Motto: Study everything, join nothing.
Selected for the The Times of London's 100 Best Blogs List (15 February 2009)
Occasionally, Robert Paul Wolff says something at his blog that I agree with completely, for instance:
To an extent I did not anticipate when I set out on life’s path, books have provided many of the joys and satisfactions I have encountered. I am constantly grateful to the scholars and thinkers who have written, and continue to write, the books from which I derive such pleasure, both the great authors of the past . . . and those less exalted . . . .
Gratitude is a characteristically conservative virtue; hence its presence in Wolff softens my attitude toward him.
As Wolff suggests, our gratitude should extend to the lesser lights, the humbler laborers in the vineyards of Wissenschaft, the commentators and translators, the editors and compilers and publishers. Beyond that, to the librarians and the supporters of libraries, and all the preservers and transmitters of high culture, and those who, unlettered themselves in the main, defend with blood and iron the precincts of high culture from the barbarians who now once again are massing at the gates.
Nor should we forget the dedicated teachers, mostly women, who taught us to read and write and who opened up the world of learning to us and a lifetime of the sublime joys of study and reading and writing.
A reader wants my thoughts regarding the following hypothetical scenarios.
I own a modestly nice car, say, a 2014 Honda Accord with some bells and whistles. I treat it fairly well, ensuring that it receives in a timely fashion all of the required maintenance. I get it washed and waxed with pride. The one deficiency I have is that I park my car with some indiscretion. I am not that vigilant with locking my doors. You warn me that this is a mistake. I counter by saying that there are other cars that are more valuable, say BMWs and Audis and that I don't park my car in so-called 'bad areas.' Nonetheless, to my foolish shock and surprise, my car is stolen one day. Could it then be said that I am at least partially responsible for having my car stolen?
Yes, you are partially responsible, and the thief is partially responsible, but his part is larger than yours. You are the victim of the crime and he is the perpetrator. I blame both of you for the crime, loading the lion's share of the blame upon the perpetrator. But I blame you too, and in blaming you, I blame the victim. Clearly, it is right, proper, and just to blame the victim within limits and subject to qualifications.
This is why the accusation, "You are blaming the victim!" cuts little ice with me. In some, but not all, situations some judicious blaming of the victim is perfectly appropriate. People who cannot see this are in many cases victims of their own political correctness and ought to be blamed for not using their faculties and thus for being victims of their own self-induced political correctness. This is a sort of meta-level blaming of the victim.
We ought to distinguish the legal, the moral, and the prudential aspects of the situation. I will set the legal questions aside since in the above scenario the victim hasn't done anything legally wrong. (In related scenarios, however, the victim would probably be criminally negligent under the law, e.g, you leave your child in the car, keys in ignition, engine running, while you enter a convenience store for a cup of coffee, and your child is abducted.)
The prudential and moral aspects alone interest me. But before I explain the difference, let's consider my reader's second scenario.
If we say yes, then I wish to change the elements of our hypothetical scenario in attempts to pump some uncomfortable intuitions. Say instead of owning a modestly nice car, I own a modestly nice female body. I treat it fairly well, making sure I go to the doctor in a timely manner and go to the spa. However, I lack vigilance with myself and drink a lot at frat parties. You warn me that this is not wise. I counter by saying that there are other women more foolish than I and that I don't frequent 'bad places.' Yet, to my foolish shock and surprise, some abuse occurs. Could it be said that I am then at least partially responsible for the abuse?
Contemporary sentiment is that there is no one to blame for sexual assault except for the perpetrator. And while I agree that the perpetrators are primarily the culpable ones, I also think that there must be some level of personal responsibility that must be practiced. I don't think it terribly offensive for us to encourage women to exercise a healthy level of skepticism of one's fellow human being, yet feminists will cry foul, that we are punishing women for the potential crimes of others when we say it is their responsibility to not party or dress a certain way or hang out with a certain crowd or drink themselves to oblivion, that we should focus our efforts on disciplining the would-be perpetrators with more education.
(P) It is morally wrong to suborn immoral behavior.
BV: The examples given above are not examples of solicitation as per the definition to which you linked. The well-endowed but scantily-clad female who advertises her charms in dangerous precincts is not soliciting the crime of rape or any other crime against her person. The definition also implies that solicitation must be between a person A and some other person B. But if a person acts in such a way as to tempt another to commit a crime, there needn't be any particular person who is being tempted.Let's consider another example. I withdraw a large sum of money from an outdoor ATM machine at night in a bad part of town and then walk down the street ostentatiously counting my wad. I don't see that that foolish behavior would count as solicitation by the above definition. After all, I don't want to be robbed, and there is no specific person I am persuading to rob me. But if I offer you $10,000 to kill my wife so that I can collect on a life insurance policy, then that is a clear case of solicitation, as per the definition, whether or not you agree to attempt the dastardly deed and whether or not you succeed.
BV: So you are saying that the offer of a bribe is essential to subornation? If memory serves, however, in the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, one of the charges was subornation of perjury. Was it alleged that Clinton offered a bribe to the person or persons he attempted to persuade to perjure themselves? I'm just asking. And what exactly is a bribe in the eyes of the law? A monetary inducement only?In any case, I thought I made it clear that I was not talking above about the law but about morality. I linked to a dictionary definition of 'suborn' that is broader than a legal definition. But it may be that 'suborn' is not the best word for what I am trying to convey.
BV: The sort of counterexample to (P) that occurred to me was what goes on in a 'sting' operation by an undercover law enforcement agent.
BV: Now that is a good point. You leave the bank vault open with me nearby while you go out for lunch. Are you tempting me to steal or evincing faith in my honesty? Well, if you don't know me, or don't know me well, then you ought to bear some moral responsibility for my pilfering of the pelf. But if you knew me very well and knew that I was hitherto always honest, then I think very little or perhaps no blame would attach to you.The case of the sexually attractive and scantily-clad female who advertises her endowments around people she doesn't know is relevantly different. She knows what men in general are like and knows that her behavior is risky and yet she does it anyway. I say she bears some of the blame for the abuse she experiences.Suppose I know that Jack is an alcoholic and I ply him with strong drink at my Thanskgiving feast. He drives off drunk and slaughters a family of four. Do I bear some moral responsibility for the slaughter? Of course I do. But suppose I don't know Tom, but in good faith I sell him a gun, having no reason to suspect him of criminal intent, but Tom then kills his wife using the gun I sold him. Am I to any degree morally responsible for the crime? No, not to any degree.
Here is yet another entry from the now-defunct Powerblogs site. It is pretty good, I think, and deserves to be kept online.
Have I been in existence as one and the same human individual from conception on? Of course, I and any intra-uterine predecessors I may have had have been genetically human from conception on: at no time was there anything genetically lupine or bovine or canine or feline in my mother's womb. The question is whether I am numerically the same human individual as the individual that came into existence at 'my' conception.
The following argument seems to show that no zygote is a human being and that I have not been in existence as one and the same human individual from conception on. The argument is a variant of a much more complicated argument presented by Peter van Inwagen in Material Beings, Cornell UP, 1990, p. 152 ff. (In note 55, van Inwagen cites Peter Geach, The Virtues, Cambridge UP, 1977, p. 30.)
The argument is essentially this:
1. A zygote is already a human being. (assumption for reductio)
2. When a zygote divides, it ceases to exist. (premise)
3. When a zygote divides, the human being it is ceases to exist. (from 1, 2)
4. At or after a zygotic division that terminates a human being, a new human being comes to exist. (premise)
5. Pregnancy involves the creation of two human beings. (from 1, 4)
6. (5) is absurd: there is only ever one human being in the womb.
7. (1) is false: A zygote is not a human being.
Since the inferences are valid, the soundness of the argument rides on the truth of its premises. I will not question the truth of (4). The normal outcome of (a human) pregnancy is the birth of a human being. Premise (2), however, seems open to doubt.
First we need to understand the reaoning behind (2). If Z splits into A and B, there appear to be three possibilities: Z continues to exist as A; Z continues to exist as B; Z ceases to exist. But any reason one gives why Z continues to exist as A is equally good as a reason why Z continues to exist as B. Since Z cannot continue to exist as two things, both of the first two possibilities are ruled out. This leaves the third: Z ceases to exist.
There is however a fourth possibility: when a zygote divides, it does not cease to exist, but changes from a one-celled to a two-celled organism. Of course, one thing cannot become two things. But a one-celled organism that becomes a two-celled organism is arguably one and the same organism which exists at two different times. One thing does not become two things; a one-celled thing becomes a two-celled thing.
Zygote Z becomes embryo AB. Must we say that Z ceases to exist and AB begins to exist? Why can't we say that the organism that is Z continues to exist as AB? Crude analogy: I have a burning log L in my fireplace. L breaks into two burning pieces P1 and P2. Does L cease to exist to be replaced by P1 and P2? One could say that, but it seems equally reasonable to say that L continues to exist composed of two distinct parts P1 and P2.
Van Inwagen rules out the possibility I am suggesting:
It does not follow, therefore, from the fact that the zygote is an organism, and hence a real object, that the two-cell embryo that replaces it is a real object. Why should we believe that there something that B and C compose? They adhere to each other, but we have seen that there is no reason to suppose that two objects compose anything. (Material Beings, p. 153)
I don't understand why van Inwagen says that "there is no reason to suppose that two objects compose anything." I find bizarre his denial that there are such things as ships and houses, and the implication above that an embryo, though composed of living things, is not itself a living thing.
Was I once a zygote? Yes, as far as I can see, van Inwagen's argument notwithstanding.
One thing is very clear: metaphysics is unavoidable. Just a little thought about a 'hot button' issue such as abortion lands you right in it.
Left-wing bias at the NYT is nothing new, of course, but the following opening paragraph of a July 8th editorial is particularly egregious. But before I quote it, let me say that the problem is not that the editors have a point of view or even that it is a liberal-left point of view. The problem is their seeming inability, or rather unwillingness, to present a matter of controversy in a fair way. Here is the opening paragraph of Hobby Lobby's Disturbing Sequel:
The Supreme Court violated principles of religious liberty and women’s rights in last week’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, which allowed owners of closely held, for-profit corporations (most companies in America) to impose their religious beliefs on workers by refusing to provide contraception coverage for employees with no co-pay, as required by the Affordable Care Act. But for the court’s male justices, it didn’t seem to go far enough.
This is a good example of the sort of Orwellian mendacity we have come to expect from the Obama administration and its supporters in the mainstream media. 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. The Orwellian template: X, which is not Y, is Y.
Every statement in the opening paragraph of the NYT editorial is a lie. The 5-4 SCOTUS decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby defended principles of religious liberty. It did not violate any women's rights. Neither the right to an abortion nor the right to purchase any form of contraception were affected by the decision. The ACA mandate to provide contraceptives was not overturned but merely restricted so that Hobby Lobby would not be forced to provide four abortifacient contraceptives.
I won't say anything about the ridiculous insinuation in the last sentence, except that arguments don't have testicles.
Truth is not a value for the Left. Winning is what counts, by any means. They see politics as war, which is why they feel justified in their mendacity.
The quite narrow question the Supreme Court had to decide was whether closely held, for-profit corporations are persons under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act . "RFRA states that “[the] Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”3 (Ibid.)
If Hobby Lobby is forced by the government to provide abortifacients to its employees, and Hobby Lobby is a person in the eyes of the law, then the government's Affordable Care Act mandate is in violation of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. For it would substantially burden Hobby Lobby's proprietors' exercise of religion if they were forced to violate their own consciences by providing the means of what they believe to be murder to their employees. So the precise question that had to be decided was whether Hobby Lobby is a person in the eyes of the law. The question was NOT whether corporations are persons in the eyes of the law, as some benighted cmmentators seems to think.
