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:

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

Repost-Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘Scientism In The Arts & Humanities’

Full piece here (link may not last).

Scruton:

‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.’

Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather scientism.

And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:

‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead?

Interesting quote by Scruton in a debate about Islam, at min 6:35 of video 4/4:

‘Universal values only make sense in a very specific context…the attempt to universalize them, or project or impose them…just leads to their appropriation by sinister forces.”

Worth a read.

-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60′s, responded at The New Republic:  ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’ 

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities.  Don’t let it happen.

-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responds to Wieseltier:

‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’

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Related On This Site: Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’…From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy: Charles Sanders Peirce

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Repost-Via The New Criterion: ‘The Intolerable Dream’-Don Quixote, The Lone Genius & Bathing Within The Warm Bath Of The (S)elf

Full piece here.

Of some interest:

‘Having read so many chivalric epics that his brains have “dried up,” the hero decides that he has been called to revive chivalry and restore the Golden Age in this Age of Iron. But as the book proceeded, Cervantes realized that he had hit on something much more profound than a simple parody. The story kept raising ultimate questions about faith, belief, evidence, and utopian ideals. When do we need caution and when risk? Should we seek to transform reality or the way we perceive it? Do good intentions or good results define moral actions? And what is the proper role of literature itself?’

Tilting at Windmills, a reading group of Don Quixote done back in 2007.

On Nabokov’s reading of Don Quixote, via a NY Times article:

What Nabokov’s eyes kept seeing as he prepared his lectures was the accurately perceived fact that the book elicits cruel laughter. Cervantes’ old man who had read himself into insanity and his smelly squire were created to be the butt of mockery. Quite early, readers and critics began to sidestep this Spanish fun and to interpret that story as another kind of satire: one in which an essentially sane, humane soul in a crass and unromantic world can only appear as insane.

If you have any good links, or links to reviews, please pass them along…

My two cents: I’m currently thinking that the modern ‘Well of The Self’ has deep roots within Romanticism, and the idea that the artistic genius alone must make sense of the world. This lone genius will Return to Nature as cradle, delivering man or (M)an back to himself, and back to his most basic experiences, hopes and a sense of wonder (once with a Christian, now often within a modern, transmogrified metaphysic).

The Romantic genius, to some extent, must turn against the city, industry and technological change, going back to the countryside. The (M)odern Man, a la Eliot, must turn back to the city, man’s industry, and technological change and remake the world anew, so that we may carry our souls forward. The (P)ostmodern man must create entire worlds and meaning for himself, isolated and alienated from all traditions and other people, left struggling against the void.

There are options, of course, and nihilism is clearly one.

If true, one can easily extrapolate from such a vision towards how we’ve ended up not only with individualism, but radical individualism, and a constant negotiation left up to each individual between all existing institutions of authority and moral/immoral legitimacy.

I’m seeing a lot of basic individual loneliness, desperation for group membership, meaning, and search for some kind of relationship between (N)ature and the (S)elf through others and through political tribalism.

This also can lead to the clear and present unstabilizing political dangers of anarchy, radical liberation, and doctrinal certainty forming beneath the reasonableness found within the high, liberal doctrines of Enlightenment (R)eason and (M)an. The social activists and ‘wokists’ on the scene are nothing if not zealous about their ideas. The ‘-Ismologists’ keep promising some kind of ideal world, which always seems to fail in fully arriving (and this failure always seems to be someone else’s fault).

Perhaps many people are inflating politics and the study of politics, the study of people in groups (sociology), and the study of our interior lives (psychology) to idealistic and almost mythic proportions, coming to lean upon these epistemologies, and politics itself, with hopes I do not necessarily share.

It wasn’t so long ago that all sins were to be reconciled with a loving God; a confession in the booth. I’m seeing many of the same human desires, hopes and beliefs now directed at therapists, comedians, politicians and artists, sometimes able to bear significant weight, often unable to do so.

Ah well, Dear Reader.

There’s a lot of wisdom in reading Don Quixote.

Have I convinced you of any of this?

Here’s a stanza from ‘Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird‘ by Wallace Stevens, transitioning from Romanticism to Modernism, wrestling with faith and more modern doubt, staying the course with good Dutch-German insurance-executive sobriety and also lasting late in the night with passionately abstract poetic imaginings:

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

Also:

The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.

