Thursday, 28 February 2019

Genghis Khan’s Order of God and Marxian Dialectics

It is common for societies to arrive at their truth or essence through self-interpretation. Eric Voegelin looks at this issue in Chapter 2, “Representation and Truth,” of his book The New Science of Politics.

He points out that Lord Genghis Khan and his followers were convinced that by the Order of God the entire world was Mongol empire, and that it was the duty of every nation to submit to the authority of Genghis Khan. By self-interpreting themselves as the sole beneficiaries of the Order of God and the rulers of the entire world, they found the inspiration to conduct formidable military campaigns. Here’s an excerpt:
The empire of the Lord Genghis Khan is de jure in existence even if it is not yet realized de facto. All human societies are part of the Mongol empire by virtue of the Order of God, even if they are not yet conquered.  The actual expansion of the empire, therefore, follows a very strict process of law.  Societies whose turn for actual integration into the empire has come must be notified by ambassadors of the Order of God and requested to make their submission.  If they refuse, or perhaps kill the ambassadors, then they are rebels, and military sanctions will be taken against them.  The Mongol empire, thus, by its own legal order has never conducted a war but only punitive expeditions against rebellious subjects of the empire.
Voegelin goes on to make a comparison between the self-interpretation of the Mongol Empire and that of the Marxists:
In Marxian dialectics, for instance, the truth of cosmic order is replaced by the truth of a historically immanent order.  Nevertheless, the Communist movement is a representative of this differently symbolized truth in the same sense in which a Mongol Khan was the representative of the truth contained in the Order of God; and the consciousness of this representation leads to the same political and legal constructions as in the other instances of imperial representation of truth.  Its order is in harmony with the truth of history; its aim is the establishment of the realm of freedom and peace; the opponents run counter to the truth of history and will be defeated in the end; nobody can be at war with the Soviet Union legitimately but must be a representative of untruth in history, or, in contemporary language, an aggressor; and the victims are not conquered but liberated from their oppressors and therewith from the untruth of their existence.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Pepper’s Response to Logical Positivism

By restricting knowledge to the claims of belief founded on evidence of observable data and formal reasoning, the positivists deny the possibility of metaphysics as a meaningful cognitive enterprise. Stephen C. Pepper’s World Hypothesis can be seen as a direct response to logical positivism. He shows that despite its cognitive attractiveness, the positivist position is untenable.

Here’s an excerpt from World Hypothesis (Page 322):

"If positivism is undogmatic and merely asserts that the refinements of multiplicative corroboration in terms of data are highly reliable, there is no ground for objection to it. But if it is dogmatic, and asserts that multiplicative corroboration is the only legitimate aim of cognition, and that only empirical data are reliable factual evidence, and only logical data reliable means of theoretical construction, then positivism is exceeding the grounds of evidence available."

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Philosophy Begins With Wonder

"Aristotle’s view that philosophy begins with wonder, not as in our day with doubt, is a positive point of departure for philosophy. Indeed, the world will no doubt learn that it does not do to begin with the negative, and the reason for success up to the present is that philosophers have never quite surrendered to the negative and thus have never earnestly done what they have said. They merely flirt with doubt." ~ Søren Kierkegaard (The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard)

In Metaphysics, Aristotle says: "For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe." (Metaphysics, Book I, Part II)

Saturday, 23 February 2019

On Dogmatism

The security of cognition, Stephen C. Pepper argues, rests on the evidence itself and on its convergence toward belief, not on an intensity of belief in excess of the actual cognitive value of the evidence. In his book World Hypothesis, Pepper says:

"The desire to know more than one has grounds to know is so strong and pervasive that it is difficult to be convinced of the fallaciousness of dogmatism in principle. Historically, a few men in any cognitive field, whether in common sense, history, science, or philosophy have acknowledged the fallaciousness of dogmatism in principle or abstained from its deliberate employment in practice, especially in the two most common forms of an appeal to self-evidence of principle or immediate certainty of fact." (Page 317-318)

