Friday, February 18, 2022

Bobby Got Book

I like big books and I cannot lie. 

The current one, coming in at 1,019 pages, is called Four Ages of Understanding: The First Postmodern Survey of Philosophy from Ancient Times to the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, by John Deely. A big book deserves a big-ass title.

It came to my attention in the usual way, i.e., some combination of angelic causation and complete randomness, nor can I yet say whether or not it is raccoommended. In fact, I don't even know exactly what it's about.

I mean, while the subject of the book is obviously What It's All About, I don't yet know the author's slant on W.I.A.A. I see it has something to do with the centrality of language -- of a logocentric universe composed of speech -- and that is what intrigued me, because hey, that's what I think.

My point this morning is that this doorstep isn't just my problem, it's yours, since I'll apparently be immersed in it for awhile. At the moment I'm only up to page 17, so I don't yet have much to say except that I like his colloquial style. 

In fact, if you're going to write a book this long, you had better be a congenial companion, otherwise your would-be reader will never make it through. Rather, it will have to be one of those books you've pretended to have read, like Being and Nothingness or The Phenomenology of Spirit.  

Although the book looks forbidding, the first sentence belies its serious length and weight: "I came from my Parkview house to the Hispanic gathering in Jackson Park just in time for the food (having been able to see when the time was right)."

So he announces right away that he's a Regular Guy. 

"Where have you been?" a lady unknown to me asked from across the table at which I took a seat.

"Writing a book," I replied, taking my first bite.

"Oh?" queried the stranger. "What about?"

"The history of philosophy" I said, taking another bite....

"Hasn't that already been written" she said, less a question than a hint I was wasting my time...

"Not so" I countered. "Besides, I have an angle." 

An angle? That's your excuse? It had better be some angle!

Ironically, the book is dedicated to me. Or will be if I make it to the end: to those few who will read every word

Hmm. Perhaps this has a double meaning, you know? No one can literally read every word of this logorrheic cosmos, but I can try. Obviously Deely did. 

SPOILER ALERT! 

I'm going to jump ahead to the last page:

For postmodern times and the immediate future of philosophy, the clear and central task is to come to terms with "a universe perfused with signs," if not composed exclusively of them.

Again, that is precisely how I look at the cosmos, and have ever since I heard a late night ramble by Terence McKenna on the subject back in the mid-1980s. He was high on psilocybin, while my excuse is that I had probably been up for at least 24 hours, which was my custom back then (I worked the graveyard shift and thought real men didn't require sleep). 

In any event, I remember the exact words pronounced in that slightly nasally and quizzicaloid voice of his:

I don't believe that the world is made of quarks or electromagnetic waves, or stars, or planets, or any of those things. I believe the world is made of language.

He also made it clear that "it is no great accomplishment to hear a voice in the head. The accomplishment is to make sure that it is telling you the truth." Hence the title of his book, True Hallucinations.

Likewise, any idiot can write a 1,000 page book, although reading one probably takes a special kind of idiot. Let's see what the critics are saying, i.e., amazon reviewers:

This book should be on the shelf of every person who takes ideas seriously.

Well, that's true of countless books. The question is whether or not it should be taken off the shelf, let alone read.

I'll keep you posted. Literally, of course. 

Meanwhile, my takeaway from chapter one is that: every animal lives in its own "objective world" which consists of the objects necessary for its survival (including objects to avoid); that these objective worlds are, ironically, a kind of dreamland; that "to wake from this dream is to discover the Other in its otherness"; and that philosophy must try to avoid becoming just another one of those somnolent hallucinations. 

So, just like back in the 1980s, I'll do my best to avoid sleep and try to discern which hallucinations are speaking the truth.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Perennial Misosophies & Philodoxies

After completing yesterday's post I ran into a couple of aphorisms that go to its subject -- or one of its subjects, the idea that the height of Greek thought reaches into the penumbra of the Christian revelation: 

Paganism is the other Old Testament of the Church.

Only he is a consummate Catholic who builds the cathedral of his soul over pagan crypts.

There is of course yet another revelation -- the oldest testament of all -- this being the Cosmos itself, AKA creation. It is also the newest, since its creation is ongoing. It is now it is now it is now.

Now, in order to pick up where a previous posted has ended, I can't just reread it, but rather, have to relive it. Or better, I need to find the place from which it emanated. A state of being, as it were. Which is a little like trying to grope one's way to the place where music originates. 

Hang on while I try to dial it back in. Stupid analogue tuner...