Update And Repost: Problems of Liberal Idealism with Radicalism Beneath-Universities, NPR And The Overton Window

My past predictions regarding NPR (dear reader, these are hardly groundbreaking):  I expect further Leftward political partisanship and general moral suspicion of the laws, civic nationalism and patriotism.  There will be ebbs and flows surrounding ‘-Ism’ righteousness and the latest political (C)ause.  There will be tactical advances in politics and ‘culture’, followed by retreats into a kind of existential despair of the (S)elf, usually cured by the balm of collectivist and identity-driven movements, fortified by hatred of anything traditional and religious.  Sometimes Democrat, sometimes activist, NPR readers will continue to be dully predictable, but now dully predictable, mostly from the Left.

The rapid curve of current technological change will continue apace.

I think it’s pretty obvious what’s happened in universities is happening on a delay throughout many American media institutions.  

Just as the ‘Hitler-year-zero-fight-fascism-now’ Left has been co-opting language and many positions within existing institutions and hierarchies, the ‘New Right’ will no longer accept the civility, ‘work-within-the-system’ tactics of the old establishment.  I see Donald Trump merely as a vote against that system and those rules, and a signpost on the way into the postmodern landscape.  

I’m not counting on the way stations of liberal idealism to necessarily contain points further Left, either.   My problem with many elements of the Left are well-established problems.  There is justification and rationalization of violence in pursuit of the (C)ause. There is incomplete and utopian conceptualization of human nature, political and economic realities, along with a ‘change-first’ worldview.  There is a well-documented focus on collectivist and class-identity politics which squash the individual, backing us into new forms of Statist authority and control.  

There will be a liberal stiffening of spines, at times, of course.  But, many on the Left harbor a particular hatred for liberal idealists.

Behold my mighty tweet, which mocks and mocks the weakness of many liberal hopes.   Of course, this is all the more reason to dig deep in the Humanities!  You’ve got to get at the weaknesses, the hatreds, and the foibles of your own heart to realize what is lovable, noble, and possible with your own life.   

It’s tough to have much sympathy for those who dig shallow, make the personal political, and help our politics become a jumbled mess, riding the current university model into many an over-leveraged loan mill.  

What if their duty was not merely to collect a salary and keep the cruise-members happy, but to try and look from the crow’s nest and keep the ship afloat?

I get it, the Beatles were an excellent band.  Dance Hall boys from Liverpool made globally successful and good, with remarkable depth for the popular appeal.   ‘Blackbird’ and  ‘Yesterday,’ for me, strike deep and stay there (I prefer McCartney as songwriter).

But please stop being such losers!

I couldn’t even type ‘suckling’ correctly, or else it auto-corrected.  Further proof that maybe I’m the loser.

Here’s how Wendell Berry put it in his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”:

‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’

Here are some of the pressures to which NPR is subject:

1. Market pressures-It’s easy to go for the lowest common denominator in the marketplace (sex sells). Resisting such tactics requires sticking to principles.  NPR does a pretty good job at this, though my problem is with the judgment and principles they’re using; subject to the capture of liberatory radicalism (free your ‘Self’ politically, morally and sexually, replacing beliefs with overwhelmingly Democrat political allegiance, New-Age/Political idealism and State-funded Sex Education).  There’s a combination of stiff moralism and weird license at NPR.

Robin Aitken, a longtime BBC reporter and odd-man-out social conservative, discusses how the BBC now promotes hit shows like Naked Attraction.

2. Technological pressures-I have many bookish and well-read friends who are terrified of technology.  They have some good reasons and some ridiculously bad ones for this.  NPR is not exactly cutting-edge though they are pretty mainstream.  Success requires manipulating the latest technology.

3. The Problems Of Ideological Capture-What you think tends to become who you become regarding habit and character.  Where your thoughts go, so go your moral sentiments, beliefs and actions.  Liberal idealists argue for some pretty scalable post-Enlightenment ideals (universal humanism, open markets, free speech).

Problems tend to start, however, regarding a deeper base of Selves living in relative isolation; flirting with nihilism, existentialism, anarchy, and Communism/Socialism.   Liberal idealists can easily become caught between a tradition or law they personally uphold, while simultaneously supporting the activist who may have no regard whatsoever for any particulary existing tradition or law.

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.

This quote has stuck with me over the last few months:

‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’

Personally, I am persuaded such pressures orginate in insufficiently deep maps of human nature, Nature, and how hard it can be to maintain legitimate authority.

(S)cience, Social (S)cience and Free Speech & Assembly: As we can see with true radicals and revolutionaries, the ideological capture within our institutions comes from a presumed moral authority; a moral authority drafting off of the truth and knowledge claims made by the Sciences, the Social Sciences, and ‘The Expert.’

