A little authoritative and paternal, but a Romantic poet. A modernist, brilliant with language but precise in meaning, abstract, somewhat philosophical. They say he had a deathbed conversion. Here’s another line of his:
“The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.“
And then just to frustrate matters more:
Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.
Come to think of it, Charles Murray and the Middlebury College administrator he rode in on.
On a semi-related note, a reader points out that a major flaw in utilitarian logic (attached to probably the most comprehensive moral liberal philosophy thought and written) might find some expression in Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery.‘
Dear Reader, I’m not entirely persuaded while skimming Jackson’s story. The townsfolk didn’t necessarily have stated reasons for their collective act, other than ‘this is the way we’ve always done things.’ That’s kind of the point, which is to say people don’t always have have good points for long-established traditions, but many rocks do.
The people claiming sound reasons and empirical evidence for creating national seatbelt laws to save the lives of X number of citizens had, well, a lot of empirical evidence. One visualization technique, as I understand it, to aid in this particular critique of utilitarian logic involves building a machine in the town square, which will, with good evidence, save about twenty lives a year.
The problem is you’ve got to feed one person into it every year.
This machine is working for other towns, though. In fact, it’s so important it’s become law for all towns. Regional machines will be necessary. Have you guys visited The Machine in D.C.?
Come to think of it, maybe I could see the selection process being somewhat akin to what occurred in The Lottery. People haven’t changed much and most of the village elders run on how well The Machine is run.
‘Kendi’s goals are openly totalitarian. The DOA would be tasked with “investigating” private businesses and “monitoring” the speech of public officials; it would have the power to reject any local, state, or federal policy before it’s implemented; it would be made up of “experts” who could not be fired, even by the president; and it would wield “disciplinary tools” over public officials who did not “voluntarily” change their “racist ideas”—as defined, presumably, by people like Kendi. What could possibly go wrong?’
One of the ways to challenge one’s own beliefs and sentiments, in the pursuit of truth, is to actually think through what an empirical test might look like. To make an hypothesis, identify relevant variables, and begin to imagine which questions can and can’t be answered satisfactorily.
It’s a start, anyways.
***Thomas Sowell used to work in Chelsea, apparently, for Western Union. He’d sometimes take the 5th avenue bus back up to Harlem, on 5th Avenue for a while, and wonder why there was such inequality from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Marxism seemed like a good explanation for a while he was in his 20’s.
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.”
“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.“
“Unlike Hume, however, he (Kant) undertakes to establish the legitimacy or objective validity of the schematized category of substance and, correspondingly, of the representation of time as a formal unity with duration as one of its modes.“
If you’re interested in critiques on the effects of rationalism and utopianism in politics and political theory, and a defense of the familiar and the traditional in the face of Socialist, Marxist, and other ideologies, it’s probably worth looking into.
Drop a line if this is your area.
‘That Oakeshott’s thought does not in the end hang together may not be very important. What system of philosophy does? But the fact is ironic given his intellectual antecedents. He was one of the last of the British Idealists, who, as opponents of empiricism, understood truth not as meaning correspondence with any kind of external reality but as a form of internal coherence in our thinking.’
‘He wrote for himself and anyone else who might be interested; it is unlikely that anyone working in a university today could find the freedom or leisure that are needed to produce a volume such as this. Writing in 1967, Oakeshott laments, ‘I have wasted a lot of time living.’ Perhaps so, but as this absorbing selection demonstrates, he still managed to fit in a great deal of thinking’
The empricial realism and transcendental idealism of Kant is not mentioned
As a game that teaches numbers, strategy, discipline and patience, poker ain’t bad, and may be partially analagous to the laws:
‘Another thing that’s really important that poker players think about is, “If I put this policy in that looks like it’s awesome, how can someone come in and find the cracks in it so that it can turn into something bad?” I feel like the top 500 players would definitely be thinking in that way more.
Assuming that they wanted to use their powers for good as opposed to evil, which we’ll assume, I feel, in general, policies would be better, less easy to be advantaged, thinking more long-term, definitely more willing to take risks that were worthwhile.’
Judges and lawyers, in their adversarial discipline, are often thinking like this. We all do, in some areas of our lives, think like this, be they personal or professional areas, for briefer or longer periods. It seems we all benefit from unleashing human potential in others like this.
A reservation: I wonder about those who wish to rationalize everything as a norm, however, rather than as an exception. Where people tend to pile up for lack of luck, talent, ambition, understanding and ability, is often where the future lies, and where new rules emerge. I’m not exactly persuaded by the idea of ‘markets in everything’, though it strikes me as much less dangerous than the ‘personal is political.’ (a potentially false analogy).
This seems to me more in line with human nature, and might help avoid some of the pitfalls of the reason/anti-reason debate. Rationalist thinking often invites anti-rationalists, and there are plenty of postmoderns, ‘-Ismologists’ and lost souls joining political movements and causes, creating whole epistemologies out of whole cloth.
Where it gets ugly: As one example of irrationality and groupthink, if you observe what happened to a very bright, very committed Left-of-Center evolutionary biology professor, teaching people how to think with a profound and useful method of arriving at truth, alongside a very committed, ideologically driven ‘media studies‘ professor with a bad epistemology and administrative support in the same university, the results weren’t good.
This is indicative of bad design, and I’d argue insufficient understanding of human nature.
In fact, the same dynamic is arguably now playing out in Seattle at large: Mayor Jenny Durkan=Dean George Bridges.
Earlier: The Seattle I-5 driver in the white Jaguar stopped about a half mile from the scene where he hit the protesters. Protesters caught up with the car and started attacking the vehicle so he drove off and waited for police further down the road. pic.twitter.com/gFsrvBrl6Z
There are very bright people working at the boundaries of new truth and new knowledge, who I’d argue often fail to appreciate arguments for how hard it is to maintain legitimate authority, and conserve the wisdom [and truth] in that which already works.
This is a much deeper matter of debate.
Norm Macdonald on Kenny Rogers’ song lyrics is a much funnier:
There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.
Minogue framed it thusly:
‘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.’
‘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 otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.
Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.
As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?
As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.
‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):
As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.
It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.
I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.
I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.
A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:
Jonathan Haidt has infused the more modern field of moral psychology with some of David Hume’s empiricist theory of mind, the idea that intuitions come first, and our reasons for them are usually trotted out afterwards (when was the last time you walked away from an argument/debate/discussion totally converted and persuaded by the reasoning of the other guy?
Yet, how, exactly, did our institutions of higher-learning get to the point of catering to the loudest, often most naive, and often illiberal student-groups claiming their feelings and ideas deserve special treatment?
Isn’t this already a failure of leadership, to some extent?:
“‘…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.”
For those especially drawn to observe, and be alone amongst a crowd, seeking moments of beauty, grace, and transcendence. Where have you put your hopes?
What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as that of human nature (your own deep impulses, passing thoughts, and possible motivations, as well as those of the people around you)?
What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as nature and reality (the world your senses perceive, those laws and patterns likely enduring thought, the old knowledge become practice and the new knowledge on the edge of understanding, the truths which seem to little give nor receive, forgive nor remember)?
‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
‘Mirrors and pools of water work pretty much the same way. Light interacts with electrons on the surface. Under the laws of quantum mechanics, each photon interacts with ALL of the electrons on the surface, and the net result is the sum of all possible pathways. If the surface is perfectly smooth, then most of the pathways cancel each other out, except for the one where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. ‘
Click through for the illustrations to help explain Feynman’s theory, which fascinated me when I first came across it; much as I understand of it.
Have you ever seen sunlight reflecting off a body of water from a few thousand feet up in a plane? A rainbow in a puddle with some oil in it? A laser reflecting off a smooth surface like a mirror?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
‘Oakeshott connected his perceptive account of tacit knowledge with a larger conception of modally distinct worlds of discourse, and, in this way, his account differed from Ryle’s. However, both thinkers contributed to the re-emergence of a kind of traditionalist and pluralist epistemology which rejects the reductionism of scientism and acknowledges the multitudinous ways in which human beings know things. For both writers, authentic knowledge always involves a capacity which cannot be reduced to articulable explicit propositions. Knowledge depends upon being capable of using it in some way.‘
‘Modes, then, are provisionally coherent and distinguishable kinds or categories of understanding and inquiry. In Experience and Its Modes, Oakeshott aims to identify the presuppositions in terms of which a mode can be made coherent and distinguished from other modes. In philosophy, categorial distinctions are distinctions of kind rather than degree and what are called categories are often thought of as the most fundamental classes to which things can belong. But philosophers differ on whether the identified kinds are natural or real (ontological) or conceptual (epistemological). The former are categories of being (Aristotle), the latter categories of understanding (Kant). Philosophers also disagree about whether a categorial scheme must be exhaustive and fixed or, alternatively, can be open and mutable. 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.’
‘The idea of a hierarchy of modes is not particular to Idealism. Where there are different understandings, it can occur to someone interested in reconciling them to imagine that they represent different levels of understanding. In contrast to unifying philosophies, including philosophical Idealism, Oakeshott’s position is pluralist and anti-hierarchical. In this respect he has more in common with Wilhelm Dilthey, who struggled with the issue of relativity in metaphysics and how to distinguish the human from the natural sciences, than with the British Idealists—Bradley, Bosanquet, and McTaggart among others—with whom he is often associated (Boucher 2012). For Oakeshott, all knowledge is tentative and conditional. Theorizing is “an engagement of arrivals and departures” in which “the notion of an unconditional or definitive understanding may hover in the background, but … has no part in the adventure” (OHC 2–3). In attempting to construct a coherent view of the world the philosopher “puts out to sea” (OHC 40) and is perpetually en voyage: there are no “final solutions” in philosophy any more than in practical affairs.’
I’m guessing Oakeshott would NOT have taken the case of monarchy up, nor the divine right of kings via Robert Filmer. Nor, likely, would he have taken up Thomas Hobbes’s case for the Leviathan based on a synthesis of the burgeoning practice of the natural sciences of the time. This isn’t an empiricist account of the world either (all knowledge arises in experience, sensation is separated from its object).
An Oakeshotian might see technical manuals everywhere, and few practitioners. He might see a lot of category errors, especially amongst those who mistake their own brilliance, method and scope as being enough to design political systems, laws and rules for the rest of us. Especially when such folks have little to no experience of those political systems, laws and rules.
‘The “hidden spring” of rationalism, as Oakeshott explains, is a belief in technical knowledge–which, by its very nature, is “susceptible of precise formulation”–as the sufficient or even the sole form of knowledge. This goes with a ‘preoccupation with certainty’ and an obsession with method, of the sort that can be expounded in a book; what it excludes is the kind of practical knowledge that is acquired only through prolonged contact with an experienced practitioner (RP, 11-17). Here one is reminded of Hobbes’s frequent insistence that true “science,” which yields certain knowledge, is different from “prudence,” which merely extracts probabilities from experience. Hobbes believed that geometry was the prototype of a true science, and that his own civil science was modeled on it;…’
And now for something mildly different:
During my humanities education, I developed an increasing suspicion of the postmodern rejection of tradition, rules, laws, rituals and beliefs, at least with regard to reading, writing and thinking. In engaging with some dull, and other absolutely mesmerizing, works of the creative imagination, I realized many of my own rituals and beliefs were being challenged. There are many experiences, and views, and ways to understand both myself and the world.
This is a good reason to get a good education!
It also slowly dawned on me that the lack of pedagogy, endless deconstructionist academic discussions, canon-less syllabi and increasing identitarian drift (is this person a professor because he/she’s the best poet/teacher or because he/she’s black/female or some mix of both?) were taking up valuable time.
I aimed to be open-minded, but not so much as to notice my brains falling out.
Honestly, I didn’t come across too many radicals and wasn’t particularly radical myself, though I went deep enough to see how people can become animated by some cause or injustice, often deep within their own lives (a bad childhood, homosexuality, social isolation, legal injustice, rejected prodigal talent etc).
It’s tough to say what conspires to make great artists and observers of life and their own experiences; but maybe it’s a little less tough to understand how some people forego the difficulty of creation in favor of political activism, religious certainty and belief, ideological certainty and second-rate moral scolding.
Oh, there are reasons.
Maybe I was just aging out or wasn’t so creative myself, anyways.
The anti-science, anti-reason postmodern emphasis is one worth examining through different lenses (there aren’t just ideas, I don’t think). Mentioned: Kant, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard etc. Also, John Locke and Adam Smith. And in the ‘will’ tradition, Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche.
In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant leaves us with bounded input channels, mediating a reality which might well be fundamentally unknowable to us, beyond three dimensions of space and the arrow of time, or Riemannian-inspired, Einsteinian space-time curvature tensors. Human reason, for a Kantian, produces output (our knowledge and understanding) filtered through our sense experience and through deeper onboard structures. For Hicks, this transcendentally ideal, metaphysically mediated reality possibly puts human reason at a remove from a metaphysical reality to which we might arguably have more access.
I first noticed the ‘Columbus is bad’ line of thinking about fifteen years ago (the nomadic tribe is much more Romantically pure, and in touch with Nature rather than the postmodern Self-alienated, conquering European hegemony), spilling from language departments, of all places.
It’s interesting to think about potential intellectual sources for such ideas.
Did Kant really address why his own metaphysical system is necessary as charting a course for possible human knowledge? Warnock states that Kant thought:
“All we can establish foundations for is the notion of possible experience and what can be an object of possible experience…”
In other words, physics can tell you all kinds of things about energy, but it can’t tell you what energy is. And this is the best of our knowledge. Kant’s metaphysics (and religion too) can’t even do that, and are possibly doomed to failure.
In a way, metaphysics may be just where Aristotle left it, or where someone like Roger Penrose might leave it (after a lifetime of applying deep mathematical thinking to physical theory in his work on black holes): An exercise in trying to develop firm footing for our knowledge after the fact…trying to provide some context for our knowledge and not being able to do so…yet…
From an interesting comment thread:
1. If there are facts of a certain sort (chemical, biological, psychological, moral, whatever) which may be true true, even though everyone thinks they are false, then facts of this sort (chemical, biological, etc.) must never change.
The trouble is that you yourself don’t actually believe this principle. For example, geographical facts are clearly objectively true — even if everyone believes in El Dorado, El Dorado doesn’t exist; and even if no one believed in Everest, Everest still would exist. But it’s obvious that it doesn’t follow that geographical facts don’t change over time. Mountains and polar ice caps and rivers come and go. Geographical facts change all the time — it’s just that our beliefs don’t change them.
Perhaps your point is, not that the geographical facts don’t change, but rather that the geological laws don’t change. But at a certain level even this isn’t true: Plate Tectonics fits the earth over most of its history, but it doesn’t exactly fit the earth when it was molten or when it eventually cools down completely in the distant future. It doesn’t fit the moon or Jupiter. Perhaps at a high level of abstraction, we can imagine a final theory of planetary geography that fits ALL types of planets anywhere in the universe. Perhaps these very abstract laws don’t themselves vary (once there are any planets to talk about).
But if you make the moral law sufficiently abstract, it can be as unvarying as any laws of universal planetology. Utilitarianism is the theory that there is a rather abstract law of morality, which, though it does not vary, accounts for why seemingly quite different things can be right or wrong in different circumstances (e.g., why leaving your elderly to die may have been OK for the Eskimos in conditions of scarcity while it would be very wrong for us).