Okay, got it:  cosmos = cosmos + x. A reader points out that this initial formulation is different from the title of the post, which was written immediately thereafter: reality = cosmos + x. 

The reason for the discrepancy is that the observation was more empirical and spontaneous than conceptual and considered; in other words, it was a newborn thoughtlet -- a particularity -- that hadn't yet matured into a universal concept. Imagine an explorer in a new land: at first all he can do is take note of the novel flora and fauna before giving them abstract names.

Now that I have the time to think about what I meant, I would say that we always have a representation of reality, even while knowing -- or at least we should know -- that this representation is never sufficient. However one conceptualizes "reality," it always falls short of reality. 

This much is obvious.

Now, a couple of readers took issue with me in the comment section, which goes to the reasons why I never recommend this blog to anyone, and, if asked, usually deny its very existence. Who said I have a blog?! 

More generally, have you noticed how folks enjoy misunderstanding things? The left, for example, gets a big kick out of the idea that everyone who disagrees with them is a racist. You can explain to them that you are no such thing, but they don't want to know it, because it robs them of the unpleasantly pleasant enjoyment of imagining you are.

Similarly, a commenter yesterday accused us of having some animus toward Indians, when the real question is whether we prefer Western civilization over the Stone Age. It takes some real imagination to think that Bob blames someone for being born in the Paleolithic -- much less that he takes credit for having being born in the modern world! 

Back to the subject -- which yesterday seemed fresh, but now I'm worried might be a bit stale; or that I've gotten the point, and that spelling it all out will be an exercise in pedantry. More generally, we like exploring much more than cataloguing

I'm just going to highlight the passage that provoked this state of being, from Jacque Maritain:

Philosophic speculation, precisely because it is the supreme achievement of reason, is unknown to all the so-called primitive races. Indeed, even of the civilizations of antiquity the greater part either have possessed no philosophy or have failed to discover its true nature and distinctive character.

I am the last person to idealize the ancient Greeks, because first of all we're taking about a handful of people, and let's not even get into their sexual proclivities lest someone accuse us of ignorant, uncharitable, and disrespectful homophobia. 

At the same time, just because I'm not a fan of animal sacrifice it doesn't it make me anti-Semitic. Never forget that the past is a foreign country! Nor should you forget the corollary, that some foreign countries are the past -- in other words, that cultural space is often developmental time. For example, if I want to visit the '60s I can drive over to Santa Monica.

Maritain continues:

In any case, philosophy only began to exist at a very late period about the eighth and especially the sixth century B.C., and then found the right path to truth by a success which must be regarded as extraordinary when we consider the multitude of wrong roads taken by so many philosophers and philosophic schools. 

Yes, there is a -- gasp! -- correct philosophy of which we may have more secure knowledge than any of the special sciences. Just because most cultures, civilizations, and people have never discovered it is not a valid criticism of the perennial philosophy. It's hardly truth's fault if you refuse to believe it or pretend it cannot exist.   

[H]uman wisdom has everywhere proved bankrupt, and... even before philosophy took shape as an independent discipline, most of the great philosophic errors had been already formulated. 

Yup. There is no "new" atheism -- or materialism, or relativism, or skepticism, or pantheism, or idolatry, et al, for every form of sophistry appeared at the very outset of man's thinking career. All are provably wrong, but this hardly diminishes their appeal. 

I suppose the novel post-Christian philosophical developments are specifically Christian inversions such as Marxism, progressivism, and victimology. In any event, such   

fundamental errors are not unsubstantial and insignificant dangers; they may succeed, to the bane of those diseased cultures which they condemn to sterility.

Truth is not, as those who are apt to believe who have had the good fortune to be born in a culture formed by it, given to man ready-made, like a natural endowment. It is difficult to attain, and hard to keep, and only by a fortunate exception is it possessed uncontaminated by error and in the totality of its various complementary aspects (ibid.).

Which leads to my main point, which is: what are the chances that this natural truth should be so compatible with the supernatural truth -- that revelation should pick up just where human wisdom leaves off, serving as its capstone and perfection?  

Again, the most perfect philosophy will be imperfect under the best of circumstances, and can only be made perfect with recourse to something transcending it, i.e., "wisdom deified by grace."

"How highly therefore we ought to prize the sacred heritage of Greek thought!" For "In Greece, alone in the ancient world, the wisdom of man found the right path," such that 

the small Hellenic race appears among the great empires of the East like a man amidst gigantic children, and may be truly termed the organ of the reason and word of man as the Jewish people was the organ of the revelation and word of God (ibid.).

