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Vomit the Lukewarm
8/29/2004
 
Transcript of a Daydream by G.W.F. Hegel, Concerning His Imagined First Encounter with Christ in the Afterlife.

Christ: Oh Hegel, please tell me what Christianity was.
 
 
The Universal Post-Christian Era Monotheistic One Question Indicator Test.

The visible church died, and it was refounded by the visible person ________.

pick one:

A.) Joseph Smith
B.) Martin Luther
C.) Some pope who lives in Kansas
D.) John Calvin
E.) A Paulist Nun in Massachusetts
F.) Any guy who believes
G.) Some other guy, more remembered for his movement than his name.
H.) Arius



 
8/27/2004
 
Bias Part II, The Problem of Prudence

A quick recap: bias is the opposite of objectivity. But objectivity is nothing other than a disposition that allows us to see things as they are. So to the extent that we hold* that someone is telling us the way things are, we cannot call him biased. To the extent that someone holds that liberalism is an accurate account of the way things are, he must judge a liberal account of things as objective (and therefore unbiased). An identical consideration applies to the one who holds conservatism, or Nazism, or socialism, or Christianity, to be an accurate account of the way things are.

I should clarify what I mean here by "the way things are". I do not mean to suggest that the one who holds that, say, socialism is the best refection of "the way things are" holds that a socialist society actually exists, but rather that he holds that human beings and societies exist in such a way that socialism is the best way for them to flourish and find happiness. A socialist must by definition hold that socialism is the doctrine that best provides for justice, peace, happiness, and human goodness. He must hold that the goodness of socialism is an unbiased, objective truth. He must also hold that a socialist news program gives the best account of the way things are, and he will have some reason to do this even if he knows that the socialist press sometimes distorts the facts. Observe the reaction, for example, when Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore are accused bending certain facts (whether they do or not is for now beside the point). Whenever this happens, their partisans are reticent to throw them out all together, and they treat the possible distortions as forgivable faults. This is, moreover, reasonable to do, since the partisans hold that even if their vanguards distort a few facts (there are limits, of course) they still are giving voice to something that is correct, i.e. objective and unbiased.

The unescapable axiom in all of this is as you are, so you will judge. To the extent that we are liberals, we must judge liberal accounts of things to be good. To the extent that we are conservatives, we must judge conservative accounts to be good. To the extent that we are _______, we must judge _______ to be good. And now for the answer to the 64,000 dollar question: "what must we be so that we judge good things to be good?" The answer comes back with haunting clarity: we must be good men. It is only to the extent that we are good men that we can judge what is good. Morality cannot be disjoined from objectivity, and in fact it is only to the extent that we are moral that we can be objective. This is not to say that there is a clear account I will give here of what is moral and what is not, but we should be able to get some inclination of what morality means by focusing our attention on those who use the word "morality" and also paying heed to those who would speak of rights, self actualization, freedom, liberty, etc, but who at the same time can never seem to make the word "morality" fit into the accounts of a life they praise or recommend. To the extent that we have problems with morality, we will have problems with objectivity as well. We will judge things to be biased that in fact are not biased at all, and we will see all manner of lies, distortions, and trivialities to be a window into the secrets of life and happiness.

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footnote:
I use the word "hold" here throughout the piece since it is the most neutral and proper term. I do not use the word "believe" because it is only beliefs that are properly believed. But a belief connotes an opinion, whereas it is not necessary that any of the above ideologies is a mere opinion. I do happen to believe that political ideologies are opinions, and I have blogged on this before (7/7/ 04), however, there is more to the things we hold than those things we hold in virtue of a political ideology.

 
8/25/2004
 
Bias, Part I

A bias is more than simply a preference. We do not, for example, say we have "a bias" for ice cream. What does "bias" add to the idea of "a preference"?

Bias is a pejorative term. It is never a good thing to "have biases" whereas it is perfectly acceptable to "have preferences". Bias only pertains to those preferences we have that are in some way wrong, they are the preferences that in some way cut us off from "being objective" or seeing things as they are.

But therein lies the fundamental problem. If a bias is a preference that keeps us from seeing things as they are, then we must judge someone to have a bias if we judge them to be working from some preference (ideology) that keeps them from seeing things as they are. Hence liberals, who have a certain view of how things are, will judge certain programs to be biased; and conservatives will do likewise. This is not in any way to say that one side has been "blinded by ideology" or any such thing. The very definition of bias requires that it is a charge we only level at those who are not telling things as they are, and so to the extent that a certain man is giving us an account of the world as it is, we cannot call him "biased", and we have no reason to. Disputes over "bias" are really disputes about truth. The talk of "bias" hides the central question of whether what we are hearing is an accurate account of the way things are. Since "bias" is the opposite of "objectivity" (i.e. seeing the truth) then a dispute over the truth must necessarily lead to a dispute over who is biased an who is not biased.

The easiest (though not always easy) disputes about bias concern mere lies or distortions of singular facts. These are relatively easy to resolve, but they do not constitute the most profound kind of bias. The most profound bias is not in a distortion of what is put in to something, but in what is left out. We can give one fact after another forever, all of which are perfectly true, and yet leave out facts that are entirely necessary to understand the thing we are talking about.

The 64,000 dollar question is, of course, "how do we know that the facts we appeal to are the facts that tell us what the thing is?" that is "how do we find this elusive objectivity that is destroyed by bias?"

Either there is a scientific method for determining this, or there is not. I claim that there is no scientific method, but rather there is only prudence. More on this in part II.
 
8/24/2004
 
The Monkey and the Typewriter

The monkey/typewriter hypothesis is invoked to prove that things that appear to be designed can result from chance. Since all the possible combinations of letters are finite, and ordered letters are one possible combination of letters, then whatever creates all possible combinations of letters can create the ordered ones. Since all combinations of letters (and for the modern reader, this includes spaces and punctuation) can be created by brute random repetition, it seems to follow that a monkey, or a pecking chicken could create all possible literature, if we only gave them enough time, or enough luck.

