Beauty, Truth, and the Creative Act

Picture1Knowledge, while hard to define, must have a connection with truth. Some truths are accessible only to a normally thinking, feeling, person. The truth of reciprocity is recognized, in practice, by everyone other than, presumably, some psychopaths. “In practice” because while some thinkers might imagine that reciprocity is merely a convention, or that we are “hard-wired” by evolution to merely think it is true, in practice everyone acts as though it were true – and actions are a better indication of actual beliefs than words.

Likewise, all human beings recognize the existence of beautiful things, the most beautiful things being qualities of soul, life, and action. So, is beauty objective or subjective? It is neither, as those words are usually understood. The word “objective” can usually be regarded as synonymous with “measurable” and “true; the way things are regardless of perception.” By contrast, “subjective” is often regarded as that which is illusory and not real.

But the word “subjective” can also be used as a name for all interiority; every thought, feeling, and intuition. It is the realm of humor, metaphor, poetry, sense of the divine, imagination, as well as logic and rationality. The subjective is fundamentally spiritual and it has priority over the world of objects. The world of objects, and “objective” knowledge, is parasitic on the feeling, thinking, perceiving, person. An object is a kind of dead, inanimate thing, trapped in deterministic processes. The subjective is noumenal and is where the numinous resides, while the objective is realm of the phenomenal. Continue reading

On Teaching

The dominant school of thought when it comes to teaching philosophy is for the professor to hide his opinions and to strive for an objective and neutral presentation of the generally agreed upon options. A kind of intellectually robotic approach. The Picture1opposite extreme would be a dogmatic brow-beating system of indoctrination employing ad hominem attacks against anyone not conforming to the party-line; all ill-feeling passion.

Since teaching is largely a mimetic process, it seems like the professor should be modeling what he wants the students to be; a self-motivated, interested, curious, reasonably open-minded, inquiring, learner. If all philosophical positions are neutral, no one viewpoint being inherently better than another, and it being essentially a matter of indifference as to which view a person adopts, why should any student consider any of it important? The favored neutral approach seems designed to neuter passionate interest. Continue reading

Philosophical Skeleton Keys: The Leap of Faith

Until you have made the leap of faith, you can have no idea what it means. So you can have no very good way to make it, no? How does one know which way to jump, with no idea where the edge of the precipice might lie?

Such was the difficulty that perplexed me for many years, as I struggled to understand how to step through the membrane that separates belief from unbelief. You can’t step through it if you don’t even know where it is! Continue reading

Quantum Mechanics and Religion revisited

At a 1932 conference on quantum mechanics it was suggested that physicists should not worry about what quantum mechanics indicates about the nature of reality and they should “shut up and calculate.” There have been popular books written like The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters hinting that physicists were worried about the spiritual implications of their equations and this was the reason for their aversion.

Plato and the physicist David Bohm suggest that a creative mind lies behind everything. The shut up and calculate people continue to regard matter as the basic stuff – rather than creative mind. Is it not God in which we live and move and have our being? Have those who see physical reality as a simulation got a point? What about synchronicities that interrupt cause and effect? Don’t they provide evidence of the spiritual?



Sean Carroll

“Shut up and calculate” is a very bad idea for science. Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist who is interested in the foundations of quantum mechanics. He suggests there are about 100 serious such people on the planet. According to him the most straightforward implication of the equations is that new versions of you and the universe are being created every time there is a quantum measurement, following the multiple worlds interpretation. Here is a link to a tiny summary here: Continue reading

Three Late-Antique Narratives (Part II)


Fresco from Pompeii (Late First century)

III. The centuries of Late Antiquity were those, as Gilbert Murray notes, of “a failure of nerve,” which is indeed the title of one of his chapters.  The original Greek Enlightenment of the Classical period, summed up in a literature that reaches from Homer to the philosophers, was supremely confident in its power of knowledge and in its understanding of the natural, the supernatural, and the human worlds.  Wars for empire sapped the will of the Classical world, however; while relentless sophistic criticism undermined trust in inherited concepts, with superstitions from the East filling the conceptual vacuum thus created.  For Murray, the “Mystery Cults” and related movements of Late Antiquity epitomize the phenomenon.  They represent for Murray a retreat from rational religion in a widespread “loss of self-confidence, of hope in this life and of normal human effort,” as well as in “despair of patient inquiry,” all accompanied by “an intensifying of certain spiritual emotions.”  In the second of its two aspects in Satyricon, the Priapus cult functions as a salvation cult, offering to the convert an exit from the unpleasant brothel-labyrinth or Cyclops-cave of a degraded social scene.  What of Lucius Apuleius?  In addition to his talent as a storyteller, Apuleius lectured on Plato’s philosophy and worked as a civil adjudicator in his North African hometown of Madaura.  Apuleius also held sacerdotal office in one of the most prominent of the Second Century mysteries, those associated with the cult of the syncretic goddess Isis, whom worshippers identified with Aphrodite, Demeter, Artemis, Hera, and every other motherly deity.

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Three Late-Antique Narratives (Part I)

Couture, Thomas (1815 - 1879) Romans & Their Decadence (1847)

Thomas Couture (1815 – 1879): Roman Decadence (1847)

Those who are determined to resist the moral and civic corruption of their age – those who refuse to participate in the flouting of decorum and the degradation of bodies – must also resist the sophistic apology that seeks to excuse the very same moral and civic corruption.  This apology typically articulates itself as a form of dogmatic Determinism.  The apologist denies freedom of will so as to exculpate moral lapses generally, or perhaps those of the enunciator himself specifically. Determinism seeks to redefine moral consequences as non-causal outcomes that have somehow happened to people, as it were, at random.  The astute will discern such attempts at spurious exoneration in the oft-heard counseling claim that obnoxious behaviors like dipsomania or drug addiction stem from the dumb proclivity of the organism rather than from witting declensions of a particular character; and in the sociological tenet that crime emerges as a “consequence” of “poverty” or of “oppressive social structures.”  Thus a well-known movie actor blames his philandering on his “sex-addiction,” as though his proclivity to fornicate with as many women as possible impinged on him from outside himself so that no personal agency could be discerned in his transgressions.  Thus a school board rejects a sex-education curriculum based on the concept of chastity with the argument that abstinence defies nature and is for that reason fabulously unrealistic. Forty years ago first lady Nancy Reagan withstood a torrent of public abuse for her suggestion that schools should teach children simply “to say no” to temptations.  Mrs. Reagan’s critics did not say what else people are supposed to do to avoid temptation; they were merely certain that the will is powerless and they were outraged at the idea that self-control might be entered as an item in the school curriculum.

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Wrong Turns and Bad Choices

Commenter Dale Nelson just shared a quote that deserves better than the swift oblivion of a comment thread, so I am elevating it to the slightly less swift oblivion of a post.  He tells me that the passage was written by Robert Aickman (1914-1981), an English conservationist and writer of weird tales, and that it was warmly approved by the American paleoconservative and ghost-story writer Russell Kirk. Continue reading