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 social 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 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

Repost-A Quick Post On Brasilia

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Oscar Niemeyer, the man behind Brasilia, passed away some years back.

In the video above, Robert Hughes, sometimes fierce critic of modernism, stirs up controversy and I imagine took some pleasure in criticizing the utopian ideal of a city designed from high above, according to Niemeyer’s rational plan, and peopled by bureaucrats. Sometimes he’s a little over the top.

From a previous commenter on this site:

‘Brasilia is a great city, if you like decentralization and lack of culture! The planner based his entire strategy around the use of the car, disconnecting residential areas from commercial and making no allowance for walkability. He also provided no affordable housing, which forced many workers to set up favelas, or slums, outside the city.

The design of the buildings and landscapes is bare and void of the Brazilian history and culture. It lacks color, vibrancy, and community.

And the best part of all is that they clearcut thousands of acres of tropical forest to implement this chunk of sprawling, white-washed concrete!’

As for me, I find myself favorable to criticism of the political philosophy behind such planning and am worried at how many find it amenable nowadays. Yet, clearly there’s beauty in Brasilia’s design and it’s a feat of engineering to have built it in three years immediately after the fall of a military dictatorship. Some people might not mind living there.

Perhaps there are similarities with Buzludzha, at least with respect to political organizing principles, and what’s emerged from some quarters of Europe since the Enlightenment. Buzludzha’s the abandoned communist monument in Bulgaria’s Balkan mountains, which still draws up to 50,000 Bulgarian Socialists for a yearly pilgrimage. Human Planet’s Timothy Allen visited the structure in the snow and took some haunting photos. You will think you’ve stepped into a Bond film and one of Blofeld’s modernist lairs, but with somewhat Eastern Orthodox tile frescos of Lenin and Marx gazing out at you, abandoned to time, the elements and to nature.

One theme of this blog is how many people throughout the liberal Western world, knowingly and unknowingly, can be quite illiberal and quite comfortable with some very illiberal consequences of those ideas in action.

The Atlantic Monthly has more on Brasilia, see: “A Vision In Concrete

Related On This Site: No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’…Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Repost-Graeme Wood At The Atlantic-‘His Kampf: Richard Spencer Is A Troll And An Icon For White Supremacists. He Was Also My High-School Classmate’

There sure are a lot of people ignoring the obvious fascism of the anti-fascists inviting the fascists into their collectivist, ideological embrace, giving meaning to a lot of rather pathetic, lonely people.

The individuals focusing on the idea of racial categories, collectivist solutions to individual problems, equity-first and tribal/group-first ideological and political frameworks have the right to peaceably assemble, of course, but there must be law and order and there must be enough individual citizens answering bad speech with more speech.

I am hoping (perhaps unwisely) for a correction in many media quarters, parts of the academy and the high-liberal turrets where’s there’s been great clamor towards activist logic and increasing emotional commitment to the same old political idealism which gives cover for the violent and radical elements on the Left.

This invites genuine fascism which I sternly and open denounce (not patriotism, not a nation of citizens and laws, not the conservation of liberal order). Violence is not the answer.

Full piece here. (Includes audio interview)

To be fair, I think Wood offers a decent piece of journalism (interviews, phone calls, research etc.); a well-written, longer-form work I find to be in shorter-supply these days.

In it, he highlights Spencer’s Nietzschean-influenced intellectual aspirations and populist ambitions to become a mouthpiece for alt-right advocacy (serious enough to get attention, unserious enough to be poseurish and pathetically fascistic..which means Spencer may not represent more than a vocal minority, even on the alt-right……feel free to send some data my way).

To be critical: What I think Wood misses, and what many anti-Trumpers and liberal ‘gentry’ miss (Trump is an opportunist if there ever was one), is that Richard Spencer (an opportunist if there ever was one) isn’t enjoying his moment in the sun alone. The kind of black bloc, antifa radicalism which Spencer publicly addresses is clearly ok using violence on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom.

Addition: I should clarify that I don’t think Trump is a fascist, but merely an opportunist; a rather socially liberal, NYC real-estate developer.

This leads to the most persuasive arguments I’ve heard criticizing modern liberalism: It’s all too easy to ignore the true-believers, radicals, poseurs and nutbars (they’re our bastards) beneath one’s own platform, especially if they share some version of one’s own cherished beliefs and ideals.

Left and Left-liberal idealism prospers and is even institutionalized at places like Berkeley (no shortage of anti-racist, neo-Marxist, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist sentiment at Berkeley), which helps fuel radicals which help fuel the Richard Spencers.

Fascists and anti-fascists sure can come to resemble one another, trading tired power theories, hitting each other over the head, and trying to squeeze some meaning from similar principles while showboating through the nihilistic void.

Frankly, they deserve each other, and they deserve to be marginalized by the rest of us.

***I don’t think one need be a Nietzschean nor Nietzsche-inspired, nor a Nietzsche-reacting sort of Straussian (from H.L. Mencken to Leo Strauss to Camille Paglia to John Gray) to seriously question the modern liberal and secular human project, and help offer perspective.

But, it probably helps in understanding the fascist tendencies of Spencer and his enemies/allies..

Addition: I should make it clear that Nietzsche didn’t have much truck with fascists, and that he diagnosed, from the depths of his own nihilism, a lot of the crises that would come to face Europe…as for folks like Spencer, they seem to get enough nihilism to carry around while looking for meaning/purpose/identity/belonging elsewhere (in fascist movements)

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

Here’s 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

On this site, see also:

-Graeme Wood At The Atlantic: ‘The American Leader In The Islamic State’

Hitchens could be entertaining, especially on grounds I’m guessing he knew instinctively well as a former Trotskyite: Ideologies, while highlighting truths, promise a one-stop shop on truth, knowledge, how to be in the world, what to do and what the future will be.

People can kill for less, and when they adhere to such systems, then they can end-up killing more.

This is something of what neo-neo conservatism might look like:

Via a reader. Platonic idealism has advantages in restoring both idealism and realism into political debate, but also drawbacks. It can be a bulwark against moral relativism, which is a modern soup in which Left and Right fascism can be found simmering.

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

Related On This Site: -Repost: Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

-Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

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 Strauss

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

The Founding Of Peace Pavilion West-The Early Years

The following is absolutely, 100% true:  Dale Lonagan is back in the news, and the usual  ‘Cult Leader or Visionary of The Modern Age?’ rumors have resurfaced.  I thought I’d add some color to this barely sketched tale of peace and progress (how did The Human Pagoda come to be)?

Not Dale Lonagan!:

218px-jim_jones_receives_the_martin_luther_king2c_jr-_humanitarian_award_-_january_1977_28229By Nancy Wong – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44427361

The backstory (indoor gamin): Dale Lonagan is the illegitimate child of an international bureaucrat and the climate change journalist sent to cover him.  Like so many orphans, Dale’s early life is one of hardship.  He was abandoned and neglected, but fortunately for humanity, he was cast adrift within the bosom of collective progress.

The lad learned to survive within the corridors of diffuse economic and unelected bureaucratic power, selling stolen hand-soap at the bathrooms and cafeterias of 405 E. 42nd St:

512px-vincent_van_gogh_-_gamin_au_kc3a9pi_28camille_roulin292c_1888Vincent van Gogh [Public domain]

For years, the boy knew only the touch of linoleum and cold marble, drifting off to sleep to the soft sursurrations of motions passing the floor.

***How the outside world may have looked to a young wharf child, peering out from within The International Style:

512px-united_nations_-_new_york2c_ny2c_usa_-_august_182c_2015_08Giorgio Galeotti [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

‘I’d just grab the gallon bags off a the truck at the loading docks.  The 10 gallons were bigger than my head. I’d stash ’em alongside my bed (a bed made of shredded U.N. resolutions). I slept myself the world.’

Enter Marine Stroop-Gruyere, Ambassador Minister Undersecretary for the Culture Of Peace.  This committed global citizen noticed a young boy darting and wrapping himself awkwardly within a row of global flags.

After months of debates within her own heart and mind, she took action. She coaxed the young savage from a translator’s booth with morsels of locally sourced honey graham crackers sold for $13.99 a package.  Stroop-Gruyere enrolled Dale in the United Nations Tour Guide Program.

Dale blossomed, soon becoming the youngest ‘Ambassador to The Public‘ in the history of the institution.

Year after year, watching gavels lift and drop, seeing commmittees come and go, a long view developed within this growing visionary leader’s heart and mind.  Dale began to see that his thoughts, words and actions could make a difference.

He was becoming fully human.

-To Be Continued:

Here’s the latest tweet I can share from Peace Pavilion West. Not all humans agree with the latest edicts from The Human Pagoda, nor that all of (H)istory has conspired to produced Dale.

The New Yorker is fast becoming a favorite of his:

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

Dale has declared this collection worthy of human concern, empathy and care.  It is your ethical duty as a global citizen:

‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelm- ing the planet.’

and:

‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’

Just One More Brutalist Link Or Two

Via Mick Hartley via the BBC-‘The Brutalist Divide: Concrete Monsters Or Concrete Icons

Earthlings were visited, many times this past century, by beings from the planet Utopia.  Little is known about these curious creatures, but they were advanced, and went about vigorously erecting structures across our planetary surface.

What were they trying to tell us?

Concrete, as a material, was used, presumably because it was so common and functioned as our ‘lingua franca’ (so hard to use well).  Shapes were decided upon that might please and delight us (flowers, blocks, dodecahedrons), but also shapes that could disconsole, consigning some souls to work and live in an eternal present, possible futures winking upon the horizon.

Dear Reader, rumor has it these beings whispered in Esperanto, but only into the ears of those most ready to receive such comprehensive knowledge and advanced understanding; humans beings closer to knowledge of Universal Shapes and Human Destinies.

Personally, I like to think some of these humans being reside at the BBC.


The Architect As Totalitarian:

‘At the exhibition, I fell to talking with two elegantly coiffed ladies of the kind who spend their afternoons in exhibitions. “Marvelous, don’t you think?” one said to me, to which I replied: “Monstrous.” Both opened their eyes wide, as if I had denied Allah’s existence in Mecca. If most architects revered Le Corbusier, who were we laymen, the mere human backdrop to his buildings, who know nothing of the problems of building construction, to criticize him? Warming to my theme, I spoke of the horrors of Le Corbusier’s favorite material, reinforced concrete, which does not age gracefully but instead crumbles, stains, and decays. A single one of his buildings, or one inspired by him, could ruin the harmony of an entire townscape, I insisted. A Corbusian building is incompatible with anything except itself.’

I noticed a mini-brutalist revival there for a minute.

[Readers of this blog will know that the idea there exists comprehensive knowledge of ‘reason’, or the idea that political science will arrive at solutions to all previous political problems, or the idea that modern doctrines can provide ‘systemic’ blueprints for either buildings or political systems are all ideas viewed very skeptically here.]

You’ve got to be careful where you go looking for what’s good, true and beautiful.

As for Boston City Hall, it was built in ’69 and aims to be open, accessible, and [to] connect with Boston’s past:

Confusing inside!

As posted, a podcast on raw concrete in NYC here.

Brutalist architecture flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, having descended from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. The term originates from the French word for “raw”, as Le Corbusier described his choice of material béton brut, meaning raw concrete in French.’

Some buildings mentioned: 375 Pearl Street is being worked on. The ‘Krull‘ Long Lines building is not for use.

Well, at least it isn’t Buzludzha, The Communist Spaceship plopped down as though from a world of Pure Ideology, Nature properly subdued:

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”

Two Links To Rod Dreher On How To Live And What To Do

Arguably, the influence of religious belief as well as Natural Law/Natural Right doctrines, traditionally profound influences on American civic life, continues to diminish.  So, the thinking goes, we are fast arriving at an increasingly divided civic and political life.  The logic of Left political radicalism becomes ever more entrenched in our universities, media and politics, entrenching a more Right-radical, European-style response.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Rod Dreher (The Benedict Option), points to what he believes are signs of the obvious failure of modern, liberal doctrines to replace the kinds of meaning such religious doctrines have provided.

Here are two recent blog posts containing this worldview of his, about which I’ve provided additional summary and commentary (please let me know what I’m missing).

Advice For A Weary Ghost-A 35 year-old woman feels empty inside, writing to ‘The Cut‘ for advice.  She doesn’t have a husband and can’t seem to maintain deep, meaningful relationships.  She’s had jobs but not a career.  Maybe it’s not just her.

The adviser promotes a surburbanely popularized vision of the rebellious and Romantically-inspired artistic life, reaffirming much of what Dreher and his commenters see as inadequate for most people, most of the time.

This view, I presume, utilizes the wrong maps to steer one’s (S)oul and inform life decisions.  Perhaps it allows one to succumb to materialist concerns and potentially materialist doctrines (too strongly measuring one’s life largely by economic, professional and outward successes/failures).  It also perpetuates the woman’s confessedly empty, Self-interested pursuits, cutting her off from the happiness of family and loved ones without much to show for it.

The ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, political activism etc.) are poor substitutes for a moral, meaningful life.  The Church might just the place to be, but Catholic Church leadership, too, is corrupt and covered with the dust of this world.  There will increasingly be witch hunts upon religious believers by the new SJW believers.

The lady’s probably not going to be an (A)rtist, the lady giving advice probably ain’t so great an (A)rtist either.

Can the humanities become a lifelong source of wisdom and meaning?

Manufacturing Consent To Gender Ideology‘-Boys wanting to be girls, and vice versa, is the latest (C)ause. These outliers upon distributions of human sexual behavior, often shunned, mocked and condemned to limited lives, must not only be included in everyone’s moral concern, but celebrated.  Through social activism and protest, they are to become exemplars of the new normal.

Doctrines promising radical liberation, hinging upon revolutionary praxis, go about attacking and reforming current traditions, institutions, laws and arrangements, often grossly mischaracterizing and misrepresenting them to gain advantage. The grudging acknowledgement of freedoms gained through progressive activism and radical thought always come with costs.

And, given the natural ignorance of the human condition, and the basic desire humans have for group meaning, authority, security, identity and purpose, this latest (C)ause which promises liberation, will end-up delivering something quite different.

Cycles of utopianism and dystopianism await, and more disgruntled individuals drifting around aimlessly looking for an ad hoc ethics and politics, sometimes flirting with authoritarian and totalitarian Leftist doctrines as those doctrines become more mainstreamed:

How to live and what to do?

A reasonable summary and comentary?

Are you convinced of such a vision?

On this site, see:

Roger Scruton On Moral Relativism And Ross Douthat On Bill Maher…Catholics, Punditry, Progressives & Rubes-Ross Douthat At The NY Times

Moral Relativism is actually quite hard to define:

Ross Douthat made similar arguments some years ago while promoting his book ‘Bad Religion:

‘…what is the idea of universal human rights if not a metaphysical principle?  Can you find universal human rights under a microscope?

The Brothers Weinstein put forth one of the deeper defenses of Enlightenment principles I’ve heard while also remaining of the Left, simultaneously pushing against the radical elements of The Left: