Repost-Alas, What Were You Hoping For?

Simon Blackburn at the University of Toronto discussing the minimalist or deflationist view:

‘Along comes someone like Pilate, Pontius Pilate, and says something like: ‘What is truth?’ and everybody goes sort of dizzy, and you look to the philosopher to provide a suitably abstract and highfalutin answer. The minimalist says you shouldn’t answer Pilate, or rather, if you answer Pilate, you answer should take the form of a question…which is “What are you interested in?’

So basically, you throw the question ‘What is truth?’ back until the person who’s interlocuting you… gives you an example and says ‘Well, I’m interested in whether penguins fly’ and you say ‘Okay well the truth there…the truth would consist in penguins flying…’

…that’s very disappointing:’

Blackburn on Richard Rorty here.

From Kelley Ross, who takes a step back from moral relativism and good ‘ol American Pragmatism:

‘It is characteristic of all forms of relativism that they wish to preserve for themselves the very principles that they seek to deny to others. Thus, relativism basically presents itself as a true doctrine, which means that it will logically exclude its opposites (absolutism or objectivism), but what it actually says is that no doctrines can logically exclude their opposites. It wants for itself the very thing (objectivity) that it denies exists. Logically this is called “self-referential inconsistency,” which means that you are inconsistent when it comes to considering what you are actually doing yourself. More familiarly, that is called wanting to “have your cake and eat it too.” Someone who advocates relativism, then, may just have a problem recognizing how their doctrine applies to themselves’

And on Richard Rorty:

‘Pragmatism is really just a kind of relativism; and, as with Protagoras’s own strategy, it is a smoke screen for the questions that ultimately must be asked about what it means that something is “better,” or now that something “works.” Something “works,” indeed, if it gets us what we want — or what Richard Rorty wants. But why should we want that? Again, the smoke screen puts off the fatal moment when we have to consider what is true about what is actually good, desirable, worthy, beneficial, etc. All these responses are diversions that attempt to obscure and prevent the examination of the assumptions that stand behind the views of people like Rorty. It is easier to believe what you believe if it is never even called into question, and that is just as true of academic philosophers like Rorty as it is for anybody else. Being intelligent or well educated does not mean that you are necessarily more aware of yourself, what you do, or the implications of what you believe. That is why the Delphic Precept, “Know Thyself” (Gnôthi seautón) is just as important now as ever.’

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism is skeptical of the Nietzchean influence: ‘Prinz’s Deceptive Silence in His Arguments for Emotivism and Cultural Relativism:’

‘In Beyond Human Nature, Jesse Prinz argues for emotivism and cultural relativism in his account of human morality. In doing this, he employs the rhetorical technique of deceptive silence. What I mean by this is that in presenting the research relevant to his topic, he picks out those findings that seem to support his arguments, while passing over in silence those findings that contradict his arguments. For example, he sets up a stark debate between Kantian rationalism and Humean emotivism in explaining the basis of human morality; and he argues that empirical research supports emotivism by showing that moral judgment is purely emotional and not rational at all (293-95). This is deceptive in two respects. ‘

Also On This Site: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Repost-Some Thoughts On Noam Chomsky Via The American Conservative: ‘American Anarchist’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Roger Scruton On Moral Relativism And Ross Douthat On Bill Maher

Repost-A Link And Some Thoughts: Phillip Blond At First Things-Politics After Liberalism

Blond reviews this book by John Milbank & Adrian Pabst: ‘The Politics Of Virtue: Post-Liberalism And The Human Future‘ (PDF here).

Is it necessary to reclaim secular idealism from many secular idealists? Or at least, might it be necessary to provide an alternative to much unthinking liberal idealism which has come to govern many of our institutions?

Blond has ideas for conservatism in Great Britain, anyways:

‘Among the ideas that compete to determine the world’s future, one can count Catholicism, Islam, and (until recently) Marxism. But only one is dominant, hegemonic, and all-pervasive—liberalism.’

Blond’s apparent challenge to this form of liberalism is a return to the Catholic Church (if it ain’t exactly a neoclassical return to Platonic idealism):

Hmmmm….:

‘The Catholic Church must reenter the political fray, not as a chaplain to left or right but as the herald of a new order.’

As an American, let me offer a brief family anecdote: I was raised by lapsed Catholics (Irish-Catholics mostly, thoroughly American, a little cynical, often skeptical and suspicious of authority). In that spirit, perhaps the below offers some insight into why many Boomers might have drifted away from the Catholic Church if not always towards secular humanist ideals:

There’s a Catholic girls’ high-school weekend retreat with the nuns, and the girls and the nuns are having a decent time of it. One of the girls is epileptic and starts to have seizures. The situation gets pretty serious, and, unfortunately, the nuns don’t handle it too well. In the telling, there’s much fear and diddling-around. Confusion sets-in. Time passes. The girl with epilepsy is halfway-abandoned for a bit. Although the poor girl eventually recovers, there’s a deeper suspicion of medical advancements lurking somewhere in the background. The nuns manage to impress a parochial mediocrity; a lack of calm, actionable knowledge and understanding.

Frankly, many people are happy to hit young girls in the knuckles in order to reinforce metaphysical ideas and correct behavior, the truth or falsehood of the ideas long ago internalized and no longer questioned. As long as many people get some kind of standing, purpose and security in the world, they’re happy to pay it forward.

As for me, I can’t say I don’t see a lot of parochial mediocrity and a lack of calm and knowledge in many federal bureaucracies these days (people with real power and authority over our lives, supposedly well-meaning). This is to say nothing of corporate HR departments and amongst many academics and the media. Pay insufficient tribute to the latest moral idea, and become a member of a clear minority. Refuse to gather around the high ideals and the increasingly complex rules that come with them (climate change, multiculturalism, diversity, human rights etc.) and be seen as morally suspect.

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This is why I tend to welcome critiques of liberalism, but also continued satire when it comes to the Catholic Church, too (it’d sure be nice to have equal application and some backbone when it comes to Islam, especially when cartoonists get murdered for cartoons).

That’s what satire is for.

It doesn’t seem like much has changed regarding human nature, either, least of all within the Church (nor the increasingly predictable, increasingly pathetic Boomer vilification of the Church). Perhaps ‘love’ isn’t all you need.

Imagine critizing the radical discontents of the Left, which often drive the latest moral ideas within high-liberal thought; standing-up to some obviously contradictory and true-believing rightesousness?

***Beyond ‘strategic’ politics and philosophy, there are plenty of reasons like the rapid technological advancements and change going-on in our lives (genuine progress and a lot of choice in matters we haven’t always had). There are many downward pressures from global marketplaces, supply chains and mobile labor, too. Perhaps it’s harder to be local these days, and decent and derive the meaning one needs from friends, neighbors, and the kinds of constraints and rewards one has while living in the same place.

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Possibly related on this site:

Ken Minogue framed it thusly, and he believes there’s going to be some authority in your life, but you’ve got be particularly careful about which kind, and which rules govern that relationship with authority:

Full piece here:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

And:

‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and other forms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion.‘

From Fellini’s ‘Roma.’ Fellini presents a kind of sinister and surreal Papal fashion show.

At least it isn’t a ‘bunga-bunga‘ party (maybe don’t leave models of governance to modern Italy?).

David Brooks here.

On Blond:

“Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.”

Are we really in a Platonic decline, the kind of which required The Republic?: Are you a gold, silver or bronze medalist?

That’s a little scary.

A Podcast From Britain: E30 | Dreaming The Future | Natalie Bennett, Phillip Blond, Roger Scruton

Quote found here——Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.

Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”

Related On This Site: Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…?: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Is there a causal connection between a move away from religion and the moral structure it provides….and a bigger state?From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes: From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?

Some Anti-modernism: From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

A Few Thoughts On Steven Pinker’s Appearance On The Rubin Report

Via a reader, Pinker’s book here.

My current views on Pinker’s four categories, for what they’re worth:

Reason-I’ve been exploring philosophically ideal Oakeshottian ‘modes of experience’ lately.  Our thoughts and basic sensory experiences are intertwined within modes, but these modes are not necessarily connected to a larger, hierarchically arranged superstructure.

‘The modes that Oakeshott identifies in Experience and Its Modes—history, science, and practice, to which he later added “poetry” (art)—are epistemological categories, not ontological ones. And although the modes are mutually exclusive, they do not form a closed set. They are constructions that have emerged over time in human experience. They could change or even disappear and other modes might yet appear.’

I view this approach as particularly useful for the humanities, as it could be tonic for the nihilism, existentialism and post-Romantic, post-Modern individual isolation found throughout the Western World (arts, academies, ‘culture’).  This approach could be especially useful where narrow ideologies and righteous belief go about picking up the slack.

I do think Pinker is properly humble about the influence of reason (it won’t scale to everyone, and only to those of interested in engaging their reason in a direction Pinker might help instruct and with which I find much to agree).

More on Oakeshott’s thinking:

‘The illusion that there are “correct” answers to practical questions Oakeshott called “Rationalism”. It is the belief that practical activity is rational only when it rests on moral or causal laws whose truth can be demonstrated. In Marxism, for example, one encounters the claim that laws of historical change can be discerned scientifically and that practical guidance can be derived from them. But this claim, Oakeshott thought, should be understood as a rhetorical one that presupposes a certain kind of audience: it can be persuasive only for those who already believe that such laws exist and that they dictate correct decisions (Oakeshott 2008: 168–177). The error of Rationalism is to think that making decisions simply requires skill in the technique of applying rules or calculating consequences.’

As a brief aside, Oakeshottian pluralism perhaps doesn’t have much overlap with Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism with regard to political philosophy, but it does remind me of the following: Oppressed individuals may actually have good reasons for change, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that oppressed individuals possess knowledge of the direction nor ends of (H)istory, nor those of (M)an.  In fact, some of the greatest dangers of the 20th century came from individuals believing they knew of such ends while instituting those ends into social and political revolutions.

Berlin:

“Everything is what it is:  liberty is liberty, not equality or justice or fairness or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.  If liberty of myself or my class or my nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral.  but if I curtail or lose my freedom in order to lessen the shame of such inequality, and do not thereby materially increase the individual liberty of others, an absolute loss of liberty occurs.”

Food for thought.

Science-I believe the sciences yield the best knowledge we have of the Natural world, and attract some of the best minds, but it takes many years of long practice, hard work and habit to gain a sufficient mental map and the mathematical problem solving skills necessary to advance a field.  Not all sciences are equal, and some social sciences, like psychology, have had serious reproducibility problems of late.

Just as the Oakeshottian critique of ‘rationalism’ display themselves with regard to reason, there is also a critique of ‘scientism‘ on this view.

In the wake of people actually doing science, are many people practicing in a field with scientific elements and varying but respectable degrees of probabilistic accuracy, and further downstream, people with little to no training in the sciences doing something quite different altogether (politics, journalism etc).

There is a reductionism, and a kind of fetishiziation of scientific knowledge around which many gather.  Should one usefully rank order the sciences, a little epistemological humility might still recommend that human knowledge may not all be successfully synthesized into one model nor accounted for within such a model.

Also (I’m sure you’ve probably noticed this, too) smart people, scientists included, are subject to the same blind spots, hubris and group-think as any of the rest of us.  Sometimes smart people are more likely to assume their knowledge in one domain qualifies them for knowledge in another, especially when others pay them a lot of attention.

Humanism & Progress Through Humanist Institutions (The Problem of ‘Isms’)

I wonder if Pinker would accept this definition of Humanism as found here:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Perhaps.

From an interview with Pinker:

Naff: Let’s talk about humanism itself. You say that progress without humanism really isn’t progress at all. And you’ve just made the point that humanism can occupy a place in various different perches. But there is a secular humanist movement that is at the forefront of humanism today.

Lots of other “isms” have faltered because of human foibles, jealousies, power divisions, ideological differences and so on. What makes humanism so special that you single it out as essential to progress?

Pinker: Not so much the humanist movement, although I do endorse it as a valuable development, but rather the overall morality of humanism [is what’s essential], namely that human wellbeing is the ultimate good—and also the wellbeing of other sentient creatures. “Humanism” is a bit of a misnomer in singling out Homo sapiens; it’s a larger commitment to sentient beings.

But the effect of humanistic institutions very much depends on how they organize, how they conduct themselves, how they manage their own affairs. Although they’ve been a force for good, I’m not calling for a blind trust in a particular organization that happens to have “humanist” in their title.

Of course, progress is possible and is actually occuring in many fields and such progress filters down to all of our lives through various channels. Yet, as Pinker notes, it’s not clear what prevents unfalsifiable ideas from becoming ascendant and dominant, and the loudest, most committed ideologues from gaining humanist institutional control through administrative maneuvering and confrontational shakedowns.

The schisms within the Progressive movement, for example, and the radical liberationists often driving the latest moral cause are very interested in making all the world, all the people in the world, and all of our institutions [on top of that], reflect their moral and ideological lights, often through very illiberal means.

