The Impropriety of Formalist Reduction

It is a trope around here that reducing concrete phenomena to their material causes – or to their material and efficient causes – is grossly inadequate. It is false that zebras are nothing but atoms in motion; we can’t assemble a complete specification of a zebra only from a schedule of the motions of his atoms. To think that we might is the error of materialism.  

But it is worth remembering that it is just as inadequate to reduce concrete phenomena to their formal causes. Things are more than their formal specifications. The most common error of this sort these days is the description of America as a proposition nation – a congeries of ideas, rather than of people. Such are the errors of Gnosticism.  

Any adequate account of a concrete must together comprehend all four sorts of causes: material, efficient, formal and final. 

Globalism, Don Juan and the Perennial Philosophy

The perennial philosophy postulates a spiritual Source from which all being emanates; all is one. It is the contention that there is a structure to reality and this structure matches man’s interiority; his soul. There is a hierarchy of being; body, mind, soul and spirit.

One might add that if love is connection and all is one, then love corresponds to the structure of ultimate reality. In the realm of the Absolute, there are no distinctions; no individuals, no time and no space – just love.

However, I argue in Globalism, Don Juan and the Perennial Philosophy published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum that in order for love to be made manifest in the realm of the Relative, it is necessary to love individuals; individual people, individual families and individual countries. Liberals make a philosophical and theological mistake in backing globalism which attempts to bypass the particular. This can be compared to Don Juan. A man who loves women must express his romantic love by loving a particular woman. Don Juan, however, attempts to simply bed as many women as possible, treating them as disposable nothings, which is far from love. The deracinated, rootless cosmopolitan likewise has no attachments to any particular country, community, culture or landscape and therefore loves none of them adequately, if at all.

Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Person versus Entity

The Trinity is confusing and confounding to many because almost no one who talks about it remembers to point out that persons are not entities. If you treat persons as things, then the Trinity cannot possibly make any sense. It seems to say that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. That’s nuts. Yet that’s how almost everyone talks about the Trinity.

I learned (from Whitehead) that persons are not concrete entities, but rather characters of concrete entities. When I much later figured out that the Persons of the Trinity are not different things, but rather characters of a single thing, the logical difficulties that had bedeviled me melted away, and I worried a lot less about it.

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It’s Logoi All the Way Up

Worlds are implementations of logical calculi; or, equivocally, every world is an implementation of some logos. But no particular logical calculus is both consistent and complete. Inconsistent logical calculi cannot be implemented concretely, for it is impossible to enact contradictions. At best, we can wave our hands at the notion of an inconsistent calculus; we can’t actually *operate* with it, can’t *do* anything with it. So inconsistent calculi – i.e., falsehoods – can play no constructive role in worlds. They can play only destructive roles, as defections of consistent calculi.

Whatever is, is then necessarily an implementation of some consistent logical calculus. So, the logos of this world is consistent. But it is incomplete. It can be completed only by some more spacious calculus, that includes the logos of this world as a subdomain.

It must have been thus completed, for in no other way could we ascertain the truths that it can express but cannot itself demonstrate.

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Philosophy and the Crisis of the Modern World

Philosophy and the Crisis of the Modern World is my contribution to a symposium on the topic of identity published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum. René Guenon criticizes philosophy for generating this crisis. He argues that removing or ignoring the esoteric content of Platonic philosophy resulted in exoteric rationalism which has dominated Western philosophy, certainly since the scientific revolution. Since rationality is not itself generative, but merely analytic, philosophers find themselves with a vacuum where God should be and inevitably head in the direction of nihilism – the unavoidable consequence of postulating a Godless universe.

It is hard to see how a nihilistic culture could sustain itself in the long term. My argument is consistent with these comments by Scott Weidner concerning T. S. Eliot:

Eliot formulated the most basic tenet of his cultural theory, that religion and culture are essentially “related.” <4>  In fact, Eliot argued that “no culture has appeared or developed except together with a religion: according to the point of view of the observer, the culture [appears] to be the product of the religion, or the religion the product of the culture.” <5>   They might be thought of as different aspects of the same thing; culture was “the incarnation of the religion of a people.” <6>   Civilizations which appeared to be secular or humanistic, such as ancient Greece and Rome, were actually religious cultures in decline. <7>   Culture could not be preserved, extended, or developed in the absence of religion, nor could religion be preserved and maintained if culture was not. <8>

Law per se Establishes Religion

It is silly to suggest that morality cannot be legislated. Legislation *just is* the legislation of morality. Laws are formal promulgations of the convictions of the mighty regarding what is ill done, and by implication what is well enough done. Laws tell us what it is important to do, and what it is important not to do; by what they omit to cover, they tell us what is not important, what is in the eye of the Law neither here nor there. Statute by statute, they constitute a written and procedural record of a comprehensive moral vision of things.

