Here. Why do leftists lie? Because lying works, and because the end justifies the means in their moral calculus. They see politics as war, and "All's fair in love and war." Therein lies yet another reason for the defense and exercise of Second Amendment rights.
One associates loud, domineering, and aggressive behavior with a 'big ego.' But a long memory for wrongs done one, a fine sensitivity to slights and slurs real and imagined are also signs of a 'big ego.'
Another indication thereof being the increasing number of well-placed and influential individuals, some of them well-meaning, who now believe that it is morally justifiable to use state power to violate the consciences of individuals by forcing them to do that to which they are morally opposed on grounds that are well-articulated, thoroughly reasoned, and supported by distinguished traditions and authorities.
To live beyond society, beyond the need for recognition and status. To live in truth, alone with nature and nature's God and the great problems and questions. There are the ancient dead ones for companionship. They speak across the centuries. With them we form a community of the like-minded in nomine scientiae.
I'm reading volume 5 of T. Merton's journal. He's a flabby liberal both politically and theologically, but there is a good line here and there. "When will I learn to go without leaving footprints? Along way from that: I still love recognition . . . ." (p. 33)
Those who crave recognition would do well to consider the moral and intellectual quality of those destined to do the recognizing.
Intellectual talk can be as bad as mundane trivial talk, an empty posturing, a vain showmanship without roots or results. But worst of all is ‘spiritual talk’ when it distracts us from action and (what is better) contemplative inaction.
Corruptio optimi pessima. The wonderful pithiness of Latin! "The corruption of the best is the worst of all."
Philosophy is the high ground from which to survey the dismal and contentious scene, the bellum omnium contra omnes. One retreats to the high ground for three reasons. To contemplate and understand the passing scene, to escape from it, and to be in a position to transcend toward what is neither passing nor a scene.
Dale Tuggy is in town and we met up on Thursday and Friday. On Good Friday morning I took him on a fine looping traipse in the Western Superstitions out of First Water trail head to Second Water trail to Garden Valley, down to Hackberry Spring, and then back to the Second Water trail via the First Water creek bed. We were four hours on the trail, 6:55 - 10:55, both of us wired up (in both senses of that term) for one of Dale's famous podcasts. One of the topics discussed was the Buddhist anatta/anatman doctrine which we both respectfully reject. I believe that Dale concurred with all of the following points I made and with some others as well:
1. The nonexistence of what one fails to find does not logically follow from one's failing to find it. So the failure to find in experience an object called 'self' does not entail the nonexistence of the self.
2. So failure to find the self as an object of experience is at least logically consistent with the existence of a self.
3. What's more, the positing of a self seems rationally required even though the self is not experienceable. For someone or something is doing the searching and coming up 'empty-handed.'
4. There are also considerations re: diachronic personal identity. Suppose I decide to investigate the question of the self. A moment later I begin the investigation by carefully examining the objects of inner and outer experience to see if any one of them is the self. After some searching I come to the conclusion that the self is not to be located among the objects of experience. I then entertain the thought that perhaps there is no self. But then it occurs to me that failure to find X is not proof of X's nonexistence. I then consider whether it is perhaps the very nature of the subject of experience to be unobjectifiable. And so I conclude that the self exists but is not objectifiable, or at least not isolable as a separate object of experience among others.
This reasoning may or may not be sound. The point, however, is that the reasoning, which plays out over a period of time, would not be possible at all if there were no one self -- no one unity of consciousness and self-consciousness -- that maintained its strict numerical identity over the period of time in question. For what we have in the reasoning process is not merely a succession of conscious states, but also a consciousness of their succession in one and the same conscious subject. Without the consciousness of succession, without the retention of the earlier states in the present state, no conclusion could be arrived at.
All reasoning presupposes the diachronic unity of consciousness. Or do you think that the task of thinking through a syllogism could be divided up? Suppose Manny says, All men are mortal! Moe then pipes up, Socrates is a man! Could Jack conclude that Socrates is mortal? No. He could say it but not conclude it. (This assumes that Jack does not hear what the other two Pep Boys say. Imagine each in a separate room.)
The hearing of a melody supplies a second example.
To hear the melody Do-Re-Mi, it does not suffice that there be a hearing of Do, followed by a hearing of Re, followed by a hearing of Mi. For those three acts of hearing could occur in that sequence in three distinct subjects, in which case they would not add up to the hearing of a melody. (Tom, Dick, and Harry can divide up the task of loading a truck, but not the ‘task’ of hearing a melody, or that of understanding a sentence, or that of inferring a conclusion from premises.) But now suppose the acts of hearing occur in the same subject, but that this subject is not a unitary and self-same individual but just the bundle of these three acts, call them A1, A2, and A3. When A1 ceases, A2 begins, and when A2 ceases, A3 begins: they do not overlap. In which act is the hearing of the melody? A3 is the only likely candidate, but surely it cannot be a hearing of the melody. For the awareness of a melody involves the awareness of the (musical not temporal) intervals between the notes, and to apprehend these intervals there must be a retention (to use Husserl’s term) in the present act A3 of the past acts A2 and A1. Without this phenomenological presence of the past acts in the present act, there would be no awareness in the present of the melody. But this implies that the self cannot be a mere bundle of perceptions externally related to each other, but must be a peculiarly intimate unity of perceptions in which the present perception A3 includes the immediately past ones A2 and A1 as temporally past but also as phenomenologically present in the mode of retention. The fact that we hear melodies thus shows that there must be a self-same and unitary self through the period of time between the onset of the melody and its completion. This unitary self is neither identical to the sum or collection of A1, A2, and A3, nor is it identical to something wholly distinct from them. Nor of course is it identical to any one of them or any two of them. This unitary self is given whenever one hears a melody.
