Bryan Magee Speaks To Isaiah Berlin On Why Philosophy Matters

Of note to this blog:

Sociological theories of history, functioning as presumed ‘scientific’ maps of Man’s place in Nature, claiming knowledge of presumed rational ends (‘final solutions’), have proven to be the sources of monstrous totalitarianism.

Isaiah Berlin spent more time with the works of Karl Marx than most; positing that even Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism (Stoic aestheticism) had within it conflicts leading to unintended Hegelian-Marxist manifestations.

Philosophy, at best, can perhaps work to point out such conflicts, while creating new ones of its own, presumably, in pursuit of truth.

Perhaps popular sentiment in the Marxian direction can, somewhat, explain popular movements attempting to medicalize, categorize all human behavior, and generally ‘banish’ evil from what is being called the modern world.

It’s not that I think these fields of knowledge (e.g. psychology and sociology) aren’t valid, nor that they aren’t making imporant discoveries, nor even that the synthesis of mathematics and empirical data within them isn’t progressing.

It’s rather that such disciplines attract many people sharing in a set of common principles, beliefs and sentiments, the stuff, really of human nature; people self-selecting for pre-existing ideological commitments while pursuing ends of their own.

This has consequences for the rest of us.

***Another favorite of this blog, Kenneth Minogue, tried to identify the connective tissue common to ideology: ‘Alien Powers; The Pure Theory Of Ideology‘.
Update And Repost-Is Psychology A Science? From Richard Feynman’s ‘Cargo Cult Science’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”
How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Also On This Site:  Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch  
A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”
Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

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-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal-The Persistence Of Ideology

Interesting read.

Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.

Ideas matter, obviously, and the piece attempts to re-contextualize many ideological struggles which keep shaping our day-to-day lives (I have it on good intel that the guys down at the docks say ‘quotidian struggles’).

Dalrymple:

‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site:

-Fukuyama’s Marxist/Hegelian influence and the re-purposed Christian metaphysics and Statism found within much German Idealism: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

-Are we really progressing…can we be more clear about means and ends? Via Youtube-Samuel Huntington On ‘The Clash Of Civilizations’Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Sunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper By George Walsh: The Objectivist Attack On Kant…From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

-The Englightenment/Romantic tension…the horror of rationalist systems which claimed knowledge of man’s ends, but also a defense of both positive and negative liberties-Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’…A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

***Why so many Britons on this site? (J.S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin by way of Riga, Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton, Bryan Magee, Theodore Dalrymple, John Gray etc.?)

I don’t know all the reasons, but there’s definitely an Anglophilia at work, our division by a common language, and perhaps an overall ideological predilection towards an Anglo-sphere alliance. I think there is mutual benefit, security and leverage to be had in working for a more closely united English-speaking ‘liberal’ world order. There are many sacrifices and risks, dangers and blind-spots, too.

Many of these writers/thinkers have had to face a more institutional and entrenched Left. They can know intimately whereof they speak.
It’s easy to feel vaguely good about our relationship, but let’s not forget moments like these:

washingtonburns.jpg

This is a depiction (thanks to impiousdigest.com) of British troops burning the White House.

Alan Jacobs At The American Conservative: ‘Roger Scruton Vs. The New Left’

Review 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.’

I’ve heard Scruton’s rather sober vision of the good society referred to as ‘Scrutopia’ by dissenters:

On this site, see:

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.’

Related On This Site: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Nussbaum argues that relgion shouldn’t be a source for the moral laws From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum…More on Strauss as I’m skeptical of his hermeticism and his strong reaction to Nietzsche and some things he may have missed about the Anglo tradition: From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’From The Selected Writings By And About George Anastaplo: ‘Reason and Revelation: On Leo Strauss’

 Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…… From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems.

