Thursday, September 13, 2018

Get Your Own Cosmos!

The problem is, philosophy begins waaay before we think it does.

For example, a philosopher may wonder to himself, "just what is reality?" I suppose that's more or less how it happened with me. So you then go about trying to figure it all out, tacitly ignoring all the things that are given to us well before we begin to consciously -- or explicitly -- think about them.

It's a cliché, but truly, every newborn baby is a philosopher. I think we need to take that literally, and examine just what babies do as they encounter the world, because that's real philosophy.

You can't pretend to begin philosophizing from scratch at age 20 or 30. Rather, it starts at age zero, or minus zero, really. Indeed, perhaps the most important philosophizing is complete before we even begin to consciously think about it. Maybe a philosopher is a baby that never grows up. This implies that a bad philosopher is a grown-up who forgets that he was once a baby.

It reminds me of the old joke about the argument between the scientist and God about creation. The scientist says something to the effect of, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs, and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.”

God replies, “Oh? Care to make it interesting? I'll bet you can't make a human being."

"No problem!" The scientist gathers a handful of dirt, and just as he's about to begin working with it, God says "Whoa! Not so fast. Get your own dirt.”

Jaki makes a similar point, that "the radical primacy of registering objects" allows us to inquire into what they are. In other words, not only is thatness prior to whatness, but the latter cannot be brought in retroactively to explain the former.

If that's not clear, just say that being is prior to knowing. And if we presume to undertake the task of knowing about being... well, that's a big presumption. Who said that's possible? I say it's possible because I believe in the doctrine of creation, whereby intelligibility and intelligence are mirrors of one another, built into the nature of things.

But how is philosophy possible for someone who doesn't believe in the doctrine of creation? The moment the secular philosopher says anything he claims to be true of reality, you need to say, "Whoa! Get your own dirt."

Or, to be precise, "get your own intelligible objects." In short, how and why are you assuming the universe is intelligible -- that it is not only speaking to you, but speaking truth?

As we all know, Descartes thought long and hard about this problem, and felt he'd cracked it. I'm not sure how the obvious eluded him, but he ended up turning the question -- and the cosmos with it -- upside down, with I think, therefore I am. Based only upon what we've discussed thus far in this post, I'm sure you can see how problematic this little formula is. For starters, get your own I!

If I'm Descartes back in November 1619... no, if I'm Descartes at any time or any place, and I'm trying to think myself down to the rock bottom foundation of things, I say to myself.... objects are. I only think about them, but the objects are quite obviously prior to my thinking about them.

René, you had one job! Again, he reverses the whole ontology (and with it, epistemology) by putting René first!

Initially, Descartes arrives at only a single first principle: I think. Thought cannot be separated from me, therefore, I exist.... Descartes determines that the only indubitable knowledge is that he is a thinking thing.

Note the next howler, because it goes to the whole subject of this post, if we ever get around to it:

Descartes defines "thought" as "what happens in me such that I am immediately conscious of it, insofar as I am conscious of it." Thinking is thus every activity of a person of which the person is immediately conscious (emphases mine).

Again, philosophy surely begins before we are conscious (i.e., explicitly self-conscious), insofar as we were ever babies. But Descartes ignores this truism, and "proceeds to construct a system of knowledge, discarding perception as unreliable, and instead, admitting only deduction as a method."

As if babies "deduce" the reality with which they interact and through which their minds are built!

Common sense: "The registering of objects alone makes possible the improvement of one's knowledge." Only in this way "can the process of improvement start and be continued" (Jaki).

Speaking of which, if you really want to create hell on earth, it's not that difficult. Rather, just do precisely as Descartes advises: ignore everything but the reality of your own thoughts, and then construct a logico-deductive system to explain every object we encounter, AKA the real world.

And if you understand this, then you understand the left. No, literally. I've been reading about just this subject in Hayek's triptych on Law, Legislation and Liberty. It's so rich and dense -- not to mention, convoluted -- that I scarcely know where to begin.

Let's begin with Hayek's observations about Descartes: Descartes thinks, therefore Hayek smacks him down. And I'm sure Descartes was a nice guy and all, but he is in desperate need of a smackdown.

Actually, let's start with the here and now, and work backward to Descartes. For all practical purposes we have two competing philosophies, conservative classical liberalism, and leftism. Both are rational, but in entirely different ways; Hayek calls them evolutionary or critical rationalism, on the one hand; and naive or constructive rationalism, on the other. The latter may be traced to Descartes, at least as far as Hayek is concerned.

For me, that itself is a little naively constructivist -- as if our problems can be laid at the feet of an historically identifiable suspect.

Rather, I trace the whole catastrophe back to Genesis 3. You know who first said "You think, therefore you are?" The serpent, that's who. Indeed, that is the whole point of the story -- "you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." It all starts with you, not with the world of creation, AKA objects that object to your dreams and schemes.

The devil comprehends everything, but is not able to create anything (Dávila). Likewise the constructive rationalism of the left.

But Hayek tells Descartes to get his own dirt:

The "radical doubt" which made him refuse to accept anything as true which could not be logically derived from explicit premises that were "clear and distinct," and therefore beyond possible doubt, deprived of validity all those rules of conduct which could not be justified in this manner (emphasis mine).

Again, if you superimpose an ideology -- a manmade system of thought -- over the world, and deduce reality from it, then you're going to have problems, whether you are a feminist, global warmest, critical race theorist, Russia conspiracist, Keynesian economist, whatever.