How much am I missing?  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Thanks for reading.

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department…

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

***Feel free to critique, or highlight my ignorance, as I’ll have to dig back here soon to confirm the reasoning.

————–

I wanted to contrast and highlight the above video with a recent post by Francis Fukuyama, a well-known American political scientist and former neoconservative. He maintains a blog at the American Interest which often advocates for a larger State.

————–

For Strauss, there were two distinct schools of thought which prevent people from asking and trying to answer the question he wants them to ask:

“What is the good society?”

1. PositivismThe only form of genuine knowledge is scientific knowledge…and science knows only facts, or relations of facts.”-Video 1-Minute 4:40

On the positivist view, political science is but a pale copy of the best knowledge that we have. Science deals with questions of fact, and the social sciences, on this view, deal with questions of value (as Strauss notes, there are much thornier philosophical problems underlying the fact/value distinction).

A good political scientist, however, can develop methods of his own. He can poll people, read and interpret economic data, and he can use the best statistical sampling and modeling available. Fukuyama, in his post, for example, advocates for a return to vigorous, empirical studies measuring the freedom bureaucrats have from direct political pressure in a bureaucratic modern society, bending the discipline in a direction he’d like to see it go (for which he has a conception of the good society which involves a bigger State led by a more moral, bureaucracy and with which I generally disagree).

Political scientists can also carefully follow events on the ground in foreign countries, gathering reports to establish facts (of a sort on the positivist view) which can back their thinking up, or challenge their framework, coming to understand many of the complex relationships of the societies they’re dealing with. They can think clearly and well about Statecraft and the organizational structures of societies, as well as their own. They can interview, visit, and come to understand the particular people, their incentives and motives, that live in these countries. They can try and provide road maps, as Samuel Huntington did, and as Fukuyama did with his famous The End Of History. They can provide direct consultation to our military and can deeply affect how those making U.S. Foreign policy understand the world.

Yet, on the positivist view, such attempts will always fall short of factual, scientific knowledge.

Positivism, Strauss believes, comes with a problem in its wake: It leads to nihilism, or the negation of the possibility of knowledge. Continental European thought in the last 140 years or so is full of nihilists, existentialists, modernists and postmodernists many of whom are reacting to, or developing alongside, positivism. Here’s Wikipedia’s page:

‘Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism can also take epistemological or metaphysical/ontological forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or that reality does not actually exist.’

On Strauss’ view, nihilism can be especially dangerous because in its negation of knowledge, and the possibility of knowledge, it can go about destroying the traditions and institutions that make civil society possible and maintain the political and economic liberty we in America often take for granted. Strauss was particularly concerned with the effects of Friedrich Nietzsche, and Nietzsche through Martin Heidegger.

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The other school of thought holding back genuine questions of the good in politics for Strauss was:

2. Historicism “All human thought, including scientific thought, rests ultimately on premises, which cannot be validated by human reason, and which change from historical epoch to historical epoch.”-Video 2-Minute 4:10.

This is largely a critique of the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel and his absolute idealism.

Again, those whom Strauss wants to ask: “What is the good society?”, are forced to confront the idea that a universal response is not really possible. Aristotle said many true things, but that was in ancient Athens in the polis, partly in response to Plato’s idealism.

John Locke, in contrast, was responding to 17th century, warring, Protestant, Anglican and Catholic England from a more Christian perspective, as well as dealing with the achievements of Galileo and Newton as the sciences were splitting from natural philosophy at the time. Thus, Aristotle and Locke’s answers will naturally be different as to what constitutes a good society, and perhaps incompatibly so. This view, for Strauss, is in the air we breathe and the water we drink, but it wasn’t always the case.

The historicist view assumes a universality of its own, according to Strauss. Hegel assumed that an absolute knowledge of time is possible, and thus his historicism is a lens through which one can scan and survey all of time, from epoch to epoch. Yet, the historicist lens does not critique itself nor its own metaphysical foundations (Hegel’s thought remains exempt from its own criticism). Hegel’s philosophy puts humanity in a process of progressing toward future goals, shaped by forces larger than itself, in an absolute relationship with time, and as part of a history which has an internal logic of its own (he dragged a lot of Christian metaphysics along).