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

Stephen Hicks At Triggernometry-‘Hitler Year-Zero’

It’s identities-all-the-way-down:

I’d been charting the return to ‘Hitler Year-Zero‘ as a product of the Frankfurt School and the radical Left’s infiltration of the American academy. ‘Anti-fascism’ was, after all, driving many socialists, communists, and various other collectivist utopians into war with the fascist right (see Orwell in Spain). Through the Straussian lens, at least, both these manifestations of Left/Right are two sides of the same coin. Their highest goods are totalizing, collectivizing ideologies, coalescing into warring political factions.

Left-leaners dislike the suggestion that supporting radical activists while supporting ‘classical liberalism’ (free-speech, free-markets, individual liberties as many do in their personal lives) might be conflicting goals, requiring of hard choices.

The drive towards ‘democracy’ and ‘equity’, mobilizing every injustice in activists’ lives, often falls apart in the face of definitional scrutiny. So, only you support ‘democracy’ and your political adversaries don’t? What do mean by democracy, exactly? Rule by the demos? Which problems arise from rule by the demos?

As I see the world: Such ideologues, within coalitions, drive against enemies as much as towards such shared conceptions of the moral good. Thus, not all things religious, traditional, and conservative are ‘evil,’ nor are people who defend some tradition or religious belief ‘fascist,’ unless your own ideas are….totalizing and fascist.

The lesson: Basically, if all you’ve got are are socialists, communists and ‘anti-fascists’ claiming to stand for liberty, you’re f**ked.

A harder task: Convincing many liberal idealists, soft collectivists, secular humanists and ‘one-worlder’ types that harder choices are on the horizon between their ‘freedom-is-next-I’m-a-good-person’ mindset and the radicals.

I’m expecting most to slip into the blame, resentment and anger at anything conservative, traditional and religious. Most of us, most of the time, play the political games of the day even as the Overton Window shifts. This is much easier to do if people like Donald Trump arise to stand up for conservative ideas (I suppose I’m Trump-skeptical, but next time ’round I’ve got one vote and two choices like you). Most media and most of the academies will be teaching such ideas from young ages, and in high-places.

It will be harder to convince many people who might be conservative, traditional and religious that not everything ‘liberal’ is far-Left, radical and activist, even though we’re all arguably running aground in the postmodern muck. Here, too, the political games of the day will usually triumph. The once-conservative, patriotic, traditional American cultural majority is now more of a minority, needing more legal protections and possessing more good reasons for truth and reflection now that the liberal types are arguably a majority.

I’m just trying to keep one-foot-in and one-foot-out, moving all about.

I’m not sure it’s working…

What Am I Doing? What Are You Doing, Dear Reader?-Some Sunday Links & Thoughts

Dear Reader, let’s say the following is mostly true: ‘In lieu of religious belief; the orienting structure which Christianity provides, most people in the West will replace faith with something else.’

Portions of this debate are as old as the Enlightenment, (much older, really) with regard to the natural sciences, born out of what was once natural philosophy.

Depending on what’s true and what is known, an additional question looms: Who ought to be in charge?

As many readers know, I’ve been looking at liberal and secular humanist leadership, finding much rot and confusion (modern conservative movements are hardly models of principled health and organization, Dear Reader).

Whether or not the proposition of the first sentence above can be empirically proven as emergent behavior, rooted in biology, at the level of basic individual consciousness, I believe to be another matter. I’m not expecting the growing fields of neuroscience and evolutionary biology to answer all questions as to deepest human problems.

As to bearing the weight of faith, true-belief and social organization, (how to live, what to do), such fields as evolutionary biology and neuroscience seem woefully inadequate; subject to ad hoc departments of ethics and groupthink (enforcers of the emergent, and often ideologically rooted, norms).

I will say I think neuroscience may be analogous to where internal medicine was right before the x-ray. It’s going to do a lot of us, a lot of good, a lot of the time.

Furthermore, I’m also of the mind that wrestling with one’s own heart, and works of creative genius, is what a good humanities education was supposed to be doing before the field drifted into the postmodern morass.

A lot of good art, poetry and music can elevate our base impulses into appreciation of the beautiful, the good, and what’s true.

I also expect a lot of modern leadership to claim the arts and sciences as credentials, and reasons to trust their leadership, freezing-out political enemies. I’m looking at a lot of the new moralizing busybodies, nitwits and ad-hoc ethicisists with skepticism.

Endless pursuit of (S)elf, the individual isolated and alone, drifting along currents of Romantic–>Modern–>Postmodern conceptualizations, has made for a kind of mystic gnosticism. Modern, feelings-first primitivism is drifting fast into something like a new religion.

Additionally, something I’m calling Neo-Romantic Collectivism, or Romantic Primitivism, generally tends to drive much behavior I see in Seattle (as if you care and as if you were planning a move):

‘If we all give ourselves to collectivist principles by sticking it to the (M)an, everyone will be made equal. The trains and buses will run on time. Gaia will be happy.’

We already know the modern ideologies promise a new telos (end-point) to (M)an’s affairs, politicizing private life into the public sphere, often as a badge of righteous honor.

As Roger Scruton continually pointed out, a basic organizing principle of the ‘conserve first’ mindset, with all its drawbacks, brings more mid and long-term stability: ‘What if our existing institutions are already representations of who/what we are?’

I’m not sure having to pass through Schopenhauer’s looking-glass is necessary, nor on through Nietzsche’s Will-to-Power, but it helps understand where a lot of people are coming from.

Long-story short: There are many people pursuing something like tenets of faith, rule-following punishment, and a commitment to thoughtless conformity during these times.

But we pretty much already knew this to be true, if that opening statement is mostly true.

What are you doing?

Repost-John Gray Reviews Francis Fukuyama At The Literary Review: ‘Destination Denmark’

Full review here. (Updated. Full subscription required)

Is modern democracy the best form of government, and if so, how did we get here?  Who is ‘we’ exactly?  All of Europe and the U.S.?

How do we really know that we are progressing toward some telos, or evolving our modern democracy to some point outside ourselves, and that the rest of the world ought to be doing the same?

Empirical evidence?

Via Hegel, Marx and Darwin?

Gray:

‘Fukuyama believes democracy is the only system of government with a long-term future, a familiar idea emerges: as societies become more prosperous, the growing global middle class will demand more political freedom and governmental accountability. Effectively a restatement of Marx’s account of the historical role of the bourgeoisie, it is an idea we have all heard many, many times before. In fact the political record of the middle classes is decidedly mixed.’

and:

‘While the book contains some useful insights, at the most fundamental level Political Order and Political Decay remains a morass of intellectual confusion and category mistakes. Slipping insensibly from arguments about the ethical standards by which governments are to be judged to speculative claims about the moving forces of modern history, Fukuyama blurs facts, values and theories into a dense neo-Hegelian fog. Liberal democracy may be in some sense universally desirable, as he maintains. That does not mean it will always be popular, still less that it is the normal destination of modern development.’

But he does acknowledge the following, which I’ve found reading Fukuyama, is that I come away enriched in many ways:

‘In some ways Political Order and Political Decay may be Fukuyama’s most impressive work to date. The upshot of his argument is that functioning democracy is impossible wherever an effective modern state is lacking. Since fractured and failed states are embedded in many parts of the world, the unavoidable implication is that hundreds of millions or billions of people will live without democracy for the foreseeable future.’

This blog much values Gray’s thinking as he upsets the apple-cart of many an assumption found in the modern West. If you’ve ever gazed upon the secular liberal political establishment, witnessing the gap between its ideals and daily operation, its claimed moral supremacy along with a lot of foreseeable moralism and bureaucratic bloat, then you might have some sympathy for such thinking.

As previously posted:

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

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

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

and about providing a core to liberalism:

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

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

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

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

Has John Gray turned away from value pluralism into a kind of ‘godless mysticism?’

———————-

Here’s Fukuyama summing up his book for an audience:

————————

Related On This SiteUpdate And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’Update And Repost-Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’

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

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

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

From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

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…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

There Are So Many Ways To Do Better-Philosophy & Humanities 101

In light of the rather pathetic and predictable news out of the University Of Chicago’s English Department:

“For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies,” the program said in a statement on its website.

In light of the rather pathetic and predictable news out of the University of Edinburgh. They’ve renamed Hume Tower (after arch-empiricist David Hume and one of the greats) at the University of Edinburgh.

Some academics stood up to the administration and the decision:

The letter’s signatories include several of the university’s most respected academics, including Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Dr Michael Rosie, senior lecturer in sociology, Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy, and Jonathan Hearn, professor of political and historical sociology.

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 a problem.

A lot of this aimlessness and rebellion had ramped-up in the 1960’s, but since then, I’ve come to understand there are even deeper problems.

I aim to be open-minded, but not so much as to notice my brains falling out.

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

Friedrich Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Martha Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

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.

Isaiah Berlin pretty much blackballed Roger Scruton, so it’s not all roses.

Scruton had some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

Quite importantly:

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.

Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.

Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?

See Protein Wisdom for a discussion about language and intentionalism, and how it gets deployed.

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

The nihilist claims are deeper than you may think, and the Nietzschean, and Will–>Will to Power German influence is also deeper than most people think; offering profound criticisms of the scientific project, liberalism, liberal institutions, and a secular humanism which is the air many folks breathe these days.

Here’s a somewhat similar vein of thought.  From friesian.com:

Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move…’

Alas, this blog has been writing about such issues for over a decade, and I’ve been thinking about them for more than two decades:  Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? Allan Bloom, Camille Paglia and Anthony Kronman

Repost-From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’

Click here for a quite a varied discussion of Allan Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Repost-From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Civil Right logic, and protest alone, isn’t likely deep enough to prevent against ideological capture: Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

On That Liberal Project And Many Nihilist Claims Against It-Some Links To Fukuyama And John Gray

Aris Roussinos makes the case for Fukuyama’s ‘The End Of History And The Last Man‘ in:

Why Fukuyama was right all along:

In The Last Man, the under-discussed addendum to The End of History, Fukuyama took his intellectual cues from Nietzsche rather than Hegel, observing that “it is impossible to complete our present discussion without refer­ring to the creature who reportedly emerges at the end of history, the last man,” a creature who is, “in essence, the victorious slave”. With all his demands met and material wants assuaged, will the last man be content at last, pausing the endless revolving wheel of history?

This blog has applied a Straussian approach (reason/revelation distinction) to question the Hegelian–>Marxist–>post-Marxist (via Alexander Kojeve) view that (H)istory in fact should be conceptualized as Hegelians do, and can claim to be known, as many have.

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

The (H)istoricist approach tends to lead to an ever-expanding bureaucratic state, importing many problems much German philosophical idealism has had in conceptualizing God in the face of Englightenment claims to truth and knowledge, Nature, Man in Nature, and perhaps even the fact that Germans rather enjoy fighting, and the piety of ‘we’ Germans.

On that note, as posted, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Simon Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism

Blackburn on the book:

‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’

If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:

Thomas Nagel review of John Gray’s previous book, ‘The Silence Of Animals,’ here.

Simon Critchley reviewed 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 below.

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?

Also On This Site: Francis Fukuyama, a neconservative up until the Iraq War or so, student of Huntington’s, and author off The End Of History, has a view that modernization and Westernization are more closely united.  Yet Fukuyama envisions a Western State which has an endpoint that the minds of men might be able to know.   This breaks with Karl Marx’s end point of Communism rising from the ashes of capitalism, is more Hegelian via Alexander Kojeve in Paris, and advocates for a State that ought to be bigger than it is now in the U.S.  This requires a more moral bureaucratic class to lead us here at home and perhaps an almost one worlder-ish type Super-Government for all.  Can you see limited government, life, liberty and property from here?:  From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen have plans for America and India to address some of the corruption there, and it may involve much more state involvement here in America by extension.  Amartya Sen In The New York Review Of Books: Capitalism Beyond The CrisisMartha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution..
Liberalism has plans for you and me, and supremely abstract ideals which would bind us together: Martha Nussbaum At The Chronicle Of Higher Education Responding To The 10th Anniversary Of 09/11: ‘Justice’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

Everyone’s A Victim, No One’s A Victim-James Lindsay On Critical Methods: Some Links And Thoughts

James Lindsay at New Discourses discusses Critical Methods.  He describes Critical Theory as a ‘solvent’ eating away at our civilizational foundations.  It certainly has done a number on our humanities departments.

Whatever your thoughts on freedom of assembly, the idealization of protest, secular humanism and liberal idealism, it is pretty easy to destroy, and very hard to create.

The pushback is coming from more liberal quarters, now:

I’d argue that what you see in the streets, a devolution of Civil Rights idealism and the protest model, is now more visibly a collection of various radical ideologies, discontented groups and individuals with their own interests and reasons.  You also have the postmodern focus on ‘feeling’ coalescing into vaguely religious campaigns to unite and purify the public square.

To some degree, critical theorists and ‘studies’ tribalists leave mob violence, collectivist and identity groups gathering against the ‘oppressor’, expendable facts and an assumption that all laws are illegimate in their wake.

As a young man, Roger Scruton watched the Generation of ’68 go by, gathering anger and righteousness with them through the streets of Paris.

‘In the narrow street below my window the students were shouting and smashing.’

Many are still passing by our windows, so to speak, heading to some undetermined point in the future.

Here’s to hoping we can reclaim a humanties education from the ‘critical theorists,’ the postmodern mystics and irrationalists, and the ‘studies’ tribalists.

‘The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.’

George Santayana.

As I’ve been called a ‘postmodern conservative’, here’s an interesting piece from Matt McManus at Quillette: ‘Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Response To Aaron Hanlon:

‘…I do not believe postmodern conservatism emerged in a historical or ideological vacuum. It is not just the product of contemporary postmodern culture, which provided the necessary but not sufficient conditions for postmodern conservatism’s emergence. Rather, certain strands of conservative thinking that—while not in themselves postmodern—have nevertheless recently mutated into postmodern form. The two most prominent of these are Burkean historicism and De Maistrean irrationalism.’

and:

‘Theorists of postmodern culture…argue that the emergence of postmodern skepticism indicates a broader cultural shift within developed societies. What Jameson calls ‘postmodern culture’ is characterized by growing social skepticism about the stability of truth claims in general, but particularly truth claims related to identity and values.’

Personally, I remain open to much skepticism and many critiques of many parts of the ‘modern’ project.  I find myself interested in people providing reasons to support various traditions (music, art), religious faith (wouldn’t call myself a believer), patriotism (haven’t served, but necessary to the survival of our Republic) and rule of law (even more necessary to the survival of our Republic).

I think all of the above deserve a fair hearing.

Hmmm…I’m not sure the roots of Kant’s profound empirical realism and transcendental idealism has been addressed.   A reader sends a link:

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.

The problem of how a judgment can be synthetic and a priori, then, presents itself to Kant as the problem of how two concepts, neither of which includes the other, can be connected in a way which does not rest upon past experience and is not vulnerable to future experience.”

Page 23 of ‘Kant’s Analytic‘ by Jonathan Bennett

In a way, metaphysics may be just where Aristotle left it, or where someone like Roger Penrose leaves 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…

Addition: Of course, this doesn’t nullify the depth of Kant’s contributions, nor the depth of his moral theory. It just may not make it a moral law in the same sense as Newton’s laws (deeper laws have already come along) . I dug up one side of this exchange from the Bloggingheads Sentimental Mood Jesse Prinz Edition. So just because Kant didn’t perhaps validate his project as he’d have hoped, it doesn’t follow that you need to embrace some moral relativism as does Prinz:

—————-

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).

Below is some criticism of Scruton from a Kantian-Friesian line of thinking.

Is there a turn back towards the Hegelian ‘we’ from the Kantian ‘I?’

Scruton’s attractive and practical deployment of the ‘lebenswelt’ in describing the day to day relationships in which we find ourselves (a tissue of contingencies, possibilities and ‘I’ ‘thou’ relationships) provides robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians.  This has been highly valuable and rather courageous.

Are the potentially Hegelian dangers to abstract, absolutize and collectivize still present?

‘Now, I think that this is an accurate and honest presentation of Wittgenstein’s thought, except perhaps for the notion of “an independent world,” which sounds like a metaphysical assertion; but it also makes it look like Roger Scruton has fallen into the same kind of dark well as the “nonsense machine” of post-modernism that he examined in his other book.

First of all, if we have decided that the “emphasis” of Frege on truth is now to be replaced with the “more fundamental demand” that our language conform to “correctness,” alarm bells should go off. There is in fact nothing more fundamental than truth, if we are talking about knowledge or logic (and not just “communication”); and “correctness” could mean anything, varying with the standard that is applied to judge it. But we quickly get what the standard of “correctness” is, and that is the “common usage” that has “created the rules,” outside of which we cannot “look,” to govern our linguistic practice. These are rules that the invididual cannot decide for himself but that somehow “we,” collectively, in our “form of life” have created.

Key points there are that the autonomous individual and the “independent world” have both dropped out of the treatment. Scruton, as we might suspect for a Hegelian, does not speak up for the individual, but even his explicit invocation of the “independent world” is immediately voided by the assertion that only language itself, in its practice, correctness, and form of life, determines what is going to stand as the equivalent of truth. Thus, the chilling absurdity is that “the ultimate facts are language,” while, naively, we might think that facts are characteristics of the “independent world” that determine truth, as the Early Wittgenstein himself had said. In an objective world without facts, language is the substitute (whose status is somehow established by facts about the world).’

What are some dangers of the projects of reason in the wake of the Enlightenment, or stretching post-Enlightenment reason into a replacement for God, tradition, and Natural Law: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property

Leo Strauss tried to tackle that problem, among others with the reason/revelation distinction, did he succeed? How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Addition: As a friend points out: Strauss is trying to get around the 2nd Nietzschean crisis of modernity, and the cinching and tightening of moral, political, and philosophical thinking into only an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under Reason alone. The Natural Right and Natural Law Philosophies, including and a pursuit of the truth which can involve religion (Augustine?), or Greek conceptions of the good and the true as applied to the city-state vastly broaden and prevent the inherent nihilism in these waves of modernity as Strauss saw them…historicism being one of these Enlightenment pursuits, from political science to the social sciences to Hegelian and post-Hegelian historicism…the logic is followed to its inherently nihilistic ends. This poses a threat to individual liberty among other things…

Related:  It’s the fierce critic of religion, new Atheist, and 68er Christopher Hitchens who has defended free speech most vigorously:  Repost-From Beautiful Horizons: ‘Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan at the 92nd Street Y’

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea…as a more entrenched radical British Left and Muslim immigration don’t mix too well: From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’

Don’t get Borked, at least if you’re openly religious and aiming for higher office:  Bork had his own view of the 1960′s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Stephen Hicks On Postmodernism-Columbus Is Bad And Other Moral Judgments

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.

Ah, well.

As posted:

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).

Via The University Of British Colombia: Kant-Summary Of Essential PointsFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant

From The Times Higher Education: Simon Blackburn On The The Atheist/Believer DebateFrom Bloggingheads: Adam Frank And Eliezer Yudkowsky