Listening to the Beatles, watching episodes of Nature with David Attenborough, and supporting the latest moral cause may placate radicals for a while, but only for a while.  Often such habits make liberals easier targets.

This is, I believe, how we’ve arrived at many conservatives, libertarians, some broader disaffected moderates and a Newer Left (the Weinsteins, much of the ‘Dark Web’) suddenly having to defend the truth and knowledge claims of the Sciences, the Social Sciences, free assembly and free speech.

From The Nieman Lab:-An Oral History Of The Epic Collision Between Journalism & Digital Technology, From 1980 To The Present.

A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama…Hate Is A Strong Word-Some Links On The BBC, The CBC, & NPR

Repost-Seattle Photo & A Few Links On Human Rights Idealism

A move towards the rational, invites a relationship with the irrational. The move towards idealism requires authority in the real world, inviting ideology as central to a (S)elf’s life. Ideal worlds, utopias and dystopias abound in the nihilist soup, along with a lot of bureaucracy and declarations for actions to meet the ideal.

High-walls and extra surveillance are a logical consequence for much of this authority.

There are many people pursuing secular human rights ideals within many a Western governmental agency, international institution, and activist quarter these days.  They claim the person who seeks to be virtuous, pursuing an ideal vision of the good society, simply by sharing in this ideal, has immediate access to a global human community and as such, moral duties to this community.

Many ambitious and reasonably well-intentioned young people are hearing its call.

On some level, most of us seek some kind of greater life purpose (guiding ideals and principles) and we seek for our inborn talents and natural abilities to merge hopefully, with our responsibility to feed ourselves and serve others in making a living.

These ideals allow some people, some of the time, to transcend many personal responsibilities along with many of the duties of family, neighbor, friend, the local, the state, the national.

Yet, at what cost? How are they working out in the world, our institutions, and in our lives?

During the recent migration crisis, Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe. However, the exact link between sex crimes and immigration is not known, since the Swedish government will not update its statistics, and the data, which are still being collected, have not been made available to the public.

If there’s anything universal in human affairs (math, the sciences, music, self-interest?), how is the universal to be codified into laws (rules), rights and responsibilities, and who makes the laws and who enforces them?

As posted (may you find the thread running through the post, dear reader.  I know it’s a lot to ask…especially with all the unanswered, open-ended questions):

What is humanism?

‘…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.”

What is right, exactly, and where do ‘rights’ come from?

How does one person do lasting good for another while pursuing his/her own self-interest within the institutions and organizations that have developed and are often controlled by those adhering to such ideals?

Roger Scruton quote that stands out in the video below, while discussing moral relativism to an audience in a country once behind the Iron Curtain:

‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’

Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source? German Idealism?

Full paper here.

Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself.  Here’s a quote on Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:

As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

Irreverent Reverends & Anti-Technological, Anti-Bureaucratic Technocrats-Some Climate Links

I don’t mean to imply some people have turned their limited understanding of climate data into an anti-human, anti-science cult. Given human nature, such a turn of events is completely unforseeable!

Aside from passionate crazies, however, there are certainly not people who’ve turned global warming into a gnawing, apocryphal certainty; certain enough to offload their own fears of death into abstract ideals which might live beyond them.  This can lead to technocracy as a form of leadership; knowledge implemented through institutional bureaucracy and more diffuse accountability.  Plenty of journalists and aspiring professionals will follow those incentives into careers, opportunity and authority.

Oh boy.

Older folks are left to display one’s virtue, good behavior and rule-following among the living.  That Tesla sure is sleek. Show off that new canvas bag.  Scowl at the plastic one. This binds people up together and keeps social harmony.  The knowledge is here, all that’s left is the wise, equal, and just enforcement of new rules.  Don’t you want to be good?

Maybe we can turn this thing around after all, discovering that Romantically primitive modern Eden upon the horizon.  We must act.

Alas, young, true believers, reformers and the narrowly righteous see deeper, of course, through the hypocrisy of a more settled complacency.  Tim Black at Spiked: “The Ongoing Creation Of Greta Thunberg.

They can become heroes to some:

It is all very disconcerting. From her breakdown, to her recitation of carbon-emission facts, the Greta that emerges in Our House is on Fire doesn’t feel like an individual. She feels like a fictional device. A God’s fool-style character, descended down to Earth to expose our folly.’

And by no means are those on the political Left, often seeking radical revolution and ‘Capitalism’s’ overthrow for the new ‘scientific’ Socialism to come, involved here.   Institutions are clearly not susceptible to committed ideologues, operating upon failed theories of (H)istory, forcing themselves into institutions (which radicals don’t normally recognize as having moral legitimacy, unless and until it’s their moral legitimacy).