Note also that the issue here is not constitutional but statutory: the issue has solely to do with the interpretation and application of a law, RFRA. As Alan Dershowitz explains (starting at 7:52), it has to do merely with the "construction of a statute."
This entry takes up where I left off yesterday. R. Crozat, responding to yesterday's post, e-mails:
I agree that philosophy is tasked to evaluate the philosophical claims of scientists. Your post on Professor Gleiser does the job.
In addition to confusing seeing with object seen, Gleiser seems to mix physics with meaning. He writes “You say, “I’m reading this word now.” In reality, you aren’t.” Here, his use of "reading" confuses:
a) an optical process that enables reading, with
b) actual reading, which is the interpretation and understanding of the meaning of information.
Gleiser's description of the optics is informative, but he misunderstands the nature of reading. He refers to “reading” then proceeds to treat the optics as if optics is reading. But they are not identical. Clearly, one can run his eyes over words without reading them. The light-traveling and eye-running are physical; the reading is mental/intentional. Gleiser’s mistake is like confusing driving with a gasoline fill-up, photography with light and lens, or jogging with trail-mix, bones and muscles.
I can imagine Socrates rephrasing Phaedo 99b: “Fancy being unable to distinguish between a mental faculty and the process without which that faculty could not be enabled!”
My correspondent is exactly right. I spotted the blurring of seeing and reading too, but decided not to pursue it in the interests of brevity, brevity being the soul of blog, as has been observed perhaps too often in these pages.
Reading involves understanding, but one can see a word, a phrase, a sentence, and so on without understanding it. So there is more to reading than seeing. Seeing is with the eyes; understanding is with the mind. Note also that one can read without seeing, reading Braille being an example of this.
I would add to what my correspondent states by making a tripartite distinction among (i) the causal basis of visual perception, (ii) seeing, and (iii) reading. It is not just reading that is intentional or object-directed; seeing is as well. To see is to see something as something. One cannot just see, and all seeing is a seeing-as. It may be that our physicist is guilty of a three-fold confusion.
There is no reading (in the ordinary sense of the word) without seeing, and there is no seeing without brain, eyes, neural pathways, light, physical objects, etc. But to confuse these three is a Philosophy 101 mistake.
The quotation from Phaedo 99b is entirely apt although the topic there is not seeing and understanding, but free human action. Plato has Socrates say:
If it were said that without bones and muscles and other parts of the body I could not have carried my resolutions into effect, that would be true. But to say that they are the cause of what I do, . . . that my acting is not from choice of what is best, would be a very loose and careless way of talking.
Our physicists need to educate themselves so as to avoid the loose and careless ways of talking that they readily fall into when, eager to turn a buck, they inflict their pseudo-philosophical speculations on the unwitting public.
One of the tasks of philosophy is to expose bad philosophy. Scientists pump out quite a lot of it. Physicists are among the worst. I have given many examples. Here is another one. Let's get to work. Dartmouth physicist Marcelo Gleiser writes in There is No Now,
You say, “I’m reading this word now.” In reality, you aren’t. Since light travels at a finite speed, it takes time for it to bounce from the book to your eye. When you see a word, you are seeing it as it looked some time in the past. To be precise, if you are holding the book at one foot from your eye, the light travel time from the book to your eye is about one nanosecond, or one billionth of a second. The same with every object you see or person you talk to. Take a look around. You may think that you are seeing all these objects at once, or “now,” even if they are at different distances from you. But you really aren’t, as light bouncing from each one of them will take a different time to catch your eye. The brain integrates the different sources of visual information, and since the differences in arrival time are much smaller than what your eyes can discern and your brain process, you don’t see a difference. The “present”—the sum total of the sensorial input we say is happening “now”—is nothing but a convincing illusion.
Gleiser is confusing seeing with object seen. True, light travels at a finite speed. So the word seen is the word as it was one nanosecond ago. But it doesn't follow that I am not seeing the word now. The seeing occurs now at time t, the word seen, however, is not the word as it is at t, but the word as it was at t* (t*<t).
When I glance at the sun, I see it as it was about eight minutes ago. But it does not follow that the seeing (glancing) is not occurring now, or that there is no now.
Suppose that at time t I am visually aware of a word and of a cat. I am focused on the word, but the cat is nearby in the periphery of my visual field. So the seeing of the word and the seeing of the cat are simultaneous seeings. But the word I see is the word as it was one nanosecond ago, whereas the cat I see is the cat as it was, say, 10 nanoseconds ago. So I grant that there are a couple of illusions here.
The first illusion is that if a seeing occurs at time t, then the object seen is as it is at t. This cannot be given the well-known facts that Gleiser adduces. The object seen is as it was at an earlier time t*. But if you see through (forgive the pun) the first illusion, you may still succumb to the second. The second illusion is that objects seen at the same time t are as they were at the same time t*, where t* is earlier than t. In my example, the seeing of the word and the seeing of the cat occur at the same time, call it t. But, given that word and cat are at different distances from the subject, there is no one time t*, earlier than t, such that word and cat were as they were when they were seen.
But again, that does not show that the present moment or the Now is an illusion.
Gleiser's thesis is that there is no Now, that it is a "cognitive illusion." He sums up:
To summarize: given that the speed of light is fast but finite, information from any object takes time to hit us, even if the time is tiny. We never see something as it is “now.” However, the brain takes time to process information and can’t distinguish (or time-order) two events that happen sufficiently close to one another. The fact that we see many things happening now is an illusion, a blurring of time perception.
Gleiser is just confused. There is an illusion, but it is the illusion that we see things as they are now. But that is not to say that there is no Now, or that the Now is an illusion. In fact, Gleiser presupposes that there is a Now when he says that we never see anything as it is now. Right now the Sun is in some definite state, but the physics of visual perception make it impossible to see the Sun as it is now. If it had gone supernova three minutes ago, it would appear to us now as it usually does.
Geiser confuses an epistemological claim -- We never see anything distant from us as it is at the precise time of the seeing -- with an ontological claim: there is no present moment.
There is other nonsense in Gleiser's piece. Take this sentence: "The notion of time is related to change, and the passage of time is simply a tool to track change." I'll leave it to the reader to sort this out. I've had enough!
The muse of philosophy must have visited my otherwise undistinguished classmate Dolores back in the fifth grade. The topic was dirty jokes and that we should not tell them or listen to them. "But sister," Dolores piped up, "what if you laugh not because the joke is dirty but because it is funny?"
It was a good distinction then and a good distinction now.
I posted on Armstrong's naturalism yesterday, and that got me to thinking whether he ever said anything anywhere about religion. A little searching turned up the following 2002 interview of Armstrong by Andrew Chrucky. Here is an excerpt that touches upon Armstrong's view of religion:
Chrucky: Let me move on to something else. What I would want to know from a philosopher if I were an ordinary person. Probably the first things I would want to know is: Are you religious in any way?
Armstrong: No. I'm not.
Chrucky: What is your take on religion?
Armstrong: I have the greatest respect for it. I think it may be the thing that many people need, and it enshrines many truths about life. But I do not think it is actually true.
Chrucky: So, it expresses truth in some metaphorical way?
Armstrong: In some metaphorical and symbolic way, I think it grasps at truth. And I think it gives hope and comfort to many.
Chrucky: I am not much into religion as a subject, but perhaps someone like Bultmann who was demythologizing religion is someone you would find favor with?
Armstrong: I am quite happy with religion going on the way it is. I don't want to alter the religions. That's not my interest. But I suppose that if you are considering what is the truth behind religion then it would have to be demythologized.
Chrucky: How do you view the state of the world? Right now there seems to be a rise in fundamentalism all over.
Chrucky: You know Iran became a theocracy, and there seems to be a Christian-Islamic confrontation going on. How does one resolve this? Is there a philosophical way of looking at it?
Armstrong: No. I don't think so.
Chrucky: Is there a need for dialogue? . . . so that religions confront one another, or is this hopeless?
Armstrong: I don't really know. I really don't have any views on this point. I think of myself as in the Christian and Jewish tradition, and in the tradition of Greece. Matthew Arnold thought of Hebraism and Hellenism as the twin poles of Western culture. I see myself as a person in the stream within that culture, and I think it may perhaps be the best tradition of thought and life that has so far been evolved. Certainly I don't think we should be apologetic about it.
This interview confirms what I suspected was Armstrong's attitude toward religion. As a naturalist, he cannot consider any of the characteristic claims of religion to be literally true. But as a conservative, he has "the greatest respect for it" and he appreciates the important and beneficial role it plays in the lives of many people. While not true in its characteristic claims, religion "enshrines many truths about life." Armstrong endorses the notion that Hebraism and Hellenism are the twin poles of Western culture, the tradition of which is the best that has so far been evolved. Armstrong sees himself in that tradition. One might wonder, however, whether his work in philosophy has had or will have the effect of undermining it.
He is clearly a traditionalist who takes the great problems of philosophy seriously and unabashedly uses phrases like 'great problems.' He respects the tradition even while diverging from it. I cannot imagine him writing a book like David Stove's The Plato Cult. His approach in philosophy is direct, realistic, ontological, nonlinguistic. He is also traditional in that he sees an important role for philosophy. He is far from scientism as I tried to make clear in my earlier post.
A final observation. Armstrong's is a disinterested search for truth. He is like Aristotle in that regard. One cannot imagine his naturalism becoming a substitute religion for him.
The late David Malet Armstrong has a serious claim to being Australia's greatest philosopher. His life work is summed up in his Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics (Oxford UP, 2010). It is from the Introduction to this slim volume that I draw the following précis of his naturalism.
Armstrong on Naturalism
1. Naturalism for Armstrong is the thesis that "all that exists is the space-time world . . . ." The space-time world is the physical world. The thesis, then, is that reality is exhausted by the physical world.
2. Naturalism is an assumption: it is assumed to be true.
3. Armstrong admits that he has no argument for naturalism except that it is a position that many would accept, both philosophers and non-philosophers. There is no philosophical reasoning whereby one could prove that any metaphysical scheme, including naturalism, is correct. To think otherwise is "folly." I agree. One cannot prove naturalism or any form of anti-naturalism.
4. Armstrong also describes naturalism as an "hypothesis," one that many would accept as plausible. "The space-time entity seems obviously to exist. Other suggested beings seem much more hypothetical." (1)
5. Though naturalism cannot be proven, one can attempt to develop it into a coherent vision of the fundamental structure of the world or of the general nature of things, a vision (his word) that can then be put into competition with other visions. The development of a vision of things will involve argumentation but also bare assertion. "I argue where I can, but at times I simply assert."
6. The exclusion of so-called abstract entities or abstract objects such as mathematical sets, unexemplified universals, and numbers from the roster of the real is because of their lack of causal power. What causal role could they play? "And if they play no causal role it is hard to see how we can have good reasons for thinking that they exist." (2)
We ought to distinguish between
A. To exist is to be capable of entering into causal relations
B. We have no good reasons for postulating entities that are incapable of entering into causal relations.
Armstrong affirms (B), but he also seems committed to (A) since (A) is entailed by naturalism. Naturalism is the view that reality is exhausted by the space-time world, the view that nothing exists except what exists in the space-time world. Given that the space-time world is a world of causal interactions, it follows that all and only that which is causally active/passive exists. If you are an Armstrongian naturalist, then you cannot posit such causally inert entities as mathematical sets even if there are some good reasons for postulating them.
