Friday, October 28, 2016

Limitless Science, Limitless State

"To limit thought you must think both sides of the limit."

I first heard that somewhere else in another form, but I can't remember where. Maybe it was Robert Rosen; he said something to the effect that no matter where you draw the line, there will be some part of one side on the other. My son ran into this dilemma a few weeks ago, when he was trying to imagine "nothing." Obviously, whatever you imagine, it will still be something.

Likewise, no matter where you draw the line between subject and object, there will nevertheless be some of one in the other. How's that? Well, to even call something an object -- to even notice it -- is to abstract some essence from it, so that it stands out from everything else. This is what Aristotle refers to as the "first act of mind," and there is no way around it short of lobotomy or tenure (but I repeat myself).

In fact, this is one of the things Socrates was attempting to explain to Kant yesterpost. More generally, a great many philosophers over the past several hundred years only believe what they do because they have simply dismissed people like Aristotle and Aquinas without bothering to understand them.

But it is written (in more than one Aphorism): To feign knowledge of a subject, it is advisable to adopt its most recent interpretation. And The only man that saves himself from intellectual vulgarity is the man who ignores what it is fashionable to know.

Truth cannot be measured by the calendar. Back when I was a liberal, I did not know this. So, for example, when I undertook the task of studying philosophy, I assumed that I could take a shortcut by ignoring pretty much everything before the 19th century, and just cutting to the chase. Why bother with all the antiquated stuff that's been superseded by better minds?

Therefore, I began at the end, with the existentialists (both philosophical and literary) -- Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, Kafka, and even "Christian existentialists" such as Kierkegaard and Berdayev (although I was thoroughly unqualified for the latter two).

Back to the paradox of limits. I think I also encountered the concept in various works of the Catholic philosopher of science Stanley Jaki. In fact, one of his books is called The Limits of a Limitless Science. That title popped into my head the other day, because I was thinking of how the tyrannical ideas of a "limitless science" and a "limitless state" are mutually reinforcing.

Think of the founders, who created what was supposed to be a limited government. Why? Well, for one thing, they were very much aware of the limits of man. Because man is morally flawed, self-interested, warped by passion, and subject to error, the last thing they wanted to do is to give this beast more power over the rest of us beasts.

But in the new and improved view of the left, there is no limit to knowledge and virtue -- their infamous Fatal Conceit -- and therefore no justifiable limit to the powers of the state. I don't have time to get into how many progressives have expressed this deeply moronic view, but happily, Jonah Goldberg has performed this service in his Liberal Fascism.

As I have said before, the battle war between left and right is not symmetrical. Let's say I believe leftists are deluded assouls. Conversely, leftists think I am deplorable. Fine. I have no problem with that. The difference is that the deplorables wish to have less power over the assouls, whereas the assouls wish to have more power over me.

But because man is what he is, there will always be more assouls than deplorables. The attack on deplorables is really a form of ethnic cleansing. But that is what the left does: it has no limits. Which is why the state can never be too powerful, taxes can never be too high, speech can never be too regulated, and thought can never be too policed.

Wait a minute. There's a switcheroo in there: how does the left go from having no limits to imposing all sorts of limits on our freedom?

Easy. In fact, there's an Ap... horism for that: As the state grows the individual shrinks. Therefore -- and you can look it up, i.e., crack a history book -- the limitless government of left wing statists inevitably ends in mortifying existential shrinkage.

What does this have to do with a limitless science? Only everything. For if science has no limits, it means that -- paradoxically -- man has all the more.

To back up a bit, the proper name for unlimited science is scientism, and as scientism grows, man necessarily shrinks. For example, if scientism says that man is just an ape with a couple more randomly evolved tricks, this hardly elevates the stature of man.

If only what is measurable is real, then whole dimensions of humanness are violently excised from our being. If free will is an illusion, then it is perfectly appropriate for the state to ignore our God-given liberties. If there is no soul, then abortion can provoke no moral qualms. Indeed, since morality itself is just a social convention, then we can ignore it altogether.

So, why is there no limit to the Clinton's greed, ambition, corruption, and will to power? Because there is no limit to the left's.

One of the severest tests of the scientific mind is to know the limits of the legitimate application of the scientific method. --Clerk Maxwell

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Skepticism of Skepticism

Ah, yes, the Total Explanation. I always have to check where we left off in order to begin anew. But this morning we don't have much time, let alone to explain everything. Then again, no amount of time would be sufficient to explain the timeless, so there's that.

In addition to being entitled to a Total Explanation, I also believe it should be accessible to Pure Thought (via the quasi-divine Intellect). I suppose that's why I am so drawn to Schuon: he comes closer than anyone to a Total Explanation via Pure Intellect.

Frankly, this used to be the whole point of philosophy. Then Kant came along and said that there can be no Total Explanation, because all we are really explaining is ourselves. This is said to be a great advance in the progress of philosophy, when in actuality it is just giving up. It is an a priori surrender. Like anyone could know that you can't know it all!

Which sounds like a joke, but it isn't. I remember Peter Kreeft expressing this view in his Socrates Meets Kant. That is, unlike all previous philosophers (although Descartes no doubt -- or dubiously, rather -- paved the way), Kant presumes to begin in epistemology rather than being.

In the words Kreeft puts into his mouth, Kant claims that being "conforms to our knowledge rather than our knowledge conforming to being," such that "in knowing, the known object conforms to the knowing subject rather than vice versa."

Therefore, we don't really know being -- or the world -- at all. Rather, "the form, or intelligible content, of our knowledge comes from us rather than the world."

There you have it: a Total Explanation that explains precisely nothing!

Nice trick. The left has been dining out on it ever since, with the rest of us picking up the bill. For here is where Perception is elevated to Reality -- to the point that one's own mental troubles are conflated with Micro-aggressors everywhere:

"Reason's job [is] not to mirror the nature of things but to construct the nature of things, as an artist constructs his art: not to discover the form in the matter and abstract into universal principles, but to put the form in the matter, to impose the form on the matter as a sculptor imposes shape on marble, or a musician imposes melody on sound."

Kant presumed to critique the efficacy of pure reason. Fair enough. But Socrates-Kreeft turns the tables on him by similarly critiquing the Critique: now who's the more critical, Kant or Coon?

Here is how Socrates picks Kant apart using nothing more than the everyday power of pure thought:

"If Aristotle is wrong about knowledge mirroring reality and you are right about reality mirroring knowledge, it seems that you still have to assume his old notion of truth when you say that your new notion of truth is true, or the way things really are."

Kant: wha? (I'm paraphrasing.)

The point is, if Kant is correct, then it necessarily leads to what I said yesterday about man's stupidity being total and ineradicable:

"We must give up the whole of the task of philosophy as it was so nobly conceived by two thousand years of philosophers before you. We must cease claiming to know truth..." In short, if truth cannot be known, how can Kant's critique be true?

Kreeft-Socrates tosses in a nice gag by Wittgenstein, that "to limit thought you must think both sides of the limit."

Heh. Out of time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I Demand a Total Explanation!

So: the arc of history bends toward its own fulfillment, its Omega point, which we can aldously see from Here-and-now, boys. Or at least the view is on offer; it is forced on no one.

I was thinking about this yesterday during a walk; I've mentioned this before, but I believe that every man, living in any time or in any place, has the intrinsic right to a Total Explanation, or at least as much of an explanation as he can assimilate. God furnishes this explanation in the form of religion, and religion coevolves with man (for example, polytheism is prior to monotheism, or exterior sacrifice prior to interior).

You may think to yourselves: wha? But for the vast majority of human history, these explanations were indeed adequate. Yesterday while reading Sowell's revised edition of Wealth, Poverty and Politics, I was reminded that 95% of human history took place even before the discovery of agriculture; or in other words, "virtually everything that we today recognize as civilization dates from the beginning of agriculture" during the last 5% of our existence.

We don't know much about what sort of Total Explanation man had for himself during the vast 95%, because written language hadn't been invented. But I'll bet you anything it was adequate. I say this because it has only been in the last 1% or less of our existence -- basically in the last 200 years -- that people have begun to reject our venerable Total Explanations, and even to say that no such explanation is possible -- which means in effect that man's stupidity is total.

