February 20, 2005


A windmill I won't tilt at: It is the 400th anniversary of Don Quixote, a more important work than all of Einstein's theories (Simon Jenkins, 1/21/05, Times of London)

Millions have come to regard Quixote as a friend for life. Like Cervantes, they have slaved in the galleys at Lepanto and emerged with only their dreams to live for. Like Quixote they have hoped beyond hope and loved beyond love. All of us sometimes see windmills as giants, and giants as windmills. Everyone has a knight errant within them, guiding his lance and turning the most humble career into a noble crusade. Like Quixote we long to leap on life’s stage, to warm Mimi’s frozen hand or stay Othello’s dagger. We imagine that frump in the Tube as the matchless Dulcinea, at least until Tottenham Court Road.

Somehow I shall survive without Einstein. I can drive spaceship Earth without knowing the workings of the atom. But I cannot do without my icon. I raise my glass to the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance, Don Quixote of La Mancha, as he trots across the plain of life in search of self-fulfilment. He knew that reason would triumph, but he also knew that reason was not enough. Quixote’s epitaph ran: “It was his great good fortune to live a madman and die sane.” Amen to that.

The remarkable thing about Don Quijote is that, though often unintentionally, Cervantes anticipated four hundred years of literary style and intellectual substance, such that we can say that neither advanced a lick since he wrote. In literary terms, the novel is a metafiction, with Quijote meeting folks in Book Two who have read of his adventures in Book One, so that he is a non-fictional character within a fiction. Many a "cutting-edge" author of the 20th Century could have saved himself some troublke had he simply recognized that his "revolutionary" tricks were old hat even at the birth of the novel.

Meanwhile, in philosophical terms the novel put paid to the Age of Reason at its dawn. This is the pattern for the tale: the Don misperceives threats in the
innocent and mundane events of every day life; Sancho Panza tries to disabuse
him of these notions but loyally supports him after failing to do so; the
Don does battle, often suffering ignominious defeat; whereupon he claims
that sorcery has intervened. Throughout, Cervantes has great fun
at the Don's expense. He is a figure of ridicule and scorn, not of
mere amusement. But in the end, when Don Quijote is finally returning
home after losing a battle with the Knight of the White Moon, Don Antonio
Moreno speaks for all of us when he implores one of Quijote's friends who
has come to fetch him:

Ah, sir, may God forgive you for the damage you've
done to the whole rest of the world, in trying to cure the wittiest lunatic ever seen! Don't you see, my dear sir, that whatever utility there might be in curing him, it could never match the pleasure he gives with his madness? But I suspect that, despite all your cleverness, sir, you cannot possibly cure a man so far gone in madness, and, if charity did not restrain me, I would say that Don
Quijote ought never to be rendered sane, because if he were he would lose, not only his witticisms, but those of Sancho Panza, his squire, any one of which has the power to turn melancholy into happiness.

And finally, when Don Quijote lies on his death bed, fully sane and renouncing his own deeds, even Sancho Panza begs him not to abandon their chivalric quests. They and we can see that the ideal world of the Don is vastly preferable to the "real" world.

Of course, the central conceit of Reason was that it would liberate mankind from illusion and create a better world based on a foundation of absolute truth. Wiser heads warned all along that from an external viewpoint Reason was itself based in faith, indeed, is irrational and inescapably ideological. However, it turned out that science and math and the other tools of Reason were so limited that they were not even internally reliable, Truth, Incompleteness and the Gödelian Way (EDWARD ROTHSTEIN, 2/15/05, NY Times)

Relativity. Incompleteness. Uncertainty.

Is there a more powerful modern Trinity? These reigning deities proclaim humanity's inability to thoroughly explain the world. They have been the touchstones of modernity, their presence an unwelcome burden at first, and later, in the name of postmodernism, welcome company.

Their rule has also been affirmed by their once-sworn enemy: science. Three major discoveries in the 20th century even took on their names. Albert Einstein's famous Theory (Relativity), Kurt Gödel's famous Theorem (Incompleteness) and Werner Heisenberg's famous Principle (Uncertainty) declared that, henceforth, even science would be postmodern. [...]

