Here is a famous passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance" rarely quoted in full:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. (Ziff, 183)
People routinely rip the initial clause of this passage out of its context and take Emerson to be attacking logical consistency. Or else they quote only the first sentence, or the first two sentences. An example by someone who really ought to know better is provided by Robert Fogelin in his book, Walking the Tightrope of Reason (Oxford UP, 2001). Chapter One, "Why Obey the Laws of Logic?," has among its mottoes (p. 14) the first two sentences of the Emerson quotation above. The other three mottoes, from Whitman, Nietzsche, and Aristotle, are plainly about logical consistency.
It should be clear to anyone who reads the entire passage quoted above in the context of Emerson's essay that Emerson’s dictum has nothing to do with logical consistency and everything to do with consistency of beliefs over time.
The consistency in question is diachronic rather than synchronic. A “little mind” is “foolishly consistent” if it refuses to change its beliefs when change is needed due to changing circumstances, further experience, or clearer thinking. It should be clear that if I believe that p at time t, but believe that ~p at later time t*, then there is no time at which I hold logically inconsistent beliefs.
Doxastic alteration, like alteration in general, is noncontradictory for the simple reason that properties which are contradictory when taken in abstracto are had at different times. My coffee changes from hot to non-hot, and thus has contradictory attributes when we abstract from the time of their instantiation. But since the coffee instantiates them at different times, there is no contradiction such as would cause us to join Parmenides in denying the reality of the changeful world.
Belief change is just a special case of this.
Emerson’s sound point, then, is that one should not make a fetish out of doxastic stasis: there is nothing wrong with being ‘inconsistent’ in the sense of changing one’s beliefs when circumstances change and as one gains in experience and insight. But this is not to say that one should adopt the antics of the flibbertigibbet. Relative stability of views over time is an indicator of character.
Before leaving this topic, let's consider what Walt Whitman has to say in the penultimate section 51 of “Song of Myself” in Leaves of Grass:
Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Here it appears that Whitman is thumbing his nose at logical consistency. If so, the Emersonic and Whitmanic dicta ought not be confused. But confuse them is precisely what Fogelin does when he places the Emerson and Whitman quotations cheek-by-jowl on p. 14 of his book.
That being said, Professor Fogelin is a very good philosopher, and the book I refer to above is well worth your time.
Why is religious belief so hard to accept? Why is it so much harder to accept today than in past centuries?
Herewith, some notes toward a list of the impedimenta, the stumbling blocks, that litter the path of the would-be believer of the present day. Whether the following ought to be impediments is a further question, a normative question. The following taxonomy is merely descriptive. And probably incomplete. This is a blog. This is only a blog.
1. There is first of all the obtrusiveness and constancy and coherence of the deliverances of the senses, outer and inner. The "unseen order" (William James), if such there be, is no match for the 'seen order.' The massive assault upon the sense organs has never been greater than at the present time given the high technology of distraction: radio, television, portable telephony, e-mail, Facebook and other social media, not to mention Twitter, perhaps the ultimate weapon of mass distraction.
Here is some advice on how to avoid God from C. S. Lewis, "The Seeing Eye" in Christian Reflections (Eeerdmans, 1967), pp. 168-167:
Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you'd be safer to stick to the papers. You'll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.
If Lewis could only see us now.
2. The fact that there are many competing systems of religious belief and practice. They overlap, but they also contradict. The extant contradictory systems cannot all be true, though they could all be false. The fact that one's own system is contradicted by others doesn't make it false, but it does raise reasonable doubts as to whether it is true. For a thinking person, this is a stumbling block to the naive and unthinking acceptance of the religion in which one has been brought up.
3. The specificity of religious belief systems and their excessively detailed dogmatic contents. One is put off by the presumptuousness of those who claim to know what they cannot, or are not likely, to know. For example, overconfident assurances as to the natures of heaven, hell, and purgatory together with asseverations as to who went where. Stalin in hell? How do you know? How do you even know that there is a place of everlasting punishment as opposed to such other options as simple annihilation of unrepentant miscreants?
There is the presumptuousness of those who fancy that they understand the economics of salvation to such a degree that they can confidently assert that so many Hail Mary's will remove so many years in purgatory. For many, such presumptuousness is an abomination, though not as bad as the sale of indulgences.
The human mind, driven by doxastic security needs, is naturally dogmatic and naturally tends to make certainties of uncertainties. (It also does the opposite when in skeptical mode: it makes uncertainties of (practical) certainties.)
4. The fact that the religions of the world, over millenia, haven't done much to improve us individually or collectively. Even if one sets aside the intemperate fulminations of the New Atheists, that benighted crew uniquely blind to the good religion has done, there is the fact that religious belief and practice, even if protracted and sincere, do little toward the moral improvement of people. To some this is an impediment to acceptance of a religion.
Related point: the corruption of the churches.
Again, my task here is merely descriptive. I am not claiming that one ought to be dissuaded from religion by its failure to improve people much or to maintain itself in institutional form without corruption. One can always argue that we would have been much, much worse without religion. Even Islam, "The saddest and poorest form of theism," (Schopenhauer) has arguably improved the lot of the denizens of the lands in which it has held sway, civilizing them, and providing moral guidance.
5. The putative conflict between science and religion. Competing magisteria each with a loud claim to be the proper guide to life. Thinking people are bothered by this.
6. The tension between Athens (philosophy) and Jerusalem (religion). The battle between faith and reason. So many of the contents of religion are either absurd (logically contradictory) or else difficult to show to be rationally acceptable.
7. The weight of concupiscence. We are sexual beings naturally, and oversexualized beings socially, and so largely unable to control our drives. The thrust of desire valorizes the phenomenal thus conferring plenary reality upon the objects of the senses while occluding one's spiritual sight into the noumenal. See Simone Weil in the Light of Plato. Is it any surprise that the atheist Russell, even in old age, refused to be faithful to his wife? It is reasonable to conjecture that his lust and his pride -- intellectuals tend to be very proud with outsized egos-- blinded him to spiritual realities. Jean-Paul Sartre is another case in point.
8. Suggestibility. We are highly sensitive and responsive to social suggestions as to what is real and important and what is not. In a society awash with secular suggestions, people find it hard to take religion seriously.
10. The rise of life-extending technology. For some of us at least, life is a lot less nasty, brutish, and short than it used to be. This aids and abets the illusion that this material life suffices and will continue indefinitely. The worst illusion sired by advanced technology, however, is the transhumanist fantasy which I discuss here.
Innovations are presumed guilty until proven innocent. There is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional beliefs, usages, institutions, arrangements, techniques, and whatnot, provided they work. By all means allow the defeat of the outworn and no-longer-workable: in with the new if the novel is better. But the burden of proof is on the would-be innovator: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Conservatives are not opposed to change. We are opposed to non-ameliorative change, and change for the sake of change.
And once again, how can anyone who loves his country desire its fundamental transformation? How can anyone love anything who desires its fundamental transformation?
You love a girl and want to marry her. But you propose that she must first undergo a total makeover: butt lift, tummy tuck, nose job, breast implants, psychological re-wire, complete doxastic overhaul, sensus divinitatis tune-up, Weltanschauung change-out, memory upgrade, and so on. Do you love her, or is she merely the raw material for the implementation of your currently uninstantiated idea of what a girl should be?
The extension to love of country is straightforward. If you love your country, then you do not desire its fundamental transformation. Contrapositively, if you do desire its fundamental transformation, then you do not love it.
Then you are guilty of 'cultural appropriation' unless you are English.
A philosophy professor comments:
The claim in your post today, strikes me as clearly false.
Just because someone speaks a language (even as a primary language) doesn't mean they are cultural appropriators guilty of something. Imagine the English colonize your land and people and force English upon you. Then this conditional, which is what I think you are claiming, is false: "If you speak English and you are not English, then you are guilty of 'cultural appropriation'.