This example requires that we regard words as one possible combination of letters. This is of course true enough, but there is obviously more to being a word than being a combination of letters, otherwise there would be no difference between words and mere gibberish, like the thing I'll create now by banging the keyboard:

kj.sdf.kdkzcxvnkm080oq.

So there it is, "one possible combination of letters". If I tried this long enough (or just let the monkey do the thankless task), I might very well get:

midway on our life's journey
I found myself in a dark woods
the right way lost.*

So there it would be, one possible combination of letters, created by chance. Right?

One particular combination of letters might come to be by chance, and in this sense they can be viewed as "created randomly". But no word signifies a random thing: "a dark woods" has one exact meaning, or a small cluster of meanings, that it was intentionally created to signify. Words are artifacts, and therefore cannot be understood separately from the mind of an artisan.
That a monkey might type out the beginning of the Divine Comedy (or any other thing, written or yet to be written) is a coincidence. This is to say that the monkey's letters might happen to coincide with an order that already has been given by a mind. In the case of the above example, the monkey makes something that coincides with the order already given by Dante's mind, and even if the monkey created a poem that had never existed in a language, his words would still coincide with words that were already created and coined by the minds of the people who made the language. In other words, the monkey at the typewriter, even if he were to create individual instances of all the works of literature, would create nothing but things which coincide with an intelligible order that is already given, things that cannot be defined apart from that given intelligible order.

The monkey/typewriter example, when properly understood, ends up proving the exact opposite of what it is usually taken to prove. While the example is taken to show that order is a mere appearance that can be accounted for by chance, what it actually proves is that the things created by chance presuppose an order that is given by intelligence, and cannot be defined apart from the actions of mind. The words of the monkey do not create order, but rather they can only at best "fall into" or coincide with an order that is already given by mind. The monkey/ typewriter example, properly understood, does not confront us with an analogy for a senseless world that must be accepted, but with an intelligible order governing all things. The example, properly universalized, is a proof for the existence of God.

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Footnote:
*Such a process would also include countless other versions of the line, some differing only by a word, a letter, or a space. It would also create any other number of variations on Dante's words, including inferior versions like "Midway on my life's Journey...etc.", or even absurd and confused versions. But no superior version of the poem would be created. Neither chance nor mind are capable of doing the impossible.




 
8/23/2004
 
Inferences

Many powerful and compelling arguments are inferences. The classical name for an inference is an enthymeme, an argumentative device that belongs properly to rhetoric. These facts are the cause of the enthymeme having a sort of double life: inasmuch as it is a sort of argument, it appeals to the mind; but inasmuch it is rhetorical, it appeals to the passions. Because of this, there are also two parts to a response to an enthymeme, one that addresses the rational argument implicit in the enthymeme, and another that deals with the emotions that are appealed to.

Whenever we feel it necessary to respond to an inferential argument, the task will be in one way very easy, in another way very difficult. It is easy in the sense that we can easily pick apart the structure of an inference, since when we consider it merely formally the argument is usually a non-sequitur. The argument usually can "prove" a multitude of things, and even contradictory things. But inferential arguments are also very difficult to respond to because they presuppose an emotional state that, considered in itself, is irrational and therefore impossible to argue against. One who tries to argue against an emotional state will usually leave his opponent under the impression that he is being the victim of some sophistry or word game, and at any rate, we don't want people to argue with our emotions, but to understand them. Nothing is more hateful to us than a man who argues against how we feel. considered in this way, enthymemes are irrefutable, because no one can stand to have his emotions invalidated.

Some of the most powerful enthymemes are what might be called the "how can" enthymemes, for example "how can God exist when there is so much evil in the world?"; "how can God create a man who he knows will choose to go to hell?"; "how can a woman be happy in heaven knowing her child is in hell?"; "how can someone be patriotic when they see all the evils that their country does?"; "How can you deny women the power to choose what they do with their bodies?"; "how can things come from intelligence when a bunch of monkeys with typewriters could produce all the great works of literature?"; "How can Caesar be ambitious, given he refused the crown?". These arguments can be rewritten, of course, so that they are not in the form of questions, or even as questions that do not start with "how can"; but this does not change their status as inferences, as that curious form of argument that is neither wholly logical nor wholly emotional, but shares in both. All of these inferences are powerful because they lack a precise claim that can be argued against, because they all lack a middle term and a specific conclusion that we should draw. While they lack any precise definition, the arguments are usually set forth as definitive, as the final word that cannot be argued against. Any attempt to give the arguments a more precise form is usually regarded as sophistical word manipulation, as the attempt to make what is "very clear" become "less clear". Take the first inference given above "how can God exist given that there is evil in the world?". Is the questioner denying God exists, or that he is good, or that he is omnipotent? Is the questioner assuming that the divine will acts out of necessity, or freedom? Is the interlocutor a fideist, who believes in "two truths", or does he believe that God is subject to a "human understanding" of justice (and what does this mean anyway?) Is the questioner open to the possibility that the evil in this world is not really evil, or that there is some hierarchy of evils (and what would any of these claims mean?) More importantly, what is the precise reason that there is some incompatibility between the evil and divinity? To the extent that these rhetorical questions are argumentative, that is, to the extent that they are designed to be inferences, it is unclear both what the precise argument is, what the precise question is, and what the precise conclusion should be. These arguments may convince, but they do not prove. I have no problem with these questions to the extent that they are viewed as questions, i.e. to the extent that they do not incline us to one side of an argument or another. But too often they do not do this, but rather they are taken to have some kind of logical argumentative force, which proves a conclusion by default if no response is given. More often than not, all these rhetorical questions start to crumble when we try to give them a more rigorous logical form, and at the very least the rigorous argument leads us to make certain claims that we are uncomfortable making, and which are by no means self evident. All such claims, however, are cleverly evaded by our choice to phrase the argument as an inference in a rhetorical question. We create for ourselves a certain benefit of the doubt that places the whole burden of proof on our interlocutor, without requiring ourselves to give a rigorous or defined argument.

