Monday, October 28, 2013

Metaphysical Podiatry: Know Your Cosmos

Know your cosmos. Like anyone could do that, Napoleon.

Besides, is it even important that we do so? Man inhabits a variety of worlds, and it seems to us that the cosmic is the least of our worries.

For example, understanding the world of interpersonal relations is an urgent matter, because a human being isolated from his fellows will be stunted beyond recognition -- just a primate freak, really. Likewise, failure to pay heed to the physical environment will result in death or serious injury.

And failure to get politics right -- i.e., the science of group order -- results in even more death and serious injury, while failure to understand economic order can result in Obamacare or even worse, e.g., untreatable Krugmania.

There are various subworlds as well, such as the bacterial and quantum. Of the two, the former has obvious implications for survival (e.g., antibiotics), whereas the latter goes more to our flourishing (e.g., the resultant technology).

There is also moral order, sexual order, religious order... So, who cares if the cosmos is floating on a sea of quantum foam or sitting on the back of a giant turtle? Either way, there's nothing we can do about it.

Well, Yes and No. To say there's nothing we can do about it is to say that it represents necessary knowledge; and to say something is necessary is to say it is eternal, since it always is, and cannot not be. Therefore, to know the necessary truths of the cosmos is to touch eternity, and touching eternity is its own reward.

In other words, knowledge of eternity is utterly useless knowledge, since it is a means to no end. Thus, it is the most gloriously liberal (and therefore liberating) of all liberal arts, in comparison to which every other form of knowledge is just another servile art. Or in other words, we're ultimately talking about the primary distinction between slack and slacklessness (or O and Ø), so ironically, nothing could be more useful than this useless knowledge.

Or, in the inadvertently cosmic words of Lileks, "I think one's happiness and ability to feel at home in the world is directly related to one's ability -- one's incessant compulsion -- to invest the most commonplace observations with the most grandiose conclusions." Then again, one man's bleat is another man's prison.

It actually works both ways: we may proceed downhill, deploying the most grandiose principles to illuminate the most commonplace experiences; or uphill, seeing how the most commonplace experiences can lead to the most grandiose and far-reaching implications. So, it's really a two-way street -- in fact, the two-way street, in that it goes to the permanent dialectic between principles and experience, which is none other than metaphysics.

For what is metaphysics, really? Yes, it is "beyond physics," which means that every occasion of physical reality is just a special case of more general principles. These principles must be true, not just in this cosmos, but in any cosmos. In other words, they are the very principles of existence as such.

Some people think metaphysics is impossible. Which, ironically, is a transparent example of an impossible metaphysic. In reality, it is not possible to be human and not have a metaphysic, whether implicit or explicit. So the debate is not between metaphysics and no metaphysics, but simply between good and bad metaphysics.

Actually, that's an oversimplification, since, like mothering, there can be "good enough metaphysics," by which I mean that it is close enough to get one to the phoenix line.

What is an example of something that must be the case, and cannot possibly not be the case?

Interestingly, I am currently reading two authors who take antithetical positions on the subject, Hartshorne and Hart period. But it's not really correct to say they are antithetical to one another, since both are even more antithetical to any possible a-theistic position. In other words, both affirm that the non-existence of God is an impossible absurdity. But they have a fundamental disagreement as to the nature of God, or of ultimate reality.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I would have explicitly agreed with Hart, even while implicitly agreeing with Hartshorne. And that's a problem, i.e., when what one explicitly thinks doesn't jibe with what one implicitly feels, experiences, or "knows" in a direct and unmediated manner. Call it cosmic dissonance.

Most so-called liberals of my acquaintance suffer from a form of this malady, in that they support the liberal cause even while living very conservative lives. Thus, instead of preaching what they practice, they practice truth while preaching fashionable lies, tenured kookery, and general dysfunction.

For example, these well-to-do liberals are far more likely to get married and stay married than the dysfunctional lower classes for whom marriage is just another optional lifestyle, of no intrinsic value.

So that's a useful way to detect someone's metaphysic: don't pay attention to what they say, but what they do. People vote with their feet, and their feet are planted firmly in their implicit ground of being.

