January 22, 2006


-INTRODUCTION: to Ideas Have Consequences (1948) (Richard M. Weaver)

Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence.

One may be accused here of oversimplifying the historical process, but I take the view that the conscious policies of men and governments are not mere rationalizations of what has been brought about by unaccountable forces. They are rather deductions from our most basic ideas of human destiny, and they have a great, though not unobstructed, power to determine out course.

For this reason I turn to William of Occam as the best representative of a change which came over man’s conception of reality at this historic juncture. It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence. His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real,, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.

It is easy to be blind to the significance of a change because it is remote in time and abstract in character. Those who have not discovered that world view is the most important thing about a man, as about the men composing a culture, should consider the train of circumstances which have with perfect logic proceeded from this. The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience. The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably-though ways are found to hedge on this-the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of "man the measure of all things." The witches spoke with the habitual equivocation of oracles when they told man that by this easy choice he might realize himself more fully, for they were actually initiating a course which cuts one off from reality. Thus began the "abomination of desolation" appearing today as a feeling of alienation from all fixed truth.

Because a change of belief so profound eventually influences every concept, there emerged before long a new doctrine of nature. Whereas nature had formerly been regarded as imitating a transcendent model and as constituting an imperfect reality, it was henceforth looked upon as containing the principles of its own constitution and behavior. Such revision has had two important consequences for philosophical inquiry. First, it encouraged a careful study of nature, which has come to be known as science, on the supposition that by her acts she revealed her essence. Second, and by the same operation, it did away with the doctrine of forms imperfectly realized. Aristotle had recognized an element of unintelligibility in the world, but the view of nature as a rational mechanism expelled this element. The expulsion of the element of unintelligibility in nature was followed by the abandonment of the doctrine of original sin. If physical nature is the totality and if man is of nature, it is impossible to think of him as suffering from constitutional evil; his defections must now be attributed to his simple ignorance or to some kind of social deprivation. One comes thus by clear deduction to the corollary of the natural goodness of man.

And the end is not yet. If nature is a self-operating mechanism and man is a rational animal adequate to his needs, it is next in order to elevate rationalism to the rank of a philosophy. Since man proposed now not to go beyond the world, it was proper that he should regard as his highest intellectual vocation methods of interpreting data supplied by the senses. There followed the transition to Hobbes and Locke and the eighteenth-century rationalists, who taught that man needed only to reason correctly upon evidence from nature. The question of what the world was made for now becomes meaningless because the asking of it presupposes something prior to nature in the order of existents. Thus it is not the mysterious fact of the world’s existence which interests the new man but explanations of how the world works. This is the rational basis for modern science, whose systemization of phenomena is, as Bacon declared in the New Atlantis, a means to dominion.

At this stage religion begins to assume an ambiguous dignity, and the question of whether it can endure at all in a world of rationalism and science has to be faced. One solution was deism, which makes God the outcome of a rational reading of nature. But this religion, like all those which deny antecedent truth, was powerless to bind; it merely left each man to make what he could of the world open to the senses. There followed references to "nature and nature’s God," and the anomaly of a "humanized" religion.

Materialism loomed next on the horizon, for it was implicit in what had already been framed. Thus it soon became imperative to explain man by his environment, which was the work of Darwin and others in the nineteenth century (it is further significant of the pervasive character of these changes that several other students were arriving at similar explanations when Darwin published in 1859). If man came into this century trailing clouds of transcendental glory, he was now accounted for in a way that would satisfy the positivists.

With the human being thus firmly ensconced in nature, it at once became necessary to question the fundamental character of his motivation. Biological necessity, issuing in the survival of the fittest, was offered as the causa causans, after the important question of human origin had been decided in favor of scientific materialism.

