A Bit Apart, But Still Standing Around Hoping Many People Would Hesitate More Often-A Few Links And Thoughts On Leo Strauss and Rene Girard

One major shift in my thinking occurred while reading Leo Strauss, and approaching Nature from a position where the reason/revelation distinction was suddenly in play:

‘Strauss was a Jew who promoted a pre-Christian, classical understanding of “natural right” as found in Plato and Aristotle. Yet after the publication of his Natural Right and History in 1953, Strauss was sometimes classed alongside Catholic scholars of political philosophy who aimed to revive the natural law tradition of Aquinas. Strauss recognized that these Thomists were fighting some of the same battles against historicists and philosophical modernists that he was fighting. Nonetheless, his own position was quite distinct from theirs. Natural right, unlike natural law, is changeable and dependent on circumstance for its expression, says Strauss. As he puts it: “There is a universally valid hierarchy of ends, but there are no universally valid rules of action.”

Such thinking made me question many modern epistemological foundations I had been taking for granted: Perhaps (H)istory doesn’t necessarily have a clear end, no more than does any one of our lives (other than a death forever beyond our full imagining).  Perhaps (H)istory is long, often bloody, and takes a lot of work to understand.

Nature, too, in its depth and majesty, often Romanticized and Idealized by many moderns (collectivists and Hippies, especially), can be terrible, cruelly indifferent and the source of much of our suffering.  These debates are old, and deep, so why not return to many original thinkers like Plato and Aristotle?

Politically and socially, I suddenly doubted that we’re necessarily heading towards knowable ends, individuals achieving a kind of virtue in declaring loyalty to the latest moral idea, protest movement, or political cause.  Progress is complicated.

[Although] the (S)ciences are so successful in describing and explaining the Natural World, such knowledge can’t simply be transferred and implemented into policy and law, a bureaucracy and a technocracy [full of] of people who are often not even scientists.  Perhaps there are many modern fictions abroad.

The more individuals are either liberated or freed (from tradition, from moral obligations to family and friends, from insitutions, from religious belief) it doesn’t necessarily follow such freedoms will be used wisely.

In fact, some individuals are clearly coalescing around narrow, totalitarian ideologies and failed theories of History through the road of radical chic (Marxism, Communism, Socialism).  Other individuals are exploiting our current insitutional failures in favor of political extremism (alt-right and alt-left) while yet others are spending their formative years flirting with nihilism and anarchy in the postmodern soup.

Cycles of utopianism/dystopianism, and idealism don’t necessarily lead to stability, and more liberty.

Where I might agree with the moderns: I do think that Man’s reason, individual men’s use of mathematics applied to the physical world, sometimes occurring in flashes of profound insight, often after years of study and labor within and perhaps outside of a particular field, are tied to a reality which empirically exists.  One could do a lot worse than the best of the Natural Philosopher.

It typically takes years to imbibe the necessary and often counter-intuitive tools to ‘see under the hood’ of Nature.  Then, it often takes very long and close observation to make some kind of contribution.  Unlike the Oakeshottian critique of rationalism in favor of tradition, I do think there are gains in basic competency from an education in the sciences that are not exclusive solely to the genius.  Some of this can scale. Many laymen can become aware of how deterministic and probabilistically accurate these laws govern the world in which we live.

To be sure, we are undergoing a renaissance in certain fields:  A technological revolution in our pockets and work lives, an explosion in space science, for starters.


As to my view of human nature, and a depressive realism, often informed by the humanites:

There’s something about Rene Girard’s work that strikes deep chords within me. I must confess, though, as a non-believer, I remain skeptical that a lot of Christianity isn’t Platonic Idealism + Synthesized Judaism + Transcendent Claims to Truth & Knowledge that gained ascendance within the Roman Empire.  My ignorance shows.

A Christian and religious believer, Girard synthesizes psychology, literature, history, anthropology and philosophy along with his Christian faith into something quite profound.

Recommended.  The mimetic theory of [desire] can really can change how you think about the world:

A briefer introduction here:

Girard and Libertarian thought?:

The closest I come to religious belief: Writers and musicians, at a certain point, give themselves over to their own mysterious, seemingly inexplicable, creative processes. If you practice enough (muscle memory), play your instrument alone and play with others, counting the time signature, you can makes sounds in time which express something deep about our condition, sharing it with others.

Even after the well runs dry, creative artists often go back to the bottom, finding themselves spent.  The stronger the emotional loss and more real the pain; often this translates into the pleasure others take in your creation.  But what is it you’re sharing exactly, from mind to mind and person to person?

This [can] produce something like a divine, God-worshipping, vulnerable state of mind and being, which is just as dangerous and corrupting as it is bonding and enriching.  From Bach, to Prince, to now even Kanye West, apparently, religion can suddenly sweep into the gap.

Of course, studying and playing music is a conscious, reasoned process, more than many people know, but it also, very clearly isn’t entirely planned in the moment of its synthesis and creation.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources.  Thanks, as always, for reading.

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

Repost-Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’

From Nextbook: Philosopher Of Science Hilary Putnam On The Jewish Faith

Postmodern Pushback-Some New Links & Lots Of Old Links Gathered Throughout The Years

From Partially Examined Life-‘John Searle Interview Of Perception: Part One’

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

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

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

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

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

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy: Charles Sanders Peirce

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

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

From Slate Star Codex: ‘All In All, Another Brick In The Motte’

Click through (great comments)

‘The original Shackel paper is intended as a critique of post-modernism. Post-modernists sometimes say things like “reality is socially constructed”, and there’s an uncontroversially correct meaning there. We don’t experience the world directly, but through the categories and prejudices implicit to our society; for example, I might view a certain shade of bluish-green as blue, and someone raised in a different culture might view it as green. Okay.’

From Remarks On Bertrand Russell’s Theory Of Knowledge:

“The following, however, appears to me to be correct in Kant’s statement of the problem: in thinking we use, with a certain “right,” concepts to which there is no access from the materials of sensory experience, if the situation is viewed from the logical point of view.

As a matter of fact, I am convinced that even much more is to be asserted: the concepts which arise in our thought and in our linguistic expressions are all — when viewed logically — the free creations of thought which cannot inductively be gained from sense experiences.”

From Bloggingheads: Adam Frank And Eliezer Yudkowsky Discuss The Epistemology Of ScienceFrom Bloggingheads: Adam Frank And Eliezer Yudkowsky Discuss The Epistemology Of Science

Repost: Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’

Full piece here.

NY Times review here for contrast.

E.O. Wilson is a popular biologist and naturalist, known particularly for his work with ants.  Arnhart reviews:

‘To answer these fundamental questions about our human place in the cosmos, Edward O. Wilson suggests in his new book, we need to unify all our knowledge of nature by combining the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.  Traditionally, we have looked to religion, philosophy, or the creative arts to answer these great questions.  Wilson argues that these three ways to understand the human condition have failed.  This leaves science–in its quest for a complete knowledge of nature–as the only way to understand the human story.’

That sounds extremely ambitious.  Who needs religion, philosophy, or the creative arts when they don’t yield the same standard of knowledge Wilson is proposing?

Arnhart’s suggests looking to…philosophy:

‘If Wilson’s project for a Darwinian unification of knowledge is to succeed, it must revive that Aristotelian tradition of natural philosophy that includes Thomas Aquinas, Hume, and Adam Smith.  Darwin understood himself as part of that intellectual tradition, particularly in adopting ideas from Hume and Smith about the natural moral sentiments.  Even Darwin’s fundamental idea of the evolutionary emergence of life as an unintended order was derived from Smith and other Scottish philosophers’

So isn’t there a tension between Aristotelians and Platonists?  If neo-Platonists give-up the World-Of-Forms as a source of transcendental knowledge, will they slip into the modern problem of nihilism?

Is Darwinism nihilism?  If you are a Platonist, yes.  If you are not a Platonist, no.
Most Platonists today are disappointed Platonists—people with Platonic expectations that are unfulfilled, because they accept Darwinian evolution as true, and therefore since all living forms have evolved, they cannot be eternal in conforming to Plato’s intelligible realm of eternal Ideas.  If everything has evolved, this must include moral and political order, and thus there is no eternally unchanging Idea of the Good by which we can see absolute standards of right and wrong.  Consequently, there are no moral absolutes, and we must accept moral relativism or nihilism. Darwinism is “true but deadly” (as Friedrich Nietzsche said).  And thus these disappointed Platonists become nihilists.’
As always, worth a read.  Below is Wilson briefly discussing the book on Charlie Rose:
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**Martha Nussbaum has used Aristotle’s natural philosophy.  On this site, see: Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘Martha Nussbaum On Aristotle’

***In the realm of political philosophy, for what it’s worth, many libertarians and liberaltarians in lieu of tracing the moral source of the laws back to a transcendent God (thus creating daylight between themselves and religious and often social conservatives), instead turn to the ‘classical’ liberalism of the Scottish Enlightenment:  Hume’s empiricism and atheism, Smith’s Theory Of Moral Sentiments, and later Hayek’s adoption of Hume’s principle that the propositions of ethics cannot be proven.

In addition to putting daylight between themselves and religious conservatives, this tends to put a lot of daylight between these classical liberals and the increasingly progressive Democratic party in the U.S.  See this position fleshed out: Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

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-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 80′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.’

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Pinker At The New Republic: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy’

Full piece here.

Pinker boils his argument down to two ideals:

‘The first is that the world is intelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves.’

and:

‘The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms.’

I wonder if this isn’t this a rather reductionist view of the sciences?  Or as Hilary Putnam and Bryan Magee discuss below, the ‘treasure chest’ vision, where you just keep filling up the chest with more and more knowledge.  It leaves a lot to be desired:

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Pinker’s second ideal is as follows:

‘The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and super- stitions.’

One of the other debates here is about where meaning shall be found, in politics, in ethics, as a foundation for the humanities, and religion, and all manner of other ideas fill the void.  As also discussed in the video above, the idea of science as providing the foundation for the Western worldview is quite ingrained.

There’s no shortage of people who want to use some concept of the sciences, and reason, to fill those voids and I think there are many reasons to remain skeptical of many of them.

Response by Leon Wieseltier At The New Republic:  ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’ 

-Jerry Coyne responds to Douthat.

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

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative Materialism

Repost-Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’