One often reads the following definition of political correctness. "Someone who is politically correct believes that language and actions that could be offensive to others, especially those relating to sex and race, should be avoided." Here. Merriam-Webster, Wikipedia, and other sources offer similar definitions.
This is not at all what 'political correctness' means when used by people in the know. The above definition conflates being politically correct with being polite, civil, and respectful of others and it conflates being politically incorrect with being rude, offensive, and disrespectful of others. For example, Donald Trump was not being politically incorrect when he made his vile comments about Megan Kelly and Carly Fiorina. He was being rude and offensive in a politically foolish display of misogyny.
It is worth noting that in some cases rude and offensive speech is justified as a response to same. Justified or not, the politically incorrect and the rude/offensive/disrespectful are separate categories. A Venn diagram may help where the A region below contains politically incorrect statements and behaviors, the B region contains rude/offensive/disrespectful statements and behaviors, and the intersection of the two classes contains statements and behaviors that are both. For example, suppose someone says, 'Broads do not belong in the Navy SEALs or the Army Rangers.' This statement is both rude/offensive/disrespectful and politically incorrect while 'Women do not belong in Navy SEALs or the Army Rangers' is politically incorrect but not (objectively) offensive. Of course, one might take inappropriate offense at the second statement, but that is his or her problem. People, cry bullies and liberals especially, take offense at the damndest things!
One way to define a term is extensionally by giving a list of the items to which it applies. These are the items that fall within the extension of the term. I will now provide a list of some politically incorrect statements and then ask what they have in common. This will allow us to pin down the intension of the term 'politically incorrect,' and from there the intension of 'politically correct.' Here then are some politically incorrect statements:
Blacks are incarcerated in proportionally greater numbers than whites because they commit proportionally more crimes.
Not only do black lives matter; all lives matter including the lives of law enforcement agents and the lives of the unborn.
While Muslims qua Muslims ought not be barred from political office, Sharia-supporting Muslims ought to be.
The killing of innocent human beings is a grave moral evil, and this includes the killing of pre-natal human beings.
At the present time, the majority of terrorists in the world derive their ideological support from one religion, Islam.
The Crusades were defensive wars.
The purpose of taxation is to raise monies to cover the costs of governance, not to redistribute wealth.
Free market economies under the rule of law are more likely to lead to human flourishing than socialist economies.
There was no moral equivalence between the USA and the USSR.
Women are 'underrepresented' in philosophy, not because of 'sexism' or a male conspiracy to exclude them, but because of the following factors: women as a group are not as interested in philosophy as men are; the feminine nature is averse to the argumentative and occasionally 'blood sport' aspect of philosophy; women as a group are just not as good at philosophy as men, where exceptions such as Elizabeth Anscombe prove the rule.
Apart from the STEM disciplines, the universities of the land have become leftist seminaries, hotbeds of leftist indoctrination. They have lost touch with their noble ideals and traditions.
Equality of opportunity is no guarantee of equality of outcome, and it is fallacious to argue from inequality of outcome to sexism or racism as the cause.
Political correctness is a major threat to the values of the West including the West's commitment to open debate, toleration, and free inquiry.
So there you have a baker's dozen of politically incorrect statements. There are plenty more where those came from. I would say that each is true, though I will grant that some are rationally debatable. But whether true or false, rationally defensible or indefensible, they are all clear examples of politically incorrect statements.
Now what do they have in common in virtue of which they are all instances of political incorrectness? The most important common feature is that each opposes the contemporary liberal or leftist or 'progressive' worldview. To be politically correct, then, is to support the leftist worldview and the leftist agenda. It follows that a conservative cannot be politically correct. P.C. comes from the C.P. The P. C. mentality is a successor form of the Communist mentality. To be politically correct is to toe the party line. It is to support leftist positions and tactics, including the suppression of the free speech rights of opponents. Essential to leftism is the double standard. So while the politically correct insist on their own free speech rights, they deny them to their opponents, which is why they routinely shout them down.
Patrick Grim gives something like the following argument. What I know when I know that
1. I am making a mess
is an indexical fact that no one else can know. At most, what someone else can know is that
2. BV is making a mess
or perhaps, pointing to BV, that
3. He is making a mess.
Just as no one except BV can refer to BV by tokening the first-person singular pronoun, no one except BV has access to the indexical fact that, as BV would put it to himself, I am BV. Only BV is privy to this fact; only BV knows himself in the first-person way. Now an omniscient being knows everything that can be known. But although I am not omniscient, there is at least one proposition that I know -- namely (1) -- that is not known by any other knower, including an omniscient knower. So an omnisicent being is impossible: by its very definition it must know every fact that can be known, but there are indexical facts that it cannot know. God can know that BV is making a mess but he cannot know what I know when I know that I am making a mess. For any subject S distinct from God, the first-person facts appertinent to S are inaccessible to every mind distinct from S, including God's mind. That is what I take to be Grim's argument.
I suppose one could counter the argument by denying that there are indexical facts. But since I hold that there are both indexical propositions and indexical facts, that response route is not available to me. Let me see if I can respond by making a distinction between two senses of 'omniscience.'
A. X is omniscient1=df X knows every fact knowable by some subject or other.
B. X is omniscient =df X knows every fact knowable by some one subject.
What indexical facts show is that no being is or can be omniscient in the first sense. No being knows every indexical and non-indexical fact. But a failure to know what cannot be known does not count against a being's being omniscient in a defensible sense of this term any more than a failure to do what cannot be done counts against a being's being omnipotent. A defensible sense of 'omniscience' is supplied by (B). In this second sense, God is omniscient: he knows every fact that one subject can know, namely, every non-indexical fact, plus all facts pertaining to the divine subjectivity. What more could one want?
Since no being could possibly satisfy (A), (A) is not the appropriate sense of 'omniscience.' Compare omnipotence. An omnipotent being cannot be one who can do just anything, since there are both logical and non-logical limits on what any agent can do. So from the fact that it is impossible for God to know what is impossible for any one being to know, it does not follow that God is not omniscient.
To sum up. There are irreducible first-personal facts that show that no being can be omniscient in the (A)-sense: Patrick Grim's argument is sound. But the existence of irreducible first-personal facts is consistent with the truth of standard theism since the latter is committed only to a being omniscient in the (B)-sense of 'omniscience.'
There was a dust-up back in 2012 over Chick-Fil-A. But now the company is back in the news because of an attack by the leftist mayor of NYC, Bozo de Blasio. Story here.
You can do your bit in countering these totalitarian bastards by observing my maxim, 'No day without political incorrectness.' Each day you must engage in one or more politically incorrect acts. Some suggestions:
Smoke a cigar
Use standard English
Practice with a firearm
Read the Bible
Enunciate uncomfortable truths inconsistent with the liberal Weltanschauung
Read Maverick Philosopher
Think for yourself
Use the Left's Alinskyite tactics against them
If your alma mater coddles cry bullies, refuse to lend financial support
Give your baby baby formula
Get your kids out of the public schools
Read the Constitution
Cancel your subscription to The New York Times
Use the mens' room if you were born with the primary male characteristic
Find more examples of politically incorrect things to do
A Czech reader sent me some materials in which he raises the title question. One of them is a YouTube video. I will unpack the question in my own way and then pronounce my verdict.
Suppose what ought to be evident, namely, that we are morally responsible for our actions. Among actions are those that could be labeled 'theoretical.' Among theoretical actions are those we engage in when we do philosophy. (And please note that philosophy is indeed something we do: it is an activity even if it culminates in contemplation.) Philosophical actions include raising questions, expounding them, entering into dialog with others, consulting and comparing authorities, drawing inferences, generalizing, hunting for counterexamples, testing arguments for validity, deciding which issues are salient, and so on.
Given our moral responsibility for our actions, including our philosophical actions, there is the admittedly farfetched possibility that we do wrong when we philosophize. Given this 'possibility' are we not being intolerably dogmatic when we just 'cut loose and philosophize' without a preliminary examination of the question of the moral justifiability of philosophical actions?
Suppose someone were to issue this pronunciamento: It is wrong, always and everywhere, to do anything whatsoever without first having established the moral acceptability of the proposed action!
Or as my correspondent puts it: No action can [may] be performed before its ethical legitimation! He calls this the "methodical rule of the ethical skeptic."
The draconian demand under consideration is obviously self-referential and in consequence self-vitiating. If it is wrong to act until I have shown that my action is morally permissible, then it is wrong to engage in all the 'internal' or theoretical actions necessary to determine whether my proposed action (whether theoretical or practical) is morally permissible until I have shown that the theoretical actions are morally permissible. It follows that the ethical demand cannot be met. (A vicious infinite regress is involved.)
Now an ethical demand that cannot be met is no ethical demand at all. For 'ought' implies 'can.' If I ought to do such-and-such, then it must be possible for me to do it, and not just in a merely logical sense of 'possible.' But it is not possible for me to show the moral permissibility of all of my actions.
I conclude that one is not being censurably dogmatic when one just 'cuts loose and philosophizes,' and that we have been given no good reason to think that philosophizing is morally wrong.
This is where things got interesting, and President Michael Drake came into his own. He sent osu Senior Vice President Jay Kasey as his ambassador to the protestors. Speaking in calm, measured tones (the video clip is widely available on the internet), Kasey explained that he was not there to negotiate. “Dr. Drake will never receive a list of demands and he will not negotiate with you.” Er, what? Yes, they heard right. They were in violation of the Student Code of Conduct, Kasey informed them, and if they did not vacate the building by a certain time, police officers would be called to clear the room. The administration was pleased, he added, to “give you the opportunity to go to jail for your beliefs.”