After it has been granted that man is molded entirely by environmental pressures, one is obligated to extend the same theory of causality to his institutions. The social philosophers of the nineteenth century found in Darwin powerful support for their thesis that human beings act always out of economic incentives, and it was they who completed the abolishment of freedom of the will. The great pageant of history thus became reducible to the economic endeavors of individuals and classes; and elaborate prognoses were constructed on the theory of economic conflict and resolution. Man created in the divine image, the protagonist of a great drama in which his soul was at stake, was replaced by man the wealth-seeking and -consuming animal.

Finally came psychological behaviorism, which denied not only freedom of the will but even such elementary means of direction as instinct. Because the scandalous nature of this theory is quickly apparent, it failed to win converts in such numbers as the others; yet it is only a logical extension of them and should in fairness be embraced by the upholders of material causation. Essentially, it is a reduction to absurdity of the line of reasoning which began when man bade a cheerful goodbye to the concept of transcendence.

There is no term proper to describe the condition in which he is now left unless it be "abysmality." He is in the deep and dark abysm, and he has nothing with which to raise himself.

Allow me to begin by saying, with not the least bit of false humility, that I pretend to no understanding of the field of Philosophy as such. I took just two Philosophy courses in college. I saw the professor of the first, Introduction to Philosophy, at a cocktail party about halfway through the semester and he said he was surprised to see me because he thought I was off campus that semester. He wasn't kidding, and was shocked to hear that I was even taking a class with him--so to speak. I only took the second, Medieval Philosophy, to help out a fraternity brother, who'd mistakenly bought the text books and written his name in them so the bookstore wouldn't take them back. I bought them from him for half-price and enrolled. That professor actually had a class vote at mid-term because she didn't think it fair that I be allowed to stay in the course since I'd not yet attended a single class meeting. I apparently won in a vote as tight as Gove v. Bush only because of a single fellow student's persuasive power. He told the professor: "I don't think you should take this personally, he's a History major and we have a course together that's taught by the Chairman of the Department that he never goes to either." Suffice it to say, all that follows is just armchair philosophizing and is not intended to reflect any nuanced understanding of the thickets of gobbledygook that professional philosophers have erected around their theories in order to make themselves seem to have specialized knowledge. On the other hand, I do believe that if we mow down those thickets we arrive at pretty simple ideas that all of us are competent to discuss. And so to the matter at hand...

It seems uncontroversial, even incontrovertible, to say that at least in the intellectual realm the past several centuries in the West have been the Age of Reason or of Enlightenment. We are, perhaps, at the End of this "Modern Age" -- as John Lukacs has argued -- but it is certainly the case that elite opinion in Europe, especially, and in America is and has been premised on the dogmatic acceptance of the theory that we can know the truth about the material world around us by rationally examining, testing, and thinking about it. Now, there are myriad claims wrapped up in that seemingly simple assertion -- that the material world exists, that only material exists in the world, that our perceptions of it are trustworthy, etc. -- but at its core we find the notion that: reason is a more reliable source of knowledge about existence than faith. In fact, reason can be said to be the only reliable source of knowledge. Anything that we can not prove via the operation of reason is de facto suspect, if not downright foolish.

Now, you'd think that this dismissal of faith -- a revolution when it was effected -- would have to rest on some truly iron-clad basis, but the fact is that the sufficiency of Reason has never been demonstrated, and presumably never can be. I was, and I suspect most of you were, told on nothing more than the basis of pedantic authority that Rene Descartes had solved the conundrum of how can know that we exist, that the world outside our own thoughts/senses exists, and that we can reliably reason about such questions when he made the brilliant pronouncement: Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) [Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason in the Search for Truth in the Sciences (1637)]. Richard A. Watson, one of the foremost living authorities on Descartes, calls that phrase: "a statement nobody can doubt who thinks it." But the truism that we all think we exist and are capable of rational though isn't actually a rational proof of same, is it? It is just as accurate to say that no one can believe that statement to be well-reasoned who thinks about it.