Friday, 22 February 2019

On Representative Government

Here’s Eric Voegelin’s perspective on representative government:

“In order to be representative, it is not enough for a government to be representative in the constitutional sense (our elemental type of representative institutions); it must also be representative in the existential sense of realizing the idea of the institution. And the implied warning may be explicated in the thesis: If a government is nothing but representative in the constitutional sense, a representative ruler in the existential sense will sooner or later make an end of it; and quite possibly the new existential ruler will not be too representative in the constitutional sense.” (The New Science of Politics, Page 49)

According to Voegelin, a political society comes into being when it articulates itself and produces a representative.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

On Deirdre McCloskey’s Postmodern Economics

For Deirdre N. McCloskey postmodernism is not a dirty word—she calls herself a postmodern, minimal-government conservative. In her The Bourgeoisie Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, she notes that she is in favor of postmodernism in economics. Here’s her perspective on postmodernism (Page 198):
“Postmodernism” does not mean what you may have gathered from the outrage of conservative cultural journalists. It means merely dropping the artificialities of high modernism, and in particular dropping the fact-value split in its cruder forms and the established church of social engineering. 
McCloskey agrees with the postmodern thinker Richard Rorty on several issues and is appreciative of his 1985 thesis on “postmodern bourgeois liberalism”. On page 499, she says:
But if I had to be principled I would reach back before the French Enlightenment, or back into the Scottish Enlightenment, and offer a fourth justification for the free society, namely, that it leads to and depends on flourishing human lives of virtue. My so-called principle shares some features with the “postmodernist bourgeois liberalism” of Richard Rorty, or the “agonistic liberalism” of Isaiah Berlin…
In her essay, “The Genealogy of Postmodernism: An Economist’s Guide,” McCloskey makes a case for postmodernism in economics. She holds that postmodern economics is capable of resisting several of the errors that are there in the economics of modernism. Here’s an excerpt from her article:
As directly as it can be put, ‘postmodernism’ names a tendency since 1970 or so to doubt the tenets of ‘modernism’. In economics it would be against the high modernism, for example, of Paul Samuelson’s program. Though postmodernism more generally has been appropriated by writers innocent of economics or maths or statistics, there is nothing inevitable in this. I am saying that in adopting a pomo attitude an economist need not fear contamination from literary critics, psychoanalysts, and the politically correct. Postmodernism can be given an economic and classical liberal – I did not say ‘conservative’ or ‘reactionary’ – reading.
She ends her essay by asserting that modernism is bad economics, and to fix the problems in modernist economics, the economists should get on with the postmodern project.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece

Ancient Greece, according to Josiah Ober, fell for virtually the same reasons for which it had once achieved greatness. In his The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (Chapter 11: “Creative Destruction and Immortality”), Ober says: “Both greatness and fall had similar causes: high levels of specialization, innovation, and mobility of people, goods, and ideas as the result of distinctive political conditions.”

But the fall of Greece was never total—it was more of a creative destructive, rather than a ruinous destruction leading to quick economic and cultural collapse. Several Greek city-states continued to thrive—Ober notes that “by the end of the fourth century BCE, it is likely that more Greek poleis were democracies than ever before.”

When Imperial Rome took over in second century BCE, the Greek world was flourishing. Impressed by Greek culture, the Roman elites themselves became hellenized and they ensured the preservation of Greek culture and its propagation throughout the expanding Roman Empire. Ober writes:

“By the time imperial Rome took over a still-flourishing Greek world, the Romans had become eager consumers of Greek culture. By the second century BCE, Roman elites were deeply enough Hellenized to ensure the subsequent preservation and dissemination of Greek thought and culture throughout the huge and still-growing Roman empire and across the next several hundreds years. Having jumped scale to become a dominant imperial culture in one of the two biggest empires of the premodern world (the other was Han China), the immortality of Greece was, if not ensured, at least made possible.”

