Michael & Elizabeth CAVANAUGH
Stuff for my Philosophy Students LA Southwest College
Home | Fort Slocum | Slocum Overviews | Slocum Features | Family & Genealogical Photos | Travels | Philosophy LA Southwest College

There IS light at the end of our tunnel.
michaelgown.jpg
I want to see YOU at commencement!

Pedestrian stuff  for philosophy class
+ food for thought

The wise man hears one word  -- 
and understands two.


 
 
Spring  Term began Mon 10 Feb.
My classes Spring Term:
 
 
Phi 8 Logic 3032 Wed 18h30 SSEC301A
Phi 1 Intro 3031 Thurs 16h TEC 150
Phi 1 Intro 0201 Sat 8h SSEC301A 
 
I regret that texts are egregiously expensive!   Therefore current editions of both my texts are available to borrow on 2 hr. reserve at the front desk of the library.  You must have student ID, available from ASO. More options continue to become available;  e-commerce provides multiple choices, and  it is now possible even to rent textbooks!  "Google It."
 
Saturday Phil. 1 students, please note:  we are off for Presidents' Day the first week, so our first class is not until 22 Feb. 
 
You will note LOTS of construction on campus again this semester!   Work around it as you can..
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Death of Socrates
socratesdeathjdavidhires.jpg
by Jacques-Louis David

The unexamined life is not worth living for man. 
 
Is what is holy holy because the gods approve it, or do they approve it because it is holy?
 
But, my friends, I think it is a much harder thing to escape from wickedness than death, for wickedness (ponerian; baseness, i.e. slavishness) is swifter than death.
 
Most people do not think of knowledge as a force, much less a dominant or ruling force;  they think a man may often have knowledge while he is ruled by something else, at one time anger, at another pleasure or pain, sometimes love, very often fear;  they really picture knowledge as a slave which is kicked about by all these other things.
(Socrates) 

popperreading.jpg
Sir Karl Raimund Popper (1902-1994)

Thesis One:   We know a great deal.
Thesis Two:  Our ignorance is sobering and boundless.
Both these theses are simultaneously true.
 
So long as a (scientific) theory stands up to the severest tests we can design, it is accepted;  if it does not, it is rejected.  But it is never inferred, in any sense, from the empirical evidence.  There is neither a psychological nor a logical induction.  Only the falsity of a theory can be inferred from empirical evidence, and this inference is a purely deductive one.
 
Animals, and even plants, are problem-solvers.
(Popper)
(Update LA Times 4 Oct. 2008 p. A18:  Toshiyuki Nagagaki of Hokkaido University won the "Ig Nobel" prize for discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles.)

Man is condemned to be free.
 
Hell is other people. 
(Or was Eliot right, instead:
Hell is oneself,
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.)
 
Man is the desire to be God.
 
Progress, this long arduous path which leads to me.
(Sartre)

(left -- bien sur!) at the Cafe de Flore:
sartresimoneflore.jpg
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980); Simone, foreground.

kanttopofhead.gif
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Percepts without concepts are blind.
Concepts without percepts are empty.
 
The light dove, cleaving the air in its free flight, and feeling its resistance, might imagine that its flight would be still easier in empty space.
 
Even the Holy One of the gospel must first be compared with our ideal of moral perfection before we can recognize him to be such.
(Kant)

"the fiery brook"
feuerbachlitho.jpg
Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872)

What was at first religion becomes at a later period idolatry.
 
The negation of the subject (viz., God) is held to be irreligion, nay, atheism;  not so the negation of the predicates.  But that which has no predicates has no effect on me;  that which has no effect on me, has no existence for me.  To deny all the qualities of a being is equivalent to denying the being himself. . . The theory that God cannot be defined, and consequently cannot be known by man, is therefore the offspring of recent times, a product of modern unbelief.  (cf. John Wisdom's parable of the Invisible Gardener.  Cf. Wittgenstein:  Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.  PS:  if you can't sing it, you can't hum it either.)
 
Man  --  this is the mystery of religion --  projects his being into objectivity, and then again makes himself an object to this projected image of himself thus converted into a subject.
 
By his God thou knowest the man, and by the man his God;   the two are identical.
 
Mann ist was er isst.  (You are what you eat.)
(Feuerbach)
 
(cf. Somerset Maugham:  

"Men have ascribed to God imperfections that they would deplore in themselves.")

 

(Cf. G K Chesterton: 

"Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils . . . ")

 

(Cf. Peter O'Toole's character Jack Gurney in the 1972  film, The Ruling Class, who believes he is Jesus:  how do I know I'm God?  Because "when I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.") 

studied Greek philosophy; still worth reading:
marx.jpg
Karl Marx (1818-1883)

It is life that determines consciousness, not consciousness, life.
(Cuius testiculos habeas, habeas cardium et cerebellum.
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his livelihood depends on his not understanding it.
  --  Upton Sinclair
Marx' advice is often interpreted to mean that economics has priority over culture; but it could also be taken to mean, e.g., over la longue duree demography will out as well.)
 
The ruling ideas of any era are the ideas of the ruling class.
(Implication:  those of the lower orders enchanted by the ruling ideas are not going to act in their own best interests.  As a past grandmaster of this game, Jay Gould, once gloated:  "I can pay one half of the working class to kill the other half.")
 
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways;  the point, however, is to change it.
 
The demand to give up illusions about [man's] condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
 
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.
(Marx)

Nietzsche is pietzsche.
nietzscheprofile.jpg
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

He who looks into the abyss should beware, lest the abyss begin to look back into him.
 

Whoever despises himself still respects himself as one who despises. ("I despise [myself], therefore I am"?   cf. Mary Wortley Montagu:  I despise the pleasure of pleasing those I despise.)