Another weakness in these sorts of enthymemes is that what they take to be opposed can more often then not be taken as not only compatible, but as the one proving the other. When we make a God/ evil argument, we might make it as Dostoevsky does, sc. "how can there be evil unless God exists? (or similarly, how could God be good unless he made men who were truly capable of going to hell?) When we make a intelligent design/ monkey typewriter argument, we can see it as proving that chance is not a sufficient cause of order, since the example requires the monkeys to create both gibberish and the great works of literature (both are necessitated by the law of large numbers). When we make a happiness in heaven/ child in hell argument, we might see this as a proof of the happiness of heaven being the highest kind of happiness, since the highest kind of happiness cannot be taken away by anything. When we make a patriotic/ evil of your country argument, we might view only the man who confronts his country's evils as patriotic, for only such a man can heal his country, or love it in spite of its actions. And most famously, in the Caesar was ambitious/ he denied the crown example, Cassius claims that his ambition is proved by his denying of the crown. Only the cleverest and most hardened tyrant soul, the argument goes, would think to deny the crown then, as an act of sham benevolence and humility.

enthymemes are at best imperfect arguments, but they are the sorts of arguments that we are most comfortable with, and they are for most people the only arguments that they will ever know. They are even in some sense irrefutable. But such infallibility is hardly to be envied, and still less should it be taken as definitive. There is no substitute for proving one's case, and I use the word proof in the sense I have layed out below. This is an exceedingly high standard: but philosophy isn't for the easily frustrated, or those with short attention spans, still less for those who want their answers right away.
 
8/21/2004
 
Knowledge in Gnosticism and its Opposite

The difference between opinion and knowledge is what we moderns call "subjective", e.g. two persons can articulate the same statement, but for one it is an opinion, for the other it is knowledge. Knowledge need not drive out what we held as an opinion, but rather it can found it. This happens because knowledge first belongs to those things that are self-evident, and then to what is implicit in the self-evident. Outside of this, we know nothing. All that is known either is, or is reducible to what is known in itself; just as everything that is hot either is, or is reducible to what is hot in itself. Knowledge, except of the self evident, is something belonging to a man who has a certain multiplicity called a proof. Generally speaking, opinion is whatever a man holds separately from something known in itself.

This account of knowledge and opinion (which is the account of perennial philosophy) gives a blistering critique of what can be known, but it also allows- it even necessitates- that something is known. So long as opinion is given as existent, knowledge must be given too, for opinion cannot be understood except as a certain privation of knowledge, and not just of any knowledge, but a knowledge which is self-evident, and therefore in some sense known to all men. This account of knowledge and opinion is in an important sense the opposite of gnosticism: whereas the gnostics claim that what is accepted by all is an illusion that must be overcome by a knowledge known to a few, perennial philosophy claims that what is accepted by all is the foundation of all knowledge, and it must be the knowledge that grounds all other opinions. More briefly put, gnosticism seeks to leave the things commonly held, perennial philosophy seeks to return to them and continually become more intimate with them. A gnostic can see himself as special and rare because he has a sort of knowledge that is different in kind from all those around him, while the disciple of perennial philosophy can only see himself as special and rare because he has a more intimate knowledge of what everyone already knows.

I have labeled the two opposites in this account "gnosticism" and "perennial philosophy". These two labels are not entirely accurate. I speak of gnostics only in a broad sense, and it is not my intention to imply that gnosticism is either unphilosophical or non-perennial. I don't mean to speak of the two opposites in a way that limits them to a particular sect, but rather I want to speak of the two opposites as fundamentally different attitudes that one can adopt toward knowledge. Gnosticism is revolutionary, controversial and engaging, seeking to continually overcome the commonly accepted; whereas perennial philosophy would cease to exist apart from its ground in the commonly accepted.

There is no synthesis of gnosticism and perennial philosophy. The two are fundamentally different claims about what constitutes knowledge, and therefore they are different claims about what should be considered true, good, and/or beautiful. Most men confuse their flip-flopping between the two claims with a compatibility between them. But there is no such compatibility. We must either anchor ourselves in what is known to all, or we must not. We must see our equality with all men as either unshakeable, or a condition to be overcome by an elevation to a higher and hidden knowledge.
 
8/16/2004
 
Free Will and Free Choice
(hastily written, but I'll stand by it)

At first glance, the concepts "free will" and "free choice" seem to mean the same thing. A little reflection shows they are not. We cannot understand "a free choice" without thinking of an object, but we can understand "a free will" without necessarily considering an object. There is also an argument from common experience: It is common in philosophical discussions to hear of people discussing free will, but it is relatively rare that you hear the same persons speak of "free choice" as though it were the same concept.

We speak of "will" when we consider the power of willing separately from the knowledge of an object, and thereby frame our consideration separately from any account of knowledge (whether by sense or reason). But when we consider choice, the object of choice is simply given as known and must be either sought, or ignored, or rejected.

The freedom of the will is best seen when we arrive at it through freedom of choice. It is given that there is some object of the will, regardless of whether we think it is free or not. But notice what happens when we ask about the object, sc. "what is the object that the will relates to?" The answer gets confusing, because there doesn't seem to be any content to what we meant by "an object" other than it is something that exists. To speak of "objects" as such is to speak of no particular object, but rather only what makes all objects to be objects, sc. that they are apprehended in some way. Any limitation of the freedom of choice could only follow upon a limitation in the species of objects, but to place any limitation on objects would be to loose the very idea that we have of an object, sc. that it is anything that is apprehended. Because we apprehend an object, and we have a will, there is also the necessity of the freedom of the will. Again, The necessity for the freedom of the will follows from the indeterminate character of an object. Because the object of the will, considered as an object necessarily has an indeterminate character, the will must also have an indeterminate character, and so much as this is the case, the will must also be free.