This wasn’t part of the script the students had signed on for. “What do you mean by ‘clear the room?’ ” one student asked. “Our police officers will physically pick you up,” Kasey patiently explained, “and take you to a paddy wagon and take you to be arrested. You will be discharged from school also.” Hmm. What do you mean “discharged?” someone asked. Probably, Kasey clarified, you will be expelled.
Gratifying as that exhibition of vertebracular stiffness was, what was most instructive was the rationale Kasey enunciated for insisting on the students’ removal: they were violating a “safe space.” The people who worked in the building, he explained, felt intimated by their presence. But how are we intimidating? whined one student, possibly one who had on another occasion claimed that reading Huckleberry Finn or dressing as an American Indian on Halloween constituted a micro-aggression that violated his safe space. It was a brilliant move and, judging from the response of the osu Police, was a coordinated effort. One Tweet from the university police advised the world that “Ohio State respects everyone’s 1st Amendment rights. @osupolice on hand to enhance safety and allow #Reclaimosu to voice peaceful concerns.” Who could be against “enhancing safety”?
In a single stroke, the osu administration, led by Michael Drake, had turned the table on the college crybullies who have been weaponizing their resentment and putative status as victims to wallow in an infantilizing bath of moralizing intolerance. We commend osu not only for its bracing exhibition of principle but also for its canny strategic gambit: seizing on the students’ own rhetoric to justify its disciplinary action, the university not only forestalled any effective response, it also . . . we were going to say, it also made the students look like fools, but no, the students accomplished that all on their own.
Trump perpetuates the post-modern politics perfected by Obama and inaugurated by the first PoMo Prez, Bill Clinton, who was also the first black president. You know you're in PoMo Land when a honkie from Hope, Arkansas gets to be black. Well, why not? Race is just a social construct, isn't it? And what can be constructed can be deconstructed.
What Sullivan misses is that Trump wasn’t possible without Obama. You didn’t have to be a white, male, working-class voter to be stunned by Obama’s unprecedented assertion of executive power. Obama’s argument time and again was that he had to bypass Congress because he was in a hurry. When he claimed that things needed to be done quickly, he promised to govern with his telephone and a pen. He not only refused to enforce America’s border laws; he also claimed the right to legalize undocumented workers by executive action. He forged an international agreement with the Iranian mullahs by winning approval for the deal with the U.N.—bypassing constitutionally required support from the Senate. Obama unilaterally revised Obamacare’s rules without any pretense of seeking legislative approval.
It was Obama who showed that ignorance was no obstacle, and sheer demagoguery worked. When Obama spoke of the Austrians speaking Austrian, talked of 57 states, and referred to a naval translator as a “corpsemen,” it produced barely a murmur. When he met at the White House with the “activists” who incited those who laid waste to a section of Ferguson, Missouri, he instructed them “to stay the course.” That produced but a faint rustling.
Our postmodern president, a good friend of mine points out, has proved that facts don’t matter. The weakest economic recovery in post-World War II history has been sold as a rousing success. We increased our troop levels in Iraq, but miraculously we still don’t have any “boots on the ground.” The man who told his supporters, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” was sold to America by the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the networks as a post-partisan—one who somehow found a way to blame Republicans for all the country’s ills. Obama also showed that bullying the Supreme Court—calling them out for their Citizens United decision in a State of the Union address—could pay dividends down the road. An intimidated Chief Justice John Roberts used pretzel-like logic to redefine the Obamacare mandate as a tax, though the administration had insisted that it was nothing of the kind.
Most of the maladies Sullivan attributes to Trump were incorporated into American politics by the man he deeply admires, the man whose face alone, Sullivan suggested, proved his worth—Barack Obama. Sullivan rightly sees the danger of “democracy willingly, even impetuously,” repealing itself. That repeal began under the man sitting in the Oval Office today.
This weblog commenced operations on 4 May 2004. I thank you for reading.
My pledge: You will never see advertising on this site. You will never see anything that jumps around in your visual field. You will not be assaulted with unwanted sounds. I will not beg for money with a 'tip jar.' This is a labor of love and I prize my independence.
I also pledge to continue the fight, day by day, month by month, year by year, against the hate-America, race-baiting, religion-bashing, liberty-destroying, Constitution-trashing, gun-grabbing, lying fascists of the Left. As long as health and eyesight hold out.
I will not pander to anyone, least of all the politically correct.
For a long time now, leftist termites, aided and abetted by cowardly administrators and go-along-to-get-along faculty members, have been busy undermining the foundations of the West, including the universities. Here Jason Riley reports on an outrage that affected him personally. Excerpts:
Nor is it merely classroom instruction that leftists tend to control. Liberal faculty and college administrators also closely monitor outside speakers invited to campus. The message conveyed to students is that people who challenge liberal dogma are not very welcome. A 2010 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that only 40% of college freshman “strongly agreed that it is safe to hold unpopular positions on campus” and that by senior year it’s down to 30%.
In more recent years the intimidation has not only continued but intensified. A lecture on crime prevention by former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was canceled after Brown University students booed him off the stage. Scripps College in California invited and then disinvited Washington Post columnist George Will for criticizing ever-expanding definitions of criminal assault.
Planned commencement addresses by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice(Rutgers University), human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Brandeis University) and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde (Smith College) were scuttled by faculty and student protesters, who cited Ms. Rice’s role in the Iraq war, Ms. Ali’s criticism of radical Islam and the IMF’s rules for lending countries money.
Yet you don’t have to be in such distinguished company to earn the ire of the campus left. Last month I was invited by a professor to speak at Virginia Tech in the fall. Last week, the same professor reluctantly rescinded the invitation, citing concerns from his department head and other faculty members that my writings on race in The Wall Street Journal would spark protests. Profiles in campus courage.
We need some serious fumigation of the universities. Who will you call for pest control? Donald or Hillary?
A large part of the appeal of Donald Trump even to those of us who oppose much of his style and substance is that he and he alone appears prepared to fight the Left and fight to win, which of course means using all their dirty tactics against them. He alone seems to grasp that we are in a war, and that civility has no place in a war, except for a mock civility deployed when it is advantageous to do so. The politics of personal destruction has been a trademark feature of the Left since at least V. I. Lenin, and Trump has shown that he is skilled in this nasty art. Case in point: his swift elimination of the gentlemanly but effete Jeb Bush. Poor Jeb went from Jeb! to Jeb in no time despite all the money behind him. One hopes that Trump can destroy the despicable Hillary in the same way.
But surely the politics of personal destruction is a sub-optimal form of politics, to put it in the form of an understatement.
Given that we agree on very little in this age of rage and polarization, are there any prospects for peaceful coexistence? Peter Wehner:
There’s no easy or quick way out of this. It will require some large number of Americans to re-think how we are to engage in politics in this era of rage and polarization. Toward that end John Inazu, an associate professor of law and political science at Washington University in St. Louis, has written Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference.
Professor Inazu’s book explores, in an honest and realistic way, how we can live together peaceably despite our deep differences. He concedes we lack agreement about the purpose of our country, the nature of the common good, and the meaning of human flourishing. But this is hardly the first time. (To take just one example, America in 1860 was far more riven than it is today.)
What is needed is to reclaim what Inazu calls three “civic aspirations” – tolerance, humility and patience. The goal here isn’t to pretend our deep differences don’t exist; rather, it’s to approach politics in ways that takes [sic] into account our constitutional commitments (including allowing individuals to form and gather in groups of their choosing) and civic practices. It is to give people space to live their lives and think about things in different ways. It means accepting our disagreements without degrading and imbruting those with whom we disagree. It obligates us, in other words, to understand what pluralism requires of others and of us. (The requirements we place on others is the easy part; the requirements we place on ourselves is the more challenging part.)
This all may sound hopelessly high-minded to you, eliciting a dismissive roll of the eyes. It’s so unfashionable, so unrealistic, so out of touch. It’s chic to be cynical. Except for this: Disagreeing with others, even passionately disagreeing with others, without rhetorically vaporizing them is actually part of what it means to live as citizens in a republic. (Once upon a time this was part of civics education.) The choice is co-existence with some degree of mutual respect — or the politics of resentment and disaffection, the politics of hate and de-humanization.
Right now, it appears an awful lot of people are embracing the politics of hate and de-humanization.
I am not as sanguine as Wehner or Inazu. We are told that the goal is "to approach politics in ways that takes [sic] into account our constitutional commitments (including allowing individuals to form and gather in groups of their choosing) and civic practices. It is to give people space to live their lives and think about things in different ways."
But precisely here is the problem. The Left will not allow it! They don't give a rat's ass about the Constitution or its commitments. There are leftist scum who now argue against free speech. There are university administrators who either have no understanding of the traditional values of the university, including open inquiry and free debate, or else are too cowed to enforce them. Not to mention the leftist termites among them out to undermine the West and its institutions. There is nothing liberal about these so-called 'liberals.' Furthermore, leftists have no qualms about using the power of the state to erode the institutions of civil society. Disaster looms if the Left gets its way and manages to eliminate the buffering elements of civil society lying between the naked individual and the state. The state can wear the monstrous aspect of Leviathan or that of the benevolent nanny whose multiple tits are so many spigots supplying panem et circenses to the increasingly less self-reliant masses. Whichever face it wears, it is the enemy of that traditional American value, liberty. To cite just one example, the Obama administration promotes ever-increasing food stamp dependency to citizens and illegal aliens alike under the mendacious SNAP acronym thereby disincentivizing relief and charitable efforts at the local level while further straining an already strapped Federal treasury. A trifecta of stupidity and corruption, if you will: the infantilizing of the populace who now needs federal help in feeding itself; the fiscal irresponsibilty of adding to the national debt; the assault on the institutions of civil society out of naked lust for ever more centralized power in the hands of the Dems, the left wing party. (Not that the Republicans are conservative.)