The unitary self is phenomenologically given, but not as a separate object. Herein, perhaps, resides the error of Hume and some Buddhists: they think that if there is a self, it must exist as a separate object of experience.
You are free to imagine a world without religion as per the silly ditty of John Lennon, but if Pew Research Center predictions are correct, atheists and leftists need to brace themselves for serious disappointment:
. . . the religiously unaffiliated population is projected to shrink as a percentage of the global population, even though it will increase in absolute number. In 2010, censuses and surveys indicate, there were about 1.1 billion atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion.5 By 2050, the unaffiliated population is expected to exceed 1.2 billion. But, as a share of all the people in the world, those with no religious affiliation are projected to decline from 16% in 2010 to 13% by the middle of this century.
An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940), 1969 Pelican ed., pp. 156-157:
I will observe, however, that empiricism, as a theory of knowledge, is self-refuting. For, however it may be formulated, it must involve some general proposition about the dependence of knowledge upon experience; and any such proposition, if true, must have as a consequence that [it] itself cannot be known. While therefore, empiricism may be true, it cannot, if true, be known to be so. This, however, is a large problem.
It is indeed a large problem. But, strictly speaking, is empiricism self-refuting? A self-refuting proposition is one that entails its own falsehood. *All generalizations are false* is self-refuting in this sense. It is either true or not true (false). (Assume Bivalence) If true, then false. If false, then false. So, necessarily false. Other self-refuting propositions are antinomies: if true, then false; if false, then true.
Let empiricism be the proposition, *All knowledge derives from sense experience.* Clearly, this proposition does not refute itself. For it does not entail its own falsehood. It is not the case that if it is true, then it is false. Rather, if it is true, then it cannot be known to be true. For it is not known by experience, and therefore not knowable if true.
Empiricism, then, is not self-refuting, but self-vitiating, self-weakening. It is in this respect like the thesis of relative relativism (RR): it is relatively true that all truths are relative. (RR) does not refute itself, but it does weaken itself. Presumably, what the relativist really wants to say is something stentorian and unqualified: all truths are relative! But the demands of logical consistency force him to relativize his position.
The real problem is that if empiricism is true, then it cannot be believed with justification. For on empiricism the only justificatory grounds are those supplied by sense experience. It is also quite clear that empiricism is not a formal-logical truth or an analytic truth. A logical positivist would have to say it is cognitively meaningless. But we shouldn't go that far. It plainly enjoys cognitive meaning.
You might say that empiricism is just a linguistic proposal, a non-binding suggestion as to how we might use words. Equivalently, one might say it is just a stance one might adopt. If you tell me that, then I will thank you for 'sharing,' but then politely voice my preference for either a non-empirical stance or a stance that is not a mere stance, but the blunt asseveration that empiricism is false. After all, I know that kindness is to be preferred over cruelty, ceteris paribus, and I know this by a non-empirical value intuition.
Another wrinkle is this. If all knowledge derives from sense experience, then presumably this cannot just happen to be the case. I should think that if empiricism is true, then it is necessarily true. But what could be the ground of the necessity? I have already noted, in effect, that the necessity is neither formal-logical nor analytic. Is the necessity grounded in the nature, essence, eidos, of knowledge? That would be a rather unempirical thing to say. Empiricists have no truck with essences or Forms or eide.
Here then we appear to have a further embarrassment for empiricism. It cannot be the nature of knowledge to derive from and have its sole justificatory ground in sense experience. So it just happens to be the case. This cannot be ruled out as logically impossible. But it smacks of deep incoherence and is, shall we say, profoundly unsatisfactory.
Please note that similar reasoning can be deployed against scientism. If all knowledge is natural-scientific knowledge, then this proposition, if true, cannot be known to be true. Is it then merely believed without justification? Is it merely a matter of adopting the 'scientistic stance' or doing the 'scientistic shuffle'? If so, I will thank you for 'sharing' but then politely refuse your invitation to dance.
Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, was asked by CNN’s Dana Bash this week if he regretted his 2012 accusation on the Senate floor that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney “hasn’t paid taxes for ten years.” Reid presented no evidence at the time and claimed he didn’t need any: “I don’t think the burden should be on me. The burden should be on him. He’s the one I’ve alleged has not paid any taxes.”
I read the seventh and final volume of Thomas Merton's journals, The Other Side of the Mountain, in 1998 when it first appeared. I am currently re-reading it. It is once again proving to be page turner for one who has both a nostalgic and a scholarly interest in the far-off and fabulous '60s. But what a gushing liberal and naive romantic Merton was! Here is but one example:
Yesterday, quite by chance, I met Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his secretary . . . . Chogyam Trungpa is a completely marvelous person. Young, natural, without front or artifice, deep, awake, wise. [. . .] He is also a genuine spiritual master. (October 20, 1968, p. 219, emphasis added)
Unfortunately, the 'spirituality' of many 'spiritual masters' is of the New Age type, a type of spirituality that fancies itself beyond morality with its dualism of good and evil. One of the worst features of some New Age types is their conceit that they are beyond duality when they are firmly enmired in it. Perhaps the truly enlightened are beyond moral dualism and can live free of moral injunctions and prohibitions. But what often happens in practice is that spiritual aspirants and gurus fall into ordinary immorality while pretending to have transcended it. One may recall the famous case of Rajneesh. Chogyam Trungpa appears to have been cut from the same cloth. According to one report,
. . . Trungpa slept with a different woman every night in order to transmit the teaching to them. L. intimated that it was really a hardship for Trungpa to do this, but it was his duty in order to spread the dharma.