After the Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth to seventh centuries, Greek culture was preserved by the Eastern Empire and by the scholars and scientists of the medieval world.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

On the Eclecticism of Great Philosophers

Stephen C. Pepper
The idea that a philosopher can develop a fully consistent, fully rational, and complete system of philosophy is a myth. Most great philosophers of the past had an eclectic style of writing — Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Hume, Kant were in various degrees eclectic. In his book World Hypotheses, Stephen C. Pepper offers the following perspective on eclecticism in philosophy:
The literature of philosophy is, of course, full of eclectic writings. Moreover, it is probably true that all (or nearly all) the great philosophers were in various degrees eclectic. There are various reasons for this. One is undue faith in self-evidence and indomitability of fact, another is the desire to give credit to all good intuitions with the idea that these all have to be put inside one theory. But the best reason is that many of the great philosophers were not so much systematizers as seekers of fact, men who were working their way into new root metaphors and had not yet worked their way out of old ones. The eclecticism of these writers is, therefore, cognitively accidental and not deliberate, though psychologically unavoidable. (Page 106) 
According to Pepper, there are two sorts of eclecticism: the static, deliberate sort; and the dynamic, accidental sort. He holds that the dynamic, accidental sort of eclecticism often leads to great literature as well as great philosophy.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Can Philosophy be polemical?

Stephen C. Pepper notes that good philosophy is not polemical. Here’s an excerpt from his book World Hypotheses (Page 101):

"Yet a great proportion of philosophical—and not only philosophical—books give a large part of their space to polemic, finding the faults in rival theories with an idea that this helps to establish the theory proposed. The cognitive value of a hypothesis is not one jot increased by the cognitive errors of other hypotheses. Most polemic is a waste of time, or an actual obfuscation of the evidence. It is generally motivated by a proselytizing spirit supported on dogmatic illusions. If a theory is any good it can stand on its own evidence. The only reason for referring to other theories in constructive cognitive endeavor is to find out what other evidence they may suggest, or other matters of positive cognitive value. We need all world hypotheses, so far as they are adequate, for mutual comparison and correction of interpretative bias."

Friday, 15 February 2019

On the Connection Between Athenian Democracy and Warcraft

The Ancient Athenians had developed their democratic constitution and political institutions more than a century before Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.With the adoption of Solon’s constitution and the reforms of Cleisthenes, Athens had become a democratic state with a federal structure, and this seems to have led to an improvement in the military capabilities of the Athenians. In 506 BCE when Athens was attacked from three sides, they could mobilize an army and defeat the invaders.

Herodotus, in his The Histories, connects the performance of the Athenians in the battle of 506 BCE to their democracy. Here’s an excerpt from The Histories (Book 5, Chapter 78):
The Athenians at this point became much stronger. So it is clear how worthy an object of attention is equality of public speech not just in one respect but in every sense. Since when they were ruled by tyrants, the Athenians did not stand out from their neighbors in military capability, but after disposing the tyrants, they became overwhelmingly superior.  
This, then, shows what while they were oppressed, they were, as men working for a master, cowardly, but when they were freed, each one was eager to achieve for himself. 
According to Herodotus, people who are not free cannot be expected to do their best in a battle. He thinks that the Athenians won the battle because they were the collective masters of their own collective fate. They were not being ruled by a tyrant.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Eric Voegelin On The Experience of Tension in Existence

Eric Voegelin, in his essay, “Equivalents of Experience and Symbolization,” talks about man being in a permanent place situated between two poles of existence. He calls the permanent place “Metaxy”—a term that has been defined in Plato's Symposium as the "in-between" or "middle ground”. Here’s an excerpt from Voegelin’s essay:

The question of constants in the history of mankind, it will have become clear, cannot be answered through propositions concern­ing right order, or through a catalog of permanent values, for the flux of existence does not have the structure of order or, for that matter, of disorder, but the structure of a tension between truth and deformation of reality. Not the possession of his humanity but the concern about its full realization is the lot of man.