What if you have an opposing, or different view to a majority?  Isn’t that the point of free speech?

Bruce Everett on this book:

‘It’s de rigueur on college campuses to pledge allegiance to the climate agenda, denouncing Luddites who impede progress on the climate policies that all right-thinking people support. Those of us who work in academia are used to this ritual, but every once in a while an academic decides to distinguish himself by making his denunciation louder and more strident than the rest of the crowd. ‘

Above the entrance to the Human Pagoda, are these words:

Breathing restrictions keep the Collective healthy. Select a canvas bag for your head when entering the Human Pagoda. Zero-carbon.

Zero-oxygen. Zero-waste.

Namaste.

And be safe.’

From a reader: Christopher Essex discusses ‘Believing In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, And Climate Models:’

It really shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to keep a strong interest in the natural world and a desire to understand it quite apart from such true-belief, collectivist virtue-signalling, hyperbole and ideology.

This stuff is complicated!

As previously posted:

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.

I’d argue that this ‘postmodern’ problem also likely bleeds out into other causes, and abstract ideas, like the Climate.

Via A Reader-‘John Searle On The Philosophy Of Language’

Via a readerJohn Searle on The Philosophy Of Language as part of Bryan Magee’s series:

It’s always a pleasure to observe someone with deep understanding explain a subject clearly.

There’s some interesting discussion on modernism and postmodernism too, or the tendency for the ‘moderns’ to focus on language itself as a problem to be re-examined and possibly solved, or the study of linguistics to be put upon a foundation similar to that of many sciences.

As we’ve seen in the arts, the poem, a novel, the very written words themselves can become subjects which poets, novelists, and writers examine, doubt, and in some cases ‘deconstruct.’

As to that tribe in South America, cited as evidence against Chomsky’s claims of necessary recursion and the existence of a universal grammar, Searle has some things to say in the interview below.

As previously posted: Paul Ibbotson & Michael Tomasello at Scientific American: ‘Evidence Rebuts Chomsky’s Theory Of Language Learning:’

But evidence has overtaken Chomsky’s theory, which has been inching toward a slow death for years. It is dying so slowly because, as physicist Max Planck once noted, older scholars tend to hang on to the old ways: “Science progresses one funeral at a time.”

Worth a read.

As posted:  Caitlin Flanagan reviews Tom Wolfe’s new book ‘The Kingdom Of Speech.‘ Jerry Coyne, ecologist, writing in the Washington Post, was not impressed:

“Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?

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

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Some Updated Links On Postmodernism…Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism…And Truth’

A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems

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Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘Miles Burnyeat On Plato’…Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘John Passmore on Hume: Section 1’

There’s Been A Lot Of Questionable Stewardship-Sam Harris On Trump & A Link On Postmodernism

Videos sent in from readers:

Here’s Sam Harris apparently following the TDS logic where it leads (towards a Left-authoritarian political populism, while using the truth/knowledge claims of the social sciences to justify going great guns against Trump).

Here are some speculative inferences on my part:

  1. People become enmeshed in their medium, their practice, and within the complex feedback loop of maintaining a popular program and an audience. Such folks must become what they do, to some extent. Harris strikes me as more reasonably honest than most, but if you float on a current you’ve helped create long enough…some of your blind spots will surface as well.
  2. Harris is quite iconoclastic and brave in speaking out against many shibboleths of the Left. He also still calls himself a man of the Left (not IDW per se, not ‘classically liberal’ etc.). Emotionally, it would be understandable to try and bridge this gap.
  3. Harris argues that reason can scale (true in some respects), and that religious belief can twist men (true in some respects) into becoming more irrational than they would otherwise be. Personally, it’s not evident that New Atheism and ‘rationality’ scale into governing nor authoritative bodies without what’s obviously happening now: A devolution of the public square into less civility (to which Trump has contributed), potentially justified violence, and a new Statism forming out of radical Self-hood and liberation movements. It’s not clear you get rationality and Left populism without radicals (condoning violence), true-believing activists, well-meaning liberal idealists attacked from the Left, and the New Authority (stifling speech and using the laws to punish political enemies). This tells me the underlying map of human nature is wrong, and that many elements of reality are poorly calibrated.

