Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Freedom From and Toward Reality

The previous post ended with the question as to whether the liberal values animating the Enlightenment inevitably redound to the anti- and illiberal values of the contemporary left. 

As great as our founders were, did they create a damn slippery slope leading to today's slippery Dem dopes? Why does the left's vaunted "progress" always proceed backwards?  How does George Washington end in Nancy Pelosi? Is there some sort of cosmo-historical law we're ignoring? Is it just political entropy, or something worse?

3,545 posts far exceeds the carrying capacity of my head, but I'm sure we've discussed this in the distant past. I no longer recall the details, but one book that described the plunge was Fr. Seraphim Rose's Nihilism: The Roots of the Revolution of the Modern Age. At risk of reinventing the historical wheel of karma, let's refresh our memories.

A note in the book indicates that I read this in July of 2004, some 15 months prior to the birth of the blog. Another life. A different Bob entirely. Just as each generation must engage the past anew, I suppose each new iteration of ourselves must do so as well. Can't change the past? Of course you can.

In tracing the path from liberalism to nihilism, Rose suggests that once we abandon the Absolute, we are on the path to... where we are today:

Nihilism -- the belief that there is no Absolute Truth, that all truth is relative -- is... the basic philosophy of the 20th century (from the Introduction).

Rose characterizes classical liberalism as a "passive Nihilism," or "the neutral breeding-ground of the more advanced stages of Nihilism." Why? What's the problem with freedom?

Jumping ahead a bit, the problem (in my opinion) is the ontological distinction between "freedom from" and "freedom to." Once reduced to the former, then freedom is robbed of its proper telos, which is conformity to truth, beauty, virtue, and ultimately to God. 

But the immature, stupid, and crazy tend to reduce freedom to merely freedom-from: from maturity, from objective truth, and from psychological integration, precisely. See any Democrat street protest for details. When a progressive uses the term "revolution," he always means against the order of reality.  

Many liberals don't even know this permanent revolution has passed them by -- beginning with Joe Biden. Speaking of former selves, whoever Joe Biden was 50 or 25 or even 10 years ago cannot possibly be reconciled with the Joe Biden that exists today, since there's no way to reconcile the vacuous liberalism of the former with the hateful leftism of the latter.

Thus we see the Nihilist dialectic unfold in Biden himself: 

Liberalism is the first stage of the Nihilist dialectic, both because its own faith is empty, and because this emptiness calls into being a yet more Nihilist reaction... 

As predicted by Fr. Rose, this "becomes a perfect parody of the Christian love of truth" that "sees only 'race' or 'sex'" in its place," or an "absolute truth from below."  

But our real freedom is rooted in a kind of soft necessity in the absence of which liberty reduces to the anarchy of Antifa and BLM:

This necessity is found in the mind's assent to first principles, in which there can never be a defect of truth, and by which certitude of knowledge is acquired. In this sense we are determined. There is no liberty regarding first principles, as there is no liberty for an acorn not to become an oak. Our assent to first principles is necessary and spontaneous (Sheen).

Necessary and spontaneous. That right there is quite... pregnant with meaning, but we're out of time. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

First Principles of Thought and Stupidity

What are the principles by virtue of which thought is possible? 

Well, it depends on what we mean by "thought" -- by which we don't mean just anything, e.g., Dr. Jill Biden's subliterate doctoral thesis, much less Michelle Obamas's 8th grade level master's thesis. Rather, the value of thought derives from its being in conformity with reality. To put it another way, thought is the link between being and truth.

Or so we have heard from the wise. Or from some voice in my head, I forget which.

How is it possible to think unless thinking can be resolved to first principles? I don't know. Ask a leftist, for whom thinking, principles, reality, and truth are completely independent of one another.

By the way, we got off to a late start this morning, so don't be surprised if things end abruptly. I was tempted to give myself a timeout for the rest of the year, but I also find myself toying with this subject, especially after reading an admirably clear presentation of it in Sheen's God and Intelligence in Modern PhilosophyLet the plagiaphrasing begin:

Traditional philosophy begins with common sense. Its basis is the certitudes of the immediately evident principles which are apprehended by the light of intelligence from the most simple and evident facts about us.

What we're looking for is the principles with which one cannot possibly disagree without implicitly agreeing with them. Are there such principles? Or are postmodernists correct that we live in a cosmos of absolute relativity and therefore utter stupidity? 

How do we know a first principle when we see it? What are its qualifications? Well, it "ought to be one about which it is impossible to be mistaken." It should "be so evident as to admit of no error." Moreover, no sneaky stuff, no conditions, no special pleading, and no appeals to authority: it must be naturally known.

The first principle of thought is the foundation of all our intellectual constructions. There is no certitude in the last analysis unless they can be resolved back to the first principles of thought. Only on condition that the first principles are firm and stable will the conclusions be firm and stable, and the nearer our conclusions are to the first principles the more certain they are...

As we've suggested before, what instinct is to the animal, intellect is to man. Sheen suggests something similar, that "What the determination of form and end is for plants, what instinct is for animals, this and more the first principle is for man."

Why? Because, as our frequent commenter Nicolás has said

Intelligence is the capacity for discerning principles.

 Which is precisely why

Nearly every idea is an overdrawn check that circulates until it is presented for payment.

Your little idea must ultimately be backed by the full faith and credit of the First Bank of Reality, otherwise you're just circulating so much funny money. Your intellectual paper money must be founded on something solid, on real wealth -- which is also why

The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book.

For to reduce the higher to the lower like trying to live inside your bank account, or to avoid starvation by eating money. Why do we laugh at these folks? Because

Four or five invulnerable philosophical propositions allow us to make fun of the rest.

I'm almost loathe to discuss it, because it was such a dreary and tedious book, but this is all covered from the other side of the spectrum in Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity. What makes it tedious is that the authors attempt to be fair and dispassionate in describing these morons, instead if doing so in an insultaining and ironyclad way. 

For if first principles are immediately evident to the light of intellect, then these ideas are immediately seen to be idiotic by that same light. No one needs to describe them in excruciating detail.  The bottom line is that leftist scholarship is full of the kind of thinking that renders intelligent thought impossible. 

Literally. For it is -- proudly -- mired in relativism, subjectivism, radical skepticism, social constructivism, and suspicion of any and all meta-narratives (except its own).  It rejects objective truth, the power of reason, the existence of human nature, and the capacity of language to communicate truth. Indeed, it is the philosophical antithesis of common sense realism, in that its first principle is

a broad rejection of the correspondence theory of truth: that is, the position that there are objective truths and that they can be established as true by their correspondence with how things actually are in the world. 

So it is an overt rejection of the very classical liberal enlightenment values that undergird our civilization. Which got me to thinking: isn't the progressive left just an inevitable entailment of these values, once they are detached from the Absolute? Yes, but we're out of time....