Hegel’s idealism, after what Hegel did to Kant’s transcendental idealism, became known as German Idealism, developed further later on by Fichte and Schelling, and also formed the basis for some of Karl Marx’s thought, and the ideas that made up the stuff of the Communist Manifesto and the socialist, and the current social democratic, parties of Europe.

Historicism, Strauss believes, comes with a problem in its wake: It leads to relativism. Here’s the Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy definition:

‘Relativism is not a single doctrine but a family of views whose common theme is that some central aspect of experience, thought, evaluation, or even reality is somehow relative to something else. For example standards of justification, moral principles or truth are sometimes said to be relative to language, culture, or biological makeup. Although relativistic lines of thought often lead to very implausible conclusions, there is something seductive about them, and they have captivated a wide range of thinkers from a wide range of traditions.’

Relativism, including moral relativism, should be familiar to us all. Why is one set of moral values any better than another? Why is my civilization better than any other? Why do I even have to learn and understand the values of my own culture if all values are relative? A malaise ensues.

I would offer that too much relativism is clearly corrosive to our civil society, our institutions and freedoms. When no one can agree upon, nor even identify, a set of principles and ideas around which our civil society is based, then we’re all more likely to come into conflict, and more likely to swing to an opposite pole of moral absolutism in response, which is equally dangerous. That said, like many people, I could try and defend some aspects of relativism, or the examining of one’s own beliefs, ideas and principles and testing them for holes which I think is often the beginning of wisdom.

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Hopefully, looking at Strauss can help highlight the Hegelian influence of Fukuyama and why he might have been advocating for an end of history a few decades ago, and for a bigger State now, as well as how a positivist influence through the Straussian lens might look more broadly upon a political scientist.

I haven’t discussed the criticisms of Strauss, including his esotericism, his other work and where his philosophy leads as a positive doctrine.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Thanks for reading.

Addition: Related post here at American Creation.

Related On This Site: Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’……Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft…Kant often leads to a liberal political philosophy: Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington….is neoconservative foreign policy defunct…sleeping…how does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’

Samuel Huntington was quite humble, and often wise, about what political philosophy could do: From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’……Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?

Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand to Robert Nozick: A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Why Should You Read Poems, Prose & The Great Works, Anyways?

Whitney Sha at The Point: ‘Subjectivity and Its Discontents

‘This conclusion is rarely discussed on a systematic level, although humanists have proposed individual responses to it. Some, for starters, play the “no true humanist” card: there may be bullshit in some humanistic disciplines or by some humanists, but real work in the humanities is just as rigorous and legitimate as work in the sciences. Classicist and philosopher Martha Nussbaum, for example, has accused literary scholar Stanley Fish of radical relativism and gender theorist Judith Butler of deliberate obfuscation; philosopher John Searle has combed through Jacques Derrida’s work to reveal that, for all its ambition and difficulty, it is ultimately “unintelligible.” If Fish and Butler and Derrida have somehow failed in their charge as humanists, then the humanities as a whole don’t have to be responsible for justifying their work.’

I suspect the search for deeper metaphysical and epistemological grounds in the humanities will always be afoot, be they ‘postmodern’ or otherwise.  Simply reading texts is probably not enough for quicker minds, which often seek deeper truth and knowledge claims to anchor thought and so often, reinforce behavioral norms.  The ‘why’ questions will nag and often coalesce into higher and competing spires, especially upon university grounds.

On this site, see:

A more religious defense (Roger Scruton) of why you should read great works and the religion-sized-hole-filled by-Marxism-approach (Terry Eagleton) mirroring many downstream debates occuring within the British political economy.

A particularly British affair (hopefully the centuries of stratification support a deeper Marxism on that side of the pond):

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-From Edge: ‘Dennett On Wieseltier V. Pinker In The New Republic’

Art, iconography, art education, culture, feminism as well as 60’s cultural revolution radicalism and deeply Catholic impulses?:Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

What have I gotten wrong, here?: Jordan Peterson deploys Jungian metaphysics, downstream of Nietzsche, to make knowledge claims which challenge Blackmore’s reasonably pedestrian modern materialism and atheism.

In other words, Peterson’s defense of Jungian archetypes, including those potentially found in the Bible (and perhaps viewed from the depths of Nietzsche’s nihilism), might connect with biology more profoundly than Blackmore’s psychological materialism might have been able to address.

Nihilism is an interesting epistemological ground out of which to make knowledge claims of transcendant objects, or at least, out of which to synthesize biological knowledge and knowledge claims which align within the burgeoning field of neuroscience.