7. The space-time world, the physical world, is Wilfrid Sellars' world of the scientific image, not that of the manifest image. It is therefore the task of physics, or perhaps total natural science, to tell us what the physical world, and thus all of reality, is like.
8. Now if naturalism is true and physics (or total science) informs us as to nature's laws and properties, why do we need metaphysics? Why isn't physics all the metaphysics we need? Why shouldn't we embrace both the ontological thesis of naturalism and the epistemological thesis of scientism? After all, they seem to go together. If all that exists is the system of space-time-matter, and physics tells us what there is to know about it, then what room is there for metaphysics?
There is room for metaphysics according to Armstrong because we need a systematic account of such topic-neutral notions as cause, class, property, relation, quality, kind, resemblance, quantity, number, substance, fact, truth, law of nature, power, and others.
For example, common experience and the sciences inform us as to what causes what, but not as to what causation is. What is causation? What distinguishes a causal from a noncausal event sequence? Is causation 'in the objects' mere regular succession as Hume thought (or as Hume is often taken to have thought)? Or is there more to it? And what is that more? Does the cause produce the effect? Does the cause bring the effect into existence? Can x cause y even if the x-y sequence does not instantiate any regularity? What are the relata of the causal relation? Can a substance be a causal relatum? Is causation a relation at all? And so on. All of these are questions in metaphysics (ontology) for Armstrong.
So a thoroughgoing naturalist who restricts the real to the space-time system needn't embrace scientism; he can maintain that there is room for metaphysics in one sense of that ancient word: not an inquiry into what is beyond the physical or natural, but an inquiry into the deepest and most pervasive structures of the natural. (Armstrong does not mention scientism or make the point I just made, but it clearly follows from what he says.
Why I am Not a Naturalist (A Brief Sketch)
Armstrong is surely right that one cannot prove naturalism. Equally, one cannot disprove it. But there reasons that make its rejection reasonable.
There are questions that naturalism cannot satisfactorily answer. Among them: Why does anything at all exist? Or, more precisely, why does anything contingent at all exist? The space-time system exists and it exists contingently -- there is no logical or metaphysical necessity that there be a space-time system at all, or the precise one that we find ourselves in. But the space-time entity, as Armstrong calls it, lacks the resources to explain its own existence. I won't argue this here, but I have in other places. There are also good reasons to reject the suggestion that the space-time system exists as a matter of brute fact.
Deeper than the question, Why does anything at all exist? is the question, What is it for any contingent thing to exist? Does Armstrong have an answer for this question? Surely it is a central question of metaphysics. We cannot decide what exists or why anything exists unless we know what it is for something to exist. He doesn't deal with it as far as I know, but he does seem to have an implicit answer, (A) above which can also be formulated as follows:
A*. For any x, x exists iff x is possibly such as to be either a cause or an effect.
A**. For any x, x exists iff x has the power to bring about a change in itself or in another or the liability to have a change brought about in it.
But even if these biconditionals are true, they presuppose existence rather than accounting for it. A thing cannot have a causal power or a causal liability or stand in a relation unless it 'already' (logically speaking) exists. What makes a thing exist, therefore, cannot be its having a power or liability or its standing in a relation.
Long story short, A's naturalism has no satisfactory answer to either of my existence questions.
And then there are questions about mind, questions about consciousness, qualia, intentionality, reason, and the like. They notoriously resist naturalistic treatment. Armstrong, who is famous for his intellectual honesty, readily admits this:
I do not know how to refute the claim that intentionality is an irreducible phenomenon, a phenomenon that is something different from the physical processes in the brain. So in my philosophy of mind I face difficulties from the alleged qualia and from the phenomenon of intentionality that seem rather greater than anything I am aware of in the rest of my ontological scheme. (115)
That naturalism is not compelling is also evident from the fact that naturalists disagree bitterly among themselves as to what shape it should take. Some naturalists want to countenance abstracta while others are eliminativists about the mind.
But I don't reject naturalism simply because it does not have satisfactory answers to all the questions that need answering; I also reject it on the basis of all the experiences (mystical, religious, paranormal) that point to, though they do not prove, what William James calls the "reality of the unseen." Such experiences by themselves may not cut much ice, but in conjunction with an array of rigorous arguments against naturalism and an array of rigorous argments for some form or anti-naturalism, they play an important role in a cumulative case argument for the reasonableness of anti-naturalism.
But before getting on to the greaseball crooners, a bit of R & R history. London Ed reminds me that today, the 5th of July, 2014, is the 60th anniversary of the recording of Elvis Presley's That's Alright, Mama, his first commercial record. It was written and first recorded by Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup in 1946. Some say that Presley's recording is the first rock and roll record. Others give the palm to the 1951 Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Kings. The associated video features footage (and 'leggage') of Bettie Page, that innocent and unwitting sex kitten of the '50s. She got religion big time later on, as did Dion Dimucci, but that's another and another Saturday Night at the Oldies . . . .
In his latest NRO column, Spencer Case argues that "The feminist left is politicizing philosophy." I would add that this is but a special case of the general truth that the Left politicizes everything.
Some related posts of mine:
The Recent Dennett-Plantinga A. P. A. Debate and the Question of Tone in Philosophy Excellent comment thread. A. C. Grayling makes an appearance and is pummelled by Ed Feser and others.
Our Czech friend Lukas Novak sent me a paper in which, drawing upon John Duns Scotus, he rejects the following principle of reference:
(PR) It is impossible to refer to that which is not.
In this entry I will first pull some quotations from Novak's paper and then raise some questions about the view he seems to be endorsing.
I. Novak's Scotistic View
Scotus’ position can be simply characterized as a consistent rejection of the PR . . . . According to Scotus, the objects of any intentional relations . . . simply are not required to have any ontological status whatsoever, or, as Scotus puts it, any esse verum. The “being” expressed by the predicates exploited by Francis, like “to be known” (esse cognitum), “to be intelligible” (esse intelligibile), “to be an image of a paradigm” (esse exemplatum), “to be represented” (esse repraesentatum) and the like, is not real or true in any way, irrespectively of whether the relation involved concerns God or man.
[. . .]
It is not necessary to assume any esse essentiae in objects of knowledge: instead, Scotus speaks of “esse deminutum” here, but he points out emphatically that this “diminished being” is being only “secundum quid”, i.e., in an improper, qualified sense – this is the point of Scotus’ famous criticism of Henry of Ghent laid out in the unique question of dist. 36 of the first book of his Ordinatio. If you look for some real being in the object of intellection that it should have precisely in virtue of being such an object, there is none to be found. The only real being to be found here is the real being of the intellection, to which the esse deminutum of the intellected object is reduced:
[. . .]
In other words: if we were to make something like an inventory of reality, we should not list any objects having mere esse deminutum. By speaking about objects in intelligible being we do not take on any ontological commitment (to use the Quinean language) over and above the commitment to the existence of the intellections directed to these objects.
[. . .]
And now the crucial point: it is precisely this intelligibility, imparted to the objects by the divine intellect, what [that] makes human conceiving of the same objects possible, irrespectively of whether they have any real being or not:
[. . .]
In other words: the most fundamental reason why the PR is false is, according to Scotus, the fact that a sufficient condition of the human capacity to refer to something is the intelligibility of that something. This intelligibility, however, is bestowed on things in virtue of their being conceived, prior to creation, by the absolute divine intellect. This divine conceiving, however, neither produces nor presupposes any genuine being in the objects; for it is a universal truth that cognition is an immanent operation, one whose effect remains wholly in its subject (and so does not really affect its object) – in this elementary point divine cognition is not different. Accordingly, objects need not have any being whatsoever in order to be capable of being referred to. (emphasis added)
II. Some Questions and Comments
As a matter of fact we do at least seem to refer to nonexistent objects and say things about them, true and false. Alexius von Meinong's celebrated goldner Berg, golden mountain, may serve as an example. The golden mountain is made of gold; it is a mountain; it does not exist; it is an object of my present thinking; it is indeterminate with respect to height; it is 'celebrated' as it were among connoisseurs of this arcana; it is Meinong's favorite example of a merely possible individual; it -- the very same one I am talking about now -- was discussed by Kasimir Twardowski, etc.
Now if this seeming to refer is an actual referring, if we do refer to the nonexistent in thought and overt speech, then it is possible that we do so. Esse ad posse valet illatio. But how the devil is it possible that we do so? (PR) is extremely plausible: it is difficult to understand how there could be reference to that which has no being, no esse, whatsoever.
If I understand Novak, he wants a theory that satisfies the following desiderata or criteria of adequacy
D1. Possibilism is to be avoided. We cannot maintain that the merely possible has any sort of being.
D2. Actualist ersatzism is to be avoided. We cannot maintain that there are actual items such as Plantingian haecceities that stand in for mere possibilia.
D3. The phenomenological fact that intentionality is relational or at least quasi-relational is to be respected and somehow accommodated. No adverbial theories!
D4. Eliminativism about intentionality/reference is to be avoided. Intentionality is real!
D5. Nominalist reductionism according to which reference is a merely intralinguistic phenomenon is to be avoided. When I refer to something, whether existent or nonexistent, I am getting outside of language!
Novak does not list these desiderata; I am imputing them to him. He can tell me if my imputation is unjust. In any case, I accept (D1)-(D5): an adequate theory must satisfy these demands. Now how does Novak's theory satisfy them?
Well, he brings God into the picture. Some will immediately cry deus ex machina! But I think Novak can plausibly rebut this charge. If God is brought on the stage in an ad hoc manner to get us out of a jam, then a deus ex machina objection has bite. But Novak and his master Scotus have independent reasons for positing God. See my substantial post on DEM objections in philosophy, here.
Suppose we have already proven, or at least given good reasons for, the existence of God. Then he can be put to work. Or, as my esteemed teacher J. N. Findlay once said, "God has his uses."
So how does it work? It is sufficient for x to be an object of thought or reference by us that it be intelligible. This intelligibility derives from the divine intellect who, prior to creation, conceives of such items as the golden mountain. But this conceiving does not impart to them any real being. Nor does it presuppose that they have any real being. In themselves, they have no being at all. God's conceiving of nonexistent objects is a wholly immanent operation the effect of which remains wholly within the subject of the operation, namely, the divine mind. And yet the nonexistent objects acquire intelligibility. It is this intelligibility that makes it possible for us finite minds to think the nonexistent without it being the case that nonexistent objects have any being at all.
That is the theory, assuming I have understood it. And it does seem to satisfy the desiderata with the possible exception of (D3). But here is one concern. The theory implies that when I think about the golden mountain I am thinking about an operation wholly immanent to the divine intellect. But that is not what I seem to be thinking about. What I seem to be thinking about has very few properties (being golden, being a mountain) and perhaps their analytic entailments, and no hidden properties such as the property of being identical to an operation wholly immanent to the divine intellect. An intentional object has precisely, all and only, the properties it is intended as having.
Connected with this concern is the suspicion that on Novak's theory the act-object distinction is eliminated, a distinction that is otherwise essential to his approach. He wants to deny that merely intentional objects have any being of their own. So he identifies them with divine conceivings. But this falls afoul of a point insisted on by Twardowski. (See article below.)
My merely imagined table does not exist in reality, 'outside' my mind. But it also does not exist 'in' my mind as identical to the act of imagining it or as a proper part of the act of imagining it, or as any sort of mental content, as Twardowski clearly saw. Otherwise, (i) the merely imagined table would have the nature of an experience, which it does not have, and (ii) it would exist in reality, when it doesn't, and (iii) it would have properties that cannot be properties of mental acts or contents such as the property of being spatially extended.
