Friday, March 06, 2020

Why and Because

Another mundane post that flapped and flapped its wings but never got off the ground...

We all want to know Why? It seems that this question is bound up with humanness, because not only are human beings the only creatures capable of asking the question, we never stop doing so. We are homo curiosus from the moment we're born to the day we die. Then, after our biological activity has ceased, those around us will ask: where did he go?

Another way of saying it is that we are born philosophers. Knowledge -- in order to be knowledge -- is knowledge of causes, and we want to know all there is to know about all there is.

A true philosopher is someone who doesn't stop asking Why at some provincial truck stop on the road to knowledge, but recognizes the unrestricted nature of the human subject and its conformity to the unbound object; each pole of this ultimate complementarity partakes of infinitude in terms of depth, height, and breadth; and there is an endlessly fruitful reciprocity or dialectic between these.

For us, God is revealed in the space between these ultimates -- not as God-in-himself, but as our own Godward journey. In other words, our own quest for God is already evidence that we are being pulled into the divine attractor.

Lewis describes an important distinction between two very different forms of because. Let's say I am a conservative because I want what is best for human beings. The leftist responds by saying that the "real reason" I am conservative is because I want to harm people -- especially blacks, women, immigrants, homosexuals, cross dressers, etc.

But let's leave me out of it. Leftists apply the same rule to themselves (AKA "the revolution eats its own). For example, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand actually failed because of the deeply racist and sexist double standards of Democrat voters. Note that this explanation -- this Because -- means they don't have to examine the other types of Because, e.g., that they were rejected because of their daft policies and unpleasant personalities.

So, one type of because can be used to preserve another type from scrutiny. Not only are conservatives wearily familiar with the imputation of a fake Because, rarely are our arguments addressed on the plane from which they arise. If we support Trump, it is really because we are racists. If we oppose the redefinition of marriage, it is because we hate homosexuals. If we believe a man isn't a woman, we are "transphobic." If we point out that a model that fails to predict empirical measurements is simply wrong, we are called climate change deniers. Etc.

As Lewis writes -- and this was back in 1947 --

the most popular way of discrediting a person's opinions is to explain them causally -- 'You say that because (Cause and Effect) you are a capitalist, or a hypochondriac, or a mere man, or only a woman.' The implication is that if causes fully account for a belief, then since causes work inevitably, the belief would have to arise whether it had grounds or not. We need not, it is felt, consider grounds for something which can be fully explained without them.

But look at the double standards applied by the left: we often hear them say, for example, that crime is "caused" by poverty, so the criminal isn't really guilty of the crime. But if our beliefs are caused by extrinsic factors of which we are unaware, why aren't we equally blameless? Why do they hate us if we have no more control over our thoughts than a machine has over its actions?

And more importantly, is this post going anywhere? Does it have a deeper point, which is to say, is there a deeper Why and and a more satisfying Because to the above phenomena? Or is it Just Politics, a ubiquitous feature of the world's second oldest profession? We can't yet say. We can only hope.

"Acts of thinking," writes Lewis, "are 'about' something other than themselves and can be true or false." If the act of thinking "were totally explicable from other sources it would cease to be knowledge," just as, say, tinnitus isn't caused by extrinsic air vibrations, but rather, some intrinsic pathology in the organism. "Hearing" the ringing in one's ears is like seeing hallucinations; which is to say, these aren't really hearing or seeing at all, because they aren't caused by their proper objects (air and light vibrations, respectively).

The same must be true of thought, which is either an adequation or it is nothing. For example, a Democrat will say that if I can't see that President Trump is is a racist, my perception is indadequate. But what if Trump isn't racist? In this case, our critics must be hallucinating.

Bion symbolizes the hallucination (-K), which, as it so happens, often "substitutes morality for scientific thought. There will be no function in this approach for discriminating between true and false, between thing-in-itself and representation."

Ah, now we might be getting somewhere. The (-K) delusion may resemble abstract thought, but is really motivated -- caused -- by morality. However, a better term might be primitive morality, or moralism.

Now, what is primitive morality? Well, it is entirely preoccupied with guilt and punishment: something has gone wrong, and someone must pay. It is an animistic outlook that anthropomorphizes impersonal cause and effect.

For example, I remember reading in a book on the history of law, that it took some time for human beings to recognize that if a person is pushed out of a window, the falling person isn't to blame for injuring the fellow he lands on. It wasn't his fault, because there was no intent. For similar reasons, there were apparently instances of putting animals on trial for actions of which they obviously had no control.

But in an animistic world there is no such thing has bad luck. Malevolent forces -- malign wills -- are everywhere. In fact, you could say that this is the entire basis of the SJW outlook, in that it persistently attributes inequality to malevolent design (e.g., "white privilege" or the "patriarchy") when in reality it is the inevitable result of freedom + rules, i.e., fairness.