The good professor has found a counterexample to my conditional claim. But he misses the point of my pithy little poke. My intention was to ridicule the politically correct silliness of those who see something reprehensible in, say, donning a sombrero when one is not a Mexican. Aphorisms, maxims, and other sayings derive their punch from their pith. You have heard it said, briefly, and with wit, that "Brevity is the soul of wit."
Let us note en passant and in defiance of the content of the witticism that it can be found in William Shakespeare in Hamlet, Act II wherein the Bard has Polonius say:
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad.
Was this beautiful coinage first put into circulation by Shakespeare? I have no idea. But I digress.
Consider the following piece of folk wisdom,
He who hesitates is lost.
Counterexamples abound. And the same goes for the competing maxim,
Look before you leap.
If one were to rewrite them to make them proof against the punctilios of philosophers and logicians, the result would be something clunky and not particularly memorable. For example,
It is often, but not always, the case that one who hesitates before acting misses his opportunity and in consequence of such hesitancy either loses his life or suffers some lesser, but nonetheless regrettable, loss.
But then one has traded the lawyerly for the literary.
Suspected suicide bombers struck two [Coptic Christian] Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday, killing more than 40 people in the deadliest assault on civilians since President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s election nearly three years ago.
Islamic State claimed the attacks on the St. George church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta and St. Mark’s cathedral in Alexandria . . .
Heather MacDonald recounts her experiences at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California and at UCLA:
The Rose Institute for State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna had invited me to meet with students to talk about my book, The War on Cops, on April 6. Several calls went out on Facebook to “shut down” this “notorious white supremacist fascist Heather Mac Donald.”
Time was, when university faculty and administrators stood in loco parentis. Now their posture is supine while the students go loco.
This entry continues a discussion with Dan M. begun here.
Before we get to the main event, a terminological quibble. A view that denies some category of entity I would call eliminativist, not nominalist. I say this because one can be a nominalist about properties without denying their existence. Tom is a tomato of my acquaintance. Tom is red and ripe and juicy and other things besides. It is a Moorean fact, I would say, that Tom has properties, and that, in general, things have properties. After all, Tom is red and ripe, etc. It's a datum, a given, a starting point. A sensible question is not whether there are properties, but what they are. Of course there are properties. What is controversial is whether they are universals or particulars, mind-dependent or mind-independent, immanent or transcendent, constituents or not of the things that have them, etc.
Still, there are those parsimonious souls who deny that there are properties. They accept predicates such as 'red' and 'ripe' but deny that in extralinguistic reality there are properties corresponding to these or to any predicates. These people are called extreme nominalists. It's a lunatic position in my view valuable only as a foil for the development of a saner view. But moderate nominalism is not a lunatic view. This is the view that there are properties all right; it's just that properties are not universals, but particulars, trope theory being one way of cashing out this view. My Trope category goes into more detail on this.
The present point, however, is simply this: a moderate nominalist about properties does not deny the existence of properties. So my suggestion is that if you are out to deny some category K of entity (i.e., deny of a putative category that it has members) then you should label your position as eliminativist about Ks, not nominalist about Ks. Dan is an eliminativist about mental acts, not a nominalist about them.
But this is a merely terminological point. Having made it, I will now irenically acquiesce in Dan's terminology for the space of this post. Dan writes with admirable clarity:
As you explain my proposal (I'll call it "Mental Act Nominalism" or "MAN"), an ontological assay of propositional attitudes will only turn up two entities, the agent and the proposition. The agent's having the relevant attitude (e.g., belief, doubt) to the proposition is not itself construed as an additional entity. You say that this view is committed to "a denial of mental acts and thereby a denial of the act-content distinction."
[. . .]
Turning to your concern. You suggest that "such a parsimonious scheme cannot account for the differences among" various propositional attitudes (belief, doubt, etc.). And after discussing some examples, you say they provide "phenomenological evidence that we cannot eke by with just the subject and the object/content but also need to posit mental acts." And you add: "The differences among [various attitudes] will then be act-differences, differences in the type of mental acts."
The gist of my reply is that we can perhaps account for the differences you speak of without committing ourselves to the existence of the relevant mental acts/states.
Consider these two situations:
(A) Dan wonders whether Bill owns cats.
(B) Dan believes that Bill owns cats.
(We may suppose there was a time lapse between them.) What should the ontological assays of (A) and (B) include? As you described MAN, its ontological assays of propositional attitudes deliver just two entities, the relevant agent and proposition. So on this approach, we get these two assays:
(A Assay 1) Dan, the proposition Bill owns cats.
(B Assay 1) Dan, the proposition Bill owns cats.
These assays fail to differentiate situations A and B. However, it's not clear to me that MAN has to be implemented in this way. Consider these alternative assays:
(A Assay 2) Dan, the relationwondering whether, the proposition Bill owns cats.
(B Assay 2) Dan, the relationbelieving that, the proposition Bill owns cats.
These assays do differentiate A and B, by virtue of the different relations. I think MAN is prima facie compatible with these assays, since the main aim of MAN is not to deny the existence of propositional attitude relations per se, but to deny the existence of mental acts or states consisting in the agent's having the relevant attitude. So, MAN must reject, for example, these assays:
(A Assay 3) Dan, the proposition Bill owns cats, the stateDan's wondering whether Bill owns cats.
(B Assay 3) Dan, the proposition Bill owns cats, the stateDan's believing that Bill owns cats.
So perhaps we can be realists about propositional attitude relations, but nominalists about propositional attitude states (of affairs). The former would give us a robust basis to differentiate different kinds of propositional attitudes, while the latter would preserve MAN.
BV: The issue is now one of deciding which tripartite assay to accept, mine, or Dan's. Where I have mental acts or states, he has relations. Mental acts are datable particulars, where a particular is an unrepeatable item. Dan's relations are, I take it, universals, where a universal is a repeatable item.
Suppose that Dan, who has not seen his elderly neighbor Sam come out of his house in a week, fears that he is dead. What does the world have to contain for 'Dan fears that Sam is dead' to be true? Suppose that it contains Dan, the relation fears that, and the proposition Sam is dead, but not the mental act, state, or event of Dan's fearing that Sam is dead. Then I will point out that Dan, the relation fears that, and the proposition Sam is dead can all three exist without it being the case that Dan fears that Sam is dead. The collection of these three items does not suffice as truthmaker for the sentence in question.
This is the case even if the relation in question is an immanent universal, that is, one that cannot exist instantiated. It could be that Dan exists, the proposition Sam is dead exists, and the relation fears that exists in virtue of being instantiated by the pair (Pam, the proposition Hillary is sad.) It is possible that all three of these items exist and 'Dan fears that Sam is dead' is false.
We need something to tie together the three items in question. On my tripartite analysis it is the mental act that ties them together. So I am arguing that we cannot get by without positing something like the particular Dan's fearing that Sam is dead.
How can a simple God know contingent truths, such as Bill owns cats? On the version of MAN that accepts bona fide relations, we say: God bears the relation believing that to the proposition Bill owns cats. There are just three entities to which this situation commits us: God, the relation, and the proposition. There is no state (construed as a bona fide entity) of God's believing that Bill owns cats.
BV: But if S bears R to p, this implies that R is instantiated by the ordered pair (S, p), and that this relation-instantiation is a state or state of affairs or event. It is clearly something in addition to its constituents inasmuch as it is their truthmaking togetherness. And this bring us back to our original difficulty of explaining how a simple God can know contingent truths.
April Fool's Weekend found me in a fool's paradise, LaLaLand. So I'm seven days late and several dollars short, but here for your auditory amusement are some tunes in celebration or bemoanment of human folly the chief instance of which is romantic love. Who has never been played for a fool by a charming member of the opposite sex?
Old age is the sovereign cure for romantic folly and I sincerely recommend it to the young and foolish. Take care to get there. Philosophers especially should want to live long so as to study life from all temporal angles.
We have it on good authority that the unexamined life is not worth living. To which I add that the examination ought to be of every age from every age.