My point could be put like this. The typical merely intentional, hence nonexistent, object such as the golden mountain does not have the nature of an experience or mental act; it is an object of such an act. But if merely intentional objects are divine conceivings, then they have the nature of an experience. Ergo, etc. Novak's theory appears to fall into psychologism.
The Supreme Court justices in the majority in the 5-4 Hobby Lobby decision are all male: Alito, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Kennedy. If someone seeks to discredit their decision on that ground, say this:
Arguments don't have testicles!
If the person persists, then point out that females dominated the minority in that decision.
The hard-driving Serling lived a short but intense life. Born in 1924, he was dead at age 50 in 1975. His four pack a day cigarette habit destroyed his heart. Imagine smoking 80 Lucky Strikes a day! Assuming 16 hours of smoking time per day, that averages to one cigarette every twelve minutes. He died on the operating table during an attempted bypass procedure.
But who is to say that a long, healthy life is better than a short, intense one fueled by the stimulants one enjoys? That is a question for the individual, not Hillary, to decide.
It is appropriate that on Independence Day one should celebrate with Serling, WWII paratrooper, anti-statist, defender of the individual.
Serling knew how to entertain while also stimulating thought and teaching moral lessons. Our contemporary dreckmeisters apparently think that the purpose of art is to degrade sensibility, impede critical thinking, glorify scumbags, and rub our noses ever deeper into sex and violence. It seems obvious that the liberal fetishization of freedom of expression without constraint or sense of responsibility is part of the problem. But I can't let a certain sort of libertarian or economic conservative off the hook. Their lust for profit is also involved.
What is is that characterizes contemporary media dreck? Among other things, the incessant presentation of defective human beings as if there are more of them than there are, and as if there is nothing at all wrong with their way of life. Deviant behavior is presented as if it is mainstream and acceptable, if not desirable. And then lame justifications are provided for the presentation: 'this is what life is like now; we are simply telling it like it is.' It doesn't occur to the dreckmeisters that art might have an ennobling function.
The tendency of liberals and leftists is to think that any presentation of choice-worthy goals or admirable styles of life could only be hypocritical preaching. And to libs and lefties, nothing is worse than hypocrisy. Indeed, a good indicator of whether someone belongs to this class of the terminally benighted is whether the person obsesses over hypocrisy and thinks it the very worst thing in the world. See my category Hypocrisy for elaboration of this theme.
Professor Wolff of The Philosopher's Stone writes,
When we got back to our apartment, I turned on my computer to check the news, and learned of the pair of decisions handed down by the Supreme Court. That both decisions are disastrous goes without saying, but I think they have quite different significances.
The Hobby Lobby decision granting to certain businesses the legal right to claim protection of their "religious beliefs" against The Affordable Care Act is by any measure the more grotesque of the two, and Justice Ginsburg is clearly correct in warning that the majority has opened the door to an endless series of meretricious claims of conscience by those fictional persons we call corporations. Only someone with Marx's mordant satirical bent could fully appreciate the decision to confer personhood on corporations while robbing actual persons of the elementary right to medical protection.
I beg to differ. First of all, the SCOTUS decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was not that personhood is to be conferred on corporations. That had already been settled by the Dictionary Act enacted in 1871. Here we read:
The Dictionary Act states that “the words ‘person’ and ‘whoever’ include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”12
The question the court had to decide was whether closely held, for-profit corporations are persons under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act . "RFRA states that “[the] Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”3 (Ibid.)
If Hobby Lobby is forced by the government to provide abortifacients to its employees, and Hobby Lobby is a person in the eyes of the law, then the government's Affordable Care Act mandate is in violation of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. For it would substantially burden Hobby Lobby's proprietors' exercise of religion if they were forced to violate their own consciences by providing the means of what they believe to be murder to their employees. So the precise question that had to be decided was whether Hobby Lobby is a person in the eyes of the law. The question was NOT whether corporations are persons in the eyes of the law. Wolff is wrong if he thinks otherwise.
Note that the issue here is not constitutional but statutory: the issue has solely to do with the interpretation and application of a law, RFRA. As Alan Dershowitz explains (starting at 7:52), it has to do merely with the "construction of a statute."
Not only was the SCOTUS decision not a decision to confer personhood on corporations, it also does not entail "robbing actual persons of the elementary right to medical protection." And this, even if (i) there is a positive right to be given medical treatments, drugs, appliances, and whatnot, and (ii) abortion is a purely medical procedure that affects no person other than a pregnant woman. See Dershowitz.
Nicotine is the main psychoactive ingredient in tobacco, and a most delightful and useful ingredient it is, especially for us Luftmenschen. I am thinking of the chess players who make Luft, not war, and of the philosophers whose thoughts are characteristically lofty and luftig even if at times nebelig. Nicotine is good for cognitive functioning, increasing both memory and attention. Studies on humans and lab animals show this to be the case. But we connoisseurs of the noble weed know this to be so without the help of studies. Experientia docet.
The drawback, of course, is that nicotine may be the most highly addictive substance on earth–more addictive than crack cocaine or heroin, and a more difficult addiction to shake, Rezvani said.
Why is that? First, it binds with the receptors in the brain for acetylcholine, one of our most important neurotransmitters and the first ever discovered. Second, because nicotine is usually inhaled, via cigarettes and now e-cigarettes, it hits the brain almost immediately.
“One reason for it being so addictive is that as soon as you smoke, you see the reward,” Rezvani said. The same is true of crack cocaine, he said.
The quotation 'smacks' of wild liberal exaggeration. It reeks of the Big Lie. People have been parroting that Everett Koop line for years. Remember that bow-tied sawbones who occupied the most useless office in the land, that of Surgeon General, from 1981 to 1989? Surely it is nonsense to say that nicotine is more addictive than heroin or crack cocaine. In fact, I will go one better: It is not addictive in any serious sense at all. But of course it all depends on what exactly is meant by 'addiction,' a word I have yet to see any anti-tobacco ideologue explain. It is a word that is used and overused and abused in all sorts of promiscuous connections.
You say you're addicted to nicotine? Well, if I paid you a million dollars to go one month without smoking, would you be able to do it? Of course you would. But if you had been shooting heroin daily for years and were addicted, and I made the same offer, would you be able to collect? No way! This is of course an empirical question, but some empirical questions can be answered from the armchair. This assumes that you have experience of life and some common sense, a commodity in short supply among liberals. It would be very interesting to set up an experiment, but you would need some moneybags to bankroll it. Anybody out there want to pony up 200 million USD? Do the experiment using 100 two-pack per day cigarette smokers and 100 heroin addicts who shoot up daily. You get a million bucks if you go a month without indulging. You will of course be under close surveillance. I predict the following outcome. 90 - 100% of the smokers but only 0-10% of the 'smackers' would collect.
And now for some anecdotal evidence, which is, after all, evidence: 'anecdotal' is not here functioning as an alienans adjective.
I have been smoking cigars and pipes for 45 years or so. Time was when I smoked two loads of pipe tobacco per diem, all the way down, and it was strong stuff. In Turkey where I lived for a year in the '90s I bought a Meerschaum pipe and I smoked an unconscionable quantity of the meanest shit there is, straight Turkish. Stateside the stuff is used sparingly as a seasoning in blends. I don't recommend it straight. Might blow your head clean off. Mine is still intact, thank you very much.
Now here's my point: if nicotine is addictive, then surely I ought to be addicted. But I'm not. I smoke only when I decide to, nowadays, less than one cigar per week. But I smoke the sucker down to the bitter end, reducing the whole of it to smoke and ashes. "But doesn't it burn your fingertips?" Not if I tamp it down into a smoking pipe. The finale is mighty rasty and loaded with nicotine. And I am still not addicted.
I am not an isolated exception. There are all the two-pack-a day cigarette smokers who just up and quit of their free will without a federal program or a 'patch' or somebody holding their hand. I'm thinking of my father, and aunts and uncles, and brother-in-law, and hundreds of others. And they smoked unfiltered Camels and Lucky Strikes, not the pussy brands abroad in the land today.
Now suppose I was smoking crack cocaine or mainlining heroin for the last 45 years. I'd mostly like be dead, but if I weren't I would be addicted in a serious sense of that word. So there is just no comparison. It's a bullshit comparison that only a willfully nescient liberal could love.
Can you call a substance 'addictive' if only some people become 'addicted' to it? I say No. In the case of nicotine, it is not the substance that is addictive but the user who allows himself of his own free will to become 'addicted.' (Those are 'sneer' quotes by the way.) You say you have an 'addictive personality'? I'm going to question that too. You are most likely just looking for an excuse. Why not say you lack self-discipline and that you refuse to take yourself in hand; that instead of doing those things, you blame your problems on something outside of yourself, whether tobacco or tobacco companies, or 'society'?
The case for nicotine, then, is that it is a sovereign enhancer of cognitive functioning. And you can get it without smoking cigarettes or using snuff. I recommend that you stay away from cigarettes and snuff.
There is a lot to say on this topic and lot of liberal nonsense to dispose of. But I'll end today with this aphorism:
The church of liberalism must have its demon and his name is 'tobacco.'
Here, via Dave Lull. The comments, as one ought to expect, are not very good. Here as elsewhere, and to exaggerate a bit, the best arguments against an open combox are the contents of one.
I have read large chunks of Unger's new book and I hope to provide a critical response to some of it before too long. For now I refer the interested reader to a couple of recent Unger-related entries.
I started to take the quiz but then quit in disgust after the first two questions.
Here is the first question:
Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?
I would say that both statements are true. That some government regulation is necessary is obviously true. But that many types of regulation makes things worse is also the case, though it is not as obvious. What does it even mean to ask which of these comes closest to my view? The rational thing to do is reject the question as poorly defined.
Here is the second question:
Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?
Hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most.
Again, both of these statements are true, at least in the USA at the present time. The second statement is obviously true. Success is not guaranteed for anyone. You could be doing everything right and be killed by a drunk driver. In every success there is some element of luck. The first statement is not as clearly true, but it too is true. Again, there is the problem of what 'comes closest' even means. I am a conservative and so you will expect me to plump for the first statement. But the second is one that every sane person must accept. So in one sense of 'closest' the second is closest to my view. In another sense, the first is closest, because it is more characteristic of my view. A near-certainty that everyone must accept on pain of being irrational is not characteristic of any political view. Capiche?
Not all of the question pairs display the faults of the first two. They display others such as false alternative. And a few, I grant, are well-formulated. #20 for example:
Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?
These statements cannot both be true, and there is no false alternative: it must be that one of them is true.
Then stop trying to 'help' them. Excellent advice for liberals from a black man, Jason Riley. The Left will of course denounce him as an Uncle Tom, an 'oreo,' a traitor to his race, among other things. But that is all the more reason to read him with close attention. Leftists cannot abide anyone who talks sense. Here is Riley on the Zimmerman case.
But first one who didn't. An early manager suggested to Frank Sinatra that he adopt the stage name 'Frankie Satin.' Sinatra would have none of that bullshit. He did things his way. You got a problem with that? That's Life.
Joseph Di Nicola (Joey Dee and the Starlighters), Peppermint Twist, with an intro by Dwight D. Eisenhower! This video shows what the dude looked like. Resembles a super short Joe Pesci. What Kind of Love is This?
