Thoughts inspired by teaching epistemology for the first time and listening to the podcasts of Jordan Peterson
Epistemology became a major topic for analytic philosophers because they trace their intellectual origins to Descartes and the British empiricists. Descartes dismantles the foundations of his beliefs and then tries to rebuild them on certain grounds. Having used the method of doubt to tear everything down, including even mathematics, he finds irrefutable evidence of the existence of his own mind and then tries to prove that the “external world” exists.
Wholes are real, or else they are not worth talking about at all, as not existing in the first place. On materialism, there are no wholes: no persons, no molecules, not even any Rutherfordian atoms or protons.
So then, on materialism, most human discourse is – as pertaining to entities that do not truly exist, being therefore inapposite to things as they really are – simply not worth doing; is, rather, inapt, and so likely injurious.
But if materialism is false – as, being a notion of entities that under its own account do not actually exist, it must necessarily be – then wholes are real. Some of them, anyway. The trick is to discern which apparent wholes are entities in their own right, and which are only our own heuristics.
You have almost certainly read G. K. Chesterton quoted as saying that America is “a nation with the soul of a church” (1). The line is a favorite among belletristic conservatives who are themselves apostles in the Church of America, and who would not mind leaving their readers with the impression that they and the Sage of Common Sense have said that America is essentially Christian.
Like so many of the impressions with which belletristic conservatives would not mind leaving their readers, this one would be more than a little false. Continue reading →
In my moniker JMSmith, the J stands for Jonathan. It is a name that has served me well, although my mother tells me that, when I was a child, shouting it sometimes failed to engage my attention. But a man who also bears the surname Smith will have a connection to all of his names that is, I daresay, somewhat less proud and proprietorial than a man whose last name is Murgatroyd, Pecksniff, or Abercrombie. And in my case, the sense of ordinariness was enforced by the fact that, until I reached adulthood, everyone called me Jon.
As a child raised on Bible stories and Sunday School lessons, I could not, however, escape the feeling that being named Jonathan placed me in some sort of occult relation to the son of Saul and friend of David. I therefore found myself wondering if there might be some onomastic qualia, some essential Jonathan-ness that was shared by every boy who bore that name. It was not easy for me to answer this question inductively, since there were not many Jonathans among my classmates (unlike Smiths), and these Jonathans were mostly Jews (which strangely made them seem irrelevant to my inquiry).
So I was thrown back on pondering the character in the Bible story, and the more I pondered, the less thrilled I was with my name. Continue reading →
The Protestant Reformation looms large in neo-reactionary thought. This is because it saw the birth of the Spirit of Jacobinism, and because Neo-reaction is, on my understanding, reaction against this Spirit. Unlike the Paleo-reactionaries of long ago, today’s Neo-reactionaries are, however, embarrassed by the absence of legitimate authorities to defend. The Spirit of Jacobinism has now carried all before it, and one cannot really stand up for Throne and Altar after Lenin has taken the Crown and Danton has taken the Crozier.
This is why neo-reactionary thinkers spend so much time poking through the ashes, trying to understand what happened; and it is why our project is, at bottom, an exercise in historical demonology. Continue reading →
Plato had a name for popular culture. He called it “theatrocracy,” which is to say rule by the theater (Laws 3.701). Or, more exactly, it is to say rule of the theater by the theatron, this being the ancient name of the seating area for spectators. We have a theatrocracy whenever the performance is governed by the applause, or the laughs, or (hitting closer to home) the student evaluations.
And Plato said theatrocracy was a very bad sort of rule because it was an inversion of authority. In a world that was properly ordered, the stage dictated to the theatron, not the theatron to the stage. Continue reading →
Cult effects culture. A people cannot efficiently coordinate their activities except insofar as they share a common understanding of the way things are, and of the proper way to deal with them. At the very least, they must agree about what is real, what reality is like, what it is for, and so forth; they must agree about First Things, and indeed Most Things. This they generally do, without ever even noticing all their myriad agreements; men rather tend to notice only their irksome disagreements, however petty.
A people among whom heterodoxy regarding First Things begins to gain a foothold begins ipso facto to become confused in their motions: in their heads, hearts, and acts. Their loyalties are then divided, and so vitiated, at least at the margins.
Heterodoxy is cold civil war. Let it compound long enough, and it will go hot. So healthy societies must control for heterodoxy, especially about First Things.
The outfit worn by an American teenager has been subjected to rigorous “peer review.” Likewise his hairstyle, his lingo, and what he passes off as his opinions. In fact, we might say that he is, in toto, the product of the “peer review process.” Or what anxious sociologists used to call “peer pressure.”
Academic peer review is engineered somewhat differently, but its purpose and effect is the same. It produces conformity, or what we are told to call, with intonations of reverence, scientific consensus. Continue reading →