Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Half a Truth is No Better than None

We ended yesterday's post wondering about That to which intelligence must be an adequation. The only adequate answer can be to truth, to reality, to being. Otherwise, what we call intelligence is an inexplicable cosmic indulgence of no significance at all, maybe even a dirty genetic trick. Whitehead had a good line about that... let's see if I can find it.

By the way, for a guy who wrote the unwieldy Process and Reality, Whitehead sure came up with a lot of memorable wisecracks. Would it really have been asking too much for him to write his magnum opus in the same pithy manner?

Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance is the death of knowledge.

It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.

The misconception which has haunted philosophic literature throughout the centuries is the notion of 'independent existence.' There is no such mode of existence; every entity is to be understood in terms of the way it is interwoven with the rest of the universe.

We think in generalities, but we live in details.

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order.

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.

Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.

Philosophy begins in wonder. And at the end when philosophic thought has done its best the wonder remains.

The foundation of reverence is this perception, that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity.

Nobody has a right to speak more clearly than he thinks.

There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.

The man was an Aphorism Machine. Any one of these pungent specimens could be expanded into a fully bloviated post... which I guess would defeat their purpose. That last crack is especially near 'n dear to my heart, as failure to adhere to it is responsible for virtually every philosophical, religious, and political nul de slack.

Most thinkers start by tossing out one side of an irreducible complementarity, and then taking it from there. But once they make that initial error, they can never recover the half they threw out. The idealist can never recover the empirical, and the empiricist can never account for the ideal. To pretend to transcend the subject-object complementarity is to... to pretend, that's what.

In fact, most of those aphorisms convey a hint of complementarity, for example, the need to preserve order amidst change and change amidst order; likewise generalities/details, philosophy/wonder, time/eternity, ignorance/knowledge, obvious/subtle, independence/dependence, conscious/unconscious, etc. Toss out one side of these and you have excused yourself from reality.

What about the aphorism I was looking for? Something about the world being reduced to an absurdity at one end and a dream at the other. In other words, if there is no knowledge of reality, then what we call reality is just an impenetrable cloud of absurdity, and what we call knowledge is just the idle dreaming of a featherless biped.

Clearly, most heresies arise from the sundering of an orthoparadox, e.g., faith/works, human/divine, omnipotence/freedom, creativity/determinacy, scripture/tradition, slack/duty, etc.

No other animal can rebel against its nature. Indeed, it is its nature. Man too has a nature, but he is uniquely free to violate it.

This itself is another orthopardox, in the sense that man is the creature whose nature includes the freedom to go against his own nature. But the postmodernist interprets the same phenomena to mean that man has no nature. In other words, man's failure to comport to his own nature is interpreted to mean he doesn't have one, and then gravity takes care of the rest.

I think Genesis attempts to convey this orthoparadox via the parable of the Fall. For clearly, if man is created, then he must have a nature. But because this nature includes freedom -- a freedom which is simply inexplicable if he is not created -- he is free to rebel against it, and then the Supreme Court takes care of the rest.

This question of "human nature" is an important one, because if we get that wrong, then there is little chance that we'll get anything else right. For to say that man has no nature is precisely equivalent to nihilism and therefore absurdity. If one is honest, there is simply no other possible conclusion.

However, if there are, for example, "self-evident truths," then this is because man has a nature, and this nature is a mode of the universal. It is universal because truth is always true, and thus a reflection of absoluteness.

This, I think, is where the infinite can play havoc, because there is always the Many, and it is possible to isolate one strand of the many to the exclusion of the One.

Or, to reiterate what Whitehead says above, we forget that we think in generalities but live in details; and that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence.

That is all. A little chaotic around here, with mother-in-law arriving tomorrow and other deviations from my sacred rutine.

10 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

Nobody has a right to speak more clearly than he thinks.

That ought to dry up all the inkwells in a fifty mile radius of Washington, D.C.

2/04/2014 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Mushroom, lol. Yes, if only...

2/04/2014 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Rebelling against one's nature reminds me of the comedian who said that he stayed a hippie when he had kids so they would rebel and become preppies.

Unfortunately, after a couple of generations of degeneration, we have kids with no resistance when they hit puberty. Is repulsive, spasmodic twerking the ultimate movement of nihilism?

2/04/2014 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger neal said...

I think for humans the freedom to reverse polarity without permission was a mistake. Most got stuck, unstable orbits. That is probably idiot savant stuff, I do not know why walking with childlike faith, and a head full of Catch 22, does not appear reasonable, and natural. Instead, showing up like this looks backwards, that is amusing, and sad.

2/04/2014 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

"Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance is the death of knowledge."

It's always good to know that there are unknown unknowns, isn't it?

2/04/2014 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

"Unfortunately, after a couple of generations of degeneration, we have kids with no resistance when they hit puberty. Is repulsive, spasmodic twerking the ultimate movement of nihilism?"

No.

However, it the logical result of looking to Madonna as your role model.

And it looks really stupid, which is worse for those twerks than if it was merely depraved.

2/04/2014 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance is the death of knowledge."

Brings to mind this Proverb: The fear of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.

Lots to coontemplate from that wisecrack alone.

2/04/2014 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Philosophy begins in wonder. And at the end when philosophic thought has done its best the wonder remains."

Aye! If there ain't no wonder throughout and at the end then it's a screwy philosophy.
Actually, not even a philosophy at all.

2/04/2014 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Nobody has a right to speak more clearly than he thinks."

Ha ha! That is good!

2/04/2014 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance is the death of knowledge."

Yep. And those pursuing Artificial Intelligence have a related problem. Getting a computer to arrive at decisions that we'll take to be intelligent is not the problem they face; getting a computer to make an error is the insurmountable problem they (unwittingly) face.

2/05/2014 01:59:00 PM  

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