The confusions about whether the will is free always proceed, one way or another, from confusions between sense knowledge, which can only know particular objects, and intellectual knowledge, which can know objects as such, i.e. it can know an object as an object. As soon as this confusion is made, you can sit around and wait for the person to become a determinist.

One confusion often happens when people confuse our willing of a particular thing with our willing of a particular thing qua particular. It is true enough that we may choose some particular thing, but it does not follow from this that we wanted because of its particularity. We can will to grasp it simply as an object, or under the proper account of its being a good thing. In fact, it follows from the truth of "I did it because it's good" or "I looked at her because she is beautifull" or "I know it because it is true" that the will is free. The only other possibility is to explain the transcendentals away- a task that is unthinkable, unpleasant, and impossible.

(although it can often be spoken of, since we are free)
 
 
Aesthetic Knowledge And Modern Liturgical Music

Put yourself in the following scenario. You have been hired to produce a movie which deals with young person discovering the nature of Catholicism. You know nothing of the scenes, but rather you only have one command: you must use in the score the song "Here I am, Lord" (a laid back folksy ballad with lines like "I the Lord/ of snow and rain/ I have heard my people's pain). Now write an appropriate scene.

The difficulties quickly become legion. As a laid back folk- style song, the song should be fitting to use in any scene that depicts a person going through everyday activities (getting up, brishing your teeth, and driving to work could be very well done with Neil Young's "Out on The Weekend" in the background, or Bob Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings") but to play "Here I Am, Lord" under the same circumstances would rob the entire scene of its everyday feel- to say the least.

Folk music is inseparable from the sort of sentiments and emotions that are "everyday". Whether it speaks of love, or sorrow, or mirth or injustice, folk music always relies on sentiments that are commonly felt, and felt as common. By "commonly felt" I mean that everyone feels them at some time or another, and by "felt as common" I mean that they are experienced as being a part of everyday life. Such sentiments are wonderfully familiar to us, and so folk music is capable of evoking the intimacy (both pleasant and unpleasant) that we have with the familiar things of our lives. Folk music fits us like well worn clothes; like jeans or our favorite beat up shoes.

Folk music also has the curious attribute of making lyrics more important. The attribute is curious because it belongs to almost no other kind of music. One can appreciate a song in an opera perfectly well without having a clue what the libretto is, and for that matter, one can have the full experience Christina Aguilerra or Ricky Martin song without having to remember a single word they say. Heavy Metal and Rock music make the same case a fortiori, and I've always thought the case was best put by Def Leppard in an MTV rockumentary: "On our song 'Women' we have a lyric 'skin on skin, let the love begin'. Now, sure, we said 'skin on skin' but any three one syllable words would have worked." Folk music is far less capable of such a dismissive stance toward lyrics, an exception being recurring ansonant motifs like the one on "the Boxer"; i.e. I am just a poor boy, and my story's seldom told... ly ly ly...etc. Folk music is more tied up with telling stories, and as such it places requires a greater attention to words. Most music gets to us through its rhythm, or through the melody, or through the harmony. Folk music gets to us through the story, or a visual image left in us through the lyrics.

Modern liturgical music is the attempt to make "sacred folk". The absurdity of such a compounding should be evident enough. "Sacred" cannot be stripped of its connoting "a thing set apart". To call something "sacred"; whether it is a tabernacle, or a document like the Declaration of Independence, or the things in a shine, means that it cannot be simply picked up and handled like the familiar objects we are so intimate with in our everyday life. The very basis of folk music is its evoking of the sentiments attached to the everyday things that are so commonplace and unnoticeable, even when they are deeply precious to us (our home, the letters of a lover) the distinct beauty of folk music is that it is everyday in the sense that it concerns things that are not set apart. Little pink houses are neither cathedrals or skyscrapers; The Boxer is a poor boy who, like all of us, has a story seldom told; "this land is your land" makes a whole nation to be, as it were, a single man's backyard. The attempt to make folk belong to something that cannot be denuded of the idea of being set apart ends up making a contradictory and absurd monster of negations- equal parts non-folk and non-religion.

It might be objected to this that Christians bear the distinctive mark of worshiping what is in some sense "an everyday God". We worship, after all, a bearded and rather burly construction worker who lived in a backwater town and who found company speaking to fishmongers, whores, and government bureaucrats. But the odd and paradoxical result of all this is to make God even more set apart. One could understand talking about God so long as he stayed in his heaven, ran the universe, and threw the occasional lightening bolt. A divinity that was merely divine would be rather unremarkable, and could easily be placed in a story as simply another character. The mystery and the scandal of the incarnation is that it presents us with one God that our intelligence naturally divides in two. The poets insist on a mythical god that freely wanders among men and is as manifest as any other sensation, the philosophers insist on an absolutely separate philosophical abstraction that is more known by negation from things seen. Catholicism insists on both, and sees the denial of the truths of either one as a damnable heresy. Both opinions, to the extent that they have an opposition, must be transcended. The properly Christian (the Trinity, the incarnation) is inseparable from a manifestation of the inadequacy of our natural ways of knowing, i.e. from the things that can be familiar to us either simply speaking (the things of folk poetry and music) or through the studied use of our natural powers (philosophy). God has pitched his tent among us, and it makes our most common thoughts of him become mysterious, unfamiliar, more strange, and less everyday.

The mystery of the properly christian also points to another absurdity of "sacred folk", sc. folk is so inseparable from an emphasis placed on lyrics. Lyrics and words are perfectly intelligible things, and we have a certain complete control over them. In most music, words are unimportant, or at least of secondary importance. We experience most music as moving us, not telling us anything. Folk music tells. It fails utterly when we try to make it convey the unspeakable, the mysterious, and the things which cannot but be seen as set apart.

