The following quotation from Spinoza may serve as a sort of addendum to what I just posted anent Sam Harris and the idea of divine revelation.
Benedict de Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise, Ch. XIV, Dover, 1951, tr. Elwes, p. 182:
. . . a person who accepted promiscuously everything in Scripture as being the universal and absolute teaching of God, without accurately defining what was adapted to the popular intelligence, would find it impossible to escape confounding the opinions of the masses with the Divine doctrines, praising the judgments and comments of man as the teaching of God, and making a wrong use of Scriptural authority. Who, I say, does not perceive that this is the chief reason why so many sectaries teach contradictory opinions as Divine documents, and support their contentions with numerous Scriptural texts, till it has passed in Belgium into a proverb, geen ketter sonder letter -- no heretic without a text?
Eminently incorporable in a post contra fundamentalism.
Sam Harris is a liberal I respect and admire. He has not succumbed to the PeeCee delusion and he actively combats it. Although Harris is a contemporary, he is not a 'contemporary liberal' as I use that phrase: he is a classical or old-time or paleo or respectable liberal. But on religion and some philosophical topics he is out beyond his depth.
And just like moderates in every other religion, most moderate Muslims become obscurantists when defending their faith from criticism. They rely on modern, secular values—for instance, tolerance of diversity and respect for human rights—as a basis for reinterpreting and ignoring the most despicable parts of their holy books. But they nevertheless demand that we respect the idea of revelation, and this leaves us perpetually vulnerable to more literal readings of scripture. The idea that any book was inspired by the creator of the universe is poison—intellectually, ethically, and politically. And nowhere is this poison currently doing more harm than in Muslim communities, East and West. Despite all the obvious barbarism in the Old Testament, and the dangerous eschatology of the New, it is relatively easy for Jews and Christians to divorce religion from politics and secular ethics. A single line in Matthew—“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”—largely accounts for why the West isn’t still hostage to theocracy. The Koran contains a few lines that could be equally potent—for instance, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256)—but these sparks of tolerance are easily snuffed out.
Why does Harris think that the idea of divine (scriptural) revelation is intellectual, ethical, and political poison? Perhaps his reasoning is along the following lines.
1. In every extant scripture there are morally offensive prescriptions and proscriptions which, if followed, would be detrimental to human flourishing, and in that sense 'poisonous.' 2. If one believes that a given scripture is the Word of God, then one believes that everything in that scripture carries divine sanction (approbation): it proceeds from the ultimate moral authority in the universe. 3. If one believes that everything in a given scripture carries divine sanction, then one believes that one has an obligation to commit some morally offensive actions, namely, those enjoined in the scripture in question, actions detrimental to human flourishing. (from 1+ 2) 4. Actions detrimental to human flourishing are 'poison.' Therefore 5. The idea of divine revelation, if accepted, is 'poison.' (from 3 + 4)
I have just imputed to Harris an argument the reasoning of which is correct. Please recall the Logic 101 distinction between correctness/incorrectness of reasoning and truth/falsity of premises and conclusions. (If this argument, or something very similar, is not the argument at the back of Harris's assertion, then I have no idea what that argument would be).
But no defender of divine revelation need be troubled by the above argument. For such a defender may simply deny premise # 2. If a given scripture is the inspired Word of God, that doesn't change the fact that it is written down by men -- and we know what they are like: fallible, sometimes foolish, liable to embellish and distort, biased, limited in ever so many ways.
To put it very simply, I can accept a scripture as divinely inspired while rejecting parts of it as merely human accretions. Why not? There are things that St. Paul says, for example, that are pretty obviously nothing but reflections of his own personal preferences and biases, or else those of his time and place.
Notice that Harris is attacking the very idea of divine revelation: the acceptance of that idea is 'poison.' But he has given us no good reason to accept this wild claim. Of course, if there is no God, then there cannot be divine revelation. But the existence of God is not at issue here. The above argument is logically independent of the existence/nonexistence of God. Indeed, a theist could deploy the above argument.
And the issue is not whether particular portions of some scripture are credible or not. The issue concerns divine revelation as such and in general.
Harris may be assuming that anyone who accepts scriptural revelation must be a fundamentalist in the sense of someone who believes that everything in the Christian Bible, say, wears its meaning on its 'sleeve' and is literally true. But obviously, not everyone who accepts scriptural revelation need be a fundamentalist!
So much for the second of the two bolded sentences above.
The first sentence reads: But they nevertheless demand that we respect the idea of revelation, and this leaves us perpetually vulnerable to more literal readings of scripture. This sentence encapsulates an inference which, unfortunately for Harris, is a non sequitur. If one respects the idea of divine scriptural revelation, how is it supposed to follow that one is vulnerable to literalism? It obvously doesn't follow. And what exactly is literalism?
Harris ought to read Augustine on the interpretation of Genesis. Here is a sampler of some of the issues that arise.
As I said, Harris is way out of his depth when he enters these theological waters.
Last night on The O'Reilly Factor, the sharpest comedian out there uncorked the following:
He makes Narcissus look like he invented self-effacement.
In battling the Left, it is not enough to have facts, logic, and moral decency on one's side; one must turn their own Alinsky tactics against them by the use of mockery, derision, contumely, and all the weapons of invective to make them look stupid, contemptible, and uncool. For the young especially, the cool counts for far more than the cogent. This is why the quintessentially cool Miller is so effective. People of sense could see from the outset that the adjunct law professor and community organizer, associate of former terrorist Bill Ayers and the 'reverend' Jeremiah Wright, raised on leftist claptrap and bereft of experience and knowledge of the world, would prove to be a disaster as president -- as he has so proven, and as even Leon Panetta the other night all but admitted. But Obama came across as a cool dude and that endeared him to foolish voters.
Civility is a prized conservative virtue, and one wishes that such tactics would not be necessary. But for leftists politics is war, and it is the foolish conservative who fails to see this and persists in imagining it to be a gentlemanly debate on common ground over shared interests. Civility is for the civil, not for its enemies.
Some time ago I heard Miller quip, in reference to Melissa Harris-Perry, that
She is a waste of a good hyphen.
A nasty thing to say, no doubt, but not as nasty as the slanderous and delusional things she had to say about the supposedly racist overtones of the word 'Obamacare.'
Conservatives should not allow themselves to be hobbled by their own civility and high standards. As one of my aphorisms has it:
I now have in my hands Saul Kripke's Reference and Existence: The John Locke Lectures, Oxford UP, 2013. The lectures were given over forty years ago in the fall of 1973. Why did you starve us for 40 years, Saul? It is not as if you did much in those years to improve the lectures beyond adding some footnotes . . . .
I for one find this 'new' book more interesting than Naming and Necessity because of its fuller treatment of existence, the juiciest, hairiest, and deepest of philosophical topics.
But I hit a snag on p. 6.
On this page Kripke accurately explains the Frege-Russell view of existence, a view which in the terminology of Frege can be put by saying that existence is not a first-level but a second-level concept. What 'exist(s)' expresses is a property of properties or concepts, the property of being instantiated. 'Tigers exists' says that the concept tiger has instances; 'Round squares do not exist' says that the concept round square does not have instances. But what does 'Tony exists' say? Nothing meaningful! Kripke:
To deny that it [existence] is a first-level concept is to deny that there is a meaningful existence predicate that can apply to objects or particulars. One cannot, according to Frege and Russell, say of an object that it exists or not because, so they argued, everything exists: how can one then divide up the objects in the world into those which exist and those which don't? (6)
This exposition of the 'Fressellian' view conflates two different reasons for thinking that existence is second-level only. One reason is that first-level predications of existence involve a category mistake. Russell famously claimed that a first-level predication of existence is senseless in the way that a first-level predication of numerousness is senseless. To give my own example, 'Terrorists are numerous' is meaningful and true; 'Ahmed the suicide bomber is numerous' is meaningless and (presumably) without truth-value. (After he detonates himself he still won't be numerous, only his body parts will!)
The first reason that first-level predications of existence are meaningless is because existence is the property of being instantiated and no "object or particular" can be meaningfully said to be instantiated. But note that if this is right, then it makes no sense to say that everything exists. For among everything are "objects or particulars" and they cannot be meaningfully said to exist. So the reason cited in the Kripke passage above cannot be a valid reason for the view that existence is not a first-level but is instead the second-level concept of instantiation. The reason Kripke gives presupposes that existence is first-level!
I was disappointed to see that Kripke glides right past this difficulty. The difficulty is that Kripke and Russell conflate two different reasons for the view that existence is second-level only. The one reason is that since existence is instantiation, it is meaningless to say of an individual (an "object or particular") that it is instantiated. The other reason is that everything exists. But again, if everything exists, then individuals exist whence it follows that it cannot be meaningless to predicate existence of individuals.
Another way of looking at the matter is that there are two senses of 'meaningless' in play and they are being confused. In the first sense, a meaningless predication is one that involves a category mistake. Thus 'Socrates is numerous' is meaningless in this sense as is 'Some triangles are anorexic.' In the second sense a meaningless predication is one that is true but would be pointless to make. If everything exists, then one might think that there is no point in saying of any particular thing that it exists. There is a failure of contrast. But since not everyone is a philosopher, there would be some point in saying of Anna-Sofia that she is a philosopher. (If, however, one were at a convention all of whose attendees were known to be philosophers, there would be no point in my introducing you to Anna-Sofia by saying 'Anna-Sofia is a philosopher.' Nonetheless what I would be saying would be true and free of category-error.)
We must distinguish between the following two claims:
A. 'Socrates exists' is meaningless because Socrates is not of the right category either to exist or not exist: Socrates is an individual, not a concept or property or propositional function.
B. 'Socrates exists' is meaningless because everything exists and thus to say of any particular thing that it exists is pointless.
Much of what it is pointless to say is meaningful, and true to boot. If I were to walk up to a woman on the street and exclaim, 'I exist,' and she didn't shrink back in horror, she might say 'True, but so what? Everything exists.' In the shallows of everyday life we don't go around saying 'I exist' and 'Things exist.' But 'I exist' and 'Things exist' are deep truths and the beginnings of the philosopher's wisdom. (For the religionist, however, the initium sapientiae is timor Domini.)
My thesis contra Kripke is this. One cannot give as a reason for the Frege-Russell doctrine, according to which first-level predications of existence are meaningless in the sense of involving category error, the proposition that everything exists and that predicating existence of any particular thing is meaningless in the sense of pointless. But that is what Kripke does in the passage quoted, which is why I call it confused. That everything exists is, pace Meinong, an exceedingly plausible proposition to maintain. But if so, then individuals exist and it must be possible to say -- meaningfully in the first sense -- of any given individual that it exists.
In short, 'Everything exists' is not a good reason to maintain that existence cannot be meaningfully -- in the first sense -- predicated of individuals.
Later in the Locke Lectures, at p. 37 f., Kripke points out that the Frege-Russell logical apparatus seems to allow for a definition of 'x exists' in terms of
1. (Ǝy)(x = y).
Kripke then remarks that "it is hard for me to see that they [Frege and Russell] can consistently maintain that existence is only a second-level concept (in the Fregean terminology) and does not apply to indivduals." (37) Kripke's point is that on the above definition 'exists' is an admissible first-level predicate contra the official 'Fressellian' doctrine according to which 'exists' is never an admissible first-level predicate.
Here too I think Kripke is missing something. What he misses is that existence defined in terms of (1) is not genuine existence, the existence that admits of a contrast with nonexistence, and that genuine existence is what Frege and Russell were trying to explicate, even though they failed quite miserably in my humble opinion.
I say that our logical luminaries, Frege and Russell, can consistently maintain that existence is exclusively second-level because defining 'x exists' in terms of (1), though extensionally correct, does not capture what it is for any existing item to exist. For all it says is that a thing that 'already' (in the logical not temporal sense) exists is identical to something. That's not exactly news. Given that Socrates exists, of course he is identical to something, namely, Socrates! That's utterly trivial. Frege and Russell were trying to get at something non-trivial when they kicked existence upstairs to the second level of concepts and propositional functions.
What were they trying to get at? They were trying to get at what one typically means when one either affirms or denies the existence of an individual that is not given in sense perception but for which one has a concept. God, for example. When the theist affirms the existence of God he does not say of something whose existence he presupposes that it is identical to something. Rather, he affirms that the attributes constitutive of deity are jointly exemplified when it is at least epistemically possible that they not be jointly exemplified. To put it in Fregean jargon, the theist affirms that the marks (Merkmalen) of the concept (Begriff) God are instantiated by one and the same individual when it is at least epistemically possible that the marks not be jointly instantiated. Quite simply, the theist affirms that the concept God has an instance. He does not affirm that God has a property (Eigenschaft). He speaks not of God, but of the concept God. The atheist's denial is then the denial that the divine attributes are jointly exemplified. He denies that the concept God has an instance. He does not deny that God lacks the property (Eigenschaft) of existence. There is no such property. And not because everything has it, but because (he thinks) the existence/nonexistence contrast would be inexplicable if everything had it. Existence that contrasts with nonexistence is instantiation. There is no existence/nonexistence contrast at the level of individuals, but there is such a contrast at the level of concepts with existence construed as instantiation and nonexistence construed as non-instantiation.
Or suppose I wonder at my sheer existence, my being 'here,' when as seems obvious I might never have been 'here,' might never have existed at all. So wondering, I am not wondering at my identity with something but at that which makes it possible for me to be identical to something, namely, the fact that I exist. If I exist, then necessarily I am identical to something, namely, myself. But what is it for me to exist when it is at least epistemically possible that I not exist? (I would say that it is really and not merely epistemically possible that I not exist, that I am really and not merely epistemically a contingent being; though how I know this is an interesting question in modal epistemology or rather the epistemology of modal knowledge/belief.) On the Frege-Russell approach, one is driven to posit some sort of individual concept or haecceity property the instantiation of which is the existence of me. But that leads to terrible difficulties (covered in mind-numbing detail in my existence book) that I can't rehearse now.