Wehner fails to grasp that the Left is fundamentally destructive of the spaces in which people "live their lives and think about things in different ways." This is why there can be no peace with them.
It is hopelessly naive to think that we can have comity without commonality. There are certain things we cannot be expected to agree on. We will never agree on the purpose of human life or the nature of human flourishing. This is why the Declaration of Independence speaks not of an unalienable right to happiness, but of an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness which includes a pursuit of the question as to what it would be to be happy. But we have to agree on the purpose of government and a small set of core American values. One of them is liberty, which entails a commitment to limited government. A second is e pluribus unum which expresses the value of assimilation. A third is that rights are not granted by government but have a status antecedent to government and the conventional. Does the Left accept these as values? Of course not. The Left is totalitarian from top to bottom. It is anti-liberty. The Left promotes a mindless and destructive diversity. The Left, being totalitarian, cannot brook any competitors, not the private sphere, not private property which is the foundation of individual liberty, not the family, not religion with its reference to Transcendence, not any realm of values beyond the say-so of rulers.
I am not expressing cynicism, but realism. Inazu and Wehner are engaged in a vaporous feel-good sort of preaching lacking any connection with reality. They fail to grasp that we have reached the point where we agree on almost nothing and that the way forward will be more like war than like civil debate on a common ground of shared principles.
Maybe the alternative is this: we either defeat the Left or we balkanize. To put it oxymoronically I have toyed quite seriously with the idea that what we need is the political analog of divorce, not that this is an optimal solution. See my A Case for Voluntary Segregation. I am speaking, of course, of political segregation, not racial segregation. I have to point out the obvious because some stupid race-baiting liberal may be reading this.
0. At regular intervals we find in the popular press articles about how free will is an illusion or 'a trick the brain plays on itself.' Just today, in fact, two different readers referred me to two different articles on this theme. One was positively awful, the other merely bad. So I reckon it is time to dust 0ff, revise, and supplement an old post from 2012.
1. Could freedom of the will in the strong or unconditional 'could have done otherwise' sense be an illusion? I will assume that free will and determinism are logically incompatible and that every version of compatibilism is false. My position is a mysterian one: it is plain that what we are libertarianly free and that free will is no illusion. But we cannot understand how this is possible given our embeddedness in a natural world that is macro-deterministic. What is actual is possible whether or not we can explain how it is possible.
2. Suppose A and B are mutually incompatible but equipossible courses of action, and I am deliberating as to whether I should do A or B. (Should I continue with this blogging business, or give it up?) Deliberating, I have the sense that it is up to me what happens. I have the sense that it is not the case that events prior to my birth, together with the laws of nature, necessitate that I do what I end up doing. Seriously deliberating, I presuppose the falsity of determinism. For if I were thoroughly and truly convinced of the truth of determinism it would be psychologically impossible for me to deliberate.
In the case of a morally significant choice, the sense that the outcome is up to me includes the sense of my moral, and not merely causal, responsibility for the outcome. So if it is the case that freedom of the will is an illusion, then no one is ever morally responsible for what they do or leave undone. But then moral responsibility is an illusion as well.
3. Determinism is the thesis that, given the actual past, and the actual laws of nature, there is only one possible future. When I seriously deliberate, however, my deliberation behavior manifests my belief that there is more than one possible future, and that it is partially up to me which of these possible futures becomes actual. There is the possible future in which I hike tomorrow morning and blog in the afternoon and the equipossible future in which I blog tomorrow morning and hike in the afternoon. And which becomes actual depends on me. One may be tempted to say that the indisputable fact of deliberation proves the reality of free will. For to deliberate is to deliberate in the conscious conviction that the outcome is up to the one deliberating.
4. But then someone objects: "The sense that it is up to you what happens is illusory; it merely seems to you that you are the ultimate source of your actions. In reality your every action is determined by events before your birth." The objector is not denying the fact of deliberation; he is denying that the fact of deliberation entails the reality of free will. He is claiming that the fact of deliberation is logically consistent with the nonexistence of free will. The claim is that when one deliberates, one only seems to oneself to be deliberating freely, and that all the processes involved in deliberation have causal antecedents that necessitate them.
One mistake that popular writers, including philosophically inept scientists, sometimes make is to claim that on determinism, no one ever makes choices. But of course people make choices; what the determinist denies is that people make free choices.
5. To evaluate this objection, we first need to ask what could be meant by 'illusory' in this context. Clearly, the word is not being used in an ordinary way. Ordinary illusions can be seen through and overcome. Hiking at twilight I jump back from a tree root I mistake for a snake. In cases of perceptual illusion like this, one can replace illusory perceptions with veridical ones. Misperceptions can be corrected. Something similar is true of other illusions such as those of romantic love and the sorts of illusions that leftists cherish and imagine as in the eponymous John Lennon ditty. In cases like these, further perception, more careful thinking, keener observation, life experience, 'due diligence' and the like lead to the supplanting of the illusory with the veridical.
But if free will is an illusion, it is not an illusion that can be cast off or seen through, no matter what I do. I must deliberate from time to time, and I cannot help but believe, whenever I deliberate, that the outcome is at least in part 'up to me.' Indeed, it is inconceivable that I should ever disembarrass myself of this 'illusion.' One can become disillusioned about many things but not about the 'illusion' of free will. For it is integral to my being an agent, and being an agent is part and parcel of being a human being. To get free of the 'illusion' of free will, I would have to learn to interpret myself as a deterministic system whose behavior I merely observe but do not control. I would have to learn how to cede control and simply let things happen. But this is precisely what I cannot do. Nor do I have any idea what it would involve.
So here is my first argument, call it the Semantic Argument:
a. A meaningful and 'newsworthy' claim to the effect that it has been discovered that free will is an illusion must use 'illusion' in its ordinary sense, otherwise one is engaging in word play. b. Illusions in the ordinary sense of the term can be seen through and corrected. c. The 'illusion' of free will cannot be seen through and corrected. Therefore d. The claim that free will is an illusion is a meaningless claim.
"But perhaps free will is a special sort of illusion, one that cannot be seen through and corrected." My challenge to a person who makes this move will be: Explain how living under this illusion differs from the reality of being a free agent!
At the very least, the objector owes us an explanation of what it means to say that free will is an 'illusion' given that it cannot mean what it ordinarily means.
6. Now for an Epistemic Argument. It would be nice if one could 'switch off' one's free agency and go on automatic. Many choices, after all, are painful and we wish we could avoid them. Sophie's choice was agonizing because she knew that it was up to her which child would remain with her and which would be taken away by the Nazi SS officer. Now which is more certain: that Sophie knows that she is a free agent morally responsible for her choices, or that she knows that she is a wholly deterministic system and that the sense of free agency and moral responsibility are but illusions? (Let us grant arguendo that there is some sense of 'illusion' according to which the claim that free will and moral responsibility are illusions is not pure nonsense.) The answer ought to be obvious: the former is more certain. One is directly aware of one's free agency, while it is only by shaky abstract reasoning that one comes to the view that free will is an illusion. Sophie is directly aware that it is 'up to her' which child she surrenders to the SS thug. This is the source of her agony.
My Epistemic Argument:
a. We are directly aware of our libertarianly-free agency, our freedom in the unconditional 'could have done otherwise' sense. b. This direct awareness trumps, epistemically speaking, the proposition that all of our mental and physical processes are causally necessitated by events antecedent to our births. Therefore c. One is justified is believing that one is libertarianly free despite one's having no explanation of how this is possible given the (macro) determinism of nature.
7. Now for a 'Bad Faith' consideration. We are not free to be free agents or not. We didn't decide to be free. It is an essential attribute of our humanity. Thus we are "condemned to be free" in a famous phrase of Jean-Paul Sartre. The sound core of the Sartrean exaggeration is that being free is constitutive of being human. No doubt I can try to view myself as a mere deterministic system pushed around by external forces, but that is a mode of self-deception, a mode of what Sartre calls mauvaise-foi, bad faith. Determinism is "an endless well of excuses" as I seem to recall Sartre saying somewhere. Being free is constitutive of being human. Better, it is constitutive of being a person. If determinism is true, then, strictly speaking, there are no persons.
8. An argument from the Impossibility of Existential Appropriation. Connected with all of this is the impossibility of existentially appropriating the supposed truth of determinism. Suppose determinism is true. Can I live this truth, apply it to my life, make it my own? Can I existentially appropriate it? Not at all. To live is to be an agent, and to be an agent is to be a free agent. To live and be human is not merely to manifest a belief, but an all-pervasive ground-conviction, of the falsity of determinism. Determinism cannot be practically or existentially appropriated. It remains practically meaningless, a theory whose plausibility requires an exclusively third-person objective view of the self. But the self is precisely subjective in its innermost being and insofar forth, free and unobjectifiable. No one lives or could live third-personally. While it is easy enough to reduce others to deterministic systems, thereby depersonalizing them, I cannot do this in my own case. I cannot depersonalize myself. It is practically impossible. Granted, it is theoretically possible to view myself from the outside as merely another deterministic system, but then I am abstracting from my agency, an abstraction that deserves to be called vicious inasmuch as I am as much an agent , a doer, as a thinker. I am not merely a spectator of my life, although I am that; I am also the agent of my life. I observe life's parade, but I also march in it.
Indeed, I am a doer even as a thinker: I decided to think about this topic, and then write about it; I had to decide whether to write this on my weblog or for my personal files, with my computer or with paper or ink; at every step I had to decide whether to continue or break off, etc.