I'm not Greek and I'm not Jewish; nevertheless, I have homelands in Athens and Jerusalem as well as Rome. Regarding the latter, we'll leave off with an aphorism that I think I understand:

The basic problem of every former colony -- the problem of intellectual servitude, of an impoverished tradition, of second-rate spirituality, of inauthentic civilization, of forced and embarrassing imitation -- I have resolved with supreme simplicity: Catholicism is my native land (NGD).

Monday, February 14, 2022

Reality = Cosmos + X

I've been thinking a lot about the need for revelation. 

Now, first of all, we either need it or we don't. In other words, either we can form an accurate and complete map of the cosmos with wholly natural means, or we can't.

Well, we can't. Sez who? Sez common sense. But if that's not enough, sez Gödel. 

Stanley Jaki, in his Brain, Mind and Computers, correctly notes that Gödel's theorems prove

that even in the elementary parts of arithmetic there are propositions which cannot be proved or disproved in that system (emphasis mine).

And then, before philosophers had time enough to digest the implications of that little depth charge,  

even wider implications of his work came to be recognized. To begin with, Gödel's analysis centered on the most basic of all formal systems, the system of integers. It was, therefore, plausible to argue that as a result no formal system is immune to the bearing of Gödel's conclusion (emphasis mine).

Now, the mind is not a logic machine. If it were, then we couldn't be having this metalogical discussion about logic. At any rate, there is

a basic, insurmountable difference between the abilities of the human mind and of formal systems of which machines are obvious embodiments.... For a machine to be a machine, it can have only a finite number of components and it can operate only on a finite number of initial assumptions. 

And "it is a basic shortcoming of all such systems" 

that they have to rely on a system extraneous to them for their proof of consistency. Gödel's theorem, therefore, cuts the ground under the efforts that view machines... as adequate models of the mind.

The bottom line is that any machine, because it embodies a formal system,

can never produce at least one truth, which the mind can without relying on other minds.... No matter how perfect the machine, it can never do everything that the human mind can.

So, our most porfect manmade system of thought will necessarily have to put its faith in at least one thought or principle or axiom or assumption or intuition or speculation or delusion or hallucination that the system cannot justify, and which comes from outside the system.

Therefore, if I am following my argument correctly, there is no escaping faith. 

Back to our opening blast:"either we need revelation or we don't."

Looks like we do. But which one? 

Well, in point of fact there are surprisingly few. Buddhism, for example, is not a revelation. Nor are the Upanishads or Bhagavad Gita. Besides, what's wrong with the one that stands at the ground of our civilization? I'm old enough to remember that Western civilization was the best of all civilizations, so I'll stick with the Greco-Judeo-Christian revelation, thank you.

Greco? Yes, that's one of the things I've been thinking about vis-a-vis revelation. You're free to take it or leave it -- Raccoon opinion diverges in the subject -- but ancient Greek philosophy may almost be thought of as a kind of complementary Old Testament to go along with the jewsual one. 

Certainly the early Christian thinkers approached it this way, if not literally, then in spirit. That is, they were eager to ground the new revelation in the old, and also to show how the former was entirely consistent with the best available "manmade" philosophy.

I put manmade in quotes, because we already showed that no manmade philosophy is self-justifying, and must draw on something above, behind, or beyond itself. 

As it so happens, I'm reading a book called From Plato to Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith that claims the works of Plato

can be most profitably read on two simultaneous levels: as works of genius in their own right and as inspired writings used by the God of the Bible to prepare the ancient world for the coming of Christ and the New Testament.

And why not? I say, the more testaments the merrier, so long as they not only don't contradict but deepen one another. Although you may not want to put him on the same level as the OT prophets, 

Plato was nevertheless inspired by something beyond the confines of our natural world.... Plato glimpsed deep mysteries about the nature of God and man, the earth and the heavens, history and eternity, virtue and vice, and love and death that point to the fullness of the Judeo-Christian worldview.

Moreover,

The very reason that Aristotle and Virgil could serve as forerunners and guides to the two greatest repositories of medieval Catholic learning (the Summa theologiae and the Commedia) was because Aquinas and Dante understood that their pagan mentors had access to wisdom that transcended their time and place.

I think you just need to widen out your world, so it becomes a place where it is a matter of course for vertical energies to flow in from above in all sorts of ways. This was Chesterton's Universe (another book I recently read), which is vastly larger than the one confined to scientistic naturalism. The cosmos is always more than the cosmos, such that... how put it.... 

Let's just say the cosmos = cosmos + x. And x is... further discussed in the next post, I'll bet.