What we call "tradition," the ideologues of the left will dismiss as myth or superstition, since so much of it may not be susceptible to clear and distinct logical deductions. Yes, they're only time-tested forms and customs that exist because they are compatible with survival and/or thriving. Imagine taking the same approach to biology, dismissing any trait that cannot be logically deduced from first principles! (And this is indeed how premodern medicine functioned -- for example, deducing illness from humoral principles.)

But for Descartes -- and for your village atheist MENSA member -- "rational action" equates to "only such action as [is] determined entirely to be known and demonstrable truth." Which, it turns out, is mighty few things.

It immediately brings to mind an aphorism, and explains why the aphorism is true: None of the high eras of history have been planned (Dávila).

Or this one: The natural sciences, where the process of falsification prevails, take only errors out of circulation; the social sciences, where fashion prevails, also take their achievements out of circulation. And few fashions have negated more achievements than constructive rationalism.

Oh well. Modern man treats the universe like a lunatic treats an idiot (Dávila).

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Common Sense Approach to World-Head Relations

There is The World Beyond Our Head. And there is the world in our head. In many ways, philosophy comes down to the possible relations between these two worlds.

For example, the Catholic tradition comes down firmly on the priority of the external world in the world-head relation. Being that I am Highly Educated, I didn't even realize this was a "thing" until I was well into my 40s -- in other words, that you really need to think through this primordial relation before you set foot into philosophy, because this is the very foundation of your philosophy, setting all kinds of limits and entailing all kinds of predetermined conclusions.

So, what is the world? What is the mind? And how do they relate?

So many wrong answers! And only one correct one. So be careful.

I still remember reading Stanley Jaki's Means to Message when it was published in 1999. I had never heard of Jaki, nor is he the kind of thinker I would have encountered in the course of my education. By then I had read plenty of philosophy of science, but I had surely never read a Catholic philosopher of science. Indeed, why would I? In my mind, the term would have been oxymoronic, "science" and "Catholic" being at epistemological antipodes.

Did I mention my extensive education?

Now, because of this education, I didn't realize I was a lot of things -- a lot of things that naturally go together and mutually support one another, including relativist, subjectivist, and liberal.

Likewise, as I gradually became conservative... Even that is putting it too strongly -- or putting the cart before the horse -- because that's not how it felt at the time. Sure, I was questioning some of the assumptions underpinning my liberalism, but that doesn't mean I would ever find common cause with those backward racist misogynist homophobic Christianists. Please. I just wanted to become a better and more informed liberal, not a conservative.

Nevertheless, I had begun subscribing to National Review in the late 1990s, just to see what these cretins were up to. Not only were they far less cretinous than I had been led to believe, but I began to check out authors praised by their book reviewers, one of whom was Jaki. So that's how he came to my attention. Otherwise, my education had involved a total embargo on anything so tainted by Catholic influence.

Anyway, the first chapter -- appropriately -- is called Objects. Turns out that everything hinges on this. You can begin with objects or you can begin with subjects, but you have to begin somewhere. Liberalism -- or rather, leftism -- begins with the latter. It is, for example, precisely the source of their KDS (Kavanaugh Derangement Syndrome), since he begins with an object called the Constitution, thereby preventing the untethered legal adventuring the left would like for us to embark upon.

Here is how Jaki begins the chapter:

A book with the subtitle, 'a treatise on truth,' must, from its inception on, convey the author's resolve to face up to the question: What is truth?

There are hundreds if not thousands of possibilities, and the more educated you are, the more possibilities there are.

In fact, if you want to be logically consistent in your liberalism, you will have to concede that there are billions of possibilities, one for each human. This is the reductio ad expandum of leftism, which is to say, unadulterated relativism (out of many, even more, you might say). Buzzwords such as diversity and multiculturalism are just the vulgar residue of this prior relativism, which soon enough devolves to nihilism.

And say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.

Conversely, you will have noticed that contemporary leftism is a kind of shapeshifting pile of steaming expedience, which can change on a dime, without any awareness of having done so. It has no logical consistency, because no logical consistency is possible (or necessary) once you have rejected the world outside your head.

For example, once you have pretended to jettison biology, then there are no longer two sexes but an endless list. You can say LGB, LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTTQQIAAP... Farcebook is up to 71 genders, but you know as well as I that this benighted and narrow-minded list is totally fascist for numbers 72 on.

Ultimately -- going back to first principles -- you will have to have one gender for each person, just as a consistent relativism demands billions of truths, one per customer.

Wait a minute -- not so fast! Why only one per customer? Who said I can't believe whatever I want to believe when I believe it?

Dude, we're already there. Or maybe you don't check out MSNBC or CNN once in a while. And you only have to check in very briefly to get the gist. Don't concern yourself with the content, rather, the containers. Hell, just look into the eyes of Cory Booker or Ocasio-Cortez or Rachel Maddow or Maxine Waters or David Hogg or on and on.

Anyway, back to sanity, which is to say, Jaki. He correctly points out that Thomas Aquinas' commonsensical definition of truth has not, nor can it ever be, surpassed:

Adaequatio rei et intellect.

Or, in plain English, "the intellect (of the knower) must be adequate to the thing (known)."

Again, because of my extensive education, I didn't discover the shocking truth about the world of objects -- the objective world -- until I was into my 40s.

And now we're out of time... to be continued....