Existence has the structure of the In-Between, of the Platonic metaxy, and if anything is constant in the history of mankind it is the language of tension between life and death, immortality and mortality, perfec­tion and imperfection, time and timelessness; between order and disorder, truth and untruth, sense and senselessness of existence; between amor Dei and amor sui, l’âme ouverte and l’âme close; between the virtues of openness toward the ground of being such as faith, love, and hope, and the vices of infolding closure such as hybris and revolt; between the moods of joy and despair; and be­tween alienation in its double meaning of alienation from the world and alienation from God.

If we split these pairs of symbols, and hypostatize the poles of the tension as independent entities, we destroy the reality of existence as it has been experienced by the creators of the tensional symbolisms; we lose consciousness and intellect; we deform our humanity and reduce ourselves to a state of quiet despair or activist conformity to the “age” of drug addic­tion or television watching, of hedonistic stupor or murderous pos­session of truth, of suffering from the absurdity of existence or in­dulgence in any divertissement (in Pascal’s sense) that promises to substitute as a “value” for reality lost. In the language of Heraclitus and Plato: Dream life usurps the place of wake life.

Ultimate doctrines, systems, and values are phantasmata engen­dered by deformed existence. What is constant in the history of mankind, i.e., in the time dimension of existence, is the structure of existence itself; and regarding this constant structure certain propositions can indeed be advanced.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

On Skepticism, Atheism, and Dogmatism

Atheism means skepticism about the existence of God, but if this position is taken seriously, then it necessarily leads to a dogmatic belief in God’s nonexistence. Therefore every utter atheist is essentially a dogmatic believer in a negative, which is God’s nonexistence.

Here’s a perspective from Stephen C. Pepper’s World Hypotheses (Page 4-5):

"What can the utter skeptic himself mean? Does he mean that all facts are illusory and all statements are false? But this position is not one of doubt, but of downright disbelief. It is disbelief in the reliability of all evidence and in the truth of all statements; or, contrariwise, it is belief in the unreliability of all evidence and the falsity of all statements. For every instance of disbelief is simply the reverse of belief; it is belief in the contradictory of what is disbelieved. If a man disbelieves in the existence of God, he necessarily believes in the nonexistence of God. A dogmatic atheist is as little of a doubter as a dogmatic theist. It is the agnostic who completely doubts the existence of God. He genuinely doubts. That is, he finds the evidence on both sides so evenly balanced in this matter that he neither believes nor disbelieves, but holds the proposition in suspense."

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Modern Dwarfs

Such proud modesty is not to be found in most modern philosophers who call themselves the philosophers of reason:
“We are like dwarfs, seated on the shoulders of giants. We see more things than the Ancients and things more distant, but it is due neither to the sharpness of our sight nor the greatness of our stature, it is simply because they have lent us their own.” ~ Bernard of Chartres 
You can’t possibly preach about reason without first preaching about what is reasoning and what isn’t reasoning, that is, without talking about logic.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

On Pre-Moderns, Moderns, and Postmoderns

We call ourselves modern and postmodern, but we are grappling with the same philosophical problems which exercised the thinkers in the ancient and the medieval periods. When our philosophy is mostly pre-modern, it is difficult to justify the use of labels like "modern" and "postmodern". Here’s a thought from Gertrude Himmelfarb (The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Page 235):

"The sociology of virtue, the ideology of reason, the politics of liberty—the ideas still resonate today. But they carry with them the accretions of more than two centuries of historical experiences and memories. And other ideas now compete for our attention: equality, most notably, but also nationality and ethnicity, class and gender, cultural diversity and global homogeneity. If the three Enlightenments ushered in the modernity—or at least a new stage of in modernity, or new variations on modernity—the postmodernists may be justified in calling this a postmodern age. Yet the ideas of virtue, liberty, and reason did not originate in modernity; nor have they been superseded or superannuated by postmodernity. We are, in fact, still floundering in the verities and fallacies, the assumptions and convictions, about human nature, society, and the polity that exercised the British moral philosophers, the French philosophes, and the American Founders."