Back to primitive morality. It is primarily animated by envy and hatred. And envy is entirely bound up with the perception of inequality, and, more to the point, the inability to tolerate it.

Here is another deeper point about the attribution of ulterior causes to our beliefs. Perhaps it isn't surprising that the left is so vulnerable to this fallacy, because their whole worldview is predicated upon it. For materialism is an account of mental behavior which "leaves no room for the acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means to truth, depends."

It "is really a theory that there is no reasoning," because reason "must have come into existence by a historical process" which by definition wasn't "designed to produce a mental behavior that can find truth."

So if you really want to go down the path of "real reasons," you must go all the way, and conclude that there is no real reason for any belief; or that if there are real reasons, we could never know them.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

The Spirit is Unwilling and the Post is Weak

Just some notes to myself that may or may not turn into a post. I only show up at the keyboard. If the inspiration decides not to show up, there's nothing I can do about it. Except maybe build a workmanlike post with bricks of common nonsense.

Again, we're just flipping through C.S. Lewis' Miracles, contained in this bargain compendium of his seven most popular works of Christian apologetics. I'm surprised at how good it is, but this is because I had thought of Lewis as a mere popularizer, providing a bit of sustenance to Christians who find themselves in one of those anti- or nonintellectal denominations cut off from the main trunk.

True, he was a popularizer, but the popularizer of 75 years ago is not the popularizer of today. Back then it required no more than a high school diploma to grasp his arguments, whereas today you need a college degree in order to have no idea what the hell he's even talking about.

Anyway, my notations.

"Naturalists would rather deny their own existence than affirm God's." As usual we mean this literally, because if there is no free will (and there is no free will if it isn't anchored in a transcendent reality), then we are merely cogs in an interlocking network of necessary entailments. We are simply the end-product of causes leading up to us, no different from any other machine. Therefore it is an illusion that anything exists in its own right. Rather, there is only the One Thing doing its thing, in which we are embedded.

Conversely, in Christian metaphysics there is still one thing, but this thing -- existence -- is grounded in a meta-thing -- being. In this view, the fundamental line is between Creator and creation, and it illuminates all other lines and distinctions. Creatures are on this side of the line. Except for human beings, who are somehow on this side and yet in conscious contact with the other; as if we are in this world but of another.

In the case of naturalism, there are literally no lines, or rather, any lines we discern are imaginary, because in reality there is only the One Giant Thing that determines everything within it. Monism means monism: you can't have your monistic cake and eat it too. Because if you can eat it, you have obviously transcended it.

In other words, you can't be nothing but a piston in the engine of nature and then pretend to know about the whole car. Indeed, to even say "cosmos" would be pure fantasy, like a blind person speculating about color.

For us, God is Necessary Being. Everything else is contingent upon this. But for the naturalist there is only existence, and everything "within" existence necessarily follows upon everything else. There is still necessity, and yet no freedom.

But here's a clue: knowledge of necessity is freedom. To know cause-and-effect is to have transcended it. I know that 2 + 2 = 4, every time, no matter what. Therefore, I am beyond mathematical necessity. Gödel's theorems merely prove this in a more systematic way -- ultimately that the human mind always transcends and escapes its own attempts to model nature.

"No account of the universe can be true," says Lewis, "unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be a real insight."

In other words, let's say physicists arrive at the very thing that is the implicit ground and sponsor of physics, the T.O.E., the universal equation that is the cause of all others, and which finally unifies all the loose ends, from quantum theory to general relativity and everything in between. Well, first of all, Gödel, who appears nowhere in these pages, at least explicitly. Yet, he's here in spirit, for

A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would simply eat its own tail..... [T]hat theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished.

Of course. Back then a popularizer could affirm such an obvious truth without insulting your intelligence.

Back a couple thousand posts ago, I wrote one called Proof of Proof is Proof of God. I don't recall what I wrote -- I'll reread it later -- but I probably thought it was a novel insight or something. So, what's Lewis doing in MY attractor?

In any event, we agree that a theory promulgated by the very thinking it demolishes

would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound -- a proof that there are no such things as proofs -- which is nonsense.

Of course. Like anyone could not know that.

I'm going to stop now. As usual, I have to get some work done.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Heads I'm Right, Tails You're Wrong

Back in the early years of the blog, we had a commenter who had convinced his sorryself that free will didn't exist, and endeavored to convince us as well.

This commenter would not -- or could not, if he had no free will -- be made to understand that if free will didn't exist, we could never know it.