Recall that if our topic is the sufficiency of Reason then that sufficiency must obviously be demonstrated by rational processes, not just by the faith-based justification that it's what we all believe. It is this box that Descartes and Cartesianism never found the way out of, as Mr. Watson himself demonstrated in his book, The Breakdown of Cartesian Metaphysics. As he shows there, within a hundred years Cartesian metaphysics had been completely disposed of, with David Hume driving the final nail in the coffin:

David Hume, like Berkeley, comes to sceptical conclusions about Cartesian ontology, after reading Bayle and Locke. Not only does he deny the ontological dualism, but he also explicitly denies the all-inclusive ontological type-distinctions between substance and modification. Foucher argues that Cartesians do not know the essence of mind and matter as they claim to; Malebranche argues that we have an idea of the essence of matter but not of mind; Locke argues that we cannot know the essence of either mind or matter; and Berkeley argues that we have a notion of the essence of mind but not of matter. Hume concludes that we have no idea, and thus no knowledge of any substance at all. [...]

Hume argues that impressions and ideas are the only objects that do exist. When we examine our idea of substance, for example, we find that it is not an idea of an independently existing entity at all,
but only a compound idea of a collection of related perceptions. [...]

Hume can be seen as making sense of the Cartesian way of ideas by retaining the epistemological likeness principle, but he does so only by abandoning the dualistic system that gives rise to difficulties.
Impressions are not external objects, nor do collections of them comprise external objects. But they are not internal either; they are all -- together with ideas, which are in essence only weaker perceptions
-- that exists. There is no problem of the causal interaction of substances because there are no substances. There is no essential difficulty about representation, for all entities are of the same sort.
Perceptions do not in themselves point beyond to anything that must inhere in or that must cause them; they are what they are, and we can know of nothing -- and thus nothing exists -- that transcends them. All the other philosophers considered here, even, emphatically, Foucher are searching for knowledge of the essence of substances. With Hume, the search for knowledge of qualities, powers, forms, forces. and essences or natures of substances founders at last. This is because nothing remains to which these terms can be applied; all that exists, for Hume, are impressions and ideas, which are perceived openly to be what they are and nothing more. [...]

And if the abandonment of the ontological pattern of substance and modification requires that new explanatory support be given for the relations of an idea's being in the mind and of a mind's being directly acquainted with an idea -- because these relations can no longer depend on the relation between a substance and its own modifications -- Hume can be seen as offering for this explanatory role the relation of an idea to the collection of perceptions of which it is a member.[...]

Hume thus completes the breakdown of Cartesian metaphysics.

Countless others have tried to rescue Reason from this impasse, but without success, which is why we find ourselves, almost three hundred years after the breakdown, still discussing Descartes as if he mattered. All the Age of Reason has ever had to go on is the pretended authority of Descartes's nostrum and the hope that the intellectual classes could repeat it often enough that the masses wouldn't examine it too closely. As a matter of fact, it seems fair to say that to be an intellectual is to proceed as if Descartes's "proof" were sufficient. Whether he would have wished to be or not -- and presumably he would have not -- Descartes not only provided the foundation of the Age of Reason, but deserves to be considered the Father of Intellectualism.

David Hume, on the other hand, did not just lay Descartes to rest, but offered an exemplary model of how we might react to the insufficiency of Reason and to the awkward truth that from a rational point of view the only proper position to take towards the world is one of thoroughgoing skepticism. He concludes his Treatise with what can only be called a testament of faith:

