string of marks, if true, is true only derivatively or secondarily, only insofar as as it expresses a proposition.
8. Propositions are intrinsically intentional. (This is explained in the post which is the warm-up to the present one.)
9. The laws of logic are necessarily existent, nonphysical, intrinsically intentional entities.
10. Thoughts are intrinsically intentional.
The argument now takes a very interesting turn. If propositions are intrinsically intentional, and thoughts are as well, might it be that propositions are thoughts?
The following invalid syllogism must be avoided: "Every proposition is intrinsically intentional; every thought is intrinsically intentional; ergo, every proposition is a thought." This argument is an instance of the fallacy of undistributed middle, and of course the authors argue in no such way. They instead raise the question whether it is parsimonious to admit into our ontology two distinct categories of intrinsically intentional item, one mental, the other non-mental. Their claim is that the principle of parsimony "demands" that propositions be constued as mental items, as thoughts. Therefore
11. Propositions are thoughts.
12. Some propositions (the law of logic among them) are necessarily existent thoughts. (From 8, 9, 10, 11)
13. Necessarily, thoughts are thoughts of a thinker.
14. The laws of logic are the thoughts of a necessarily existent thinker, and "this all men call God." (Aquinas)
A Stab at Critique
Line (11) is the crucial sub-conclusion. The whole argument hinges on it. Changing the metaphor, here is where I insert my critical blade, and take my stab. I count three views.
A. There are propositions and there are thoughts and both are intrinsically intentional.
B. Propositions reduce to thoughts.
C. Thoughts reduce to propositions.
Now do considerations of parsimony speak against (A)? We are enjoined not to multiply entities (or rather types of entity) praeter necessitatem. That is, we ought not posit more types of entity than we need for explanatory purposes. This is not the same as saying that we ought to prefer ontologies with fewer categories. Suppose we are comparing an n category ontology with an n + 1 category ontology. Parsimony does not instruct us to take the n category ontology. It instructs us to take the n category ontology only if it is explanatorily adequate, only if it explains all the relevant data but without the additional posit. Well, do we need propositions in addition to thoughts for explanatory purposes? It is plausible to say yes because there are (infinitely) many propositions that no one has ever thought of or about. Arithmetic alone supplies plenty of examples. Of course, if God exists, then there are no unthought propositions. But the existence of God is precisely what is at issue. So we cannot assume it. But if we don't assume it, then we have a pretty good reason to distinguish propositions and thoughts as two different sorts of intrinsically intentional entity given that we already have reason to posit thoughts and propositions.
So my first critical point is that the principle of parsimony is too frail a reed with which to support the reduction of propositions to thoughts. Parsimony needs to be beefed-up with other considerations, e.g., an argument to show why an abstract object could not be intrinsically intentional.
My second critical point is this. Why not countenance (C), the reduction of thoughts to propositions? It could be like this. There are all the (Fregean) propostions there might have been, hanging out in Frege's Third Reich (Popper's world 3). The thought that 7 + 5 = 12 is not a state of an individul thinker; there are no individual thinkers, no selves, no egos. The thought is just the Fregean proposition's temporary and contingent exemplification of the monadic property, Pre-Personal Awareness or Bewusst-sein. Now I don't have time to develop this suggestion which has elements of Natorp and Butchvarov, and in any case it is not my view.
All I am saying is that (C) needs excluding. Otherwise we don't have a good reason to plump for (B).
My conclusion? The Anderson-Welty argument, though fascinating and competently articulated, is not rationally compelling. Rationally acceptable, but not rationally compelling. Acceptable, because the premises are plausible and the reasoning is correct. Not compelling, because one could resist it without quitting the precincts of reasonableness.
To theists, I say: go on being theists. You are better off being a theist than not being one. Your position is rationally defensible and the alternatives are rationally rejectable. But don't fancy that you can prove the existence of God or the opposite. In the end you must decide how you will live and what you will believe.
If blacks make up 12% of the student population, then blacks ought to make up 12% of school expulsions. Fair is fair. Discrimination on the basis of skin color is wrong. But in Clark County, Nevada, in 2009-2010 black student expulsions were at 43% of the student population. So Clark County is racist. Blacks are being targeted just because of their skin color.
How could anyone resist such cogent reasoning?
It is shocking but true: minority students are overrepresented in expulsions and suspensions.
Any morally decent person should be able to appreciate that justice demands that minority students be represented proportionately.
We were talking of Hawking. I said 'black hole.' You heard 'black ho' and took offense . . . . Is that my problem?
Do you really want to maintain that something is offensive just in virtue of someone's taking it to be offensive? Do you really think that there is no call for a distinction between the objectively offensive and the merely subjectively offensive?
If you are that preternaturally deficient in intellect, then I am offended, deeply and personally offended.
Critical thinking is not necessarily opposed to the status quo. To criticize is not to oppose, but to sift, to assess, to assay, to evaluate. The etymology of krinein suggests as much. A critical thinker may well end up supporting the existing state of things in this or that respect. It is a fallacy of the Left to think that any supporter of any aspect of the status quo is an 'apologist' for it in some pejorative sense of this term. After all, some aspects of the status quo may be very good indeed, and others may be unimprovable without making things worse in other respects.
The notion that critical thinking entails opposition to the status quo presumably has its roots in the nihilism of the Left. Leftists are often incapable of appreciating what actually exists because they measure it against a standard that does not exist, and that in many cases cannot exist. It is the leftist Nowhere Man who judges the topos quo from the vantage point of utopia. There is no place like utopia, of course, but only because utopia is no place at all.
Just as leftists do not own dissent, they are not the sole proprietors of a critical attitude. Kritische Theorie as used by members of the Frankfurt School is a tendentious and self-serving expression.
Liberals like to say that the government is us. President Obama recently trotted out the line to quell the fears of gun owners:
You hear some of these quotes: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away,’ Obama said. “Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.
Liberals might want to think about the following.
If the government is us, and the government lies to us about Benghazi or anything else, then we must be lying to ourselves. Right?
If the government is us, and the government uses the IRS to harass certain groups of citizens whose political views the administration opposes, then we must be harassing ourselves.
I could continue in this vein, but you get the drift. "The government is us" is blather. It is on a par with Paul Krugman's silly notion that we owe the national debt to ourselves. (See Left, Right, and Debt.)
It is true that some, but not all, of those who have power over us are elected. But that truth cannot be expressed by the literally false, if not meaningless, 'The government is us.' Anyone who uses this sentence is mendacious or foolish.
The government is not us. It is an entity distinct from most of us, and opposed to many of us, run by a relatively small number of us. Among the latter are some decent people but also plenty of power-hungry individuals who may have started out with good intentions but who were soon suborned by the power, perquisites, and pelf of high office, people for whom a government position is a hustle like any hustle. Government, like any entity, likes power and likes to expand its power, and can be counted on to come up with plenty of rationalizations for the maintenance and extension of its power. It must be kept in check by us, who are not part of the government, just as big corporations need to be kept in check by government regulators.
If you value liberty you must cultivate a healthy skepticism about government. To do so is not anti-government. Certain scumbags of the Left love to slander us by saying that we are anti-government. It is a lie and they know it. They are not so stupid as not to know that to be for limited government is to be for government.
There are two extremes to avoid, the libertarian and the liberal. Libertarians often say that the government can do nothing right, and that the solution is to privatize everything including the National Parks. Both halves of that assertion are patent nonsense. It is equal but opposite nonsense to think that Big Government will solve all our problems. Ronald Reagan had it right: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to take everything you have." Or something like that.
From a logical point of view, the ‘Government is us’ nonsense appears to be a pars pro toto fallacy: one identifies a proper part (the governing) with the whole of which it is a proper part (the governed).
I continue the investigation into existential meaning and absurdity. Earlier posts in this series are collected in the Meaning of Life category.
Let's take a step back and ask what we might mean by 'absurd' the better to isolate the sense or senses relevant to the question of the putative absurdity of human existence. I count the following main senses.
1. In the logical sense, 'absurd' means logically impossible or self-contradictory. Thus a round square is an absurdity as is a cat that is not a cat. A philosophizing cat, however, though nomologically impossible, is not an absurdity in the logical sense. In a reductio ad absurdum proof one proves a proposition by assuming its negation and then, with the help of unquestioned auxiliary premises, deriving a formal contradiction. One thus reduces the assumption to absurdity. 'Absurdity' here has a purely logical sense.