A:  'One is praised only by one's peers.' B:  'Yes!  And whoever praises you tells you:  you are my peer.'
 
Of all evil I deem you [the powerful] capable:   therefore I want the good from you.  Verily, I have often laughed at the weaklings who thought themselves good because they had no claws.
 
Where I found the living, I found the will to power, and even in the will of those who serve I found the will to be master.
(Nietzsche)

kuhnside.jpg
Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996)

When reading the works of an important thinker, look first for the apparent absurdities in the text and ask yourself how a sensible person could have written them.  When you find an answer . . . when these passages make sense, then you may find that more central passages, ones you previously thought you understood,  have changed their meaning.
(Kuhn)

franksworld.jpg
Frank Sinatra (1915-1998)

Living well is the best revenge.
(Sinatra)
 
The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.
(Arabic proverb?  but many cultures claim it;  Turkish version:  it urur keravan yurur.  Andre Gide passed it on to Truman Capote)
 
Better, Faster, Cheaper:  choose two.
(Engineering maxim)

It is the first duty of a wine to be red;   and the second, to be a claret.
(Harry Waugh)

I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad.
Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone.
When I have company I consider it obligatory.
I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and I drink it when I am.
Otherwise I never touch it, unless I'm thirsty.

(Lily Bollinger, on the subject of Champagne.  Who was it that said, no one has ever regretted on their deathbed that they drank too much Champagne?)

I have taken more from drink, Clemmie, than drink has taken from me.

(attributed to Winston Churchill.    Churchill & Nancy Astor mutually despised one another.  The story is told, one night she accosted him on the street, declaring indignantly, Mr Churchill, sir, you are drunk!   Churchill replied, Quite so, Madam, quite so.  And you, Madam, are ugly.   In fact, you are very ugly.   But  in the morning:   I shall be sober.   So some ills are more long-lasting than others.   I take it that, on Marx' view, the problem with capitalism is that is more like ugliness than like drunkenness.)

(Cf. Willie Nelson:  "There's a lot of doctors that tell me/Ya better start slowin' it down/But there's more old drunks than there are old doctors/So I guess we better have another round.")

Dieu n'avait fait que l'eau, mais l'homme a fait le vin.

(Victor Hugo;  "God, He merely made water;  but as for Man,  well,  he made:  wine!")

 

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine;  as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
(Thomas Jefferson)

He who knows one language, knows none.
(Goethe)
(cf. Kipling:  "What does he know of England, who only England knows?"  Self-understanding too is a comparative matter.)

. . . the past is a foreign country where they do things differently.
---Gordon S. Wood, New York Review 10 June 2010, p. 67

An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

--  H L Mencken (depends, maybe, on how hungry one is?  Hey!  How about, give us bread AND roses?  Beware the false dilemma.)

There is no such thing as inner peace.  There is only nervousness or death.
(Fran Lebowitz. Metropolitan Life)
(Where Lebowitz, with Freud, thinks that nervousness is the human condition, Cynthia Ozick, in her very interesting essay "On Living in the Gentile World," thinks of nervousness as a psychological definition of Judaism  --  which is the opposite of just being natural or seeking inner peace:  "To be natural:  that way lies ease, and an energetic and athletic sort of sloth, which is the worst sloth of all, and surrender, and ultimately worldliness and sentimentality."   For an interesting exploration of these same themes,  cf.  John Murray Cuddihy, The Ordeal of Civility:  Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity.)
 
Don't think of yourself as an organic pain collector racing toward oblivion.  (I said, don't.)
--  Dogbert (famous post-Socratic philosopher)
 

. . . its author can  be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.  (a review of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man)
 
Once again there is a rootlessness or ambivalence about philosophical thinking, as if the discovery or rediscovery of the insufficiency of reason  had given a paradoxical validity to nonsense,  and this gives us a special sympathy for the dilemmas of the seventeenth century.
 
A good many years ago a neighbor whose sex chivalry forbids me to disclose exclaimed upon hearing of my interest in philosophy:   'Don't you just adore Pluto's Republic?'
("Pluto's Republic" is a metaphor for the demimonde of half-knowledge  --  where dwells, as Saul Bellow notes (see elsewhere on this site) "the new mental rabble of the wised-up world."   Medawar does not cover the latest ones, e.g, the Afro-Centrists, the Scientific Creationists, the Holocaust Deniers, and most lately the Birthers,  but anyone who insists on exhibiting how a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, finds scope here.)
(Sir Peter B. Medawar,  Nobel Prize in Medicine 1960;   1915-1987)

In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact"  --  part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess . . . Well, evolution is a  theory.  It is also a fact.  And facts and theories are not different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. . . "fact" does not mean "absolute certainty."  . . . In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withold provisional assent . . ."
-- Stephen Jay Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory"
 
. . . The public has a distorted view of science, because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths.  In fact, science is not a collection of truths.  It is a continuing exploration of mysteries.  Wherever we go exploring in the world around us, we find mysteries.   Our planet is covered by continents and oceans whose origins we cannot explain.  Our atmosphere is constantly stirred by poorly understood disturbances that we call weather and climate.  The visible matter in the universe is outweighed by a much larger quantity of dark invisible matter that we do not understand at all.  The origin of life is a total mystery, and so is the existence of human consciousness.  We have no clear idea of how the electrical discharges occurring in nerve cells in our brains are connected with our feelings and desires and actions.  . . . Science is the sum total of a great multitude of mysteries.  It is an unending argument between a great multitude of voices.  It resembles Wikipedia more than it resembles the Encyclopedia Britannica.
 
-- Freeman Dyson, "How We Know," New York Review of Books 10 March 2011 p. 10.  (Or,  perhaps  --  cf. Popper's two theses, above  --  science is both a collection of truths and an exploration of mysteries;  simultaneously Wikipedia and Britannica.  It is after all logically possible that, simultaneously, as old mysteries dissolve and knowledge arises, new mysteries also arise.  Solutions may breed new problems, and this may occur exponentially.  The more we learn, the more we also learn how much more there remains to be learned.  The person who is certain that the universe is that domain in which the sun orbits the earth as it has for a full 6,000 years does not know more than the person stuck in the mere conjecture that among the billions and billions of stars we might hope to find some more planets on which life has developed.)

If you're going through hell, keep going.
(Winston Churchill, 1874-1965)
 
If things are going perfectly, it's an ambush.

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful about what we pretend to be.
(Kurt Vonnegut,  1922-2007; cf the Buddhist sutra, "Things are not what they appear to be;  nor are they otherwise.")

Where I think you may be wrong is that you seem to be thinking that if you decide not to become one thing, the other thing you become has to be better.
(Doris Lessing, 1919-2013. )
 
Cf. Die Toten Hosen:   "Kein Alkohol ist auch kein Loesung."   (Alcohol is no solution?  No alcohol is also no solution.)  Alcohol does not solve any problem, but then again, neither does milk.
 
Cf G K Chesterton:  "I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid."  (BUT cf Somerset Maugham:  "from the earliest times the old have rubbed it into the young that they are wiser than they, and before the young had discovered what nonsense this was they were old too, and it profited them to carry on the imposture.")
 

New Rule:   we have got to stop pretending that, because Communism was not vindicated by History, therefore Marx remains completely irrelevant.   Alas, we are in a situation described by the old Eastern-bloc joke:  the good news is, everything They told us about Communism is false;  the  bad news is, everything They told us about capitalism is true.

 

        One sort of reason to continue reading Marx is just substantive.   The world in which we live is reverting more and more to the sort of world in which he used to live.  Much of what he said about Victorian Britain could just as easily have been written about contemporary Russia;  just as much of what could be said about the Gilded Age of a century ago can still be said about the new Gilded Age of de-regulation, the dismantling of 20th-c. social democracy and the New Deal, and developments like the sub-prime mortgage fiasco.   Marx never lost sight of the sheer mendacity of so much writing about the economy, while at the same time maintaining a keen appreciation of the human comedy that tolerates and even welcomes that sort of mendacity and self-deception.

            Here’s one way in which it would be useful to remember Marx.  At least ever since Mr. Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher brought back Voodoo Economics, the dominant narrative framework for talking about such matters has been:  most people (those who are employed) are consumers, and employers help them by creating jobs so they can live (and consume).   (And so employees, and those they elect, must tread very carefully so as not to frighten the employing class, lest this cause the supply of jobs to dry up.)   Ayn Rand merely had the most extreme version of this narrative;  but in various versions it remains the conventional wisdom that the few at the top of the social pyramid create while the feckless below them  --  Mr. Romney's curious 47%  --   receive and consume.

            If Marx is to be believed, that is exactly backwards;  employers need employees much more than vice-versa.  Every day they work, employees sell their labor power to their employers, who then turn around and pay them a wage.  But this wage is, and must be, always a fraction of the initial labor power handed over in the initial sale, because the remaining fraction not paid back is what constitutes profit.

            Arthur Laffer was fond of using a bird metaphor to describe the process:  if you just feed the horse enough oats, the sparrows on the roadside get to eat, too.  He had the wrong bird:   workers who sell their labor power are not like incidental sparrows on the roadside;   they are more like the goose who laid the golden egg.   The farmer does not lay the eggs, and if he looks to his enlightened self-interest he will not kill the goose. 

            If Marx is correct, the wealth of any society (including such a relatively wealthy society as ours still remains  --  despite recent erosions) is not the benevolent gift of entrepreneurs at the top who allow enough to trickle down to those below;  it is the creation of most of that society, the employees  --  Occupy's curious 99%  --  who then stand aside as private wealth in the form of profit is skimmed from the top (to a greater or lesser extent). 

 

      These days, it is happening to the relatively greater extent that, for instance (as Tony Judt has pointed out) in 1968 the CEO of General Motors took home 66 times that of the typical GM worker;  by 2005 the CEO of Wal-mart took home 900 times that of the typical Wal-mart employee.  (The same year, the wealth of the Wal-mart founder’s family was $90 billion  --  about the same as the bottom 40% of the US population, 120 million people.)  In January 2014, Oxfam reported that the 85 richest people in the world -- a number small enough to fit into a single aircraft, even if some would not get first-class seats  --   have as much wealth as the bottom 50%.   As Bill Maher recently noted, 80% of the wealth created in recent years has gone to 1% of the population.  Imagine a pizza party in which you order a 100 slice pizza, and the first guy takes 80 pieces.  (What, you can't settle for just 79?  But that's socialism!)

 

         In recent times, the top has been skimming quite a lot.  “Starve the beast,” as Reagan was fond of saying;  Reagan meant Big Gum’mint but in effect it is the goose that is being starved by the long-term effects of Voodoo Economics.

            Suppose Marx has got it straight:   then it is not at all unfair to demand (even without necessarily demanding to abolish capitalism outright) that the top might be taxed quite heavily and the proceeds redistributed to some of those who produce the wealth of the society in the first place, some of whom are now known by what once might have seemed an oxymoron outright, the working poor. 

            Since Reagan’s presidency and during George II’s,  de-regulated no-bid entrepreneurs have been allowed (like Halliburton) to use the government as a big private money siphon during the Iraqi War or (like Countrywide) to drive ordinary homeowning taxpayers into bankruptcy and bring the entire economy to the brink of collapse;  while movements funded by the Koch brothers and other rich Masters of the Universe have strangled the revenue base.  In light of this recent history  it would not seem the brightest move to start by blaming the few remaining unions trying to preserve a minimal decent standard of living for many people, for a situation in which pensions will no longer be paid and demands for more equitable distribution of social wealth can be laughed off.

 

       Oh, those bad teachers and firefighters and janitors and policemen;  they're the ones responsible for economic crisis.  Why shouldn't they be made to pay by having their unions broken and living like workers in the private sector?   It is as if the second wave at Omaha beach said, oh look the first wave has a beachhead, let's drag them back into the ocean.  It is as if those blinded in one eye said, let's put out the eyes of those with two.   (Why does PETA throw blood on furs in Beverly Hills but not on the leather jackets of Hells' Angels?  Why does the Tea Party resent those uppity janitors but not those Masters of the Universe who in fact extract much more in profits from their labor before they are paid a wage,  than the government ever extracts in tax dollars after they are paid a wage?)

            This society is still creating tremendous wealth;  but if Marx is correct is it being badly misused, in a massive process of theft by conversion.  The dominant narrative, that of consumers dependent on the benevolence of entrepreneurs, is very helpful in maintaining such a process.  Is this a proposal to revive Communism?  Nah.  More like a proposal to bring back the New Deal.   It is perfectly possible to re-read Marx in the 21st century and come to the really quite moderate  conclusion:  Mistah, We Could Use a Man Like FDR Again.

 
Consider the following Marxist-Menckenist line (with due Mertonist attention to the complexity of unintended consequences) on why the Tea Party gets its appeal (where the '60's converge with the '80's), by Mark Lilla, New York Review 27 May 2010, p. 56:  "For half a century now Americans have been rebelling in the name of individual freedom.  Some wanted a more tolerant society with greater private autonomy, and now we have it, which is a good thing  --  though it has brought us more out-of-wedlock births, a soft pornographic popular culture, and a drug trade that serves casual users while destroying poor American neighborhoods and destabilizing foreign nations.  Others wanted to be free from taxes and regulations so they could get rich fast, and they have  --  and it's left the more vulnerable among us in financial ruin, holding precarious jobs, and scrambling to find health care for their children.  We wanted our two revolutions.  Well, we have had them."
 

It is common to define capitalism as greed (e.g., Gordon Gecko).  This is a psychological/motivational definition.   Marx had another take, which was structural rather than psychological:  capitalism is production for profit rather than for use-value.  The mis-match between what is profitable, and what is useful or sensible, drives a lot of the irrationality.   

But, on the subject of greed, there can be degrees.  Like nostalgia, greed just ain't what it used to be.  What is interesting about recent history is just how short-term greed has become.  All throughout history, ruling classes have tried to accumulate advantage for their families, including at a detriment to your family.  That’s just politics.  It looks to the long term.  It has been a common criticism of American capitalism (in contrast to Japan, for instance) that it rewards the short-term, quarterly bottom line even if this conflicts with long-term best interests.  This flaw seems now greatly accelerated.  WWJR?  What Will Jenna Rule?   A ruling class that ignores global warming is going to leave its heirs less real estate (Crawford TX may be the new Atlantis) even if Halliburton shareholders are sitting much prettier.   Would the Borgias have approved of this sort of short-sightedness with respect to dynastic interests?  The recent sub-prime mortgage fiasco is another glaring example.  Matt Taibbi, in Griftopia (p. 212), claims that Goldman Sachs’ ethical mantra used to be “long-term greedy.”  This is now out the window;  the tendency now is to liquidate the goose for immediate profit and to hell with where anyone will get golden eggs down the road.    “Long-term greedy” is, arguably, rational;  but short-term greedy?

 

Our current ruling class is seriously deficient in patricians.

Taibbi’s book is worth reading.  “If American politics made any sense at all, we wouldn’t have two giant political parties of roughly the same size perpetually fighting over the same 5-10 percent swatch of undecided voters, blues versus reds.  Instead, the parties should be broken into haves  and have-nots  --   a couple of obnoxious bankers on the Upper East Side running for office against 280 million pissed-off credit card and mortgage customers.

“That’s the more accurate demographic divide in a country in which the top 1 percent has seen its share of the nation’s overall wealth jump from 34.6 percent before the crisis, in 2007, to over 37.1 percent in 2009.  Moreover, the wealth of the average American plummeted during the crisis  --  the median American household net worth was $102,500 in 2007, and went down to $65,400 in 2009  --  while the top 1 percent saw its net worth hold relatively steady, dropping from $19.5 million to $16.5 million” (pp 11-12).

 

"John Steinbeck may have put his finger on the reason why the exploited do not complain more than they do when he observed that the average American worker does not see himself as part of a dispossessed proletariat but as a temporarily embarassed millionaire."

 

Perhaps on the other hand life is not a dress rehearsal.

Those who know, but don't know they know, think they don't know;   those who don't know, but don't know they don't know, think they know.
(R. D. Laing [1927-1989], Knots, perhaps ringing the changes on Lao Tzu: "Those who know the Tao don't talk.
Those who talk about the Tao don't know. "  Or, perhaps on Socrates:   the wisest man in Greece only because he did not know but he knew that he did not know.)

Skeptical Fideism

             Typically, skepticism is applauded or feared.    It is applauded by those who dislike either superstition as such, or whatever conventional wisdom it is they wish to undermine.  It is feared by those who like the conventional wisdom and are loath to see it undermined.  Like everything else, conventional wisdom changes;  so whether it is worth undermining at any point in history is a matter both of whose, but also which, ox is being gored.  (Thus a claim like “change is good [bad]” is every bit as empty as a claim like “life is good [bad].”   Which change?  Whose life?) 