9. The mother of all oppositions. The ultimate root of the problem of free will is the amazing fact that we are at once both objects in a material world caught in its causal net and also subjects capable of knowing and acting upon that world. We can, and are justified, in viewing ourselves objectively, externally, and in a third-person way despite the fact we live, know, and act in an opposing first-person way. This object-subject opposition is the mother of all oppositions and perhaps the ultimate conundrum of philosophy.
If we look at the self from a third person point of view, then determinism has no little plausibility, for then we are considering the self as just another object among objects, just another phenomenon among phenomena subject to the laws of nature. But the third person point of view discloses but one aspect of reality, leaving out the first person point of view, when it is the latter from which we live. We are objects in the world, but we live as subjects for whom there is a world, a world upon which we act and must act. Subjectivity is irreducible and ineliminable.
We are left with a huge problem that no philosopher has ever solved, namely, the integration of the first-person and third-person points of view. How do they cohere? No philosopher has ever explained this satisfactorily. What can be seen with clarity, however, is that subjectivity is irreducible and ineliminable and that no solution can be had by denying that we are irreducibly conscious and irreducibly free. One cannot integrate the points of view by denying the first of them.
Let us say that a philosopher is a unitarian if he thinks he can unify these opposing points of view and aspects of reality by elimination or reduction of one to the other. My suggestion is that we cannot achieve a satisfactory Unitarian view. All indications are that the problem of free will is simply insoluble, a genuine aporia, and that we ought to be intellectually honest enough to face the fact. It is no solution at all, and indeed a shabby evasion, to write off the first-person point of view as illusory. Especially when one goes on to live one's life as if free will and moral responsibility are not illusions! Have you ever praised or blamed anyone and felt justified in doing so? Do you praise and blame deterministic systems?
Conrad Black has written well and with insight about Donald Trump. Here is his latest. Excerpt:
. . . his major foreign-policy statement on April 27 is a cogent outline of a clear definition of the U.S. national interest. It is neither impetuous as George W. Bush nor as defeatist and contra-historical as Obama. Trump is almost unstoppable as the Republican nominee now, and is already shifting fire to Hillary Clinton. In their only direct clash to date, when Senator Clinton called him a sexist, he shut her down easily by remarking that her husband, to whom she owes her prominence, was the greatest sexist in American political history and that she facilitated his behavior. Senator Clinton’s many untruths, even on absurd issues such as being fired on by snipers in Bosnia, and her lack of a serious record of public achievement, as well as the spirit of change and the unpopularity of the Obama administration to which she must affect some fealty, make her very vulnerable.
The election of Donald Trump as president is now a very reasonable possibility. Among its effects would be a salutary house-cleaning of the federal government, a process of renewal that would doubtless have lapses of taste and judgment, but that would revitalize American public life. The Bush dynasty was an accident of continuity following the very successful Reagan presidency, and it came to have a stifling influence on the Republican Party. The premature defeat of George H. W. Bush by Bill Clinton led to the even more precarious myth of the Bush-Clinton co-dynasty, as there was no excuse for Clinton winning the 1992 election. Barack Obama interrupted the Bush-Clinton alternation by seizing the moment for an admirable and nationally heartfelt gesture of tolerance and broad-mindedness, but he has been a disastrous president.
George Will has a different view. His latest concludes:
If Trump is nominated, Republicans working to purge him and his manner from public life will reap the considerable satisfaction of preserving the identity of their 162-year-old party while working to see that they forgo only four years of the enjoyment of executive power. Six times since 1945 a party has tried, and five times failed, to secure a third consecutive presidential term. The one success -- the Republicans’ 1988 election of George H.W. Bush -- produced a one-term president. If Clinton gives her party its first 12 consecutive White House years, Republicans can help Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, or someone else who has honorably recoiled from Trump, confine her to a single term.
Mr. Will ignores the fact that even one Hillary term will do irreparable damage to the country because of her Supreme Court nominations. Irreparable.
A philosophical paper ought to record the results, not the genesis, of the author's thought about a topic. In this hyperkinetic age it is a good writerly maxim to state one's thesis succinctly at the outset and sketch one's overall argument before plunging into the dialectic.
There is, however, a minor problem with this notion, namely, that Mexican invaders will then have to travel so much farther north to get to a place worth living in.
The graphic below is from a recent Trump protest rally in California. Now Trump's negatives have been on display for a long time and there is no need to recount them. But is he a racist?
You can always count on a liberal to play the race card. And so it is part of their reflexive and unreflective nature to label anyone who is not a liberal a racist. It is a tactic that has proven effective. So of course Trump is called a racist. I see no evidence that he is.
In any case, the issue of illegal immigration is not about race.
Most liberals think that opposition to illegal immigration is anti-Hispanic. Not so. It is true that most of those who violate the nation's borders are Hispanic. But the opposition is not to Hispanics but to illegal entrants whether Hispanic or not. It is a contingent fact that Mexico is to the south of the U.S. If Turkey or Iran or Italy were to the south, the issue would be the same. And if Iran were to the south, and there were an influx of illegals, then then leftists would speak of anti-Persian bias.
To repeat, a salient feature of liberals and leftists -- there isn't much difference nowadays -- is their willingness to 'play the race card,' to inject race into every issue. The issue of illegal immigration has nothing to do with race since illegal immigrants do not constitute a race. There is no such race as the race of 'llegal aliens.' Opposition to them, therefore, cannot be racist. Suppose England were to the south of the U. S. and Englishmen were streaming north. Would they be opposed because they are white? No, because they are illegal aliens.
I apologize to the intelligent for saying things so obvious, but the stupidity of liberals is wide and deep and we must repeat, repeat, repeat. And repeat some more.
"But aren't some of those who oppose illegal immigration racists?" That may be so, but it is irrelevant. That one takes the right stance for the wrong reason does not negate the fact that one has taken the right stance. One only wishes they would take the right stance for the right reasons. Even if everyone who opposed illegal immigration were a foaming-at-the-mouth redneck of a racist, that would not detract one iota of cogency from the cogent arguments against allowing illegal immigration. To think otherwise is to embrace the Genetic Fallacy. Not good.
Here is a simple indiscernibility argument for substance dualism, presented simply:
1. If two things are identical, then whatever is true of the one is true of the other, and vice versa. 2. It is true of me that I can (logically) exist disembodied. 3. It is not true of any body that it can (logically) exist disembodied. Therefore 4. I am not identical with any body.
The argument is valid in point of logical form, and (1), the Indiscernibility of Identicals, cannot be reasonably disputed. (3) too is irreproachable: it is surely impossible that a physical body exist without its body. My coffee cup can survive the loss of its handle, but not the loss of its very self. Destroy all its parts and you destroy it. So the soundness of the argument rides on the truth of (2). If (2) is true, there is no escaping the truth of (4). For an argument to be probative, however, it is not enough that it be sound; the premises must either be known to be true or at least reasonably believed to be true.
Do I have good reason to think that it is logically possible that I exist without a body? If so, then it is not necessarily the case that if you destroy all my physical parts, you destroy me. Well, the following is true and known to be true:
5. It is conceivable that I exist without a body.
By 'conceivable,' I don't just mean thinkable — round squares are thinkable -- I mean thinkable without logical contradiction. And surely it is thinkable without logical contradiction that I exist without a body. Read your Descartes. I had a student once, a hopeless materialist, albeit otherwise alert and intelligent, who just could not appreciate the point. He kept repeating, "But if I shoot you dead, then you cease to exist!" What I found bizarre was that his religious upbringing hadn't even softened him up for the conceivability of post-mortem existence. It was as if he was so sunk into his bodily existence that the mere thought of not being identical to his body was unavailable to him. So I branded him a Cave-dweller and gave up on him. And then some years later, I gave up on teaching entirely. Why spend your life among unteachable troglodytes?
But now comes the hard part. How do we move validly from conceivability to possibility, from (5) to (2)? (2) affirms the (broadly) logical possibility of disembodied existence. But it is not clear why being able to conceive a state of affairs should guarantee its logical possibility. Note that it would serve no purpose to stipulate that logical possibility just is conceivability. That would have all the advantages of theft over honest toil. Broadly logical possibility is a species of real possibility, and one cannot just assume that what one can conceive without contradiction is possible in reality. (On the other hand, one can be certain that a concept harboring a contradiction cannot have anything answering to it in reality.)
Consider the FBI, the floating bar of iron. If my thought about the FBI is sufficiently abstract and indeterminate, then it will seem that there is no 'bar' to the FBI's logical possibility. If I think of the FBI as an object that has the phenomenal properties of iron (e.g., hardness) but also floats, then those properties are combinable in my thought without contradiction. There seems to be no logical contradiction in the thought of a hard metal that floats.
But if I know more about iron, including its specific gravity, and I import this information into my concept of iron, then the concept of the FBI will harbor a contradiction. The specific gravity of iron is 7850 kg/cu.m, which implies that it is 7.85 times more dense than water, which in turn implies that it will sink in water. For someone with this richer understanding, the FBI is a bar of iron that both floats and does not float — which is a contradiction.
What this example seems to show is that my failing to find a contradiction in my concept of X does not entail that X is logically possible; for it may be that my concept of X is insufficiently determinate, and that if I had a sufficiently determinate concept of X, then I would see from the concept alone that X is logically impossible. Now let's apply this to our problem. My disembodied existence is conceivable. But it might well be that my identity with my body is hidden from my powers of conception in a way similar to, but more radical than, the way the logical impossibility of floating iron is hidden from someone whose concept of iron is inadequate. It may be that my belief in the possibility of disembodied existence feeds on ignorance. How can I rule out this possibility?
If the only way to rule it out is by assuming the truth of (4), then the modal argument begs the question. So I conclude that the above argument is not rationally compelling or rationally coercive: a consumer of the argument can reasonably resist it. But the argument is rationally defensible and does provide a good though not compelling argument for dualism.