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René Girard – Imitation and Life Without God

In preparation for teaching a literature course in the 1950s, René Girard reread some of the classic novels. In the process he realized that the novelists had had profound insights into aspects of the human condition and that to a large degree, they were the same insights…

In Deceit, Desire and the Novel, possibly René Girard’s best book, he argues that denying the existence of God does not remove the desire for transcendent meaning. Thwarted from seeking spiritual satisfaction from above, the desire gets directed towards other people who it is imagined have god-like qualities of self-sufficiency and autonomy and that we alone have been excluded from this divine status – creating resentment and compounding human misery.

Likewise, various utopian ideas are an attempt to create heaven on earth, frequently creating hell on earth. Trying to satisfy transcendent desires in the realm of the immanent is a disaster, both in politics and in relationships between people.

In this essay published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum, I also draw connections between Girard and St. Augustine’s notions of the role of God in human life.

René Girard – Imitation and Life Without God

When God is Dead, Rationalists Accept Contradictions to Fill the Void

Goedel’s Theorem is an application to mathematics of Aristotle’s thesis that thinking relies on first principles and that first principles are unprovable assumptions. This means that faith and hope are ineradicable features of human existence even in the exact sciences. The briefest summary of the implications of Goedel’s Theorem and the necessity for first principles is the notion that not everything that is true can be proven to be true.

Goedel’s Theorem states that an axiomatic system can be consistent and incomplete, inconsistent and complete, but never consistent and complete. Eternal verities can only be proven in relation to other eternal verities. Axiomatic systems exist on the rational plane of thought. Their rationally approximate and unprovable nature is due to their ultimate reliance on transcendent truths described in Plato’s realm of Forms. For instance, people contrast earthly justice with perfect justice, though the latter has never been instantiated in the physical realm. This implies some intuition of perfect justice, though no one has ever experienced such a thing.

Positivists and post-modern relativists are likely to regard each other as opposites. More than likely both will be liberals and in most cases share a contempt for religion and any notion of transcendence. As rationalists, they will also most likely reject emotional attachment to and especial preference for family, tradition, community, culture and the local physical landscape. The modern liberal instead is committed to being a citizen of the world and welcoming to all comers, no matter their basic hostility to the ethos of the host culture.

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In the Fen Country: Landscape and Music in the Work of Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams

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Robert Gallon (1845 – 1925): The Water’s Edge (1870s)

A strong sympathy for the landscape often entwines itself with a type of religious sensibility, particularly the pantheistic one.  In the decorative murals with which the wealthy classes of Rome during the Imperial centuries adorned their domestic lives, the idyllic scene, with its groves and grazing sheep, invariably contains a rustic temple.  In Hellenistic poetry, too, the writer – it might be Theocritus or at a later date Ovid – in describing the sylvan setting of Sicily or Arcadia emphasizes the presence everywhere of the nature-spirits.  Ovid’s Metamorphoses seem in part to be an explanation of why everywhere in the ancient world one encountered innumerable altars and shrines.  To the pagan mentality, everything, every tree and stream and mountain, shared in the quality of the sacred, and offered a home to the spirits and demigods.  So too in Romantic painting and verse, the artist’s response to the natural scene records his sense of the ubiquity of spirit.  Thus in William Wordsworth’s famous sonnet “The world is too much with us” (1802), the calamity of the emergent industrial and commercial order manifests itself most poignantly in the terrible loneliness of being cut off from participation in the aura of the elements –

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The lyric subject of the poem, concluding that the modern dispensation has left men “for everything… out of tune,” wishes that he were (although he is not) “a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,” that is, someone who might “have glimpses that would make me less forlorn” of “Proteus rising from the sea.”  That men should have become acutely aware of nature in the early nineteenth century is hardly surprising.  The social and economic developments of the period, the hypertrophy of cities and the dissolution of ancient arrangements in the countryside, wrought changes in the very appearance of the rural landscape.  A generation later than Wordsworth, in the “Wessex” stories and novels of Thomas Hardy, the situation has grown even more acute.  In the short story “The Fiddler of the Reels,” the great fact of existence is the Crystal Palace, in the year of whose construction much of the action takes place.  The countryside is emptying into the great cities; railroads have appeared in the provinces to draw away the young people, and the expansion of a new order of industry and finance has begun to alter the familiar aspects of field and forest, river valley and hill.

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