With apologies to the shade of Jack Kerouac, you could say that this gives new meaning to 'dharma bum.'
That Merton could be taken in by the fellow says something about Merton. A phrase such as 'genuine spiritual master' ought not be bandied about lightly. But perhaps Trungpa's excesses were not in evidence at the time.
Herewith yet another indication of why philosophy is essential to balanced thinking and living. Jerusalem and Benares are both in need of chastening, and Athens wields the rod. Although I maintain that philosophy needs completion by what is beyond philosophy, that maintenance is not a license to abandon rational critique. Every sector of life requires critique, including Philosophy herself, and Philosophy is the Critic.
As for putative 'spiritual masters,' run as fast as you can from any such 'master' or 'guru' who has something to sell you or is not in control of his lower self.
If you can see the moral necessity of controlling the head, why then can't you see the moral necessity of controlling the heart? With all due respect to 'the King,' you can help falling in love with her.
Help a man, and he may be grateful to you. Or he may resent it that he needs your help, or envy you your ability to provide it, or act as if he has it coming, or become dependent on you, in which case your 'help' is harm.
Absolutely, one must do no harm. (Primum non nocere.) But when to help and when to leave well enough alone require careful thought.
What is a contradiction from one angle is a koan from another.In a contradiction, logical thought hits a dead end. Discursive thought's road end, however, may well be the trail head of the Transdiscursive.
The following is verbatim from a post by Jim Ryan, dated 14 August 2013. The truths below are important and need to be widely disseminated.
Some Self-Evident Truths
A "self-evident" proposition is one that is obviously true to anyone who understands it. These truths are self-evident:
1. To support a free market does not mean to oppose the regulation of commerce. On the contrary, the concept of a free market without the rule of law hardly makes any sense.
2. It is not theocratic to argue that abortion ought to be as illegal because it is the wrongful killing of a human being. The civil rights movement, as deeply Christian as much of it was, was not theocratic. It is not obvious that the current moral support for abortion is not as foolish and wrongheaded as the moral support for slavery was in the early 19th Century.
3. To argue that big government welfare destroys self-reliance and prosperity and makes national bankruptcy inevitable should not be confused with arguing that one should not offer assistance to the poor.
4. There is a wide array of values we have inherited: liberty, hard work, justice, limited government, courage, charity, involvement in civil society, etc. It makes no sense to raise equality in property above these values.
5. It is not clear that equality in property is ever preferable to liberty, hard work, team work, charity, and self-reliance. It is not clear what would count as a good reason to say that a society in which liberty, hard work, team work, charity, and self-reliance were flourishing would be even better if the the government decreased the achievement of those values so that equality in property could be increased. For this reason it is not clear that equality in property is even a value at all.
6. It is hypocritical for a wealthy person to maintain his great wealth while advocating equality in property and holding that it is unjust for some to be rich while others are poor.
7. To advocate a system in which a small group of leftwing leaders and their technocratic experts maintain enormous political power and wealth while they keep the overwhelming majority of people in society relatively powerless and poor is to advocate kleptocracy and totalitarianism, not to take any sort of moral stance at all.
8. Leftism and totalitarianism both advocate the government's having great control over individuals' economic endeavors and property. If all the preceding truths are self-evident, then it is not clear how a leftwing government can maintain power without controlling speech and thought in order to stop those truths from being communicated, explained, discussed, and understood. If that is true, it is not clear how a leftwing government can avoid full totalitarianism if it is to maintain power.
Moore's health was quite good in 1946-47, but before that he had suffered a stroke and his doctor had advised that he should not become greatly excited or fatigued. Mrs. Moore enforced that prescription by not allowing Moore to have a philosophical discussion with anyone for longer than one hour and a half. Wittgenstein was extremely vexed by this regulation. He believed that Moore should not be supervised by his wife. He should discuss as long as he liked. If he became excited or tired and had a stroke and died -- well, that would be a decent way to die: with his boots on. Wittgenstein felt that it was unseemly that Moore, with his great love for truth, should be forced to break off a discussion before it had reached its proper end. I think that Wittgenstein's reaction to this regulation was very characteristic of his outlook on life. A human being should do the thing for which he has a talent with all of his energy his life long, and should never relax this devotion to his job merely in order to prolong his existence. This platonistic attitude was manifested again two years later when Wittgenstein, feeling that he was losing his own talent, questioned whether he should continue to live. (Emphasis added)
Yes! No wife, only fair Philosophia herself, should preside over and supervise a philosophical discussion. If an interlocutor should expire in the heat of the dialectic, well then, that is a good way to quit the phenomenal sphere.
There is a passage in Peter van Inwagen's "Existence, Ontological Commitment, and Fictional Entities," (in Existence: Essays in Ontology, CUP, 2014, p. 98, emphasis added), in which he expresses his incomprehension of what the Meinongian means by 'has being' and 'lacks being':
… the Meinongian must mean something different by 'has being' and 'lacks being' from what I mean by these phrases. But what does he mean by them? I do not know. I say 'x has being' means '~(y) ~y = x'; the Meinongian denies this. Apparently, he takes 'has being' to be a primitive, an indefinable term, whereas I think that 'has being' can be defined in terms of 'all' and 'not'. (And I take definability in terms of 'all' and 'not' to be important, because I am sure that the Meinongian means exactly what I do by 'all' and 'not' -- and thus he understands what I mean by 'has being' and is therefore an authority on the question whether he and I mean the same.) And there the matter must rest. The Meinongian believes that 'has being' has a meaning that cannot be explained in terms of unrestricted universal quantification and negation.
Before I begin, let me say that I don't think van Inwagen is feigning incomprehension as some philosophers are wont to do: I believe he really has no idea what 'has being' and cognate expressions could mean if they don't mean what he thinks they mean.
No one articulates and defends the thin theory of existence/being better than Peter van Inwagen who is arguably 'king' of the thin theorists. The essence of the thin theory is that
1. x exists =df ~(y)~(y=x).
Driving the tilde though the right-hand expression, left to right, yields the logically equivalent
1*. x exists =df (∃y)(y = x)
which may be easier for you to wrap your head around. In something closer to English
1**. x exists =df x is identical to something.
The thin theory is 'thin' because it reduces existence to a purely logical notion definable in terms of the purely logical notions of unrestricted universal quantification, negation, and identity. What is existence? On the thin theory existence is just identity-with-something. (Not some one thing, of course, but something or other.) Characteristically Meinongian, however, is the thesis of Aussersein which could be put as follows:
M. Some items have no being.
Now suppose two things that van Inwagen supposes. Suppose that (i) there is exactly one sense of 'exists'/'is' and that (ii) this one sense is supplied in its entirety by (1) and its equivalents. Then (M) in conjunction with the two suppositions entails
C. Some items are not identical to anything.
But (C) is self-contradictory since it implies that some item is such that it is not identical to itself, i.e. '(∃x)~(x = x).'
Here we have the reason for van Inwagen's sincere incomprehension of what the Meinongian means by 'has being.' He cannot understand it because it seems to him to be self-contradictory. But it is important to note that (M) by itself is not logically contradictory. It is contradictory only in conjunction with van Inwagen's conviction that 'x has being' means '~(y) ~(y = x).'
In other words, if you ASSUME the thin theory, then the characteristic Meinongian thesis (M) issues in a logical contradiction. But why assume the thin theory? Are we rationally obliged to accept it?
I don't accept the thin theory, but I am not a Meinongian either. 'Thin or Meinongian' is a false alternative by my lights. I am not a Meinongian because I do not believe that existence is a classificatory principle that partitions a logically prior domain of ontologically neutral items into the existing items and the nonexisting items. I hold that everything exists, which, by obversion, implies that nothing does not exist. So I reject (M).
I reject the thin theory not because some things don't exist, but because there is more to the existence of what exists than identity-with-something. And what more is that? To put it bluntly: the more is the sheer extralogical and extralinguistic existence of the thing, its being there (in a non-locative sense of course). The 'more' is its not being nothing. (If you protest that to not be nothing is just to be something, where 'something' is just a bit of logical syntax, then I will explain that there are two senses of 'nothing' that need distinguishing.) Things exist, and they exist beyond language and logic.
Can I argue for this? It is not clear that one needs to argue the point since it is, to me at least, self-evident. But I can argue for it anyway.
If for x to exist is (identically) for x to be identical to some y, this leaves open the question: does y exist or not? You will say that y exists. (If you say that y does not exist, then you break the link between existence and identity-with-something.) So you say that y exists. But then your thin theory amounts to saying that the existence of x reduces to its identity with something that exists. My response will be that you have moved in an explanatory circle, one whose diameter is embarrassingly short. Your task was to explain what it is for something to exist, and you answer by saying that to exist is to be identical to something that exists. This response is no good, however, since it leaves unexplained what it is for something to exist! You have helped yourself to the very thing you need to explain.
It is the extralogical and extralinguistic existence of things that grounds our ability to quantify over them. Given that things exist, and that everything exists, we have no need for an existence predicate: we can rid ourselves of the existence predicate 'E' by defining 'Ex' in terms of '(∃y)(y = x).' But note that the definiens contains nothing but logical syntax. What this means is that one is presupposing the extralogical existence of items in the domain of quantification. You can rid yourself of the existence predicate if you like, but you cannot thereby rid yourself of the first-level existence of the items over which you are quantifying.
Here is another way of seeing the point. Russell held that existence is a propositional function's being sometimes true. Let the propositional function be (what is expressed by) 'x is a dog.' That function is sometimes true (in Russell's idiosyncratic phraseology) if the free variable 'x' has a substituend that turns the propositional function or open sentence into a true closed sentence. So consider 'Fido,' the name of an existing dog and 'Cerberus.' How do I know that substituting 'Fido' for 'x' results in a true sentence while substituting 'Cerberus' does not? Obviously, I must have recourse to a more fundamental notion of existence than the one that Russell defines. I must know that Fido exists while Cerberus does not. Clearly, existence in the fundamental sense is the existence that belongs to individuals, and not existence as a propositional function's being sometimes true.
Now if you understand the above, then you will be able to understand why, in van Inwagen's words, "The Meinongian believes that 'has being' has a meaning that cannot be explained in terms of unrestricted universal quantification and negation." The thin theory entails that there is no difference in reality between x and existing x. But for Meinong there is a difference: it is the difference between Sosein and Sein. While I don't think that there can be a Sosein that floats free of Sein. I maintain that there is a distinction in reality between a thing (nature, essence, Sosein, suchness) and existence.