Before Gödel's incompleteness theorem was published in 1931, it was believed that not only was everything proven by mathematics true, but also that within its conceptual universe everything true could be proven. Mathematics is thus complete: nothing true is beyond its reach. Gödel shattered that dream. He showed that there were true statements in certain mathematical systems that could not be proven. And he did this with astonishing sleight of hand, producing a mathematical assertion that was both true and unprovable.

It is difficult to overstate the impact of his theorem and the possibilities that opened up from Gödel's extraordinary methods, in which he discovered a way for mathematics to talk about itself. (Ms. Goldstein compares it to a painting that could also explain the principles of aesthetics.)

The theorem has generally been understood negatively because it asserts that there are limits to mathematics' powers. It shows that certain formal systems cannot accomplish what their creators hoped.

Even worse, the various Rationalisms turned out not to foster a more perfect world but an ugly and despicable one. Judeo-Christian faith, and hopefully Shi'ism, turns out to be the only sound basis for a decent society.

The lesson of Don Quijote endures: if our ideals are irrational it is nonetheless better to adhere to them, purely for aesthetic reasons, than to be "cured."

Two cheers for hypocrisy: The blue-state metrosexuals ridicule as "hypocrites" church-going folk who re-elected US President George W Bush. Yet apart from the saintly, only the unashamedly wicked are guiltless of hypocrisy. The rest of us give lip-service to standards we cannot or will not live up to. It is what makes life, which is by definition a failure, livable. (Spengler, 1/18/05, Asia Times)

Professor Gertrude Himmelfarb, the wife of movement founder Irving Kristol, is a specialist in the Victorian era, a byword for hypocrisy. Up to 5% of young women in the Victorian era worked as prostitutes. In a July 1995 interview with Religion and Liberty, Himmelfarb observed, "I believe firmly in the old adage, 'hypocrisy is the homage that virtue pays to vice'. Violations of the moral code were regarded as such; they were cause for shame and guilt. The Victorians did not do what we do today - that is, 'define deviancy down' - normalize immorality so that it no longer seems immoral. Immorality was seen as such, as immoral and wrong, and was condemned as such."

Before taking exception, I should emphasize that Professor Himmelfarb has a point; apart from the saintly, only the unashamedly wicked are guiltless of hypocrisy. The rest of us pay homage to standards that we do not uphold in practice. For the sake of filial piety we honor parents who well might be unpleasant people, and uphold civic virtues that our leaders honored more in the breach than the observance. The fact that we acknowledge virtue even when we pursue vice makes civil society possible.

For the sake of domestic harmony we tell lies daily. We do not tell our wife that she looks fat, or our child that he is a dullard, or our aged mother that she is a nasty old harridan. The first recorded lie of this genre was told by God in Genesis 18:12-14. The matriarch Sarah laughed at the angels' prophecy that the elderly Abraham would father a son; God interrupted, and told Abraham that Sarah thought that she (rather than he) was too old. Thus hypocrisy has divine sanction.

It is true that sexual repression makes one miserable, but so does sexual license, the more so if one is female. Sex is not the problem, contrary to Sigmund Freud. The problem is life. When Faust tells Mephistopheles that he wants to experience life with all its joys and sorrows, the devil answers pityingly, "Believe me - I've been chewing on this hard cookie for thousands of years, and from cradle to grave, no one has ever been able to digest this sourdough." Life by definition is a failure. First you will grow old (if you are lucky) and then die. Family, religion, culture and nation offer consolations in the face of death, within limits.

Secular modernism marches under the banner of truth and freedom.

-In Search of Certainty (Nathan L.K. Bierma)
I was consumed by the question "What is truth?" while studying journalism in a way I never would have if I had studied philosophy. Journalism is, after all, a fundamentally ontological exercise, a disciplined routine of declaring truth on a daily basis. Truth, says theologian Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., is our traction on reality. Like all human communication, journalism exists to give us a grip, to try to salt the icy and unforgiving cement of reality.