2. In the epistemic sense, a proposition is absurd if it is epistemically impossible, i.e., logically inconsistent with what we know. In ordinary English we often call propositions absurd that neither are nor entail logical contradictions. Thus if a Holocaust denier asserts that no Jew was executed by Nazis at Auschwitz, we say, "That's absurd!" meaning not that it is logically impossible -- after all, it isn't -- but that it contradicts what we know to be the case. The same goes for *There are whore houses on the Moon.* It is false, but more than that, it blatantly contradicts what everyone knows; so we say it is absurd.
3. We also apply 'absurd' to such nonpropositions as enterprises, schemes, undertakings, projects, plans, and the like. An 80-year-old with ankle problems tells me he intends to climb Weaver's Needle. I tell him his project is absurd. I am not saying that what he has in mind is logically impossible, or even that it is nomologically impossible, but that "there is a conspicuous discrepancy between pretension or aspiration and reality." (Thomas Nagel, "The Absurd," Mortal Questions, p. 13) Camus gives the example of a swordsman attacking machine gunners. That is an absurd project. The means chosen is radically unsuited for the end in view. The fantasies of transhumanist and cryonic physical-immortality-seekers I would call absurd. Ditto for the quest for the philosopher's stone, the perpetuum mobile, the classless society.
The above are all 'discrepancy' senses of 'absurd.' There is the self-discrepancy of a self-contradictory proposition such as *No cat is a cat.* There is the discrepancy of a false proposition such as *There are whore houses on the Moon* with what we all know is the case. There is the discrepancy between certain projects and plans with reality and its real possibilities. The logic and epistemic uses can be set aside: they are not directly relevant to the problem of the meaning of human existence. The third sense brings us in the vicinity of Nagel's use of 'absurd.'
4. Nagelian absurdity. Nagel's use of 'absurd' is also a 'discrepancy' use. As opposed to what? As opposed to an absolute use, to be explained in a moment. In his 1971 J. Phil. essay "The Absurd," Thomas Nagel maintains that "the philosophical sense of absurdity" arises from "the collision between the seriousness with which we take our lives and the perpetual possibility of regarding everything about which we are serious as arbitrary, or open to doubt." (13) "What makes life absurd" is the collision of "the two inescapable viewpoints," namely, the situated viewpoint from which we live straighforwardly, immersed in our projects and taking them in deadly earnest, and the objective, transcendental viewpoint from which we coolly comtemplate our lives and everything else sub specie aeternitatis. There is a discrepancy between the seriousness with which we take our projects and the indifference with which we view them from 'on high' under the aspect of eternity.This discrepancy is inescapable since both the subjective and objective viewpoints are essential to being human and they necessarily conflict.
5. Absolute Absurdity. Suppose our lives are Nagel-absurd. Does it follow that they are absolutely absurd? I define:
X is absolutely absurd =df the existence of X is (modally) contingent but without cause or reason.
Some say the universe is absurd in this sense. It exists; it might not have existed; it exists without cause; it exists without reason or purpose. "It is just there, and that is all," to paraphrase Russell in his famous BBC debate with Copleston.
It seems obvious that our lives could be Nagel-absurd without being absolutely absurd. Suppose God created us to love and serve him in this world and to be happy with him in the next. Suppose this is true and is known or believed to be true. Then our existence, though modally contingent, would have both a cause and a reason (purpose). Our lives would have an objective meaning. But this objective meaning is consistent with our lives embodying an inescapable conflict between subjective and objective points of view such that a fully aware human being would not be able to shake off what Nagel calls "the philosophical sense of absurdity." Supposing my life objectively has a purpose and so cannot be absolutely absurd, it remains Nagel-absurd because our power of self-transcendence -- which is essential to us -- allows us to call into question every thing and every purpose and every sense-bestowing wider context, including God and God's purposes, and the divine milieu that presumably would be the ultimate context. As Nagel puts it in his 1971 essay: "If we can step back from the purposes of individual life and doubt their point, we can step back also from the progress of human history, or of science, or the success of a society, or the kingdom, power, and glory of God, and put all these things into question in the same way." (17)
Indeed, even the existence of God himself, which cannot be absolutely absurd because God is causa sui and a necessary being, could be Nagel-absurd. God might reflect on his eternal life and his purposes and find them dubious and arbitrary. "Why did I limit my own power by creating free beings? Look at the mess they have made! Why did I bother? I was happy and self-sufficient and in no need of any creaturely images and likenesses." God might even think to himself: "I am from eternity to eternity, and outside me there is nothing save what is though my will, but whence then am I?" (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A613 B641, Kemp Smith tr. This is the only passage in the CPR that I would describe as 'chilling.')