If van Inwagen thinks that he has shown that Meinong's doctrine entails a formal-logical contradiction, he is fooling himself. Despite his fancy footwork and technical rigmarole, all van Inwagen succeeds in doing is begging the question against Meinong.
Christ has harsh words for those who misuse the power of speech at Matthew 12:36: "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." But what about every idle word that bloggers blog and scribblers scribble? Must not the discipline of the tongue extend to the pen?
Suppose we back up a step. What is wrong with idle talk and idle writing? The most metaphysical of the gospels begins magnificently: "In the beginning was the Word and Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) The Word (Logos, Verbum) is divine, and if we are made in the divine image and likeness, then the logical power, the verbal power, the power to think, judge, speak, and write is a god-like power in us. If so, then it ought not be abused. But in idle talk it is abused. Here then is a reason why idle talk is wrong.
But if idle talk is wrong, then so is all idle expression. And if all idle expression is wrong, then it is difficult to see how idle thoughts could be morally neutral. For thought is the root and source of expression. If we take Christ's words in their spirit rather than in their mere letter, moral accountability extends from speech to all forms of expression, and beyond that to the unexpressed but expressible preconditions of expression, namely, thoughts. Is it not a necessary truth that any communicative expressing is the expressing of a thought? (Think about that, and ask yourself: does a voice synthesizer speak to you?)
So a first reason to avoid idle thoughts and their expression is that entertaining the thoughts and expressing them debases the god-like power of the Logos in us. A second reason is that idle words may lead on to what is worse than idle words, to words that cause dissension and discord and violence. What starts out persiflage may end up billingsgate. (This is another reason why there cannot be an absolute right to free speech: one cannot have a right to speech that can be expected to issue in physical violence and death. Consider how this must be qualified to accommodate a just judge's sentencing a man to death.)
There is a third reason to avoid idle expression and the idle thoughts at their base. Idle words and thoughts impede entrance into silence. But this is not because they are idle, but because they are words and thoughts. By 'silence' I mean the interior silence, the inner quiet of the mind which is not the mere absence of sound, but the presence of that which, deeper than the discursive intellect, makes possibly both thought and discourse. But I won't say more about this now. See Meditation category.
What go me thinking about this topic is the 'paradox' of Thomas Merton whose works I have been re-reading. He wrote a very good book, The Silent Life, a book I recommend, though I cannot recommend his work in general. The Mertonian 'paradox' is this: how can one praise the life of deep interior solitude and silence while writing 70 books, numerous articles and reviews, seven volumes of journals, and giving all sorts of talks, presentations, workshops, and whatnot? And all that travel! It is a sad irony that he died far from his Kentucky abbey, Gethsemane, in Bangkok, Thailand at the young age of 53 while attending yet another conference. (Those of a monkish disposition are able to, and ought to, admit that many if not most conferences are useless, or else suboptimal uses of one's time, apart from such practical activities as securing a teaching position, or making other contacts necessary for getting on in the world.)
There is a related but different sort of paradox in Pascal. He told us that philosophy is not worth an hour's trouble. But then he bequeathed to us that big fat wonderful book of Pensées, Thoughts, as if to say: philosophy is not worth an hour's trouble — except mine. Why did he not spend his time better — by his own understanding of what 'better' involves — praying, meditating, and engaging in related religious activities?
And then there is that Danish Writing Machine Kierkegaard who in his short life (1813-1855) produced a staggeringly prodigious output of books and journal entries. When did he have time to practice his religion as opposed to writing about it?
I of course ask myself similar questions. One answer is that writing itself can be a spiritual practice. But I fear I have posted too much idle rubbish over the years. I shall try to do better in future.
There is no point in begging for water with a leaky cup. Water thereby gained is immediately lost again. First fix the cup, then beg for water.
So also with the glimpses and gleanings and intimations from Elsewhere. They won't be retained in a perforated vessel. And if they are not retained, then they cannot do you any good. Moral fitness and intellectual discrimination are necessary for their recognition, proper evaluation, retention if judged salutary, and existential implementation. If you can't act right or think straight, then mystical, religious, and paranormal vouchsafings, whether they come 'out of the blue' or as a result of formal spiritual practices, may do more harm than good. They may inflate the ego or lead it into the dark regions of the occult.
To understand Simone Weil, one must understand her beloved master, Plato. So let's interpret a passage from the Phaedo dialogue, and then compare it to some statements of Weil.
At Stephanus 83a we read, "...the perceptions of the eye, and the ear, and the the senses are full of deceit." (tr. F. J. Church) The point is presumably not that the senses are sometimes nonveridical, but that they tie us to a world that is not ultimately real, and that distracts us from the one that is. From the context it is clear that the point is not epistemological but axiological and ontological. It is not that the senses are unreliable, whether episodically or globally, in respect of the information they provide us about an external world of spatiotemporal particulars. They are reliable enough in providing us such information. The point is rather that the senses deceive us into conferring high value on what is of low value, and into taking as ultimately real what is derivatively real.
It would be a mistake, therefore, to read the passage as an anticipation of the modern problematic of the external world from Descartes to Kant to G. E. Moore and beyond. The problem is not how we can come to have knowledge of an external world given that what is immediately given are only our ideas and representations, ideas and representations the contents of which would be the same whether or not there is an external world. The point is much deeper. The Platonic inquiry calls into question, not human knowledge of a physical world taken to be ultimately real, but the reality and importance of the physical world itself as correlate of the outer senses.