Margaret Battavio (Little Peggy March), I Will Follow Him. This one goes out to the sycophants of the Ladderman.
Frank Castelluccio (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), Can't Take My Eyes Off of You. Dawn. Walk Like a Man. Wifey and I saw Jersey Boys, the movie, and enjoyed it immensely. Here's the trailer. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Gets a lot of the period details right, like women's slacks with the zipper up the back. See how many period references you can identify. Topo Gigio. The Blob. Etc.
Anthony Dominic Benedetto (Tony Bennett), The Way You Look Tonight
Francis Thomas Avallone (Frankie Avalon), Venus.
Fabiona Forte Bonaparte (Fabian), his songs are too schlocky even for my catholic tastes.
A good article from the Pew Research Center, with links to other fascinating articles.
These may be times that try our souls, but they are also times in which it is impossible to be bored. So look at the bright side.
One of the purposes of this site is to combat the stupidity of Political Correctness, a stupidity that in many contemporary liberals, i.e., leftists, is willful and therefore morally censurable. The euphemism 'undocumented worker' is a good example of a PC expression. It does not require great logical acumen to see that 'undocumented worker' and 'illegal alien' are not coextensive expressions. The extension of a term is the class of things to which it applies. In the diagram below, let A be the class of illegal aliens, B the class of undocumented workers, and A^B the intersection of these two classes. All three regions in the diagram are non-empty, which shows that A and B are not coextensive, and so are not the same class. Since A and B are not the same class, 'undocumented worker' and 'illegal alien' do not have the same intension or meaning. Differing in both extension and intension, these expressions are not intersubstitutable.
To see why, note first that there are illegal aliens who are not workers since they are either petty criminals, or members of organized criminal gangs e.g., MS-13, some of whose members are illegal aliens, or terrorists, or too young to work, or unable to work. Note second that there are illegal aliens who have documents all right -- forged documents. Note third that there are undocumented workers who are not aliens: there are American citizens who work but without the legally requisite licenses and permits.
So the correct term is 'illegal alien.' It is descriptive and accurate and there is no reason why it should not be used.
Now will this little logical exercise convince a leftist to use language responsibly and stop obfuscating the issue? Of course not. Leftism in some of its forms is willfully embraced reality denial, and in other of its forms is a cognitive aberration, something like a mental illness, in need of therapy rather than refutation. In a longer post I would finesse the point by discussing the cognitive therapy of Stoic and neo-Stoic schools, which does include some logical refutation of unhealthy views and attitudes, but my rough-and-ready point stands: one cannot refute the sick. They need treatment and quarantine and those who go near them should employ appropriate prophylactics.
So why did I bother writing the above? Because there are people who have not yet succumbed to the PC malady and might benefit from a bit of logical prophylaxis. One can hope.
Hope for the best. But prepare for the worst.
Too many of the academic philosophers of consciousness are overly concerned with the paltriest aspects of consciousness, so-called qualia, and work their tails off trying to convince themselves and others that they are no threat to physicalism.
While man's nobility lies in the power of thought whereby he traverses all of time and existence, our materialists labor mightily to make physicalism safe for the smell of cooked onions.
Although the world runs on appearances, a fact well to be heeded by anyone who plans to hang out long in these sublunary precincts, the task of the philosopher is to penetrate seemings, whence we may conclude that it is unseemly for a philosopher to be much concerned with the seemly and the unseemly.
How much time ought to be devoted to learned inquiry into the question of immortality and how much to living in such a way as to deserve it?
What follows is an old post from about ten years ago worth dusting off in the light of current events. If 'true' admits of degrees, what I say below is truer now than it was then. Just two of several current examples. Barack Obama, the most Left-leaning president in U. S. history, traded Bowe Bergdahl for five of the worst Gitmo terrorists. Was that a prudent thing to do? Only someone who is blind to a clear and present danger could do something so utterly irresponsible. The second example is the Iraq pullout, the effect of which, whether intended or not, is to make the whole region safe for ISIS. Anyone with his head screwed on right would have seen that coming. But not a leftist insensitive to danger. I could go on, the Southern border . . . .
Conservatives take a sober view of human nature. They admit and celebrate the human capacity for good, but cannot bring themselves to ignore the practically limitless human capacity for evil. They cannot dismiss the lessons of history, especially the awful lessons of the 20th century, the lessons of Gulag and Vernichtungslager. They know that evil is not a contingent blemish that can be isolated and removed, but has ineradicable roots reaching deep into human nature. The fantasies of Rousseau and Marx get no grip on them. Conservatives know that it is not the state, or society, or institutions that corrupt human beings, but that it is the logically antecedent corruption of human nature that makes necessary state, social, and institutional controls. The timber of humanity is inherently and irremediably crooked; it was not first warped by state, social, or institutional forces, and cannot be straightened by any modification or elimination of these forces.
I used the word 'know' a couple of times, which may sound tendentious. How do conservatives know that evil is not a contingent blemish, or that human beings are so fundamentally flawed that no human effort can usher in utopia?
They know this from experience. But although experience teaches us what is the case, and what has been the case, does it teach what must be the case? Here the lefties may have wiggle room. They can argue that failure to achieve a perfect society does not conclusively show that a perfect society cannot be achieved. This is true. But repeated failures add up to a strong inductive case. And these failures have been costly indeed. The Communists murdered an estimated 100 million in their social experiments. They did not hesitate to break eggs on a massive scale in quest of an omelet that never materialized. They threw out 'bourgeois' morality, but this did not lead to some higher morality but to utter barbarity.
I would also argue that experience can sometimes teach us what must be the case. We have a posteriori knowledge of the essential (as opposed to accidental) properties of some things. These are tough epistemological questions that I mention here only to set aside.
The main point I want to make is that the Left is insensitive to danger because of its Pollyannish view of human beings as intrinsically good. Leftists tend to downplay serious threats. They are blind to the radical evil in human nature. This attitude is betrayed by their obfuscatory use of the phrase 'Red Scare' to the very real menace the USSR posed to the USA in the 1950's and beyond. It wasn't that conservatives were scared, but that the Soviets were making threats. This is now particularly clear from the Venona decrypts, the Mitrokhin archives, and other sources. I especially recommend reading Ronald Radosh on the Rosenberg case.
The Left's insensitivity to danger is also betrayed by their attitude toward the present Islamo-terrorist threat. They just can't seem to take it seriously, as witness their incessant complaining about the dangers to civil liberties after the 9/11/01 attacks. There is something deeply perverse about their attitude. They must realize that a liberty worth wanting requires security as a precondition. See my Liberty and Security for an exfoliation of this idea. But if they grasp this, why the unreasonable and excessive harping on individual liberties in a time of national peril? Don't they understand that the liberties we all cherish are worthless to one who is being crushed beneath a pile of burning rubble? How could Katrina van den Heuvel on C-Span the other day refer to Bush's playing of the 'terror card'? Such talk is border-line delusional.
It is as if they think that conservatives want to curtail civil liberties, and have seized upon the 9/11 attacks to have an excuse to do so. In the lunatic world of the leftist a conservative is a 'fascist' -- to use their favorite term of abuse. This is absurd: it is precisely conservatives who aim to conserve civil liberties, including the politically incorrect ones such as gun rights.
Terrorists and the rogue states that sponsor them pose a very real threat to our security, and this threat must be faced and countered even if it requires a temporary abridgement of certain liberties. That is what happens in war time. Leftists ought to admit that it is precisely their insensitivity to the threat posed by such Islamo-terrorists as Osama bin Laden that led to the 9/11 attacks in the first place. If a proper response had been made to the 1993 World Trade Tower attack, the 2001 attack might never have occurred. We were attacked because we were perceived as weak and decadent, and we were perceived as weak and decadent because leftists in the government failed to take seriously the terrorist threat.
It must be realized that liberty without security is worthless. Genuine liberty is liberty within a stable social and political order. I may have the liberty to leave my house any time of the day or night, but such a liberty is meaningless if I get mugged the minute I step out my door. So if the Left were really serious about liberty, it would demand adequate security measures.
I don't envy anybody anything, but if I were to envy somebody something, I would envy my friend Peter Lupu his friendship with Sidney Morgenbesser.
But, while David has never aspired to put the world right by philosophy, the world for its part has not been equally willing to let him and philosophy alone in return. Quite the reverse. His tenure of the Chair turned out to coincide with an enormous attack on philosophy, and on humanistic learning in general: an attack which has proved to be almost as successful as it was unprecedented.
This attack was begun, as everyone knows, by Marxists, in support of North Vietnam’s attempt to extend the blessings of communism to the south. The resulting Marxisation of the Faculty of Arts was by no means as complete as the resulting Marxisation of South Vietnam. But the wound inflicted on humanistic learning was a very severe one all the same. You could properly compare it to a person’s suffering third-degree burns to 35 per cent of his body.
After the defeat of America in Vietnam, the attack was renewed, amplified, and intensified, by feminists. Their attack has proved far more devastating than that of the Marxists. Lenin once said, “If we go, we shall slam the door on an empty house”; and how well this pleasant promise has been kept by the Russian Marxists, all the world now knows. It is in exactly the same spirit of insane malignancy that feminists have waged their war on humanistic learning; and their degree of success has fallen not much short of Lenin’s. Of the many hundreds of courses offered to Arts undergraduates in this university, what proportion, I wonder, are now not made culturally-destructive, as well as intellectually null, by feminist malignancy and madness? One-third? I would love to believe that the figure is so high. But I cannot believe it.
David did all that he could have done, given the limits set by his position and his personality, to repel this attack. Of course he failed; but then, no one could have succeeded. What he did achieve was a certain amount of damage-limitation. Even this was confined to the philosophy-section of the front. On the Faculty of Arts as a whole, David has had no influence at all—to put it mildly. In fact, when he spoke at a meeting of the Faculty, even on subjects unrelated to the attack, you could always have cut the atmosphere with a knife. It is a curious matter, this: the various ways inferior people have, of indirectly acknowledging the superiority of others, even where no such acknowledgment is at all intended by the inferior, or expected by the superior.
By the end of 1972, the situation in the philosophy department had become so bad that the splitting of the department into two was the only way in which philosophy at this university could be kept alive at all. In this development, David was the leading spirit, as his position and personality made it natural he should be. Of course he did not do it on his own. Pat Trifonoff’s intelligence and character made her an important agent in it. Keith Campbell’s adhesion to our side, after some hesitation, was a critical moment. But while I and certain others were only casting about for some avenue of escape, David never gave up. He battled on, and battled on again, and always exacted the best terms, however bad, that could be got from the enemies of philosophy.
The result of the split was far more happy than could have been rationally predicted at the time. In fact it was a fitting reward for David’s courage and tenacity. For the first twenty years of the new Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy have been fertile in good philosophy, to a degree unparalleled in any similar period in this or any other Australian university. The department has also enjoyed a rare freedom from internal disharmony. As I have often said, it is the best club in the world, and to be or have been a member of it is a pleasure as well as a privilege.
There will certainly be no adequate official acknowledgment, from anyone inside the university, of what is owed to David. What could someone like the present Vice-Chancellor possibly care about the survival of humanistic learning, or even know about philosophy, or history, or literature? Anyone who did would never have got a Vice-Chancellor’s job in the first place. If there is any acknowledgment forthcoming from the Faculty of Arts, David will be able to estimate the sincerity of it well enough. It will be a case of people, who smiled as they watched him nearly drowning in the boiling surf of 1967–72, telling him how glad they were when, against all probability, he managed to make it to the beach.