This instantly clears up so much metaphysical confusion. For example, no one who supposedly believes in determinism lives his life as if free will doesn't exist. No relativist behaves in a perfectly chaotic manner. No Darwinian derives his values from nature. No anti-gun nut refuses to defend himself. No pregnant woman believes in her bones that her fetus is just a part of her body, like the heart or spleen, only worthless. No one who believes in redistribution voluntarily redistributes his wealth. No Marxist behaves as if history is inevitable. Etc.

And when I say "no one," there are obvious exceptions, these being the true crazies. There are liberals who actually "walk it like they talk it," for example, demented parents who insist there are no intrinsic sexual differences, and raise their children to be post-gender freaks.

Anyway, if we examine feet instead of minds, perhaps we can have more widespread agreement about the nature of reality. Call it metaphysical podiatry.

To be continued...

8 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Thus, instead of preaching what they practice, they practice truth while preaching fashionable lies, tenured kookery, and general dysfunction.

Vanderleun has linked to a post at the Sultan's place today that seems relevant, on dissonance between form and function.

10/28/2013 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Most so-called liberals of my acquaintance suffer from a form of this malady, in that they support the liberal cause even while living very conservative lives. Thus, instead of preaching what they practice, they practice truth while preaching fashionable lies, tenured kookery, and general dysfunction.

That dissonance is exactly how I started to shift from left to more right. I realized I wasn't walking my talk. So I had to change my ways or change my mind. Changing my mind seemed more reasonable, and when the philosophical underpinnings for leftism started to look so weak and incoherent, then it made it that much easier.

Still some residual grist for the mill from my leftist days. And that keeps me from being libertarian or staunch republican. I think the founding fathers had the right balance with limited government and ordered liberty. But how we define limited and order will be where the battles always get fought.

10/28/2013 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, it's perfectly reasonable to have battles between more or less conservative liberals, but not with illiberal leftists who undermine the very principles of the system in which they work.

10/28/2013 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

I can't tell you how many of my leftist friends are praising the Russell Brand interview that recently went viral. A bit scary, and I could see the old me cheering this guy on too.

10/28/2013 02:34:00 PM  
Blogger Skorpion said...

ted: The most frightening thing about the Brand interview is how he nails the spiritual paucity of the atheist/materialist Left, and envisions a revolutionary Messianism. What rough beast slouches towards Berkeley?

10/28/2013 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

True. I'll bet that even the Krug balances his checkbook, or has his people do it.

10/28/2013 04:00:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"There was a time, not too long ago, when I would have explicitly agreed with Hart, even while implicitly agreeing with Hartshorne. And that's a problem, i.e., when what one explicitly thinks doesn't jibe with what one implicitly feels, experiences, or "knows" in a direct and unmediated manner. Call it cosmic dissonance."

Curious to see what, and the implications of that, are.

10/28/2013 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "...but not with illiberal leftists who undermine the very principles of the system in which they work."

I've an acquaintance from by band days, a DJ then, who is a full boat leftie, all concerned about all the official concerns and protective of any offense against those things we should show'awareness' of. But conservatives and 'tea baggers' are referred to in nothing short of the most potent obscenities the keyboard can muster. Not the least cognitive or cosmic dissonance can be mustered over the matter either.

If I ease into a question on healthcare, careful to avoid any hotbutton terms, I can get him to use actual words to describe what he is for, and against, and it is always particulars he wants to tear his bleeding heart out to defend ('the person with cancer needs help now!') and any hint of principle, which would, in his mind, withhold aid from those particulars (though in any examination of principle would show him to be putting the mass of people in peril and misery), brings the spittle back to the lips.

However, he doesn't see himself as unprincipled, his defense of those who must be protected from offensive terms, he sees as being principled, but insulting conservatives? Somehow not the same.

The leftist has no, and can have no, Principles, the closest he can come, are a set of particular instances united by the habit of a particular word and nothing more(Hello Mr. Hume).

Particulars over Principles, Quantities over Qualities, and the means to bridging the gap is lost in the vanishing point of perspective.

I fear the ultimate resolution will not be pretty.

10/28/2013 06:09:00 PM  

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