 
8/13/2004
 
Thoughts on Jefferson

It is easy to fail to appreciate the significance of an American calling Jefferson "a founding father". The word father is rarely reflected on, and if anything it tends to be regarded with mere sentiment, as though we only meant to give Jefferson some vague but lofty praise. This is a dangerous simplification. To be an American means that, at least in part, you are Thomas Jefferson. Your life is in some respect simply an extension of his own life. There is a part of your soul that will never be understood until you understand it as being the perfect living image of a man who died some 180 years ago last month. We need a few prelimiary things to show this.

"Father" is a word used analogously. This is to say that it has a certain meaning that came first in time, but over time it came to take on other proper meanings. But since the most perfect instance of something is not always the first one to be recognized, it often happens that the later meanings of the word are more perfect instances of the thing that the word names. "Father" is a case in point. The first being named father is the male parent of a family, the second is the male founder of a nation. But it does not follow from this that the founder of a nation is less a father than the male parent of a family, in fact, it is quite the reverse. Jefferson is more your father than the man who sired you. An exhaustive account of this would be too much for now, but we can lay down the bare argument. I lay this out as a hypothesis, but something like it is true.

A father is a primary active generative cause of a living thing. But a cause extends its power to an effect by making a likeness to itself, therefore the greater likeness, ceteris paribus, manifests the greater cause. But the likeness of the first named kind of fatherhood, as such, extends to making a likeness to a cause inasmuch as the cause is a bodily thing, i.e one can become a father in this sense by giving chromosomes and DNA.

But Human beings have a greater life than merely living, and so to generate this greater life, and to be an active principle of it, is to be a greater father. But the political life is higher than the life of the family, inasmuch as it provides a greater good, and one that is more perfectly shared by all the citizens. So he who causes this good to be has a claim to being a greater father.

Jefferson lives on in us as Americans, whereas one is a father in the first meaning of the term buy merely living on in us as a bodily thing (whether he is a good father or no does not change that he has this kind of fatherhood). Jefferson is no the only man who lives on so, but he is one of the most eminent and influential. We cannot understand our nation, laws, customs and beliefs as citizens without considering him in some way. We look to him, and not to some vague abstraction like a period of history or spirit of an age to understand who we are.

But neither can we understand ourselves by looking merely at Jefferson. I spoke of him because he is preeminent, not only simply speaking but also in our own time, and also because no one man was a complete rival. I do believe his opinions had a rival, but it would take at least three men to make a full counterweight to Jefferson (Hamilton is the first, then Adams and- in some imporant respects- Madison). These men agreed about many things, but the point of disagreement they have are the same points of disagreement we find ourselves dealing with today, not only in political discourse, but also in ourselves (and isn't political discourse something everyone feels intimately within himself, even if it is not only so?)

Jefferson's most complete modern triumph, or at least his most controversial one, regards the relation of church and state. It is congenital to the modern mind to believe in "separation" of the two. This habit is so ingrained that even where there is a dispute about what "separation" means, the idea of separation is inveterate. Were Madison to have triumphed, we would speak of "non-cognizance", were Adams to have triumphed, we would have had another key phrase or idea. Each idea would lead to dramatically different results, but each idea is an intimate part of our own psyche. Jefferson remains for the moment, for good or ill, perhaps to be marginalized at some later time, but never to be eradicated. It remains for us to understand him, and in so doing understand ourselves. After all is said and done, we'll have to decide how much we like what we see.




 
8/12/2004
 
All technology, even if the rest were unqualified degradation, would be justified by this:

http://www.unav.es/filosofia/alarcon/amicis/ctopera.html


 
8/08/2004
 
Will Wilkinson's Evolutionary Account of Human Nature

Mr. Wilkinson recently put forth a very nuanced and careful account of what it means to be a member of the human species. I was very impressed with its careful reasoning, and its attempt to give a balanced but critical view of human nature.

As this is the first time I have explicitly dealt with another bloggers opinion on a large scale, it seems important to give my general opinions about the theory of evolution. I believe it is correct to say that a species has come to be from another species, and that the opinion that new species are created ex nihilo is at least unfitting, and most likely wrong. It is certainly against the best evidence of the physical sciences. I happen to disagree with Mr. Wilkinson's metaphysical conclusions, but I agree wholeheartedly with the physical theory he accepts. That I had to respond at such length to them should be an indication of how solidly he made his point.

His whole post is worth reading, but the pertinent part is this:

The members of a species are not members of a kind bound together by a shared essence. Members of a species are more like members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, bound together by a geneological fact. You and I are both part of the club of humanity because we have a shared ancestor: the first human. This, however, implies nothing about our having a metaphysically deep shared nature. Evolution works on selection over natural variation. That is, evolution works because members of a species are not homogeneous. So at any time, there is simply a distribution of traits throughout a population. Maybe the distribution is a normal curve. Maybe it isn't. In any case, the distribution changes over time, and thus so do the traits of the "typical" member (if there is one). There simply is no non-contingent common core of traits that ties us together other than our shared lineage and consequent genetic similarity.
This is why I find the idea that there is a right way to live according to nature extremely dubious.


Notice the care with which Mr. Wilkinson articulates his position. On the one hand, he gives an account of how human nature is not simply an illusion or a mere construction of the human mind, but on the other hand he denies that this implies a right way to live according to nature. Mr. Wilkinson even distinguishes further what he means by "a right way to live according to nature". While it is true that an individual can articulate certain ways of correct living from the nature they happen to have, nevertheless:

These principles simply aren't universal, or universally binding, because there is no universal human nature. Some "deviants" will find a society hospitable to the lives of "normals" incompatible with their needs.