Worry and regret form a pair in that each involves flight from the present; worry flees the present toward an unknown future, regret toward an unchangeable past. The door to Reality, however, is hinged on the axis of the Now. If access is to be had to the nunc stans it is only via the nunc movens. Past and future are but representations in comparison to the reality of the moving now.
Which of the following is correct? 'He presented an argument whose logical form is Modus Tollens.' 'He presented an argument the logical form of which is Modus Tollens.'
The second. But it would be absurd to insist on a punctilio such as this in a world going insane. Besides, you are not going to write, 'An idea the time of which has come' are you? No, you will write, 'An idea whose time has come' despite the fact that time is not a person.
For your goal is to communicate with your readers, not distract them with your schoolmarmish scruples.
A while back I supplied a reader's demand for a list of Obscure, Neglected, and Underrated Philosophers. But I forgot to mention Paul Roubiczek. I have read a couple of his works, and this morning I started in on Thinking Towards Religion which Mr. Amazon was kind enough to deposit upon my doorstep yesterday afternoon. The service this company provides is unbelievably good. This particular volume arrived two days ahead of shedule. Is this the sort of operation that gets off the ground in NoKo or Kooba? Whaddya think, Bernie?
George Mallory fell to his death in 1924 while attempting to scale Everest. His body was found in 1999. It remains a mystery whether he summited.
Now one can admire Mallory's courage, dedication, and perseverance. But one must question the value of the goal he set for himself. Arguably, he threw his life away attempting a merely physical feat. He spent his incarnation pursuing self-glorification for a merely physical accomplishment.
How much more noble the mountain climbers of the spirit like Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus who attempted to surmount, not a hunk of rock, but the human predicament!
Do you know who he is? I found out only recently, which I suppose is fitting given the man's Pynchon- and Salinger-like desire for obscurity. A while back, I caught the last half-hour of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, classic celluloid from 1948 starring Humphrey Bogart and John Huston. The Wikipedia article on The Treasure sent me to an entry on B. Traven who wrote the German novel, Der Schatz der Sierra Madre, on which the movie is based. Now you know the rest of the story.
They don't make movies like this any more. HollyWeird liberals don't know how. They'll snow you with meaningless special effects and gratuitous sex and violence in every possible permutation, but they are well-nigh incapable of delivering decent dialog, or stories of human interest, let alone stories that illustrate philosophical themes or raise philosophical or moral questions. The exceptions prove the rule.
One issue raised by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre concerns the status of moral conscience. Is it merely a social construct whose validity evaporates in the wilderness? Or is it a source of trans-cultural moral insight? In one scene, Dobbs, the Bogie character, tells his young partner, Curtin, that he "sounds foolish out in this wilderness" airing his Sunday-School scruples about cheating the old man (the Huston character) of his supplies and gold. Later, after shooting Curtin and leaving him for dead, Dobbs wrestles with his conscience while trying to fall asleep. "If you believe you have a conscience, then it will pester you to death. If you don't believe you have a conscience, what can it do to you?"
The issue, of course, is not whether one believes one has a conscience, for one can believe that one does without believing that conscience is a source of moral knowledge. One might hold that the conscience one has is merely a product of acculturation and that its 'deliverances' don't deliver any objective truths about the moral order, but merely reflect upbringing. The line should go like this, "If you believe conscience is a source of objective moral insight, then it will pester you to death. If you don't believe that it is such a source, what can it do to you?" Unfortunately, screen writers, even back in the '40s didn't write like this. Too philosophical!
There is a nihilistic streak in far too many liberals and leftists which makes them want to pander to the basest instincts in people. So if a HollyWeird liberal were to re-make this film, Dobb's shooting of Curtin would be probably shown in gory detail so as to incite blood lust. In the actual film, the shooting is not shown; only the upshot is: we see a wounded man in the dirt. For only the latter is needed for the story. This was the way things were done until about the time of Peckinpah in the '60s. But the nihilists of the Left are not interested in a human story, they are interested in degrading people in order to line their own pockets. Of course, they will hide behind their right to 'free expression' as if this justified anything and everything.
Here is the first stanza of "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), a fitting epigraph to our entry into the twilight. But for the philosopher there is consolation: "The owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk." (Hegel).
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
The Western elites have lost all conviction and are sitting ducks for the passionate intensity of radical Muslims.
Dennis Monokroussos writes: "It's not very likely that a player will produce a deep combination in a 1-minute game. . ."
That's just one bite out of a very big and tasty enchilada.
One thing I have noticed is that after playing 1-minute and 3-minute games, five minutes seems like an ice age. "Come on, move. What's to think about? I captured your knight, you have to take my bishop . . . "
Chris Hedges well illustrates the leftist obsession with moral equivalentism in his piece, "We are All Islamic State."
I will quote some portions, then comment. The piece begins:
Revenge is the psychological engine of war. Victims are the blood currency. Their corpses are used to sanctify acts of indiscriminate murder. Those defined as the enemy and targeted for slaughter are rendered inhuman. They are not worthy of empathy or justice. Pity and grief are felt exclusively for our own. We vow to eradicate a dehumanized mass that embodies absolute evil. The maimed and dead in Brussels or Paris and the maimed and dead in Raqqa or Sirte perpetuate the same dark lusts. We all are Islamic State.
Hedges opens with a curious mixture of insight and illusion.
Granted, war opens the flood gates to revenge, and much of what takes place in a war is revenge. There was plenty of revenge in the fire bombing of Dresden by the Allies in WWII. The Brits wanted revenge for the Blitz. Perhaps you know where the V-1 and V-2 nomenclature comes from: they were Vergeltungswaffen, weapons of revenge. But there is nothing in the nature of warfare to require that in every case war be revenge. Revenge is not the same as retributive justice and there are or at least can be just wars. If the state can justly punish a wrongdoer for his wrongdoing, then one state can justly punish another for its wrongdoing, even if this happens only rarely and partially. There are rogue states. German philosopher Karl Jaspers referred to the Nazi regime as a Verbrecherstaat, a criminal state. Surely he was right. A bunch of thugs seized power and unleashed hell on earth. Or will Hedges and his comrades say that Churchhill's England and Hitler's Germany were morally equivalent?
Hedges' moral equivalentism is false and offensive. On September 1, 1939, Hitler's Wehrmacht invaded Poland. Does Hedges really think that the defensive operations undertaken by the Poles were motivated by revenge? Or that the Poles engaged in indiscriminate murder? And how exactly is killing in self-defense murder? Can Hedges think in moral categories? Does he think that self-defense is never morally justified?
Speaking of Islamic terrorists, Hedges claims that "Their tactics are cruder, but morally they are the same as us."This is beneath refutation. So beheading and crucifixion are merely "cruder" than waterboarding, but otherwise morally equivalent? It is already quite a stretch to speak as leftists do of waterboarding as torture. Would C. Hitchens and other journalists have delivered themselves up for torture? Would they have submitted to to the insertion of red hot pokers into their anal cavities?
The Christian religion embraces the concept of “holy war” as fanatically as Islam does. Our Crusades are matched by the concept of jihad. Once religion is used to sanctify murder there are no rules. It is a battle between light and dark, good and evil, Satan and God. Rational discourse is banished. And “the sleep of reason,” as Goya said, “brings forth monsters.”
Hedges is certainly warming to this theme, isn't he? The present tense of 'embraces' renders the first sentence manifestly false. Hedges needs to give some examples of holy wars prosecuted by Christian denominations in recent centuries. He won't be able to do this, which is why he brings up the Crusades. Hedges is making at least three mistakes.
First, he refuses to admit that it is obviously unfair to compare present atrocities by Muslim fanatics to long past atrocities -- if atrocities they were -- by Christians. Islam was and remains a violent religion. Christianity has long reformed itself.
Second, Hedges cannot or will not understand that the same sorts of war-like activities that are morally wrong when deployed offensively can be morally acceptable when deployed defensively.
Third, Hedges is unaware or will not admit that the Crusades were defensive wars and ipso facto morally justified. Thomas F. Madden:
For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.
Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity—and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion—has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.
With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.
That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.
Back to Hedges' tirade:
How can we rise up in indignation over Islamic State’s destruction of cultural monuments such as Palmyra when we have left so many in ruins? As Frederick Taylor points out in his book “Dresden,” during the World War II bombing of Germany we destroyed countless “churches, palaces, historic buildings, libraries, museums,” including “Goethe’s house in Frankfurt” and “the bones of Charlemagne from Aechen cathedral” along with “the irreplaceable contents of the four-hundred-year-old State Library in Munich.” Does anyone remember that in a single week of bombing during the Vietnam War we obliterated most of that country’s historic My Son temple complex? Have we forgotten that our invasion of Iraq led to the burning of the National Library, the looting of the National Museum and the construction of a military base on the site of the ancient city of Babylon? Thousands of archeological sites have been destroyed because of the wars we spawned in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya.
Amazingly, Hedges thinks he can simply ignore the crucial difference between the unintended destruction of cultural artrifacts that comes about as collateral damage and the willfull, intended destruction by Nazi and Islamist savages of cultural goods. Could this idiot actually think that Churchill's England and Hitler's Germany were morally equivalent? To defeat the Third Reich drastic measures were required, and time was running out: the Nazis would soon have have had nuclear weapons had they not been brought to their knees.
It goes without saying that my opposition to the moral equivalentism of the lunatic Left is no endorsement of moral Manicheanism. No man is without sin, and no state either.
Perhaps you have noticed that radicals are rather less interested in speaking truth to power after they get power than before. Their transgressive speech and behavior becomes curiously 'conservative.' Giving umbrage gives way to taking umbrage.