Ricky Nelson, Fools Rush In. "Fools rush in/Where wise men never go/But wise men never fall in love/So how are they to know?" Sam Cooke, Fool's Paradise. Sage advice. Heed it well, my young friends. A version by Mose Allison. I heard Mose live a number of times back in the '70s, most memorably at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California. Sadly, he died last November. But he made it to 89. Elvin Bishop, Fooled Around and Fell in Love
Reader P. J. offers us for delectation and analysis the following quotation from Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God:
[Brother Lawrence] was eighteen at the time, and still in the world. He told me that it had all happened one winter day, as he was looking at a barren tree. Although the tree's leaves were indeed gone, he knew that they would soon reappear, followed by blossoms and then fruit. This gave him a profound impression of God's providence and power which never left him. Brother Lawrence still maintains that his impression detached him entirely from the world and gave him such a great love for God that it hasn't changed in all of the forty years he has been walking with Him.
P. J. comments that
. . . nature is sometimes said to serve as a 'signpost' to God's existence, without the need for auxiliary premises such as the complexity of things, the orderly patterns of substances as described by the laws of nature, the intelligibility of the world, and so on and on. It is almost as if -- at least for Br. Lawrence -- nature, just by being there, served to point toward God in a primitive or non-inferential way. Nature, for him, pointed not simply to God's existence, but to a more positive account of God as the providential orderer of nature.
I admit that I don't know where to take this idea, or how far it can be taken, but it strikes me as an interesting topic to research in natural theology: the way(s) in which nature, without the aid of auxiliary premises, can point to God's existence, and to a more content-rich account of the divine attributes.
I agree that the question is interesting and important. Perhaps we can formulate it as the question whether nature can be taken as a natural sign of the existence of God, and certain features of nature as natural signs of certain of the divine attributes. I will consider here only the first question. Whether nature as a whole can be taken as a natural sign of the existence of God will depend on what we understand by 'natural sign.' Suppose we adopt Laird Addis' definition:
An entity is a natural sign if by its very nature, it represents some other entity or would-be entity, that is , if it is an intrinsically intentional entity. (Natural Signs: A Theory of Intentionality, Temple UP, 1989, p. 29)
I don't doubt that there are intrinsically intentional entities, thoughts (acts of thinking) being an example. Intrinsic intentionality is to be understood by contrast with derived intentionality. The intentionality or aboutness of a map, for example, is derivative, not intrinsic. A map is not about a chunk of terrain just in virtue of the map's intrinsic properties such as physical and geometrical properties. Suppose a neutron bomb wipes out all minded organisms. Maps and chunks of terrain remain. Do the maps in this scenario map anything, mean anything? No. This is because there are no minds to give the maps meaning.
Consider the contour lines on a topographical map. The closer together, the steeper the terrain. But that closer together should mean steeper is a meaning assigned and agreed upon by the community of map-makers and map-users. This meaning is not intrinsic to the map qua physical object. Closer together might have meant anything, e.g., that the likelihood of falling into an abandoned mine shaft is greater. The intentionality of the map and its features (contour lines, colors, etc.) is derivative from the intrinsic intentionality of minds.
So our question becomes this: Could nature be a natural sign in virtue of being intrinsically intentional? I don't think so. Nature can be taken or interpretedor read as pointing to God, but that would be a case of derivative intentionality: we would then be assigning to nature the property of pointing to God. But there is nothing intrinsic to nature that makes it point to God.
But of course one might mean something else by 'natural sign.' Fresh bear scat on a trail is a natural sign that a bear has been by recently. A natural sign in this sense is a bit of the natural world, or a modification of the natural world, that typically has a natural cause and that by its presence 'refers' us to this cause. The scat is the scat of a bear, but this 'of' is not the 'of' of intentionality. Similarly with the tracks of a mountain lion. They are typically caused by a mountain lion but they are not about a mountain lion.
Note the difference between the subjective and the objective genitive. The tracks of a mountain lion are a mountain lion's tracks (genitivus subjectivus) whereas the hiker's fear of a mountain lion is not a mountain lion's fear but the hiker's fear (genitivus objectivus). Both genitives can occur in one and the same sentence. My favorite example: Timor domini initium sapientiae. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. A second example: Obsidis metus mortis magnus est. The fear of death of the hostage is great. The hostage is the subject of fear; death the object. Analysis of this example in German here.
But I digress.
Could the natural world point to God in the way mountain lion tracks point to a mountain lion? Yes, if the natural world is the effect of a divine cause. But how do we know this? One cannot tell that the natural world is a created world just by observing it. Even if it is created, its createdness cannot be 'read off' from it. It can only be 'read into' it.
Now let me try to answer my reader's question. I take him to be asking the following question:
Q. Does the the natural world, by its sheer existence, directly show (i.e., show without the aid of auxiliary premises), that there exists a transcendent creator of the natural world?
If (Q) is the question, my answer is in the negative. This is invalid: the universe exists; ergo, God exists. This is valid: the universe exists; the universe is contingent; whatever contingently exists cannot exist as a matter of brute fact but must have a cause of its existence; nothing can cause its own existence; ergo, God as transcendent causa prima exists. Whether the second is a sound argument and how one would know it to be sound are of course further questions; it is, however, a valid argument.
But we had to bring in auxiliary premises. And similarly for this question:
Q*. Does the apparent designedness of the natural order directly show the existence of a transcendent designer?
And this one:
Q**. Does the beauty of "The starry skies above me" (Kant) directly show that this beauty has a transcendent Source which "all men call God" (Aquinas)?
"Some of us believe in the Man Upstairs, but all of us believe in stickin' it to the Man Down Here."
But without the Man Down Here there would be no roads, no gasoline, no science, no technology, no motorcycles, no law and order, no orderly context in which aging accountants and dentists could play at stickin' it to the Man on the weekends.
The Man is discipline, self-denial, repression, deferral of gratification, control of the instinctual. The Man is civilization, discontents and all. Without the Man there would be no one to stick it to, and nothing to stick it to him with. Adolescents of all ages need the Man to have someone to rebel against.
Still and all, after watching this video, what red-blooded American boomer doesn't want to rush out and buy himself a hog? Get your motor runnin', head out on the highway . . . .
Philosophy was the mission of my life. I had to philosophize otherwise I could not live in this world. (Here)
It may be that the truth we need cannot be known in a way that satisfies modern scruples. Not everything worth knowing can be validated conclusively and with certainty within the confines of one's own subjectivity. It may be that one pays a high price to satisfy the modern scruples . . . .
It is sweet to do nothing, but only if if the inactivity comes like the caesura in a line of poetry or the punctuation in a sentence of prose or the rest in a piece of music. Inactivity extended stultifies. At least this is true here below. Genesis 3:19 may be read as 'sentencing' us to activity. Enduring contemplative repose comes later.
Too many of our rights, liberties, and securities already hang by a one-vote thread. A Clinton Supreme Court would surely do away with them. It is a better bet that a President Trump together with Vice President Pence and a Republican Congress would ensure that Scalia's seat or any other open seats would be filled by a conservative. If you are a conservative who cares about the future of this country, there is only one choice. A vote for anyone else, third parties included, only helps Clinton and brings liberals one vote closer to ruining our republic as we know it.
This sums it up. There was really only one choice for clear-headed conservatives.
Victor Davis Hanson nails down some important points. I add a bit of commentary in blue.
But first a question. Do we really need the designator 'Alt-Left'? Isn't the referent of this term pretty much indistinguishable from the contemporary Left? Granted, we need to distinguish between the contemporary Left and old-time liberalism. There is not much, or anything, that is paleo-liberal about the contemporary Left, as will emerge below. We also need to distinguish between the Right and the Alt-Right. Let me make it clear that I am not now, and never have been, Alt-Right. My brand of conservatism takes on board key elements of paleo-liberalism. It is also far from anything that could be called white nationalism, although it does espouse what I call an enlightened nationalism. (See here and here.) But I am having a hard time seeing any need to distinguish between the (contemporary) Left and the Alt-Left.
