<$BlogRSDURL$>
Vomit the Lukewarm
3/31/2004
 
Memory and Reminder

Memory has become an atrophied organ in modern times. We are the first age to use the phrase "rote memorization" in a pejorative sense. The schools have developed no accepted canon of anything to be memorized. We also have developed a vast array of techniques to keep people from ever having to memorize anything. When a guy can write "get milk" on a post-it note, how many details does he have to know by heart? And isn't "memory" is a word more familiar to us when said of computers?

There are also more insidious causes. Our vast technology has produced a great power to reproduce and send images, and the human race has-predictably- used this to get rich off widespread porn (It happened with Guttenberg's printing press too). Porn is corrosive of memory, since it harms the enjoyment we are able to take from remembering non-pornographic things. When things are less pleasant to remember, we will seek to remember them less. Porn also causes abnormal structures to form in memory (remember! Memory is found in a physical organ!)

More damaging to memory is the widespread use of drugs and alcohol. But this is not a distictively modern phenomenon, like the ones listed above.

As memory becomes less and less important, knowledge exists more and more only in books. But paradoxically, the books mean less and less. The mind becomes fainter and more obscure to itself. We speak with less and less force behind our words, fumbling around and having to create everything from the broken shards of memory. Books no longer "speak to us" for the very thing they are appealing to is weak and in ruins. We become like starving men in a gallery of fruit- bowl portraits.

 
3/30/2004
 
On Negativity and Negation

Most people familiar with perennial philosophy are aware of the claim that strict demonstrations are preferable to negative arguments like the reductio ad absurdum. When we first meet this claim, it seems "inappropriate" (I chose the word carefully). It is not so much that we feel the claim is false, but it seems to be diminishing the importance of a very dear friend. It is as though someone told us "your friend isn't as rich as that guy". It may be true, but it is beside the point. The first arguments we hear and understand tend to be reductio arguments, and these sorts of arguments are easiest to master. More to the point, the reductio ad absurdum is far better than having only haphazard and fallacious arguments, or simply having no arguments at all. These sorts of arguments are indispensable to philosophy. Without them we could never get off the ground.

But if we never get to the point of making positive arguments i.e. if we always seek to destroy error, and we never seek to establish the truth, we will not get very far in philosophy or any other branch of knowledge, whether speculative or practical. The sole exception to this is natural theology, which forces us to use negative arguments because the subject matter is too lofty for our intellect.

Negative arguments are easier to make than positive arguments, because destruction is easier than construction. It is far quicker to uproot a plant than to wait for one to grow. Negation is also something we have more power over than affirmation, because an affirmation places us under the dominion of the object of the argument, but a negative argument does not properly have an object, but rather shows us that a certain object does not exist. Negation also makes us far less prone to refutation, for we can make fewer positive assertions. The focus is not placed on the negator when he negates, but rather on the one he is opposing. For all these reasons, negation is easier for us.

But if we do not seek to make positive and constructive arguments, negation can take a nasty turn. Just as a man will starve to death if he contents himself to pull out weeds, but never plants seeds, so too our minds will starve if we do not seek positive and constructive arguments where they are possible. We must of course, pull out the weeds (even afterwards, while the garden grows) but the constructive and affirmative step is all important: we must take a stand. We must not rest after uprooting error, we must also seek to establish the truth.

For a practical rule: whenever you find yourself saying that something is wrong, evil, or ugly, always have an eye to saying what exactly is true, good, or beautiful. Do not consider any negation to be the final word, or a fitting place to rest.

Also, use what the negation teaches you. Since no argument can be made with all its premises being negations, notice all the positive beliefs or truths you are arguing from. Sometimes, the only positive statement you will have is the principle of contradiction.

It is very often the case that we cannot articulate the positive argument, but can only see the negative. When this happens, point out what you do know about the positive argument (you must have some foggy idea of it) and then use rhetorical skill to prompt others to think about the positive argument. Always make the positive argument the goal of a critique.

Affirmative arguments often lack power for us because we do not let them fully reveal themselves to us. Always seek examples for positive arguments, in order to make abstract things more concrete.

Make habits of each of these practical rules.
 
3/29/2004
 
Epistle Sent To Jesus From A Jewish Rabbi Who Knew A Certain Woman Taken in Adultery

Barlevim, son of Enosh, to Jesus the Galilean, Hail.

Much has been said of your teachings among us, and concerning your actions the people have spoken much. Though I cannot hear your public speeches, I have carefully weighed all the reports I hear of them. On one hand, these reports often are filled with many innovations and fables, on the other hand, I judge these to be added by the people and the priests who in modern times have been infected with the decadence of Babylon. I know the time comes when we shall be loosened from this exile, and I judge that you and the other prophets will make straight the paths to the ransomer and King promised by our fathers.

Many of the innovations I have heard in your words are clearly children's fables, that you clearly have never said. Yet there is one story upon which many in my town have borne witness, and upon which many have given the same report. Let it not be said that I follow the vain imaginings of the people, but I must seek from you the exact retelling, for your doctrine is in danger of total destruction from the rumors which now afflict it.

There is a certain woman in this town whose father* was well known to me. On many occasions, this very father sought me, afflicted by the dishonor she would be spreading to her kin. Long before this woman came to the age to be given [in marriage] even then she was of wanton life. She joined herself to many shamefully and would "lie in wait for many on the low roads". She afflicted her father to betroth her to an unfortunate man, one who would not deal with her according to the way of our fathers. Few came to the feast, for fear of being seen with her, and in sorrow that the pairing was so cursed before the law. Neither did her life become justified from the wedding tent. Still she carried on in secret with strange men, some of the tribe, others even of the nations. As often as she would be suspected or her shame known to us, so often her husband would refrain from the law. Her words "had made him as a broken urn", and "he was carried away in the nights weeping on his couch". Yet only to me did he tell his sorrow. The people of the town thought him the greatest of fools, a man most cursed. His afflictions struck him with rot of the belly, and a trembling of the vaporal humors. He took to wine and his afflictions progress even unto death. It was I who first decided to call her before the law.