But what have I here said, that reflections very refin'd and metaphysical have little or no influence upon us? This opinion I can scarce forbear retracting, and condemning from my present feeling and experience. The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have, I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Here then I find myself absolutely and necessarily determin'd to live, and talk, and act like other people in the common affairs of life. But notwithstanding that my natural propensity, and the course of my animal spirits and passions reduce me to this indolent belief in the general maxims of the world, I still feel such remains of my former disposition, that I am ready to throw all my books and papers into the fire, and resolve never more to renounce the pleasures of life for the sake of reasoning and philosophy. For those are my sentiments in that splenetic humour, which governs me at present. I may, nay I must yield to the current of nature, in submitting to my senses and understanding; and in this blind submission I shew most perfectly my sceptical disposition and principles. But does it follow, that I must strive against the current of nature, which leads me to indolence and pleasure; that I must seclude myself, in some measure, from the commerce and society of men, which is so agreeable; and that I must torture my brains with subtilities and sophistries, at the very time that I cannot satisfy myself concerning the reasonableness of so painful an application, nor have any tolerable prospect of arriving by its means at truth and certainty. Under what obligation do I lie of making such an abuse of time? And to what end can it serve either for the service of mankind, or for my own private interest? No: If I must be a fool, as all those who reason or believe any thing certainly are, my follies shall at least be natural and agreeable. Where I strive against my inclination, I shall have a good reason for my resistance; and will no more be led a wandering into such dreary solitudes, and rough passages, as I have hitherto met with.

In short: so what if reason is itself irrational and only faith allows us to believe in its utility; faith suffices. In effect he's returned us to the pre-Rational worldview, where reason was a tool that God had given us in order to apprehend Creation. Thus is Reason cut back down to size and Faith returned to primacy.

It can hardly be a coincidence that Rationalism and Intellectualism and the theories they spawned have been far more influential, and destructive, in Descartes's France and on the European continent than they have been in Hume's Anglosphere. Having blindly clung to a metaphysic that was so clearly flawed, it's not surprising that Europeans (and American intellectuals) proved susceptible to the seductive allure of such rationalisms as Darwinism and Marxism, which offered perfectly rational explanations of how the world worked, if only you ignored the fact that we can't know it to be rational or material and that experience demonstrates otherwise. Meanwhile, in England and its former colonies -- but especially in America -- we have generally followed the example of Hume and been skeptical if not utterly hostile towards intellectuals and the claims of Reason. Perhaps that alone explains why there has never been a viable Communist party, nevermind a Marxist government in the Anglo-Saxon world and why Christianity remains so strong and Darwinism has fared so poorly in the States. Richard Hofstadter famously complained -- in his book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) -- that America had been characterized throughout its history by a peculiarly vehement brand of anti-intellectualism:

The common strain that binds together the attitudes and ideas which I call anti-intellectual is a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life.

Of course, having to acknowledge the American love affair with inventors and other men of practical intelligence, he was forced to draw a distinction that speaks volumes:
[I]ntelligence is an excellence of mind that is employed within a fairly narrow, immediate, an predictable range... Intelligence works within the framework of limited but clearly stated goals, and may be quick to shear away questions of thought that do not seem to help in reaching them. [...]

Intellect, on the other hand, is the critical, creative, and contemplative side of mind. Whereas intelligence seeks to grasp, manipulate, re-order, adjust, intellect examines, ponders, wonders, theorizes, criticizes, imagines.

To exactly the extent that men can apply their God-given reason to the solve problems, we value it. At the point where some men start pretending that they can dispense truths via the operations of naught but their own minds our patience is exhausted. Switching back across the pond, think of Samuel Johnson's eloquent response to Hume's fellow wrestler with Descartes, as recounted by James Boswell:
We stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I shall never forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, "I refute it thus."

What does it matter if Reason ultimately collapses in on itself so long as we believe in the reality of the rock--and what kind of person wastes their time worrying about it? As a purely practical matter -- practicality being the hallmark of the intelligence that we honor, as opposed to the intellect that we scorn -- our faith in God and the more limited reason he blessed us with has served us rather well, so why bother trying to make of reason something that it's not?