But anyone who does know and care about philosophy, or does care about the survival of humanistic learning, will feel towards him something like the degree of gratitude which they ought to feel.
Imagine a German restaurant so named. Blood and Soil. My astute readers needn't be reminded of the provenience of this phrase. "Best blood sausage in the East Valley!" Or MOM's Diner of Mesa. "Fine Aryan cuisine served up right by members of the militia of Montana." Would you be offended? I just made up those examples.
But this is a real example: La Raza Steak and Ribs, a Mexican joint in Apache Junction, Arizona. When I mentioned this to a friend, he replied, "That would be like naming a German restaurant Die Rasse, The Race."
Once again, the double standard. And once again I ask: what would be left of the Left were they disembarrassed of every single one of their double standards?
A Serbian reader inquires,
I have read your latest post on truthmakers. Among other things, you mention [David] Armstrong's view on abstract objects. As I read elsewhere (not in Armstrong own works, I have not read anything by him yet) he was realist about universals and gives a very voluminous defense of his view. Does this view entail realism about abstract objects?
I think that Quine was realist about abstract objects and at the same time naturalist and also holds that his Platonism was consequence of his naturalized ontology. Moreover, I have the impression that several preeminent analytic philosophers hold realist views on abstract objects, mostly under influences from Quine and in a smaller degree from Putnam.
Do Armstrong's views about universals entail realism about abstract objects?
No, they do not. Rejecting extreme nominalism, Armstrong maintains that there are properties. (I find it obvious that there properties, a Moorean fact, though I grant that it is not entirely obvious what is obvious.) Armstrong further maintains that properties are universals (repeatables), not particulars (unrepeatables) as they would be if properties were tropes. But his is a theory of immanent universals. This means two things. First, it means that there are no unexemplified universals. Second, it means that universals are constituents of the individuals (thick particulars) that 'have' them. In Wolterstorff's terminology, Armstrong is a constituent ontologist as opposed to a relation ontologist. His universals are ontological parts of the things that 'have' them; they are not denizens of a realm apart only related by an asymmetrical exemplification tie to the things that have them.
So for Armstrong universals are immanent in two senses: (a) they cannot exist unexemplified, and (b) they enter into the structure of ordinary (thick) particulars. It follows that his universals are not abstract objects on the Quinean understanding of abstract objects as neither spatial nor temporal nor causally active/passive. For given (b), universals are where and when the things that have them are, and induce causal powers in these things. And yet they are universals, immanent universals: ones-in-many, not ones-over-many. Some philosophers, including Armstrong, who are not much concerned with historical accuracy, call them 'Aristotelian' universals.
Does Armstrong reject all abstract objects?
Yes he does. Armstrong is a thorough-going naturalist. Reality is exhausted by space-time and the matter that fills it. Hence there is nothing outside of space-time, whether abstract (causally inert) or concrete (causally active/passive). No God, no soul capable of disembodied existence, or embodied existence for that matter, no unexemplified universals, not even exemplified nonconstituent universals, no Fregean propositions, no numbers, no mathematical sets, and of course no Meinongian nonenties.
How do Armstrong and Quine differ on sets or classes?
For Quine, sets are abstract entities outside space and time. They are an addition to being, even in those cases in which the members of a set are concreta. Thus for Quine, Socrates' singleton is an abstract object in addition to the concrete Socrates. For Armstrong, sets supervene upon their members. They are not additions to being. Given the members, the class or set adds nothing ontologically. Sets are no threat to a space-time ontology. (See D. M. Armstrong, Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics, Oxford UP, 2010, p. 8.)
What about the null set or empty class?
For Armstrong, there is no such entity. "It would be a strange addition to space-time!" he blusters. (Sketch, p. 8, n. 1). Armstrong makes a bad mistake in that footnote. He writes, "Wade Martin has reminded me about the empty class which logicians make a member of every class." Explain the mistake in the ComBox. Explain it correctly and I'll buy you dinner at Tres Banderas.
Are both Quine and Armstrong naturalists?
Yes. The Australian is a thorough-going naturalist: there is nothing that is not a denizen of space-time. The American, for reasons I can't go into, countenances some abstract objects, sets. It is a nice question, which is more the lover of desert landscapes.
Much of religion is overbelief, but much of science is underbelief. One sees less than is there; one sees only what one's restricted method allows one to see. Examples are legion. Find them.
For more on overbelief and underbelief, see the first two articles below.
You are sliding down a mountain towards certain death. Your only hope is to grab the rope that is thrown to you. Will you refuse to do so because the rope might break? Will you first inquire into the reliability of the rope or the credibility of the assurances of the one who would be your savior?
If you accept truthmakers, and two further principles, then you can maintain that a deductive argument is valid just in case the truthmakers of its premises suffice to make true its conclusion. Or as David Armstrong puts it in Sketch of a Systematic Metaphysics (Oxford UP, 2010), p. 66,
In a valid argument the truthmaker for the conclusion is contained in the truthmaker for the premises. The conclusion needs no extra truthmakers.
For this account of validity to work, two further principles are needed, Truthmaker Maximalism and the Entailment Principle. Truthmaker Maximalism is the thesis that every truth has a truthmaker. Although I find the basic truthmaker intuition well-nigh irresistible, I have difficulty with the notion that every truth has a truthmaker. Thus I question Truthmaker Maximalism. (The hyperlinked entry sports a fine photo of Peter L.)
Armstrong, on the other hand, thinks that "Maximalism flows from the idea of correspondence and I am not willing to give up on the idea that correspondence with reality is necessary for any truth." (63) Well, every cygnet is a swan. Must there be something extramental and extralinguistic to make this analytic truth true? And let's not forget that Armstrong has no truck with so-called abstract objects. His brand of naturalism excludes them. So he can't say that there are the quasi-Platonic properties being a cygnet and being a swan with the first entailing the second, and that this entailment relation is the truthmaker of 'Every cygnet is a swan.'
The Entailment Principle runs as follows:
Suppose that a true proposition p entails a proposition q. By truthmaker Maximalism p has a truthmaker. According to the Entailment Principle, it follows that this truthmaker for p is also a truthmaker for q. [. . .] Note that this must be an entailment. If all that is true is that p --> q, the so-called material conditional, then this result does not follow.
I would accept a restricted Entailment Prinicple that does not presuppose Maximalism. To wit, if a proposition p has a truthmaker T, and p entails a proposition q, then T is also a truthmaker for q. For example, if Achilles' running is the truthmaker of 'Achilles is running,' then, given that the proposition expressed by this sentence entails the proposition expressed by 'Achilles is on his feet,' Achilles' running is also the truthmaker of the proposition expressed by 'Achilles is on his feet.'
From what appears to be a reputable source:
Cognitive Dissonance Theory, developed by Leon Festinger (1957), is concerned with the relationships among cognitions. A cognition, for the purpose of this theory, may be thought of as a ³piece of knowledge.² The knowledge may be about an attitude, an emotion, a behavior, a value, and so on. For example, the knowledge that you like the color red is a cognition; the knowledge that you caught a touchdown pass is a cognition; the knowledge that the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation is a cognition. People hold a multitude of cognitions simultaneously, and these cognitions form irrelevant, consonant or dissonant relationships with one another.
[. . .]
Two cognitions are said to be dissonant if one cognition follows from the opposite of another. What happens to people when they discover dissonant cognitions? The answer to this question forms the basic postulate of Festinger¹s theory. A person who has dissonant or discrepant cognitions is said to be in a state of psychological dissonance, which is experienced as unpleasant psychological tension. This tension state has drivelike properties that are much like those of hunger and thirst. When a person has been deprived of food for several hours, he/she experiences unpleasant tension and is driven to reduce the unpleasant tension state that results. Reducing the psychological sate of dissonance is not as simple as eating or drinking however.
The above, taken strictly and literally, is incoherent. We are first told that a cognition is a bit of knowledge, and then in the second quoted paragraph that (in effect) some cognitions are dissonant, and that if one cognition follows from the opposite of another, then the two are dissonant. But surely it is logically impossible that any two bits of knowledge, K1 and K2, be such that K1 entails the negation of K2, or vice versa. Why? Because every cognition is true -- there cannot be false knowledge -- and no two truths are such that one follows from the opposite of the other.
The author is embracing an inconsistent pentad:
1. Every cognition is a bit of knowledge.
2. Every bit of knowledge is true.
3. Some, at least two, cognitions are dissonant.
4. If one cognition follows from the opposite (the negation) of another, then the two are dissonant.
5. It is logically impossible that two truths be such that one follows from the negation of the other: if a cognition is true, then its negation is false, and no falsehood follows from a truth.
The point, obviously, is that while beliefs can be dissonant, cognitions cannot be. There simply is no such thing as cognitive dissonance. What there is is doxastic dissonance.
"What a pedant you are! Surely what the psychologists mean is what you call doxastic dissonance."
Then they should say what they mean. Language matters. Confusing belief and knowledge and truth and related notions can lead to serious and indeed pernicious errors. A good deal of contemporary relativism is sired by a failure to make such distinctions.
If I understand Duns Scotus on the divine simplicity, his view in one sentence is that the divine attributes are really identical in God but formally distinct. (Cf. Richard Cross, Duns Scotus on God, Ashgate 2005, p. 111) I can understand this if I can understand the formal distinction (distinctio formalis) and how it differs from the real distinction (distinctio realis). This will be the cynosure of my interest in this post.
There appear to be two ways of construing 'real distinction.' On the first construal, the real distinction is plainly different from the formal distinction. On a second construal, it is not so clear what the difference is. I have no worked-out view. In this entry I am merely trying to understand the difference between these two sorts of distinction and how they bear upon the divine simplicity, though I will not say anything more about the latter in this installment.
First Construal of 'Real Distinction'
On the first construal, the real distinction is to be understood in terms of separability. But 'separable' has several senses. Here are my definitions of the relevant senses. I am not trying to exposit Thomas or any scholastic. I am merely trying to get to the truth of the matter.
D1. Individuals x, y are mutually separable =df it is broadly logically possible that x exist without y, and y exist without x.
Example. The separability of my eyeglasses and my head is mutual: each can (in a number of different senses of 'can' including the broadly logical sense) exist without the other. This distinction is called real because it has a basis in extramental and extralinguistic reality. It is not a merely verbal distinction like that between 'eyeglasses' and 'spectacles.'
D2. Properties F, G are mutually separable =df it is broadly logically possible that F be instantiated by x without G being instantiated by x, and vice versa.
Example. Socrates is both seated and speaking. But he is possibly such as to be the one without the other, and the other without the one. He can sit without speaking, and speak without sitting. The properties of being seated and speaking, though co-instantiated by Socrates, are mutually separable. Of course, this does not imply that these properties can exist uninstantiated.
D3. Individuals x, y are unilaterally separable =df it is broadly logically possible that one of the pair x, y exist without the other, but not the other without the one.
Example. A (primary) substance S and one of its accidents A. Both are individuals, unrepeatables. But while A cannot exist without S, S can exist without A. Second example. Consider a fetus prior to viability. It is not an accident of the mother, but a substance in its own right. Yet it cannot exist apart from the mother, while the mother can exist apart from it. So what we seem to have here are two individuals that are unilaterally separable.
D4. Properties F, G are unilaterally separable =df it is broadly logically possible that one of the pair F, G be instantiated by x without the other being instantiated, but not the other without the one.
Example. Suppose Socrates is on his feet, running. His being on his feet and his running are unilaterally separable in that he can be on his feet wthout running, but he cannot be running without being on his feet.