The circumstances of my decision were these. In the time of the last moon, I found her husband in that place**. He had torn himself with his grief, and was not able to speak. I forced the story from him only through his broken speech. The details are unspeakable, though by this time it is clear that even you have heard of them.

It was I who forced him before the judges to tell his story. This woman had far exceeded the seven times we are called upon to look away; she was long cast aside in the eyes of the Blessed who sees all. The judges met in counsel and decided to delay the judgment another three days. I thought this was a foolish move, for all knew of your intent to come to our town at that time, and I thought that this matter should be dealt with quietly. They denied my wishes by bringing her before you. This could only add to her husband's shame and disgrace. In the time the woman was being held, I am told she wept many tears. These were all, in truth, false, for a false woman is as rot to a man's bones. One of the guards, knowing her shameful acts, claimed she tried to seduce him in the prison.

The tales of her meeting you are ever present now, yet the priests, and the other literate men who were there will say nothing. I can only discern from what I see that you did not render to her the appropriate judgment of the law. But that is to be expected. In these modern times, the law has been forgotten by so many that to abide by our the clear Laws of our Fathers would leave all the nations under the sword. It is prudent to leave the enforcement of the law to the most extreme cases, given the Roman dictum. It was not fair to you that you should judge this case, for none but He Who Sees All could immediately discern all the evil and wickedness that I have seen in this woman. No one who truly knows her could turn his face from her crimes.

I write you this that you might reconsider your judgment, which was clearly made without knowledge of all this woman's crimes. I have had much respect for your doctrine, and I have tried to help you from falling into utter disrepute. I have made it clear to all that you are a Galilean, living some three days away. You were clearly unable to know the true squalor and filth of this woman's life, unable to know the lives she has ruined, the families she has rent asunder, the children she has so disgraced. I ask that you return to give a second judgment, one that will give to her what she has merited through her actions.


Notes from translator:

* "father" or "legal custodian" the word is ambiguous.
** The place is unclear.


The characters here are ficticious.
 
3/26/2004
 
The Pleasant as a Habit

Horses are pleasant to the lover of horses, just as acts of justice are pleasant to the just man

Pleasures proceed from the nature of the thing that has them. Dogs enjoy chasing squirrels, cats don't. Dogs don't enjoy batting mice, cats do. These sorts of things are pleasant by nature.

Contradicting nature can occasionally be pleasant, but the problem with doing this is that nature will fight against the pleasure. As far as I know, only finite intelligent beings can enjoy contradicting nature. This is because nature is a limit, and by contradicting it we can feel as though we have no limitations. We can feel like gods.

The problem with doing this is that nature never gets tired out by our pretended attempts to transcend it. Try making a stone become tired of falling down by repeatedly tossing it up.

When we make a habit of an action which contradicts nature, we become far more enslaved than nature does. We become like men who are addicted to throwing a stone in the air, waiting for it to fly away. The habit makes what was once a novelty become a farce. Our only relief is to try to cease to be, to use our life to make death. But this is as impossible as trying to train stones to fly.

But the one who follows nature can love his life. The solipsistic, vain, and comical attempts to become as a god, which he can see all around him, vanish and recede more and more into darkness and oblivion. Over time, even the darkness recedes, driven out by light.

 
 
Gorgeous Latin thought

Haec prima basia multorum

 
3/25/2004
 
On a Confusion About the First Principle

People often speak of the principle of non- contradiction. But this is to misunderstand the principle. Those who speak thus do understand the self- evidence of the principle, but they don't understand its primacy.

"non- contradiction" means the speaker thinks something like "no two contradicting terms can both be true" i.e. the truth of A requires the falsity of non-A. This is correct, and it is self-evident, but it is not primary, because the relation is purely formal. There is no content to the principle, but rather two voids such that whatever is placed in one, must have its contradiction in the other. But how can two voids, two nothings, be the first things known? How can they even be "two"? How can the lack of anything known be the first thing known? To assert that "non-contradiction" is the first thing known is to violate- ironically- the principle of non- contradiction.

When philosophers speak of the principle of contradiction, what we mean is that the first truth of the intellect is a statement whose terms are contradictory The first term is "being", the second is "non-being". The statement is not purely formal, but rather an assertion about being as such. "Being is, and cannot not be". It is because we know this, that we are able to also assert the principle of non- contradiction "no particular thing can be true, and its contradictory also true"

The first thing known by the intellect is being. This is because it is the most general, most inerrant, and most indistinct idea we can have. The principle of contradiction can account for this. The putative "principle of non-contradiction" cannot.
 
3/24/2004
 
A Transcript of a PBS Special about the Carribean: Narrated and Produced by Polar Bears

(Opening sequence: Still shots of the beach at dawn, soundless with no signs of life)

Narrator: It is dawn in one of the most forbidding places on earth. The morning temperature is already a swealtering sixty- five degrees, and by noon it will skyrocket to almost seventy- seven degrees.

(Cut to a shot of the beaches)

Beaches compose most the the equitorial habitat: these bleak and lifeless tracts of sand stretch on for miles, without any vegitation or native wildlife. For those who come, the struggle for existence is hard and unrelenting...