The desire each of us seems to have for transcendence, wisdom and stories (especially kids) within the subjectivity of our own lived experiences, the deeper hopes and beliefs which seem ever-present (if not consciously realized) in our waking lives, the relationships with loved ones which inform, and probably ought to inform our moral judgments and moral thinking, might align with Jungian archetypes, Greek myths and the King James Bible, and thus some sort of Nietzschen nihilist denial of objective reality or the structure of the material world explored by the sciences…or…they might not.

A return to Straussian neo-classicism?: From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’Harvey Mansfield At Defining Ideas: ‘Democracy Without Politics?’

Neo-neo conservatism, new atheism and post socialism for the ’68ers? Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue

Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’,,

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Are You There, God? It’s Me, So-And-So.

Simon Blackburn reviews Edward Feser’s ‘Five Proofs of The Existence of God

From The Ignatius Press description of the book:

‘This work provides as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past— thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others— that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism that gives aid and comfort to atheism.’

Blackburn, here in the Times Literary Supplement (link may not last):

‘Edward Feser, a Roman Catholic philosopher, disagrees. His book is an exercise in the drive to go where Hobbes, Hume and Kant said we could not go, finding something lying behind the world as we know it, something necessary and unchanging that sustains and in some sense explains the contingent, shifting, natural world and our capacity to think about it.’

and:

‘Edward Feser himself is not at all drawn to silent contemplation inside the monastery walls. He is a vigorous proponent of a morality of natural law, holding, for instance, that abortion is as bad as murder. His ancient exercises in logic are more than just intellectual amusements. They are preludes to the will to power, and if it were not for the Enlightenment, so little admired by John Gray, they would doubtless have continued to be preludes to persecutions and the auto-da-fé.’

Feser responds, here:

‘On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature.  For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation...

…On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.’

On that note, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism

Blackburn on the book:

‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’

If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:

Thomas Nagel review of John Gray’s previous book, ‘The Silence Of Animals,’ here.

Simon Critchley reviewed the book at the L.A. Times.

Nagel starts with:

‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’

and:

The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’

Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.

Nagel finishes with:

‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’

Gray discusses the book here:

While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.

Are we rational beings?  Rational animals?

What about a Church Of England, somewhat Hegelian, defense of conservatism as a defense of that which one loves?:

In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Ross Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’…:   At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…… From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems.

Don’t immanentize the eschaton!: From The NY Times: ‘Atheists Sue to Block Display of Cross-Shaped Beam in 9/11 Museum’

Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn…Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

Robert Bork had his own view of the 1960’s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Roger Kimball At The New Criterion-‘The Legacy Of Friedrich Nietzsche’

Hmmm…:

‘Nietzsche snidely remarked that Christianity was “Platonism for the masses.” In the academy today we have what we might call Nietzscheanism for the masses, as squads of cozy nihilists parrot his ideas and attitudes. Nietzsche’s contention that truth is merely “a moveable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms,” for example, has become a veritable mantra in comparative literature departments across the country.’

On this site, well, there’s been quite a bit of related content over the years:

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?:

‘In November of 1887, the Danish scholar George Brandes wrote a letter to Nietzsche praising his writings and endorsing his “aristocratic radicalism.”  Nietzsche responded by accepting this label: “The expression Aristocratic Radicalism, which you employ, is very good.  It is, permit me to say, the cleverest thing I have yet read about myself.”‘

Excellent, as always.

‘Finally, as I have indicated in some previous posts, Nietzsche’s aristocratic liberalism is based on a Darwinian anthropology that is open to empirical verification or falsification, while his aristocratic radicalism is based on mythopoetic fictions–the will to power, eternal recurrence, the Ubermensch, and Dionysian religiosity–that are beyond empirical testing.

From all of this, I conclude that Nietzsche’s Darwinian aristocratic liberalism is superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism.’

Arnhart maintains that Nietzsche’s middle period, focused on Darwin’s thought, is the most defensible.

Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, on Nietzsche beginning the 3rd crisis of modernity, having followed the logic of relativism to nihilism:

The theoretical analysis of life is noncommittal and fatal to commitment, but life means commitment.  To avert the danger to life, Nietzsche could choose one of two ways: he could insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life–that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion–or else he could deny the possibility of theory proper. and so conceive of theory as essentially subservient to, or dependent on, life or fate.  If not Nietzsche himself, at any rate his successors adopted the second alternative.’