Nor did he appreciate -- on the assumption that determinism is true -- the futility of trying to "change" another person's mind via an appeal to truth. And finally, he engaged in the persistent error of assuming that causation on the material plane must operate in the same manner as it does on the intellectual plane -- as if the cause of understanding is no different from the cause of a car crash.

Ultimately he naively conflated subject and object, subsuming the former into the latter. And once you've done this, then it's easy enough to deny free will, because objects have no will, let alone freedom. Nevertheless, this is what all materialists do, and cannot help doing once they embrace materialism. Their conclusion is indeed compelled by their premise, but the premise is compelled by nothing.

Do they embrace materialism freely? If so, then this refutes the doctrine. Or are they compelled to embrace it? If so, then they can only believe something because they are constrained to do so, not because it is true.

Therefore, there's no way to get around the reality of free will. Freedom or nihilism. Your choice. Or, you can pretend you have no choice.

But again, why try to convince others you have no choice? Even supposing you don't, that's hardly a reason to believe others don't. On what philosophical basis do you universalize what is particular to your own existence? For universalization and freedom are intimately related. You will have noticed that animals don't apprehend universals, because in order to do so, one must transcend immediate sensory/empirical experience.

I've been slowly making my way through C.S. Lewis's Miracles -- slowly not because it's difficult but because it provokes so many ideas I want to blog about. Already I have pages and pages of notes I want to expand upon, so the further I go in the reading, the further I fall behind in the writing. I simply can't keep up with myself unless I blog every single day. Bob! Come back!

But let's stay focused. Free will. Few things are as important. Come to think if it, I can't think of anything that surpasses its importance, not even truth, because truth cannot be realized in the absence of freedom to do so.

It reminds me of how Bernie Sanders praises Cuba's "literacy program." For truly truly, of what good is literacy if one is free only to learn repulsive and destructive lies? Literacy is neither here nor there in a world where one has access only to the New York Times. In such a world, the person who cannot read is more in touch with reality than the one who can and must.

As Lewis says, "no thoroughgoing Naturalist" -- to the extent that he is an intellectually consistent one -- can believe in free will, because it would necessarily entail

that human beings have the power of independent action, the power of doing something more or other than what was involved by the total series of events.

The total series of events. In order for determinism to be true, what I am typing at the moment must be nothing more than the present effect of causes extending back to... to what exactly? This itself is highly problematic, because if the chain doesn't originate in an Uncaused Cause, then we have a cosmos of effects with no cause. Which is absurd. Or magical. Either way, it makes no sense. Say what you want about atheism, but its appeal cannot be grounded in logic.

Which reminds me. At the Democrat debate the other night, the seven dwarves were asked a moronic question about their personal motto or something. I wondered to myself, what would I come up with in such surreal circumstances? How does one reduce a lifetime of thinking to a cliché that even a liberal journalist can understand?

It might be one of thousands of wise and witty comments by Dávila, or Schuon, or Whitehead, Chesterton, Churchill, Bob Dobbs... And yet, probably the most effective one -- simultaneously timeless and timely -- is Breitbart's succinct witticism, a sprightly bon mot that is appropriate for any encounter with a Democrat: Fuck. You.

However, that's not the one that popped into my mind. Rather, I thought of Paul's crack in 2 Corinthians 3:17: Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Conversely, although Paul doesn't say it in so many words, Where the Spirit of the Lord isn't, boom, there is the left.

At any rate, something must exist in its own right, right? We all agree that there must an Uncaused Cause and Unmoved Mover, otherwise there is no ground for anything, including our explanations for anything. There must be at least one self-evident axiom or principle from which all else is derived, otherwise we are condemned to immanence, enclosed in tautology, and sealed in tenure. Ultimately it is either God or nature, but can nature ever be self-sufficient and self-explanatory?

It's easy enough to default to nature as the ground and principle of everything else, but then you've painted yourself into something of a corner with respect to where all the information comes from.

What principle accounts for the generation of information from non-information -- or life from non-life, mind from matter, subject from object, contingency from necessity, freedom from determinacy? That's a tall order, especially from chaos. Yeah, you could just insist that the first terms in the above antinomies reduce to the second, but if that satisfies you, well... you've done all the thinking you need to do and that you're capable of doing anyway.

About that Uncaused Cause. What do we know about it? A lot, actually. How do we know? Well, it's one of those things with which we are intimately familiar, to such an extent that we can't not know it: in short, that we are persons, and that a person can be defined as an uncaused cause. Not that we aren't caused per se, but that, as persons, we share in the nature of the Uncaused Cause. Which is what Dávila means when he says,

The permanent possibility of initiating causal series is what we call a person.

Could I be wrong? Yes, but only if I'm right. For

To admit the existence of errors is to confess the reality of free will.

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