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.
Having an emotional and intellectual appreciation for the sacred is necessary to live well. Without an appreciation for the sacred a person’s attunement to life is severely damaged.
The sacred can be thought of as the appearance of the transcendent in the midst of the immanent; of a slight rip in the curtain separating the two.
A human being, Nature and Beauty can all be counted as instances of the sacred. Mystics seem to suggest that in fact all reality is divine and describe the sacred as shining through the most mundane of objects. Since mystics face the problem of communicating their rare experiences to the rest of us, they frequently make use of poetry. This has the advantage of potentially engaging the reader emotionally, intellectually and imaginatively. The aesthetic experience can be an instance of when people are most alive and a poem, as an instance of the beautiful, can point beyond itself to the divine realm. A realm for which we have an affinity, claims Plotinus, as being our true home.
Gifts are universal. Every culture on Earth has and will always exchange gifts. The effect of gifts is to tie people together; to connect them. This is their ultimate meaning and significance. Many features of gifts are immune from changes in cultural context and time. They stay the same in all circumstances. They are traditional everywhere.
Marcel Mauss’ The Gift is an anthropological study of gifts. He hoped to show that gift-giving precedes mere economic transactions in chronology and significance. Successful businesses often combine gifts with the more prosaic monetary exchanges.
Some people exhibit an amazing lack of interest in reality, content to imagine living in a wholly invented world. The notion that much of subjective experience is illusory is strongly connected with the beginnings of “modern” philosophy.
Galileo and Locke claimed that only things which are physical and measurable really exist. Galileo argued that primary qualities; solidity, motion, figure, extension and number were really real – being the objective properties of objects and that secondary qualities; color, sight, sound, small, taste and touch did not actually exist per se. They are merely artifacts; products of the sense organs that really have nothing to do with the objects being perceived. They are merely what our brains do when confronted with sensory input and primary qualities.
With modern egalitarianism, the existence of the rich is regarded as an offense to the poor, the smart to the dumb, and the good looking to the plain. Pure resentment drives this phenomenon – resentment being a combination of admiration, envy and hatred. Wanting to be rich, handsome and smart, and failing to be, these things are then hated.
Many high schools are now apparently doing away with prize-giving ceremonies and the notion of a valedictorian to spare the feelings of other students.
Moral subjectivism, or relativism, reduces morality to feelings and personal opinion. This renders moral knowledge and disputes meaningless. Aesthetic subjectivism likewise insists that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and nothing more. I encountered raised voices and outrage in a class when I recently suggested otherwise. The reaction was stronger than anything I had experienced before and seemed out of proportion to the claim. Far more contentious-seeming moral issues had not inspired any such protests. My essay Aesthetic Knowledge published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum is my argument for aesthetic objectivism.
Identity politics is a left-wing phenomenon. It encourages group identification versus the rest. It is centered around resentment, grievance and a sense of injustice. Instead of being American, a person becomes a hyphenated American. Instead of being interested in the good of the inclusive group, moral concern is narrowed to some subsection of Americans.
Identity politics means claiming victim status and victimization requires victimizers. Differences in intergroup outcomes are to be attributed to discrimination against the group that performs less well. Evidence for discrimination, or evidence that should discrimination exist that it is in fact responsible for differing performances between groups, is thought to be entirely unnecessary. Thomas Sowell has an extensive analysis of this irrational phenomenon in books like Intellectuals and Race which I write about here.
Philippa Foot invented the scenario described as the trolley problem. In it there is a runaway trolley that will kill five innocent people. You, a bystander, have the ability to divert the trolley so that just one innocent person is killed instead.
In another version of the problem there is a fat man looking at a runaway trolley from a bridge. If you push him off the bridge he will get wedged under the wheels and bring the trolley to a halt, saving the five people.
Some philosophers delight in the moral confusion generated by the different moral intuitions people exhibit concerning the two cases. People often countenance the lever-pulling but demur from the rightness of pushing the fat man. It is commonly pointed out that the two cases are functionally the same, but that pushing the fat man is more visceral and less abstract, leading to the different moral choices.
In “Why Beauty Matters,” Roger Scruton argues that a cult of beauty that dominated Western civilization for two thousand years was replaced by a cult of ugliness in the twentieth century. Originality came to be considered key, and ugliness came to dominate language, music, manners and architecture.
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Thomas Sowell in “Intellectuals and Race” has now been published by the Sydney Traditionalist Forum. I do no more, really, than summarize Sowell’s main arguments and conclusions. If you have read “Intellectuals and Race” this article can serve as a refresher regarding some of the main points. If you have not read “Intellectuals and Race,” the book is not simply a philosophical argument, but presents copious empirical evidence that the causes of problems that many black Americans face have been misdiagnosed and thus the offered solutions are also often misguided.
If the aim is to help actual concrete people, rather than to play ideological games and identity politics, this book should be regarded as a must read.
Free speech is an ideal and a good. It is the nature of ideals and goods that they run up against other ideals and goods compromising their expression.
Plato’s Republic centers on the ideal of justice. By making justice the overriding emphasis of his hypothetical polis, Plato completely removes the ideals and goods of romantic love and familial love. Successful warriors are to be given their choice of mates and children are to be brought up in anonymous nurseries because parents tend to want the best for their children even when their children do not really deserve it.
The Republic is thus a reductio ad absurdum argument. Readers of Plato know that Plato considered love to be very important and love features extensively in The Symposium and The Phaedrus. Plato should not, therefore, be read as actually espousing his utopian city. He is engaged in a philosophical exercise; showing what it would take to have relatively perfect justice on earth while warning of taking the virtue to an excess.