On the same page of the dialogue, we read that ". . . nothing which is subject to change has any truth." 'Truth' is here used ontically as equivalent to 'being' or 'real existence.' The mutable is not ultimately 'true' or ultimately real. Why not? Because it is subject to change. The idea is not that the mutable is a mere illusion, but that it lacks plenary reality, and that lacking full reality it lacks plenary value. I should add that what lacks plenary reality and value cannot play for us a soteriological role.
There are thus four ancient themes here, each of which is contested by the moderns qua moderns and the contemporaries qua contemporaries. There is the idea that impermanence argues relative unreality. There is the levels-of-reality theme which I most recently discussed in connection with John Anderson back in January. There is the theme of the intertwinement of reality and value which finds expression much later in the history of thought in the scholastic slogan ens et bonum convertuntur (being and good are convertible) which I take to mean that what is is good just in virtue of its being and in the measure that it possesses being, and that what is good is good in virtue of its being and in the measure that it possesses being. Thus things in themselves are not axiologically neutral such that their value predicates are subjectively imposed; it is rather the case that things in themselves in their mind-independent reality are good because they are and in the measure that they are. Finally, there is the theme that our salvation is bound up with our knowledge of what is ultimate real and thus ultimately good. This knowledge has ultimate truth and it is this truth that sets us free.
One who can sympathize with these four themes has Platonic intuitions. I suggest that any arguments one develops in support of these four theses will be no more than articulations of these deep intuitions or spiritual insights which one either has or does not have, depending, to allude to Fichte's famous saying, on what kind of person one is. (. . .was für eine Philosophie man wähle, hängt ... davon ab, was man für ein Mensch ist.)"What sort of philosophy one chooses depends on the sort of human being one is." (Thus a superficial fellow like Rudolf Carnap or David Stove is, predictably, a miserable positivist.)
A little farther down, around the middle of St. 83, we read, ". . . when the soul of any man feels vehement pleasure or pain, she is forced at the same time to think that the object, whatever it be, of these sensations is the most distinct and the truest, when it is not." Plato's point is not that the senses deceive us about what is really there in the sense world, but that the senses deceive us into thinking that the sense world is a world of true being or ultimate reality. Compare the allegory of the cave in the Republic.
To find reality the soul must "gather herself together" and "stand aloof from the senses" using them "only when she must . . . ." Pleasure and pain, desire and fear (aversion) must be avoided since they pin the soul to the body, and by pinning it to the body, pin it to the changeful world of sense. Inner purification and meditation, by which the soul "gathers herself together," are necessary for the philosopher's approach to the Real. The true philosopher aims at a separation of the soul from the body, and so must not fear death. We fear death because we love the body and its pleasures.
There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man's mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties.
Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world.
Another terrestrial manifestation of this reality lies in the absurd and insoluble contradictions which are always the terminus of human thought when it moves exclusively in this world.
The first statement conveys the Platonic conviction that ultimate reality is beyond the world of sense. But Weil goes beyond Plato and deeper into mysticism by holding that the reality beyond the sense world is inaccessible to human faculties. At St. 84, Plato has Socrates say that (intuitive) reason is the faculty whereby we contemplate what is "true and divine and real."
The second statement conveys the Platonic thought that the soul's longing can never satisfied by any sense object.
The third statement suggests a way of arguing that the sense world cannot be ultimate: if we take it to be such we land among insoluble aporiai.
Thomas Merton, Journals, vol. 4, p. 57 (10 October 1960):
The superb moral and positive beauty of the Phaedo. One does not have to agree with Plato, but one must hear him. Not to listen to such a voice is unpardonable, it is like not listening to conscience or nature.
The influence of the senses has in most men overpowered the mind to that degree that the walls of time and space have come to look real and insurmountable; and to speak with levity of these limits is, in the world, the sign of insanity.
The following review article is scheduled to appear later this year in Studia Neoscholastica. The editor grants me permission to reproduce it here should anyone have comments that might lead to its improvement.
William F. Vallicella
Peter van Inwagen, Existence: Essays in Ontology, Cambridge University Press, 2014, viii + 261 pp.
This volume collects twelve of Peter van Inwagen's recent essays in ontology and meta-ontology, all of them previously published except one, “Alston on Ontological Commitment.” It also includes an introduction, “Inside and Outside the Ontology Room.” It goes without saying that anyone who works in ontology should study this collection of rigorous, brilliant, and creative articles. One route into the heart of van Inwagen's philosophical position is via the theory of fictional entities he develops in chapter 4, “Existence, ontological commitment, and fictional entities.”
One might reasonably take it to be a datum that a purely fictional item such as Sherlock Holmes does not exist. After all, most of us know that Holmes is a purely fictional character, and it seems analytic that what is purely fictional does not exist. Van Inwagen, however, demurs:
The lesson I mean to convey by these examples is that the nonexistence of [Sherlock] Holmes is not an ontological datum; the ontological datum is that we can use the sentence 'Sherlock Holmes does not exist' to say something true. (105)
So, while many of us are inclined to say that the nonexistence of Holmes is an ontological datum in virtue of his being a purely fictional entity, one wholly made up by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, van Inwagen maintains that Holmes exists and that his existence is consistent with his being purely fictional. One man's datum is another man's (false) theory! To sort this out, we need to understand van Inwagen's approach to ficta.