My impression is that 'Alt-Left' is a knee-jerk coinage brought onto the field by commentators such as Sean Hannity to counter the false notion that Trumpism is an Alt-Right movement. Be that as it may. Now a few excerpts from Hamson's piece.
Its overarching ideology seems to be a filtered version of campus postmodernism. Therefore the “truth” is simply a pastiche of “stories” or “narratives.” They can gain credence if those with power and influence “privilege” them, in efforts to enhance their own status and clout. “My story” is just as viable as “the truth,” a construct that does not exist in the abstract.
BV: Correct. For the Alt-Left there is no such thing as truth. There are only power and narratives. A narrative is a story, and we all know that a story need not be true to influence people and inspire them to action. The influence of Nietzsche is unmistakable here. For Nietzsche there are no facts, only interpretations. (Cf. W. Kaufmann, The Portable Nietzsche, p. 458) A narrative is an interpretation that subserves the interests of some individuals or groups that either have power or seek to gain power.
Interpretations and perspectives are ideological reflections of power. Their function is to legitimate the power of those in power. The question of truth cannot arise since there is no truth, only competing perspectives of competing power centers. There is no truth because the world is devoid of intrinsic intelligibility. All intelligibility is partial and perspectival and projected by the stories we tell in support of our interests and power prerogatives. Intelligibility is relative to us and our narratives. We make the world intelligible and in many different ways since we are many and competing. Why is there no way things are, no nature of things, no intrinsic intelligibility? Because, at bottom, the world is the will to power. This is Nietzsche's central ontological claim. Die Welt ist der Wille zur Macht und nichts anders. (Nietzsche, Der Wille zur Macht) This ontological claim underpins his central epistemological thesis, perspectivism. Both the ontology and the epistemology are consequences of the death of God, as N. himself clearly sees. No God, no truth. No God, no unitary source of all things but a blind seething will to power at odds with itself. See my Nietzsche category for more on this.
I would say that Nietzsche is as important as Marx for understanding the Alt-Left. Nietzsche is part of what makes cultural Marxism cultural.
For the Alt-Left, there are not really inanimate [immutable?] laws of human nature or language. Instead political mobilization can construct powerful narratives of change: Opposition to gay marriage can be endorsed by both Obama and Clinton in 2008 and then be reconstructed as proof of right wing bigotry by 2012.
BV: Thus for the Left truth doesn't matter. The narrative or party line shifts with political needs. It's about power and control. If power can be achieved by reversing the narrative, then the narrative is reversed. Nothing new here: it is right out of the commie playbook.
Zones of neo-Confederate federal nullification to stop the deportation of illegal alien criminals can be rebranded as “sanctuary cities” to protect the innocent “migrants” from arbitrary and racist immigration laws. “La Raza” does not really mean “The Race.” Instead Raza simply denotes the “people” in reference to oppressed communities.
BV: As I have said a hundred times, leftists regularly engage in self-serving linguistic distortions and innovations even unto the Orwellian. The Orwellian template: X, which is not Y, is Y. War is peace. Slavery is freedom. Less liberty is more liberty. La Raza is not La Raza. Illegal aliens are neither illegal nor alien.
Leftists also refuse to make obvious distinctions such as that between legal and illegal immigrants. Not because they are stupid, but because their power agenda swamps every other consideration. Power rushes to fill the vacuum left when truth absents itself in the wake of the death of God.
The Alt-Left also believes that racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious identity is essential not incidental to character—as evidenced from the profound by the recent racialist statements of would-be candidates to head the DNC, to the ridiculous, as the careerist-driven and invented identities of a Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Ward Churchill or former white/black activists such as Rachel Dolezal and Shaun King attest.
BV: The Alt-Left shares this anti-personalism with the Alt-Right. Both are race-based and identity-political. The reactionary stance of the Alt-Right ties it to its opponent with which it shares the repugnant, anti-Christian, and anti-paleoliberal notion that one's very identity as a person is racially determined. The issue of personalism is crucial. I will explore it in future posts.
Perhaps the battle between the Alt-Left and the Alt-Right comes down to the struggle between two forms of atheism, a febrile socially constructivist anti-realism and a biologically determinist naturalism.
Please read the whole of Hanson's outstanding article.
Suppose I become aware of something while dreaming. Does the fact that I am dreaming invalidate the content of my awareness? Or are there cases in which I become veridically aware that p even while and despite dreaming?
In bed I am puzzling over a chess problem. The book drops from my hands and I fall asleep. The solution occurs to me in a dream, and I later upon waking verify that it is correct. This happens. The solution I dreamt was correct despite my having dreamt it. So not everything that appears in a dream is invalidated by so appearing.
Or during a dream it occurs to me that the number of primes between 13 and 19 inclusive is itself prime. (A prime number is an integer greater than 1 the positive integer divisors of which are only 1 and the number itself. Examples: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, and 29.) The content of my dream-thought is true, indeed necessarily true. So again one cannot validly infer the invalidity of a dream content from the fact that it is a dream content.
Are all items of a priori knowledge that are knowable while awake also knowable while dreaming? I think so. At least in principle. Suppose I come to know a priori by working through the proof that Zorn's Lemma is equivalent to the Axiom of Choice. Could I come to this insight while dreaming? In principle, yes, but not in practice inasmuch as I would need to have visual aids, paper, pencil, books, etc.
In sum, my dreaming that p is consistent with the truth of p if p is knowable a priori.
Due to my embodiment and its limitations, what I know a priori I know in most cases only on the occasion of sense experience, but never on the basis of sense experience. (That's what makes it a priori.) Now suppose there is a visio intellectualis, an intellectual intuition, not only of necessary truths, but also of spiritual substances. Suppose there is mystical knowledge of God or of Persons of the Triniity. Would such mystical insight, if veridical, lose one iota of its veridicality if it were enjoyed while dreaming? Why should it? Perhaps the quiescence of the senses and bodily functions in sleep disposes us toward such extraordinary experiences.
"You're speculating!" No doubt. But if a philosopher can't speculate, who can?
I glance for a brief moment at a trio of women, two facially unveiled, the third thinly veiled. The face of the veiled one attracts my attention. The visibility of her face is helped, not hindered, by its being veiled. I generalize: it is not always and everywhere the case that veils are impediments to visibility. In some circumstances veils reveal by concealing.
This insight, I suspect, can be put to good (analogical) use. Just how, however, presently escapes me. So I file it away for future reference.
In the piss-poor pages of the Rag of Record's op-ed section, for today's date, I found this: ". . .Trump's craziness is proving infectious, making Democrats crazy with rage that actually impedes a progressive agenda."
It is true that the Dems are crazy with rage and that this impedes their agenda. But of course such impedance is a good thing, not to mention the pleasures of Schadenfreude as we watch our opponents melt down.
But Kristof is wrong about the origin of TDS. It does not derive from the Orange Man's alleged craziness, but oozes up from the mephitic recesses of leftists' psyche.
Their bien-pensant bigotry, smug assurance of moral superiority, and Hillarian sense of entitlement received a stinging rebuke on November 8th, and they still haven't gotten over it.
If you are wondering why I didn't link to Kristoff's piece, it is because the NYT webpages are now set up to disallow copying and pasting. No copy and paste? Then no hyperlink. Yes, I know there is a copy-and-paste work-around, but I'm not about to jump through those hoops.
This entry continues yesterday's discussion. The question was: How can an ontologically simple God know contingent truths? Here again is yesterday's aporetic tetrad:
1. God is simple: there is nothing intrinsic to God that is distinct from God.
2. God knows some contingent truths.
3. Necessarily, if God knows some truth t, then (i) there an item intrinsic to God such as a mental act or a belief state (ii) whereby God knows t.
4. God exists necessarily.
I briefly discussed, without endorsing, an externalist way of rejecting (3). Reader Dan M. has a different idea for rejecting (3):
. . . a kind of nominalism about mental acts or states.
To illustrate, consider this truth: (A) Bill is sitting. Because 'Bill' is a singular term denoting a man, (A)'s truth implies the existence of at least one item. But there's disagreement about whether (A) implies the existence of other items. A property realist might say: (A) implies the existence of a property, sitting-ness. An event or state realist might say: (A) implies the existence of an event or state, Bill's sitting. But a nominalist may say: no, an item (e.g. Bill) can be a certain way (e.g. sitting), without that consisting in (or otherwise committing us to) the existence of any further items (such as a property of sitting, or a state or event of Bill's sitting).
Bringing in God's knowledge, we can say: (B) God knows that Bill has two cats. Someone who accepts proposition 3 might say: (B) implies the existence of an item intrinsic to God, namely a particular state of knowledge. If I understand you on knowledge externalism, that sort of response takes issue with 'intrinsic'. On the alternative view I'm entertaining, we take issue with 'item' instead. We say: there is no item of God's knowing that Bill has two cats. Just as Bill can sit without there being a state of Bill's sitting (construed as a bona fide item), God can know that something is the case without there being a state of God's knowing it (construed as a bona fide item).
The suggestion, to put it generally, is that if a subject S believes/knows/wants/desires (etc.) that p, a correct ontological assay of the situation will not turn up anything in addition to S and p. Thus there is no need to posit any such item as the state (or state of affairs or fact or event) of S's believing/knowing/wanting/desiring that p. So on Dan's proposal, if 'God knows that Bill has two cats' is true, this truth does not commit us ontologically to the state (state of affairs, fact, event) of God's knowing that Bill has two cats.
In Cartesian terms, there is an ego and a cogitatum, but no cogitatio. This amounts to a denial of mental acts and thereby a denial of the act-content distinction.
Well, why not? One reason off the top of my head is that such a parsimonious scheme cannot account for the differences among believing, doubting, suspending judgment, wanting, desiring, willing, imagining, remembering, etc.
One and the same proposition, that Bill has two cats, is known by me, believed but not known by my loyal and trusting readers, doubted by a doubting Thomas or two, suspended by Seldom Seen Slim the Skeptic who takes no position on the weighty question of the extent of my feline involvement, remembered by last year's house guests, etc. Indeed, one and the same subject can take up different attitudes toward one and the same proposition.
Suppose a neighbor tells me there's a mountain lion in my backyard. I begin by doubting the proposition, suspecting my neighbor of confusing a mountain lion with a bobcat, but then, seeing the critter with my own eyes, I advance to believing and perhaps even to knowing. So one and the same subject can take up two or more different attitudes toward one and the same proposition.
These examples are phenomenological evidence that we cannot eke by with just the subject and the object/content but also need to posit mental acts, particular mental occurrences or episodes such as Bill's seeing here and now that there is a mountain lion in his backyard. The differences among believing, knowing, doubting, desiring, remembering, etc. will then be act-differences, differences in the types of mental acts.
How would a resolute denier of mental acts account for these differences? Will he shunt all the differences onto propositional contents? Will he theorize that there are memorial, imaginal, dubitable, desiderative, etc. propositional contents? Good luck with that.
Suppose that S goes from doubting that p to believing that p. The denier of mental acts would have to redescribe the situation as one in which there are two propositions, call them a dub-prop and a cred-prop, with awareness of the first followed by awareness of the second. How could one display these two propositions? Dubitably, there is a mountain lion on the backyard and Credibly, there is a mountain lion in the back yard?
Perhaps such a theory can be worked out plausibly. But it makes little sense to me.
And so we are brought back to our problem: How can a simple God know contingent truths?
I've been researching the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS) recently and I've had a hard time figuring something out. On DDS, is it the case that God is identical with his thoughts? Surely on the view (as you say in your SEP article) God is identical with his omniscience. But does that also mean he is identical with the content of that attribute?
I would appreciate your input on this question, and your SEP article has given me a lot to think about.
The good news for Theophilus is that he has stumbled onto a serious problem. The bad news is that there is no really satisfactory solution known to me.
On DDS, God is identical to his attributes. Omniscience is one of the divine attributes; ergo God is identical to omniscience. This seems to imply that God is identical to the mental states in which his omniscience is articulated. But a good lot of what God knows is contingent, for example, that I am the author of the SEP entry in question. Someone else might have been the author of that encyclopedia entry, not to mention the fact that there might not have been any such entry, or any such encyclopedia.
If we think of knowledge as a propositional attitude, and if this holds for God as well as for us, then there are many contingently true propositions with respect to which God is in corresponding contingent mental states. For if it is contingent that p, then it is contingent that God is in the state of knowing that p. Thus God is contingently in the state -- call it S -- of knowing that there is such an on-line publication as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
But how can God be identical to S? This, I take it, is the question that vexes Theophilus. He is right to be vexed. How can an ontologically simple God know contingent truths?
The problem may be cast in the mold of an aporetic tetrad:
1. God is simple: there is nothing intrinsic to God that is distinct from God.
2. God knows some contingent truths.
3. Necessarily, if God knows some truth t, then (i) there an item intrinsic to God such as a mental act or a belief state (ii) whereby God knows t.
4. God exists necessarily.
The plausibility of (3) may be appreciated as follows. Whatever else knowledge is, it is plausibly regarded as a species of true belief. A belief is an intrinsic state of a subject. Moreover, beliefs are individuated by their contents: beliefs or believings with different contents are different beliefs or believings. It cannot be that one and the same act of believing has different contents at different times or in different possible worlds.
That the tetrad is inconsistent can be seen as follows. Suppose God, who knows everything there is to be known, knows some contingent truth t. He knows, for example, that I have two cats. It follows from (3) that there is some item intrinsic to God such as a belief state whereby God knows t. Given (1), this state, as intrinsic to God, is not distinct from God. Given (4), the state whereby God knows t exists necessarily. For, necessarily, if x = y, and x is a necessary being, then y is a necessary being. But then t is necessarily true. This contradicts (2) according to which t is contingent.
Opponents of the divine simplicity will turn the tetrad into an argument against (1). They will argue from the conjunction of (2) & (3) & (4) to the negation of (1). The classical theist, however, accepts (1), (2), and (4). If he is to solve the tetrad, he needs to find a way to reject (3). He needs to find a way to reject the idea that when a knower knows something, there is, intrinsic to the knower, some mediating item that is individuated by the object known.
So consider an externalist conception of knowledge. I see a cat and seeing it I know it -- that it is and what it is. Now the cat is not in my head; but it could be in my mind on an externalist theory of mind. My awareness of the cat somehow 'bodily' includes the cat, the whole cat, all 25 lbs of him, fur, dander, and all. Knowledge is immediate, not mediated by sense data, representations, mental acts, occurrent believings, or any other sort of epistemic intermediary or deputy. Seeing a cat, I see the cat itself directly, not indirectly via some other items that I see directly such as an Husserlian noema, a Castanedan ontological guise, a Meinongian incomplete object, or any other sort of merely intentional object. On this sort of scheme, the mind is not a container, hence has no contents in the strict sense of this term. The mind is directly at the things themselves.
If this externalism is coherent, then then we can say of God's knowledge that it does not involve any intrinsic states of God that would be different were God to know different things than he does know. For example, God knows that I have two cats. That I have two cats is an actual, but contingent fact. If God's knowledge of this fact were mediated by an item intrinsic to God, a mental act say, an item individuated by its accusative, then given the divine simplicity, this item could not be distinct from God with the consequence that the act and its accusative would be necessary. This consequence is blocked if there is nothing intrinsic to God whereby he knows that I have two cats.
I don't find externalism plausible, so I am left with an impasse. I cannot see how God can exist without being ontologically simple. So I cannot reject (1). And of course I cannot solve or rather dissolve the problem by disposing of the presupposition that God exists. As for (2), I am not about to deny that there are contingent truths or that God knows contingent truths. As for (4), if God is simple, then surely he is a necessary being. A being that is its existence cannot not exist.