What happened to shrugging at an opinion with which you disagree and leaving it at that? That notion is history, as communications executives seem to have convinced themselves that they are not censoring dissenting opinions but rather protecting the innocent from crude speech.
Twitter took that phony stance, too, when it announced a "Trust and Safety Council" in February. "Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power, and empowering dialogue. That starts with safety," CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted.
This is a good example of the sort of Orwellian mendacity we have come to expect from contemporary 'liberals.' War is peace. Slavery is freedom. A defense of religious liberty is a violation of religious liberty. Those who protest being forced by the government to violate their consciences and religious beliefs are imposing their religious beliefs. Curtailment of speech is free speech. 'Inclusion' is the exclusion of dissent.
The Orwellian template: X, which is not Y, is Y.
The open forum is a 'safe space' in which no one's feelings are hurt.
Freedom of speech is freedom from 'micro-aggressions.'
And notice that at bottom it's about money. Twitter and ESPN toe the party line because it is profitable to do so. A curious development: significant numbers of once anti-capitalist leftists are now driven by the profit motive to spread Pee Cee drivel.
In the context of an exchange between a Catholic and a Protestant, I came across a quote of Gerard Manley Hopkins that reminded me of your posts on mysterianism.
You do not mean by mystery what a Catholic does. You mean an interesting uncertainty: the uncertainty ceasing, interest ceases also. This happens in some things; to you, in religion. But a Catholic by mystery means an incomprehensible certainty; without certainty, without formulation, there is no interest … The clearer the formulation, the greater the interest. At bottom, the source of interest is the same in both cases, in your mind and in ours; it is the unknown, the reserve of truth beyond what the mind reaches and still feels to be behind. But the interest a Catholic feels is, if I may say so, of a far finer kind than yours.
-Gerard Manley Hopkins, letter to Robert Bridges
This made me wonder whether mind-body mysterians like McGinn are really of the second type. If one holds that our inability to understand how a mental state could be a brain state is because of a natural limitation on our cognitive powers, like our inability to smell things that a dog can smell, then we might yet hold that this mystery is of type 1 - an "interesting uncertainty." One way that a materialist like McGinn might hold that consciousness is a type 1 mystery is to argue that, as with other of our physical powers, say vision, we could develop ways to augment our cognitive powers to understand thoughts we cannot (yet) think. The recent movie Lucy tangentially explores this.
Also, there's always the alien hypothesis, which seems to interest some very bright people, like Hawking. Intellectually, we may be bonobos compared to a more advanced race in the universe, whose cognitive powers far surpass our own, and for whom the solution to the mind-body problem is discussed and proven in the first year of their grade school. Of course, this is nothing more than an alien-of-the-gaps conjecture.
In the Hopkins passage, which I find very obscure, two senses of 'mystery' are distinguished. They seem to me to be as follows.
Mystery-1: A proposition which, if true, is knowable, presently unknown, and interesting to know, but the interest of which evaporates upon being known. For example, the proposition Jimmy Hoffa's body was fed through a wood chipper is, if true, knowable, unknown, interesting to know but such that, if it came to be known, then the question of the final disposition of Hoffa's body would be settled and would no longer be interesting. A more timely example: The singer Prince's death came about as a result of his opioid addiction in tandem with a grueling work schedule. The aim of research is to banish mysteries in this first sense of 'mystery.'
Mystery-2: A proposition which, if true, cannot by us in this life be known to be true, and cannot even be known by us in this life to be logically-possibly true, i.e., free of logical contradiction, and is of the highest interest to us, but whose interest would in no way be diminished should we come to know it.
An example is the doctrine of the Trinity as understood by Roman Catholics (but not just by them). The Trinity is an exclusively revealed truth; hence it cannot be known by us by natural means. What's more, it cannot even be known by us to be free of logical contradiction and thus logically possible. Our finite intellects cannot see into its logical possibility let alone into its actual truth. We cannot understand how it is possible. But what is actual is possible whether or not we have the power to understand how it is possible. (Compare: motion is possible because actual, whether or not the Zenonian arguments to the contrary can be adequately answered.)
So from the fact that the Trinity appears to us in our present state as contradictory, and thus as logically impossible, it does not follow that it is not true. For it could be like this: given our unalterable ('hard-wired') cognitive architecture, certain revealed truths must appear to us as contradictory when the propositions which must so appear are not only in themselves not contradictory, but are also actually true!
One sort of mysterian is a person who holds that there are mysteries in the second sense. Is Colin McGinn a mysterian in this sense?
McGinn 'takes it on faith' that all mental activity is brain activity. He no more questions this than a believing Catholic questions the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Real Presence, etc. It just seems obvious to him and therefore a thesis that cannot be reasonably questioned. Of course mental activity is brain activity! What the hell else could it be? You think and feel with your brain, not your johnson, and certainly not with some 'spook in the skull' (my coinage) or "ghost in the machine." (Ryle)
But there are powerful arguments which I have rehearsed many times why qualia and object-directed mental states cannot be physical states. Confronted with these arguments, McGinn goes mysterian. He grants their force and then says something like this:
It is incomprehensible to us how consciousness could be a brain process. But it is a brain process. It is just that our unalterable cognitive architecture makes it impossible for us to see into this truth. It is true and therefore possibly true even though we cannot understand how it is true or even how it could be true due to our cognitive limitations.
As I read McGinn, these limitations are in our human case unalterable. And so I read McGinn as a mysterian in much the same sense that a theological mysterian is a mysterian. What is common to the doctor angelicus and the decidedly less than angelic McGinn is a commitment to the thesis that there are true, non-contradictory propositions that we humans by our very nature are not equipped to understand as either true or non-contradictory.
This leaves open the possibility for McGinn that there be extraterrestrials who are equipped to grasp mind-brain identity. And it leaves open for Aquinas the possibility that there be angelic intellects who are equipped to grasp God-Man identity (the Incarnation) and how Jesus Christ could ascend into heaven soul and body!
It would be very interesting to hear what James Anderson and Dale Tuggy have to say about this. They have gone far deeper into the mysteries of mysterianism than I have.
This entry continues the discussion of prime matter begun here. That post is a prerequisite for this one.
Similarities between Bare Particulars and Prime Matter
S1. Bare particulars in themselves are property-less while prime matter in itself is formless. The bare particular in a thing is that which exemplifies the thing's properties. But in itself it is a pure particular and thus 'bare.' The prime matter of a thing is the thing's ultimate matter and while supporting forms is itself formless.
S2. Bare particulars, though property-less in themselves, exemplify properties; prime matter, though formless in itself, is formed.
S3. There is nothing in the nature of a bare particular to dictate which properties it will exemplify. This is because bare particulars do not have natures. Correspondingly, there is nothing in the nature of prime matter to dictate which substantial forms it will take. This is because prime matter, in itself, is without form.
S4. Bare particulars, being bare, are promiscuously combinable with any and all first-level properties. Thus any bare particular can stand in the exemplification nexus with any first-level property. Similarly, prime matter is promiscuously receptive to any and all forms, having no form in itself.
S5. Promiscuous combinability entails the contingency of the exemplification nexus. Promiscuous receptivity entails the contingency of prime matter's being informed thus and so.
S6. Bare particulars are never directly encountered in sense experience. The same holds for prime matter. What we encounter are always propertied particulars and formed matter.
S7. A bare particular combines with properties to make an ordinary, 'thick' particular. Prime matter combines with substantial form to make a primary (sublunary) substance.
S8. The dialectic that leads to bare particulars and prime matter respectively is similar, a form of analysis that is neither logical nor physical but ontological. It is based on the idea that things have ontological constituents or 'principles' which, incapable of existing on their own, yet combine to from independent existents. Hylomorphic analysis leads ultimately to prime matter, and ontological analysis in the style of Bergmann and fellow travellers leads to bare or thin particulars as ultimate substrata.
Differences Between Bare Particulars and Prime Matter
D1. There are many bare particulars each numerically different from every other one. In themselves, bare particulars are many. It is not the case that, in itself, prime matter is many. It is not, in itself, parceled out into numerically distinct bits.
D2. Bare particulars are actual; prime matter is purely potential.
D3. Bare particulars account for numerical difference. But prime matter does not account for numerical difference. (See Feser's manual, p. 199) Prime matter is common and wholly indeterminate. Designated matter (materia signata) is the principle of individuation, i.e., differentiation.
The destructiveness of the Left extends even unto our alma mater, the English language. London Karl, who sent me the YouTube link, comments:
Guardian writer declares that those who like to use correct grammar are likely to be 'whiter' 'older' and 'wealthier' than those they correct. The irony of her being an editor on a major newspaper escapes her!
Tom owns fewer guns than Tim, not less guns. This is not just a matter of acceptable usage; it reflects a logico-semantic distinction between count nouns and mass terms. The typical leftist, however, is a leveller who cannot tolerate clarity of speech and thought. This is why we define the leftist or contemporary liberal as a person who never met a standard he didn't want to erode.
There is no change without a substrate of change which, in respect of its existence and identity, does not change during the interval of the change. In a slogan: no change without unchange. No becoming other (alter-ation, Ver-aenderung) without something remaining the same. In the case of accidental change, the substrate is materia secunda, in one of its two senses, a piece of paper, say, as opposed to paper as a kind of material stuff. It is a piece of paper that becomes yellow with age, not paper as a kind of stuff. In the case of substantial change the substrate is said to be prime matter, materia prima. On the scholastic view, prime matter must exist if we are to explain substantial change. (See Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics, pp. 171 ff.) Thus to the problems with substantial change already mentioned (in an earlier portion of this text not yet 'blogged') we may add the problems that are specific to prime matter. Besides the route to prime matter via substantial change, there is the route via the very procedure of hylomorphic analysis. Traversing these routes will give us a good idea of why the positing of prime matter has seemed compelling to scholastics.