Even if God reminds himself that, as a necessary being, he cannot fail to exist, the very fact that he contemplates his existence 'from outside' -- assuming that he does so contemplate his existence -- introduces willy-nilly an element of contingency and brute-factuality into his existence.
It would therefore appear that Nagel-absurdity does not entail absolute absurdity, that the former is logically consistent with objective meaningfulness. This can be see also in a third way. One key thesis of Nagel's 2012 book Mind and Cosmos is that mind is not a cosmic
accident. Mind in all of its ramifications (sentience, intentionality,
self-awareness, cognition, rationality, normativity in general) could
not have arisen from mindless matter. To put it very roughly, and in my
own way, mind had to be there already and all along in one way or
another. Not an "add-on" as Nagel writes, but "a basic aspect of
nature." (16) If this is right, then mind is not a fluke and not something that just exists without cause or reason purpose. Nature has aimed at it all along. So our existence as instances of mind is not absolutely absurd. But it can presumably still be Nagel-absurd. So again we see that Nagel-absurdity does not entail absolute absurdity.
Now when we ask whether human life is absurd, are we asking whether it is absolutely absurd or Nagel-absurd? I suggest that we are asking whether it is absolutely absurd. This question is not settled by life's being Nagel-absurd.
At this point someone might suggest that life's being Nagel-absurd, though it does not entail life's being absolutely absurd, is yet evidence for it. I don't see how it could be, but this question requires a separate post. My main purpose in this post was taxonomic. The main uses of 'absurd' are now on the table.
So what can we teach the Muslim world? How to be gluttons?
Another sign of decline is the proliferation of food shows, The U. S. of Bacon being one of them. A big fat 'foody' roams the land in quest of diners and dives that put bacon into everything. As something of a trencherman back in the day, I understand the lure of the table. But I am repelled by the spiritual vacuity of those who wax ecstatic over some greasy piece of crud they have just eaten, or speak of some edible item as 'to die for.'
It is natural for a beast to be bestial, but not for a man. He must degrade and denature himself, and that only a spiritual being can do. Freely degrading himself, he becomes like a beast thereby proving that he is -- more than a beast.
Senator John McCain is for it. Victor Davis Hanson is against it. VDH has the better case, as it seems to me.
The further expenditure of American blood and treasure "to teach locals not to be their tribal selves" (VDH) is a losing proposition. We are in deep trouble domestically, and we are going to teach benighted Middle Eastern tribalists how to live? How has that worked out in the past? And with our trash culture of empty celebrity, an entertainment industry that resembles an open sewer, fiscal irresponsibility, ever-widening political divisions, and a panem-et-circenses populace, we are not exactly role models to anyone any more.
I'm curious as to when you eat breakfast in relation to when you do your early morning studying, meditating, hiking, or running. I know you've mentioned a few times that you've done these activities before meeting folks for breakfast, so I am curious to know if eating affects your mental and/or spiritual clarity.
Eating definitely affects mental and spiritual clarity, and usually adversely, although it depends on the quantity and quality of what is eaten and drunk. My rule is: Nothing but coffee until after meditation. And no electronics until after meditation. A typical day goes like this. Up at 2 AM, reading and journal writing and coffee drinking til 4, then meditation 4-5, then more coffee and some toast smeared with almond butter (great stuff!). Then I turn on the modem (which I keep off at night), fire up the computer, answer e-mail and blog comments, work on a blog post, then around 5:30 or later depending on the season head out for 2-3 hours of exercise either a local hike/run or a combination of weight-lifting, swimming, and riding the mountain bike. For hydration I drink copious amount of water and OJ.
Only after physical exercise do I have a proper breakfast, around 7:30 or 8:30. But a little something before exercise is a good idea to fuel your exertions.
Don't imitate Jim Morrison, that distinguished member of the 27 Club, Roadhouse Blues: "I woke up this morning and I had myself a beer. The future's uncertain and death is always near." Yes it is if beer's your breakfast.
