Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Doubting Doubt and Ironizing Irony

This post didn't get very far. Still, it's quite foundational. If you want to build a mansion, don't skimp on the foundation.

In the previous post we discussed the difference between cranio-psychic vs cardio-pneumatic knowledge. We didn't use those words, but we're using them now because they sound more sophisticated than head and heart.

Now, it is popular to believe that there is only one kind of knowledge, or at least only one that counts. In short, there is knowledge and there is opinion, the latter not really knowledge at all. Real knowledge resides in the head. How do we know this? Our heads told us so.

Which is a transparent case of special pleading. No one should be a judge in his own cause, and here we have the cranium judging the merits of its own content. Not fair! You will notice that the head has slipped a principle in through the side door while pretending it is simply being "objective." Clever bastard, that left brain!

There are actually two buried principles: first, that "I can prove what is true," and second, that "What I can prove is all that is true." The first simply assumes what it needs to prove, while the second assumes that other forms of knowledge aren't true. How convenient. It's like saying "only quantifiable claims are true." Okay, prove it!

In reality, the knowledge we cannot prove dwarfs the knowledge we can. None of us could get through a single day if we demanded proof of everything. A stranger is putting material into my mailbox. He says he's the mailman, but how do I know?

Here is how Schuon explains it:

"Kantians" -- a metonym for the modern mentality -- "will ask us to prove the existence of this [our cardio-pneumatic] way of knowing; and herein is the first error, namely that only what can be proved de facto is knowledge; the second error, which immediately follows the first, is that a reality that one cannot prove -- that is to say which one cannot make accessible to some artificial and ignorant mental [read: cranio-psychic] demand -- by reason of this apparent lack of proof, does and cannot exist."

Again, our cranio-psychic friends simply forget all about their assumptions, pretending to find them at the end instead of loading them in the beginning. Sneaky!

Recall the two images from last Friday: Kantian "head knowledge" is always of a circle around the center. This is because Kant limits man to phenomenal knowledge of his own categories. He can have no knowledge of the center, AKA the noumena. But why assume this? (In other words, why assume there is no "radial knowledge" through which we have direct access to the center?)

Indeed, isn't Kant's assumption really an unwarranted claim about ultimate reality? More to the point, how can one use the mind to place limits around the mind? Every boundary has territory on each side. Imagine building a wall between, say, Mexico and the US, but then pretending there's nothing south of the border.

Note the Kantian trick: pretending to have no access to ultimate reality, while affirming such knowledge at the same time. This is the precise trick pulled by my friend in the previous post. It is one of the the most popular head games of the head.

In the book Socrates Meets Kant, our premodern hero makes the founder of modern philosophy's head explode. "Suppose," asks Socrates, there is "a logical contradiction inherent in the demand for a rational justification of reason itself?"

In that case: D'oh!

All you have to do is critique the Critique and the whole thing tumbles to the ground. At which point Socrates innocently asks, "Which of us, then, is the more critical thinker, and which of us the more naïve?"

Now, if there's one thing a modern sophisticate hates being called, it is naïve. Recall my friend's anti-religious screed from the previous post. Imagine just chuckling in response to its childlike naïveté.

Imagine the same response to a Bill Maher, or Sam Harris, or even a scientific genius such as Bill Nye. But that is precisely the response they deserve. It's not intended to be snarky; rather, rich with Socratic irony.

Really, you have to out-irony the ironic, of which Socrates was the master. Truly, in our equally Athens- and Jerusalem-ized minds, he stands with Jesus as a fountainhead of Western Irony. I keep intending to delve into this important subject in a systematic way, but it will require more time than I have at the moment.

Here is Socrates again, toying with Kant: my dear Manny, have you ever wondered whether it might be self-contradictory to suggest "that reason can get outside itself and validate itself, that it can be both judge and accused prisoner, as it were?"

Indeed, "You called your book The Critique of Pure Reason, but I wonder whether you ever turned your formidable critical powers on yourself?"

In short, there are reasons for being skeptical of your cynicism. A suitable quip by the Aphorist comes to mind: Man’s moment of greatest lucidity is that in which he doubts his doubt.

Here are several more good ones. Each one smashes countless idols:

Nothing is more superficial than intelligences that comprehend everything. Scientism, Darwinism materialism, all felled with a single blow.

Reason is no substitute for faith, just as color is no substitute for sound. Habitually deploy your head when your heart should be in charge, and you'll be pretty miserable. Or maybe you've never met a woman.

We believe in many things in which we do not believe we believe. Every normal human believes in truth, free will, and objective morality, no matter what they say.

Faith is not assent to concepts, but a splendor that knocks us down. It is vertical recollection of an objective reality, more as we proceed.

4 comments:

julie said...

A stranger is putting material into my mailbox. He says he's the mailman, but how do I know?

Completely tangential, but such is reality in many parts of the world: where there is no culture of trust and no rule of law, it becomes increasingly likely that the stranger is delivering a cherry bomb.

Back to the point, though, Faith is not assent to concepts, but a splendor that knocks us down.

Amen. If you aren't already humbled, you will be, by and by...

Van Harvey said...

Julie said "...such is reality in many parts of the world: where there is no culture of trust and no rule of law..."

And outside the West (with apologies to Confucius) there is a natural inclination to go with what you want to see, rather than with the reality of what Is.

Which is one reason why Kant was lapped up so eagerly, he provided the appearance of reasonability (and cool cranial jargon), without having tho give up what you wished reality would be!

And of course, one side affect of that Is,


"...it becomes increasingly likely that the stranger is delivering a cherry bomb."

Van Harvey said...

"...Indeed, "You called your book The Critique of Pure Reason, but I wonder whether you ever turned your formidable critical powers on yourself?"

Ba-da-boom.

"In the book Socrates Meets..."

I really enjoy that whole series of Kreeft's books.

Gagdad Bob said...

Never heard of this one, but I like the title: I Roam the Cosmos.