Few philosophers will follow me to the conclusion that our tetrad is a genuine aporia. Most theists will cheerfully deny (1). A few will deny (4) which implies the denial of (1). Atheists will dismiss the whole discussion as an empty academic exercise since it is plain to them that there is no God. A few brave souls will deny (2) either by denying that there are contingent truths or that God knows them. And then there are those who will deny (3). This I should think is the best way to go if there is a way forward.
Could we go mysterian on this? The limbs of the tetrad are each of them true, and so collectively consistent; it is just that we cannot understand how they could all be true.
REFERENCE: W. Matthews Grant, "Divine Simplicity, Contingent Truths, and Extrinsic Models of Divine Knowing," Faith and Philosophy, vol. 29, no. 3, July 2012, pp. 254-274.
“When you buy gold you’re saying nothing is going to work and everything is going to stay ridiculous,” said Mackin Pulsifer, vice chairman and chief investment officer of Fiduciary Trust International in New York. “There is a fair cohort who believes this in a theological sense, but I believe it’s unreasonable given the history of the United States.”
So to believe something 'in a theological sense' is to believe it unreasonably. It follows that liberals have plenty of 'theological' beliefs. In the 'theology' of a liberal, theology can be dismissed unread as irrational.
And then there is the misuse of 'metaphysics.' I'll save that rant for later.
A massage parlor is given the name Nirvana, the implication being that after a well-executed massage one will be in the eponymous state. This betrays a misunderstanding of Nirvana, no doubt, but that is not the main thing, which is the perverse tendency to attach a religious or spiritual significance to a merely sensuous state of relaxation.
Why can’t the hedonist just enjoy his sensory states without glorifying them? Equivalently, why can’t he admit that there is something beyond him without attempting to drag it down to his level? But no! He wants to have it both ways: he wants both sensuous indulgence and spirituality. He wants sensuality to be a spiritual experience and spirituality to be as easy of access as sensuous enjoyment.
A catalog of currently misused religious terms would have to include ‘heaven,’ ‘seventh heaven,’ ‘hell,’ 'dark night of the soul,' and many others besides.
Take ‘retreat.’ Time was, when one went on a retreat to get away from the world to re-collect oneself, meditating on the state of one's soul and on first and last things. But now one retreats from the world to become even more worldly, to gear up for greater exertions in the realms of business or academe. One retreats from ordinary busy-ness to prepare for even greater busy- ness.
And then there is ‘spirituality.’ The trendy embrace the term but shun its close cousin, ‘religion.’ I had a politically correct Jewish professor in my kitchen a while back whose husband had converted from Roman Catholicism to Judaism. I asked her why he had changed his religion. She objected to the term ‘religion,’ explaining that his change was a ‘spiritual’ one.
Etymologically, ‘religion’ suggests a binding, a God-man ligature, so to speak. But trendy New Age types don’t want to be bound by anything, or submit to anything. I suggest that this is part of the explanation of the favoring of the S word over the R word. Another part of the explanation is political. To those with a Leftward tilt, ‘religion’ reminds them of the Religious Right whose power strikes them as ominous while that of the Religious Left is no cause for concern. Not to mention the irreligious and anti-religious Left for whom leftism is their 'religion.'
A third part of the explanation may be that religion is closely allied with morality, while spirituality is often portrayed as beyond morality with its dualism of good and evil. One of the worst features of New Age types is their conceit that they are beyond duality when they are firmly enmired in it. Perhaps the truly enlightened are beyond moral dualism and can live free of moral injunctions. But what often happens in practice in that spiritual aspirants and gurus fall into ordinary immorality while pretending to have transcended it. One may recall the famous cases of Rajneesh and Chogyam Trungpa. According to one report, ". . . Trungpa slept with a different woman every night in order to transmit the teaching to them. L. intimated that it was really a hardship for Trungpa to do this, but it was his duty in order to spread the dharma."
Attributed to Voltaire. "The better is the enemy of the good." Supposedly from the earlier Italian Il meglio è nemico del bene, attested since 1603. (Wikipedia) The thought is perhaps better captured by "The best is the enemy of the good."
In an imperfect world it is folly to predicate action upon perfection. Will you hold out for the perfect spouse? Then you will remain alone. And if you yourself are less than perfect, how can you demand perfection in others?
Politics is a practical business: it is about the gaining and maintaining of power for the purpose of implementing programs and policies that one believes to be beneficial, and for opposing those whose policies one believes to be deleterious. It's about winning, not talking. It's not about ideological purity or having the supposedly best ideas; it's about gaining the power to implement good ideas, ideas that are implementable in the current configuration of suboptimal circumstances. The practical politician understands that quite often Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien, the better/best is the enemy of the good.
The Never Trumpers and the conservative opponents of the American Health Care Act displayed a failure to understand this important principle of practical politics.
Practical politics as opposed to what? As opposed to the effete and epicene political salon talk of Bill Kristol and George Will. Erudite and entertaining but useless in stopping the leftist-Islamist juggernaut.
The main external threat to civilization? Radical Islam. The main internal threat? Leftism. That the latter is in cahoots with the former makes for a nasty synergy. Prager:
Conservatives who voted for Trump believed that defeating the Left is the overriding moral good of our time. We are certain that the Left (not the traditional liberal) is destroying Western Civilization, including, obviously, the United States. The external enemy of Western Civilization are the Islamists (the tens or perhaps hundreds of million of Muslims who wish to see the world governed by Sharia), and the internal enemy of the West is the left. What the left has done to the universities and to Western culture at the universities is a perfect example.
From Russia’s point of view, considering their strategic and economic interests, a pliable Obama 2.0 would have been far better than Trump, with his pro-oil-and-gas domestic agenda, his promised defense buildup, and his unpredictable Jacksonian promises to help friends and hurt enemies.
Well, duh. The sheer stupidity of the Dem line on all of this should inspire the right-thinking to have contempt for the jackass party forever more. Be grateful that the jackasses are out and the Jacksonian is in.
What is so bad about the strife of systems, controversy, conflict of beliefs? Are they always bad, never productive? Is it not by abrasion (of beliefs) that the pearl (of wisdom) is formed? At least sometimes?
Doxastic conflict can be mentally stimulating, a goad to intellectual activity. We like being active. It makes us happy. Happiness itself is an activity, a work, an ergon, taught Aristotle. It is not a passive state. There is the joy of movement: running, hiking, climbing, dancing. The joy extends to mental movement. We like problem-solving in our homes, in our jobs, in the aethereal precincts of mathematics and philosophy and science. We like puzzles of all sorts. We like to test our wits as much as we like to test our muscles. The rest after the test is the keener, the keener the test. Mental disturbance, the aporetic predicament, can be enlivening and exhilirating. Damn me, but there must be a way out, a way forward, a work around, a solution! Engineers and chess players and route finders know what I am talking about.
It is equally true that conflicts of belief can be troubling, painful, depressing, unmooring. Cognitive dissonance can induce extreme mental suffering. ('Doxastic dissonance' is a better name for it.) We want certain knowledge, but the indications are many that it is out of reach in this life. We are thrown back on that miserable substitute, belief. Belief butts up against counter-belief. The joys of dialectic transmogrify into acrimonious division.
So Sextus and the boys are on to something. They see the problem, not that their their diagnosis, let alone their cure, can be reasonably endorsed. Unfortunately, they see the problem onesidedly. They see what is bad about belief and the conflicts of belief. But they ignore the good. Insofar forth they could be called epistemic wimps.
This fits well with the decadence of the late Hellenic schools of Greek philosophy. Things went south after the passing of the titans, Plato and Aristotle. Social and cultural decline brought with it a turn away from pure theory and a concern with the practical and therapeutic. The desire for knowledge gave way to a desire for freedom from disturbance.
That is a peace not worth wanting as I argued the other day.
I now hand off to the Franz Brentano, Vier Phasen der Philosophie.
