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

Repost-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”

You Can’t Step In The Same River Twice, I Suppose

If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.

Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on.  After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.

While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida.  He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan.  Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling.  There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room.  Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.

I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.

In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried.  When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).

It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.

I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.

It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.

It may be meritocrats all the way down.

It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.

Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow

Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?

Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?

As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.

The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.

Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone?  How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?

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?’

————————————-

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

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

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

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

What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Repost-Eugene Volokh At The National Review: ‘Multiculturalism: For or Against?’

From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’

Full review here.

Book here.

Simon Critchley reviews 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?

————————-

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This SiteFrom Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

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

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department