I dedicate this post to Victor Reppert who thinks along similar lines, and shares my love of the oldies.
If matter could think, then matter would not be matter as currently understood.
Can abstracta think? Sets count as abstracta. Can a set think? Could the set of primes contemplate itself and think the thought, 'I am a set, and each of my members is a prime number'? Given what we know sets to be from set theory, sets cannot think. It is the same with matter. Given what we know or believe matter to be from current physics, matter cannot think. To think is to think about something, and it is this aboutness or intentionality that proves embarrassing for materialism. I have expatiated on this over many, many posts and I can't repeat myself here. (Here is a characteristic post.)
But couldn't matter have occult powers, powers presently hidden from our best physics, including the power to think? Well, could sets have occult powers that a more penetrating set theory would lay bare? Should we pin our hopes on future set theory? Obviously not. Why not? Because it makes no sense to think of sets as subjects of intentional states. We know a priori that the set of primes cannot lust after the set of evens. It is impossible in a very strong sense: it is broadly logically impossible.
Of course, there is a big difference between sets and brains. We know enough about sets to know a priori that sets cannot think. But perhaps we don't yet know enough about the human brain. So I don't dogmatically claim that matter could not have occult or hidden powers. Maybe the meat between my ears does have the power to think. But then that meat is not matter in any sense we currently understand. And that is my point. You can posit occult powers if you like, and pin your hopes on a future science that will lay them bare; but then you are going well beyond the empirical evidence and engaging in high-flying speculations that ought to seem unseemly to hard-headed empiricistic and scientistic types.
Such types are known to complain about spook stuff and ghosts-in-machines. But to impute occult powers, powers beyond our ken, to brain matter does not seem to be much of an improvement. For that is a sort of dualism too. There are the properties and powers we know about, and the properties and powers we know nothing about but posit to avoid the absurdities of identity materialism and eliminativism. There is also the dualism of imagining that matter when organized into human brains is toto caelo different from ordinary hunks of matter. There is also a dualism within the brain as between those parts of it that are presumably thinking and feeling and those other parts that perform more mudane functions. Why are some brain states mental and others not? Think about it. (I have a detailed post on this but I don't have time to find it.)
The materialist operates with a conception of matter tied to current physics. On that conception of matter, it is simply unintelligible to to say that brains feel or think. If he nonetheless ascribes mental powers to matter, then he abandons materialism for something closer to panpsychism. I seem to recall Reppert making this point recently.
It is worth noting that the reverent gushing of the neuro-scientistic types over the incredible complexity (pound the lectern!) of the brain does absolutely nothing to reduce the unintelligibility of the notion that it is brains or parts of brains that are the subjects of intentional and qualitative mental states. For it is unintelligible how ramping up complexity can trigger a metabasis eis allo genos, a shift into another genus. Are you telling me that meat that means is just meat that is more complex than ordinary meat? You might as well say that the leap from unmeaning meat to meaning meat is a miracle. Some speak of 'emergence.' But that word merely papers over the difficulty, labelling the problem without solving it. Do you materialists believe in miracle meat or mystery meat? Do you believe in magic?
I've been following your writing on same sex marriage and I've got to say I think you have, in a certain sense, taken the bait. SSM proponents demand much of conservatives that they are in no position to demand. For instance, they demand that conservatives, in order to justify their views on marriage, indicate a single property or set of properties unique to the relationships that currently count as marriages. "All and only heterosexual couples have what common feature?" is the challenge.
You try to meet this demand by specifying potentiality to procreate. This is only true on a metaphysical understanding of "potentiality" – in the ordinary sense, 70-year-olds have lost that potentiality.
Spencer, I think you have misconstrued my argument. I did not use the word 'potentiality.' And I don't know what you mean by a metaphysical as opposed to an ordinary understanding of the term. Here is what I said:
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.
I did not make the (false) claim that every opposite-sexed couple has the power to procreate.
Unfortunately, I think conservatives do themselves great harm when they rely on metaphysics in the marriage debate when they have recourse to other lines of response. I respect metaphysics, but it is rarely useful in politics.