While the average newspaper or magazine may not represent a ponderous pursuit of profound cosmic puzzles, journalism remains a brazen epistemic act for its attempt to regularly define reality, to purport to summarize a day in the world, to mark another notch on history’s timeline. And so one may be startled at journalism's confidence in certainty—its own certainty and the idea of certainty in a confusing world to begin with. "That's the way it is," Walter Cronkite curtly signed off (his successor, Dan Rather, is more ontologically deferential: "that's part of our world tonight"). Nothing perplexed me more as a journalism student and newspaper intern as my insecurity about my lack of overconfidence. I trusted my ability to observe and write, but at times I would be paralyzed by the task of telling it like it is. Is this the way it is? I would ask myself before turning in a story (even if the story was on as mundane a topic as, say, real estate—the more mundane the subject, in fact, the greater my insecurity about my mastery of it). What is this reality I'm defining? Already I had been disabused of the pompous journalistic ideal of objectivity—the silly but durable belief that the journalist could release herself from her personhood, hover above reality, and render it in a neutral way. But what, then, is left? Is the news just a record of the he-saids and she-saids of the government, financial, and social elites? ("Lady, we don't report the truth," Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee responded to a plea to print the truth. "We just report what people say.") An establishment organ that pacifies society, as neo-Marxists believe? Is not the news article merely a rhetorical style, adhering to the habits and assumptions of its institution, rather than some supreme method of conferring truth?

Even if journalism in practice reduces the writer to a propagandist for a corporation, journalism in theory remains a metaphysical experiment, and thus an exotic enterprise. "The writer," said Emerson, "believes all that can be thought can be written. ... In his eyes a man is the faculty of reporting, and the universe is the possibility of being reported." The reason I chose to embark on this reportorial venture as a journalist and not as a scholar (at least not yet) is that I was dissatisfied with academia's commitment to report the universe in an organic, personal, broadly curious way. The ivory tower is so specialized today that it seems one can only gain distinction if one disgorges volumes on an obscure new strand of socio-psychological relational paradigms in early seventeenth century German literature. Besides, decades after the advent of mass literacy (and the supposed liberation of knowledge from the elite), academia remains mired in its own habits of vision and snooty superiority complex. All of which raises the familiar but important question of what accumulating knowledge has to do with gaining wisdom. The writer—the thinker—cannot comfortably be a specialist at the expense of being a generalist. Novelist E.L. Doctorow, who entitles his essay collection Reporting the Universe, channels Emerson to say that the writer is "alive only to the great, if problematical, glory of your own consciousness." I am no transcendentalist; my only impulse to write is my curiosity. Since curiosity is as boundless as creation itself, it tantalizes its holder with a universe bearing "the possibility of being reported."

That possibility, though, depends on simplificiation. To apprehend reality via the human mind and its communicative capacities requires that reality be simplified. The human mind is nothing but a hair-thin lasso with which to snare a toenail of the raging steer or reality. Truth is our traction on reality, and traction by definition is a roughness over an otherwise inaccessible surface. My journalistic insecurity described above arose from this realization; I was awed by the task of considering a complex topic and then simplifying it helpfully. Take that real estate story. What is the reality? Another way of asking it is, in journalistic terms, what's the angle? From one realtor's perspective, the market was getting better. From another's, it was getting weaker. In one analyst's view, it depended on how you saw the recent past. From another's, it depended on how you saw the near future. Whose perspective was correct? Was any? But I had to write a story. So the headline was, market stays strong, and the story stayed faithful to this angle.

Human conception of reality is necessarily an act of simplification. In journalism, the result is the writing and reading stories that all sound alike, about the same things—politics, street crime, and earthquakes—over and over again, until a certain controlled version of reality emerges—an artificial, predictable world that exists only on the page or the television screen. This is why, though most people read the paper to "get the facts," I've taken to avoiding TV and newspapers in order to actually gain a truer sense of creation and not just a plastic picture.

In fact, all human communication is oversimplified. Rather than a mechanical recitation of inert tidbits of truth called "facts," as rational objectivity promises, communication is a way we process nature, culture, and ideas, and regurgitate them through the filters of human consciousness. The depths of reality elude us, because we're human. This is why we have something to wonder about. This is also why we generalize. Our grotesque generalizations take the form of prejudice, leaps to conclusions, gossip, hearsay, myth, memes, habits, assumptions, and conventional wisdom that is neither conventional nor wise.