Actually, if my math is correct, it's only been in the last .02% of our existence (200 ÷ 100,000). If so, that is a rather tiny blip on the scale. It might well be that we are merely going through a brief period of transition, as the Total Explanation reconstitutes on a higher and more comprehensive scale. Certainly this is what we endeavor to do around here: to preserve the God-given Total Explanation via assimilation of new knowledge and perspectives. Nor do we care where it comes from, so long as it is True.

For example, it was really only in the last century that the various revelations came into full contact with one another. There was some scattered contact in the 19th century -- e.g., Schopenhauer falling in love with his translation of a translation of the Upanishads, or Vivekananda speaking to the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1893. I wonder what he said to the curious audience?

Here: "In this speech Vivekananda tried to explain the reason of disagreement between each other and different sects and religions. He told the story of a frog. In the story, a frog used to live in a well. It was born there and brought up there and it used to think his well was the biggest body of water in the world.

"One day, a frog from the sea came to that well. When the frog from the sea told the frog of the well that the sea is much bigger than that well, the frog of the well didn't believe it and drove the frog of the sea away from his well. Vivekananda concluded: 'That has been the difficulty all the while. I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Muslim sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world.'"

Remember, that was just the start. A little over half a century later, Schuon published his first major work, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, in which he attempts to tackle just this problem: the coexistence of diverse Total Explanations. For him, religion was an expression of universal metaphysics. Thus, this solves the problem of diversity -- just as, analogously, the "problem of color" is really an extension of the existence of light. As color issues from light, religion issues from universal metaphysics (and likewise faith from intellect).

I am not critiquing this idea, merely setting it forth. However, bear in mind that there are only four other alternatives upon discovering that other peoples have their own Total Explanations: we can insist that only ours is correct and all the others wrong; dismiss all of them as equally wrong; pick and choose what we like from this or that one; or find some way to harmonize them. Note that the latter need not necessarily be accomplished "horizontally," but rather, can be approached vertically and hierarchically (which is what I attempt to do).

In my view, our Total Explanation can profit a great deal by learning about the other guy's Total Explanation. For Schuon, each "intrinsically orthodox religion" may "serve as a means of expressing all the truths known directly by the eye of the Intellect..." Whereas for a few people these universal truths are directly accessible by the Intellect, for most they are only accessible via faith -- which I think is where the real inter-religion problem arises, because faith tends to particularize the universal, and thus have difficulty appreciating the other guy's view.

If only people could appreciate their religion from the summit and not the foothills! Even Islam would be cleansed of its low-lying troubles -- as is seen in the case of Sufism, which doesn't hurt anybody.

Consider the sixth commandment, Thou shall not murder. I ask you: do you not murder because it's a commandment, or because your higher intellect spontaneously knows this in the form of natural law -- i.e. the law engraved on your heart?

For me -- and probably you -- it is the latter. And yet, it is a commandment. Therefore, we can assume that there was a time when this wasn't so easily recognized, which is precisely why God had to emphasize it. My point is that the sixth commandment is an example of a universal truth, accessible via the intellect, particularized in dogma. Others are easily accessible to the awakened intellect, e.g., don't steal, don't lie, don't envy, don't worship graven images, etc.

This reminds me of another thought that popped into my head yesterday: that the gift of speech obligates one to be honest. Can you see why? First of all, if truth doesn't exist, then speech is ultimately as pointless as the chirping of insects. But "free speech" can only be given to a free being, and responsibility is naturally prior to freedom (freedom is meaningless in the absence of responsibility or duty or obligation). Therefore speech obligates us to the truth. But how many people can work this out on their own? So we just give them the commandment -- which is again a kind of prolongation of intellect into faith. Faith is a kind of light, only it is a reflected light.

Nor can we know everything via the intellect -- or at least I can't. However, once you begin to appreciate how much universal truth the intellect is capable of seeing, then you start to have more faith in faith, as it were. It's like the old crack: I believe in order to understand. You do this in the faith that your faith is a prolongation of the intellect, and that your faith will over time be increasingly illuminated by the intellect from which it proceeds.