Given that thought sometimes makes contact with reality, one can ask: what must real things be like if thought is to be able to make contact with them? What must these things be like if they are to be intelligible to us? A realist answer is that these mind-independent things must be conformable to our thought, and our thought to them. There must be some sort of isomorphism between thought and thing. Since we cannot grasp anything unstructured, reality must have structure. So there have to be principles of form and organization in things. But reality is not exhausted by forms and structures; there is also that which supports form and structure. In this way matter comes into the picture. Forms are determinations. Matter, in a sense that embraces both primary and secondary matter, is the determinable as such.
Proximate matter can be encountered in experience, at least in typical cases. The proximate matter of a chair consists of its legs, seat, back. But this proximate matter itself has form. A leg, for example, has a shape and thus a form. (Form is not identical to shape, since there are forms that are not shapes; but shapes are forms.) Suppose the leg has the geometrical form of a cylinder. (Of course it will have other forms as well, the forms of smoothness and brownness, say.) The cylindrical form is the form of some matter. The matter of this cylindrical form is wood, say. But a piece of wood is a partite entity the parts of which have form and matter. For example, the complex carbohydrate cellulose is found in wood. It has a form and a proximate matter. But cellulose is made of beta-glucose molecules. Molecules are made of atoms, atoms of subatomic particles like electrons, and these of quarks, and so it goes.
Hylomorphic analysis is thus iterable. The iteration cannot be infinite: the material world cannot be hylomorphic compounds 'all the way down,' or 'all the way up' for that matter. The iteration has a lower limit in prime or primordial or ultimate matter (materia prima), just as it has an upper limit in pure form, and ultimately in the forma formarum, God, the purely actual being. Must hylomorphic analysis proceed all the way to prime matter, or can it coherently stop one step shy of it at the lowest level of materia secunda? I think that if one starts down the hylomorphic road one must drive to its bitter end in prime matter. (Cf. Feser's manual, p. 173 for what I read as an argument to this conclusion.) Ultimate matter, precisely because it is ultimate, has no form of its own. As John Haldane describes it, it is "stuff of no kind." (“A Return to Form in the Philosophy of Mind” in Form and Matter, ed. Oderberg, p. 50) We could say that prime matter is the wholly indeterminate determinable. As wholly indeterminate, it is wholly determinable.
(Question: if prime matter is wholly indeterminate, is it also indeterminate with respect to being either determinate or indeterminate? Presumably not. Is there a problem lurking here?)
The Antinomy of the Existence of Prime Matter
While it is easy to appreciate the logic that leads to the positing of prime matter, it is difficult to see that what is posited is coherently thinkable. Here is one consideration among several. Call it the Antinomy of the Existence of Prime Matter. It may be compressed into the following aporetic dyad:
Prime matter exists.
Prime matter does not exist.
Argument for limb (1). There is real substantial change and it cannot be reduced to accidental change. All change is reduction of potency to act, and all change requires an underlying substrate of change that remains self-same and secures the diachronic identity of that which changes. The substrate of a change is the matter of the change. What changes in a change are forms, whether accidental or substantial. Without the potency-act and matter-form distinctions we cannot accommodate the fact of change and avoid both the Heraclitean doctrine of radical flux and the Eleatic denial of change. Or so say the scholastics. In the case of accidental change, the subject or substrate is secondary matter (materia secunda). But substantial change is change too, and so it also requires a substrate which cannot be secondary matter and so must be prime matter. Given what we must assume to make sense of the plain fact of both accidental and substantial change, “prime matter must exist.” (Feser's manual, p. 172) It must exist in reality as the common basis of every substantial change.
Argument for limb (2). Prime matter is pure potency. It has to be, given the exigencies of accounting for substantial as opposed to accidental change. As pure potency, prime matter is wholly indeterminate and wholly formless. In itself, then, prime matter does not exist. It does not exist actually, as is obvious. But it also does not exist potentially: prime matter does not have potential Being. This is because the principle of the metaphysical priority of act over potency requires that every existing potency (e.g., the never actualized potency of a sugar cube to dissolve in water) be grounded in something actual (e.g., the sugar cube). The pure potency which is prime matter is not, however, grounded in anything actual. (Note that one cannot say that prime matter is a pure potency grounded in each primary substance. Prime matter is the ultimate stuff of each primary substance; it is not potency possessed by these substances.) Therefore, prime matter does not exist. It does not exist actually and it does not exist potentially. This is also evident from the first of the twenty-four Thomistic theses:
Potency and act are a complete division of being. Hence whatever is must be either pure act or a unit composed of potency and act as its primary and intrinsic principles. (Quoted by Feser, Schol. Metaph., p. 31)
If so, prime matter does not exist. For prime matter is neither pure act nor composed of potency and act. It is interesting to observe that while purely actual Being can itself be by being something actual, purely potential Being cannot itself be by being something potential (or actual). God is actual Being (Sein, esse) and an actual being (Seiendes, ens). But prime matter is neither potential nor actual. So prime matter neither is actually nor is potentially.
It thus appears that we have cogent arguments for both limbs of a contradiction. If the contradiction is real and not merely apparent, and the arguments for the dyad's limbs are cogent, then either there is no prime matter, the very concept thereof being self-contradictory, or there is prime matter but it is is unintelligible to us. One could, I suppose, be a mysterian about prime matter: it exists but we, given our cognitive limitations, cannot understand how it could exist. (Analogy with Colin McGinn's mysterianism: consciousness is a brain process, but our cognitive limitations bar us from understanding how it could be.) But I mention mysterianism only to set it aside.
But perhaps we can avoid contradiction in the time-honored way, by drawing a distinction. A likely candidate is the distinction between prime matter in itself versus prime matter together with substantial forms. So I expect the following scholastic response to my antinomy:
Prime matter exists as a real (extramental) factor only in primary substances such as Socrates and Plato. It exists only in hylomorphic compounds of prime matter and substantial form. But it does not exist when considered in abstraction from every primary substance. So considered, it is nothing at all. It is not some formless stuff that awaits formation: it is always already formed. It is always already parcelled out among individual material substances. Once this distinction is made, the distinction between prime matter in itself and prime matter together with substantial forms, one can readily see that the 'contradiction' in the above dyad is merely apparent and rests on an equivocation on 'exist(s).' The word is being used in two different senses. In (1) 'exists' means: exists together with substantial form. In (2), 'exist' means: exist in itself. Thus the aporetic dyad reduces to the logically innocuous dyad:
1*. Prime matter exists together with substantial forms.
2*. Prime matter does not exist in itself in abstraction from substantial forms.
Unfortunately, this initially plausible response gives rise to a problem of its own. If prime matter really exists only in primary substances, then prime matter in reality is not a common stuff but is parcelled out among all the primary substances: it exists only as a manifold of designated matters, the matter of Socrates, of Plato, etc. But this conflicts with the requirement that prime matter be the substratum of substantial change. Let me explain.
If a new substance S2 comes into existence from another already existing substance S1 (parthenogenesis may be an example) then prime matter is what underlies and remains the same through this change. Now this substratum of substantial change that remains the same must be something real, but it cannot be identical to S2 or to S1 or to any other substance. For if the substratum of substantial change is identical to S1, then S1 survives, in which case S2 is not a new substance generated from S1 but a mere alteration of S1. Don't forget that substantial change cannot be reduced to an accidental change in some already existing substance or substances. In substantial change a new substance comes to be from one or more already existing substances. (I will assume that creation or 'exnihilation' does not count as substantial change.)
If, on the other hand, the substratum of change is identical to S2, then S2 exists before it comes to exist. And it seems obvious that the substratum of substantial change underlying S2's coming to be from S1 cannot be some other substance. Nor can the substratum be an accident of S2 or S1. For an accident can exist only in a substance. If the substratum is an accident of S1, then S1 must exist after it has ceased to exist. If the substratum is an accident of S2, then S2 must exist before it comes to exist.
The argumentative punchline is that prime matter cannot exist only in primary substances as a co-principle tied in every case to a substantial form. If prime matter is the substratum of substantial change, then prime matter must be a really existent, purely potential, wholly indeterminate, stuff on its own.
The Problem of the Substrate
The problem just presented, call it the Problem of the Substrate or the Problem of the Continuant, may be pressed into the mold of an aporetic tetrad:
1. Prime matter is the substrate of substantial change.
2. Prime matter does not exist in reality except as divided among individual material substances.
3. The substratum of a substantial change cannot be identified with any of the substances involved in the change, or with any other substance, or with any accident of any substance. (For example, the substratum of the substantial change which is Socrates' coming into existence from gametes G1 and G2 cannot be identified with Socrates, with G1, with G2, with any other substance, or with any accident of any substance.)
4. There is substantial change and it requires a really existent substrate.
The tetrad is inconsistent issuing as it does in the contradiction: Prime matter does and does not exist only in individual material substances.
The obvious solution is to deny (2). But if we deny (2) to solve the Problem of the Substrate, then we reignite the Antinomy of the Existence of Prime Matter. We solved the Antinomy by making a distinction, but that distinction gave rise to the Problem of the Substrate/Continuant. We appear to be in quite a pickle. (For more on the Substrate/Continuant problem, see John D. Kronen, Sandra Menssen and Thomas D. Sullivan, “The Problem of the Continuant: Aquinas and Suárez on Prime Matter and Substantial Generation,” The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Jun., 2000), pp. 863-885.)
