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

Full review here.

The 1st and last paragraphs of Blackburn’s review:

When the hoary old question of nature versus nurture comes around, sides form quickly. And as Leavis once remarked, whenever this is so, we can suspect that the differences have little to do with thinking. Still, the question certainly obsesses thinkers, and crops up in various terminologies and under various rubrics:  human essence versus historical accident, intrinsic nature versus social construction, nativism versus empiricism. In the ancient world the nativist Plato held that we come into the world equipped with knowledge obtained in a previous life, while the empiricist Aristotle denied it. In our own time Chomsky has revived the nativist doctrine that our capacity for language is innate, and some ultras have even held that our whole conceptual repertoire is innate. We did not ever have to learn anything. We had only to let loose what we already have.

and:

‘Once we get past the demonizing and the rhetoric, take proper notice of the space between overt psychology and evolutionary rationale for it, and lose any phobia of cultural phenomena, what is left? There are plenty of sensible and plausible observations about human beings in Pinker’s book. But it is not clear that any of them are particularly new: Hobbes and Adam Smith give us more than anybody else. And at least their insights have stood the test of time, unlike that of some more recent work. Consider again the example of media violence. Here it seems that psychologists cannot speak with one voice about its effects. But worse than that, much worse, they cannot even speak with one voice about what psychological studies find about its effects. That is, the meta-studies that Pinker cites flatly disagree with the meta-studies that I mentioned earlier. If this is the state of play, we do well to plead the privilege of skepticism. We also do well too not to jettison other cultural resources too quickly. The depressing thing about “The Blank Slate” is that behind the rhetoric and the salesmanship, I suspect that Pinker knows this as well as anyone else.’

Quite readable.

Related On This Site: Does evo psy have aspirations in creating a sort of secular morality…or non-religious moral and philosophical structure?:  Steven Pinker From The New Republic: The Stupidity Of Dignity…Also, what might the cognitive sciences have against transcedental morality?  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s“Constructive Sentimentalism”

Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksSimon Blackburn ReviewsAlan Sokal’s ‘Beyond The Hoax’ In The New RepublicRepost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

Where Did I Leave That Bullshit Detector Again? Roger Scruton, Jordan Peterson-Some Links

A little more on that Roger Scruton dustup with the deputy editor of the New Statesman.  When you’re righteous, you don’t necessarily have to be right, nor civil:

I take the claims of  ‘Ismologists’ with a grain of salt; especially when there’s professional incentive to have one’s Nazi/non-Nazi list at the ready with those who politically disagree.  The identity game is so tired yet still so damaging, the intellectual bar so low yet still so influential, that I think I’ve stopped noticing the constant whine of my bullshit detector.

UpdateScruton responds here.  There is a lot of social and professional incentive for Eaton to act in such a way.

Our politics and civil debate is engulfed in similar ideas, and like the Brits, Canadians and Aussies, our politics will still be necessary to maintain civil society.

What am I missing?

Apparently that Jordan Peterson/Slavoj Zizek debate will occur on April 19th, 2019, in Toronto:

http://www.sonycentre.ca/calendar-event-details/?id=563

On this site, see:

Slavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch

Mr Scruton was pretty much excommunicated from British academic life and civil society for his views.  It’s actually possible to have a civil debate, you know, but just don’t expect it from most people, much of the time, especially identitarians (political enemies are morally evil…because politics seems to function as a religion):

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.

Repost: Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?

Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?

As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.

The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.

Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone?  How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals?  Much closer to our founding fathers?

————————————-

Related On This Site:  From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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

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

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?’

Some Tuesday Quotations, Strands Of Thought And Some Poetry-Do The Eyes Have It?

“Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

Arthur Schopenhauer

A pretty familiar re-post.

‘The eye sees what it brings the power to see’

Thomas Carlyle

Antonio Machado, sent in by a reader, years ago now.

El ojo que ves no es
ojo porque tú lo veas;
es ojo porque te ve.

The eye you see is not
An eye because you see it
It’s an eye because it sees you.

Robert Creeley and something a little more modern:

The Window

Position is where you
put it, where it is,
did you, for example, that

large tank there, silvered,
with the white church along-
side, lift

all that, to what
purpose? How
heavy the slow

world is with
everything put
in place. Some

man walks by, a
car beside him on
the dropped

road, a leaf of
yellow color is
going to

fall. It
all drops into
place. My

face is heavy
with the sight. I can
feel my eye breaking.

Via The Future Of Capitalism: ‘The Politics Of The New Yorker’

You know, it just might be possible to nurture experimental literature, poetry and the ‘avant-garde’ without explicit political bias:

Via The Future Of Capitalism, a new editor at The New Yorker opines:

‘Is it necessary for us to have a conservative voice or something like that? We’ve discussed it, but I’m not sure exactly what it would look like. I think The New Yorker’s niche is pretty comfortably in this progressive space and it’s much less of an issue to us than it is to The New York Times.’