This whole post veered into unanticipated byways. We'll leave off with an Aphorism or two:

All truths converge upon one truth, but the roads have been barricaded.

And In order for a multitude of diverse terms to coexist, it is necessary to place them on different levels. A hierarchical ordering is the only one that neither expels nor suppresses them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Arc (and Arc) of History

Continuing with the theme of principles of history, it seems that history can have no meaning if it has no end. In this sense, "end" has two connotations, i.e., conclusion and purpose.

Obviously we can't know what something is for until we see what it is. Thus, until we've seen all of history, we can't know what any of it was for.

As Balthasar observes, "until the last of us has lived, the significance of the first cannot finally be clear" (in Dawson). I am reminded of, say, a British soldier who dies during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. In all likelihood he died thinking the Nazis won World War II.

Has anyone seen all of history? Supposedly yes. For example, "Before Abraham was, I am," or "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." These are statements that can only be made from a perspective beyond history.

Time is an expression of the timeless; or at least the two are in a ceaseless dialectic. Everyone knows there is eternity in time, but I believe there must be something analogous to time in eternity. It is a Greek prejudice that time = ungood and timeless = doubleplus good.

In any event, Dawson writes that "It is through Christianity above all that man first acquired that sense of unity and purpose in history without which the spectacle of... unending change becomes meaningless and oppressive." To be sure, Jews had the idea, but Christians claim to have its fulfillment.

Er, we're just winging it this morning, as usual, hoping that this post -- like history -- will reveal its own point at some point.

Quinn (in Dawson) makes reference to the "Augustinian sense of the past as both timebound and timeless; as action humanly complete yet still striving for greater completion, towards fulfillment beyond time."

Exactly. As Dávila says, "The real history exceeds what merely happened." Thus, -- in a point we've belabored before -- a photograph of Christ on the cross would not better inform us what the event was all about than scripture, and better yet, scripture illuminated by the Spirit.

Note that in one sense there can be no general principles in history, in that every event is unique and unrepeatable. It "cannot be made intelligible unless bound into some larger scheme of order, predictability, recurrence," for "randomness has no meaning" (ibid.).

How do we reconcile the radically individual and the metacosmic universal? Perhaps you have a better idea, but I can't imagine anything other than Incarnation, which is precisely the universal-become-individual. The particular on its own can never become universal; the part cannot be the whole. But the whole can be in the part, and in a sense must be in the part in order for it to be a part and not an atomistic monad.

You might say that Christ is the incarnation of this very principle -- for something cannot happen unless it is possible in principle. Think again of the Jews, who had the principle but not (from the Christian perspective) its instantiation.

Hegelians and Marxists claim to have disclosed the principle of history, which reaches us in its most vulgarized form in the likes of Obama and the progressive left. For example, as Obama likes to say, "the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice."

Well, as Dávila reminds us in his pointed way, "Our last hope is in God's injustice." Obama had better hope he doesn't get what he deserves! Likewise Black Lives Matter and the whole no-justice-no-peace crowd. In a just world, Hillary would be behind bars and the IRS would be shut down.

The progressive merely denies divinity and replaces it with his own pseudo-absolute. He calls it "social justice," which in one sense -- as Hayek has explained -- is not even meaningless, just nonsense. But it's worse than nonsense, for it is "the term used to claim anything to which we do not have a right" (Dávila).

Or in other words, "social justice" is founded upon injustice -- just as leftist dreams of "equality" can only be achieved via grotesque inequalities (e.g., state enforced discrimination). In short, the primary cause of inequality is liberty and equality, just as the inequality between two pitchers is due to the equality of the strike zone. The umpire doesn't make the bad pitcher's strike zone bigger in order to equalize the two.

I'll conclude with Quinn's observation that Christ is "Lord of History. He is the moment from which all moments derive their meaning. He is the norm by which all moments derive their meaning. Christ entered History. He enters it still. He is History."

So the arc of history bends toward its Omega point, which we can see always from Here. And if the Cubs should win the World Series, their fans will not see the eschaton through a glass, darkly, but face to face.

Monday, October 24, 2016

In History but Not Of It

Does history reveal a principle? Or does one require a principle -- a kind of master key -- in order to approach and understand it? It reminds me of an Aphorism, that Truth is in history, but history is not the truth.