Typically, it was a British philosopher, Michael Oakeshott, who best explained Intellectuals and what they were about, in his essay Rationalism in Politics:

There are some minds which give us the sense that they have passed through an elaborate education which was designed to initiate them into the traditions and achievements of their civilization; the immediate impression we have of them is an impression of cultivation, of the enjoyment of an inheritance. But this is not so with the mind of the Rationalist, which impresses us as, at best, a finely tempered, neutral instrument, as a well-trained rather than as an educated mind. Intellectually, his ambition is not so much to share the experience of the race as to be demonstrably a self-made man. And this gives to his intellectual and practical activities an almost preternatural deliberateness and self-consciousness, depriving them of any element of passivity, removing from them all sense of rhythm and continuity and dissolving them into a succession of climacterics, each to be surmounted by a tour de raison. His mind has no atmosphere, no changes of season and temperature; his intellectual processes, so far as possible, are insulated from all external influence and go on in the void. And having cut himself off from the traditional knowledge of his society, and denied the value of any education more extensive than a training in a technique of analysis, he is apt to attribute to mankind a necessary inexperience in all the critical moments of life, and if he were more self-critical he might begin to wonder how the race had ever succeeded in surviving. With an almost poetic fancy, he strives to live each day as if it were his first, and he believes that to form a habit is to fail. And if, with as yet no thought of analysis, we glance below the surface, we may, perhaps, see in the temperament, if not in the character, of the Rationalist, a deep distrust of time, an impatient hunger for eternity and an irritable nervousness in the face of everything topical and transitory.

Now, of all worlds, the world of politics might seem the least amenable to rationalist treatment--politics, always so deeply veined with both the traditional, the circumstantial and the transitory. And, indeed, some convinced Rationalists have admitted defeat here: Clemenceau, intellectually a child of the modern Rationalist tradition (in his treatment of morals and religion, for example), was anything but a Rationalist in politics. But not all have admitted defeat. If we except religion, the greatest apparent victories of Rationalism have been in politics: it is not to be expected that whoever is prepared to carry his rationalism into the conduct of life will hesitate to carry it into the conduct of public affairs.

But what is important to observe in such a man (for it is characteristic) is not the decisions and actions he is inspired to make, but the source of his inspiration, his idea (and with him it will be a deliberate and conscious idea) of political activity. He believes, of course, in the open mind, the mind free from prejudice and its relic, habit. He believes that the unhindered human 'reason' (if only it can be brought to bear) is an infallible guide in political activity. Further, he believes in argument as the technique and operation of reason'; the truth of an opinion and the 'rational' ground (not the use) of an institution is all that matters to him. Consequently, much of his political activity consists in bringing the social, political, legal and institutional inheritance of his society before the tribunal of his intellect; and the rest is rational administration, 'reason' exercising an uncontrolled jurisdiction over the circumstances of the case. To the Rationalist, nothing is of value merely because it exists (and certainly not because it has existed for many generations), familiarity has no worth, and nothing is to be left standing for want of scrutiny. And his disposition makes both destruction and creation easier for him to understand and engage in, than acceptance or reform. To patch up, to repair (that is, to do anything which requires a patient knowledge of the material), he regards as waste of time: and he always prefers the invention of a new device to making use of a current and well-tried expedient. He does not recognize change unless it is a self-consciously induced change, and consequently he falls easily into the error of identifying the customary and the traditional with the changeless. This is aptly illustrated by the rationalist attitude towards a tradition of ideas. There is, of course, no question either of retaining or improving such a tradition, for both these involve an attitude of submission. It must be destroyed. And to fill its place the Rationalist puts something of his own making--an ideology, the formalized abridgment of the supposed substratum of rational truth contained in the tradition.

For such creatures the idea that we should take anything on faith -- especially the value of reason itself -- is unacceptable precisely because it makes us dependent on something outside of the human mind. We all know, of course, what (Who) the worst of those somethings might be, but it was Thomas Nagel, who most explicitly stated that the intellectual insistence on the metaphysical truth of Rationalism reflects a terror of what they might have to face once they accept the reality that faith trumps Reason and that rationalist metaphysics is ultimately so incoherent that it breaks down:
Even without God, the idea of a natural sympathy between the deepest truths of nature and the deepest layers of the human mind, which can be exploited to allow gradual development of a truer and truer conception of reality, makes us more at home in the universe than is secularly comfortable. The thought that the relation between mind and the world is something fundamental makes many people in this day and age nervous, I believe this is one manifestation of a fear of religion which has large and often pernicious consequences for modern intellectual life.

In speaking of the fear of religion, I don't mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper--namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.

My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning and design as fundamental features of the world.

This last propensity is on hilarious display in today's New York Times Magazine, where the Darwinist Daniel Dennett is arguing that religious belief is biologically determined. You don't have to be a trained philosopher to recognize the devastating problem with his theory, that the belief that religious belief is biologically determined must then also be biologically determined. It is in the reduction to such absurdities that the Rationalists are finally doing to themselves what Hume didn't quite manage to do to Descartes -- dispose of him once and for all -- and why Mr. Lukacs may well be right about the Modern Age -- the age during which the claim was made that Reason is superior to Faith -- coming to an end.

-ESSAY: The Metaphysics of Conservatism (Edward Feser, 12 Jan 2006, Tech Central Station)
-ESSAY: Politics of Progress (James R. Harrigan, 02 May 2003, Tech Central Station)
-ESSAY: The Burke Habit: Prudence, skepticism and "unbought grace." (JEFFREY HART, December 27, 2005, Opinion Journal)

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 22, 2006 4:33 PM

I don't think there's any doubt that reason is a Good Thing, but of course it's possible to have Too Much of a Good Thing. Similarly, the Enlightenment had some negative consequences. but I'm glad it happened.

My discomfort with OJ's attacks on reason stem from two things: 1) he seems to attack reason as a whole because of the excesses of some proponents, 2) he does not seem to apply the same standard to the excesses of some proponents of faith.

Perhaps to solve the first issue, we could make the distinction between reason (in the everyday sense) and rationalism (in the philosophic sense)? Most of the problems come from philosophies of rationalism, not from the smaller-scale use of logic. I see this as a parallel with the science/scientism distinction, and Hofstadter's intelligence/intellect distinction.

As I've written here before, the conflicts of faith vs. reason are largely avoidable, because they can coexist in different spheres. Yes, there are inherent limits on science and reason, but I'm not sure the insufficiency of reason proves the primacy of faith.

Finally, there was something in the Oakeshott quote that struck me as ridiculous:

. . . we may, perhaps, see in the temperament, if not in the character, of the Rationalist, a deep distrust of time, an impatient hunger for eternity and an irritable nervousness in the face of everything topical and transitory.

Doesn't this description apply equally well to the ultra-religious?

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 22, 2006 5:39 PM

Allow me to offer a short version: pure reason is metaphysical mastubation.

Posted by: ghostcat at January 22, 2006 6:58 PM

... with an "r".

Posted by: ghostcat at January 22, 2006 6:59 PM


No, they can't. Reason is within the sphere of faith.

Posted by: oj at January 22, 2006 7:52 PM

OJ: How should someone like me, who is sympathetic to Christianity and Christians but is not themselves a believer, view the End of History?

Posted by: Pepys at January 22, 2006 7:58 PM


With great trepidation.

Posted by: Peter B at January 22, 2006 8:47 PM


Why? I'm in the same philosophical boat as Pepys and I see no reason for trepidation. Heck, I even go to church on an (ir)regular basis.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 22, 2006 8:53 PM

Ontological onanism?

Posted by: ghostcat at January 22, 2006 8:59 PM


Keep in mind that the End of History is just a geopolitical phenomenon. It tells us the means nations can use to be reasonably prosperous, peaceful, etc.--liberal democratic protestant capitalism. But it doesn't provide them with an end. Europe, Japan and the rest have settled for the means as their end and they're prepared to die off quietly.

America, on the other hand, has always had as its end the realization of God's plan for Man, to make our nation the City on the Hill. We understand the means to be only a way of hopefully working towards that end. That's why we continue to thrive.

Posted by: oj at January 22, 2006 9:29 PM

That's a Sisyphean task, of course, but chasing chimeras can be good exercise.

Posted by: ghostcat at January 22, 2006 10:08 PM

Thanks ghostcat, I wasn't looking forward to wading through all that stuff.

Posted by: ed at January 22, 2006 10:49 PM

Pepys & AOG: that's not the End of History Peter's talking about. Peter: nice shooting.

Posted by: joe shropshire at January 23, 2006 1:27 AM

Of course, OJ, you know that Hume was much suspected of atheism, and refused to purge himself of that suspicion by overt acts.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 23, 2006 3:00 AM

So what is the upshot over all this intellectual Onanism OJ? What is the breakthrough revelation here? Once we renounce Cartesian reason for faith, so what? What's the payoff?

You do see the reductio ad absurdum of your own argument, don't you? Saying that all we have is faith is itself an act of faith. You can't really say that. If perceptions are illusions, then faith in those perceptions is likewise an illusion. Your faith doesn't exist, you only have faith that it exists. And even that faith itself has to be taken on faith. And so on, ad infinitum.

You should have skipped the philosophy course.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 23, 2006 7:07 AM


Yes, that's exactly the point: faith is all and is sufficient. The Rationalist makes the mistake of thinking Reason is sufficient, when in fact it is a faith as well. Congratulations on your epiphany.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 8:40 AM


Sure, once you accept metaphysical reality you have to be a skeptic about God as well. Remember that even He despaired on the Cross.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 8:48 AM

Reason is fine, as long as we acknowledge that, at bottom, it rests on faith. That's why the demand that faith justify itself to reason is so off-point.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 23, 2006 10:42 AM


Faith, or religion?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 23, 2006 11:48 AM

What does faith rest on? Turtles?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 23, 2006 11:48 AM

Please excuse my irreverence, but this "everything is faith" mantra is bonkers. You can make a philosophical argument that the pain I feel when I press my hand on a hot stove can't really be proven to be real but must be taken on faith, but the level of doubt is so miniscule as to be de-facto certainty. Yet you would class this in the same category as my faith that someday I will win the lottery, or my faith that aliens will visit our planet in the next 10 years and solve all our problems with their superior technology.

So just to eliminate the possibility that man will someday know for certain that he is descended from apes by a purely material process you would use this a-bomb of intellectual relativism to obliterate all statements of fact and leave a level field of equally valid statements of faith, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Way to advance Western Civ guys!

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 23, 2006 12:08 PM

What Descartes showed was that it is possible to doubt everything except 'a thought currently exists'.

A perfectly Reason-able response to this is: so what?

Being able to doubt that something exists is not the same as providing a reason to believe that it doesn't exist.

Reason isn't a matter of proving things beyond doubt. It is a matter of selecting the best or most reasonable explanation.

It is not merely an act of faith to assume that the material world exists. It is perfectly good reasoning to assume that it does. The chief reason being, there are no alternatives.

Posted by: Brit at January 23, 2006 12:13 PM

Jeff: Faith

Robert: My acceptance that you feel pain when you press your hand to a hot stove lies upon my acceptance of the proposition that, contrary to all the evidence, you are a creature such as I. That is religion.

Brit: Brave words coming from a brain in a jar.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 23, 2006 12:24 PM

So I need a priest to tell me that I burned my hand? If that's religion, you can keep it.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 23, 2006 12:29 PM


No. You know you burned your hand even though there's no rational basis for that belief. All you've done here is demonstrate the truth that faith sufices for even you who pretend to reason. No shame in it--that's just reality.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 1:13 PM


The point being that reason isn't reasonable.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 1:14 PM

Faith rests on faith. It too is circular but its circularity is true.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 1:16 PM

Another mind lost to Philosophy! Parents, please! Teach your children to just say "no".