D5. Items (whether individuals or properties) I, J are weakly separable =df I, J are either mutually separable or unilaterally separable.
On the first construal of 'real distinction,' it comes to this:
D6. Items (whether individuals or properties), I, J are really distinct =df I, J are weakly separable.
My impression is that when Scotists speak of the real distinction they mean something identical to or very close to my (D6). Real distinctness is weak separability. Two items, whether individuals or properties, are really distinct if and only if they are either mutually separable or unilaterally separable. According to Alan B. Wolter ("The Formal Distinction" in John Duns Scotus, 1265-1965, eds. Ryan and Bonansea, CUA Press, 1965, pp. 45-60),
In the works of Aquinas, for example, the term ['real distinction'] seems to have two basically different meanings, only one of which corresponds to the usage of Scotus, Ockham, or Suarez. For the latter, the real distinction is that which exists between individuals, be they substances or some individual accident or property. It invariably implies the possibility of separating one really distinct thing from another to the extent that one of the two at least may exist apart from the other. (p. 46)
Second Construal of 'Real Distinction'
On a Thomist view, my essence and my existence are not really distinct on the first construal of 'real distinction' because they are mutually inseparable: neither can be without the other. This strikes me as entirely reasonable. My individual essence is nothing without existence, and there are no cases of pure existence. I am not now and never have been an existence-less essence, nor a bit of essence-less existence. And yet Thomists refer to the distinction between (indvidual) essence and existence in finite concrete individuals as a real distinction. So 'real distinction' must have a second basic meaning, one that does not require that really distinct items be either mutually or unilaterally separable. What is this second basic meaning? And how does it differ from the Scotistic formal distinction?
Seeking an answer to the first question, I turn to Feser's manual where, on p. 74, we read:
But separability is not the only mark of a real distinction. Another is contrariety of the concepts under which things fall . . . . For example, being material and being immaterial obviously exclude one another, so that there must be a real distinction between a material thing and an immaterial thing. A third mark sometimes suggested is efficient causality . . . .
In this passage, Feser seems to be saying that there is one disinction called the real distinction, but that it has more than one mark. He does not appear to be maintaining that 'real distinction' has two different meanings, one that requires separability and another that does not. On the next page, however, Feser makes a distinction between a "real physical distinction" and a "real metaphysical distinction" where the former requires separability but the latter does not. He goes on to say that for Scotus and Suarez a necessary condition of any real distinction in created things is that the items distinguished be separable: "a distinction is real only when it entails separability." (75)
The Formal Distinction
I asked: "What is the second basic meaning of 'real distinction'?" The answer I glean from Feser is that the second meaning is real metaphysical distinction, a distinction that does not require separability. Now for my second question: How does this real metaphysical distinction differ from the formal distinction? According to Cross, "the formal distinction is the kind of distinction that obtains between (inseparable) properties on the assumption that nominalism about properties is false." (108) Feser describes it as a third and intermediate kind of disinction that is neither logical nor real. (75) Both what Cross and Feser say comport well with my understanding of the formal distinction.
Consider the distinction between a man's animality and his rationality. They are clearly distinct because there are animals that are not rational, and there are rational beings that are not animals. It is also clear that the distinction is not purely logical: the distinction is not generated by our thinking or speaking, but has a basis in extramental and extralinguistic reality. Is it then a real distinction? Not if such a distinction entails separability. For it is not broadly logically possible that the rationality of Socrates exist without his animality, or his animality without his rationality. Anything that is both animal and rational is essentially both animal and rational. (Whereas it is not the case that anything that is both sitting and speaking is essentially both sitting and speaking.) So the Scotist, for whom the reality of a real distinction entails separability, says that what we have here is a formal distinction, a distinction between two 'formalities,' animality and rationality, that are really inseparable but formally distinct.
My second question, again, is this: How does the real metaphysical distinction differ from the formal distinction? In both cases, the distinction is not purely logical, i.e., a mere distinctio rationis. So in both cases the distinction has a basis in reality. Further, in both cases there is no separability of the terms of the distinction. Socrates cannot be rational without being an animal, and he cannot be an animal without being rational. Similarly, he cannot exist without having an essence, and he cannot have an essence without existing.
So what is the difference between the real metaphysical distinction (that Feser distinguishes from the real physical distinction) and the formal distinction? If I understand Feser, his view is that the formal distinction collapses into the virtual distinction, which is a logical distinction, hence not a real distinction, whereas the real metaphysical distinction is a real distinction despite its not requiring separability. But what is the virtual distinction?
The Virtual Distinction
Feser tells us that a logical distinction is virtual "when it has some foundation in reality." (73) A virtual distinction is a logical distinction that is more than a merely verbal distinction. He gives the example of a man's nature which, despite its being one thing, can be viewed under two aspects, the aspect of rationality and the aspect of animality. The distinction between the two aspects is not real but virtual. The virtual distinction thus appears to be identical to the formal distinction.
Accordingly, the difference between the real metaphysical distinction and the formal distinction is that the first is real despite its not entailing separability while the second is logical despite having a foundation in reality. I hope I will be forgiven for not discerning a genuine difference between these two kinds of distinction. Feser suggests that the difference may only be a matter of emphasis, with the Thomist emphasizing the logical side of the virtual/formal distinction and the Scotist emphasizing the real side. (76)
Should we then irenically conclude that the metaphysical real distinction of the Thomists (or, to be cautious, of Feser the Thomist) is the same as the formal distinction of (some of) the Scotists?
Essence and Existence Again
I am afraid that matters are much messier. Suppose you agree that essence and existence in Socrates are neither mutually nor unilaterally separable. Suppose you also agree that Socrates is a contingent being: he exists (speaking tenselessly) but there is no broadly logical necessity that he exist. The second supposition implies that Socates does not exist just by virtue of his essence: his existence does not follow from his nature. Nor is his existence identical to his essence or nature, as it is in the ontologically simple God. So they must be distinct in reality. But -- and here comes trouble -- this real distinction in Socrates as between his essence and his existence cannot be a distinction between inseparable aspects. Animality and rationality are inseparable aspects of Socrates' nature; but essence and existence cannot be inseparable aspects of him. If they were inseparable, then Socrates would exist by his every nature or essence. This seems to imply that the metaphysical real distinction is not the same as the formal distinction. For the metaphysical real distinction between essence and existence requires separability of essence and existence in creatures.
It looks like we are in a pickle. We got to the conclusion that the real metaphysical distinction is the same as the formal distinction. But now we see that they cannot be the same. Some may not 'relish' it, but the 'pickle' can be savored as an aporetic polyad:
1. Socrates is a metaphysically contingent being.
2. Metaphysical contingency entails weak separability (as defined above) of essence and existence.
3. Nothing is such that its essence and existence are weakly separable.
The triad is logically inconsistent.
Solution by (1)-denial. One cannot of course maintain that Socrates is metaphysically necessary. But one could deny the presupposition upon which (1) rests, namely, the constituent-ontological assumption that Socrates is compounded of essence and existence. On a relation ontology, essence-existence composition makes no sense.
Solution by (2)-denial. One could try to show that contingency has an explanation that does not require weak separability of essence and existence.
Solution by (3)-denial. One could argue that the individual essence of Socrates can be wthout being exemplified along the lines of Plantinga's haecceity properties.
Each of these putative solutions brings trouble of its own.
People can and ought to be judged by the company they keep, the company they keep away from, and those who attack them.
S. N. counters thusly:
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' (Luke 7.33-4)
God incarnate can safely consort with gluttons and drunkards and the lying agents of the Infernal Revenue Service, but mortal man cannot. So one who does so consort ought to be judged by the company he keeps. The judgment might be along the following lines, "You are morally weak, and you know you are; and yet you enter the near occasion of sin?"
This leads to a question about "Judge not lest ye be judged." How is this NT verse at Matthew 7, 1-5 to be interpreted? Is it to be read as implying the categorical imperative, "Thou shalt not judge others morally"? Or is it to be interpreted as a merely hypothetical imperative, "You may judge others morally, but only if you are prepared to be judged morally in turn and either condemned or exonerated as the case may be"?
The first reading is not plausible. For one thing, one cannot detach the antecedent or the consequent of a conditional in the way one can detach the conjunct of a conjunction. Compare 'If you don't want to be judged by others, don't judge them' with 'You don't want to be judged by others and you don't want others to judge you.' The categorical imperative 'Don't judge them' does not follow from the first. The declarative ' You don't want others to judge you' does follow from the second.
But now a third reading suggests itself to me, one that in a sense combines the categorical and the hypothetical, to wit, "You may judge others morally, but only if you are prepared to be judged morally and condemned by God, since no man is justified before God." This is tantamount to a categorical prohibition on judging.
I suspect the third reading is the correct one in the context of Christian teaching as a whole. But I'm no theologian.
Two pop music notables died this last week, lyricist Gerry Goffin and disc jockey Casey Kasem. Both played key roles in delivering the Boomer 'soundtrack.' Goffin, ex-husband of Carole King, died in Los Angeles on Wednesday at age 75. Here are some of the tunes he co-wrote with King.
Shirelles, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? The Shirelles' rendition, countlessly covered, has never been surpassed.
This one goes out to (the shade of) Aristotle. Little Eva, The Loco-Motion
Aretha Franklin, (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman
Steve Lawrence, Go Away Little Girl
Bobby Vee, Take Good Care of My Baby
Chiffons, One Fine Day
Drifters, Up on the Roof
Animals, Don't Bring Me Down
Barry Mann, Who Put the Bomp? (Goffin had a hand in this, but not King, if I'm not mistaken.)
On the other hand, Goffin had no hand in Crying in the Rain which was written by King and Howard Greenfield.
I must have heard Casey Kasem for the first time in the '60s over KRLA, Los Angeles. Here is his story.
This from a reader:
In one portion of Grace Boey's interview of Peter Unger, Unger discusses what Russell had to say about the value of philosophy, and I was a bit taken aback because that particular quotation by Russell resonates with me a lot, and Unger's swift dismissal of it as garbage left me almost wounded.
Your thoughts appreciated.
Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves. Because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all that because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.
The second part, after the ‘above all’ seems like complete nonsense. What the heck does all that mean? It’s mystical nonsense, no? This from one of the two founders of modern logic, second only to Gottlob Frege in laying down the foundations of symbolic and mathematical logic.
Let’s go to the first part, before the ‘above all’. He says that these questions, and not questions about, say, chemistry, or ornothology, enlarge your conception of what is possible. I hardly even know what that means. But he goes on and says things which are less hard to understand, like, it enriches your intellectual imagination. And a second thing it does, which I take to be distinct, is it diminishes your dogmatic assurance.
These are things that can be tested for, as I said before! Whether it’s a treatment effect, or a selection effect. There are tests for how creative people are, or how dogmatic they are. You test them, at the end, the day after they graduate. And you see whether this is true.
Bertrand Russell never even bothers to think about whether, or what, these things might have to do with any test you can give to human people, or what’s going on. It’s so full of nonsense, the guy was always full of nonsense. He read up on relativity theory, but you would think he would think of some psychological testing that had some bearing on the smoke he was blowing. He never gave it a thought.
BV: In dismissing mysticism as nonsense, Unger merely advertises his own ignorance and spiritual vacancy and falls to the tabloid level of an Ayn Rand who displays no more understanding of mysticism than he does. Mysticism is a vast field of ancient yet ongoing human experience and endeavor and one that earlier American philosophers such as Josiah Royce, William James, and William Ernest Hocking, to mention just three philosophers of high distinction, took very seriously indeed. See, respectively, The World and the Individual, First Series, 1899, lectures II, IV, and V; The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902, lectures XVI and XVII; Types of Philosophy, 1929, chapters 30, 31, 32, 33. It is worth noting that all three luminaries were professors at Harvard University.