            Philosophers are thought of as skeptics par excellence.  This is only partly true.  There are some notable examples of skeptics who undermine conventional wisdom.  Gorgias comes to mind (nothing exists;  and even if it did it could not be known;  and even if it could it could not be communicated), as does Nietzsche.  But then there is Descartes, who adopts a thoroughgoing skepticism (de omnibus dubitandum) precisely to attain non-skeptical results.  Often however skepticism is selective, and not so thorough-going as that of Gorgias or Descartes.   So things are complicated.  But in the game of philosophy, it is perfectly appropriate to play skeptic with no obligation to replace whatever beliefs one demolishes. It is no objection to any philosopher’s views that he demolishes without replacing.   The audience may not like this;  Deuteronomy warns against it (“cursed is he who removes his neighbour’s boundary stone”) but philosophy does not worship at that particular altar.

            Those who do so worship have used skepticism for non-skeptical ends.  A typical example is:  you can’t prove God doesn’t exist?  Then God must exist, Q.E.D.   Here is an example of skeptical fideism:  “skepticism” used as a means in the service of non-skeptical ends.  (Terence Penelhum introduced the concept.)  Perhaps Descartes counts as its best practitioner.  The above example however illustrates what logicians identify as a fallacy, the argumentum ad ignorantiam (“appeal to ignorance”).   Its mirror image (you can’t prove God does exist?  Then God must not exist, Q.E.D.) is just as fallacious, and for the same reason:   both proceed from a claim not to know (the ignorance bit) to a claim to know (either conclusion, that God exists or that God does not exist).   Other examples come from the scientific creationist movement.   Creationists typically argue:  did you ever personally observe (in a laboratory setting) the transmutation of species (or other Linnaean classes)?  No?  Well, science consists in empirical observation, therefore key claims of evolutionary theory are other than science (faith, maybe?).   How very 17th c.;  if it is Bacon vs. Aristotle, this seems appealing.   But eyewitness evidence here (as also in legal proceedings, as also in TV “news” where the tail of mobile camera technology is allowed to wag the journalistic dog) is highly overrated, and empiricism is broader than just eyewitness testimony.  To apply the creationist canon for science across the board would be to rule out much existing science (astronomy, planetary science, geology as well as biology) and that can’t be a good thing.

            But skeptical fideism need not be religious.    It seems to be a staple of discourse on the internet.  Did you actually see the gas chambers?  Where's the video of Obama emerging from the birth canal with Don Ho playing ukulele in the background?  Of course the moon landing was real;  that's what the self-appointed elitists want you to believe.  There is more than one sort of guillibility:  there is the garden variety gullibility which believes everything it thinks, but there is also, as Cynthia Ozick says, "the gullibility which disbelieves everything."

 

 

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
(attr. to George Orwell;  even if he did not say exactly this he should have)
 
I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.
(attr. to George Patton;  George C. Scott said it in the film but even if Patton himself did not, it is just the sort of thing he would have said)

Sure, I believe in gun control!

(It is one species of self-control.)

 

With corresponding lessons for philosophy students.

 

1. Always be sure of your backstop.  (Teleology)

2. Brandish a gun neither idly nor in jest, nor point it at anything you do not wish destroyed.  (Sometimes even philosophy cannot particularly improve over common sense)

3. All guns are always loaded.   (Unrestricted universal counterfactual proposition with happy potentiality for self-fulfilling prophecy)

4. Gunpowder is like e-mail:  never mix with Merlot.  (Analogical reasoning)

5. Laser sights, like tracers, point both ways. (Reflexive relationships)

6.  But:  laser sights while dangerous individually can be useful in battery.  (Multiplier effect, emergent properties,  informal fallacy of division)

7. “One shot, one kill” is fine if your target cannot shoot back;  otherwise, double-tap.  (Epistemic relativism)

8. Q:  First rule of a gun fight?  A: Bring a gun.  Q:  First rule of a knife fight?  A:  Bring a gun.  (Overdetermination)

9. There is a possible world in which the identical person might be both armed and literate.  (Modal logic)

 

When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

No government is ever really in favor of so-called civil rights. It always tries to whittle them down. They are preserved under all governments, insofar as they survive at all, by special classes of fanatics, often highly dubious.
-- H L Mencken  (Therefore: two cheers for the ACLU.  Ditto for the NRA.)
(BTW, why do commentators insist on describing as "liberal" those who wish to annul the right to bear arms?  We would never use the same word to describe those who want to annul the right to abortion, or the 1st Amendment.  Maybe Malcolm X was right:  a Dixiecrat is a Democrat is a Dixiecrat; we have a two-party system:  right-wing, and extreme right-wing.  President Obama for example is hardly a liberal;  for he is scarcely even a Democrat.)
 
It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.
(George Orwell, describing Charles Dickens)

Exam question:  "National policy is now, No Child Left Behind.  However once the kid grows up, it becomes:  Devil Take The Hindmost.  Discuss."   (Bonus points:  discuss how the Matthew Effect complicates the picture.)
(On this same subject of public education, the rectification of names:  why is it called "Race to the Top" when, at least from a labor standpoint, it is so much a race to the bottom?    Why say, public school teachers need to have their unions broken and be subjected to the same harsh labor practices as the private sector, rather than saying, all workers should enjoy the same sorts of protections as unionized teachers?  And why is it that "reform" used to mean, amelioration of shoddy working conditions;  while it now means, a return to pre-New Deal plutocracy and the skewed wealth distribution of the Gilded Age?  And why, when "accountability" is invoked, is it only the harshest and least fair notion of accountability?  When the Roman engineers built bridges, they were made accountable by having to stand under their bridge as the legion marched across.  But they were asked to do the feasible, and given the resources.   When the Khmer Rouge came to power, they said to the teachers, if you're so smart, make the rice grow faster.  When the teachers failed, they went to the wall.   Which model of accountability do Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad  --  and the Koch brothers  --   now have in mind as they attempt to make public education more business-like?)
 