I actually might agree on two fronts:  The New Yorker definitely caters to progressive political ideals (a long-term winning market strategy?) AND that there’s something loathsome about hiring just to fill quotas.  The idea of letting other people live their own lives and make their own decisions is so crazy it just might work.

The latter is lost on many true-believing progressives, as the presupposed rigged ‘system’ of the oppressor justifies all manner of intrusion into existing institutions through protest, radical unrest and forced quota-systems.

Beware those who would make you care:

Under A Green Moon-Ira Stoll At The New York Sun: ‘Comma in the New Yorker Opens Up Quite a Vista Of Liberal Parochialism’

From The New Yorker: ‘Writing Powered By Amtrak’

Maybe some deeper currents from Romanticism to Modernism to Postmodernism are worth thinking about.  As I see things, many people who care deeply about the avant-garde also bind themselves to ever narrower political and ideological commitments.

The journey of The Western Self bears proper care.

In the meantime, check out this tweet from Peace Pavilion West (my fictional community of back-to-nature collectivists exploring the Self).

What started out as Peace, Love and Inclusion at the Human Pagoda, a community transcending all human limitations, a buzzing colony building eco-pods to the very Heavens, devolved into ever stronger chaos and ever stronger central authority.

After our liberation, the promise of equality always seemed shimmering on the horizon.

It takes a big man to tweet at The New Yorker:

Thinking one has actionable knowledge of (M)ankind’s ends while implementing those ends into political revolutions has ended up very, very badly these past generations.

Thanks, reader:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Via A Reader: Edward Feser-Materialism Subverts Itself

Via Edward Feser:   ‘Materialism Subverts Itself:’

Hmmm….:

‘The modern understanding of matter thus dematerializes it in the sense of stripping away most of the features that common sense takes to be definitive of matter.  Common sense supposes that matter is essentially the kind of thing that we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.  The early modern conception holds that properly to understand matter, in fact you mostly or entirely have to ignore what you see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.  Matter is not what the senses tell us it is.  Knowing matter’s true nature involves an abstract intellectual exercise rather than straightforward sensory experience.  It is a kind of applied mathematics.’

As posted:

Standard entry on eliminative materialism here:

‘Modern versions of eliminative materialism claim that our common-sense understanding of psychological states and processes is deeply mistaken and that some or all of our ordinary notions of mental states will have no home, at any level of analysis, in a sophisticated and accurate account of the mind. In other words, it is the view that certain common-sense mental states, such as beliefs and desires, do not exist’

and

‘Here we see a tension that runs throughout the writings of many early eliminative materialists. The problem involves a vacillation between two different conditions under which mental concepts and terms are dropped. The first scenario proposes that certain mental concepts will turn out to be empty, with mental state terms referring to nothing that actually exists. Historical analogs for this way of understanding eliminativism are cases where we (now) say it turned out there are no such things, such as demons and crystal spheres. The second scenario suggests that the conceptual framework provided by neurosciences (or some other physical account) can or should come to replace the common-sense framework we now use.’

Other assorted posts and quotes:

The Prospect has a good article here on Parmenides (no longer free).  Stanford’s page here.

“By these arguments, Parmenides arrives at his picture of the world as a single, undifferentiated, unchanging unity. Needless to say, scholars have disagreed over exactly what he meant. They have questioned whether he meant that the universe was one thing, or only that it was undifferentiated.”

From this abstract:

According to Hume, the idea of a persisting, self-identical object, distinct from our impressions of it, and the idea of a duration of time, the mere passage of time without change, are mutually supporting “fictions”. Each rests upon a “mistake”, the commingling of “qualities of the imagination” or “impressions of reflection” with “external” impressions (perceptions), and, strictly speaking, we are conceptually and epistemically entitled to neither.

From Partially Examined Life: ‘John Searle Interview of Perception: Part One

Direct, naive realism requires some explanation of consciousness and a theory of perception:

‘We interview John about Seeing Things as They Are: A Theory of Perception (2015). What is perception? Searle says that it’s not a matter of seeing a representation, which is then somehow related to things in the real world. We see the actual objects, with no mediation. But then how can there be illusions?

Well, we see things under an aspect: a presentation of the thing. And that presentation presents itself as caused by just that thing that the perception is of. If these “conditions of satisfaction” (i.e., that the perception is actually caused by that thing) are not met, then we have a case of illusion: we thought we were perceiving that thing, but we really weren’t. Simple! Right? Searle lays out his theory for us and amusingly dismisses much of the history of philosophy.’

Related On This Site: Via A Reader-‘John Searle On The Philosophy Of Language’

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy: Charles Sanders Peirce

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

Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

Hilary Putnam On The Philosophy Of Science:  Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On YouTube…Via A Reader-‘Locke’s Empiricism, Berkeley’s Idealism

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.

———–

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.

———-

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.

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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.

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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”