Frege and Russell were trying to explain how there can be a meaningful contrast between existence and nonexistence on the assumption that everything exists. (Given that everything exists, one cannot say that some items have the property of existence and some items do not. As Kripke puts it, p. 37, "Things are not of two kinds, existers and nonexisters.") Our logical grandpappies thought that to capture the contrast they had to kick existence upstairs to the second level, the level of concepts, properties, propositional functions and the like, and then reinterpret existence as instantiation or, in Russell's jargon, as a propositional functions' being "sometimes true."
My thesis has long been that this leads to disaster. See my "Existence: Two Dogmas of Analysis" in Novotny and Novak eds., Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, Routledge, 2014, pp. 45-75.
By making this ascensive move they removed existence from individuals and at the same time removed from individuals the distinction of essence and existence, Sosein and Sein, essentia and esse, pick your terminology. Having situated the existence/nonexistence contrast at the second level, no contrast remains at the first level, the level of individuals or particulars. Yet these individual must exist if they are to instantiate properties. But then either (i) each individual necessarily exists -- which is absurd -- or (ii) genuine existence cannot be noncircularly defined in terms of (1), in terms of identity-with-something-or-other.
Let's explore this a bit.
Kripke points out that 'Everything exists,' i.e. 'Everything is identical to something,' i.e.
2. (x)(Ǝy)(x = y)
is a theorem of quantification theory and thus necessarily true. (p. 37) But from
3. □(x)(Ǝy)(x = y)
one cannot validly infer
4. (x)□(Ǝy)(x = y).
That is, from 'Necessarily, everything is identical to something' one cannot validly infer 'Everything is necessarily identical to something,' i.e., 'Everything necessarily exists.'
Surely most individuals exist contingently: each of these individuals is possibly such that it does not exist. Socrates exists but is possibly nonexistent. The predicate 'possibly nonexistent' is first-level. It is true of Socrates because he is not identical to his existence (in the manner of a necessary being) but really distinct from his existence. Clearly, the possible nonexistence of Socrates -- a feature he actually possesses -- cannot be identified with his possible non-identity with something, namely, Socrates. Socrates is not possibly non-identical to Socrates. If existence is self-identity, then nonexistence is serlf-diversity, and possible nonexistence is possible self-diversity. But surely Socrates' possible nonexistence is not his possible self-diversity.
What this shows is that the definition of 'x exists' in terms of '(Ǝy)(x = y)' does not capture genuine existence, the existence that admits of a contrast with nonexistence. Because of this, Frege and Russell can contrary to what Kripke maintains consistently hold both that (a) existence is a second-level property and that (b) 'x exists' is definable in terms of '(Ǝy)(x = y).' They can consistently hold this because 'exists' so defined has nothing to do with genuine existence, the existence that admits of a contrast with nonexistence.
I have been and continue to be an avid reader of your wonderful blog ever since I stumbled upon your post on Wittgenstein’s anti-philosophy some years ago. And I must say that your assorted musings and reflections – even your polemical jabs - have given me many valuable lessons, even if I do not necessarily agree with every point and detail. For all that, you have the gratitude and admiration of this humble correspondent and junior fellow-traveler in philosophy (male, hailing from the Philippines, partly of Chinese descent through my father).
Now even though we do not stand on the same side with regard to several matters of value and praxis -- as I am far to your left and you are far to my right -– I nonetheless wish to civilly discuss some topics surrounding the more heated disputes. Specifically, there are some nagging political-philosophical questions in my mind that I happily share with you, and your thoughts on them (either as brief responses to each query or perhaps a sustained post or series of posts on a cluster of selected issues) would be very much appreciated. Pardon if it took me so long to reach the heart of the matter, of if I seem to ramble on too much, but here goes:
1. To what extent can one extend hospitality, generosity, or charity to the arguments and premises of one’s opponents or rivals in polemical situations? It seems to me that apart from the unflinching commitment of many of the parties involved to their respective positions despite the absence of perfect justification, there is also the issue of mutual misunderstanding and misrepresentation (unintentional or otherwise), exacerbated by the fog of war. For instance, many conservatives, libertarians, and socialists appear to be rarely acquainted with the intricacies of each other’s theoretical standpoints and values, even as they dispute about practices and proposals.
MavPhil: How far extend hospitality, etc. in a polemical situation? Not very far if the situation is truly polemical and one's interlocutor is an opponent or adversary. I make a sharp distinction between polemical discourse and strictly philosophical discourse, and I engage in both. I engage in both because both are needed in the world as it is. It is a mark of the conservative that he deals with the world as it is without illusions or evasions or escapes into u-topia (no place). In a phrase of Richard M. Weaver, the conservative stands on the "terra firma of antecedent reality," a reality logically and ontologically antecedent to one's hopes, dreams, wishes, and desires.
As I see it, philosophy ceases to be philosophy when it becomes polemical. That goes for political philosophy as well which ought not be confused with political discourse in general, most of which is, of course, polemical.
Philosophy is inquiry. It is inquiry by those who don't know (and know that they don't know) with the sincere intention of increasing their insight and understanding. Philosophy is motivated by the love of truth, not the love of verbal battle or the need to defeat an opponent or shore up and promote preconceived opinions about which one has no real doubt and refuses to examine. When real philosophy is done with others it takes the form of dialog, not debate. It is conversation between friends, not opponents, who are friends of the truth before they are friends of each other. Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas.
There is nothing adversarial in a genuine philosophical conversation. The person I am addressing and responding to is not my adversary but a co-inquirer. In the ideal case there is between us a bond of friendship, a philiatic bond. But this philia subserves the eros of inquiry. The philosopher's love of truth is erotic, the love of one who lacks for that which he lacks. It is not the agapic love of one who knows and bestows his pearls of wisdom.
What I have described above, however, is rare in this fallen world of contention and strife. No philosophy without spectatorship, but here below we are embattled spectators. Hence the necessity of self-defense in several forms, from verbal polemic to shooting wars. The spaces of civility, wherein philosophy, science, the arts, humane living, and everything civilized flourish have always been encircled by evil forces against which one must be prepared to deploy violent remedies. Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. (Cf. Plato, Laws, 628d) Civility is for the civil only. One must oppose and in extreme situations kill the enemies of civilization. Last century, Nazis among others; this century, radical Muslims.
But why not stick to one's stoa and cultivate one's specialist garden in peace and quiet, neither involving oneself in, nor forming opinions about, the wider world of politics and strife? Why risk one's ataraxia in the noxious arena of contention? Why not remain within the serene precincts of theoria? For those of us of a certain age the chances are good that death will arrive before the barbarians do. Why bother one's head with the issues of the day? Many of us will most likely collapse before the culture that sustains us does.
We enter the arena of contention because the gardens of tranquillity and the spaces of reason are worth defending, with blood and iron if need be, against the barbarians and their witting and unwitting leftist enablers. Others have fought and bled so that we can live this life of beatitude. What has been passed on to us, we must passon. And so though we are not warriors of the body we can and should do our bit as warriors of the mind to preserve for future generations this culture which allows us to pursue otium liberale in peace, quiet, and safety.
While it’s willing to make investments, Mesa is also lean in ways that more bloated liberal cities can’t boast. Take the City Council. Despite Mesa’s hefty population, council members are part-timers who have day jobs in fields from education to copper mining. City leaders also pay themselves considerably less than those in other cities do. Mesa City Council members make only $33,000 a year, and the mayor is paid only $73,000. (And those salaries represent the fruits of a big raise: Before last year, city councilmembers made less than $20,000 a year and the mayor earned only $36,000.) By contrast, as of 2012, in similarly sized Fresno, the mayor made $126,000; city council members brought home nearly $65,000. In neighboring Phoenix, meanwhile, the mayor makes $88,000 and city councilmen earn more than $61,000.
A human life is too short for the acquisition by oneself of the wisdom needed to live it well -- or to end it well. And the same goes for the appropriation of the hard-won wisdom of one's predecessors: the brevity of life militates against the needed appropriation as much as against the needed acquisition. So wisdom must come from outside the human-all-too-human if it is to come at all.
Addendum . Dave Bagwill submits the following pertinent quotation from George MacDonald's Diary of an Old Soul for July 15th:
Who sets himself not sternly to be good,
Is but a fool, who judgment of true things
Has none, however oft the claim renewed.
And he who thinks, in his great plenitude,
To right himself, and set his spirit free,
Without the might of higher communings,
Is foolish also--save he willed himself to be.
William Voegli claims that the phrase 'political correctness' first entered the American vocabulary in 1991. I don't know about that, but I do know that the concept is much older: PC derives from the CP, as I explain in Dorothy Healey on Political Correctness.
I now refer you to what Bill Whittle has to say about the leftist narrative and political correctness. (HT: Monterey Tom)
Whittle refers to a man I blogged about on 30 August 2009:
The Gun-Totin' Obama Protester Was Black!
If a black man exercises his Second Amendment rights, is he really black? For liberals, the answer, apparently, is in the negative. For them, apparently, the only real black is a liberal black. Take a gander at this video clip. You will see an Obama protester with a semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, a pistol on his hip, and an ammo mag in his pocket. But the shot has been edited so that we cannot see that he is black. And you liberals have the chutzpah to tell me that the MSM does not tilt to the Left? To depict the man's color would not fit in with the leftist party line that opposition to Obama's policies has its origin in racism. Apparently, a black man who does not fit the leftist 'narrative' is not black, but a 'traitor to his race.' And the same goes, mutatis mutandis, for women who do not toe the party line.
In this clip you can see that the man is indeed black.
Here are two points that need to be made again and again in opposition to the willful moral and intellectual obtuseness of liberals and leftists.
1. Dissent is not hate. To dissent from a person's ideas and policies is not to hate the person.
2. As a corollary to #1, to dissent from the ideas and policies of a black man is not to hate the man. A fortiori, it is not to hate the man because he is black.
Here are ten things I have never done, but you probably have. I have never:
* taken a sleeping pill. * purchased a lottery ticket. * owned an umbrella. * as an adult worn pajamas, a bow tie, or suspenders. * owned or used a bathrobe. * owned or used an electric can opener. * as an adult attended a professional sporting event. * owned or used a Walkman, ipod, or any such contraption. * owned or used a laptop computer. * run credit card debt.
An earlier post addressed the nature of gluttony. One important point to emerge was that gluttony cannot be identified with the consumption of excessive amounts of food or drink. But what is wrong with it?
There are the worldling's reasons to avoid gluttony and there is no need to review them: the aesthetic reasons, the health reasons, and the safety reasons. These are good reasons, but non-ultimate.
The best reason to avoid gluttony, one that applies both to gluttony as excessive consumption and gluttony as inordinate concern for food, is that gluttony and other vices of the flesh interfere with the exercise of our higher nature, both intellectual and spiritual.
If you eat too much and die before your time you have merely shortened your animal life. Much worse is to blind your spiritual eye.
A lively 'conversation' about Islam. Affleck outs himself as a perfect idiot while getting slaughtered by the Maher-Harris tag team. Around 2:05 he starts to quote the Declaration of Independence (second paragraph) and the line about all men being endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and then 'corrects' himself substituting 'forefathers' for 'Creator.' Unbelievable. Does this idiot really believe that our rights come from the contingent decisions of certain fallible human beings?
Addendum 10/7: Affleck's view is not only stupid, but dangerous. But note that rejecting it leaves two options: rights come from the Creator; rights are simply part of the nature of things. What exactly the second option means, and whether it survives scrutiny, are nice questions.
Affleck is a representative instance of the HollyWeird liberal who has swallowed the leftist 'narrative' hook, line, and sinker. Pretty boy infidels like him would be among the first to have their throats cuts should the Islamists get their way. A useful idiot.
Addendum 10/8: Nicholas Kristof, another of the participants in the above-referenced 'conversation,' is also deserving of severe criticism for his mindless NYT-leftism. Dennis Prager does the job here. The column concludes:
But it was later in the dialogue that Kristof expressed the most dishonest of the left's arguments on this issue:
"The great divide is not between Islam and the rest. It's rather between the fundamentalists and the moderates in each faith."
"In each faith," Kristof?
Where, sir, are the Christian and Jewish jihadists? The only Jewish state in the world is one of the freest countries on earth, with protections for minority religions and women and homosexuals unknown anywhere in the Muslim world. And virtually every free country in the world is in the Christian world.
Presumably, these are just "ugly" facts.
This debate was valuable. Even more valuable would be if Maher and Harris came to realize that the death of Judeo-Christian values and their being supplanted by leftism is producing hundreds of millions of people who think like Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristof.
Big road trip last weekend: Phoenix, Barstow, Bakersfield, Santa Barbara and back by a different route. The Jeep Wrangler runs on unleaded regular. Paid $3.349/gal on 9/27 at Quartzsite, AZ off of I-10, one of the last Arizona gas-ups enroute to California. Wait 'til Blythe on the California side of the Colorado River and you will get 'hosed.' In Barstow, same day, I paid 3.579/gal at a Circle K. In Bakersfield on 9/30 paid $3.979 at a Shell station. Back home, yesterday, at Costco, $3.099/gal. Home, sweet home.
Jack Kerouac in a letter from 17 January 1962: "Everybody is making money off my ideas, like those "Route 66" TV producers, everybody except me . . . ." (Selected Letters 1957-1969, ed, Charters, Viking 1999, p. 326; see also p. 461 and pp. 301-302.) Here is the Nelson Riddle theme music from the TV series. And here is part of an episode from the series which ran from 1960-1964. George Maharis bears a striking resemblance to Jack, wouldn't you say? And notice Maharis is riding shotgun. Kerouac wasn't a driver. Neal Cassady was the driver.
Now dig Bobby Troup. And if that's too cool for you, here is Depeche Mode. Chuck Berry, the RollingStones, Dr. Feelgood, and others have covered the tune.
Allegedly, the New Atheism has a "shocking woman problem": Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are "misogynists." Thus Amanda Marcotte in Salon. (See also Kathe Pollitt in The Nation). This appears to be the latest PC purge.
It is true that the New Atheism is male-dominated. But why? According to Marcotte,
The reason has, in recent years, become quite apparent: Many of the most prominent leaders of the New Atheism are quick to express deeply sexist ideas. Despite their supposed love of science and rationality, many of them are nearly as quick as their religious counterparts to abandon reason in order to justify regressive views about women.
One such prominent leader is Sam Harris, a man of "knee-jerk Islamophobic tendencies" who has recently "added women to the category of people he makes thoughtless generalizations about."
Let's remind ourselves that a phobia is an irrational fear. Fear of radical Islam, however, is eminently rational, especially in the light of recent events. (You may wish to consult the Christians of the Middle East on this point.) It is obvious that 'Islamophobic' and cognates are semantic bludgeons used by leftists to silence and discredit their opponents by imputing to them a sort of cognitive/affective dysfunction. It's a shabby tactic and its says a lot about them.
As for "thoughtless generalizations about women," what does Harris actually say? From his weblog:
My work is often perceived (I believe unfairly) as unpleasantly critical, angry, divisive, etc. The work of other vocal atheists (male and female) has a similar reputation. I believe that in general, men are more attracted to this style of communication than women are. Which is not to say there aren’t millions of acerbic women out there . . . . But just as we can say that men are generally taller than women, without denying that some women are taller than most men, there are psychological differences between men and women which, considered in the aggregate, might explain why “angry atheism” attracts more of the former. Some of these differences are innate; some are surely the product of culture. Nothing in my remarks was meant to suggest that women can’t think as critically as men or that they are more likely to be taken in by bad ideas. Again, I was talking about a fondness for a perceived style of religion bashing with which I and other vocal atheists are often associated.
How can any reasonable person be offended by what Harris is saying above? He is giving an explanation of why men are 'over-represented' among active, or as I would call them 'evangelical,' atheists. Surely it is a plausible explanation and it may even be true. Anyone with any experience of life knows that there are differences between men and women and these are reflected in different styles of communication.
There is an interesting logico-linguistic question here. Is the sentence 'Women can think as critically as men' a modal statement? Note the modal auxiliary 'can.' The sentence is grammatically modal, but is it logically modal? Does the sentence express the proposition that it is possible that women think as critically as men? Or does it express a proposition about actuality? If the latter, then it is equivalent to 'Some women think as critically as men' which does not feature any modal words. The second sentence is clearly true, especially when spelled out as 'Some women think as critically as some men.'
Later in his post, Harris reports a dialog with an offended woman. Here is part of it:
She: [. . .] What you said about women in the atheist community was totally denigrating to women and irresponsible. Women can think just as critically as men. And men can be just as nurturing as women.
Me: Of course they can! But if you think there are no differences, in the aggregate, between people who have Y chromosomes and people who don’t; if you think testosterone has no psychological effects on human minds in general; if you think we can’t say anything about the differences between two bell curves that describe whole populations of men and women, whether these differences come from biology or from culture, we’re not going to get very far in this conversation.
The irate female is indisputably in the right if she is saying that some women think just as critically as some men, and that some men are just as nurturing as some women. But then she has no dispute with Harris who would not dream of denying these truths. The following, however, are false:
1. Every woman thinks just as critically as every man. 2. Every man is just as nurturing as every woman. 3. Every woman is possibly such that she thinks as critically as every man. 4. Every man is possibly such that he is as nurturing as every woman.
I leave undecided the following two de dicto claims:
5. It is possible that every woman think as critically as every man. 6. It is possible that every man be as nurturing as every woman.
Here as elsewhere many on the Left substitute the hurling of epithets for serious discussion. Why think carefully and responsibly when you can shout: sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, racist, bigoted, Islamophobic, etc.?
One of the basic errors of the Left is the assumption that we are all equal. It is is simply not the case. Men on average are taller than women on average. That's just the way it is. Now it is good to be tall, but it is also good to be nurturing, and women on average are more nurturing than men on average. No one can responsibly be labelled a sexist or a bigot for pointing out such plain facts as these.
Leftists often compound their error with a fallacious inference. They infer that since there is no equality of outcome, then there must have been sexism, or racism, etc. at work. Non sequitur!
Finally, if atheists draw their inspiration from natural science and oppose religion as superstition, then they ought to give some thought as to how they will ground empirically and scientifically key tenets of the leftist worldview. If you say that we are all equal, with equal rights, and equal dignity, and equal value as persons, etc. what is the basis of all that? Why isn't this just residual ideological claptrap left over after the death of God and the collapse of Christianity?
It was on this date in 1995 that the verdict in the O. J. Simpson murder trial came down: not guilty! To refer to this proceeding as the trial of the century ought to offend anyone with a modicum of historical sense and a concern for the English language. It is on a par with Tom Brokaw's silly reference to the World War II generation of Americans as the "greatest generation." Here is an example of what I am opposing:
We always hear phrases like "Fight of the Century" and "Trial of the Century" ... well, this really was the Trial of the Century. A Pro Football Hall of Fame running back might or might not have killed his wife and one of her male friends. All evidence pointed to him. No other suspects. No alibi. A disturbing history of domestic abuse. A motive. Blood splattered everywhere, including back at the suspect's house.
Nonsense! Irresponsible journalism of Brokavian proportions. If the Simpson double homicide trial was the Trial of the Century, then what were the following?
Scopes "Monkey" Trial (1925)
Nuremberg Trials (1945-49)
Alger Hiss (1949-50)
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (1951)
Adolf Eichmann (1961)
Clinton Impeachment (1999)
Most of the above were far more significant than the Simpson trial.
Who was Simpson? A guy who was uncommonly good at chasing a piece of pigskin around a field who one night gave vent to his murderous rage in a brutal double homicide. The only thing significant about that trial was that it exposed the tribalism among so many blacks, their incapacity to abstract from their racial identity and evaluate evidence rationally and objectively. This tribalism was again on clear display recently in the Trayvon Martin case. Except for a few black conservatives, black commentators on the trial displayed a depressing level of delusional thinking. Yes, you are delusional if you think there is a meaningful comparison between the Emmett Till case (1955) and the Martin-Zimmerman proceeding. Either that or you are contemptibly mendacious.
Whatever became of Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor in the Simpson trial? Her story here.
And no better way to kick off Kerouac month than with 'sweet gone Jack' reading from "October in Railroad Earth" from Lonesome Traveler, 1960. Steve Allen provides the wonderful piano accompaniment.
I have the Grove Press Black Cat 1970 paperback edition. Bought it on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, 12 April 1973. I was travelling East by thumb to check out East Coast graduate schools where I had been accepted, but mostly I 'rode the dog' (Greyhound bus), a mode of transport I wouldn't put up with today: two guys behind me chain-smoked and talked all the way from Los Angeles to Phoenix. New Orleans proved to be memorable, including the flophouse on Carondelet I stayed in for $2 a night. It was there that Lonesome Traveler joined On the Road in my rucksack.
I never before had seen Tabasco bottles so big as on the tables of the Bourbon Street bars and eateries. Exulting in the beat quiddity of the scene, I couldn't help but share my enthusiasm for Nawlins with a lady of the evening, not sampling her wares, but just talking to her on the street, she thinking me naive, and I was.
Here is a long excerpt (7:10), which contains the whole of the first two sections of the piece, pp. 37-40, of the Black Cat edition.
Chilly nights, good for sleeping with windows open, warm dry days of lambent desert light. October's sad paradise passes too soon but its dying light ushers in November, the month of gratitude in my personal liturgy.
Savor each day, each moment, each sunrise and moonset, moonrise and sunset. Drink green tea in the gloaming with Kerouac on your knee.
Enjoy each thing as if for the first time -- and the last.
A reader requests some help in a debate he is having with some atheists re: the problem of evil. My advice: don't debate atheists. Read their arguments and consider them carefully. Then think the problem through for yourself in as intellectually honest and existentially serious a manner as you can. Then decide whether to accept and practice a religion. Debate with atheists is like debate with leftists: it is unlikely to be fruitful.
But the following way of looking at the matter of God and evil may be of some help to my reader. In this entry I distinguish generic theism from specific theisms and then I claim that (i) the logical complexion and tractability of the problem of evil depends on the type of theism adopted, and that (ii) for something close to an orthodox -- miniscule 'o'-- Christian theism the problem of evil is more tractable than for generic theism.
Suppose we define a 'generic theist' as one who affirms the existence of a bodiless person, a pure spirit, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, and who in addition is perfectly free, the creator and sustainer of the universe, and the ground of moral obligation. This generic theism is common to the mainstream of the three Abrahamic religions. Most theists, however, are not 'generic' but adopt a specific form of theism. Christians, for example, add to the divine attributes listed above the attribute of being triune and others besides. Christianity also includes doctrines about the human being and his ultimate destiny in an afterlife. The (philosophical) anthropology and eudaimonology of Christianity is just as important to it as its theology. Generic theism is thus an abstraction from the concrete specific theisms that people accept and live. And let's be clear that while doctrine is essential to religion, pace Wittgenstein, or perhaps pace only certain epigoni of Wittgenstein, no religion is exhausted by its doctrine. Each concrete religion is a way of life and a form of life. Each concrete religion seeks an orthodoxy and an orthopraxy.
Now the point I want to make is that, just as we ought to distinguish between generic theism and specific theisms, we ought to distinguish between the generic problem of evil and specific problems of evil. The generic problem of evil is the problem faced by the generic theist of reconciling belief in a God possessing the standard omni-attributes with the existence of evil in the kinds and amounts encountered in the actual world. A specific problem of evil, on the other hand, is the problem a specific type of theist has in reconciling the existence of God with the existence of evil.
We need to examine whether the problem a theist of a specific stripe has in reconciling God and evil is easier to solve or perhaps harder to solve than the problem a generic theist has.
To see what I am driving at, imagine a version of theism — call it version A — that affirms God, immortal souls, and the eventual blissful communion of all souls with God. On this version of theism there is purgatory, but no hell defined as a state of everlasting separation from communion with God. Thus on this version of theism there is post-mortem evil, the pain of purgatory, but this purgatorial evil is instrumental for the achieving of a higher good and is to that extent redeemed by this higher good.
Now compare this theism-A with a theism-B which affirms God but denies post-mortem existence whether in the form of immortal souls or in the form of resurrected (ensouled) bodies. On this alternative the God of the generic theist (defined above) exists, but for human beings this life is all there is: at death a human being ceases to exist utterly. Now does it not seem that the theist-B faces a much tougher problem than the theist-A when it comes to reconciling a good God with the fact of evil? So it seems to me.
For the theist-B, the horrendous evils of this life are not compensated for by any life to come. One suffers pointlessly, meaninglessly. But for the theist-A, the transient evils of this short life are as nothing compared to the endless bliss of the soul's communion with God and with other purified souls. Thus gratuitous evil for the theist-A is a vanishing quantity. To appreciate this, you must understand that for the theist-A, God is Being itself in its full plenitude while this world, though real, is entirely derivative and entirely dependent, at each instant, on the divine Reality for its existence, nature, and intelligibility. The supreme Reality is like the sun outside of Plato's Cave; this world is the cave, its furnishings, and its benighted troglodytes.
[By the way, right here is a chief reason for the pointlessness of discussions with atheists. The typical atheist is a naturalist/materialist/physicalist for whom this physical world is the ens reallissimum. One cannot have a fruitful discussion with someone whose sense of reality and value is entirely different from one's own. Analogy with the political: if you have a traditional notion of justice you won't get far with someone who thinks of justice as 'social justice.' But I digress.]
Most atheists share the very strong intuition that the probability of this world's containing the amount of evil it does is much greater on the hypothesis that God does not exist than it is on the hypothesis that God exists:
Prob(E/~G) >> Prob(E/G).
They take this as evidence that there is no God. For if there were a God possessing the standard omni-attributes, why would there be the amounts of evil that we actually encounter? But to properly evaluate this inequality, how can one leave out the rest of what most theists believe? The amount and kinds of evil in this world enter the calculation, no doubt. But the absence of gratuitous evil, and the presence of unending bliss in the next world, are also relevant if the question concerns reconciling God and evil within theism-A.
Here is an analogy. Some of us had rotten childhoods but are enjoying very good adulthoods. Suppose Sam is such a person, now age 60. Up to age 23 Sam's life was on balance not worth living; after age 23 it became worth living. Suppose Sam claims that his life is overall rotten due to his lousy first 23 years. You would point out to him that his judgment is ridiculous and unjust. The quality of one's life overall depends on the whole of it, not just on part of it. There is also the consideration that there is a surplus of value due to the life's going from bad to good, rather than in the other direction (bonum progressionis.) Similarly, a just evaluation of the value of life in this world cannot be based solely on what goes on in this world, but must also take into consideration what goes on in the next.
To sum up:
1. Real live theists are not generic theists, but theists of some particular stripe or other. Generic theism is an abstraction. Real live theists hold specific doctrines that are embodied in specific practices. Among these doctrines will be a theory of the nature of man, his ultimate destiny, his final felicity, and his relation to God. Although the question of the existence of God is logically distinct from the question of the nature of man, in a specific theism such as Christianity, the theology and the anthropology are mutually influencing so much so that if there is no God, then there is no Man either. (If what distinguishes man from other animals is imago dei, then no God, no Man.)
2. The problem of evil, if it is to be a genuine existential conundrum bearing on how one lives one's life and not a mere logic puzzle, is the problem of reconciling the existence of the God of a particular religion with the fact of evil as evil is understood from within this particular religion.
3. A theism that affirms God, post-mortem existence, and the eventual unending blissful communion of all souls (or resurrected persons) with God does not face the same problem of evil as a version of theism which denies post-mortem existence. The problem of evil for the former type of theist is much less serious than it is for the theist of the latter type.
4. It is dialectically unfair for atheists to argue against all (classical) theists from the fact of the evil in this world when (i) not all theists are generic theists, and (ii) some theists believe that the transient evils of this short life are far outweighed by the unending bliss of the world to come.
5. It is arguable that there is no insoluble problem of evil for theists-A. Suppose this world is a "vale of soul-making" (the phrase is from John Keats) in which human beings, exercising free will, make themselves worthy, or fail to make themselves worthy, of communion with God. Combine this soul-making idea with post-mortem existence, and the existence of purgatory but not hell, and we have perhaps the elements of a solution to the problem of evil. (Cf. John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, Part IV)
Let me conclude by noting that a theism-C which holds to eternal damnation for some may exacerbate the problem of evil. Here I refer you to David Lewis' posthumous "Divine Evil" in Louise Antony, ed., Philosophers Without Gods, Oxford 2007, pp. 231-242. Lewis, may God rest his soul, maintains that the usual logical and evidential arguments from evil are a "sideshow" compared to a "simpler argument, one that has been strangely neglected" (p. 231) that focuses not on the evils that God fails to prevent, but on the one's he perpetrates. And then he goes on to speak of hell and eternal torment. You can guess what conclusion he comes to.
We shall have to examine Lewis' simpler argument from evil in a separate post. But I am happy that he in effect concedes one of my points, namely, that a serious discussion of the problem of evil must address the whole of a theistic position and not focus merely on God and his attributes.
The following portion of an interview by Richard Carrier of Susan Haack puts one in mind of Brian Leiter whose main disservice to academic philosophy has been his contribution to its hyperprofessionalization.
S.H.: I had begun to express concern about the condition of professional philosophy well before 2001; and I’m sorry to say that our profession seems to me in even worse shape now than it did then. It has become terribly hermetic and self-absorbed; bogged down in pretentious and pseudo-technical jargon; in the thrall of those dreadful “rankings”; and splintered into narrow specialisms and—even worse—cliques identified, not by a specialty, but by a shared view on a specialized issue. A friend of mine put it in a nutshell when she described professional philosophy as “in a nose-dive.”
The reasons for the over-specialization are no doubt very complicated. But one relevant factor, I’m sure, is departmental rankings by area; and another is the ever-increasing pressure to publish, now extending even to graduate students. And behind this, there’s that ever-growing class of professional university administrators who have long ago put their academic work on permanent hold and, unable to judge a person’s work themselves, can only rely on surrogate measures like rankings, “productivity,” grant money brought in, citations, and such. Inevitably, many professors and would-be professors soon internalize the same distorted values; and many soon realize that a relatively easy way to publish a lot, fast, is to associate yourself with some clique, to join a citation cartel, to split your work into minimally publishable units, and of course to repeat yourself.
Here is essential reading if you want to understand the nature of Islam and its threat to the West and its values. If Schall is right, the Obama administration understands nothing about either and is putting us in grave danger in consequence of its (willful?) misunderstanding. Schall is of course too 'measured' and 'gentlemanly' in his use of language to put things as plainly as I just did, which is why he needs the assistance of bloggers like me. Excerpt:
The Islamic State and the broader jihadist movements throughout the world that agree with it are, I think, correct in their basic understanding of Islam. Plenty of evidence is found, both in the long history of early Muslim military expansion and in its theoretical interpretation of the Qur’an itself, to conclude that the Islamic State and its sympathizers have it basically right. The purpose of Islam, with the often violent means it can and does use to accomplish it, is to extend its rule, in the name of Allah, to all the world. The world cannot be at “peace” until it is all Muslim. The “terror” we see does not primarily arise from modern totalitarian theories, nationalism, or from anywhere else but what is considered, on objective evidence, to be a faithful reading of a mission assigned by Allah to the Islamic world, which has been itself largely procrastinating about fulfilling its assigned mission.
It is important that people read the entire piece.
I have found that it is dangerous to assume that others are essentially like oneself.
Psychologists speak of projection. As I understand it, it involves projecting (etymologically, throwing outward) into others one's own attitudes, beliefs, motivations, fears, emotions, desires, values, and the like. It is classified as a defense mechanism. To avoid confronting an unsavory attitude or trait in oneself, one projects it into another. Suppose one is stingy, considers stinginess an undesirable trait, but doesn't want to own up to one's stinginess. As a defense against the admission of one's own stinginess, one projects it into others. "I'm not stingy; you're stingy!"
I once had a superficial colleague who published a lot. He was motivated more by a neurotic need to advance himself socially and economically, a need based in low self-esteem, rather than by a drive to get at the truth or make a contribution to his subject. He was at some level aware that his motives were less than noble. Once, when he found out that I had published an article, he told me that my motive was to see my name in print. It was a classic case of projection: he could not understand me except as being driven by the same paltry motives that drove him. By projecting his motives into me, he warded off the awareness of their presence in him, or else excused their presence in him on the spurious ground that everyone has the same paltry motivations.
Most of the definitions of projection I have read imply that it is only undesirable attitudes, beliefs, and the like that are the contents of acts of projection. But it seems to me that the notion of projection could and perhaps should be widened to include desirable ones as well.
The desire for peace and social harmony, for example, is obviously good. But it too can be the content of an act of psychological projection. A pacifist, for example, may assume that others deep down are really like he is: peace-loving to such an extent as to avoid war at all costs. A pacifist might reason as follows: since everyone deep down wants peace, and abhors war, if I throw down my weapon, my adversary will do likewise. My adversay is histile out of fear; if I remove the reason for his fear, he will be pacified. By unilaterally disarming, I show my good will, and he will reciprocate. But if you throw down your weapon before Hitler, he will take that precisely as justification for killing you: since might makes right on his neo-Thrasymachian scheme, you have shown by your pacific deed that you are unfit for the struggle for existence and therefore deserve to die, and indeed must die to keep from polluting the gene pool.
Projection in cases like these can be dangerous. One oftens hears the sentiment expressed that we human beings are at bottom all the same and all want the same things. Not so! You and I may want
Harmony and understanding Sympathy and trust abounding No more falsehoods or derisions Golden living dreams of visions Mystic crystal revelation And the mind's true liberation
as expressed in that characteristic '60s song, Aquarius, but others have belligerence and bellicosity hard-wired into them. They like fighting and dominating and they only come alive when they are bashing your skull in either literally or figuratively. People are not the same and it is a big mistake to think otherwise and project your decency into them.
I'll say it again: people are not the same. We are not 'equal.' Or do you consider yourself the moral equal of Chechen Muslim ingrates who come to our shores, exploit our hospitality, go on welfare, rip us off, and then detonate explosives at the finish line of a great American event that celebrates life and self-reliance? I am referring to the Boston Marathon.
I said that the psychologists classify projection as a defense mechanism. But how could the projection of good traits count as a defense mechanism? Well, suppose that by engaging in such projections one defends oneself against the painful realization that the people in the world are much worse than one would have liked to believe. Many of us have a strong psychological need to see good in other people, and this can give rise to illusions. There is good and evil in each person, and one must train oneself to accurately discern how much of each is present in each person one encounters.
Our humanities and social science departments are filled with scholars and pseudo-scholars deemed to be experts in terrorism, religion, Islamic jurisprudence, anthropology, political science, and other diverse fields, who claim that where Muslim intolerance and violence are concerned, nothing is ever what it seems. Above all, these experts claim that one can’t take Islamists and jihadists at their word: Their incessant declarations about God, paradise, martyrdom, and the evils of apostasy are nothing more than a mask concealing their real motivations. What are their real motivations [according to these experts]?
Insert here the most abject hopes and projections of secular liberalism: How would you feel if Western imperialists and their mapmakers had divided your lands, stolen your oil, and humiliated your proud culture? Devout Muslims merely want what everyone wants—political and economic security, a piece of land to call home, good schools for their children, a little leisure to enjoy the company of friends. Unfortunately, most of my fellow liberals appear to believe this. In fact, to not accept this obscurantism as a deep insight into human nature and immediately avert one’s eyes from the teachings of Islam is considered a form of bigotry.
Harris has put his finger on a mistake that too many in the West, whether you call it psychological projection or not make, namely, the mistake of assuming that everyone, deep down, cherishes the same values and has the same motivations. This mistake is one of the planks in the platform of political correctness.
And as we should have learned by now, political correctness can get you killed.
What's the reasoning behind Obama's statement? Perhaps this:
1. All religions are good. 2. Islam is a religion Ergo 3. Islam is good 4. ISIL is not good. Ergo 5. ISIL is not Islamic.
This little argument illustrates how one can reason correctly from false/dubious premises.
Are all religions good? Suppose we agree that a religion is good if its contribution to human flourishing outweighs its contribution to the opposite. Then it is not at all clear that Islam is good. For while it has improved the lives of some in some respects, on balance it has not contributed to human flourishing. It is partly responsible for the long-standing inanition of the lands it dominates and it is the major source of terrorism in the world today. It is an inferior religion, the worst of the great religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam). Schopenhauer is surely right that it is the "saddest and poorest form of theism." See article below. Its conception of the afterlife is the crudest imaginable. Its God is pure will . See Benedict's Regensburg Speech. It is a violent religion scarcely distinguishable from a violent political ideology. Its prophet was a warrior. It is impervious to any correction or enlightening or chastening from the side of philosophy. There is no real philosophy in the Muslim world to speak of. Tiny Israel in the 66 years of its existence has produced vastly more real philosophy than the whole of the Muslim world in the last 400 years.
So it is not the case that all religions are good. Some are, some are not. This is a balanced view that rejects the extremes of 'All religions are good' and 'No religions are good.'
. . . if Islam is intrinsically flawed, then the assumption that religion is basically a good thing would have to be revisited. That, in turn, might lead to a more aggressive questioning of Christianity. Accordingly, some Church leaders seem to have adopted a circle-the-wagons mentality—with Islam included as part of the wagon train. In other words, an attack on one religion is considered an attack on all: if they come for the imams, then, before you know it, they’ll be coming for the bishops. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t provide for the possibility that the imams will be the ones coming for the bishops.
Note that the following argument is invalid:
6. Islam is intrinsically flawed 2. Islam is a religion Ergo 7. All religions are intrinsically flawed.
So if you hold that Islam is intrnsically flawed you are not logically committed to holding that all religions are. Still, Kilpatrick's reasoning may be a correct explanation of why some want to maintain that all religions are good. Kilpatrick continues (emphasis added):
In addition to fears about the secular world declaring open season on all religions, bishops have other reasons to paint a friendly face on Islam. It’s not just the religion-is-a-good-thing narrative that’s at stake. Other, interconnected narratives could also be called into question.
One of these narratives is that immigration is a good thing that ought to be welcomed by all good Christians. Typically, opposition to immigration is presented as nothing short of sinful. [. . .]
But liberal immigration policies have had unforeseen consequences that now put (or ought to put) its proponents on the defensive. In Europe, the unintended consequences (some critics contend that they were fully intended) of mass immigration are quite sobering. It looks very much like Islam will become, in the not-so-distant future, the dominant force in many European states and in the UK as well. If this seems unlikely, keep in mind that, historically, Muslims have never needed the advantage of being a majority in order to impose their will on non-Muslim societies. And once Islamization becomes a fact, it is entirely possible that the barbarities being visited on Christians in Iraq could be visited on Christians in Europe. Or, as the archbishop of Mosul puts it, “If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”
If that ever happens, the bishops (not all of them, of course) will bear some of the responsibility for having encouraged the immigration inflow that is making Islamization a growing threat. Thus, when a Western bishop feels compelled to tell us that Islamic violence has “nothing to do with real Islam,” it’s possible that he is hoping to reassure us that the massive immigration he has endorsed is nothing to worry about and will never result in the imposition of sharia law and/or a caliphate. He’s not just defending Islam, he’s defending a policy stance with possibly ruinous consequences for the West.
Of course, presidents and prime ministers say the same sorts of things about Islam. President Obama recently assured the world that “ISIL speaks for no religion,” Prime Minister David Cameron said that the extremists “pervert the Islamic faith,” and UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond asserted that the Islamic State “goes against the most basic beliefs of Islam.” They say these things for reasons of strategy and because they also have a narrative or two to protect. In fact, the narratives are essentially the same as those held by the bishops—religion is good, diversity is our strength, and immigration is enriching.
Since they are actually involved in setting policy, the presidents, prime ministers, and party leaders bear a greater responsibility than do the bishops for the consequences when their naïve narratives are enacted into law. Still, one has to wonder why, in so many cases, the bishop’s narratives are little more than an echo of the secular-political ones. It’s more than slightly worrisome when the policy prescriptions of the bishops so often align with the policies of Obama, Cameron, and company.
Many theologians believe that the Church should have a “preferential option for the poor,” but it’s not a good sign when the bishops seem to have a preferential option for whatever narrative stance the elites are currently taking on contested issues (issues of sexual ethics excepted). It’s particularly unnerving when the narratives about Islam and immigration subscribed to by so many bishops match up with those of secular leaders whose main allegiance is to the church of political expediency.
When the formulas you fall back on are indistinguishable from those of leaders who are presiding over the decline and fall of Western civilization, it’s time for a reality check.
Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.
Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. [There needn't be any contradicting of our principles: they do not dictate national suicide.] You think all men are equal, but that is not [believed by all to be] true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.
Archbishop Amel Nona
Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul, now exiled in Erbil
There is more to the Islamist passion for decapitation than psychological warfare and a hunger for notoriety. There is also Muslim theology and history, and a mandate going back to the Koran. In a 2005 study published in Middle East Quarterly, historian Timothy Furnish quotes the famous passage at Sura 47:4: “When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks.” For centuries, Furnish observes, “leading Islamic scholars have interpreted this verse literally,” and examples abound throughout Islamic history.
1. Philosophical inquiry pursued in order to support (defend and rationally justify) an antecedently held thesis or worldview whose source is extraphilosophical
2. Philosophical inquiry pursued in order to support (by generating) a thesis or worldview that is not antecedently held but arrived at by philosophical inquiry.
But we need to nuance this a bit inasmuch as (1) conflates the distinction between
1a. Philosophical inquiry pursued in order to support (defend and rationally justify) an antecedently held thesis or worldview whose source is extraphilosophical, a thesis or worldview that will continue to be maintained whether or not the defensive and justificatory operations are successful
1b. Philosophical inquiry pursued in order to support (defend and rationally justify) an antecedently held thesis or worldview whose source is extraphilosophical, a thesis or worldview that will continue to be maintained only if the defensive and justificatory operations are successful.
Alvin Plantinga may serve as an example of (1a). I think it is fair to say that his commitment to his Dutch Reformed Christian worldview is such that he would continue to adhere to it whether or not his technical philosophical work is judged successful in defending and rationally justifying it. For a classical example of (1a), we may turn to Thomas Aquinas. His commitment to the doctrine of the Incarnation does not depend on the success of his attempt at showing the doctrine to be rationally acceptable. (Don't confuse rational acceptability with rational provability. The Incarnation cannot of course be rationally demonstrated.) Had his amanuensis Reginald convinced him that his defensive strategy in terms of reduplicatives was a non-starter, Thomas would not have suspended his acceptance of the doctrine in question; he would have looked for a defense immune to objections.
There are of course atheists and materialists who also exemplify (1a). Suppose a typical materialist about the mind proffers a theory that attempts to account for qualia and intentionality in purely naturalistic terms, and I succeed in showing him that his theory is untenable. Will he then reject his materialism about the mind or suspend judgment with respect to it? Of course not. He will 'go back to the drawing board' and try to develop a naturalistic theory immune to my objections.
The same thing goes on in the sciences. There are climate scientists who are committed to the thesis that anthropogenic global warming is taking place. They then look for evidence to buttress this conviction.
According to Susan Haack, following C. S. Peirce, the four examples above (which are mine, not hers) are examples of pseudo-inquiry:
The distinguishing feature of genuine inquiry is that what the inquirer wants is to find the truth of some question. [. . .] The distinguishing feature of pseudo-inquiry is that what the 'inquirer' wants is not to discover the truth of some question but to make a case for some proposition determined in advance. (Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate, University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 8)
Haack, again following Peirce, distinguishes within pseudo-inquiry sham inquiry and sham reasoning from fake inquiry and fake reasoning. You engage in sham reasoning when you make "a case for the truth of some proposition your commitment to which is already evidence- and argument-proof." (8) Characteristic of the sham 'inquirer' is a "prior and unbudgeable commitment to the proposition for which he tries to make a case." (9)
There are also those who are indifferent to the truth-value of the thesis they urge, but argue for it anyway to make a name for themselves and advance their careers. Their reasoning is not sham but fake. The sham reasoner is committed to the truth of the thesis he urges; the fake reasoner isn't: he is a bullshitter in Harry Frankfurt's sense. I will not be concerned with fake inquiry in this post.
The question I need to decide is, first of all, whether every case of (1a) is sham inquiry. And the answer to that is No. That consciousness exists, for example, is something I know to be true, and indeed from an extraphilosophical source, namely, introspection or inner sense. Those who claim that consciousness is an illusion are frightfully mistaken. I would be within my epistemic rights in simply dismissing their absurd claim as a bit of sophistry. But suppose I give an argument why consciousness cannot be an illusion. Such an argument would not count as sham reasoning despite my mind's being made up before I start my arguing, despite my "prior and unbudgeable commitment to the proposition" for which I argue.
Nothing is more evident that that consciousness, in my own case at least, exists. Consider a somewhat different case, that of other minds, other consciousnesses. Other minds are not given in the way my own mind is given (to me). Yet when I converse with a fellow human being, and succeed in communicating with him more or less satisfactorily, I am unshakably convinced that I am in the presence of an other mind: I KNOW that my interlocutor is an other mind. And in the case of my cats, despite the fact that our communication does not rise to a very high level, I am unbudgingly convinced that they too are subjects of consciousness, other minds. As a philosopher I want to know how it is that I have knowledge of other minds; I seek a justification of my belief in them. Whether I come up with a decent justification or not, I hold fast to my belief. I want to know how knowledge of other minds is possible, but I would never take my inability to demonstrate possibility as entailing that the knowledge in question is not actual. The reasoning I engage in is genuine, not sham, despite the fact that there is no way I am going to abandon my conviction.
Suppose an eliminative materialist claims that there are no beliefs or desires. I might simply dismiss his foolish assertion or I might argue against it. If I do the latter, my reasoning is surely not sham despite my prior and unbudgeable commitment to my thesis.
Suppose David Lewis comes along and asserts that unrealized possibilities are physical objects. I know that that is false. Suppose a student doesn't see right off the bat that the claim is false and demands an argument. I supply one. Is my reasoning sham because there is no chance that I will change my view? I don't think so.
Suppose someone denies the law of noncontradiction . . . .
There is no need to multiply examples: not every case of (1a) is sham inquiry. Those who claim that consciousness is an illusion or that there are no beliefs and desires can, and perhaps ought to be, simply dismissed as sophists or bullshitters. "Never argue with a sophist!" is a good maxim. But deniers of God, the soul, the divinity of Christ, and the like cannot be simply dismissed as sophists or bullshitters.
So now we come to the hard cases, the interesting cases.
Consider the unshakable belief held by some that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties of Religious Exerience, p. 53) Some of those who have this belief claim to have glimpsed the unseen order via mystical experience. They claim that it lies beyond the senses, outer and inner, and that is also lies beyond what discursive reason can grasp. And yet they reason about it, not to prove its existence, but to show how it, though suprarational, is yet rationally acceptable. Is their reasoning sham because they will hold to their conviction whether or not they succeed in showing that the conviction is rationally acceptable?
I don't think so. Seeing is believing, and mystical experience is a kind of seeing. Why trust abstract reasoning over direct experience? If you found a way out of Plato's Cave, then you know there is a way out, and all the abstract reasoning of all the benighted troglodytes counts for nothing at all in the teeth of that experience of liberation. But rather than pursue a discussion of mystical experience, let's think about (propositional) revelation.
Consider Aquinas again. There are things he thinks he can rationally demonstrate such as the existence of God. And there are things such as the Incarnation he thinks cannot be rationally demonstrated, but can be known to be true on the basis of revelation as mediated by the church's teaching authority. But while not provable (rationally demonstrable), the Incarnation is rationally acceptable. Or so Thomas argues. Is either sort of reasoning sham given that Aquinas would not abandon belief in God or in the Incarnation even if his reasoning in either case was shown to be faulty? Russell would say yes:
There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. (Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, Simon and Schuster, p. 463)
It is easy to see that Haack is a sort of philosophical granddaughter of Russell at least on this point.
In correspondence Dennis Monokroussos points out that "Anthony Kenny had a nice quip in reply to the Russell quotation. On page 2 of his edited work, Aquinas: A Collection of Critical Essays (London, 1969) (cited in Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 19), he says that the remark “comes oddly from a philosopher who took three hundred and sixty dense pages to offer a proof that 1 + 1 = 2.”
Exactly right. This is yet another proof that not every instance of (1a) above is an instance of sham reasoning or sham inquiry.
It is certainly false to say that, in general, it is unphilosophical or special pleading or an abuse of reason to seek arguments for a proposition antecedently accepted, a proposition the continuing acceptance of which does not depend on whether or not good arguments for it can be produced. But if we are to be charitable to Lord Russell we should read his assertion as restricted to propositions, theological and otherwise, that are manifestly controversial. So restricted, Russell's asseveration cannot be easily counterexampled, which is not to say that it is obviously true.
Thus I cannot simply cite the Incarnation doctrine and announce that we know this from revelation and are justified in accepting it whether or not we are able to show that it is rationally acceptable. For if it really is logically impossible then it cannot be true. If you say that it is actually true, hence possibly true whether or not we can explain how it is possible for it to be true, then you beg the question by assuming that it is actually true despite the opponent's arguments that it is logically contradictory.
It looks to be a stand-off.
One can imagine a Thomist giving the following speech.
My reasoning in defense of the Incarnation and other such doctrines as the Trinity is not sham despite the fact that I am irrevocably committed to these doctrines. It is a question of faith seeking understanding. I am trying to understand what I accept as true, analogously as Russell tried to understand in terms of logic and set theory what he accepted as true in mathematics. I am not trying to decide whether what I accept is true since I know it it to be true via an extraphilosophical source of knowledge. I am trying to understand how it could be true. I am trying to integrate faith with reason in a manner analogous to the way Russell sought to integrate arithmetic and logic. One can reason to find out new truths, but one can also reason, and reason legitimately, to penetrate intellectually truths one already possesses, truths the ongoing acceptance of which does not depend on one's penetrating them intellectually.
What then does the Russell-Haack objection amount to? It appears to amount to a rejection of certain extraphilosophical sources of knowledge/truth such as mystical experience, authority, and revelation. I have shown that Russell and his epigones cannot reject every extraphilosophical source of knowledge, else they would have to reject inner and outer sense. Can they prove that there cannot be any such thing as divine revelation? And if they cannot prove that, then their rejection of the possibility is arbitrary. If they say that any putative divine revelation has to validate itself by our lights, in our terms, to our logic, then that is just to reject divine revelation.
It looks to be a stand-off, then. Russell and his epigones are within their rights to remain within the sphere of immanence and not admit as true or real anything that cannot be certified or validated within that sphere by the satisfaction of the criteria human reason imposes. And their opponents are free to make the opposite decision: to open themselves to a source of insight ab extra.
. . . if this pathetic piece can be believed. But it so reads like a parody of POMO rhetoric that it negates itself. The writer is an alumna of the UC Boulder Philosophy Department. One hopes that she is not representative of the sort of graduate the department 'produces.' If she is, then perhaps here is the real indictment of said department.
Wes Morriston, recently retired after 42 years of service to the department and the university, responds here.
His response is rational and fact-based. But one wonders about the efficacy of responding in such a way to a delusional screed. It is like responding rationally to someone who accuses you of being a racist for pointing out certain truths the subject matter of which is race. Recent example: Bruce Levenson's 'racist' e-mail.
More on the Boulder witch hunt in my Feminism category. Note the ambiguity of 'witch hunt.' Are witches the hunted or the hunters?
While I was making dinner, Susie put on a CD of Pete Seegar [sic] songs. I was struck once again by the oft-remarked fact that for half a century, the left has had all the good songs. That cannot be irrelevant.
By the way, the old commie's name is 'Seeger' not 'Seegar.' In the ComBox, some guy confuses him with Bob Seger! The Left has had all the good songs over the last 50 years? Nonsense. Here are 50 counterexamples.
The really interesting case is Bob Dylan. The Left can of course claim the early topical songs such as "Only a Pawn in Their Game" and The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. (Not that we contemporary conservatives don't take on board all that was good in these critiques of racism and Jim Crow.) But it wasn't long before Dylan distanced himself from politics and leftist ideology, a distancing documented in My Back Pages. And then came the absurdist-existentialist-surrealist phase represented by the three mid-'sixties albums, Bring It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. After that, the motorcycle accident and another attitude adjustment culminating in a couple of masterful albums, John Wesley Harding and New Morning, in which religious and conservative themes come to the fore.
I'll give just one example, Sign on a Window, from the October 1970 album, New Morning. This marvellous version sung by Melanie Safka. The song concludes:
Build me a cabin in Utah Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout Have a bunch of kids who call me 'Pa' That must be what it's all about That must be what it's all about.
Now for a few tunes from the NRO list with the NRO write-up.
1. Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who. The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naïve idealism once and for all. “There’s nothing in the streets / Looks any different to me / And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye. . . . Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.” The instantly recognizable synthesizer intro, Pete Townshend’s ringing guitar, Keith Moon’s pounding drums, and Roger Daltrey’s wailing vocals make this one of the most explosive rock anthems ever recorded — the best number by a big band, and a classic for conservatives.
2. Don’t Tread on Me by Metallica. A head-banging tribute to the doctrine of peace through strength, written in response to the first Gulf War: “So be it / Threaten no more / To secure peace is to prepare for war.”
3. 20th Century Man by The Kinks. “You keep all your smart modern writers / Give me William Shakespeare / You keep all your smart modern painters / I’ll take Rembrandt, Titian, da Vinci, and Gainsborough. . . . I was born in a welfare state / Ruled by bureaucracy / Controlled by civil servants / And people dressed in grey / Got no privacy got no liberty / ’Cause the 20th-century people / Took it all away from me.”
5. Wake Up Little Susie by The Everly Brothers. A smash hit in 1957, back when high-school social pressures were rather different from what they have become: “We fell asleep, our goose is cooked, our reputation is shot.”
When Robert Paul Wolff strays from the 'reservation' of Good Sense and floats up to Cloud Cuckoo Land* I refer to him as 'Howlin' Wolff.' The man is quite a study, a representative specimen of the species, academic leftist. When I criticize him, there is nothing personal about it: it is the species, not this particular specimen that is the cynosure of my interest. The way to study a species is via representative specimens.
Some of Wolff's posts at The Stoned PhilosopherThe Philosopher's Stone are outstanding and I agree with them in toto. But others are just loony. And the good professor seems unaware of just how crazy and irresponsible they are. The man is 80, but not demented as far as I can tell. But he is a lifelong lefty, having first drunk the Kool-Aid at the Sunnyside Progressive School, a "red diaper operation," as he himself characterizes it.
I'm not sure you youngsters know just how hard it is for me to keep writing light, amusing things on this blog while the world around me is going to hell. There is so much to be angry about -- legitimately morally outraged -- at home and abroad that I can scarcely get through the day without encountering six or seven reasons to despair. [. . .] I am talking about genuine man-made evils . . . . Sometimes they spring from religion, such as the barbarism of ISIS or the oppression of the Palestinians. Sometimes they are rooted in bureaucratically entrenched racism, like the murder of Michael Brown. Often they are grounded in the very structure of our political economy, like the obscene inequalities of wealth and income.
1. The most outrageous and irresponsible of Wolff's claims above is that Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri was murdered. We know that Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson. But as Wolff knows, to kill is not the same as to murder. If A murders B, then A kills B. But if A kills B, it does not follow that A murders B. There is more to murder than killing. Murder is wrongful killing. Of course Wolff knows that. He also knows that a legal verdict of murder comes only at the end of a criminal proceeding. But unless I have missed something, Officer Wilson has yet to be even indicted. First comes the indictment, then the trial, then the verdict, then the sentence (if the defendant is found guilty). Wolff is well aware of all this too.
Wolff's groundless and inflammatory accusation is yet another illustration of the tendency of contemporary liberals and leftists to jump to the defense of the (perceived) underdog regardless of the facts of the particular case and regardless of who is right and who is wrong. It's as if the underdog occupies the high moral ground just in virue of being the underdog. It's as if the weaker of the agents party to a conflict is morally superior to the stronger just because he is the weaker. Some think that might makes right. Lefties seem to think that mightlessness makes right. Such is the moral obtuseness of leftists.
We know that Brown is a thug from the videotape of his stealing from the convenience store and his roughing up of its proprietor. Videotape has the anti-Obama property: it doesn't lie. Wolff must have seen the footage. Apparently, it didn't faze him.
Of course, I am not saying that the kid's being a thief entitled the cop to shoot him, even if the cop knew, which presumably he didn't, that the kid had stolen from the store. But if Brown initiated an altercation with the cop after the cop issued the reasonable command to get out of the street, and tried to wrest the cop's gun away from him, as some reports indicate, then everything changes. He is no longer an 'unarmed teenager' but a potentially armed assailant. But we don't know all the facts, and Wolff has no grounds for jumping to the conclusion that the shooting of the boy was wrongful. Again, that is just the typical knee-jerk leftist defense of the underdog qua underdog.
But I suppose one shouldn't be surprised by Wolff's take on the Michael Brown affair given his utterly absurd reaction to the Trayvon Martin case.
Wolff here vents "a rage that can find no appropriate expression" over "The judicially sanctioned murder of Trayvon Martin . . . ."
"Meanwhile, Zimmerman's gun will be returned to him. He would have suffered more severe punishment if he had run over a white person's dog."
What fascinates me is the depth of the disagreement between a leftist like Wolff and a conservative like me. A judicially sanctioned murder? Not at all. A clear case of self-defense, having nothing objectively to do with race, as I have made clear in earlier posts. And please note that "Stand Your Ground" was no part of the defense. The defense was a standard 'self defense' defense. Anyone who is not a leftist loon or a black race-hustler and who knows the facts and the law and followed the trial can see that George Zimmerman was justly acquitted.
Wolff ought to be proud of a judicial system that permits a fair trial in these politically correct times. But instead he is in a rage. What would be outrageous would have been a 'guilty' verdict.
Was the blogger at Philosopher's Stone a stoned philosopher when he wrote the above nonsense? I am afraid not. And that is what is deeply disturbing and yet fascinating. What explains such insanity in a man who can write books as good as The Autonomy of Reason and In Defense of Anarchism?
Does the good professor have a problem with Zimmerman's gun being returned to him after he has been cleared of all charges? Apparently. But why? It's his property. But then Wolff is a Marxist . . . .
It is sad to see how many fine minds have been destroyed by the drug of leftism.
2. We are told that the barbarism of ISIS springs from religion. Not from Islam, or from radical Islam, or from Islam hijacked by cynical manipulators, but from religion. All religions are the same and they are all equally bad. Beneath refutation. More Marxist Kool-Aid, or to turn the Marxist opiate trope on its head: the real dope is the Marxist dope:
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. (Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right)
3. The oppression of the Palestinians? Again that is just reflexive, as opposed to reflective, defense of the underdog qua underdog as if the relative weakness of the Hams terrorists and the Gazans who support them justifies their atrocities and condemn's the IDF's defensive operations. But we've been over this ground before. See Why Sam Harris Doesn't Criticize Israel.
* A translation of Schopenhauer's delightful Wolkenkuckkuckheim.
Before we can ask whether there is anything morally wrong with lust we have to know what we are talking about. What is lust? Here is a start:
The inordinate craving for, or indulgence in, the carnal pleasure which is experienced in the human organs of generation.
But this won't do as it stands since it mixes desire and satisfaction in the same definition. It also fails to distinguish between lust as an occurrent state and lust as a disposition or propensity. Suppose we distinguish:
1. Desire for sexual pleasure 2. Inordinate desire for sexual pleasure 3. Satisfaction of the desire for sexual pleasure 4. Satisfaction of the inordinate desire for sexual pleasure 5. Habitual satisfaction of the inordinate desire for sexual pleasure.
Virtues and vices are habits. Habits are dispositions of agents. As dispositions, virtues and vices can exist unexercised. Agents are persons. So virtues and vices are properly and primarily attributed to persons. But a secondary mode of speech is allowable: lustful or lecherous acts (whether types or tokens) are such in virtue of their being the acts of persons who are lustful or lecherous in the primary sense.
If lust is a vice, then it is a habit, and (5) appears adequate as a definition. We can then define a lecher as one whose characteristic vice is lust, just as a glutton is one whose characteristic vice is gluttony and a miser is one whose characteristic vice is avarice.
Thus we may assign lust to the category of habits. It is something dispositional in nature. The lustful person is disposed to satisfy inordinately his or her desire for sexual pleasure. 'Inordinate' is a normative term in that it implies that there is a proper or correct ordering of sexual desire.
But a habit need not be a vice. A habit could be a virtue or neither a virtue nor a vice. There are morally indifferent habits, e.g., the habit of shaving after showering, and not vice versa. Presumably, lust is a vice if it is a habit that vitiates, or weakens. Does lust weaken? Distinguish physical from moral weakening. The exercise of lust needn't physically weaken, except temporarily; but it arguably does morally weaken inasmuch as it makes it more difficult to control the appetites generally. The 'rational part' then gets swamped and suborned -- which can't be good. But at the moment I am mainly concerned just to define lust, not to condemn it.
Is a vice a sin? Sin is a religious concept. One cannot properly speak of sin outside the context of religion. Indeed, it seems one cannot properly speak of sin outside the context of theistic religion. Not every religion is theistic. Or are there sins in Buddhism? In a slogan: no God, no sin. But even if all religion is either false or meaningless, virtue ethics can still be a going enterprise. So I suggest that we not conflate the concepts of vice and sin. The fact that 'sin' can be used and is sometimes used to refer to any old transgression of any old rule, as in talk of 'sins against logic,' proves nothing.
Vices vitiate while virtues empower. Vices are weaknesses while virtues are strengths. But there has to be more to it than that because of the normative element.
'Lust' can be used to refer to strong desire or craving. But this is an extended use of the word. Thus if I say that Hillary lusts after power, I am using 'lust' in an extended or analogous way: I am not suggesting that Hillary's desire for power is sexual in nature. There is nothing wrong with extended uses of terms as long as one realizes what one is doing. There is nothing wrong with speaking of a lust for money so long as you realize that that way of talking gives no aid and comfort to the notion that avarice is a species of lust.
Ad 1. Lust is not desire for sexual pleasure. The latter is both natural and morally unobjectionable. Lust, however, is morally objectionable. (Yes, I know I haven't proved this. But can it be proved? From which premises? And can they be proved?)
Ad 2. To be lustful, a sexual desire must be inordinate. This is a normative term, obviously. An inordinate desire is one that exceeds what is right and proper. It is not just a powerful desire, or a desire that is excessive in some nonnormative sense. Now suppose I have a powerful, and indeed an inordinate, desire for sexual pleasure, but I resist the desire. Strictly speaking, I am not lustful. Lust is morally objectionable, but my resistance to inclination is morally praiseworthy.
You say this goes against ordinary usage? Then I say so much the worse for ordinary usage! My concern is not to define words of ordinary language, but to delimit a phenomenon. You might say I am doing moral phenomenology. I am trying to capture the essence of a certain deleterious propensity widespread among human beings. I am not tied to the apron strings of ordinary langauge.
I am saying: Look at this phenomenon. How can we best describe its essence? I am not primarily interested in how 'lust' is most often used in ordinary English. Ordinary language has no veto-power over philosophical results. Appeals to ordinary language cut no ice in serious philosophy. This is not to say one can ignore ordinary language. Sifting through ordinary usage is often an indispensable proto-philosophical exercise.
Ad 3 and 4. Lust must therefore involve the satisfaction of inordinate sexual desire. But even this is not enough. Someone who satisfies his inordinate sexual desire once or a few times is no more a lecher than one who overeats once or a few times is a glutton. Similarly, one who pursues an exercise regimen for a week and then relapses into sloth is still a couch potato.
Ad 5. The satisfaction must be habitual. Lust is therefore a habit, and indeed a vice. It is a disposition to behave in a certain way. As such, it can exist even when unexercised. A lustful man is lustful even when he is sated or sleeping. A lustful thought or deed is lustful because its springs from a lustful character.
I like food. From the time that I was in the food and beverage industry, I found much of it a delight. There was a beauty to the craftsmanship of creating and serving food and drink. One of my very favorite things to do is to cook a fine meal paired with a great beer and see my wife enjoy both. I consider myself a novice in cooking, so I like to browse through cook books and food magazines. On my breaks from my academic reading, I like to watch videos about food and cooking. So then came a question to my mind: What distinguishes me from the glutton?
I have always been a slim man, so I'm clearly not physically gluttonous. But is that what really constitutes gluttony? Would it not rather be the undue preoccupation of food and its enjoyment that would make one a glutton? Where do you think the balance lies in enjoying food and the sensations it brings because the Lord has made creation and made it good and we can partake of it without being gluttonous?
Being of Italian extraction, I am also attracted to the pleasures of the table. I too like food and I like cooking. I can't quite relate to people who wolf their food without savoring it or think of eating as a chore. And it surprises me that so many men (and contemporary women!) are clueless when it comes to the most basic culinary arts. You can change a tire or fix a toilet but you can't make a meatloaf? I had a housemate once who literally didn't know how to boil water.
Let me begin with the reader's claim that being slim rules out being physically gluttonous. I don't think that is the case. But it depends on what physical gluttony is. Spiritual gluttony, the pursuit for their own sakes of the quasi-sensuous pleasures of prayer and meditation, is not our present topic. Our topic is physical gluttony, or gluttony for short. It is perhaps obvious that the physicality of physical gluttony does not rule out its being a spiritual/moral defect. But what is gluttony?
Gluttony is a vice, and therefore a habit. (Prandial overindulgence now and again does not a glutton make.) At a first approximation, gluttony is the habitual inordinate consumption of food or drink. But if 'inordinate' means 'quantitatively excessive,' then this definition is inadequate. Suppose a man eats an excessive quantity of food and then vomits it up in order to eat some more. Has he consumed the first portion of food? Arguably not. But he is a glutton nonetheless. To consume food is to process it through the gastrointestinal tract, extracting its nutrients, and reducing it to waste matter. So I tentatively suggest the following (inclusively) disjunctive definition:
D1. Gluttony is either the habitual, quantitatively excessive consumption of food or drink, or the habitual pursuit for their own sakes of the pleasures of eating or drinking, or indeed any habitual overconcern with food, its preparation, its enjoyment, etc.
If (D1) is our definition of guttony, then being slim does not rule out being gluttonous. This is also perhaps obvious from the fact that gluttony has not merely to do with the quantity of food eaten but with other factors as well. The following from Wikipedia:
Laute - eating food that is too luxurious, exotic, or costly
Nimis - eating food that is excessive in quantity
Studiose - eating food that is too daintily or elaborately prepared
Praepropere - eating too soon, or at an inappropriate time
Ardenter - eating too eagerly.
I think it is clear that one can be a glutton even if one never eats an excessive quantity of food. The 'foody' who fusses and frets over the freshness and variety of his vegetables, wasting a morning in quest thereof, who worries about the 'virginity' of the olive oil, the presentation of the delectables on the plate, the proper wine for which course, the appropriate pre- and post-prandial liqueurs, who dissertates on the advantages of cooking with gas over electric . . . is a glutton.
There are skinny gluttons and fat gluttons, and not every one who is obese is a glutton, though most are.
In short, gluttony is the inordinate consumption of, and concern for, food and drink, where 'inordinate' does not mean merely 'quantitatively excessive.' It is also worth pointing out that there is nothing gluttonous about enjoying food: there is nothing morally wrong with enjoying the pleasures attendant upon eating nutritious well-prepared food in the proper quantities.
In these politically correct times we hear much of racism, sexism, ageism, speciesism, and even heterosexism. Why not then epochism, the arbitrary denigration of entire historical epochs? Some years back, a television commentator referred to the Islamist beheading of Nicholas Berg as “medieval.” As I remarked to my wife, “That fellow is slamming an entire historical epoch.”
The names of the other epochs are free of pejorative connotations even though horrors occurred in those epochs the equal of any in the medieval period. Why then are the Middle Ages singled out for special treatment? This is no mean chunk of time. It stretches from, say, the birth of Augustine in 354 anno domini , or perhaps from the closing of the Platonic Academy in 529 A. D., to the birth of Descartes in 1596, albeit with plenty of bleed-through on either end: Greek notions reach deep into the Middle Ages, while medieval notions live on in Descartes and beyond.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) counts as an epochist. When he comes to the medieval period in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, he puts on his “seven-league boots” the better to pass over this thousand year period without sullying his fine trousers. (Vol. III, 1) Summing up the “General Standpoint of the Scholastics,” he has this to say: “...this Scholasticism on the whole is a barbarous philosophy of the finite understanding, without real content, which awakens no true interest in us, and to which we cannot return.” “Barren,” and “rubbishy” are other terms with which he describes it. (Vol. III, 94-95)
The politically correct may wish to consider whether the descendants of Hegel should pay reparations to the descendants of Thomas Aquinas, et al.
If Aquinas had any descendants, you’d owe them reparations for slandering his good name at the end of your post. (Then again, if he had descendants, it wouldn’t have been slander.)
I know: you mean philosophical progeny. It’s a funny question though, about reparations. I kind of like the idea of having postmodern “philosophers” having to pay a sum to (actual) philosophers for having taken so many of their jobs since the 1980s.
That's a good one, Dennis. As you may know, I don't much cotton to the notion of reparations, one of my arguments against which is here. (WARNING: at the end of the hyperlink there lies (stands?) a post so exceedingly politically incorrect that leftists and their fellow travellers are hereby issued a strong Internet travel advisory.)
Addendum B, 9/17:
The Swabian genius tells us that "Scholasticism . . . is a barbarous philosophy . . . to which we cannot return."
Judgments in the history of philosophy of the form, There will be no return to X, are parlous.
There was an amazing resurgence of scholasticism, Thomism in particular, in the 20th century, and not just in sleepy Jesuit backwaters. Toward the end of that century, mirabile dictu, mainstream analytic philosophers joined in the renascence. Surely there are more scholastic philosophers at work today than Hegelians, especially if we subtract those whose interest in Hegel is merely historical and scholarly. I'll go further. The School is alive and kicking with young hotshots; but how many proponents of The System are there?
Gilbert Ryle once predicted with absurd confidence, "Gegenstandstheorie . . . is dead, buried, and not going to be resurrected." (Quoted in G. Priest, Towards Non-Being, Oxford, 2005, p. vi, n. 1.) Ryle was wrong, dead wrong, and shown to be wrong just a few years after his cocky prediction. Variations on Meinong's Theory of Objects flourish like never before due to the efforts of such brilliant philosophers as Butchvarov, Castaneda, Lambert, Parsons, Priest, Routley/Sylvan, and Zalta, just to mention those that come first to mind. And the Rylean cockiness has had an ironic upshot: his logical behaviorism is dead while Meinongianism thrives. But Ryle too will be raised if my converse-Gilsonian law of philosophical experience holds.
Etienne Gilson said, famously, "Philosophy always buries its undertakers." I say, rather less famously, "Philosophy always resurrects its dead."
With the example of Ryle in mind, we should approach the following quotation from Paul Guyer with some skepticism:
Kant radically and irreversibly transformed the nature of Western thought. After he wrote, no one could ever again think of either science or morality as a matter of the passive reception of entirely external truth or reality. In reflection upon the methods of science, as well as in many particular areas of science itself, the recognition of our own input into the world we claim to know has become inescapable. In the practical sphere, few can any longer take seriously the idea that moral reasoning consists in the discovery of external norms—for instance, objective perfections in the world or the will of God—as opposed to the construction for ourselves of the most rational way to conduct our lives both severally and jointly. (Paul Guyer, "Introduction: The Starry Heavens and the Moral Law," in The Cambridge Companion to Kant, ed. Paul Guyer [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992], 1-25, at 3)
Guyer quotation lifted from the weblog of Keith Burgess-Jackson.
Addendum C, 9/17:
A quotation from Russell that the shade of Hegel would approve of:
There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. (Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, Simon and Schuster, p. 463)
I will comment on this passage and its spirit in a later entry.
Addendum D, 9/18:
D. M. adds, "Anthony Kenny had a nice quip in reply to the Russell quote. On page 2 of his edited work Aquinas, A Collection of Critical Essays (London, 1969) (cited in Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 19), he says that the remark “comes oddly from a philosopher who took three hundred and sixty dense pages to offer a proof that 1 + 1 = 2.”
Thank you for reminding me of that Kenny riposte. It hits the mark.
It is certainly false to say that, in general, it is unphilosophical or special pleading or an abuse of reason to seek arguments for a proposition antecedently accepted, a proposition the continuing acceptance of which does not depend on whether or not good arguments for it can be produced. But if we are to be charitable to Lord Russell we should read his assertion as restricted to propositions, theological and otherwise, that are manifestly controversial. So restricted, Russell's asseveration cannot be easily counterexampled, which is not to say that it is obviously true.
As we speak I am working on a longish post on this very topic.
Philosophy can fuel intellectual pride. And it manifestly does in far too many of its practitioners. But pursued far enough and deep enough it may lead to insight into the infirmity of reason, an insight one salutary benefit of which is intellectual humility. Our patron saint was known for his knowing nescience, his learned ignorance. It was that which made Socrates wise.
People are generally aware of the importance of good nutrition, physical exercise, and all things health-related. They understand that what they put into their bodies affects their physical health. Underappreciated is a truth just as, if not more important: that what one puts into one's mind affects one's mental and spiritual health. The soul has its foods and its poisons just as the body does. This simple truth, known for centuries, goes unheeded while liberals fall all over each other climbing aboard the various environmental and health bandwagons.
Second-hand smoke the danger of which is negligible much exercises our leftist pals while the soul-destroying toxicity of the mass 'entertainment' media concerns them not at all.
Why are those so concerned with physical toxins so tolerant of cultural and spiritual toxins? This is another example of what I call misplaced moral enthusiasm. You worry about global warming and sidestream smoke when you give no thought to the soul, its foods, and its poisons?
You liberals are a strange breed of cat, crouching behind the First Amendment, quick to defend every form of cultural pollution under the rubric 'free speech.'
Herein are enunciated a number of important truths that few these days have the courage to express. Mr. Pollack concludes:
These commonsense truths are the basis of the widely accepted idea that indigenous societies have a fundamental right to defend and preserve the cultural and demographic integrity of their homelands. Nobody in the liberal West imagines, for example, that the forcible settlement of Han Chinese in Tibet, and the ongoing displacement of traditional Tibetan culture, is conducive to the happiness of the Tibetans.
There is a curious blindness, however, on the part of the educated elites of the liberal West to acknowledge that these obvious principles, the generality of which should be entirely and uncontroversially self-evident to anyone of sound mind, might in fact apply to Western peoples and homelands. Can any person not a child or an imbecile look at, for example, Britain, Sweden, France, or the Netherlands and seriously imagine that the native people of these countries are happier (or freer) now, after decades of mass immigration of Muslims and other non-Europeans, than they were when the populations of these nations were almost exclusively British, Swedish, French, and Dutch? Can anyone even begin to think such a thing is actually true?
Via Malcolm Pollack's recent entry commenting on the Rotherham, England sex slave scandal, here are a couple of formulations of Lawrence Auster's First Law of Majority-Minority Relations in a Liberal Society:
The more egregiously any non-Western or non-white group behaves, the more evil whites are made to appear for noticing and drawing rational conclusions about that group’s bad behavior. (source)
The more troublesome, unassimilable, or dangerous a designated minority or non-Western group actually is, the more favorably it is treated. This undeserved favorable treatment of a troublesome or misbehaving group can take numerous forms, including celebrating the group, giving the group greater rights and privileges, covering up the group’s crimes and dysfunctions, attacking the group’s critics as racists, and blaming the group’s bad behavior on white racism.
For clarity and generality I would rewrite the first formulation as follows:
The more egregiously any non-Western or non-white group or individual behaves, the more whites are made to appear evil for noticing and drawing rational conclusions about that group’s or individual's bad behavior.
At Auster's site you will find many examples in illustration of his First Law. The recent Ted Robinson incident is another. The story is here:
The 49ers have suspended radio broadcaster Ted Robinson two games for comments he made regarding domestic violence on KNBR on Monday afternoon.
In discussing the controversy regarding former Ravens running back Ray Rice, Robinson said the victim, Rice’s wife, Janay, bore some of the responsibility for not speaking up after she was knocked unconscious by her then-fiancee.
“That, to me, is the saddest part of it,” Robinson said.
Robinson also said her decision to marry Rice after she was assaulted was “pathetic.”
Robinson was punished for "noticing and drawing rational conclusions" about this case. Obviously, you are pathetic if you marry a man who has knocked you unconscious. You are pathetic, foolish, and uninterested in your own long-term happiness. A man who has the power to kill you with one blow and has revealed his character by landing such a blow is obviously not a good marital prospect. As I have said many times, if you want to gamble, go right ahead and gamble with money you can afford to lose; but you are a fool if you gamble with your happiness. Besides, if you reward such a man by marrying him, you set a bad example for other women and encourage the man to do it again. One has a moral obligation not to aid and abet criminal behavior.
Suppose what I said is obvious is not obvious to you. That doesn't change the fact that Robinson has a right to express his opinion. If you have any common sense you will agree that what Robinson said is correct. Correct or not, he has a right to state his view. After all, he is a broadcaster and a commentator. (Of course, this right is not a First Amendment right; what sort of right it is would make for an interesting discussion.)
Was there anything 'racist' about what Robinson said? Obviously not. Race doesn't come into it at all. It is foolish to marry a man who pounds on you. That's true for white couples, black couples, and interracial couples. Remember Nicole Brown Simpson? O. J. pounded on her, but she stood by her man until she couldn't stand any more because she was lying in a pool of blood.
So what we have here in the Robinson incident is one more of many instances of mass race delusion.
From time to time it is perhaps appropriate that we should relax a little the bonds that tether us to the straight and narrow. A fitting apologia for a bit of indulgence and even overindulgence is found in Seneca, On Tranquillity of Mind, XVII, 8-9, tr. Basore:
At times we ought to reach even the point of intoxication, not drowning ourselves in drink, yet succumbing to it; for it washes away troubles, and stirs the mind from its very depths and heals its sorrow just as it does certain ills of the body; and the inventor of wine is not called the Releaser [Liber, Bacchus] on account of the license it gives to the tongue, but because it frees the mind from bondage to cares and emancipates it and gives it new life and makes it bolder in all that it attempts. But, as in freedom, so in wine there is a wholesome moderation.
Sed ut libertatis ita vini salubris moderatio est.
. . .
Yet we ought not to do this often, for fear that the mind may contract an evil habit; nevertheless there are times when it must be drawn into rejoicing and freedom, and gloomy sobriety must be banished for a while.
Joan Baez, Rock Salt and Nails. "If the ladies was squirrels with high bushy tails/I'd fill up my shotgun with rock salt and nails." This is undoubtedly (!)the best version of this great Utah Phillips song.
It is a funny world. A man who claims to be white called me a racist because of my post, Self-Control and Respect for Authority. I ignored him, my policy being that scurrilous attacks from unknowns are ignored (and they are read only up to the point where the scurrilousness manifests itself). Scurrilous attacks from known cyberpunks like Brian Leiter, the academic gossip-monger, however, cannot go unanswered.
As I said, it is a funny world. The day before the attack by the unknown, Professor Laurence Thomas, Professor in the Department of Philosophy and in the Department of Political Science in the Maxwell School, Syracuse University, sent me this:
Dear Dr. Vallicella:
I write to thank you for having the courage to be ever so forthright. That is trait that I so very much admire. I do not claim that I agree with all that you say. But I do claim that I have learnt so very much as a result of reflecting upon your ideas. There is profound agreement between us is with respect to the following remarks by you:
There is no decency on the Left, no wisdom, and, increasingly, no sanity. For example, the crazy comparison of Trayvon Martin with Emmett Till. But perhaps I should put the point disjunctively: you are either crazy if you make that comparison, or moral scum. You are moral scum if you wittingly make a statement that is highly inflammatory and yet absurdly false.
Indeed, the two cases are quite unalike even if one holds that a wrong was done in each instance—a view that I unequivocally do not hold. Indeed, when I looked up the Emmett Till case, upon hearing that the Martin case was analogous to it, my very first thought was that there is simply no comparison between the two cases. And that is exactly where I continue to stand. Holding that the two cases are analogous bespeaks a horrendous level of moral depravity. There is simply no way in which the killing of Till can be characterized as self-defense by those who killed him; whereas it is manifestly obvious that it was out of self- defense that Zimmerman drew his gun and shot Martin. And the rush to characterize Zimmerman as a racist was simply stupefying given his very rich history of blacks. [Prof. Thomas is referring to Zimmerman's black ancestry. See here.]
People have noted that Zimmerman’s behavior has been more than a little erratic since the court ruling in his favor. It is stunning to me that people cannot make sense of why that is so, given the horrendous attitude of so many people who claim to be ever so committed to justice. A former student of mine recently brought to my attention your essay “Self-Control and Respect for Authority”. And once again, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Whenever I approach a police officer while I am walking, I display a simple measure of deference. That is how I behave regardless of the ethnicity of the officer. And never in my life has any police officer made the presumption that I might have committed a wrongdoing, although given my physical features there can no doubt whatsoever that I am a black person.
So I bear witness to the reality that being black is not at all a sufficient condition to raise a policeman’s concern about one’s behavior even if the police officer is white. Am I servile? Absolutely not. But having a deep, deep sense of self-respect is perfectly compatible with showing all sorts of people, including police officers a measure of respect, just as giving one’s seat to a pregnant woman who boards a crowded metro train is perfectly compatible with having a deep sense of self-respect. There is no incompatibility at all between have full measure of self-respect and yet showing others respect, be they law officers or “ordinary” citizens. I typically refer to myself as a radical conservative. Quite simply, my radical view is that acting responsibly is a gift that we give to ourselves. What is more, I hold that we should act responsibly even if we have been the victims of wrongful behavior in the past. It is utterly horrendous to hold that having been the object of wrongdoing constitutes an excuse to do what undermines one’s own sense of worth. I have gone on long enough. I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful remarks over the years. And while I have not left academia, I can indeed understand why you have done so. Be well and flourish, sir.
Recently I have been pinching myself a lot, figuratively speaking, to see if I am awake and not dreaming all the delusional race nonsense I keep hearing about. Herewith, a very recent example.
Bruce Levenson, owner of the Atlanta Hawks, sold his controlling interest in the NBA franchise because of this piece of 'racist' e-mail that he very foolishly sent in naive ignorance of the climate of the country. I excerpt the 'offensive' part, bad writing, bad punctuation and all. Emphasis added.
Regarding game ops [operations?], i need to start with some background. for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn't much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off [went on?]. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can't get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs [tickets] and they are the primary demo [demographic] for season tickets around the league. when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following:
-- it's 70 pct black -- the cheerleaders are black -- the music is hip hop -- at the bars it's 90 pct black -- there are few fathers and sons at the games -- we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel.
Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.
Before we bought the hawks and for those couple years immediately after in an effort to make the arena look full (at the nba's urging) thousands and thousands of tickets were being giving away, predominantly in the black community, adding to the overwhelming black audience.
My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean [arena] back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority. On fan sites i would read comments about how dangerous it is around philips yet in our 9 years, i don't know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident. This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.
Now could any reasonable person, as opposed to a person in the grip of a delusion, take offence at any of this? Of course not. Levenson is a business man who is offering an explanation of why ticket sales are low. His explanation is two-fold. First, the black crowd scares away the southern whites who are uncomfortable with being in a minority and who do not enjoy black entertainment (hip hop, all black cheerleaders) and do not want to be in a family-unfriendly environment (few fathers with sons). Second, there is a lack of affluent black fans.
Now whether or not Levenson's explanation is correct, it is surely plausible. But the main thing is that there is nothing racist about it. To report that certain whites are scared by certain blacks is to report a fact about the way those whites feel. It is not to imply that the whites are justified in feeling the way they do. Maybe they are and maybe they aren't.
The mistake that liberals (whether white or black) make is to confuse a racial explanation with a racist explanation.
It is a special case of the confusion of a racial statement (a statement whose subject-matter is race) with a racist statement. For example, the statement that blacks are 13-14% of the U. S. population is a racial statement, but not a racist statement. Capiche?
Suppose I state that men, on average, are taller than women, on average. Is that a hateful thing to say? Is it sexist or 'tallist'? Does it express a 'bias' that I need to overcome? Of course not, it is true.
Now here is another distinction that is probably wasted on a liberal. It is the distinction beween the content of an assertion and the asserting of that content. I see a man with no legs. His name is Joe Blow. I assert within earshot of Joe Blow, Joe Blow has no legs! The content of my assertion is true and unobjectionable. But my asserting of it in this context is morally objectionable and for obvious reasons. But in other contexts both the content and my asserting of it would be unobjectionable.
What is going on here? How do we explain the mass race delusion of liberals? Some possibilities:
Liberals are in general very stupid people who cannot think but only emote and associate.
Liberals are not, on average, any dumber than conservatives, but on certain topics they stupefy, or perhaps I should say enstupidate themselves consciously and willfully and in a way that makes them the just recipients of moral censure.
Liberals are not, on average, any dumber than conservatives, but on certain topics they stupefy, or perhaps I should say enstupidate themselves unconsciously -- they are infected with a PeeCee virus but are unaware of being infected.
UPDATE: A reader comments:
I don’t know if you saw it, but after the remarks came out Levenson stated that he’s not worthy of owning an NBA franchise. Now, I assume you know about the recent kerfuffle about Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers (another NBA team). He made some racial comments in a private conversation that were leaked to the broader world, and as a result was forced to sell his team.
That’s the background, and now a theory: Levenson did all of this as a trick to be forced to sell his team as profitably as possible. Because the league is forcing him to sell, they have to assure him of getting the price that an auditor deems it to be worth rather than what it would get in the real world. In other words, it may just a cynical trick to make more money/divest himself of what he perceives to be a bad investment.
The reader may have something here. Levenson's grovelling is suspicious. Businessmen in a position to buy a controlling interest in an NBA franchise tend to have big egos. One expects them to fight and not act the part of a pussy, especially when the accusations made against him are so palpably absurd.
Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (Norton, 2000), p. 122:
Latin mottoes adorn the crests of many of these schools, boasting of "light" and "truth." [BV interjects: Harvard's crest shows Veritas] The reality, however, is something very different, as thousands of these institutions have literal or de facto open admissions policies in the name of "democracy." The democratization of desire means that virtually anyone can go to college, the purpose being to get a job; and in an educational world now subsumed under business values, students show up -- with administrative blessing -- believing that they are consumers who are buying a product. Within this context, a faculty member who actually attempts to enforce the tradition of the humanities as an uplifting and transformative experience, who challenges his charges to think hard about complex issues, will provoke negative evaluations and soon be told by the dean that he had better look elsewhere for a job. Objecting to a purely utilitarian dimension for education is regarded as quaint, and quickly labelled as "elitist" (horror of horrors!); but the truth is that there an be no genuine liberal education without such an objection.
I agree completely.
You may recall Obama opining that everyone should go to college.* A preposterous notion. It is a bit like maintaining that everyone should receive Navy SEAL training. To profit from such training one must be SEAL 'material.' It is the same, mutatis mutandis, with college: you must be 'college material.' The very fact that that phrase is no longer heard speaks volumes. I heard my seventh grade teacher apply it to your humble correspondent, but that was in the early 'sixties.
So perhaps we can add to Berman's 'democratization of desire,' 'democratization of potentiality' as if we are all equal in our powers and capacities.
Student teaching evaluations contribute to the consumer mentality to which Berman refers. Students ought to have a way to register legitimate complaints about faculty, but the use of teaching evaluations in tenure and promotion decisions and in the apportionment of merit pay leads to a further erosion of standards and to abdication of authority.
A confession. On the eve of tenure, the semester before the decision, I was conducting a seminar in the library while we were all seated at a big beautiful table. I observed one of my students carving into its surface. I said not a word: I needed strong teaching evaluations for my final academic hurdle. Succeed or fail -- for good. It was a bad market. Up or out. I made it easily with a 9 to 3 vote. But shame on me for not objecting to the defacement of common property. A clear case of abdication of authority.
The irony is that, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the increasing political correctness of the university, I resigned my tenured position seven years later. Psychologically, there is of course a huge difference between being given the boot and leaving of one's own free will.
*Dennis Monokroussos supplies documentation. Scroll down to the final three quotations from Obama.
There is much to be said in favor of a voluntary military, but on the debit side there is this: only those with 'skin in the game' -- either their own or that of their loved ones -- properly appreciate the costs of foreign military interventions. I say that as a conservative, not a libertarian.
There is also this to consider: In the bad old days of the draft people of different stations -- to use a good old word that will not be allowed to fall into desuetude, leastways not on my watch -- were forced to associate with one another -- with some good effects. It is 'broadening' to mingle and have to get along with different sorts of people. And when the veteran of foreign wars returns and takes up a profession in, say, academe, he brings with him precious hard-won experience of all sorts of people in different lands in trying circumstances. He is then more likely to exhibit the sense of a Winston Churchill as opposed to the nonsense of a Ward Churchill.
One of the reasons Obama is such a disaster as a president is that his experience does not extend beyond the merely verbal: that of the adjunct law professor and the senator. He is well-spoken and talks a good game, but his talk rarely hooks onto reality. He is a master of the manifold modes of mendacity. Compare him with Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. Ike couldn't pronounce 'nuclear' but he knew something about the world. He saw the Nazi extermination camps and demanded that the atrocities be recorded for history.
After 9/11, no one should be surprised to learn that Islam is turning the West’s superiority back on itself. What is surprising is that a lone historian saw this coming in the 1930s. [emphasis added.] The great Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc, friend of G.K. Chesterton and a prolific historian, was prescient as no other writer about the resurgence of Islam in our own era.
Here are just of the more salient passages from his work on the threat of Islam to the West:
“We shall almost certainly have to reckon with Islam in the near future. Perhaps if we lose our Faith it will rise.”
“The future always comes as surprise. . . .but I for my part cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam.”
“And in the contrast between our religious chaos and the religious certitude still strong throughout the Mohammedan world. . .lies our peril.”
“There is nothing inherent to Mohammedanism to make it incapable of modern science and modern war.”
“[Islam] still converts pagan savages wholesale. . . .No fragment of Islam ever abandons its sacred book, its code of morality, its organized system of prayer, its code of morals, its simple doctrine. In view of this, anyone with a knowledge of history is bound to ask himself whether we shall not see in the future a rival of Mohammedan political power, and the renewal of the old pressure of Islam on Christendom.”
There are still some posts from my first weblog that have not been tranferred to this, the latest incarnation of MavPhil. What follows was first posted over ten years ago, on 4 August 2004. Reproduced verbatim.
I am reading Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000, paperback ed. 2001, xiv + 205 pp.). This Spenglerian jeremiad is required reading for anyone interested in culture-critique. I’ve had to force myself to put it down, it is that fascinating. Unfortunately, Morris Berman (not to be confused with Paul Berman, who is also an astute culture critic) is a bit of a liberal, and this interferes, as one might expect, with the clarity and rigor of his thought. Perhaps I will get around to launching a full-scale critique of his book over the next weeks and months, but for now I zero in on just one passage.
At the top of p. 56, we find the following paragraph which I reproduce verbatim:
It is also the case that New Age inanities, as well as various other myths and historical falsifications, get published by the large commercial publishing firms because they are guaranteed to sell, whereas books that debunk such myths, or are based on careful scholarship, can get published only by university presses (if at all), which accounted for 0.77 percent of the number of books sold in the United States in 1998. This effectively amounts to a new form of censorship, Benjamin Barber’s “default totalitarianism.”
The main problem with this passage is Berman’s slovenly misuse of ‘censorship,’ a misuse that clearly indicates liberal-leftist bias. In the situation he describes, there is no censorship at all. Censorship involves the active suppression of free expression, typically, by a government agency. In the situation described, however, there are simply impersonal market forces at work: the market for scholarly works, which typically demand hard work and intelligence on the part of the reader, is small, unlike the market for drivel which makes minimal demands on its readers. Since there is little demand for scholarly books, the large commercial firms have no economic reason to publish them. To call this censorship or a form of censorship is absurd. Why ruin a perfectly good word?
Analogy: suppose you try to use a screwdriver as a crowbar. Chances are excellent that you will fail to pry loose what you are trying to pry loose but will destroy the screwdriver in the process. Use the right tool for the right job. Similarly, use the right word for the right concept, on pain of entering into the Spenglerian twilight.
Berman’s fallacy could be called ‘verbal inflation.’ One takes a perfectly useful word and inflates it so that it becomes useless and misleading. He commits the fallacy a second time when he cites Barber’s “default totalitarianism.” In what sense is a free market totalitarian? This needs to be explained.
An even more serious problem with the passage cited is that it refutes itself. It amounts to a performative self-refutation analogous to ‘No one is speaking now’ spoken by me now. Let me explain. Berman claims that books based on careful scholarship get published, if at all, only by university presses. Now his book is based on careful scholarship, but it is not published by a university press. It is published by Norton, and is touted on its cover as a “national bestseller.” Therefore, the existence and widespread availability of Berman’s book refutes the central thesis of the paragraph cited above. For the record, I found my copy of his book in paperback in a Borders bookstore, not exactly an arcane locale accessible only to pointy-headed intellectuals. So where is the censorship?
Am I being pedantic? Well, if you are going to preach high standards, then, dangblastit, you must adhere to them yourself. Of course, it is easy to zero in on a passage and tear it to pieces. But I’m a serious man with a serious point. Berman is on the right track, and we need culture critique; but we need to extrude the liberal-leftist nonsense from it. What we really need is conservative culture-critique. In addition, we need a conservative metacritique of the extant culture-critiques, a metacritique that extrudes the bad elements in them, which are mostly of liberal-leftist provenience, and retains the good elements, which are mostly of conservative provenience.