Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Human Nature: The Adventure of a Lifetime

According to my unofficial records, I originally read Maritain's The Degrees of Knowledge over a decade ago, when I was so much older and couldn't possibly have understood what he's on about. While I clearly grasped some of it -- the highlighted passages tell me so -- attempting to read it cold, with no background in AristThomilean philosophy, is a little like pulling a textbook on quantum chemistry off the shelf and expecting to get anything out of it but a headache.

Two of the things I did understand are playgiarised within the bʘʘk (on pp. 73 and 93 for those keeping score at home):

"The mind, even more so than the physical world and bodily organisms, possesses its own dimensions, its structure and internal hierarchy of causalities and values -- immaterial though they may be" (emphasis mine, because that is a bold statement: the mind has more structure than the physical world? Well, it's true, otherwise we couldn't apprehend all the structure in this mythterious world of boundless intelligibility.).

The other passage is this: "Existing reality is therefore composed of nature and adventure. This is why it has a direction in time and by its duration constitutes an (irreversible) history -- these two elements are demanded by history, for a world of pure natures would not stir in time; there is no history for Platonic archetypes; nor would a world of pure adventure have any direction; there is no history for thermodynamic equilibrium."

These two statements bear upon ultimate reality, the former on the substance of human beings, the latter on the form of history. But the two cannot be separated, since history is what happens to humans; in a way, it is the substance of our lives. Therefore, an individual life is also comprised of nature and adventure. Your life is an adventure in nature, or nature having an adventure. Bon voyage! And véridique, while you're at it.

In this context, the word "nature" has nothing to do with vulgar naturalism. Rather, it is a term of art referring to the "nature of things," i.e., their essential nature (which is what the Founders intend when they refer in the first sentence of the Declaration to the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God"; they are referring to natural law, not to physics or biology).

A common caricature of conservatives is that we are all for nature (i.e., transcendent order), but not so big on adventure. Conversely, contemporary liberals are all about adventure, but reject any essential, God-given order.

But the True Path, as suggested by Maritain and reaffirmed by Petey just this morning, again involves nature and adventure. Except that the former word, because of contemporary accretions, no longer captures and conveys the intended meaning.

Nor, for that matter, does the phrase Chance & Necessity, in Monod's formulation; or Order Out of Chaos, in Prigogine's; or Adventures of Ideas, in Whitehead's; or Design for Evolution, in Jantsch's; or Science, Order, & Creativity, in Bohm's; or Psychoanalysis, Chaos, and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure, in oldBøb's; etc.

There was a time that I believed those works did the job, but again, I was so much older then. Only now that I am far younger is this blog even possible, in the sense that its operation involves grabbing the wheel of the cosmic bus and plunging forward on an adventure in nature -- into the nature of things. If this latter did not exist -- if there were no road, or worse yet, a road to nowhere -- then our path would be just a big nul de slack.

Or, to be perfectly accurate, the plunge into chaos would at first feel like an adventure. That part is true, because I remember it. But the absence of order would get old very quickly. Then we'd be flailing around for some kind of order to replace the one we denied.

Now you understand how the chaologists of the left inevitably veer into tyranny, with an "unnatural nature" of their own invention imposed upon us. The anarchic Summer of Love quickly devolves to the coercive and bullying Climate of Hate (that part of manmade climate change is true).

In other worlds, only by denying our real nature, our essence, can leftists proceed with their grim project. Once one denies human nature, then one can do anything with impunity: redefine marriage, jettison liberty, appropriate private property, break (or coerce) contracts, steal from future generations (or just kill them), whatever.

Back to this world. Maritain discusses the question of how the cosmic laws can be necessary, while the events are contingent.

Well, just because there is a Law, this doesn't imply any mechanistic/deterministic framework. For example, there are strict rules in baseball, but every game is different. I've been a baseball fan since I was nine years old, and I still see things I've never seen before.

One reason science is inadequate to disclose reality is that it deals in the necessary, not the contingent. A wholly contingent reality would not be susceptible to scientific description.

Interestingly, this bears on the human adventure, in that science obviously applies to human beings. And yet, every human is unique, an unrepeatable individual. How does that work?

Again, our nature is on an adventure. And the nature of human nature is diversity within form, so no one is having the same adventure, even though there's only one nature and one world.

This post shall be called Human Nature: The Adventure of a Lifetime. But I guess it could equally be called Human Adventure: The Nature of a Lifetime. Or Human Lifetime: The Nature of an Adventure.

16 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

Existing reality is therefore composed of nature and adventure. This is why it has a direction in time and by its duration constitutes an (irreversible) history ...