It takes intellect to discern that people are dominated by their emotions, but the intellectual who is capable of understanding this is often prevented from understanding it by his tendency to project his intellectuality into others. We often have a hard time appreciating that others are not like us and do not value what we value, or if they do, not to the same extent. My younger self used to make this mistake.
Our beliefs, political and religious beliefs in particular, divide us and ignite sometimes murderous passions. A radical cure would be to find a way to abstain from belief, to live without beliefs, adoxastōs. Is this possible, and if possible, desirable?
No on both counts. Such is the interim conclusion of my ongoing series on Pyrrhonian skepticism, the infirmity of reason, and cognate topics. But I continue to inquire . . . . That's what a philosopher does. That's how he lives.
I brought Cioran into my latest Pyrrhonian post to lay bare the contrast between the Christian's pursuit of a "peace that surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) and the Pyrrhonian's peace which is beneath understanding inasmuch as it is predicated upon not understanding -- and not caring any more about understanding. I then asked whether this could be a peace worth wanting.
I ended my Pyrrhonian post with the quip: "To Emil Cioran I would say: safety is overrated." My point, in contemporary jargon, is that really fruitful living requires frequent and extended forays from one's 'comfort zone' into regions of stress and challenge and doxastic risk.
Kai Frederik Lorentzen comments:
I think you do Cioran wrong insofar as he seems to be ambivalent about Skepticism. In Histoire et Utopie (1960), he writes: "Skepticism is the sadism of embittered souls."
Cioran's spiritual yearning appears real to me.
I have read quite a bit of Cioran but not enough to venture a definitive judgment. So I don't know whether his spiritual yearning is genuine or just a literary posture. My impression is that he is a mere litterateur. But even if he is sincere, his scepticism seems distinct from Pyrrhonian Skepticism. Acolytes of the latter try not to dogmatize whereas it is not clear to me that Cioran avoids or tries to avoid a dogmatic scepticism/nihilism. A bit of (inconclusive) evidence:
X, who instead of looking at things directly has spent his life juggling with concepts and abusing abstract terms, now that he must envisage his own death, is in desperate straits. Fortunately for him, he flings himself, as is his custom, into abstractions, into commonplaces illustrated by jargon. A glamorous hocus-pocus, such is philosophy. But ultimately, everything is hocus-pocus, except for this very assertion that participates in an order of propositions one dares not question because they emanate from an unverifiable certitude, one somehow anterior to the brain’s career. (E. M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered (New York: Seaver Books, 1983), translated from the French by Richard Howard, p.153)
A statement of Cioran’s scepticism. But his scepticism is half-hearted and dognatic since he insulates his central claim from sceptical corrosion. To asseverate that his central claim issues from “an unverifiable certitude” is sheer dogmatism since there is no way that this certitude can become a self-certitude luminous to itself. Compare the Cartesian cogito. In the cogito situation, a self’s indubitability is revealed to itself, and thus grounds itself. But Cioran invokes something anterior to the mind, something which, precisely because of it anteriority, cannot be known by any mind. Why then should we not consider his central claim – according to which everything is a vain and empty posturing – to be itself a vain and empty posturing?
Indeed, is this not the way we must interpret it given Cioran’s two statements of nihilism cited above? If everything is nothing, then surely there cannot be “an unverifiable certitude” anterior to the mind that is impervious to sceptical assault.
Again, one may protest that I am applying logic in that I am comparing different aphorisms with an eye towards evaluating their mutual consistency. It might be suggested that our man is simply not trying to be consistent. But then I say that he is an unserious literary scribbler with no claim on our attention. But the truth of the matter lies a bit deeper: he is trying have it both ways at once. He is trying to say something true but without satisfying the canons satisfaction of which is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of anything’s being true.
My interim judgment, then, is this. What we have before us is a form of cognitive malfunction brought about by hypertrophy of the sceptical faculty. Doubt is the engine of inquiry. Thus there is a healthy form of scepticism. But Cioran’s extreme scepticism is a disease of cognition rather than a means to it. The writing, though, is brilliant.
The Pyrrhonians see clearly that part of our misery in this life is due to our inability to attain certain knowledge. Wanting certainty, but unable to secure it, we are thrown back upon conflicting beliefs that inflame passions. The heat of the passions seems to vary inversely with the rational unprovability of the beliefs that stoke them. The Pyrrhonians try to find happiness in the midst of this misery. We are to suspend judgment (belief) and thereby attain peace of mind. Theirs is not a theoretical but a therapeutic conception of philosophy. The Skeptic therapy diagnoses our illness as belief and prescribes the purgation of belief as the cure. Martha C. Nussbaum (The Therapy of Desire, Princeton UP, 1994, 284-285) puts it well:
In short, says the Skeptic, Epicurus is correct that the central human disease is a disease of belief. But he is wrong to feel that the solution lies in doing away with some beliefs and clinging all the more firmly to others. The disease is not one of false belief; belief itself is the illness -- belief as a commitment, a source of concern, care, and vulnerability.
. . . Greek Skepticism, attaching itself to the medical analogy, commends this diagnosis and proposes a radical cure: the purgation of all cognitive commitment, all belief, from human life.The Skeptic, "being a lover of his fellow human beings, wishes to heal by argument, insofar as he can, the conceit and the rashness of dogmatic people" (PH 3.280).
We note the radicality of both the diagnosis and the cure. Since belief as such makes us ill, the cure must lie in the purgation of all beliefs including, I assume, any beliefs instrumental in effecting the cure. Just as a good laxative flushes itself out along with everything else, doxastic purgation supposedly relieves us of all doxastic impactation, including the beliefs underpinning the therapeutic procedures. You might say that the aperient effect of epoche is to restore us to mundane regularity.
I reject the Skeptic Way, its destination, and its 'laxatives.' I agree that we are ill, all of us, and that that part of our misery in this life is due to our inability to attain what we desire and feel is our birthright, namely, certain knowledge, in particular, certain knowledge of ultimates. But I reject both the diagnosis and the cure. The problem is not belief as such, and the solution is not purgation of belief.
Pyrrhonism is rife with problems. Here is one about the value of ataraxia. It is a value, but how high a value?
The Passivity of Ataraxia
The notion that ataraxia (mental tranquillity, peace of soul, freedom from disturbance) is either essential to happiness or the whole of happiness is a paltry and passive conception of happiness. The peace of the Pyrrhonian is not the "peace that surpasses all understanding" (Phillipians 4:7), but a peace predicated upon not understanding -- and not caring any more about understanding. Could that be a peace worth wanting?
The Skeptic who, true to his name, begins with inquiry abandons inquiry when he finds that nothing can be known with certainty. But rather than have recourse to uncertain belief, the Skeptic concludes that the problem is belief itself. Rather than go forward on uncertain beliefs, he essays to go forward belieflessly. Inquiry, he maintains, issues in the psychological state of aporia (being at a loss) when it is seen that competing beliefs cancel each other out. The resulting evidential equipoise issues in epoche (withdrawal of assent) and then supposedly in ataraxia.
Now mental tranquillity is a high value, and no one who takes philosophy seriously can not want to possess more of it. But the Skeptic's brand of tranquillity cannot be the highest value, and perhaps not much of a value at all. The happy life cannot be anything so passive as the life of ataraxia. We need a more virile conception of happiness, and we find it in Aristotle. For the Stagirite, happiness (eudaimonia) is an activity (ergon) of the soul (psyche) in accordance with virtue (arete) over an entire life. (Cf. Nicomachean Ethics.) His is an active conception of the good life even though the highest virtues are the intellectual and contemplative virtues. The highest life is the bios theoretikos, the vita contemplativa. Though contemplative, it necessarily involves the activity of inquiry into the truth, an activity that skepticism, whether Pyrrhonian or Academic, denigrates.