I disagree completely. The same-sex marriage question and most if not all of the 'hot button' issues currently debated are metaphysical at bottom. Consider abortion. Everything rides on the status of the fetus. Is it a person in the normative sense, i.e., a rights-possessor? What are the criteria of descriptive and normative personhood? What are rights? In what are they grounded? These are metaphysical questions. A powerful anti-abortion argument is the potentiality argument. Underlying it, however, is broadly Aristotelian metaphysics. Those who reject this metaphysics will be opting for some metaphysical alternative. Questions about diachronic numerical identity arise, questions that are plainly metaphysical. (See Fission and Zygotes.) And so on.
I could show the same for most of the 'hot button' issues. In general, political philosophy rests on normative ethics which rests on a theory of human nature (philosophical anthropology), which is turn presupposes metaphysics. So metaphysics is unavoidable. One point I will concede, however, is that we ought to keep religion out of these discussions, assuming we are addressing fellow citizens as opposed to co-religionists.
Let me remind you that very often the law makes distinctions where there is no essential difference, as when we pick a certain age as the baseline for sexual consent. There is a certain kind of arbitrariness there, but one we must be stuck with in any event. So, essential difference is neither necessary nor sufficient for a difference in legal and social status.
You are making it sound as it it is wholly arbitrary where the law draws a line. I gave the example of driving. It is somewhat arbitrary, but not totally arbitrary, to make the legal driving age 16. There are excellent, non-arbitrary, reasons for not making it five or ten, or 25 or 30. These reasons are grounded in biological and psychological facts. As for the age of sexual consent, a non-arbitrary lower bound is provided by puberty. Similarly with voting and drinking alcohol. There is a range of arbitrarity between, say, 18 and 21. But there are excellent, non-abitrary reasons grounded in biological and developmental facts for keeping six year olds out of voting booths and bar rooms.
So I find your comment confused. No essential difference need be cited for making the driving age 16 rather than 17, but essential differences are relevant when we move beyond the range of arbitrarity. I am tempted to say that the lower and upper bounds on the range of arbitrarity are themselves non-arbitrary.
Applying this to same-sex 'marriage,' there is nothing arbitrary about the law's not recognizing SSMs when it recognizes OSMs. For there is the essential difference that procreation is impossible in a SSM but not in an OSM. Arbitrarity and a bit of unfairness come in when the law allows non-procreating OS couples to marry. But as I said, practical laws cannot cater to unusual cases.
A better response, and the one I use, is to challenge the challenge. Tell your interlocutor, "If I must produce some relevant property common to all heterosexual couples, then it should also be incumbent on you to specify what kinds of relationships can count as marriages, and what is the morally relevant property that all and only those relationships have. Since you think this kind of challenge is proper, you must already have something in mind to defend your side. So go on, then." SSM proponents hate this move, because it reveals how much their strategy relies upon burden-shifting and tacit double standards. I submit that your interlocutor probably won't even tell you how much change he is committing himself to, or what marriage should be. But suppose he says "Any two consenting adults, regardless of gender." Then ask him what is the special property that all and only couples have, that no threesome has. He will not have a persuasive answer.
I deny that your approach is better, though I grant that it is a reasonable one and does have the advantage of side-stepping the contentious metaphysical questions. But it has the disadvantage of entangling us in burden-of-proof considerations. You accuse the same-sexer of shifting the burden of proof. But he will reasonably demand to know why he should shoulder the burden. My position on burden-of-proof is that
In philosophy no good purpose is served by claims that the BOP lies on one side or the other of a dispute, or that there is a DP [defeasible presumption] in favor of this thesis but not in favor of that one. For there is no fact of the matter as to where the BOP lies. BOP considerations are usefully deployed only in dialectical situations in which some authority presides over the debate and lays down the rules of procedure and has the power to punish those who violate them. Such an authority constitutes by his decision the 'fact' that the BOP lies on one side rather than on the other. We find such authorities in courts of law. But there is no court of philosophy.
It is bad sort of conservative who stands on tradition and takes the way things have been as sufficient justification for their remaining so. The wise conservative admits that the presumption in favor of traditional ways of doing things is defeasible. And so he takes the challenge of the same-sexer seriously. He tries to explain why the law should recognize OS but no SS unions as marriages. Furthermore, if he cannot meet the challenge, then he ought to re-evaluate and perhaps change his views about marriage. It would be unphilosophical of him to stand on tradition and ignore sincerely intended rational challenges to it.