Monday, 4 February 2019

The Myth of Vincent van Gogh’s Madness

Vincent van Gogh is known as the tortured artist whose life was destroyed by mental illness. His paintings are seen as the works of a mad genius. But this view of van Gogh is not correct. Deirdre N. McCloskey, in her book The Bourgeoisie Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, (Chapter 13: “Van Gogh and The Transcendent Profane”), points out that “Vincent was a poet in paint, a self-educated sophisticate. He read novels and journals of opinion ravenously in four languages, taking themes for paintings directly from them, and wrote letters in three of the languages often and well, especially to his equally sophisticated art-dealer brother, Theo.”

Van Gogh was a sane, rational, sophisticated, and artistic man for almost his entire life. He was ill only for the last nineteen months of life, and that too, only from time to time. McCloskey writes:
Van Gogh’s illnesses did not make his art. They blocked it. In his estimation, sex did, too. He declared in a letter of June 1888 to his young artist friend Émile Bernard: “Painting and fucking a lot don’t go together, it softens the brain. Which is a bloody nuisance.” His art certainly did not derive from his madness, or from his sexual activity, or from his bodily pains, or from his drinking. He painted when he was well and sober. His art had nothing to do with being sick.  
What is this insistence on the mad, alcoholic artist? Such a man (always a man) is above all imprudent. He does not plan. He can’t handle money. He injures himself. The bourgeois is known as a seeker of safety—this against the fact of risk in a commercial life. The mad artist rejects safety. The myth is an antibourgeois faith in the autonomous human spirit—this against the opportunities for expression in a commercial life. Who is in love with the myth? Sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie. 
McCloskey doubts the story of van Gogh cutting his ear. She suggests that the painter Paul Gauguin could be responsible for that incident. “In his painting van Gogh was not foolish or mad. There is even doubt, by the way, about the circumstances of the ear-cutting-off. A German art historian, Rita Wildegans, claims that Gauguin did the ear-cutting, and that van Gogh was covering up for his friend by claiming that he himself did it.”

The legend of van Gogh’s madness was created by the art critics six months before his death. McCloskey says that the critics might have been inspired by Émile Zola's 1886 novel L'Œuvre. Zola was advancing the views of the doctor and criminologist Cesare Lombroso that men of genius were mentally ill—or epileptic. Van Gogh objected to being labeled insane. He wrote a letter to an art critic called Albert Aurier and pointed out that the kind of paintings that he was doing could not be the work of a madman.

McCloskey says that the critics and moviemakers continued to depict van Gogh as a madman because “it fits well the late-Romantic, wannabe-aristocratic notion of the mad artist, as in Kirk Douglas’s riveting but nutty performance in the movie Lust for Life.” She conjectures that if van Gogh had not fallen sick in 1888 and he had not committed suicide in July 1890, then “we would have more of his art, with the same qualities—which were technical developments, not effusions of madness—at a lower price per painting, unhyped by the Romance of his illness and death.”

Friday, 1 February 2019

On The Modesty of Adam Smith

Why did the British Enlightenment succeed in creating a better society, while the French Enlightenment led to the bloodbath of the French Revolution? I think, we can draw some inferences from a comparison between the character of the British philosophers and their French counterparts. The British philosophers of that period were modest and down-to-earth—they were not autocratic; they did not see themselves as intellectually and morally superior to other human beings; they philosophized about the common human nature and the natural equality of all people.

Adam Smith, one of the important figures of the British Enlightenment, asserts the common humanity of the street porter and the philosopher. Here’s an excerpt from Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (Book I, Chapter 2):
The difference of natural talents in different men, is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education… By nature a philosopher is not in genius and disposition half so different from a street porter, as a mastiff is from a greyhound, or a greyhound from a spaniel, or this last from a shepherd's dog. 
David Hume and Edmund Burke have also philosophized on the idea of all men being created equal. On the other hand the major French philosophers of the 18th century were autocrats; they thought that the philosophers like themselves are superior to everyone else in society. It is impossible to imagine Rousseau and Diderot likening themselves to a street porter. They believed that they were destined by nature to pick up the burden of guiding the political and cultural future of their country.