Our simplifications are simultaneously functional and dysfunctional. If you are walking down the street and see a young black male coming your way, how will you react? Many people will become at least slightly uneasy, for mathematical reasons—more young black males commit crimes than young males of other races—and borderline racist ones—they have seen enough prime time dramas and television news reports in which young black males are savage attackers that they adopt the view themselves. It may well be that the black man in front of you is a Harvard student, a minister, or an undercover cop. Without knowing anything about who he is or where he has been in life, we have already put him in a box. We have simplified reality in order to tolerate it. It would be intolerable to refrain from conceiving anything about anyone until you stopped them and asked for their life story. That's the function of stereotypes. But it would be degrading to avoid speaking to a man for fear of assault were he actually a peacemaker. That's the dysfunction.

Because of this tension between functional and dysfunctional simplification, the ceaseless process of growing up and making peace with life necessarily means learning to tolerate nuance and ambiguity.

Quixote at 400: Still Conquering Hearts
(ILAN STAVANS 1/07/05,
Chronicle Review)
The Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance is turning 400. By
some accounts, the first part of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes's
masterpiece, was available in Valladolid by Christmas Eve 1604, although
Madrid didn't get copies until January 1605. Thus came to life the
"ingenious gentleman" who, ill equipped with antiquated armor "stained
with rust and covered with mildew," with an improvised helmet, atop an
ancient nag "with more cracks than his master's pate," went out into a
decaying world where there were plenty of "evils to undo, wrongs to
right, injustices to correct, abuses to ameliorate, and offenses to

Cervantes catches a glimpse of the down-and-out hidalgo at around 50,
the prime of one's life by today's standards but a synonym of
decrepitude during what was considered Spain's "Golden Age," an
appellation Cervantes complicates. The protagonist, we are told, is
weathered, his flesh scrawny, and his face gaunt. We know nothing of his
childhood and adolescence and only a modicum about his affairs,
including that too little sleep and too many chivalry novels have addled
his brain.

Almost 1,000 pages later, Don Quixote (or Alonso Quixada or Quexada,
some names Cervantes gives to the hidalgo) lies on his deathbed.
Finally, well into the second book, issued in 1615, Don Quixote dies --
but only after an impostor, Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, impatient
that Cervantes kept procrastinating, brought out an unofficial second
part that pushed the author to complete his work. Cervantes may also
have been sensing that his own demise, which came in April 1616, was close.

About to die the exemplary death, Don Quixote is nevertheless consumed
by the grief of countless defeats and frustrated in his impossible
mission to see his beloved Dulcinea of Toboso. Is he wiser?
Disenchanted? Does he die of melancholia? The limits of age?

"Don Quixote's end," we are told, "came after he had received all the
sacraments and had execrated books of chivalry with many effective
words. The scribe happened to be present, and he said he had never read
in any book of chivalry of a knight errant dying in his bed in so
tranquil and Christian a manner as Don Quixote, who, surrounded by the
sympathy and tears of those present, gave up the ghost, I mean to say,
he died."

Don Quixote might be dead, but his ever-ambiguous ghost lives on. His
admirers -- and, in unequal measure, detractors -- are legion. Operas,
musicals, theatrical and film adaptations, as well as fictional
recreations keep piling up: Laurence Sterne was inspired by Don
Quixote's misadventures when writing Tristram Shandy; Gustave Flaubert
paid homage to him in Madame Bovary, as did Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The
Idiot. Isaac Bashevis Singer's "Gimpel the Fool" can be read as a
reimagining of the knight's simplicity. And so on.

Then there are the multilayered interpretations of Don Quixote's
pursuit. Anybody that is somebody has put forth an opinion, from Miguel
de Unamuno, José Ortega y Gasset, Salvador de Madariaga y Rojo, and
Américo Castro, to name a handful of Iberians first, to Samuel Johnson,
Denis Diderot, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Lionel Trilling, and Vladimir
Nabokov. Over the years, Don Quixote has been a template of the times:
The 18th century believed the knight to be a lunatic, lost to reason;
the Victorians approached him as a romantic dreamer, trapped, just like
artists and prophets, in his own fantasy; the modernists applauded his
quest for an inner language; the postmodernists adore his dislocated
identity. Psychiatrists have seen him as a case study in schizophrenia.
Communists have turned him into a victim of market forces. Intellectual
historians have portrayed him as a portent of Spain's decline into
intellectual obscurantism.

Some scholars call Don Quixote the first modern novel, a bildungsroman
that traces the arch of its protagonist's life and the inner
transformation to which it gives room. In the spirit of Erasmus of
Rotterdam's In Praise of Folly, parody reinforces the divide between the
life of the mind and the strictures of society. Others stress the
novel's irony, the multiple voices and blurring of fiction and reality
-- the latter an aspect that Gabriel García Márquez would pay
tribute to in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Don Quixote is one of the
first characters to comment on his own readers ("for me alone was Don
Quixote born," Cervantes writes in the second book, in response to the
publication of the sham version); he is caught at the turning point of
the Enlightenment, between the secular and the religious, reason and
belief. Detractors argue that Cervantes is a careless stylist and a
clumsy plot-builder, pointing out the fractured nature of the novel, the
endless repetitions.

No doubt all that would have come as a surprise to Cervantes himself, a
tax collector with a tarnished reputation, a soldier whose old
battleground glories and often pathetic dreams of literary success kept
him alive. He envied Lope de Vega, the dramaturge of 1,000 comedias, and
was looked down upon by the snobbish literary figures of his day. In
short, Cervantes was an outcast. Indeed, in spite of all the hoopla, he
remains one in Spain, perhaps because Spaniards today still don't know
what to make of him. In Madrid the house of de Vega has been turned into
a museum; the one nearby where Cervantes wrote has been sold time and
again, commemorated by a miserable plaque.

One wonders: Would Don Quixote pass the test and be published in New
York today? I frankly doubt it. It would be deemed what editors call "a
trouble manuscript": too long, the story line problematic, the plot
stuffed with too many adventures that do too little to advance the
narrative and too many characters whose fate the reader gets attached to
but who suddenly disappear. And that awkward conceit of a character
finding a book about himself! The style! Those careless sentences that
twist and turn!

The first part of Cervantes's manuscript was sent (possibly under the
title of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha) to the Counsel
of Castilla for permission to print it. It then went to the
Inquisitorial censors for approval. Around August 1604, Cervantes tried
in vain to enlist a celebrity to compose a poem eulogizing his
protagonist, as it was the custom of the time to include such praise at
the outset of a novel. He failed, his narrative considered too lowbrow,
and composed his own poems.

For all that, the first part of the novel was successful early on. The
initial printing of some 1,800 copies was quickly insufficient, and new
editions were issued (including one in English in 1612). By the time the
second part was released in 1615, Don Quixote was a best seller. The
parodic quality of the novel, the way it pokes fun at erudition and
paints love as the only redemption for the heart, enchanted readers. As
did Cervantes's digressions on his country's delusions of grandeur.

In my personal library, I have some 80 different versions, including
ones produced for children, as well as translations into Yiddish,
Korean, Urdu, and part of the novel that I translated into Spanglish. I
guess my collection is proof of my passion. I can't think of a book that
better illustrates the tension between private and public life, one that
speaks louder to the power of the imagination in such an ingenious,
unsettling fashion. If ever I wanted to live my life like a literary
character, it would be as Cervantes's sublime creation.

As the forerunner of antiheroes and superheroes, Don Quixote, with his
flawed aspirations, may not subdue giants or imaginary enemies like the
Knight of the Wood, but he continues to conquer hearts, precisely
because he is so ridiculous, inhabiting a universe of his own
concoction. He is the ultimate symbol of freedom, a self-made man
championing his beliefs against all odds. His is also a story about
reaching beyond one's own confinements, a lesson on how to turn poverty
and the imagination into assets, and a romance that reaches beyond class
and faith.

Some authors are so influential that their names have been turned into
adjectives: Dantean, Proustian, Hemingway-esque. But how many literary
characters have undergone a similar fate? "Quixotic," "quixotism," and
"quixotry," according to the Oxford English Dictionary, are all related
to "Quixote," "an enthusiastic visionary person like Don Quixote,
inspired by lofty and chivalrous but false or unrealizable ideals."

To be an underdog, to be a fool content with one's delusions, is that
what modernity is about? Or is it the impulse to pursue those delusions
into action? Undoubtedly we will continue asking ourselves those
questions as the enthusiastic visionary starts his fifth century, still
as vibrant and mischievous, as resourceful and controversial as ever.

-Your Spanish Skies: Spain’s greatest literary character Don Quixote was brought to life 400 years ago this year. And as the country celebrates with a calendar of impressive events, exhibitions and guided trails, tourists can now follow in the hoof prints of Miguel de Cervantes, one of the world’s greatest and most restless adventurers (Sunday Herald, 1/17/05)

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 20, 2005 10:30 AM

Fantastic post oj!

Posted by: Bret at February 20, 2005 12:33 PM

I agree with Bret, Orrin brings Don Quixote to life beautifully.

Posted by: Eugene S. at February 20, 2005 1:41 PM

Cervantes did not just toil in the galleys at Lepanto, but fought for his civization and was held prisoner for years by the Islamists. Today, we're just grateful when we find a novelist who isn't rooting for the other side.

He also ranks just behind the Bible and Shakespeare as the source for common sayings, including the one that baffled me as a child: "You can't have your cake and eat it,too", meaning, of course, "You can't eat your cake and have it, too."

Posted by: Noel at February 20, 2005 8:16 PM


Just a quick note here, and I may be tilting at windmills myself, but you seem to imply that Goedel's proof shows that mathematics contradicts itself. Goedel's proof does not show this. It does show that, within any given set of assumptions, there are logical statements that cannot be proven. Perhaps this is peripheral, since as you point out, mathematics is only as good as the beliefs, or assumptions, that go into it.

Posted by: Mike Beversluis at February 20, 2005 9:19 PM


Yes, every mathematical system breaks down internally.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 1:13 AM

No, mathematical systems don't break down internally. That's like saying your car breaks down because it can't travel on certain roads. The Incompleteness Theorem simply says than any single mathematical system can't go everywhere. Where it can go, it works fine.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at February 21, 2005 11:20 AM

Cars are real. Math is ideal. The idea demonstrates its own ultimate unreliability.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 11:55 AM

What AOG said, oj. Goedel demonstrated that any system as powerful as ordinary arithmetic can express the statement "this statement can't be proved." That's a true statement so long and only so long as it remains unproved -- proof would invalidate the statement! It's a fascinating result, and a fiendishly clever method, but it's not an internal breakdown in math, it just identifies one of math's boundaries.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 21, 2005 12:19 PM


can't be either proved or disproved, meaning that all mathematics fails the most basic test of reason.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 12:34 PM

It's been known for millennia that mathematics requires unprovable postulates.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at February 21, 2005 2:26 PM


To the contrary, by demonstrating that David Hilbert was just dreaming he turned Mathematics on its head.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 3:59 PM

Joseph: true, but it was also assumed for millennia that once you'd decided what your postulates were, and as long as they didn't contradict one another, any proposition you made in terms of those postulates could eventually be either proved or disproved in time. That's the basic notion of completeness: all valid statements (statements built from axioms) are decidable: either provable or disprovable. What Goedel did was to show that above a fairly basic level, no axiomatic system is complete. But again, oj, the discovery of undecidable propositions isn't an internal breakdown in math, any more than was the discovery of irrational numbers. They were a pretty big deal in their own day, and then tools were developed to handle them, and life went on.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 21, 2005 4:20 PM


What was the other choice? Of course life goes on, it just can't be explained by math or science.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 4:24 PM

Not in toto, but math and science can discover interesting and useful things about life. That's all reason asks. Reason's another story. You're confusing the two, which is the same mistake you berate people for making in the permanent floating Darwin-Marx-Freud-bashing thread.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 21, 2005 4:39 PM


Yes, that's how they're similiar. They were all supposed to be able to explain the world but aren't even internally consistent. Thus, in order to believe in the explanations they produce faith is required.

Your mistake is in thinking that makes them less reliable than was originally claimed for them. In fact it just shows that they are subsets of faith.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 4:52 PM

If all faith, then all equal and unequal at once, eh?

It seems to me that Quixote's faith was that the world could be made better by striving, a concept you deny.

It is also extremely doubtful that the world was made better by either 1) a real Quixote, had there been one; 2) or a fantasy of one.

Ideals are fine for individuals, but people who don't share them tend to get their heads broken. That was what I brought away from Cervantes.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 21, 2005 5:36 PM

Yes, that is of course how he simply represents Christ. But then, there's only One Story.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 5:40 PM

oj: now you're confusing consistency with completeness. For example: Peano arithmetic is not complete, as Goedel proved; and it can't prove its own consistency, as he also proved. But it can be proven consistent under a more powerful set of axioms, as Gentzen showed. And so it goes: reason has bouts of hubris, and then gets schooled by its own methods. That's not what Hilbert was hoping for, but just because there are unexpected results in number theory doesn't invalidate reason. Tossing off reason as only a "subset of faith" is unjust to both reason and faith, because it's not precise enough about what reason and faith do for a living.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 21, 2005 5:49 PM

Reason is a tool of faith. Nothing more.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 6:00 PM

OJ, we all gain much amusement from your madness, please don't go looking for a cure.

This all seems to spit in the face of the new Right's moral superiority, doesn't it? Isn't it the Right that is all about moral certanties and clarity, isn't it the Left that is about nuance and ambiguity? Your rallying cry "all is faith" sounds a lot like moral relativism.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 21, 2005 6:00 PM


It's because everything is relative that we must choose absolute morality.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 6:15 PM

Reason is a tool of faith.

Reason (reason) is a tool of humankind, as ancient and as honorable as faith; and a steadfast enemy of Passion. Reason (Reason) and Faith are themselves Passions, so of course reason is their enemy. But Faith (including Christian faith) can be simply faith, and then reason need not war with it. And with that, you'll have to excuse me, as reason and faith are both telling me I need a beer.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 21, 2005 6:37 PM

No, reason is a form of faith, a subset.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 6:43 PM


Sorry I'be been giving you short shrift, but while I have a minute....

You've radically underestimated the implications here.


What is 1 + 1 in the abstract?

Answer: nothing or anything.

It only has meaning once we begin defining terms.

It was the dream of mathemtaics and men like Hilbert that within a closed system though you could have a mathematics that was complete and consistent, such that, al least within its four corners we could say that 1 + 1 = 2, or whatever. Godel showed that the dream is unattainable even within such a narrowly defined scheme.

Reason, of course, fails even earlier, long before you get around to trying to invent such a scheme. The famous equation establishing the possibility of Reason is "I think, therefore I am." But you'll note that this is simply an assertyion of "I" and of thinking which is unsupported by the very processes of Reason that it hopes to form a base for.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2005 7:35 PM

If everything is relative, then you can't choose absolute morality. It doesn't exist. You've defined yourself into a corner.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 21, 2005 9:06 PM

Yes, that's the corner we live in. We have a free choice of what kind of world we live in and the decision is purely aesthetic. Only the world that supports absolute morality is lovely.

Posted by: oj at February 22, 2005 12:40 AM

Some folks feel really inferior to the Right Wing people. They regret soooo much the self-assurance Right Wingers demonstrate in their lives. It's funny to see them green with envy and hatred of the High Ground these Rightists show in their beliefs and convictions. That's whay they are always looking for ways to drag them down. That's a simple and obvious mechanism: bring down those you deem superior in your very inner self, in order for you to feel vindicated from the inferiority complex they create on you. That's why the hatred, and all the lowly attacks on Righteous people. Useless, but leaves a dirty sense of happy revenge in the mediocre's mind and soul. That's why they hate superiority with every cell of their body and soul...they feel soooo inferior. Sad, but true.

Posted by: Miguel at February 22, 2005 5:07 AM

So morality is merely a matter of aesthetics? So a moralizer is just a performance artist? That's a lovely corner you live in. Sorry, I won't disturb you again. Continue your performance.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 22, 2005 3:44 PM


Yes, that's the essence of Free Will.

Posted by: oj at February 22, 2005 3:58 PM

Something Orrin and I agree on: outsiders who come in contact with Jesus (or standins) tend to get their heads broken.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 23, 2005 4:25 PM

as did Jesus--that was the lesson God learned.

Posted by: oj at February 23, 2005 4:29 PM