‘The doctor sees all the weakness of mankind; the lawyer all the wickedness, the theologian all the stupidity.’
Via a Reader via Scientific American: ‘An Update On C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures:”
Essay here (PDF).
‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
“...in the days when, to get a Ph.D., you had to study Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Old French, and linguistics, on the notion that they served as a kind of hard-core scientific basis for literary study.”
and of the New Criticism he says:
“I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”
Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?
In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
See Also: Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’
***Whom do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?
Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.
This quote stuck out, as such tactics have been used often to evoke sympathies and sway public sentiment in the direction some people want to see it go, without always providing reasons nor respecting rules that allow for the pursuit of truth:
‘Sophistries and ruthless political pressure tactics of the sort just described succeed only when people let them succeed – when they let themselves be intimidated, when they acquiesce in the shaming and shunning of those who express unpopular views, when they enable the delegitimization of such views by treating them as something embarrassing, something to apologize for, something “hurtful,” etc. ‘
Comments are worth a read. Outbursts can damage a lot of decent work.
Two juxtapositions of ‘texts in space’ found at the Times Literary Supplement.
From ‘Postmodernism is dead. What comes next?‘ by Alison Gibbons:
‘At the same time, our culture retains many of the themes and concerns that exercised writers of earlier generations; there is little sign of a radical literary avant garde sweeping away the old to make way for the new. Postmodernism might not be as emphatically over as some critics like to claim, but it does seem to be in retreat. Its devices have become so commonplace that they have been absorbed into mainstream, commercial and popular culture. Postmodernism has lost its value in part because it has oversaturated the market. And with the end of postmodernism’s playfulness and affectation, we are better placed to construct a literature that engages earnestly with real-world problems.’
From ‘The relentless honesty of Ludwig Wittgenstein‘ by Ian Ground:
‘Wittgenstein was hostile to modern philosophy as he found it. He thought it the product of a culture that had come to model everything that matters about our lives on scientific explanation. In its ever-extending observance of the idea that knowledge, not wisdom, is our goal, that what matters is information rather than insight, and that we best address the problems that beset us, not with changes in our heart and spirit but with more data and better theories, our culture is pretty much exactly as Wittgenstein feared it would become.’
Goodness, this is messy. As previously posted:
Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…
Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?
*******And mostly, but not entirely unrelated, you can make your own Tom Friedman columns at home. Was Tom Friedman a bot?
Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’
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.’
‘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:
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.’
‘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.
Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.
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
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”
‘Used judiciously and with a suitably grim humour I think Plato can be a help. On the one hand he suggests that the issues raised by the relation of Showbiz to the rest of society have changed little over more than two thousand years. On the other, that the myriad effects of high-tech modern illusionism, both social and political, should not be too casually brushed aside.
The ‘is-ness’ of say, Unit Vector scaling (used in game dynamics) need not answer the many questions we might have about reality and the world (how should I behave? why am I here? what is my purpose? where is all this headed? when should I turn GTA off and go to bed?) but hopefully, such knowledge will simply produce people capable of understanding this knowledge and applying it, as well many others just enjoying a game.
Against the modern grain of having such questions asked solely by the religious, countered by the New Atheists and the secular, but also by the increasingly moralistic ‘-Ismologists’ and ‘Wokists’, it’s interesting to cast such a debate in more ancient terms.
Such framing can even provide breathing-room beneath the arguments flung over the table between analytic philosophers and many a postmodern nihilist.
Do Roger Scruton’s argments hold up, disassociating the arts and humanities from simply copying the Sciences, but also keeping the arts and humanities out of the hands of Marxist materialists, New Atheists, ideologues and ‘-Ismologists?’
‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.‘
Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather ‘scientism.’
And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:
‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead.’
Burnyeat beginning at minute 2:20 of video five:
‘Aristotelianism is actually opposed to that sort of materialism [Heraclitus and atomic doctrine] but Aristotelianism carries the war so far into the enemy camp that it’s actually very hard to reconcile the Aristotelian philosophy with the modern scientific enterprise which says a lot about atoms, the movements of particles…matter and that sort of stuff….
‘…and indeed I think it was no accident that when the modern scientific enterprise got going, it got going by throwing away the Aristotelianism which had so dominated the Middle-Ages.’
But, Platonism is much easier to reconcile with the modern scientific enterprise and that’s why I think, since the Renaissance, really, Platonism has lived on after the death of Aristotelianism because that’s a philosophy you can use, or be influenced by, if you’re seeking to show how scientific and spiritual values can be reconciled…if you want to do justice to the complexities of things where materialism is giving just too simplistic a story.’
-Tony Daniel at The Federalist on Anthony Kronman’s new book ‘The Assault On American Excellence‘
‘So here’s a second opinion on Kronman’s diagnosis: The disease that afflicts the American academy is not caused by the pathogen of egalitarianism from without. It is a cancer produced by the excesses of analytic philosophy and structuralist thinking within.’
I really like this line (could be more of a writer problem…writers can become reclusive weirdos, but still telling nonetheless):
‘It says something that the most normal professor I encountered in graduate school was the extremely odd and reclusive aesthetician and novelist William H. Gass.’
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
Related On This Site:
Other links for your pleasure:
-Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay at The City Journal: ‘Conversing In An Age Of Accusation‘. It’s something, anyways.
I’ve often thought that many New Atheists, liberal idealists, progressives and radicals overlook the inherent dangers of human ignorance, the need to believe and the semi-permanence of people committed to radical ideology. The sciences and social sciences are being asked to bear a tremendous pressure as a result. Sure, religious believers disagree with, and have a long record of persecuting free-thinkers, scientists and natural philosophers, but actual terrorists and radicals are being normalized under the banner of liberal idealism. I doubt this bodes well.
Whenever and wherever there are thoughtful, reasonable people, I support them: Dog Park Blues-Link To A James Lindsay Interview
-A bit of sad news from Jordan Peterson. The man’s very honest about that which it can’t be easy to be honest.
-Coleman Hughes in The City Journal on Ibram X. Kendi’s ‘How To Be An Anti-Racist’-
‘Kendi’s goals are openly totalitarian. The DOA would be tasked with “investigating” private businesses and “monitoring” the speech of public officials; it would have the power to reject any local, state, or federal policy before it’s implemented; it would be made up of “experts” who could not be fired, even by the president; and it would wield “disciplinary tools” over public officials who did not “voluntarily” change their “racist ideas”—as defined, presumably, by people like Kendi. What could possibly go wrong?’
One of the ways to challenge one’s own beliefs and sentiments, in the pursuit of truth, is to actually think through what an empirical test might look like. To make an hypothesis, identify relevant variables, and begin to imagine which questions can and can’t be answered satisfactorily.
It’s a start, anyways.
***Thomas Sowell used to work in Chelsea, apparently, for Western Union. He’d sometimes take the 5th avenue bus back up to Harlem, on 5th Avenue for a while, and wonder why there was such inequality from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Marxism seemed like a good explanation for a while he was in his 20’s.
“By these arguments, Parmenides arrives at his picture of the world as a single, undifferentiated, unchanging unity. Needless to say, scholars have disagreed over exactly what he meant. They have questioned whether he meant that the universe was one thing, or only that it was undifferentiated.”
Here is a quote from this abstract:
“According to Hume, the idea of a persisting, self-identical object, distinct from our impressions of it, and the idea of a duration of time, the mere passage of time without change, are mutually supporting “fictions”. Each rests upon a “mistake”, the commingling of “qualities of the imagination” or “impressions of reflection” with “external” impressions (perceptions), and, strictly speaking, we are conceptually and epistemically entitled to neither.“
“Unlike Hume, however, he (Kant) undertakes to establish the legitimacy or objective validity of the schematized category of substance and, correspondingly, of the representation of time as a formal unity with duration as one of its modes.“
Hilary Putnam On The Philosophy Of Science: Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On YouTube
This Wendell Berry quote, from on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”, has stayed with me:
‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’
‘Here our account of the disposition to be conservative and its current fortunes might be expected to end, with the man in whom this disposition is strong, last seen swimming against the tide, disregarded not because what he has to say is necessarily false but because it has become irrelevant; outmanoeuvred, not on account of any intrinsic demerit but merely by the flow of circumstance; a faded, timid, nostalgic character, provoking pity as an outcast and contempt as a reactionary. Nevertheless, I think there is something more to be said. Even in these circumstances, when a conservative disposition in respect of things in general is unmistakably at a discount, there are occasions when this disposition remains not only appropriate, but supremely so; and there are connections in which we are unavoidably disposed in a conservative direction.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.
“Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality.”
‘The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.’