Madam, I am civilization.
(attributed to Harold Nicholson when, wearing civilian clothes in 1915, a lady accosted him on street, and demanded:  Why aren't you off [in the trenches], defending civilization?)
(Cf. Thomas Mann, who left Germany in 1933, and said in 1938, "Wherever I am, Germany is.")
 
There is no reciprocity. Men love women. Women love children. Children love hamsters. Hamsters don't love anyone. 
(Alice Thomas Ellis)

An interesting life is the supreme concept of dullards.
(cf the Chinese curse:  "may you live in interesting times".)

"And you think a fact is what's nasty."
"Facts are nasty."
"You think they're true because they're nasty."
 
. . . the new mental rabble of the wised-up world . . .
(Cf. Cynthia Ozick, "On Living in the Gentile World:"  "Worldiness:  the gullibility that disbelieves everything.")
 
And the clergy?   Beating swords into plowshares?  No, they were busy converting dog-collars into G-strings.   But that is neither here nor there.
 
When I say American, I mean, uncorrected by the main history of human suffering.
(Saul Bellow, RIP, 1915-2005)

. . .no one who wholeheartedly shares in a given sensibility can analyze it; he can only, whatever his intention, exhibit it.  To name a sensibility, to draw its contours and recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion.
Susan Sontag  (RIP, 1933-2004), "Notes on 'Camp'"

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied;  better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.
(John Stuart Mill)
 
What color is your parachute? 
(Cf. Stalin's question, "The Pope!  And how many divisions has he got?"  If it did not occur to you to have a parachute  --  Plan B, in other words  --  any more than it occurred to the Pope to arm himself, better think twice.)
 
Which is better:   growing old, or dying young?
 

Whoever says, money cannot buy happiness, just doesn't know where to shop.
But even if money could not buy happiness, it's more comfortable to cry in a Mercedes than on a bicycle.   (Cf. G K Chesterton:   "To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it."   How in the world did Chesterton ever meet Bill Gates????)
 
Money, however, does grow on family trees.

The theory of knowledge ought never to be about how we know that sticks-looking-bent-in-water are really straight;  it is about how we know that magic is not valid.
-- Ernest Gellner, Legitimation of Belief
 
L. B. Namier once said that "the crowning achievement of historical study" is to achieve "an intuitive sense of how things do not happen."  It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop.
-- Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."  His related 1954 essay, "The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt," is also directly pertinent to understanding the current climate of right-wing incivility.
 
 

 

     A historian told me this anecdote.
     Some years ago, the history department at a certain university was about to award a degree to the most knowledgeable student they had ever known. His examination papers easily warranted a prestigious First Class degree. Before such a degree was awarded, it was the custom to interview the candidate in person, this interview being known as a "Viva".
     The young man came in. The panel of professors and lecturers greeted him warmly. His papers were so impressive that they hardly knew what to ask him. But just to pass the time, one of the panel genially suggested: "Suppose you were in the year 1540, and you undertook a journey from Bristol to, let us say, London. Tell us about the journey, and what you might have seen along the way."
     The young man stared at them. He looked completely flumoxed. "I mean quite simply," the questioner helpfully added, "what sort of conditions there might have been in Bristol, what the countryside would have been like, what other kinds of people, perhaps, you might have met on the road." Still the young man was silent. Others members of the panel tried to come to his aid. Then they began to probe. 
     Gradually it became   clear that this young man, though he'd mastered the most astonishing amount of information, had no picture of the past. It had never come alive, as a living reality, in his mind. He seemed to know everything, but in fact he knew nothing at all. They didn't award him a First.
Now if only he'd been made to write a short story...

Edward Rutherfurd, http://www.edwardrutherfurd.com/how-to-fail-your-history-degree.

     Bryan Magee, in Confessions of a Philosopher, says much the same thing about how philosophy students often fail  --  if not at their degrees, at least at philosophy itself.   It is possible to master all the arguments of a given philosopher, for instance, and see all his many flaws, and yet fail entirely to understand the point of what that philosopher was doing in the process of the long dialogue known as philosophizing.  "I had a pupil who turned in a couple of well-crafted essays on Descartes, subjecting Cogito ergo sum to effective and damaging criticism, putting his finger on the weaknesses of the so-called proofs of the existence of God, pointing out the circularity of the overall layout of the argument.  His perceptions of what was wrong with Descartes were many and acute, and on the whole accurate, and his essays were stylishly written and soundly constructed.    Having got to this point, he expected to go on to do the same with the next philosopher.   This is the sort of thing the best students did, and it was thought to be Oxford intellectual training at its most sophisticated.    But I said to him:  'If all the criticisms you've made of Descartes are valid  --   and on the whole I think they are  --  why are we spending our time here now discussing him?  Why have you just devoted a fortnight of your life to reading his main works and writing two essays about them?    More to the point:   if all these things are wrong with his ideas  --  and I think they are  --  why is his name known to every educated person in the Western world today, three and a half centuries after his death?  Why are his writings studied in every major university in the world, as they are being studied by you and me here now?  Why are clever people willing to devote years of their lives to writing books about him?'" (p. 311)

 (cf. Roy Campbell:  "They use the snaffle and the curb all right, But where's the bloody horse?")

The good news is, if a proposition is analytic it is certainly true (and there are such things);  the bad news is, these are few and far between, and many of the important things in life (science, economics, practical decision-making) tend to turn around synthetic propositions instead. 

It follows that very few ideas are just stupid.   (If I say, “no, not all circles are round” either I don’t understand the language I seem to use,  or I don’t care whether I contradict myself;  and self-contradictory claims are, well, just stupid.)  Very many more ideas are plausible, even if they are incorrect.   It seems to me for example that the problem with the Flat Earth Theory is not that it is stupid (it is not; and from one point of view it has some empirical evidence going for it); the problem with it is, it is just wrong.  Two different things.    But that took a while to get sorted.

Likewise for pre-scientific cosmologies involving, for example, “the talking snake” (in the Garden of Eden) which Bill Maher likes to ridicule.  Snakes might talk.  Men might “shift skins” and become werewolves too.  Learning the name of a person, or a god, might give us magical power over them.   They just don’t.   But it’s not just stupid to imagine they might;  at worst, it’s merely ignorant.  (Though stupidity might be defined as ignorance, persisted in, when one has opportunity to learn instead.)

As Larry Laudan says:  most scientific ideas are false.   He’s not one of these (and there are such) who say science, witchcraft, magic, whatever, take your pick it’s all one;  his point is if you take the long view (look at the history of science) human beings have tried out a whole lot of ideas, and in the end we wind up rejecting the vast majority of them, retaining only a very few.

            But then, as Popper says, those which we do keep, might still be mistaken (and we might have occasion in the future to discover them false, too).  Science may be our best guess to date;  but the operative word is, best.

            Thus one of the several reasons we need critical thinking (apart from the obvious,  that it beats un-critical thinking  --  don't believe everything you think!) is that our cognitive powers do not get a whole lot of help from purely analytic propositions.

 

 Stupid is as stupid does.

(Forrest Gump)
 
“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”  
(Benjamin Franklin)
 
Ronald Dworkin, recently in the New York Review of Books, 9 Dec. 2010, p. 56, on the 2010 American elections:

 

"Why do so many Americans insist on voting against their own best interests?  Why do they shout hatred for a health care plan that gives them better protection against calamity than they have ever had?  Or stimulus spending that has prevented a bad economic climate from being much worse for them?  Or tax proposals that lower their own taxes by raising taxes on people much richer than they will ever be?  Why do they vote in such numbers for the party favored by the bankers and traders who brought on the economic catastrophe? . . . True, (Obama’s) improvement is slow  --  no doubt slower than everyone hoped and many people expected.   But if someone has burned down your house you would not fire your new contractor because he has not rebuilt it overnight and then hire the arsonist to finish the job."

 

Andrew Delbanco, also in the NYRB 10 October 2013, p. 6, on contemporary "reformers," especially in public education:

 

"For one who grew up, as I did, in the 1960's and 1970's, it is strange to hear such faith in the salutary power of competition from from someone who calls herself  'radical.'  That word once implied deep discontent with the basic structure of society and a revolutionary zeal to overturn it, beginning with the distribution of wealth.  Now it apparently means the determination to remake public institutions on the model of private corporations."

Si, ayant frappé ton prochain sur une joue, il te tend l’autre, frappe-le sur le même, ça lui apprendra à  faire le malin.
--   François Cavanna (no relation) writer for the French anarcho-satiricalist weekly Charlie Hebdo;  "If, having slapped your neighbor on one cheek, he turns the other cheek, slap him on that one too, it will wise him up to the way of the world."   Forgive your enemy but remember the bastard's name.

It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.
(William Kingdon Clifford, "The Ethics of  Belief")
 
(cf. George Bernard Shaw:  "What a man believes, may be ascertained not from his creed, but from the assumptions upon which he habitually acts.")
 
      In light of modern attacks from the religious right against secular humanism as necessarily relativistic, it is interesting to note that Clifford (way ahead of his time about cognition and action, e.g. way before John Austin & John Searle;  and using the rhetoric of Earnest religion) offers an humanistic critique of  the familiar comfortable relativism (often, though not exclusively, religious)  in which anything labelled "my (personal)  belief" is automatically exempt from rational criticism.
 
       Belief is interesting on several distinct grounds.   Belief  may define religion;  or maybe not (some religions depend on orthodoxy, but others soft-pedal belief in favor of orthopraxy).    While it is perhaps always wise to distinguish knowledge from mere belief, knowledge may be defined as a particular species of belief (e.g., JTB);  or on the other hand, as Popper suggests in his thesis about objective knowledge, knowledge may be defined independently of belief at all.  And Anglo-American law regards belief as soft and minor;   acts can be crimes but beliefs like other thoughts cannot.  Clifford suggests otherwise:  there is no such thing as mere belief;   belief must be earned;  belief is not private, and there is no unconditional right to belief.    (In other words:  belief is subject to ethical considerations.)  Further, there is no firm line between belief and action, nor between private beliefs and implicit advocacy to society at large.   Faced with those (religious or otherwise) who fall back on the private subjective right to "believe," Clifford has no patience.   One has no right to believe (anything), one must earn entitlement to believe by doing one's homework, and if one replies that this takes too much time or abstract learning, Clifford replies:    then you have no time to believe.
 
Don't believe everything you think.
 
It's always good news, until it ain't.
-- Tony Soprano on doctors (but it seems to apply more widely)

A philosopher is a blind man looking in a dark room for a black cat which isn't there.  A theologian is the one who finds it.
 - H.L. Mencken  (Someone, rhetorically,  once asked Benjamin Jowett:  who is more powerful, the priest or the judge?   He gave Jowett his answer:  The priest;  because the judge can merely say, you be hanged;  whereas the priest can say, you be damned.  Yes, replied Jowett;  but when the judge says, you be hanged, you ARE hanged.)
 
It is the creed of the English that there is no God and that it is wise to pray to Him from time to time.
-- Alasdair MacIntyre (wasn't it Thomas Huxley who defined Auguste Comte's proposed "Religion of Humanity" as Catholicism, minus Christianity?)  (cf. Florence King:  "As an Episcopalian I am technically an Anglican Catholic, meaning I have a real feel for theological dottiness untainted by deeper questions of religious belief.   I have no religious beliefs to speak of, but I stand four-square with the Highs against the Lows on Latin and incense, and I will go to bat for transubstantiation even though it means nothing to me one way or the other.")
 
A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.
-- H Richard Niebuhr, on the characteristics of liberal Protestantism
 
Religion is like a nail;  the harder you hit it, the deeper it goes in.
-- Anatoly Lunacharsky
 
. . . so long as a man is a failure he is one of God's chillun, but . . . as soon as he has any luck he owes it to the Devil.
-- H L Mencken  (Yeah, why is it that practically every guttersnipe & gas-pump mendicant is on such familiar terms with TheHolyOneBlessedBeHe that they can dispense His blessings so freely  --  and tinged as necessary with a heartfelt dash of  ressentiment?)   Help someone when they are in trouble, and they will remember you when they are in trouble again.
 

·                  It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods. If such a board actually exists it operates precisely like the board of a corporation that is losing money.

-- H L Mencken (cf. Comicus in Mel Brooks' History of the World Pt I:  How poor are the Christians?  They are so poor, they only have one god!  Was it Dostoevsky who observed that there is better evidence for the existence of the Devil than for the existence of God?  And, except for the long-standing cultural prevalence of monotheism, why after all don't arguments for the divine support polytheism instead?)
 
Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
-- Benjamin Franklin (a cosmological argument, in memory of Peter Huchthausen [1939-2008] & Ernest Gellner [1925-1995].  Is Munich therefore the axis mundi?   If I forget thee, O Paulaner . . . The six food groups:  Hofbrau, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Lowenbrau, Augustiner, and Spaten.  )

Like an angry ex-Communist, he thinks he has changed his mind merely because he has shifted from love to hate of the dogma which still fixates his thinking.
-- David Joravsky
 
It is amusing, in their stridency and sense of righteousness, how much the "New Atheists" (Dawkins, Hitchens, Maher, etc.) behave so much like the targets of their wrath.   Could it be that organized atheists are but one more species of evangelical sect?
      Bertrand Russell suggested as much in his modern classic, "On Catholic and Protestant Skeptics" (In Why I am Not a Christian).  Departing from Santayana's observation on how Catholic atheists may remain Catholic ("There is no God, and Mary is his mother), Russell completes the thought:  Protestant skeptics, like Mill, may remain very Earnest in their free-thought.
      It is just slightly so sad to have to put so much effort into being transgressive.
 
The child of evangelicalism, if he does not believe, inherits nevertheless a suspicion of indifference.  He is always evangelical.  He rejects the religion he grew up with but he rejects it religiously.  He has buried evangelical belief but he has not buried evangelical choice, which seems to him the only important dilemma.  He respects the logical claustrophobia of Christian commitment, the little cell of belief.  This is the only kind of belief that makes sense, the revolutionary kind.   Nominal belief is insufficiently serious;  nominal unbelief seems almost a blasphemy against atheism.
--James Wood, The Broken Estate
 
 . . . oppositions are by definition always to a significant extent cognitive victims of that which they oppose.
-- Roland Robertson, "The Sociocultural Implications of Sociology:  A Reconnaisance"
 

Education:   the casting of imitation pearls before true swine.
-- Thomas Carlyle
 
Teaching is a performance art.
-- Camille Paglia
 
"Experience keeps a dear school."  Ditto, all the new gussied-up diploma mills.  Thus, today's fool has a choice.
(Faster.  Cheaper?  Better?  Choose one.)
 
The early worm gets eaten by the bird;  second mouse gets the cheese.
(Cf. G K Chesterton:  Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before.)

People may be unfitted by being fit in an unfit fitness.
(Kenneth Burke)

Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.
-- Martin Heidegger

Speed provides the one genuinely modern pleasure.
--  Aldous Huxley (no, despite the source, not a reference to drugs)

Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
    Which runs as follows:


Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases, 
Thou shalt not write thy doctor's thesis 
    On education, 
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before 
    Administration.

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires 
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs, 
    Nor with compliance 
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit 
    A social science.

Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
    Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
    Who wash too much.

Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
    If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
    And take short views.
--  W H  Auden, "Under Which Lyre"

When good Americans die, they go to Paris.
When bad Americans die, they go to Perris.
 

Myths think themselves through men.
("Not all myths think themselves through men;  some get a little help,"  Scott Guggenheim commenting on Philippine cockfighting.  Cf. Ernest Gellner:  in a truly traditional culture, people do not so much hold beliefs as beliefs hold people.)
Food is good to think.
--  Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-2009)

 Love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties.

(Jules Renard)

cf. Yiddish proverb:   "Venn der putz shteht ligt der sichel in drerd."  or,
God gave man a penis and a brain, but only enough blood to run one at a time.
(Robin Williams)
G-d gave Adam & Eve the choice of a wedding present:  the ability to piss standing up, or the ability to achieve multiple orgasms.  Adam (being the man)  got first choice.

Earn this.
(Capt. Miller to Pvt. Ryan)

Consult your syllabus:  exams are obligations (not to me, but to your peers);  emergencies might well be excuses but you must contact the instructor prior to the exam, preferably in person but if not, either by leaving a message by telephone (213-384-0099) or by email (michaelacavanaugh@earthlink.net) in advance.   If you meet this requirement we can discuss arrangements; if not, not.