While I was out on my bike (The Enterprise) Sunday afternoon, watching the road roll away and all, I was trying to think something like this through. If I could have figured out a way to verbalize it, I would have posted it, but, as it turns out, I didn't need to.

Thank you.

2/28/2012 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

"A common caricature of conservatives is that we are all for nature (i.e., transcendent order), but not so big on adventure."

There are adventures, and then there are Adventures. Towards the end of the movie "The Incredibles," the father (Mr. Incredible), acknowledges that they, not his hidden/selfish exertions on some island but they, his family, "are his biggest adventure."

There was a time when I would've regarded that acknowledgment as his personal defeat, as his scaling back of his desires, as his taking on the yoke, of forfeiting his Ubermensch nature, of becoming a slave, part of the herd, etc.

How absurd it was to think that. When we act selfishly, we are being false to ourselves, who are deeply connected to all around us, and especially to our families. In that selfishness, we are not really ourselves, but a reduction of ourselves. So there is no Great Adventure when you're talking about so drastically reduced a person.

No. The great adventure is to lose these reductions, to embrace your temperament in its totality, and the totality of your relations, and to see *that* integral thing as the actor in history that has adventures. *That* is the real adventurer, not the fragments of oneself that are so divided, and therefore feckless, weak, and partial.

The real adventure is living a satisfying, integrated life in the context of one's relations and responsibilities.

2/28/2012 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"In other worlds, only by denying our real nature, our essence, can leftists proceed with their grim project. Once one denies human nature, then one can do anything with impunity: redefine marriage, jettison liberty, appropriate private property, break (or coerce) contracts, steal from future generations (or just kill them), whatever."

Yep. It begins (as it did begin back with Rousseau, once Metaphysics & Reality were no longer a concern) with denying that people have responsibility for their own actions and puts the blame on their environment and society for their problems. What isn't stated so openly is that that can only be done by denying that any have free will of their own, which means that you can't be expected to make your own choices because, obviously, you have no ability to choose in the first place - your life is a result of your environment.

Therefore the environment must be reshaped to better serve 'the people'... which... means that the people themselves, must be very literally, re-formed, in order to fit the idealized shape which visionary leaders have in mind.

Where that ends up is that your life (not to be mentioned or thought of again by those who somehow do have the ability to make choices), is associated with those of whatever group or class of society the belong to, and are merely features of that milieu, human capital, to be expended as needed to achieve humanitarian goals, for the greater good... which, unfortunately, may or may not be served by your life being continued.

IOW: Change you can count on.

2/28/2012 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Hmm. I see a subscribe by email on my phone, but not on my pc... Anyone else? or am I just special again?

2/28/2012 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

... doesn't look like it worked though....

2/28/2012 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Ah, e-link working, just delayed.

chchchchanges.....

2/28/2012 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

Van

I'm no expert on Rousseau, but in The Social Contract, he also said:

"The bounds of the possible in moral matters are less narrow than we think: it is our weaknesses, our vices, our prejudices, that constrict them."

Amour-propre (love of self based on comparison with others) was the problem. He saw the vices of the hoity-toities and was rightly disgusted by their social world.

What bothers me about his thought is his elevation of the Legislator.

I also don't know enough about Maritain, who is apparently revered by the Catholic Left at the same time his Thomism is embraced by the Catholic Right. Maybe left and right don't make sense as categories when it comes to these guys.

"Climate of Hate"

Definitely misanthropogenic!

2/28/2012 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Not sure why Maritain would be admired by the left. He was certainly hostile to Marxism, and this book of his on natural rights is in my shopping cart. Maybe because he apparently had something to do with the UN's bogus declaration of human rights.

2/28/2012 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

(Van - you're not the only one missing a subscribe button. I really hate this reformat; I suppose Google had their reasons, but the comment sections are now uglier to read, and the lack of a subscribe button is beyond annoying. What the hell, Google?)

2/28/2012 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Verdiales @ 11:29, that was a great comment. Thanks.

Apropos the killing of future generations, "Ethicists" Argue for Post-Birth Abortions.

2/28/2012 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Apropos adventures, liberals only like a certain kind - mostly sexual, it seems. Or something utopian and generally incompatible with actual life. If it's about American military valor, it's right out.

2/28/2012 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Verdailes said "What bothers me about his thought is his elevation of the Legislator."

As you should be, since he saw the legislator as the One who would be uniquely endowed with the wisdom and foresight to legislate whatever it took to reform mankind in his image, which would necessarily "This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free."