In those days Harvard was still far from the over-specialization and hyper-professionalization of philosophy that breeds people like Peter Unger, who though "terribly" clever -- to use one of his favorite adjectives --appear to view philosophy as a highly rarefied academic game without roots in, or anything to say about, one's life as an "existing individual" (phrase from Kierkegaard, but I am thinking of all the existentialists, as well as Augustine, Pascal, the Stoics, the ancient Skeptics, and indeed all philosophers from Plato to Aquinas to Kant and beyond for whom philosophy has something to do with the search for wisdom).
The institutionalization of philosophy in the 20th century, though not without some benefits, has led to the following. Empty gamesmanship without existential anchorage. Hypertrophy of the critical and analytic faculty with concomitant atrophy of the intuitive faculty. Philistinic dismissal of whole realms of human experience and endeavor. Technicality and specialization taken to absurd lengths not justified by any actual results. (If extreme specialization and narrowing of focus led to consensus among competent practioners, then that might count as a justification for the specialization. But it hasn't and it doesn't. See here.)
Bertrand Russell, you will recall, published a collection of essays in October 1910 that in the second edition of December 1917 were given the title Mysticism and Logic. The lead essay, "Mysticism and Logic," which originally appeared in the Hibbert Journal of July 1914, displays a serious engagement with what Unger the philistine dismisses as "complete nonsense." What Russell writes about mysticism is penetrating enough to suggest that he may have had some mystical experiences of his own. In the end Russell rejects the four main tenets that he takes as definitive of mysticism, but his rejection is reasoned and respectful. He grants that "there is an element of wisdom to be learned from the mystical way of feeling, which does not seem to be attainable in any other way." (p. 11)
But of course that essay dates from the days of our grandfathers and great grandfathers. Times have changed, and in philosophy not for the better. The analytic philosophy that Russell did so much to promote has become sterile and ingrown and largely irrelevant to the wider culture. There are of course exceptions, Thomas Nagel being one of them.
There is a lot more to be said. But for now I will simply oppose to Unger's nauseating view the following quotations:
The absolute things, the last things, the overlapping things, are the truly philosophic concerns; all superior minds feel seriously about them, and the mind with the shortest views is simply the mind of the more shallow man. (William James, Pragmatism, Harvard UP, 1975, p. 56)
Maximae res, cum parvis quaeruntur, magnos eos solent efficere.
Matters of the greatest importance, when they are investigated by little men, tend to make those men great. (Augustine, Contra Academicos 1. 2. 6.)
See here for a different critical response to Unger.
As the West slides into the dustbin of history, the philosopher's pleasures are of the owlish sort. The owl of Minerva spreads her wings at dusk, to survey the scene of strife, with an equanimity born of distance, as befits a spectator of all time and existence.
I have often pointed out that there is nothing liberal about contemporary 'liberals.' Kim R. Holmes' Intolerance as Illiberalism is well worth your time. Excerpt:
Hard illiberalism, however, is not the only variant. There are “soft” versions too. They often appear “liberal” and even operate inside democratic systems otherwise committed to the rule of law. But their core idea is that liberal democracy and the constitutional rule of law are insufficient to bring about absolute equality.
It is this form of illiberalism that is gaining traction in America today. It comes in many guises and varying degrees of intensity. It is a campus official countenancing “trigger warnings” and speech codes that censor free speech and suppress debate. It is a radio host shouting that he hopes employees of the National Security Agency get cancer and die. It is politicians and government officials who bend the rules, launch investigations, overturn laws, criminalize so-called “hate” speech, and stretch the meaning of the Constitution to impose their views on Americans. It is the mindset of “us versus them” that leads government officials such as New York’s governor to say that there is “no place in the state of New York” for “extreme conservatives”— by which he meant not fringe or violent groups but anyone who opposes abortion or the redefinition of marriage. And it is the idea that constitutional limits, individual rights, and even due process can be ignored in the “greater” cause of creating income equality.
These people have become not merely intolerant but fundamentally illiberal.
Illiberalism is not just about government denying people the right of free expression and equality before the law. It is also about controlling how people think and behave. It is a threat both to our democratic system of government and to the “liberal” political culture.
Let me start off by recommending Jim Ryan's infrequently updated but very old (since 2002!) Philosoblog, the archives of which contain excellent material worthy of the coveted MavPhil STOA (stamp of approval). The following entry (originally posted February 2005 at my first blog) is in response to my query as to why Ryan left university teaching.
JR: Well, here's my story, thanks for asking: I've always taken learning to be almost sacred, scholarship to be transcendent, books sublime. Given this disposition, I was unable to stomach teaching that 20% of my students who were there to get by by hook or by crook (avoid class, avoid the book, succumb to cheating, etc.). I realized at 37 that I would become a bitter old man if I taught for another 30 years. I liked the other 80% of my students, and I liked my research, but these weren't enough to get me through the bitter part. So, having a reasonable math and science background I boned up on chemistry during my last year of teaching and hustled a job in the Chem department at U. of Virginia. That was two years ago, almost. It's been fun, but now I'm thinking of moving into the business world, so that I can make more money and have more time with my kids.
What about your story, Bill? How'd you come to quit?
BV: Learning sacred, scholarship transcendent, books sublime. I can see we have something in common, a commonality that is also part of the reason why I gave up teaching. The average run of students would dismiss your sentiments and mine as bullshit, as some kind of empty self-serving rhetoric that could only be spouted by some weirdo who fills his belly by spouting it. Most people have no intellectual eros, could not care less about scholarship, and place no value whatsoever on good books.
Proof of the latter point can be found by scouring the used bookstores in a locale like Boston-Cambridge. Take a book off the shelf that was assigned in a course, note the underlining or 'magic marker mark-up' and how it extends maybe three or four pages and then stops -- great for me, of course, who gets a relatively pristine copy for pennies, but indicative of the pointlessness of reading assignments.
Most teaching is like trying to feed people who aren't hungry. Pointless. Of course, I had some great students and some great classes. But not enough of either to justify the enterprise.
Then there is the problem of stimulating colleagues. It is easy to end up in a department without any, in which case you are on your own, and you may as well be an independent scholar. Isolation? Not any more. Not with the WWW and the blogosphere in particular.
But the main reason I quit was to be able to do philosophy full time and live a more focused existence. It had been something I had been thinking about for a long time. I see philosophy as a spiritual quest, not an academic game. I had tenure, and I had enjoyed it for seven years. I had enjoyed a two-year visiting associate professorship, and I could have returned to my tenured position, but I was ready to take the next step in my life. The catalyst was my wife's being offered a great job in a beautiful place. Being a Westerner, I had served enough time in the effete and epicene East and was ready to get back to where mountains are mountains and hikers and climbers are damn glad of it.
Editorial commentary at the Gray Lady nowadays resembles micturition more than intelligent cogitation, but there are a couple of notable counter-instances, one being the writings of Ross Douthat. Herewith, three quotations from his recent Prisoners of Sex:
The culture’s attitude is Hefnerism, basically, if less baldly chauvinistic than the original Playboy philosophy. Sexual fulfillment is treated as the source and summit of a life well lived, the thing without which nobody (from a carefree college student to a Cialis-taking senior) can be truly happy, enviable or free.
In his second sentence above, Douthat puts his finger on another indicator of our junk culture's having gone off the rails. Must I explain why?
Meanwhile, social alternatives to sexual partnerships are disfavored or in decline: Virginity is for weirdos and losers, celibate life is either a form of unhealthy repression or a smoke screen for deviancy, the kind of intense friendships celebrated by past civilizations are associated with closeted homosexuality, and the steady shrinking of extended families has reduced many people’s access to the familial forms of platonic intimacy.
Contemporary feminism is very good — better than my fellow conservatives often acknowledge — at critiquing these pathologies. But feminism, too, is often a prisoner of Hefnerism, in the sense that it tends to prescribe more and more “sex positivity,” insisting that the only problem with contemporary sexual culture is that it’s imperfectly egalitarian, insufficiently celebratory of female agency and desire.
Like many American boys, I read plenty of Jack London: The Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea Wolf, Martin Eden, not to mention numerous short stories, some of them unforgettable to this day: "Love of Life," "Moonface," and "To Build a Fire." But I never got around to John Barleycorn until years later after I had read a lit-crit study of the American booze novel, and had decided to read every booze novel I could get my hands on. You could say I went on a booze novel binge. So I read Charles Jackson's Lost Weekend, things like that, until I was ready for the grandpappy of them all, John Barleycorn.
Here are some notes from a journal entry of 7 March 1998.
Finished John Barleycorn in bed last night. One of London's best books. What's the gist of it?
One cannot live and be happy unless one suppresses the final truth which is that life is a senseless play of forces, a brutal and bloody war of all against all with no redeeming point or purpose. Man is a brother to the dust, "a cosmic joke, a sport of chemistry." (319).
Only by telling himself "vital lies" can a man live "muttering and mumbling them like charms and incantations against the powers of Night." (329) All metaphysics, religion, and spirtuality are half-believed-in attempts to "outwit the Noseless One [the skull behind the face] and the Night." (329) "Life is oppositional and passes. You are an apparition." (317) "All an appearance can know is mirage." (316)
Ah, but here is a weak point in the London position. An appearance can't know anything, can't even dream or doubt anything. If I am dreaming, then I am, beyiond all seeming, and I cannot be a mere dream object. Here the "White Logic" shows itself to be illogic. Let your experience be as deceptive, delusive, mirage-like as you want, the experiencer stands above it, apart from it, behind it -- at least in his inner essence. Thus there is the hope that he may unfold his inner essence, disentangling himself from the play of specters. But this is exactly what London, worldling and sensualist, did not do. And what he presumably could not do.
There is the 'truth' we need to live and flourish -- which is a bunch of "vital lies" -- and there is the real truth, which is that our life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Religion and metaphysics are further life-enhancing illusions. Alcohol revealed all this "White Logic" to London. What is his solution? Stay sober and dream on, apparently. Close the books of despair (Spencer, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) and lose yourself in the daily round, the social whirl, the delights of the foreground. Distract yourself and keep your self distracted.
What is noteworthy here is that booze for London is not anodyne and escape but truth serum. Beyond noteworthy it is very strange: the boozed-up, barely-corned, brain is in the proper condition to grasp reality as she is.
Three paths are suggested:
A. The Superficial Man. Lives in immediacy and illusion, oblivious to sickness, old age, and death. Doesn't see that there is a problem of life to be solved. Or rather he doesn't want to see that life is a predicament. He prefers self-deception on this point. He takes short views and avoids the long ones. Keeps himself busy and distracted.
B. The 'London Man.' Sees through the average schlep's illusions. He experiences the nullity, the vanity of success, recognition, love of woman, money and the rest. (See p. 254) But beyond this there is only the horror of the senseless and brutal struggle for existence. So he turns against the "ancient mistake of pursuing Truth too relentlessly." (254) He returns to the Cave, believing that ultimately there is No Exit.
C. The Quester. For whatever reason, he has been so placed in life that he has a glimpse of the possibility of salvation from meaninglessness. He sees deeper than the 'London Man.' He has been granted a fleeting vision of the Light behind and beyond the Noseless One and Night. He works to attain that vision in fullness.