A paper arguing that Strauss conflated his own critique of modernity with the intentions of philosophers:

‘A fervent critic of modernity, Leo Strauss attributed modernity’s intellectual degradation to the influence of some great philosophers in the history of political thought who radically broke with classical political thinking.  In doing so, Strauss believed, these thinkers either directly or indirectly contributed to the emergence of historicism and positivism, and he held these movements accountable for spineless relativism, nihilism, and modernity’s moral and intellectual demise.’

Above is Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Some Saturday Links-Hilary Putnam & Thomas Leonard With A Mention Of Hayek & Sowell

Via Edward Feser:

‘Hilary Putnam, who died a couple of months ago, had some interest in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, even if in part it was a critical interest.’

R.I.P. Post and comments worth a read.

Some of Bryan Magee’s series has been made available on youtube. Putnam on the Philosophy of Science.

Moving along, via a reader, via bloggingheads: Thomas Leonard and Glenn Loury discuss ‘The Power Of The Progressive

Leonard’s book can be found here: ‘Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics & American Economics In The Progressive Era.’

Glenn Loury via the comments:

‘Hayek’s argument against planning was rooted in his views about how to assimilate the knowledge relevant to economic decisions that, necessarily in a modern society, is dispersed among millions of distinct individuals. What feasible mechanisms of social action would allow this diffused information to be most efficiently brought to bear on decisions about the use of scarce resources? How can the actions of myriad individual producers and consumers be so coordinated as to exploit most effectively the specialized knowledge which each possesses about their respective circumstances?

His answer, of course, was that central planning could not improve upon — and invariably would lead to outcomes much worse than — what can be achieved via the price system operating within competitive markets where institutions of private property and freedom of contract are respected, and where individuals enjoy liberty to puruse their own best interests, as they understand them.

This, I wish to insist, is a profound insight into the functioning of economic systems which — though subject to qualification and exception — is largely a correct conclusion with far-reaching implications for the design of economic institutions and the conduct of public affairs. To my mind, the world’s history since publication of The Road to Serfdom has largely vindicated Hayek’s concerns…’

Interview with Thomas Sowell here.

Sowell speaks about his then new book, ‘Intellectuals And Race’, and speaks against multiculturalism:

‘What multiculturalism does is it paints people into the corner in which they happen to be born. You would think that people on the left would be very sensitive to the notion that one’s whole destiny should be determined by the accident of birth as it is, say, in a caste system. But what the multiculturalism dogma does is create the same problems that the caste system creates. Multiculturalism uses more pious language, but the outcome is much the same.’

Heavily influenced by the Chicago School, here he is arguing that the welfare state maintains some of the same dependence in the black community that slavery required.

Within the embrace of political coalitions promising a better world to come, ever on the horizon, uniting individuals beneath the ‘-Isms,’ against ‘the system’ in perpetuity, the maps don’t always line-up with the terrain.

The moral sentiments are engaged, certainly, and there are truths to tell, but not all the truths, and within groups on the march under a professed political banner, many important truths have already been ignored, trampled or passed on by.

Ideals, abstractions, self, professional and political interests are often no match for one’s own doubt in moments of quiet and honest reflection: The simple pleasures and patient work of the home and family. The lessons great works in the humanities can offer, the years-long deep dives into data and the mathematical patterns one didn’t expect to find in one’s backyard or on Mars; the long, bloody struggles of the past and the wisdom of experience, speaking to you directly after hundreds or thousands of years.

Freedom and thinking for one’s self is often harder, lonelier, more challenging and more rewarding than the modern ideals, moral crusades, and political activists would have you believe.

In pursuit of truth, your work is never done.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden

Yeah, I don’t think this is so much about (S)cience.

On the Sam Harris/Ezra Klein debate:

Related On This Site:   What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Repost-Eugene Volokh At The National Review: ‘Multiculturalism: For or Against?’

Tuesday Quotation-Sir Thomas More

‘The fact is, even the sternest ascetic tends to be slightly inconsistent in his condemnation of pleasure. He may sentence you to a life of hard labour, inadequate sleep, and general discomfort, but he’ll also tell you to do your best to ease the pains and privations of others. He’ll regard all such attempts to improve the human situation as laudable acts of humanity – for obviously nothing could be more humane, or more natural for a human being, than to relieve other people’s sufferings, put an end to their miseries, and restore their joie de vivre, that is, their capacity for pleasure. So, why shouldn’t it be equally natural to do the same thing for oneself?’