From hisSocial Contract,,

"In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses. "

, and a bit further on, in " Book II, CHAPTER IV The limits of the sovereign power

"If the State is a moral person whose life is in the union of its members, and if the most important of its cares is the care for its own preservation, it must have a universal and compelling force, in order to move and dispose each part as may be most advantageous to the whole. As nature gives each man absolute power over all his members, the social compact gives the body politic absolute power over all its members also; and it is this power which, under the direction of the general will, bears, as I have said, the name of Sovereignty. "

It is very easy to find nice sounding snippets of Rousseau, he was a good writer, even bits that make him sound as if he was actually pro-liberty (as an American would understand it, well, of the Founders era anyway), such as the bit that appears under his picture in every social studies book "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains", but as you read in detail what he had to say... he was a monster.

Marx had almost nothing to say that couldn't be found in Rousseau having said it first, it's only that Rousseau was skillful enough to make it sound so swell. But what he said was that Civilization was evil, Property was the First evil, Marriage the second and Family the worst evil of all, all of which needed to be abolished... so that man could be forced to be free.

There was a reason why the first Fascist leader, Robesspierre, slept with Rousseau's works under his pillow, he applied his ideas in the way they were meant and intended, the Terror was no accident of the times, it was a direct result of the fundamentals of Rousseau's ideas, and which were what the French Revolution was founded upon.

"He saw the vices of the hoity-toities and was rightly disgusted by their social world"

Yeah... but remember also, this was the guy who cared so much about children... that he took each of his infants (5?) from their Mother's breast, and sent them to certain death at at 'foundling hospital'. This was the guy who got his jollies dropping his drawers at ladies windows in the night, and maybe best of all, this was the guy, in the age of Mozart, who sought a new system of musical notation which would as near as was possible, remove harmonies from music, so that the single minded melody could be all.

He's also the guy whose ideas upon education, have formed the core of modern education ever since.

Gee... how did we get where we are today?

2/28/2012 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Perfect example in today's Taranto of how the left abandons the law, only in order to impose a new one: a feminist columnist has no problem with a homesexual man having an affair with his twin brother, but absolutely rips a guy just for wanting to have a stay-at-home wife. Truly, abnormal is the new normal.

2/28/2012 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Verdiales, any comment that references "The Incredibles" gets extra points in my book.

2/28/2012 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Verdailes said "How absurd it was to think that. When we act selfishly, we are being false to ourselves, who are deeply connected to all around us, and especially to our families. In that selfishness, we are not really ourselves, but a reduction of ourselves. So there is no Great Adventure when you're talking about so drastically reduced a person."

Well said.

I don't think I'm stretching it too far to say that that emphasis upon the self, an emphasis upon the immediate, the tangible, the physical stimulation of endorphin based pleasure at the expense of conceptual and moral 'pleasure', is on a par with our manic attempt to focus upon Skills in 'education', as opposed to moral understanding.

Modern 'education' focuses upon inculcating all sorts of skills (which it never can quite seem to accomplish), while turning away from any and all materials which have the promise of bringing students into contact with materials of real imagination and depth. The absolute triviality and shallowness of 'teaching' facts and skills, while shunning the depths that only a true education can bring - there is a reason why everything from Homer and the Bible to Cicero and Plutarch was targeted for elimination from our schools almost from the start, beginning around 1800, and it had little to do with ensuring that we'd be able to 'compete with the Chinese (Russians, Germans, Japanese, etc)!', though that was how it was sold then too (it got its first big success with 'educating the rebelliousness out of the South').

Being able to repeat the Pythagorean theorem is useful, but it isn't what made us #1; being moral individuals, capable of self-governance and having a respect for a law that's inspired by what is True, that was a great part of what made us a people capable of being #1.

And that is gone from all of our curriculums.

There are many areas today that turn our virtues against us, but this one has been in place the longest, and the elimination of real imagination has been followed by a loss of adventure as well, as well as the willingness to stand up for what you know is right and true... but good golly, can we ever spot the skills and rights needed to right the wrong of women having to spend up to $3,000 on contraception just to get through Law School.

How can we be so selfish as to deny picking up that tab for her?

Ugh.

2/28/2012 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

Van

Great comments, and thanks for listing Rousseau's epic faults, which are many, disturbing, and destructive. More than I knew!

Mushroom

I love that movie. And speaking of adventures, "Up" is another great one. At least it starts great. The first ten minutes are a silent film that had me gripping the armrests, I was so moved.

2/29/2012 07:09:00 AM  

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