The Porcinity of Ataraxia
Disillusioned with the search for truth, our Skeptic advocates re-entry into the everyday. Unfortunately, there is something not only passive, but also porcine about the Skeptic's resting in ataraxia. Nussbaum again:
Animal examples play an important part in Skepticism, illustrating the natural creature's freedom from disturbance,and the ease with which this is attained if we only can, in Pyrrho's words, "altogether divest ourselves of the human being" (DL 9.66). The instinctive behavior of a pig, calmly removing its hunger during a storm that fills humans with anxiety, exemplifies for the Skeptic the natural orientation we all have to free ourselves from immediate pain. It also shows that this is easily done, if we divest ourselves of the beliefs and commitments that generate other complex pains and anxieties. Pointing to that pig, Pyrrho said "that the wise man should live in just such and undisturbed condition" (DL 9.66).
How is that for a porcine view of the summum bonum? I am put in mind of this well-known passage from John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, Chapter II:
It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they know only their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
Is the Skeptic Committed to Ataraxia's being a Value?
The Skeptic aspires to live belieflessly, adoxastos. He aims to live beyond all commitments, or at least beyond all commitments that transcend present impressions. (It is a nice question, one best left for later, whether our Skeptic can, consistently with his entire approach, cop to a commitment to something as Chisholmianly noncommital as his here and now being-appeared-to-sweetly when, for example, he eats honey. Does he not here and and now accept, affirm, believe that he is being-appeared-to-sweetly when he consumes honey? Sticking to impressions, he does not accept, affirm, believe that the honey IS sweet, but 'surely' he must accept, affirm, believe that he IS (in reality) presently being appeared-to-sweetly. No?)
Setting aside for now our parenthetical worry, what about the commitment to the pursuit of ataraxia? He who treads the Skeptic Path is committed to the value of ataraxia, and this value-commitment obviously transcends his present impressions. It is the organizing principle behind his therapeutic procedures and his entire way of life. It is what his quasi-medicinal treatments are for. Ataraxia is the goal, the 'final cause' of the therapy. So here we have yet another doxastic-axiological commitment that is part and parcel of the Skeptic Way. We see once a again that a life without commitment is impossible.
Nussbaum considers how a Skeptic might respond:
I think he would now answer that yes, after all, an orientation to ataraxia is very fundamental in his procedures. But the orientation to ataraxia is not a belief, or a value-commitment. It has the status of a natural inclination. Naturally, without belief or teaching, we move to free ourselves from burdens and disturbances. Ataraxia does not need to become a dogmatic commitment, because it is already a natural animal impulse . . . Just as the dog moves to take a thorn out of its paw, so we naturally move to get rid of our pains and impediments: not intensely or with any committed attachment but because that's just the way we go. (305)
This quotation is right before the pig passage quoted above. Nussbaum does not endorse the response she puts in the mouth of the Skeptic, and she very skillfully presents the difficulty. The Skeptic, whether he aims to be consistent or not, must adopt a Skeptical attitude toward ataraxia "if he is to avoid disturbance and attain ataraxia." (Nussbaum, 301) He cannot be committed to ataraxia or any of the procedures that supposedly lead to it without running the risk of disturbance.
I would add that our Skeptic cannot even be committed to the possibility of ataraxia. The pursuit of ataraxia enjoins a suspension of judgment as to its possibility or impossibility. For any claim that humans are capable of ataraxia is a claim that goes beyond the impressions of the present moment, a claim that can give rise to dispute and disturbance. But it is even worse that this. It occurs to me that our Skeptic cannot even grant that he or anyone has ever experienced ataraxia in the past since this claim too would go beyond the impressions of the present moment.
Suppose you went to this doctor for treatment. You ask him how successful his procedures are. "How many, doc, have experienced relief after a course of your purgatives and aperients?" The good doctor will not commit himself. He has no 'track record' he will stand by. No point, then, is asking about the prognosis.
How then can the Skeptic save himself from incoherence? It seems he must reduce the human being to an animal that simply follows its natural instincts and inclinations. Divesting himself of his humanity, he must sink to the level of the animal as Pyrrho recommends. Indeed, he must stop acting and merely respond to stimuli. Human action has beliefs as inputs, and human action is for reasons. But all of this is out if we are to avoid all doxastic and axiological commitments.
We now clearly see that the Skeptic Way is a dead end. We want the human good, happiness. But we are given a load of rhetoric that implies that there is no specifically human good and that we must regress to the level of animals.
But even this recommendation bristles with paradox. For it too is a commitment to a course of action that transcends the moment when action is impossible for a critter that merely responds instinctually to environmental stimuli.
It might not be in their best interest. Buy guns and ammo and the accessories and you support those industries and the lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association. The NRA, however, played a key role in getting Trump elected. The NRA takes decidedly anti-leftist stands on crime and the nanny-statism liberals hold dear.
This puts liberals in a delightful bind. Delightful to us, that is. Fearing 'fascism,' they are now buying guns as numerous news stories have reported, but in so doing they shoot themselves in the foot, figuratively speaking.
There is a parallel here with liberals' new-found love of federalism. As William McGurn has recently noted,
For both historical and philosophical reasons, federalism runs counter to the progressive instinct. Those on the left like government, and their preferred legislature is the Supreme Court. (Brilliant! Emphasis added.)
Fearing Trumpian 'fascism,' our liberal pals are now getting excited about states rights despite their long-standing mendacious insinuation that all talk of states rights can only mean a return to Jim Crow and the lynching of blacks.
UPDATE 3/24. A Friendly Warning to Liberals
A gun is not a talisman. Its mere presence won't protect you. To paraphrase Col. Jeff Cooper, owning a gun no more makes you armed than owning a guitar makes you a musician. You will need to get training. In the course of this training and numerous trips to the shooting range and gun stores for ammo, etc. you will find yourself associating whether you like it or not with rednecks, country folk, blue collar types, cops, ex-cops, military, ex-military, church-goers and other subspecies of the people Obama derisively referred to as "clingers" and Hillary as "deplorables."
The danger here is that you will learn that, in the main, these are decent people. Your liberal bigotry fueled by hate and ignorance will stand refuted by experience. This may cause such painful cognitive dissonance that you may no longer be able to remain a bien-pensant librul.
Martin P. Seligman explains. Seligman! Now there's an aptronym for you. Selig is German for happy, blessed, blissful, although it can also mean late (verstorben) and tipsy (betrunken). So Seligman is the happy man or happy one. Nomen est omen?
Give some careful thought to what you name your kid. 'Chastity' may have an anti-aptronymic effect. As for anti-aptronyms, I was introduced a while back to a hulking biker who rejoiced under the name of 'Tiny.' A student of mine's name for me was 'Smiley' to underscore my serious-as-cancer demeanor.
My traffic has been insanely high over the past week or so. Can I now make money by selling advertising? But I stand by my pledge, and if I ever violate it you may shoot me.
My pledge: You will never see advertising on this site. You will never see anything that jumps around in your visual field. You will not be assaulted with unwanted sounds. I will not load crap into your computer. I will not beg for money with a 'tip jar.' This is a labor of love and I prize my independence.
Defeatist Londoners and other appeasers are settling down to the 'new normal': slaughter, including beheadings, on the streets of great and not-so-great cities.
But what's the big deal? In yesterday's London incident only four were killed and only a few more injured. Compare terror deaths with bath tub deaths and you will see that the likelihood of getting whacked by a jihadi is vanishingly small as compared to bath tub deaths or traffic fatalities or gun deaths.
In 2006, Melanie Phillips wrote a book called Londonistan: How Britain Is Creating a Terror State Within. She argued that Britain was a sitting duck for Islamic terrorists, owing to its idiotic embrace of political correctness, multiculturalism, and religious relativism.
Keep calm and propagandize on — that’s the attitude in Sadiq Khan’s London, where terrorism, as he put it last year, some months after his election as mayor, is “part and parcel of living in a big city.”
Khan's attitude is defeatist. Was terrorism "part and parcel of living in a big city" twenty years ago? There are plenty of stateside defeatists too, and some call themselves 'conservative.' But we got lucky last November and the deplorable Hillary went down in defeat, and with her the then-regnant mentality of Barack Hussein Obama.
It may be too late for the UK and Europe. But it is not too late for us.