(Cue intro music, the National Geographic theme song, followed by various sponsors of Polar Bear products)

(return, show random humans walking on the beach)


During summer, when the conditions on the beach are the most difficult and desolate, humans flock to the beaches. To protect themselves against the sweltering heat, humans must wear the bare mimimum of clothing...

(Cut to various shots of people in swimsuits)

they also have evolved various behaviors which allow them to deal with the oppressive conditions. Here we see a human seeking refuge under a thin palm tree (show). But often this is not enough. When the temperature gets too extreme, the humans are forced to plunge themselves into the boiling ocean.

(show humans running into the water and swimming)

This provides the humans with a small relief from the high sun which beats down on them. But within the oppressive conditions of the ocean, there are many lurking dangers...

(cue ominous music, cut abruptly to the sleek, fluid body of a 12 foot shark)

Far away from the comfortable arctic waters, the shark is on the prowl. Scientists have estimated that over 150,000 sharks live within fourty miles of the carribean shoreline. These sleek killers have razor sharp teeth, and can easily prey on the humans, who have no claws, and pencil- thick limbs...

(Cut to an underwater shot of humans treading in 10 foot deep water. Then cut to shots of a shark, then cut to a person swimming, then show a picture of a shark, then show a person running onto the beach, then show the shark swimming away)

This human has run back onto the beach, but others have not been so lucky

(show various black and white pictures of human shark-attack victims)

Over eight humans a year are massacred by these deadly predators, those who survive, live to pass on their their genetic ability to avoid these killers of the slow... and the weak.





 
 
The Only Poem a Woman Has Ever Written For Me

(untitled)

Should you be doing your studies
In that tall Quincy room,
With twilight for light
And the moon for your roof,

Know that it be quite soon to ask you this
because it is not twilight yet
please do this for me as your...

Please make this well for me
I ask you now at twilight
Please do this for me and you.

 
3/23/2004
 
Disputed Questions Among my Students

Q: How do some fish survive being frozen in ice for the whole winter?

There are three parts to the question. In ascending order of difficulty:

a.) How does it dispose of waste products?
b.) How does it's blood not freeze?
c.) How does it get oxygen?

There are precedents for solving the first: hibernating bears spend the whole winter without relieving themselves, and their body converts the nitrogen in the waste products into protein which it uses to build muscle. Bears actually benefit from not going to the bathroom while hibernating.

The second is especially tricky since fishes are cold blooded, and blood is primarily water. The fish has no internal heater to keep its blood warm. There do seem to be some precedents for this, however, because arctic fish, whose blood freezes at a higher temperature than water, produce an antifreeze which allows their blood not to seize up. But I can't find any way of accounting for how a fish frozen in a block of ice can not have its blood freeze. With frozen blood, how could a fish transport the other nutrients (which I also can't account for?)

The third question is the most pressing, and the most difficult. Fish cannot breathe ice, nor can it melt ice, since it is cold blooded.

My students have devised three theories:

1.) My eight year old is dogmatically attached to "resurrection theory". He is quite insistent that the fish must die, and come back to life. To be honest, this is the best argued of the theories. It also has the gravest philosophical implications and difficulties.

2.) My five year old insists that "that's just the way God made fish". She insists that she has a long proof for this- but she forgot it. This is not a proper theory -although it is true- but I'm too proud of my kids not to mention it.

3.) My three year old was more deferential, and he gave the most intriguing theory. He thought that the fish made oxygen from within itself, much like the desert rat creates water as a bi-product of digestion (the desert rat never drinks anything, nor does it eat moist foods).

Comments?
 
3/22/2004
 
My First experiment With dactylic Hexameter

1.) Every line of dactylic Hexameter has six feet
2.) A foot is either a three syllable collection composed of a long syllable followed by two short syllables, or it is composed of two long syllables .
3.) A syllable is long if the vowel sound in the syllable is:
a.) a diphthong (except for the "ea" sound in "death" or "Breath")
b.) long vowel ("ay" "ee" "eye" "owe" "you")
4.) A syllable is short if its vowel sound is anything else.
5.) A modern English rule: the first syllable after a colon is long.

My Poem:

These are just sounds, pure air, vibrating, blown in the choked void/
Like things seen in a dream, so you talk in creatures and things made/
through your thought; but not thought with taproots in the food of men's minds: God.





 
 
On One Thing Thomas Aquinas Manifests In the Visible Economy Of Salvation.

All Revelations after the time of the apostles only make more manifest the revelations given in the time of the apostles. If God himself has been revelealed, what more could be shown? Nevertheless, Thomas Aquinas does manifest something clearly and visibly about salvation: He is one of the clearest antistrophes to Solomon.

Solomon is told by God that he can have anything which he desires. Solomon asks for wisdom. As Solomon's life draws to a close, we see him building temples to idols, writing the most pessimistic book in the Bible, and collecting- ominously- an annual tribute of 666 talents.

Thomas Aquinas is also told by God that he can have anything which he desires. He responds that he wants "nothing but thyself, O Lord". As Aquinas' life draws to a close, we see him receiving the sacraments, writing unreffuted and irrefutable books which will never be equaled in scope and erudition, and giving a final confession which his confessor describes as "being the confession of a five year old child".

There is knee- jerk reaction to see Aquinas as diminishing the importance of wisdom (People often try to point to his saying "all I have written is straw..." As proof for this too). But the comparison is unfair. If something is not important because it is not God, then nothing is important. And how great would God be if he is only better than what is without value? If, for example, the best thing that can be said of a certain meal is that "it is better than starving to death" how good could it be? If God is only better than the undesirable, what is so great about him? Anything is better than the undesirable.

The lesson of Thomas Aquinas and Solomon is not that wisdom is undesirable, but rather that wisdom is so desirable that only the possession God is better. Yet God remains better, and whoever settles for less than God will find that "what little he has will be taken away... Yet to he who has much, more will be given"

There is a more subtle difference between Aquinas and Solomon. Both, in a certain sense seek wisdom, but for Solomon, wisdom is a thing but for Aquinas, wisdom is a person. Solomon seemed to receive only that part of wisdom which man can participate in by nature, and which is proper to man (prudential wisdom: He asks for "the wisdom to rule your people with justice"). In choosing Christ, Aquinas received the incarnate wisdom itself, the ultimate term toward which all knowledge aims, though it can only know it clearly and explicitly through revelation.

I have to get to class now. (Note: with this blog, I will bump my favorite blog into the archives: i.e. "on the blog I can't write". Hope you had a chance to read it. That's one of the best blogs I've ever written. Many thanks to The Mexican for his comment)
 
3/21/2004
 
On Christ's Preference for Superabundant Quantities

The sums metioned in the Gospel are often most extreme. In the parable of the man who would not forgive the small debt, the man himself owed 10,000 talents to the King (The Parthenon was built for 470 talents, and this was reckoned to be a very hefty price- like building a 700 million dollar stadium). One talent is, by itself, an exorbitant sum- which could provide one person with more or less anything they desire- but consider that this is the smallest sum given in the parable of the talents. Christ's first miracle is the creation of 156 gallons of wine for a wedding. The fish which he multiplies are multiplied well over 2500 times (and how large are the 12 baskets which are left over?). The fishes which Christ causes Peter to catch are so numerous they risk bursting the nets.

Cosider also the superabundant number of angels that the new testament speaks of. Before we even start counting the hosts of heaven, we have to count the guardians ("I assure you, the face of their angels is always before God"). This immediately commits us to tens of Billions of angels.

I am not sure of the numbers here (check them, I'm working from memory) I need more examples. Contribute!

(N.B. For a discussion on the value of a talent, read the appendix to the Penguin edition of Thucydides)
 
3/20/2004
 
The Principle of Contradiction.

Philosophy is the only inevitable science. Whether we affirm or deny the possibility of philosophy, we must philosophize. No other science can claim this privilege.

Philosophy is involved in every human action, usually in a non- conscious way: this is to say that some fundamental knowledge or belief is involved in every human action, but as a rule we never think about these fundamental things.

The most fundamental thing known is the principle of contradiction. All other things known are merely cultivations and manifestations of what is potentially contained in that principle. Moreover, everything false contradicts the principle of contradiction. All beliefs, opinions, and our knowledge held other, are posterior to the knowledge of the principle of contradiction.

The principle of contradiction proceeds immediately from our minds potency to be moved by the divine intelligence to the principle of contradiction, whenever an object is given. The principle is therefore the first, and immediate ground of our participation in the divine intelligence. All other things known are known mediately, through the principle, and they participate in the divine intelligence through this mediation. But the first principle participates in the divine intelligence immediately. It is this immediate knowledge which cannot not be, it is involved in all things- and we shall never part from it: in this life or the next.
 
3/19/2004
 
On Anxiety

Anxiety is the inactivity proceeding from disorder. Anxiety destroys ends, because when an person suffering from anxiety looks into the future he sees no attainable good. But whatever destroys an end must destroy action, for all actions are for some end. The modern psychiatric term for anxiety is "depression".

Anxiety is, like all mental disorders, irrational. The one who suffers from it cannot "understand" it any more than the one who does not suffer from it. There is, in the last analysis, nothing to understand. Anxiety doesn't "make sense" to anyone. If we don't have it, we simply assume those who have it are weak and effeminate (and we are in a certain sense right). If we have anxiety, it is of no use to tell us that what we are doing is irrational- because our very problem is that we have embraced the irrational. It is of no use to tell the anxious person "to do something"- his very problem is that he has crippled his power to act.

Anxiety/ worry/ depression are fundamentally worthless. No one can answer Christ's perennial rhetorical question "Who of you can add one cubit to his stature by worry/ anxiety/ depression?" What more needs to be said? Anxiety can't do anything. By definition, all it "does" is make doing things impossible.

But to point all this out is not to diminish the reality of anxiety. It may be effeminant, worthless, and irrational: but that is the condition of our race. For all our glorious achievements (which are also real) there is a side of man which lives helplessly in weakness and squalor. The anxious/ worried/ depressed man cannot be an object of anything but mercy and pity. We are so degraded as to think our worthless, effeminant, irrational state should make us attractive: as though others owed us love because we are depressed or having a hard time. We have forgotten, or never learned, that in certain respects, the best thing we can hope for is to be pitied, really pitied, pitied for our own ugliness, worthlessness, and stupidity.

This may be true, but it is off the point. What value is there to seeing oneself as ugly, or stupid, or irrational? Didn't Judas do as much? He realizes "I have shed innocent blood", and he returns the thirty silver pieces in shame and self- disgust. So what? What did it profit him? Has anyone seen himself as more pathetic, ugly, and stupid than Judas? Anxiety is irrational, but so is thinking oneself merely ugly or unworthy, and then doing nothing more... Getting drunk, killing oneself, sleeping, etc. Both anxiety and the "humility" of calling oneself a loser are both pointless, worthless, and irrational.

I don't have the answer to this: that's the whole point of this blog. I can't say "do this" because the anxious man doesn't want to do anything. I can't say "this is the answer" because the answer to anxiety is platitudinous: "do something".

I like the sound of these words, though:

Deliver us, O Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy, keep us free from sin, and protect us from all anxiety...
 
3/15/2004
 
On Nostalgia

Daily life is ruined by trifles. The sort of things that usually ruin our day are things which won't be remembered in three days. Perhaps we won't even remember them in the morning. Think hard about a "bad day" you had over a week ago. Chances are you can't even remember it. If you do remember such a day, go back another week, and try to remember why the day you had that day was bad. Chances are that you can't even remember two weeks past in terms of "good days" and "bad days".

The little things that ruin days are forgotten. The day was probably not ruined anyway. "I made an ass of myself in front of _____", "I totally screwed up______", "I can't stand it when he does _______"

In all likelihood, the guy you thought you made an ass out of yourself in front of never thought you were doing anything terribly wrong, and no one cared that you screwed up______, and you don't really care that some guy did _____, you just bring it up to have a story to tell.

trifles are the stuff of a day; they have their hour, and are forgotten. But because we forget them, we can sometimes be inclined to see the past as better than the present. The present always has its trifles, but the past has only forgotten ones. Many people would prefer to live in the past: as they remember it. Things are always getting worse: compared to the time we have forgotten.

It is possible to do the opposite, of course; because we can't remember the past, we think the present is better. The principle is the same as nostalgia (and just as fallacious) but the conclusion is contrary. Progressivism is as irrational as nostalgia. Beware any general trends you think you see in history.
 
3/14/2004
 
On Prophecy in Bats.

Everything existing in our mind is immaterial. But everything in our mind comes through sensation, and all our sensations are of material things. So with everything we know, something must be stripped away, or taken off. The sort of things we know are not the sort of things most fit for knowledge, because we have to take away some things from them in order to know them. This is one way to understand the classical dictum "the things most knowable to us are least knowable in themselves".

The classical example of this is that our minds are to the most knowable things as the eye of the bat is to the sun. Philosophy seeks to understand these things least knowable to us- and if you want to understand what philosophy is like, try constructing the account that a bat would give of daytime.

How would the bat describe color? For his whole life, the bat has viewed the forest as a more or less homogeneous color- bark is the same as leaves and as dirt. The moon, stars, and snow are a contrasting color. What would the bat say if he suddenly had a vision of day? How would he describe the distinction in color between the tree trunk and it's leaves? "Behold, I saw the tree apart from its branches, yet it did not change it's shape!"

How would he describe the sun? "Lo! In the sky the moon burned as ten thousand moons! and the stars were wiped from the sky!"

How would he describe the sky, which for the bat mind is the same color as the land? "I saw heaven and earth parted from each other as with a knife, they were rent apart, and yet rested without motion or seam!"

"as snow on the field blinds us in the full moon, so the world blinded me. A blinding as of snow was in front of me, and above- and yet I felt only the warmth of the summer winds. And in that blinding world, I saw clearly. What was once far off was now almost at hand."

The Bat philosophers and theologians would have quite a time working this all out. And they would struggle for ages over what is, to a higher mind, self evident.
 
3/12/2004
 
Four Random Thoughts on Manipulation

Manipulators do not need to be intelligent; only insecure and self absorbed. Manipulators do not "persuade people" so much as they take advantage of the desire of others to help them. The other who helps them may in fact be insecure or selfish; but all that is required of them is that they want to help- or at least not harm. The manipulator does not so much lead someone to an object, but rather leads them into the choking vacuum that is the manipulator's inner life. The manipulator does not change our thoughts, he extinguishes them.
 
3/11/2004
 
On The Blog I Can't Write

It's the blog that would create love in another. Love for me, that is.

I couldn't write the book either, or essay, or poem, or... In general, none of my creations could do this. My words can't cause it either. Neither can my silence.

Like any guy, I suppose I'll try my best with what I've got. But I can't be the per se cause of love any more than I can form a man out of the clay. I could give a few reasons for this, but all of them would be more boring than the fact, so I won't.

I don't want to be too dismissive. There is something to the dark, unintelligible, incoherent and unavoidable practice of trying to get love to exist where it did not exist before. Such a practice (and its problems) are congenital and all important to our race. But right now I'm concerned with something more particular.

If you want to find out more about this particular, all the details are clearly laid out in the blog I can't write.
 
3/10/2004
 
The Fallacy of Objectivity

One of the more common complaints among politically minded people (and everyone except the very vicious is political) concerns media bias. There is no need to re-cast the arguments, all of them are ready at hand.

I can't talk about media bias beyond giving a general outline of the problem: but in general, we must ask the question "should journalists, as such, avoid labeling things "good" or "evil"?"

One Group, says "yes". They hold various mottoes: "We report, you decide" is an example- but in general, every news program likes to present itself as putatively objective, i.e. they are a mere window to what is happening. They want to present what they call "facts".

In one way, this position is necessary: but it can never be taken as an ideal. Both of these facts follow for the same reason- because the "objectivity" of the news is caused by the ignorance of newsmen.

When a newsman refrains from calling something good or evil he must not do so because he views it as ideal to be without judgments about good and evil, but because he is ignorant about which is the case. No reasonable man has problems saying that the events of 9/11 were "vicious": to have a news story which didn't use this adjective (or something like it) would be the mark of a mind far more ignorant than a newsman. Ditto on calling those who flew the planes "terrorists" (as opposed to "freedom fighters").

The fallacy of objectivity is the belief that it is ideal to be without judgments about good and evil: that we should relate to the world as the sort of viewer who never forms judgments about things. The stink of this fallacy pervades all of modernity. How many historians believe that they view their subject matter "scientifically", by which they mean that they are, as it were, beyond the question of good and evil? As a matter of fact, doesn't the word "scientific" denote "agnosticism about the value of things, or whether certain things are right or wrong"?

The problem with making such "objective" or "scientific" standards ideals is that this is nothing other than to make an ideal out of ignorance. If we, or our audience, are truly ignorant (as almost always happens about great moral questions) then there is no problem with "objective" or "scientific" accounts, as we have described them here. But to take such putatively "scientific" accounts as ideals that we should never strive to add too, is false and evil. Such is the fallacy, and sin, of objectivity or science- it places in the highest rank the man who is fit for nothing but slavery.

 
3/09/2004
 
The Locus of Refutation

No philosophy since Descartes (and some earlier ones) has been able to give an account for the principle of contradiction, and if they could they could not account for its primacy: i.e. how it is the first thing known. The Principle of contradiction requires the concept of being as such. Being is, and cannot not be (some add, "at the same time and in the same respect"). We must say thet "being" or "thing-ness" or "quod quid est" or even "stuff" is primary to our intellect.

Most modern philosophies fail because thay think man has no access to being as such. They take some part of being, and treat it in isolation. Ask any modern philosopher how he articulates the principle of contradiction. He won't be able to answer. You will get many long- winded sermons about subjectivity, intuitions, sensation, possible worlds, critical theory, horizons of experience, possible experience, empirical knowledge, sythetic a priori judgments, feminist critical theory, "the correspondence theory of truth", object- creation, Dasein, categories of possible experience, the revealing of being, the primacy of politics and the good, "the Socratic turn", hypothetical formation, falsifiablity, evolution, brain cortexes, brain hemispheres, language games, regulative principles, complex intuitions, clear and distinct ideas, paradigms... etc.

What do all of these things have in common?

NONE OF THEM ARE TRULY PRIMARY AND KNOWN.

because all presuppose the principle of contradiction.
 
3/06/2004
 
On a Certain irrevocable Human Ceremony

The occasion which causes us to remember something obvious is usually not the obvious thing itself (few things hide from our intellect better than an articulate grasp of the obvious- or perhaps everything articulate hides from our intellect well)

On that note, today I was struck by something in the book "The Separation of Church and State":

At the end of life, many Liberals hoped to avoid a Christian funeral service but anxiously adopted, instead, A liberal ceremony, in which they were eulogized for being 'untrammeled by the chains of priestly creeds and fables'... Liberals who wanted to ensure their children's conformity to Liberal beliefs [had a ceremony where the said] 'in publicly naming this infant now before us we recognize the parents' desire to identify their offspring with the Liberal party'

One could go many ways with this, but consider what the above has in common with a public ceremony I saw happen at an american university after the untimely death of several students: Everyone gathered together, after dark, holding candles and (I think) standing around in a circle. A Loud and solemn voice said over the PA system "Joseph... Ozowski... We ....Remember You... Ashley... Spitzer... We... Remember You... etc." All the names (whatever they were) were repeated in kind.

Consider also that omnipresent, awkward, and confusing practice of "a moment of silence". We have all been caught in such an imposition many times: at ball games, or at other secular ceremonies. I myself have never prayed during "a moment of silence" and have yet to hear of anyone ever doing so- but the sort of thing which I am asked to do is at least the sort of thing that I am supposed to do when I pray.

Now ceremony is, of course, rather everyday for us, and not always obscure: Birthdays, Graduations, anniversaries, etc are all ceremonies: but the ceremonies I described above are manifestly ceremonies of a different kind. I don't feel at birthday parties that I am being asked to do the sort of thing that I do when I pray.

This strange kind of ceremony is irrevocable to the human race: anyone who thinks that it can be done away with by an enlightened people has a naive understanding of man, and in general, they are listening to much to what people say, and not paying enough attention to what people always do. Even the sort of people who will walk out on a moment of silence, for whatever "enlightened" reason, are not exceptions to the rule: sooner or later, everyone will find the need for something like what "the moment of silence" is trying to provide. Even if such people were exceptions, they would be exceptions that prove the rule.

But while the need for this kind of ceremony is irrevocable, it is hard to articulate what exactly it is a need for. I see no way out of saying that it is a need to acknowledge something (which fits the description of "God") in a public, communal manner. Trying to do away with such a need in any nation would be as stupid and futile as trying to do away with sexual desire. I am drawing no conclusions from this yet, rather, I am looking for more examples of this strange kind of ceremony, so that I can understand it better, and more clearly see its universality. Comment, comment, please contribute!
 
 
A Hypothesis from Moderate Experience

Several blogs ago I motioned a false inference about infinite regress: whenever a person finds out that there are not an infinite amount of causes between this cause and God, they assume that there must be very many, perhaps billions (There are probably not more than three- very often none).

A simililar false inference is made about the moral life. People assume that if you start acting according to what is good, it will be a very long time before you like the good. In one way, this claim can be neither true nor false: "a long time" can mean "what feels like a long time", which can be said of any duration- whether it be ten years or an hour (both times can, of course, also be called "far too short")

But if "a long time" means "as long as I expected" then I doubt that anyone waited a long time before they liked the good they chose to love. The first step may not be the easiest, but it is far harder than the steps which come right after it.
 
3/05/2004
 
On Commandments

"The law is a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely"

Thomas More
from A Man For All Seasons

The law is a causeway because it is set forth as a way to follow. Every particular law is held by a sort of citizen, that is, a person who is considered as being a part of a larger group, under a particular ruler. The citizen walks safely because he need not fear that the ruler shall ever abandon him, so long as he keeps to the law, and the leader will always be at his side to defend him.

The first things known as "laws" are the laws of the political kind. They are followed by a member of a political regime, a citizen. So long as we follow them, we expect that the leader cannot harm us. Moreover, so long as we follow the laws, we are, as much as we are able, made one with the political regime. The regime will give us all the benefits of belonging.

If the Political regime were the greatest good, then to be a part of the political regime would be to have the highest good. Therefore, to be a political citizen would be (by definition) the greatest good. But this cannot be. Modern people know this (perhaps too easily) as axiomatic.

Man is also a part of the universe, and an essential part of it. Through man, the universe knows itself, and knows itself entirely: for the human mind contains all being, without qualification. Man makes the universe as a whole to be alive for within his mind is all being, not as a picture or a mere reflection (although it is an image) but as a living entity, for all essential parts of a living thing are alive, and the universe as a whole is an essential part of man: for it is contained in the very first principle of his intellect. Because intellect is an essential part of man, and man is an essential part of the universe (for without man, the universe would not know itself) Intellect is an essential part of the universe. As an essential part, man can justly be called "a citizen of the universe".

What is called "the natural law" can be understood as that way upon which, so long as we walk upon it, we do not fear the harm that can come from nature. This natural law is only found to the extent that we act in accordance with that principle which makes us citizens of the universe- intellect- which is a sort of birthright, or green card, or naturalization document which certifies us as members of the universe as a whole. So long as we follow this causeway, we walk in safety.

More to come.
 
3/03/2004
 
On Hedonism

"Now the mass of mankind are evidently quite slavish in their tastes, preferring a life suitable to beasts, but they get some ground for their view from the fact that many of those in high places share the tastes of Sardanapallus" (note: Sardanapallus was a well known hedonist) Nic. Eth. 1 ch. 5

This passage gives both the reason for the supposed plausibility of hedonism, and its refutation. The plausibility of hedonism comes from the fact that it is accepted by many people "in high places", but it is refuted simply by noticing that it is "a life suitable to beasts".

The exact description of "those in high places" has changed over the years- actors and artists were not always viewed as being "in high places" (even Mozart would enter through the slaves entrance), but they most certainly are held in high esteem now. Political leaders, whether loved or hated, have always been viewed as being "in high places". Everyone realizes that it is special to see a famous actor or a major political leader- I am no fan of pop music (to say the least) but if I see some pop diva at the airport I'll probably mention it to everyone I know. The plausibility of hedonism comes from these sorts of people. For those in high places are (by definition) successful persons, and everyone desires success.

The above argument has plausibility, and it's plausible enough for "the mass of mankind". Nevertheless, it is as fallacious as the day is long. The middle term- "success"- is a sheer equivocation. The success of most persons "in high places" is certainly not any sort of success at being persons. It is, as Aristotle points out, only success at living like an irrational animal. Far from being the life of one who succeeds at being human, the life of the hedonist only "succeeds" at destroying a properly human life. The life of the hedonist, which gains its plausibility from an emulation of "those in high places", concludes by emulating the beasts. We model ourselves first after those hedonists we see as higher than ourselves, and we conclude by modeling ourselves after "birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things (Rom. 1:23)"

But to give the reason for the plausibility of hedonism is not to give the reason for hedonism- a reason that ultimately must be sought in theology. We have all slouched toward hedonism since the fall ("and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons") But why is it that the fall should lead immediately to carnal hedonism?

Sexual deviance is, of course, the most prominent effect of the fall, and it is almost a synonym for hedonism. Why so?

The essence of sexual deviance is found in some denial of its reproductive aspect: some kinds of deviance are so becaue they deny the possibility of reproduction, others because they deny the consequences of reproduction (which require a stable family- along with all its pledges of permanence, fidelity and commitment to raise a child well) Why is it that the fall leads us to some distortion of reproduction, both in our minds and in our actions? Why does turning away from God make us hate reproduction, and hate it so much?

ask a thousand people to tell you "what God is" (Bar them from using anything from their faith) chances are he vast majority of them will say "the creator". This creator is, of course, seen as a person. Doesn't this point to the primordial awareness of God as creator? Does not rejection of God imply the rejection of the most perfect kind of artful, or intended creation? The human mind intuitively knows that if there is no God then "all this is here for no reason"

The mind which sees no reason for creation must a fortiori see no reason for fatherhood, it is simply another irrational caprice of the universe: it is merely another prejudice or value. Why should we see fatherhood as good if all creation is, in the last analysis, a pointless and unintended epiphenomenon of a universe which cannot be trusted, and has nothing in it about which we can say "it is very good" in itself

Now this idea that the universe is like this cannot ultimately be thought- there can be no rational assertion of absolute irrationality. But people can act in part as though it were the case, we can shake our fists at the God we cannot escape: we can deny the existence of the one being we can never wholly put out of our minds. We can attempt to embrace contradiction, all for the sake of being hedonists, we can seek to improve ourselves by (in fact) becoming more degraded then the beasts could ever be.

This degradation usually proceeds along the lines laid out by St. Paul, when he says that we make idols (ideals) out of "birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creepy things"

1) the bird is the initial freedom of defying God: the feeling of release. We feel, if only for an instant, that we are flying, that the life we have is the life of the being which can float through the clouds.

2) The beast is the burden, but also the more earnest carnality of our sin. We become more ravenous, and cutthroat, in addition to being more put upon and worn down.

3) The creepy thing is the final degradation. We walk upon the slime "on your belly thou shalt go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of your life"

and I shall put enmity between thou and the woman, between your seed and her seed:
he shall crush your head..."
 
3/01/2004
 
Note on Below

My assignment was to compose the best defense for Kant that I could, and then say some other stuff. This is the "other stuff"- an account of how Kant's philosophy leads to a universe where God is ... well, just read it.

Prior to this excerpt, I was talking about how the entire basis of the Kantian philosophy is his claim "that objects must conform to our knowledge", i.e. man makes the object of his knowledge, and therefore...
 
 
An Excerpt From My Paper on Kant, called "Sympathy With Simonides"

... Human knowledge is, in this precise sense, artistic. It is a making, the sort of making which lead to the great revolution in the sciences in the time of the Enlightenment:

"When Galileo caused balls, the weights of which he had determined beforehand, to roll down an inclined plane; when Torricelli made air to carry a weight which he had calculated beforehand… when Stahl changed oxides into metals, and metals back to oxides, by withdrawing and then restoring it, a light broke on the students of nature. They learned that reason has insight only into that which it produces after a plan of its own (b. xii-xiii)."

If Kant's opinion is true of all knowledge, are we not forced to conclude that metaphysical knowledge is simply beyond our power? None can deny the staggering success of Enlightenment science, but few have seen its implications as clearly as Kant: for if human knowledge, as such, is a sort of human production, how could it ever produce that which is simply better than itself? How could we claim to produce- from the given finiteness of our own minds, an infinite being? Moreover, since a human agent is presupposed in every human production, how could we claim to produce that which is presupposed (i.e. a self or soul)? This would be to turn a cause (the human soul) into an effect (an object of human knowledge). Moreover, how could we make a condition of human production a produced thing? That is, how could we make human freedom an object of knowledge? To do any of these things would be nothing other than the attempt to transcend the finiteness of our condition, and the conditions of our finite existence.

The opposition between human knowledge and divine knowledge is, I believe, one of the most profound and timeless insights of Kant’s critique. The emphasis on empirical knowledge can be clearly seen as arising from his particular time (this is not to judge it in any way), but Kant’s lament over the finiteness of human minds is timeless, and it is this lament which Kant constitutes the opening sentence of the Critique:

Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge [i.e. metaphysics] it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer. (itl. mine).

This lament is a timeless one: the difficult acceptance of finiteness is the theme of Gilgamesh (recall the speech of Utnapishtim) of Homer (recall the dilemma of Achilles: to be a man is to accept finiteness) of Genesis (recall the original folly in trying to be like Elohim). A thousand other texts could be marshaled without much difficulty, not only from literature, but also from the first philosophers: Recall Xenopanes “no man has seen, or will ever know, the truth about the gods and all the things I speak of.” Recall also Socrates, who accounted for his life by saying “real wisdom is a property of God, …human wisdom is of little or no value. The wisest of you men is he who has realized… that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless.” Is it not mere hubris to insist, in the face of what seems to be the testimony of the whole human race, that we can lay claim to metaphysical knowledge?

Aristotle is aware of this powerful tradition which placed metaphysics beyond the reach of human minds, and he deals with the objection very early on in his Metaphysics:

…The possession if it [i.e. metaphysics] may justly be regarded as beyond human power; for in many ways human nature is in bondage, so that according to Simonides ‘God alone can have this privilege’ and it is unfitting that man should not be content to seek the knowledge which is suited to him. If then, there is something in what the poets say, and jealousy is natural to the divine power, it would probably occur in this case above all [i.e. metaphysics] and all who excelled in this knowledge would be most unfortunate. (Meta. Book 1, chap. 2. itl. mine)

If Kant wanted to pinpoint the exact moment at which metaphysics became, in his words, “dogmatic”, he could choose no better moment than this. For here we have Aristotle both admitting that metaphysics is “justly regarded as beyond human power” and yet he goes on to lay claim to it. Aristotle’s exact proof is startling in its implications, and in some way it penetrates to the heart of the human condition. Observe the commentary of Aquinas on Aristotle’s response to Simonides:

The error of Simonides proceeds from the error of the ancient poets, who said that the divine thing (res divina) is jealous (ed. note: the word is invidia, both as a verb and later a noun, which means both “jealousy” and “envy” in English)… But the root of this opinion is false in the greatest degree (falsissima); because it is not fitting that a divine thing be jealous. This is clear from the fact that jealousy is sorrow regarding the prosperity of another… But it is not fitting for God to be sorrowful… Therefore Plato also said that every act of jealousy is removed (relegata) from God. The poets not only err in this, but in many other things, as is clear from the common proverb ( “bards tell many a lie.” ed.) (Expositio Metaphysicorum L. I. 1. iii, trans. mine)

Here we see the precise argument upon which Kant and the “dogmatic” metaphysicians part ways. Kant must ultimately throw in his lot with Simonides, and the whole literary and philosophical tradition that he stands for. Neither is it an imposition to hold that there must be something envious or cruel about the Kantian divinity, if any exists: for this God would be manifestly the author of nature, and:

There is a natural and unavoidable dialectic of pure reason… that irremediably attaches to human reason, so that even after we have exposed the mirage [of transcendent ideas of God, the soul, freedom, ed.] it will not cease to lead our reason on with false hopes, continually propelling it into momentary aberrations that always need to be removed (b 355) (cf. b. 397, “inevitable illusion,” etc.)

What are we to make of this? Does not this point of divergence get to the heart of the human condition? Aristotle saw the natural desire we have for metaphysics as a guarantee for the possibility of metaphysical knowledge, for he held that nature does nothing in vain. Kant sees the same desire and has no qualms about saying that the knowledge is in vain- i.e. that nature, if it makes, makes something in vain. This question, ultimately, will end up passing a judgment on nature’s author, one way or another. Simonides and Aristotle have marked out for us the two possibilities: by some light, we will choose: and choose we must...
 
Traditio aut Vanitas

ARCHIVES
01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / Daily Reads


Powered by Blogger