I'm with Gray. This July will be the 50th anniversary of Barry Maguire's Eve of Destruction. It has been a long and lucky half-century eve, and by chance, if not by divine providence, the morning of destruction has not yet dawned with the light of man-made suns. Now take a cold look at the state of the world and try to convince yourself that we are making moral progress and that war and violence and ignorance and hatred and delusion are on the decline. I won't recite the litany that each of you, if intellectually honest, can recite for himself.
The 'progressive' doesn't believe in God, he believes in Man. But right here is the mistake. For there is no Man, there are only human beings at war with one another and with themselves. We are divided, divisive, and duplicitous creatures. We are in the dark mentally, morally, and spiritually. The Enlightenment spoke piously of reason, but the light it casts is flickering and inconclusive and its deliverances, though not to be contemned, are easily suborned by individual passions and group tribalisms. And just as it is certain that there is no Man, it may doubted that there is any such thing as Reason. Whose reason? There are two points here. The first is that reason is infirm even on the assumption that there is such a universal faculty. The second, more radical point, one that I do not endorse but merely entertain, is that there may be no such universal faculty.
The 'progressive' refuses to face reality, preferring a foolish faith in a utopian future that cannot possibly be brought about by human collective effort. As Heidegger said in his Spiegel interview, Nur ein Gott kann uns retten. "Only a God can save us."
You say God does not exist? That may be so. But the present question is not whether or not God exists, but whether belief in Man makes any sense and can substitute for belief in God. I say it doesn't and can’t, that it is a sorry substitute if not outright delusional. We need help that we cannot provide for ourselves, either individually or collectively. The failure to grasp this is of the essence of the delusional Left, which, refusing the tutelage of tradition and experience, goes off half-cocked with schemes that in the recent past have employed murderous means for an end that never materialized. Communist governments murdered an estimated 100 million in the 20th century alone. That says something about the Left and also about government. What is says about the latter is at least this much: governments are not by nature benevolent. It may be that man is by nature zoon politikon, as Aristotle thought: a political animal. But what may be true of man cannot be true of the polis.
Human desires regularly show themselves to be highly competent when it comes to the seduction of reason and the subornation of conscience.
A man murders his wife and the mother of his child in order to collect on a life insurance policy. Why? So that he can run off with a floozie who shook her tail in his face at a strip joint and then pledged her undying love. Upshot? The man does life in orison prison, the child grows up without parents, and the floozie moves on to her next victim.
(O felix erratum! Actually, prison would be a good place for orison if you were 'in the hole,' where I would want to be, and not in the general population ever having it proved to one that "Hell is other people." (Sartre, No Exit))
Pace the Buddhists, the problem is not desire as such, but desire inordinate and misdirected.
Buddha understood the nature of desire as infinite, as finally unsatisfiable by any finite object. But since he had convinced himself that there is no Absolute, no Atman, nothing possessing self-nature, he made a drastic move: he preached salvation through the extirpation of desire itself. Desire itself is at the root of suffering, dukkha, on the Buddhist conception, not desire for the wrong objects; so the way to salvation is not via redirection of desire upon the right Object, but via an uprooting of desire itself.
The suggestion was made that I give a little talk to the monks of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery outside of Abiqui, New Mexico. I thought I would offer a few words in defense of the monastic life, not that such an ancient and venerable tradition needs any defense from me, but just to clarify my own thoughts and perhaps help others clarify theirs either by way of agreement or disagreement with mine. I will attempt three things. I will first list some convictions I hold to be of the essence of religion. Then I will suggest that the monastic path is an excellent way to implement these convictions. Finally I will ask myself why I am not a monk.
The Essence of Religion
There is much more to a religion than its beliefs and doctrines; there are also its practices. The practices, however, are informed and guided by certain central convictions whose importance cannot be denied. Religion is not practice alone. Now it is not easy to define religion, and it may be impossible. (Religion may be a family-resemblance concept in Wittgenstein's sense.) In any case I will not attempt to define religion by specifying necessary and sufficient conditions of the concept's application. But as I see it, most of the following are essential (necessary) to anything that deserves to be called a religion, and all of them are essential to Christianity. What I offer is a characterization, not a definition.
1. In first place, and not just in the order of exposition, is the belief that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect, as it does beyond the senses. One can reason about it, and reason to it, but one cannot access it directly via the discursive intellect. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.
Compare the first item in Simone Weil's Profession of Faith: "There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man's mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties."
2. The belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that "our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves" to the "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53) The Unseen Order is thus not merely a realm of absolute reality, but also one of absolute value and an object of our highest and purest desire.
Compare the second item in Weil's profession: "Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world."
3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the Unseen Order. Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the Order which alone is the source of his ultimate happiness and final good. His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences. That is, our ability to know the saving truth has been impaired by our moral deficiency.
4. The conviction that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready, or perhaps any, access to the Unseen Order. Proximately, we need the help of others; ultimately, we need help from the Unseen Order.
5. The conviction that adjustment to the Unseen Order requires moral purification/transformation.
6. The conviction that help from the side of the Unseen Order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.
7. The conviction that the sensible order, while not unreal, is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative, and as derivative defective. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the Unseen Order.
Each of these seven convictions is an element in my personal credo. Can I prove them? Of course not. But then nothing of a substantive nature in philosophy, theology, or any controversial field, can be proven. But each of the above convictions is rationally defensible. So while not provable, they are not matters of mere faith either. They can be argued for, their negations are rationally rejectable, and there are experiences that vouch for them. (See Religious Belief and What Inclines Me to It.)