More, Thomas. Utopia. Penguin (trans. Paul Turner), 1965. Print.

Hmmm…

“His problem (Plato’s) with the arts was that they operated by images rather than by ideas, and thus that they might cloud the truth rather than clarifying it.”

Yes, and religious traditions, for example, also have interpretations of how one ought to reproduce the image.

“Whatever one thinks of Plato’s solution to this problem, I suggest that this is one of the problems that elicited his proposals for severe censorship of the arts he so obviously loved and had been trained in.”

Six Links Somewhat Relevant In The Current Political Landscape

I’m still getting accustomed to the post 60’s political and cultural landscape in America, at least in response to the current round of progressivism; the idealism and utopianism of many collectivist platforms, and the election of Trump as some sort of response.

As someone of more conservative and religious temperment, but as someone who is not a believer and deeply committed to many projects of the Enlightenment, I’m just looking around for different types of liberalism.  Does equality always run aground on human nature?  Will pursuing broad definitions of the public good always lead to a corruption of the ideal of equality, and less freedom?

Joel Kotkin has an interesting piece Class Warfare For Republicans:

As a Truman-style Democrat left politically homeless, I am often asked about the future of the Republican Party.’

The Tea Party probably might not agree, nor maybe many social and religious conservatives.

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Walter Russell Mead seems to be envisioning a reinvigorated liberalism 5.0, arguing that the current union fights, ecotopia, high-speed rail plans, and progressivism aren’t necessarily the best way forward given America’s challenges.  There’s been a fundamental shift that we must adjust to, and it involves technology and globalization for starters.  Repost-Via Youtube: Conversations With History – Walter Russell Mead

Interesting post here:

‘It is important to note, however, that rampant government dependence and economic mismanagement are not exclusively blue-state pathologies. Corrupt and crony Republicans can be every bit as sleazy and dangerous as their Democratic counterparts. South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi are on this list for good reason.’

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Perhaps conservative Briton Roger Scruton is just being nostalgic for what he describes as the old humanism, but there sure is a lot of Hegel informing his thought:

Hesitate!

“There is no need for God, they thought, in order to live with a vision of the higher life. All the values that had been appropriated by the Christian churches are available to the humanist too.”

And he laments the new humanism, which lacks the noblility of purpose of the old, and offers nothing positive:

“Instead of idealizing man, the new humanism denigrates God and attacks the belief in God as a human weakness”

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Copied from Will Wilkinson’s piece on Gerry Gaus’s then new book:

In sum, OPR defends public reason liberalism without contractarian foundations. It is Kantian without being rationalistic. It is Humean without giving up the project of rationally reforming the moral order. It is evolutionary but not social Darwinist. It is classical liberal without being libertarian. It is Hegelian and organicist without being collectivist or statist. It shows us how political authority can be justified but only by accepting that moral authority limits it. It pushes us to look towards the practical and reject the utopian while simultaneously maintaining that a truly free and equal social order is within our grasp. It rejects the aspiration of political liberalism to neutrality among conceptions of morality while simultaneously retaining its spirit by sectioning off social morality from other normative domains.

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Theodore Dalrymple on the new atheists.

Dalrymple:

‘The search for the pure guiding light of reason, uncontaminated by human passion or metaphysical principles that go beyond all possible evidence, continues, however; and recently, an epidemic rash of books has declared success, at least if success consists of having slain the inveterate enemy of reason, namely religion. The philosophers Daniel Dennett, A. C. Grayling, Michel Onfray, and Sam Harris, biologist Richard Dawkins, and journalist and critic Christopher Hitchens have all written books roundly condemning religion and its works. Evidently, there is a tide in the affairs, if not of men, at least of authors.’

As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.

It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.

I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

Post-60’s, I’m seeing a lot of people sucked into radical discontent, righteous certitude and often religion-deep belief in secular ideals and ideologies, demanding immediate change often faster than institutional stability can keep up.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine (in Britain), I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

His recent public statements don’t help

People on the modern American right take issue with Rawls, but have they addressed his depth?:  From The American Conservative: Going Off The Rawls–David Gordon On John Rawls…Utilitarianism leads to problems.  Will the Rawlsian center-left hold up?:

From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’… From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke in a strong, libertarian defense of the individual A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

Some Friday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce