Roger Scruton-Sad News

Roger Scruton has announced this bit of news via his newsletter.  I have quite a few of his books, and have been quite influenced by the man.  Get well.  Take it one day at a time.

In honor of his influence:

First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University-In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

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…

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

Discussed in the video: James Lindsay’s cogent account of his experiences in the Atheism movement, and the emergence of Atheism Plus.  He attempts to use moral psychology (he mentions Jonathan Haidt) to explain many religious-seeming elements of the woke, social justice crowd.

Also, the two touch upon Critical Theory, and the next generation of post-post-modernists, reacting against the previous generation.

I doubt movements like this ever really die, especially ones committed to the logic of radically standing apart from all institutions of authority, traditions, systems and social arrangments;  the lone, brilliant artists and the academic poseurs cloaked within the glamour of nihilist jargon and bad epistemologies.

Lindsay also mentions the Stephen Hicks/Thaddeus Russell debate:  ‘Postmodernism Is Necessary For A Politics Of Individual Liberty

Related On This Blog:

Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

Postmodern generator here, via David Thompson.

Simon Blackburn revisits the Sokal hoax.

The Sokal hoax:

“…in 1996 the radical “postmodernist” journal Social Text published an article submitted by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University, with the mouthwatering title “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Sokal then revealed the article to be a spoof…”

Sokal has been busy ruminating since that paper, and Blackburn, a Cambridge philosophy professor, reviews his ruminations.

Mentioned In The Review:  Kant, Karl Popper, Einstein, postmodernism, a sympathetic account of the academic postmodernist climate, Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, (T)ruth, Richard Rorty…


Daniel Dennett from 1998: Postmodernism and Truth

‘When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted “an epistemology,” he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear–it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn’t matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party’

Worth a read.

The arts and humantities can be given a seriousness of purpose, I’m guessing, but must that purpose necessarily be scientific?

Do creative musical/artistic geniuses really need to understand particularly well how the sciences advance? How much does it matter that a theater major understands how the sciences come to say true things about the world and predict with high accuracy how nature behaves beyond a science course or two?

I could be wrong.

Clearly, one problem is that out of the postmodern malaise comes the nihilism, moral relativism and general desperation where many can be found clinging to the sciences, or some standard of rationalism and reason that doesn’t seem sufficient in answering all the questions religion claims to answer, nor doesn’t seem sufficient as a platform to understand human nature, history, tradition, the wisdom in our institutions, and the experience past generations can offer beyond its own presumptions.

Lots of people can thus make ideology their guide and political change their purpose, or the State their religion and their own moral failings or moral programs everyone’s moral oughts through the law and politics.

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

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

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

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


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

Roger Scruton here.

Book here.

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

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.’

Steven Pinker 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.’

Hilary Putnam and Bryan Magee discuss the ‘treasure chest’ vision of science, where you just keep filling up the chest with more and more knowledge.

————————

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 superstitions.’

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, as all manner of other ideas fill the void.

Addition:  I guess I’m trying to say that I remain skeptical the sciences can properly scale. Many people claiming to have a scientific worldview are curiously more committed to ideas downstream of scientific inquiry. This can involve an idealized or popular, mummified vision of ‘science,’ (the science is clear, it’s on on my side, we must act together or vote for x) or even ‘anti-science’ nihilism and destructive cultism (the universe is a meaningless void, you’re utterly alone, here’s exactly what the scientists don’t want you to know, so join us).

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”

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

From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

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

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

More here from the Times Literary Supplement.

I suppose ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ and/or ‘libertarian socialism’ is better than the dead-ends of socialist doctrine.  Noam Chomsky actually had enough computational/scientific training to be dismissive of postmodern thought. Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain.  This could lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism, or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism.  There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision.  Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point:  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

What about value pluralism…positive and negative liberty?: 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”

Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal

Thursday Quotation: From the Cambridge Companion To Plato-T.H. Irwin’s “Plato: The intellectual Background’

Found here——Kraut, Richard.  The Cambridge Companion to Plato. New York, NY:  Cambridge University Press, 1992.

“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis.  Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure.  In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup.  In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest.  Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.

Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides.  Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world.  This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”

Also On This Site: What are some dangers of the projects of reason in the wake of the Enlightenment: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Repost-Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’

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

Why is it so important to build a secular structure…what are some of the arguments for doing so…or at least for deeper equality through the laws: : Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder…From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’

Full post here.

Darwin and the arts.  Kirsch has an interesting piece reviewing 3 books, including one by Denis Dutton.  What might neuroaesthetics have to say about art that hasn’t been said already?

‘This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin’s death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton’s much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.’

Worth a read.

More broadly, it’s interesting to note how art, aesthetics, morality, moral reasoning, ethics etc. are being attached to Darwin’s thinking.  For some, I suspect, it is to advance a secular humanist platform which is full of oughts and shoulds for all of us in other areas of life, including politics and culture.

Related On This Site:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’Denis Dutton R.I.P.-December 28th, 2010 …From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…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…Adam Kirsch At The Prospect: ‘America’s Superman’… From The Spiked Review Of Books: “Re-Opening The American Mind”.

Some say we’re just selfish, others disagree-Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch

Repost-Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Full review here.

The 1st and last paragraphs of Blackburn’s review:

When the hoary old question of nature versus nurture comes around, sides form quickly. And as Leavis once remarked, whenever this is so, we can suspect that the differences have little to do with thinking. Still, the question certainly obsesses thinkers, and crops up in various terminologies and under various rubrics:  human essence versus historical accident, intrinsic nature versus social construction, nativism versus empiricism. In the ancient world the nativist Plato held that we come into the world equipped with knowledge obtained in a previous life, while the empiricist Aristotle denied it. In our own time Chomsky has revived the nativist doctrine that our capacity for language is innate, and some ultras have even held that our whole conceptual repertoire is innate. We did not ever have to learn anything. We had only to let loose what we already have.

and:

‘Once we get past the demonizing and the rhetoric, take proper notice of the space between overt psychology and evolutionary rationale for it, and lose any phobia of cultural phenomena, what is left? There are plenty of sensible and plausible observations about human beings in Pinker’s book. But it is not clear that any of them are particularly new: Hobbes and Adam Smith give us more than anybody else. And at least their insights have stood the test of time, unlike that of some more recent work. Consider again the example of media violence. Here it seems that psychologists cannot speak with one voice about its effects. But worse than that, much worse, they cannot even speak with one voice about what psychological studies find about its effects. That is, the meta-studies that Pinker cites flatly disagree with the meta-studies that I mentioned earlier. If this is the state of play, we do well to plead the privilege of skepticism. We also do well too not to jettison other cultural resources too quickly. The depressing thing about “The Blank Slate” is that behind the rhetoric and the salesmanship, I suspect that Pinker knows this as well as anyone else.’

Quite readable.

Related On This Site: Does evo psy have aspirations in creating a sort of secular morality…or non-religious moral and philosophical structure?:  Steven Pinker From The New Republic: The Stupidity Of Dignity…Also, what might the cognitive sciences have against transcedental morality?  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s“Constructive Sentimentalism”

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

Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksSimon Blackburn ReviewsAlan Sokal’s ‘Beyond The Hoax’ In The New RepublicRepost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

Repost-Alas, What Were You Hoping For?

Simon Blackburn at the University of Toronto discussing the minimalist or deflationist view:

‘Along comes someone like Pilate, Pontius Pilate, and says something like: ‘What is truth?’ and everybody goes sort of dizzy, and you look to the philosopher to provide a suitably abstract and highfalutin answer. The minimalist says you shouldn’t answer Pilate, or rather, if you answer Pilate, you answer should take the form of a question…which is “What are you interested in?’

So basically, you throw the question ‘What is truth?’ back until the person who’s interlocuting you… gives you an example and says ‘Well, I’m interested in whether penguins fly’ and you say ‘Okay well the truth there…the truth would consist in penguins flying…’

…that’s very disappointing:’

Blackburn on Richard Rorty here.

From Kelley Ross, who takes a step back from moral relativism and good ‘ol American Pragmatism:

‘It is characteristic of all forms of relativism that they wish to preserve for themselves the very principles that they seek to deny to others. Thus, relativism basically presents itself as a true doctrine, which means that it will logically exclude its opposites (absolutism or objectivism), but what it actually says is that no doctrines can logically exclude their opposites. It wants for itself the very thing (objectivity) that it denies exists. Logically this is called “self-referential inconsistency,” which means that you are inconsistent when it comes to considering what you are actually doing yourself. More familiarly, that is called wanting to “have your cake and eat it too.” Someone who advocates relativism, then, may just have a problem recognizing how their doctrine applies to themselves’

And on Richard Rorty:

‘Pragmatism is really just a kind of relativism; and, as with Protagoras’s own strategy, it is a smoke screen for the questions that ultimately must be asked about what it means that something is “better,” or now that something “works.” Something “works,” indeed, if it gets us what we want — or what Richard Rorty wants. But why should we want that? Again, the smoke screen puts off the fatal moment when we have to consider what is true about what is actually good, desirable, worthy, beneficial, etc. All these responses are diversions that attempt to obscure and prevent the examination of the assumptions that stand behind the views of people like Rorty. It is easier to believe what you believe if it is never even called into question, and that is just as true of academic philosophers like Rorty as it is for anybody else. Being intelligent or well educated does not mean that you are necessarily more aware of yourself, what you do, or the implications of what you believe. That is why the Delphic Precept, “Know Thyself” (Gnôthi seautón) is just as important now as ever.’

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism is skeptical of the Nietzchean influence: ‘Prinz’s Deceptive Silence in His Arguments for Emotivism and Cultural Relativism:’

‘In Beyond Human Nature, Jesse Prinz argues for emotivism and cultural relativism in his account of human morality. In doing this, he employs the rhetorical technique of deceptive silence. What I mean by this is that in presenting the research relevant to his topic, he picks out those findings that seem to support his arguments, while passing over in silence those findings that contradict his arguments. For example, he sets up a stark debate between Kantian rationalism and Humean emotivism in explaining the basis of human morality; and he argues that empirical research supports emotivism by showing that moral judgment is purely emotional and not rational at all (293-95). This is deceptive in two respects. ‘

Also On This Site: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Repost-Some Thoughts On Noam Chomsky Via The American Conservative: ‘American Anarchist’

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

Roger Scruton On Moral Relativism And Ross Douthat On Bill Maher

A Few Thoughts On Steven Pinker’s Appearance On The Rubin Report

Via a reader, Pinker’s book here.

My current views on Pinker’s four categories, for what they’re worth:

Reason-I’ve been exploring philosophically ideal Oakeshottian ‘modes of experience’ lately.  Our thoughts and basic sensory experiences are intertwined within modes, but these modes are not necessarily connected to a larger, hierarchically arranged superstructure.

‘The modes that Oakeshott identifies in Experience and Its Modes—history, science, and practice, to which he later added “poetry” (art)—are epistemological categories, not ontological ones. And although the modes are mutually exclusive, they do not form a closed set. They are constructions that have emerged over time in human experience. They could change or even disappear and other modes might yet appear.’

I view this approach as particularly useful for the humanities, as it could be tonic for the nihilism, existentialism and post-Romantic, post-Modern individual isolation found throughout the Western World (arts, academies, ‘culture’).  This approach could be especially useful where narrow ideologies and righteous belief go about picking up the slack.

I do think Pinker is properly humble about the influence of reason (it won’t scale to everyone, and only to those of interested in engaging their reason in a direction Pinker might help instruct and with which I find much to agree).

More on Oakeshott’s thinking:

‘The illusion that there are “correct” answers to practical questions Oakeshott called “Rationalism”. It is the belief that practical activity is rational only when it rests on moral or causal laws whose truth can be demonstrated. In Marxism, for example, one encounters the claim that laws of historical change can be discerned scientifically and that practical guidance can be derived from them. But this claim, Oakeshott thought, should be understood as a rhetorical one that presupposes a certain kind of audience: it can be persuasive only for those who already believe that such laws exist and that they dictate correct decisions (Oakeshott 2008: 168–177). The error of Rationalism is to think that making decisions simply requires skill in the technique of applying rules or calculating consequences.’

As a brief aside, Oakeshottian pluralism perhaps doesn’t have much overlap with Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism with regard to political philosophy, but it does remind me of the following: Oppressed individuals may actually have good reasons for change, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that oppressed individuals possess knowledge of the direction nor ends of (H)istory, nor those of (M)an.  In fact, some of the greatest dangers of the 20th century came from individuals believing they knew of such ends while instituting those ends into social and political revolutions.

Berlin:

“Everything is what it is:  liberty is liberty, not equality or justice or fairness or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.  If liberty of myself or my class or my nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral.  but if I curtail or lose my freedom in order to lessen the shame of such inequality, and do not thereby materially increase the individual liberty of others, an absolute loss of liberty occurs.”

Food for thought.

Science-I believe the sciences yield the best knowledge we have of the Natural world, and attract some of the best minds, but it takes many years of long practice, hard work and habit to gain a sufficient mental map and the mathematical problem solving skills necessary to advance a field.  Not all sciences are equal, and some social sciences, like psychology, have had serious reproducibility problems of late.

Just as the Oakeshottian critique of ‘rationalism’ display themselves with regard to reason, there is also a critique of ‘scientism‘ on this view.

In the wake of people actually doing science, are many people practicing in a field with scientific elements and varying but respectable degrees of probabilistic accuracy, and further downstream, people with little to no training in the sciences doing something quite different altogether (politics, journalism etc).

There is a reductionism, and a kind of fetishiziation of scientific knowledge around which many gather.  Should one usefully rank order the sciences, a little epistemological humility might still recommend that human knowledge may not all be successfully synthesized into one model nor accounted for within such a model.

Also (I’m sure you’ve probably noticed this, too) smart people, scientists included, are subject to the same blind spots, hubris and group-think as any of the rest of us.  Sometimes smart people are more likely to assume their knowledge in one domain qualifies them for knowledge in another, especially when others pay them a lot of attention.

Humanism & Progress Through Humanist Institutions (The Problem of ‘Isms’)

I wonder if Pinker would accept this definition of Humanism as found here:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Perhaps.

From an interview with Pinker:

Naff: Let’s talk about humanism itself. You say that progress without humanism really isn’t progress at all. And you’ve just made the point that humanism can occupy a place in various different perches. But there is a secular humanist movement that is at the forefront of humanism today.

Lots of other “isms” have faltered because of human foibles, jealousies, power divisions, ideological differences and so on. What makes humanism so special that you single it out as essential to progress?

Pinker: Not so much the humanist movement, although I do endorse it as a valuable development, but rather the overall morality of humanism [is what’s essential], namely that human wellbeing is the ultimate good—and also the wellbeing of other sentient creatures. “Humanism” is a bit of a misnomer in singling out Homo sapiens; it’s a larger commitment to sentient beings.

But the effect of humanistic institutions very much depends on how they organize, how they conduct themselves, how they manage their own affairs. Although they’ve been a force for good, I’m not calling for a blind trust in a particular organization that happens to have “humanist” in their title.

Of course, progress is possible and is actually occuring in many fields and such progress filters down to all of our lives through various channels. Yet, as Pinker notes, it’s not clear what prevents unfalsifiable ideas from becoming ascendant and dominant, and the loudest, most committed ideologues from gaining humanist institutional control through administrative maneuvering and confrontational shakedowns.

The schisms within the Progressive movement, for example, and the radical liberationists often driving the latest moral cause are very interested in making all the world, all the people in the world, and all of our institutions [on top of that], reflect their moral and ideological lights, often through very illiberal means.

How much am I missing?  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Thanks for reading.

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department…

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott

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

***Feel free to critique, or highlight my ignorance, as I’ll have to dig back here soon to confirm the reasoning.

————–

I wanted to contrast and highlight the above video with a recent post by Francis Fukuyama, a well-known American political scientist and former neoconservative. He maintains a blog at the American Interest which often advocates for a larger State.

————–

For Strauss, there were two distinct schools of thought which prevent people from asking and trying to answer the question he wants them to ask:

“What is the good society?”

1. PositivismThe only form of genuine knowledge is scientific knowledge…and science knows only facts, or relations of facts.”-Video 1-Minute 4:40

On the positivist view, political science is but a pale copy of the best knowledge that we have. Science deals with questions of fact, and the social sciences, on this view, deal with questions of value (as Strauss notes, there are much thornier philosophical problems underlying the fact/value distinction).

A good political scientist, however, can develop methods of his own. He can poll people, read and interpret economic data, and he can use the best statistical sampling and modeling available. Fukuyama, in his post, for example, advocates for a return to vigorous, empirical studies measuring the freedom bureaucrats have from direct political pressure in a bureaucratic modern society, bending the discipline in a direction he’d like to see it go (for which he has a conception of the good society which involves a bigger State led by a more moral, bureaucracy and with which I generally disagree).

Political scientists can also carefully follow events on the ground in foreign countries, gathering reports to establish facts (of a sort on the positivist view) which can back their thinking up, or challenge their framework, coming to understand many of the complex relationships of the societies they’re dealing with. They can think clearly and well about Statecraft and the organizational structures of societies, as well as their own. They can interview, visit, and come to understand the particular people, their incentives and motives, that live in these countries. They can try and provide road maps, as Samuel Huntington did, and as Fukuyama did with his famous The End Of History. They can provide direct consultation to our military and can deeply affect how those making U.S. Foreign policy understand the world.

Yet, on the positivist view, such attempts will always fall short of factual, scientific knowledge.

Positivism, Strauss believes, comes with a problem in its wake: It leads to nihilism, or the negation of the possibility of knowledge. Continental European thought in the last 140 years or so is full of nihilists, existentialists, modernists and postmodernists many of whom are reacting to, or developing alongside, positivism. Here’s Wikipedia’s page:

‘Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism can also take epistemological or metaphysical/ontological forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or that reality does not actually exist.’

On Strauss’ view, nihilism can be especially dangerous because in its negation of knowledge, and the possibility of knowledge, it can go about destroying the traditions and institutions that make civil society possible and maintain the political and economic liberty we in America often take for granted. Strauss was particularly concerned with the effects of Friedrich Nietzsche, and Nietzsche through Martin Heidegger.

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The other school of thought holding back genuine questions of the good in politics for Strauss was:

2. Historicism “All human thought, including scientific thought, rests ultimately on premises, which cannot be validated by human reason, and which change from historical epoch to historical epoch.”-Video 2-Minute 4:10.

This is largely a critique of the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel and his absolute idealism.

Again, those whom Strauss wants to ask: “What is the good society?”, are forced to confront the idea that a universal response is not really possible. Aristotle said many true things, but that was in ancient Athens in the polis, partly in response to Plato’s idealism.

John Locke, in contrast, was responding to 17th century, warring, Protestant, Anglican and Catholic England from a more Christian perspective, as well as dealing with the achievements of Galileo and Newton as the sciences were splitting from natural philosophy at the time. Thus, Aristotle and Locke’s answers will naturally be different as to what constitutes a good society, and perhaps incompatibly so. This view, for Strauss, is in the air we breathe and the water we drink, but it wasn’t always the case.

The historicist view assumes a universality of its own, according to Strauss. Hegel assumed that an absolute knowledge of time is possible, and thus his historicism is a lens through which one can scan and survey all of time, from epoch to epoch. Yet, the historicist lens does not critique itself nor its own metaphysical foundations (Hegel’s thought remains exempt from its own criticism). Hegel’s philosophy puts humanity in a process of progressing toward future goals, shaped by forces larger than itself, in an absolute relationship with time, and as part of a history which has an internal logic of its own (he dragged a lot of Christian metaphysics along).

Hegel’s idealism, after what Hegel did to Kant’s transcendental idealism, became known as German Idealism, developed further later on by Fichte and Schelling, and also formed the basis for some of Karl Marx’s thought, and the ideas that made up the stuff of the Communist Manifesto and the socialist, and the current social democratic, parties of Europe.

Historicism, Strauss believes, comes with a problem in its wake: It leads to relativism. Here’s the Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy definition:

‘Relativism is not a single doctrine but a family of views whose common theme is that some central aspect of experience, thought, evaluation, or even reality is somehow relative to something else. For example standards of justification, moral principles or truth are sometimes said to be relative to language, culture, or biological makeup. Although relativistic lines of thought often lead to very implausible conclusions, there is something seductive about them, and they have captivated a wide range of thinkers from a wide range of traditions.’

Relativism, including moral relativism, should be familiar to us all. Why is one set of moral values any better than another? Why is my civilization better than any other? Why do I even have to learn and understand the values of my own culture if all values are relative? A malaise ensues.

I would offer that too much relativism is clearly corrosive to our civil society, our institutions and freedoms. When no one can agree upon, nor even identify, a set of principles and ideas around which our civil society is based, then we’re all more likely to come into conflict, and more likely to swing to an opposite pole of moral absolutism in response, which is equally dangerous. That said, like many people, I could try and defend some aspects of relativism, or the examining of one’s own beliefs, ideas and principles and testing them for holes which I think is often the beginning of wisdom.

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Hopefully, looking at Strauss can help highlight the Hegelian influence of Fukuyama and why he might have been advocating for an end of history a few decades ago, and for a bigger State now, as well as how a positivist influence through the Straussian lens might look more broadly upon a political scientist.

I haven’t discussed the criticisms of Strauss, including his esotericism, his other work and where his philosophy leads as a positive doctrine.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Thanks for reading.

Addition: Related post here at American Creation.

Related On This Site: Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’……Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

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

From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington….is neoconservative foreign policy defunct…sleeping…how does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’

Samuel Huntington was quite humble, and often wise, about what political philosophy could do: From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’……Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?

Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand to Robert Nozick: A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Are You There, God? It’s Me, So-And-So.

Simon Blackburn reviews Edward Feser’s ‘Five Proofs of The Existence of God

From The Ignatius Press description of the book:

‘This work provides as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past— thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others— that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism that gives aid and comfort to atheism.’

Blackburn, here in the Times Literary Supplement (link may not last):

‘Edward Feser, a Roman Catholic philosopher, disagrees. His book is an exercise in the drive to go where Hobbes, Hume and Kant said we could not go, finding something lying behind the world as we know it, something necessary and unchanging that sustains and in some sense explains the contingent, shifting, natural world and our capacity to think about it.’

and:

‘Edward Feser himself is not at all drawn to silent contemplation inside the monastery walls. He is a vigorous proponent of a morality of natural law, holding, for instance, that abortion is as bad as murder. His ancient exercises in logic are more than just intellectual amusements. They are preludes to the will to power, and if it were not for the Enlightenment, so little admired by John Gray, they would doubtless have continued to be preludes to persecutions and the auto-da-fé.’

Feser responds, here:

‘On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature.  For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation...

…On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.’

On that note, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as 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 here:

While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.

Are we rational beings?  Rational animals?

What about a Church Of England, somewhat Hegelian, defense of conservatism as a defense of that which one loves?:

In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

From 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’

Ross Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

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

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’…:   At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

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.

Don’t immanentize the eschaton!: From The NY Times: ‘Atheists Sue to Block Display of Cross-Shaped Beam in 9/11 Museum’

Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn…Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

Robert Bork had his own view of the 1960’s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Roger Kimball At The New Criterion-‘The Legacy Of Friedrich Nietzsche’

Hmmm…:

‘Nietzsche snidely remarked that Christianity was “Platonism for the masses.” In the academy today we have what we might call Nietzscheanism for the masses, as squads of cozy nihilists parrot his ideas and attitudes. Nietzsche’s contention that truth is merely “a moveable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms,” for example, has become a veritable mantra in comparative literature departments across the country.’

On this site, well, there’s been quite a bit of related content over the years:

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

‘In November of 1887, the Danish scholar George Brandes wrote a letter to Nietzsche praising his writings and endorsing his “aristocratic radicalism.”  Nietzsche responded by accepting this label: “The expression Aristocratic Radicalism, which you employ, is very good.  It is, permit me to say, the cleverest thing I have yet read about myself.”‘

Excellent, as always.

‘Finally, as I have indicated in some previous posts, Nietzsche’s aristocratic liberalism is based on a Darwinian anthropology that is open to empirical verification or falsification, while his aristocratic radicalism is based on mythopoetic fictions–the will to power, eternal recurrence, the Ubermensch, and Dionysian religiosity–that are beyond empirical testing.

From all of this, I conclude that Nietzsche’s Darwinian aristocratic liberalism is superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism.’

Arnhart maintains that Nietzsche’s middle period, focused on Darwin’s thought, is the most defensible.

Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, on Nietzsche beginning the 3rd crisis of modernity, having followed the logic of relativism to nihilism:

The theoretical analysis of life is noncommittal and fatal to commitment, but life means commitment.  To avert the danger to life, Nietzsche could choose one of two ways: he could insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life–that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion–or else he could deny the possibility of theory proper. and so conceive of theory as essentially subservient to, or dependent on, life or fate.  If not Nietzsche himself, at any rate his successors adopted the second alternative.’

A paper arguing that Strauss conflated his own critique of modernity with the intentions of philosophers:

‘A fervent critic of modernity, Leo Strauss attributed modernity’s intellectual degradation to the influence of some great philosophers in the history of political thought who radically broke with classical political thinking.  In doing so, Strauss believed, these thinkers either directly or indirectly contributed to the emergence of historicism and positivism, and he held these movements accountable for spineless relativism, nihilism, and modernity’s moral and intellectual demise.’

Above is 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 SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

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’