The Monastic Path
I will now suggest that the monastic life is perhaps the best way to realize existentially the above convictions, but also to have the sorts of experiences that tend to provide evidence for the convictions. One lives the convictions, and by living them is granted experiences and intimations that validate the convictions.
Let us suppose that you accept all or most of the above seven propositions, in their spirit if not in their letter, and that you also share with me the meta-conviction that these first-order convictions are to be lived (existentially realized, realized in one's Existenz) and not merely thought about or talked about or argued over.
Then it makes sense to go into the desert. The negative reason is to escape the manifold distractions of the world which keep one scattered and enslaved to the ephemeral, while the positive reason is to live a life focused on the the absolute and unchanging Source of all reality and value. The entrance into the monastery signals that one is truly convinced of the reality of the unseen (#1), it supreme value for us and our happiness (#2) and the relative unreality and insignificance of this world of time and change and vain ambition (#7).
To live such a focused existence, however, requires discipline. We have a fallen nature in at least two senses. First, we are as if fallen from a higher state. Second, we are ever falling against the objects of our world and losing ourselves in them, becoming absorbed in them. (Compare Heidegger's Verfallenheit, fallingness.) Here we find the ontological root of such sins of the flesh as avarice, gluttony, and lust. Given our fallen and falling nature, a monastic institution can provide the moral discipline and guidance that might be difficult if not impossible to secure on the outside, especially in a secularized and sex-saturated society such as ours has become. The weight of concupiscence is heavy and it drags us down. We are sexual beings naturally, and oversexualized beings socially, and so we are largely unable to control our drives to the extent necessary to develop spiritual sight. The thrust of desire confers final reality upon the sensuous while occluding one's spiritual sight. Sensuous desire, especially inordinate sensuous desire, realizes the things of the senses while de-realizing the things of the spirit.
Here, as I see it, is the main reason for sexual continence. We are not continent because we are undersexed, or prudes, or anti-natalists, or despisers of matter. (Certainly no Christian could despise the material world, and a Christian such as Kierkegaard who at the end of his life waxed anti-natalist veered off into a personal idiosyncrasy.) The continence of the loins subserves the continence of the mind and heart which in turn are probably necessary, though certainly not sufficient, for a Glimpse of spiritual realities. (I say 'probably necessary' because divine grace may grant sight to the committed worldling nolens volens.)
And then there is the great problem of suggestibility. We are highly sensitive and responsive to social suggestions as to what is real and important and what is not. In a society awash with secular suggestions, people find it hard to take religion seriously. Here is another reason why a community of the like-minded may be necessary for most spiritual seekers. They provide reinforcement and the requisite counter-suggestions. (It is worth noting that if cults can 'brainwash' their members, whole societies can go off the rails and brainwash their members.)
Why Am I not a Monk?
"If you think so highly of the monastic life, what are you doing on the outside?"
A fair question deserving a straight answer. I didn't come to religion; I was brought up Roman Catholic by a pious Italian mother and pre-Vatican II nuns and priests. But I had a religious nature, so the training 'took.' But I also had a strong intellectual bent and was inclined philosophically from an early age. So I couldn't avoid asking, and not just intellectually, but existentially as well: how much of this is true and how do I know? The ferment of the 1960s only intensified my cognitive dissonance as the religious upbringing clashed on the one side with my philosophical questioning, and on the other with the secular and counter-cultural suggestions of the 'sixties. I remember in 1965 listening intently to the words of Bob Dylan's Gates of Eden and trying to discern its compatibility, if any, with Catholic teaching. (By the way, attending a Dylan concert in those days was like going to church: the audience remained dead quiet, hanging on every word.)
So philosophy took over the role in the pious youth's life that religion had played. That kept me away from any conventional religious vocation. And so it kept me out of the monastery. For one cannot join a monastery in general; it must be either Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Buddhist or whatever, and to do that in good faith and with a clear intellectual conscience one must accept the central doctrinal content of those religions. But that content was exactly what to my mind needed examination. Athens at that point got the upper hand over Jerusalem. So why am I not a monk? Because of Athens.
But now, as I approach the end of the trail, I see ever more clearly the vanity of any philosophy that does not complete itself in something beyond it. But what? The empty discursivity of reason needs to be filled and completed by a direct spiritual seeing. Concepts without intuitions are empty. (Kant) So philosophy needs completion by mystical intuition, but this is rare and sporadic and fragmentary here below, mere Glimpses; to sustain us in the between times we need faith grounded in revelation.
Starbuck's CEO, Howard Schultz, wants his baristas to write "Race Together" on coffee cups to facilitate a conversation about race between baristas and customers and presumably also among customers.
Now this is profoundly stupid — assuming it is not just a cynical try at boosting sales. I'll be charitable and assume the former.
Anyone who has been paying attention will have noticed that we agree on less and less, and not for a lack of 'conversations' about the issues that divide us. The notion that more talk will help is foolish when what we need is less conversational engagement and more agreement to avoid divisive issues, together with the resolve to interact as well as we can on the common ground that remains — such as love of coffee.
As it stands, a maxim, and true as far as it goes. But in need of qualification which, when added, makes it a maxim no longer. Brevity is essential to the maxim as it is to the aphorism and the epigram.
Closer to the truth is the following. Teaching, we learn; but only up to a point beyond which studying without having to teach is much to be preferred if the goal is an advance in understanding and erudition.
I never knew logic so well as after having taught it for a couple of years. But then the maxim lost its truth.