History is not the truth. But Truth is in history. This aphorism rings a bell, but now that I'm staring directly at it, the meaning eludes me. I'm going to let it stew for awhile in the right brain, and come back to it.

The Christian view would be that history requires a key, and that this key is Christ. Whatever else Christ is, he is the key to history. For example, think of how the early Christians read Christ into their own backstory, the Hebrew Bible. Christ was not only the key that illuminated it, but the telos toward which it had been heading all along.

Which brings to mind another Aphorism, that Everything in history begins before we think it begins, and ends after we think it ends.

Take again the example of Christ. Upon his death -- his "end" -- the disciples discovered that his "beginning" was not merely with his birth; rather, that he was prior to any physical beginning ("In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God"). The same principle allowed them to understand previously mysterious utterances such as "Before Abraham was, I Am."

And of course, his end was only a beginning, and this beginning has been handed off from person to person down to the present day. When does it end? "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." So in reality, he is before the beginning and after the end. No wonder history is not the truth -- for one thing, it is in time -- it is time -- whereas truth is timeless.

So, to say that truth is in history is another way of saying that the eternal is in time, and that this is what we call history. If the eternal is not in time, then history is indeed a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing more than tenure.

You might say that history is transfigured in and by Christ. Note that the reverse is not true -- that Christ is not transfigured by history.

But what exactly do we mean by transfiguration? It is "a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state." Surely history could never accomplish this to anyone, at any time. Nor could Darwin, for that matter -- which is why, for example, The laws of biology alone do not have fingers delicate enough to fashion the beauty of a face.

For what is beauty if not a kind of transfiguration of matter? From whence does this power come? From matter itself? How could that be? You might well say that "Truth is in matter, but matter is not the truth." For in beauty, the wall of matter is turned into a window of spirit, revealing a metaphysical transparency that surely transcends any version of vulgar materialism.

Beauty is here to teach us. Pay attention! For it is one of the primordial links between man and God. It begins before we think it begins -- in spirit -- and ends after we think it ends -- it has no expiration date.

How did we get here? Well, I have a pile of books on my desk which might go to the subject of Cosmic Principles (our recent cooncern), one of which is Christopher Dawson's Dynamics of World History, which I read about twelve years ago. I pulled it down because I thought it might shed some light on this path we've been exploring the last couple of weeks.

Dawson was a great historian, and a Christian historian. This does not mean that he was merely a "historian of Christianity" -- although he was that too -- but that for him, Christianity was the key that opened the whole existentialada; it is the truth of which history is the reflection (not to put words in his mouth; I'm sure he would express it differently).

Here are a few notes I scribbled to mysoph in the back of the book. They must be important, or I wouldn't have bothered plagiarizing with them).

"Every historian has a meta-history; the best ones know it."

"Secularism is religious emotion divorced from religious belief."

"Contempt for religion is a historically conditioned product of a particular historical time and place; worship of rationality is irrational."

"History is not complete; we participate in it. And yet, it is complete. It has an end."

"When contemplating the past, we see something unfolding in time. Or is it a timeless paradigm, an act of imagination in which elements of the past are held together in our imagination?"

That last one brings to mind an Aphorism: Authentic history is the transfiguration of the raw event by intelligence and imagination.

Here is something from the introduction, written by Dermot Quinn: "The fact does not tell the story; the story, as it were, tells the fact.... To see meaning beyond the local is to see it in the local."

And here we are again, seeing truth in the facts, even while facts are not the truth. So I guess my right brain figured it out.

To really round this off, we could agree with the well known gag that "the past is a foreign country." If so, then Christ would be the key to trancelighting it into terms we can understand.

"History and theology are nothing if not meditations on the nature of Time itself. Their shared object of inquiry is human time, sacred time, even that mysterious eternal moment that is Christ Himself" (Quinn).

And "to the Christian the mystery of history is not completely dark, since it is a veil which only partially conceals the creative activity of spiritual forces and the operation of spiritual laws" (Dawson). (All Aphorisms courtesy Nicolás Gómez Dávila.)