On this site, see:

To the firm believer in this idea of ‘rationality,’ the spectacle of human behaviour (in himself and in others) departing from its norm may be expected to confirm his suspicion that ‘rational’ conduct of this sort is difficult, but not to shake his faith in its possibility and desirability.  He will deplore the unregulated conduct which, because it is externally unregulated, he will think of as ‘irrational.’  But it will always be difficult for him to entertain the notion that what he identified as ‘rational’ conduct is in fact impossible, not because it is liable to be swamped by ‘insane and irrational springs of wickedness in most men,’ but because it involves a misrepresentation of the nature of human conduct.’

and:

‘Among the other evidences of Rationalism in contemporary politics, may be counted the commonly admitted claim of the ‘scientist, as such (the chemist, the physicist, the economist or the psychologist) to be heard in politics; because, though the knowledge involved in a science is always more than technical knowledge, what it has to offer to politics is never more than a technique.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.

Personally, I tend to think of a few nodes of change in a society from which new thinking and ideas emerge.

Enlightenment Natural Philosophy becoming different branches of science and computing technology: Really smart and driven people contributing to scientific discovery and coming to fruition within these fields of study. There has been a lot of progress here, and the rate of change is affecting all of us every single day (just wait until the next war and the assistive automation that will be deployed).

Philosophers and idea men in metaphysics: Synthesizers of ideas and sometimes creators of their own. This can also include popularizers of other men’s ideas and idea men leading others where they’d like them to go.

The arts and artistic movements: A lot of new thinking and thought arises out of artistic innovation and loosely affiliated bands of artistic creators. A lot of what ‘cool’ is regarding popular culture happens here, as well as inspiring generations. Good art speaks to our souls.

All of this can make it harder to appreciate what’s so important to conserve.

Another video sent in from a reader:

A lot of people consider themselves as outside any tradition or practice, or institution, animating against such things. Such ideas and people following them are responsible for how and why the last few generations of humanities have been taught in our institutions, and the failure of many of those institutions.

There’s been a lot of bad stewardship.

It’s nice to see some pushback against the zeal of ‘activist’ and New Atheism, as well as eliminative materialism. Humanism can become anti-humanist after all, especially among environmentalists (some secular doomsday groups know how many people is enough).

But radical humanism, or renewed faith in humanism, must still ground itself in claims to knowledge and truth, in rationality, or in some thinking which can maintain civil society and mediate other competing claims according to its lights.  Why and how should humanists manage the public square?

It Seems Claiming To Be The Most Rational Locks One Into A Trap With The Irrationalists-Ah, Modernity-Some Links On The Highest Thing Around

Perhaps the core of rational behavior is the idea of flexibility or resilience. The rational man, seeing his world collapse, will never turn his face to the wall (like a tragic hero) if there is the slightest possibility of accommodation with the force which has overwhelmed him. Hobbes, the uncompromising rationalist, deals with this possibility without attempting to disguise it. Overwhelming force determines the will of the rational man whose primary aim is to stay alive; there is no place for honor or heroism. The importance of flexibility also comes out in the hostility of rational thinkers to the social institution of the oath. One cannot rationally make a promise binding beyond the point where one gains from it, a point which Spinoza, for example, brings out [27] clearly. The oath, in fact, is a feudal institution which seemed to liberal thinkers an attempt to impose more on the human flux than it could bear.’

Minogue, Kenneth.  The Liberal Mind. Liberty Fund, 2001. Print. 

‘Long before the Revolution, then, the disposition of mind of the American colonists, the prevailing intellectual character and habit of politics, were rationalistic.  And this is clearly reflected in the constitutional documents and history of the individual colonies.  And when these colonies came ‘to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,’ and to declare their independence, the only fresh inspiration that this habit of politics received from the outside was one which confirmed its native character in every particular.  For the inspiration of Jefferson and the other founders of American independence was the ideology which Locke had distilled from the English political tradition.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.  Pg 31.

I have trouble imagining Oakeshott having much sympathy with our founders’ direct experience and developing practice alongside and against King George III and the Redcoats; the slow-rolling revolution these men found themselves within.

Larry Arnhart here.

‘I’ve noticed that Darwinism seems to support one of the fundamental claims of classical liberalism:  natural rights emerge in human history as those conditions for human life that cannot be denied without eventually provoking a natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation.’

A deep and interesting argument.  Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke had to deal with a constantly warring, reformation England.

Using quite a bit of German idealism (Hegelian) to get at the problem:

Roger Scruton here.

Book here.

While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’

More Scruton here.

So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

Quote found here at friesian.com (recovering Kantian idealism through post-Kantian philosopher Jakob Fries):

Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

John M. Ellis, Literature Lost [Yale University Press, 1997, p. 214]

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

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

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Repost-From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’

Full review here.

Book here.

Simon Critchley reviews 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?

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Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This SiteFrom 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’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department