And so there are certain principles that dictate how one must live, but there is a proviso on them, sc. They cannot be applied to all the members of the human race. This seems fair enough, and on some level, quite obvious and good to point out. We have all met certain people who have an inborn knack for, say, sales or leading others or working with machines or writing or enjoying pistachios. It would be idiotic to claim that any one of these people could tell the others "you must do exactly what I do". The diversity of talents, dispositions, and enjoyments are not only facts of nature, but are also beneficial to the species. How rich could human life be if everyone had the same talents or desires? Would we even be able to survive without a diversity of talents which, though mutually exclusive, are yet complimentary?

If we left our account of nature at this, a strange result follows, because there is nothing in the opinion so far that is contrary to the great teachers of natural law ethics. Nothing in Aristotle, for example, would insist that everyone should live an identical life in the way that Mr. Wilkinson claims is impossible, sc. That all should live as though they had exactly the same traits in every respect. In fact, the teaching of the Politics points in exactly the opposite direction, for Aristotle claims in the very beginning of that book that some persons are only fit by nature to be slaves, while others are fit to be masters. Slaves are determined by having certain "traits" that are not "of the typical member (if there is one)" and it is also true that they may perhaps "find a society hospitable to the lives of 'normals' incompatible with their needs". I am not trying to be cute or dismissive here- if there is some problem with the word "slave" there need not be. Aristotle merely means by the term "one who does not have sufficient intelligence to order their own life". Children on this account are "slaves", as is everyone else who needs to be told what is best for them (if any there be). Aristotle goes further, and gives certain natural traits that are common to all slaves (stocky build and course flesh, if I remember correctly). He was followed later by men who gave other traits for good slave (ability to withstand swamp conditions, sexual promiscuity, etc.)

Mr. Wilkinson's position does not, of course, necessarily lead to the condoning, or even the consideration of slavery. He only asserts that there is a diversity of traits in human beings, not that there are the particular traits of a slave and a master. Mr. Wilkinson also does not need to defend his position from the claim that it generally allows for slavery by allowing for radically different kinds of persons, which allows for the possibility of master and slave. Mr. Wilkinson benefits from living in a particular time and culture where popular sentiment is strongly against the possibility of natural slavery. If this argument were set forth four or five generations ago, or in some other countries even today, those who set it forth would have to find a way to deny that master and slave were not possible even though "the members of the species are not homogeneous". This seems to be a daunting task, since to deny the possibility of a master and slave is to state that people are, in some sense, all equal, and would have at least in this respect "a likeness in kind" i.e. "homogeneity".

But for the moment this slavery question is no more than an interesting side note. I only bring it up now because it points to a difficulty in the primary inference of Mr. Wilkinson's argument. The argument moves from the truth that evolution works because the members of a species are not homogeneous to the conclusion that a right way to live according to nature [is] extremely dubious. Said another way, because there is no non-contingent core of traits that ties us together it is said to follow that there is no "metaphysically deep shared nature". The first problem with this is one from mere authority: plenty of philosophers, and even the most eminent expositors of the natural law, have allowed for certain heterogeneity of human beings. Aristotle would be perfectly content with saying "human beings are not homogeneous" and also saying "Human beings share a common nature". If homogeneity means "all traits are identical" then it is obvious that human beings are not homogeneous- and we need neither Aristotle nor Darwin to tell us so.

But perhaps this objection is not fair. After all, Mr. Wilkinson does not say that people lack homogeneity only "in a certain way" but rather that there is "no" trait of human beings that is "non-contingent" except "our shared lineage". But this distiction between "traits" and "lineage" is a confusing one. Are there no non-contingent traits, except lineage, or are there no non- contingent traits, but rather a shared lineage? Either way, the argument is fraught with difficulties.

If lineage is a trait of human beings that is "non-contingent", then the common ancestor that Mr. Wilkinson speaks of could not be human, for by necessity he will have no common lineage that can be called "human". This is not a mere quibble, but it indicates a deep problem with an understanding of universals, of which "species" and "nature" are pre-eminent examples. A species is not a plurality of things, as a lineage is. The human species exists no more nor less whether there be one member of it, or ten, or seven billion. A species is nothing other than a sort of thing, and there is a human sort of thing as soon as there is a human. If species were nothing other than a lineage, then "to be the sort of thing that is human" would be the same as "all humans taken together" but this would lead to the absurd conclusion that no particular human is a human sort of thing.

Perhaps Mr. Wilkinson believes that lineage is not a trait of human being. I am uncertain as to how he wants this to be taken. He could not mean that lineage is in no way a part of the traits of a person, as though it were wholly absent from the genetic code, for example. If instead of this the claim is that "to have a lineage" can be distinguished entirely from "having traits", then his opinion is incoherent. What could there possibly be to "a lineage" other than the handing down of traits? Lineage does not exist as some platonic abstraction (even for Plato) apart from the handing down of particular traits.

If Mr. Wilkinson means to merely say that some traits will not be indentical in the members of the species throughout the lineage, I am confused as to how this has any relevance as to whether there is some common nature. Having blue eyes or dark skin or a congenital birth defect or as many different traits as you like is no impediment to saying that there is something in virtue of which all humans are called "human". We must presuppose the existence of such a species even to begin discussing the evolution of human beings at all, since human beings are a sort of species. Moreover, the species exists prior to the lineage, for it is wholly present in the first thing that is a human sort of thing. If Mr. Wilkinson does not presuppose some human species in his argument, then why does he trace the human species back to some common human ancestor, and not back to the evolutionary predecessors of human beings?

Neither does it matter that all human traits may be considered "contingent". A trait is contingent if it can either be or not be. But this can happen in two ways 1.) a trait can be contingent in that it can change without destroying the thing in which the trait exists, e.g the color of a fire can change without destroying the fire itself, or 2.) A trait can be contingent which can only cease to be by the thing of which it is a trait ceasing to be e.g. the heat in the fire. Both heat and color can be viewed as contingent, and yet heat will exist for as long as the fire does. Mr. Wilkinson's argument does not follow because it confounds the distinction between "a trait that exists so long as a human exists" and "a trait that may or may not exist in a human being". If Mr. Wilkenson wants to deny one of these two kinds of contingency vis a vis human beings that is his perogative. But until he says more about the nature of contingency, his argument will not follow.

Beyond the particular ambiguities there are to Mr. Wilkinson's opinion, there is an overarching problem with his method in general. It may be true that the particular science of genetics or biology is unable to articulate the exact nature of this human species, but again I fail to see how this is in any way relevant. Any biologist or geneticist who understands his science knows that he cannot determine what "nature" or "to have a nature" or "to act according to nature" means. Mr. Wilkinson, by his own admission, is trying to get "metaphysical" conclusions out of what are manifestly biological principles, and he finds none. Should anyone be surprised? He would come to the same result if he tried to get the conclusions of calculus out of biology, or the conclusions of genetics from considering the weather. It makes no difference that the science of genetics and metaphysics happen to share a common subject matter, sc. Human beings. The two disciplines start from different principles and prove different conclusions. Anyone who thinks he could derive one from the other needs more instruction in one of them, or both. Mr Wilkinson says things like "members of a species are not bound together by some shared essence" Where in any biology textbook, or experiment, does one find "essence"? Mr Wilkinson would be rightly offended if I proceeded to critique, say, the human genome, by saying it is in no way discernible from metaphysical principles like "act" "potency" "causality" "essence" or "existence" or a discussion of knowledge or motion. But it is just as wrong to try to discuss metaphysics on the basis of a biological theory. The results will be predictable from the get go. Such a search will discover nothing, even if it goes on forever. It is as vain as seaching the ocean for fresh water.

Philosophy, or metaphysics, is not navel gazing or guesses that biological theorists may venture about philosophy. If someone wants to discuss the doctrine of evolution in a philosophical way, or if they want to discuss concepts or principles that are proper to philosophy, there is no substitute for philosophical knowledge. They will need to understand something about universals, the distinction between the per se and the per accidens, the nature of an equivocal cause, the distinction between this individual thing and "what it is to be this thing", the difference between experimental and philosophical simplicity, and a whole host of other things. Even if one were to say "these concepts are only found in one particular sect of philosophy" the argument will be of no avail. It is this particular sect of philosophy that speaks of "the natural law" and which claims that there is a right way to live according to nature. Whoever claims to judge the conclusions of this sect with no knowledge of their arguments is hardly in an enviable position.











 
8/06/2004
 
The Spirit of the Age

"Conscious" (or as an abstract noun "consciousness") is a transliteration of the Latin "conscius", an adjective meaning "to know together with_____" . Originally, the term was applied to a knowledge held in common: Conspirators were conscious men, in virtue of their plot; teammates were conscious men, in virtue of their plan. Though the trait was originally said of a plurality, it could also apply to a singular person, because even though at least two conspirators are necessary to have men "knowing with" each other, each of them had the whole plot, and both were therefore equally conscious. It was therefore natural that the word would come to mean an individual's awareness of things. The word therefore took on the first meaning it had that still remains today, sc. "to be aware of the world". In this sense, "consciousness" means merely being awake. It is the state we have whenever we are not knocked out, sleeping, or under anesthesia.

But there is more to being conscious than merely being awake, because consciousness is inseparable from focus and attention to something. All sensations are not accorded equal worth, and at any given moment we are probably ignoring 90% of the things right in front of our faces. It is this trait of consciousness that allows for a change in consciousness, or a raising of consciousness, because one can change their focus, turning their attention to something that has been there all along.

While it is undeniable that consciousness is in some way changeable, and can be changed for better or worse (it's better for one crossing the street to notice a speeding bus than the core of the crosswalk), at the same time not every account of the changeability of consciousness is equally compelling. The most famous account of the changeability of consciousness is found in the work of Hegel, who claims that consciousness changes by continually being lead into contradictions, then resolving them, then having it lead to a a contradiction again (repeat). Regardless of what we set our consciousness on, it will turn on us, and manifest itself as something opposite of what it was before. Nothing in sensation provides an example of this, but things in the moral life do.

To a large extent, our whole life is a continual manifestation of the things we thought we wanted showing themselves as the last things we would want. Most of the significant things in our life either are, or are based upon "the things we never expected to happen". The addictions we have, and which rule our lives, are certainly things "we never expected to happen" and what are they beyond the object revealing to us what it was all along? Manipulators also do what they do in a search for love, and yet they are only attracted to those who, in truth, hate them and hurt them. Vain and conceited people become petulant if no one respects them, and yet they think it nothing to be respected by anyone other than themselves. Depressed people want nothing more than someone to share their pain with, and yet they are loathe to think that there could be anyone so deep or so sensitive as to truly fathom their pain. Rage leads a man to crush others and resent that he is not loved enough for it. Blasphemy despises the slendor of God and yet draws all its power from belittling it and sneering at it. Certain men will impugn the motives of their leaders, and yet insist that the leaders continue doing what they have always done for them. All the lusts we see in front of us promise us a power allowing us to look down upon the gods, and yet when enjoyed, we feel God looking down upon us.

A good part of our moral lives is characterized by a continual dialectic of contradiction. All the things we have wanted are continually revealing themselves as things we have never wanted and never looked for. In our sober moments, we remember that we knew this all along, and promised that we would cease from ever doing certain things again. But consciousness changes, and we find ourselves, and all those around us, drawn up into the spirit of the time, whether for an hour, or a generation.


 
8/04/2004
 
Thought Fragment of a Eulogy

The just soul wears her body
as a bride her bridal gown

both alike are valued high
and both alike put down.
 
8/03/2004
 
The Liberal and The Technical Arts

The primary Liberal Arts construct ordered speech (grammar) ordered thought (logic) and ordered emotion (rhetoric). They also deal with the order of the mathematicals.

The Technical arts have not yet been given an exhaustive enumeration. Tool making (a massive category, including everything from a ramp, to a gun, to a computer to the space shuttle, along with the repair of any of them) and shelter making (architecture), and city planning seem to be three significant species of the technical arts. There are almost certainly more species.

A few observations about these things as arts:

1.) Both the liberal and the technical arts have their perfection in a product made by man. The art of logic constructs syllogisms just as a tech constructs a motherboard.

2.) Both of these arts also imitate that is, their products (i.e. their perfections) are the likeness of something in a mind, and that thing in the mind is in some way the likeness of something else.

3.) Both of these arts are also human, that is they are peculiar to that being who is a body and an intellect in need of each other. This is to say they are rational. Because both are properly human and makers of a product, both construct products that have man as their first final and efficient cause.

These four likenesses exist only generically. The specific differences are significant, and important to remember.

1a.) The products of the technical arts are always extraneous to the creator, whereas the products of the liberal arts need not be. The man who makes a computer, or an artificial hip, or a ramp makes something that is only perfect when it exists outside the internal parts of a man, whereas the one who makes syllogisms (logic), correct sentences (grammar) or triangles (geometry) makes something that will lack none of its perfection if it stays within a man's imagination or mind. A syllogism lacks no perfection for being thought, but not written; a sentence does not become more perfect because we choose to say it; and triangles and shapes are actually more perfect in the imagination than they are in any triangular thing.

2a.) Because of difference between the products made by the two arts, the imitation differs also, because imitation is the likeness of a form to its cause. [ hypothesis:The liberal arts are perfect by the likeness of the imagination to the intellect], whereas the technical arts are perfect through an imitation of a material thing to a sensible form made in the imagination. But since the order of beings ascends from things merely existing in matter, to things existing as the act of matter (sensation), to things existing wholly separate from matter (intellect), and since the higher one ascends on the order of beings the greater unity one finds, and since the perfection of an imitation is found in the unity of the form of the thing to its cause, the imitation of the liberal art is more perfect then the imitation of the technical arts.

3a.) Neither of these arts is possessed by God or the angels. Bodiless intellects [this includes men after death] do not need these arts to know anything or do anything. These arts exist for us in this life partly in the imagination, a bodily organ that the angels and God have no need of in order to understand things, even the individual things of the material world.

The liberal and the technical arts are properly human in different ways. Both arts concern the lordliness of the human person, for a lord is one who is primarily responsible for the existence of something, and every artist is responsible for the existence of something. The technical arts, which are made perfect by making something in matter, concern man's lordship over the world. The liberal arts, the products of which are complete in the imagination, more concern man's dominion over himself, and the operations proper to a human being. The liberal arts are therefore more human than the technical arts. A sign of this is that animals other than man have something identical in effect to the technical arts, as technical: beavers build dams, birds build houses, monkeys use sticks, bees make hives, etc.

Because the thing existing externally in matter is the measure and perfection of the technical arts, the technical arts are in a certain sense separate from reason, sc. They can be done mechanically without a loss of the perfection of the art. The mechanical construction, therefore, can replace the artistic construction, inasmuch as the construction is technical. To the extent that the liberal arts manifest themselves in external matter, their operations can also be done mechanically (by calculators, computer programs that check grammar or syllogistic coherence, etc.) but since manifesting in external matter does not add to the perfection of the liberal art, calculating machines do not add to the liberal arts as such, nor can they be substitutes for them inasmuch as they are liberal.

(n.b. The things most often called arts, sc. The fine arts, are not dealt with here. They are an interesting category in and of themselves, sharing some likeness to the liberal arts, and to the technical arts. For those architects and city planners who read this blog, know that I am conflicted about the exact way to characterize your art. There is also a confusion concerning music, astronomy, and modern physics, though each in a different way)

 
8/02/2004
 
It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of an account of motion to natural philosophy. Even if we say natural philosophy is the study of motion, we will have point.

Motion has always been a confusing thing to give an account of. Even after any one account is given, it is difficult to understand it fully, to grasp what it means, and to determine what other accounts of motion it is opposed to, or supports.

The ancients and moderns gave different accounts of motion. I choose the word carefully. Whether the accounts are contrary, or contradictory, or compatible, or even if both necessarily imply the other cannot be discussed here- and it is impossible to give an unqualified answer anyway. But one major area of consideration is the consideration of projectile motion: i.e. the account of local motion occurring when the mobile is not in contact with the being that initiates the motion.

The concepts that the ancients and the moderns use with respect to projectile motion are different (that word again). There often seems to be few points of agreement. Every now and again one can find a particularly suggestive passage, one that hints at a possible resolution. This passage from the Summa Contra Gentiles, book III is a case in point:

Thus it is not difficult to see how natural bodies, devoid of intelligence, move and act for an end. For they tend to their end, being directed thereto by a subsistent intelligence, in the way that an arrow tends to its end, directed by the archer: as the arrow from the impulse of the archer, so do natural bodies receive their inclination to their natural ends from natural moving causes, whence they derive their forms and virtues and motions. Hence it is plain that every work of nature is the work of a subsistent intelligence.* The credit of an effect rests by preference with the prime mover, who guides instruments to their purpose, rather than with the instruments which he guides. Thus we find the operations of nature proceeding in due course and order to an end, like the the operations of a wise man.

It is striking to notice the invocation of projectile motion as an example of intelligent direction of things. Our first reaction to projectile motion is to see it as the absence of intelligent direction, because having shot the arrow, no effort of our mind can call it back again. What can we make of this?
 
Traditio aut Vanitas

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