The Problem of Individuation
Finally a glance at the related ontological, not epistemological, problem of individuation. This problem is actually two problems. There is the problem of individuation proper, namely, the problem of what makes an individual substance individual as opposed to universal, and there is the connected problem of differentiation, namely, the problem of what makes numerically different individual substances numerically different. It is clear that prime matter cannot be the principle of differentiation. For one thing, prime matter is common to all material substances. For another, prime matter as pure potency is indeterminate, hence not intrinsically divided into parcels. Moreover, pace Feser, prime matter cannot “bring universals down to earth” in his phrase: it cannot be the principle of individuation, narrowly construed. (Schol. Metaph., p. 199) For what makes Socrates an individual substance rather than the substantial form he shares with Plato cannot be common, indeterminate, amorphous, matter.
Prime matter is not up to the job of individuation/differentiation. It is designated matter (materia signata quantitate) that is said to function as the ontological ground or 'principle' of individuation and numerical difference. Unfortunately, appeal to designated matter involves us in an explanatory circle. Designated matter is invoked to explain why Socrates and Plato are individual substances and why they are numerically different individual substances. But designated matter cannot be that which individuates/differentiates them since it presupposes for its individuation and differentiation the logically (not temporally) antecedent existence of individual material substances. Why are Socrates and Plato different? Because their designated matters are different. Why are their designated matters different? Because they are the matters of different substances. The explanation moves in a circle of rather short diameter.
Feser considers something like this objection but dismisses it as resting on a confusion of formal with efficient causality. But there is no such confusion in the objection as I have presented it. Efficient causality does not come into it at all. No one thinks that there is an agent who in a temporal process imposes substantial form on prime matter in the way that a potter in a temporal process imposes accidental form upon a lump of clay. I can grant Feser's point that prime matter and substantial form are related as material cause to formal cause. I can also grant that prime matter and substantial form are mutually implicative co-principles neither of which can exist without the other. Granting all this, my objection remains. Prime matter in itself is undifferentiated. It it differentiated and dimensive only in combination with substantial forms. But this is equivalent to saying that prime matter is differentiated and dimensive only as the designated matter of particular individual substances. But then designated matter cannot non-circularly explain why numerically different substances are numerically different. For the numerical difference of these matters presupposes the numerical difference of the substances.
If religion is the opium of the masses, then OPM is the opium of the redistributionist.
Bernie Sanders, the superannuated socialist, "and his wife, Jane, paid an effective tax rate of 13.5 percent, or $27,653 in federal taxes on an adjusted gross income of $205,271." This is for 2014. That is less than Mitt Romney paid, percentage-wise, in 2011. But Romney paid more dollars and thus did more good than Bernie, if you assume that Federal taxes do good for 'the people' and not just for state apparatchiki.
For Sanders, a legitimate function of government is wealth redistribution so that the government can do good with other people's money (OPM). So why did Bernie take so many (legal) deductions? Why didn't he pay his 'fair share,' say, 28% of his AGI? Why didn't he fork over 50%? Surely an old man and his wife can live on 100K a year! Why doesn't Bernie practice what he preaches?
Because he smokes the opium of OPM: it is the other guy's money that is to be confiscated, not his. By any reasonable standard, Sanders is a 'fat cat.' But he doesn't see himself as one. And no doubt he thinks he earned his high senatorial salary when he produced nothing, but merely spouted a lot of socialist nonsense while acting the pied piper to foolish and impressionable youth.
THE greatest academic gig is that of the black philosopher. Spout hackneyed and malicious political slogans and you will be treated as a paragon of wisdom.
George Yancy is a professor of philosophy at Emory University. In addition to being a rising star in the field of “body politics, ” he specializes in Critical Whiteness Studies. That means: “white subject formation, white racist ambush, white opacity and embeddedness, white complicity, white anti-racist praxis.” In other words, he specializes in anti-philosophical racial grievance and intellectual junk.
Read it all. While I disagree with the Housewife on some things, I don't disagree on her assessment of Yancy.
Aquinas says that any given nature can be considered in three ways: in respect of the esse it has in concrete singulars; in respect of the esse it has in minds; absolutely, in the abstract, without reference to either material singulars or minds, and thus without reference to either mode of esse. The two modes are esse naturale (esse reale) and esse intentionale. We can speak of these in English as real existence (being) and intentional existence (being). Real existence is existence 'outside' the (finite) mind. Intentional existence is existence 'in' or 'before' the mind. The mentioned words are obviously not to be taken spatially. Esse is the Latin infinitive, to be. Every human mind is a finite mind, but don't assume the converse.
According to Schopenhauer, the medievals employed but three examples: Socrates, Plato, and an ass. Who am I to deviate from a tradition at once so hoary and noble? So take Socrates. Socrates is human. The nature humanity exists really in him, and in Plato, but not in the ass. The same nature exists intentionally in a mind that thinks about or knows Socrates. For Aquinas, there are no epistemic deputies standing between mind and thing: thought reaches right up to and grasps the thing itself. There is an isomorphism between knowing mind and thing known. The ground of this isomorphism is the natura absoluta, the nature considered absolutely. Call it the common nature (CN). It is so-called because it is common to both the knower and the known, informing both, albeit in different ways. It is also common to all the singulars of the same nature and all the thoughts directed to the same sort of thing. So caninity is common to all doggy thoughts, to all dogs, besides linking the doggy thoughts to the dogs.
Pause to appreciate how attractive this conception is. It secures the intrinsic intelligibility of the world while avoiding the 'gap problem' that bedevils post-Cartesian thought.
I need to know more, however, about the exact ontological status of the common nature (CN) which is, as it were, amphibious as between knowing mind and thing known.
With the help of Anthony Kenny, I realized that there are four possible views, not three as I stated in earlier forays:
A. The CN really exists as a separate, self-subsistent item.
B. The CN exists only intentionally in the mind of one who abstracts it from concrete extramental singulars and mental acts. (Note: a mental act is a concrete singular because in time, though not in space.)
C. The CN has Meinongian Aussersein status: it has no mode of being whatsoever, and yet is is something, not nothing. It actually has properties, it does not merely possibly have them, but is property-incomplete (and therefore in violation of the Law of Excluded Middle) in that it is neither one nor many, neither universal nor particular, neither intentionally existent nor really existent.
D. The CN exists intentionally in the mind of God, the creator.
(A) is a nonstarter and is rejected by both me and Lukas Novak. (B) appears to be Novak's view. (C) is the interpretation I was tentatively suggesting in earlier entries.. My thesis was that the CN must have Aussersein status, but then it inherits -- to put it anachronistically -- all the problems of Meinongianism. The doctor angelicus ends up in the jungle with a Meinongian monkey on his back.
Let me now try to explain why I reject (B), Novak's view, and incline toward (C), given that (A) cannot possibly be what Aquinas had in mind.
Consider a time t before there were any human animals and any finite minds, and ask yourself: did the nature humanity exist at t? The answer has to be in the negative if there are only two modes of existence, real existence in concrete extramental singulars and intentional existence in finite (creaturely) minds. For at t there were no humans and no finite minds. But surely it is true at t that man is rational, that humanity includes rationality. This implies that humanity at t cannot be just nothing at all. For if it were nothing at all at t, then 'Man is rational'' at t would lack a truth-maker. Furthermore, we surely don't want to say that 'Man is rational' first becomes true when the first human being exists. In some sense, the common nature must be prior to its existential realization in concrete singulars and in minds. The common nature cannot depend on these modes of realization. Kenny quotes Aquinas (Aquinas on Being, Oxford 2002, p. 73):
Socrates is rational, because man is rational, and not vice versa; so that even if Socrates and Plato did not exist, rationality would still be a characteristic of human nature.
Socrates est rationalis, quia homo est rationalis, et non e converso; unde dato quod Socrates et Plato non essent, adhuc humanae naturae rationalitas competeret. (Quodl. VIII, I, c, 108-110)
Aquinas' point could be put like this. (i) At times and in possible worlds in which humans do not exist, it is nevertheless the case that rationality is included in humanity, and (ii) the metaphysical ground of humans' being rational is the circumstance that rationality is included in humanity, and not vice versa.
Now this obviously implies that the common nature humanity has some sort of status independent of real and intentional existence. So we either go the Meinongian route or we say that comon natures exist in the mind of God. Kenny:
Aquinas' solution is to invoke the divine mind. There are really four, not three ways of considering natures: first, as they are in the mind of the creator; second, as they are in the abstract; third, as they are in individuals; and finally, as they are in the human mind. (p. 74)
This may seem to solve the problem I raised. Common natures are not nothing because they are divine accusatives. And they are not nothing in virtue of being ausserseiend. This solution avoids the three options of Platonism, subjectivism (according to which CNs exist only as products of abstraction), and Meinongianism.
The problem with the solution is that it smacks of deus ex machina: God is brought in to solve the problem similarly as Descartes had recourse to the divine veracity to solve the problem of the external world. Solutions to the problems of universals, predication, and intentionality ought to be possible without bringing God into the picture.
Ulysses had himself bound to the mast and the ears of his sailors plugged with wax lest the ravishing strains of the sea nymphs' song reach their ears and cause them to cast themselves into the sea and into their doom. But what song did the Sirens sing, and in what key? And what about the nymphs themselves? Were their tresses of golden hue? And how long were they? Were the nymphs equipped with special nautical brassieres to protect their tender nipples from rude contact with jelly fish and such?
One cannot sing a song without singing some definite song in some definite key commencing at some definite time and ending at some definite later time.
But you understand the story of Ulysses and the Sirens and you are now thinking about the song they sang. And you are thinking about the nymphs and their ravishing endowments. But what sorts of objects are these? Incomplete objects. Are there then in reality incomplete objects?