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 23, 2006 1:18 PM

Which is why kids oughtn't be taught it in biology class.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 1:21 PM


Then "That's why the demand tht faith justify itself to reason is so off-point" really doesn't say very much.

Granting a minimalist set of axiomatic assertions indeed rests upon faith. But the demand you are referencing is with regard to far from minimalist religious assertions that are themselves material claims.

Also, I couldn't help but notice that "that the belief that religious belief is biologically determined must then also be biologically determined" is incorrect.

The ability to form beliefs is biologically determined. Any particular instance of a belief is not.

Everything is within the sphere of ignorance.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 23, 2006 2:44 PM

Reason does rest on faith, something Hume would probably grunt about. But faith in anything (religion, science, love, even in sports betting) must have a 'reasonable' basis, or it is just mere guessing and wishing, based on impulse (or less).

Many who visit here disparage religion (theology, spirituality, even tradition), but there are thousands of years of 'reason' behind the 'faith'. It isn't blind adherence, because if we (and the millions before us) thought Judeo-Christianity was utter nonsense, we wouldn't believe any of it. But it stands today. Of course, to really believe, we have to cry out - "I believe, help thou my unbelief". That takes faith. But not a blind faith.

I told Harry once that I believed Christianity was logical - he responded by saying - "How quaint". But is he really more advanced? No.

Faith isn't based on turtles, unless you want it to be. There are better answers.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 23, 2006 2:57 PM


Belief in the material world and biology is a faith, as Reason easily demonstrates.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 3:06 PM


We're nealy there. It isn't "reasonable" though, we believe it and know it to be true because it is the most aesthetically beautiful faith.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 3:36 PM

The 'beautiful' element (the aesthetic) is a neglected apologetic.

But far too many people want to associate orthodox theology with Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Jim Jones, or even Islamofascism. Those are not serious arguments, but they must be (gently) countered. God is not ugly (or evil), although it is important for many to believe so. But they need to ask themselves why.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 23, 2006 4:03 PM

But the aesthetic motivation in faith can be, and often is, the most destuctive. Bin Laden's jihad against America was not only because we are infidels, but because he also harbors an absolute revulsion over what modern architecture has done to the once quaint cities of Arabia. His targeting of the WTC had dual significance.

All utopias are at their heart aesthetic statements. Becoming too enamored of the beautiful tends to breed a contempt for the real, which, frustratingly, often refuses to be beautiful. I am convinced that Marxism maintains its hold on the left primarily due to its aesthetic appeal. Individuals competing with one another in the marketplace, all chaotic and helter-skelter, prostituting themselves to the Man for a few bucks to feed their kids is not an image that noble creatures should have of themselves. But orderly, self-effacing and self-sacrificing communities of people, sharing their unique talents for the common good, now that is beautiful.

It just isn't real. Aesthetics are nice, but they are just the wrappings. Be wary of ideas with shiny wrappers.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 23, 2006 4:46 PM

Jeff: I have no trouble with the fact that we are genetically pre-disposed to religion. See, e.g., the quote I posted from Deep Space Nine. I assume that, consistent with your beliefs, you concede that, having withstood the ruthless winnowing of natural selection, religious belief must confer quite a benefit in order to counter the huge costs you are so good at identifying.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 23, 2006 4:50 PM

Indeed, if we accept Jeff and Daniel Dennett's biological determinism and their Darwinism then it's obvious with the dying off of secular Darwinist societies that Darwinism is a maladaptation that is being selected against. Their problem isn't that their wrong from a faith standpoint but from a rationalist one.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 5:04 PM


Exactly. The ugliness of the jihad is why it has no adherents. It is an aesthetic failure. Likewise, the utopias are all really dystopias which is why they fail. The degree of repression a culture requires in order to get even just outward conformity pretty accurately reflects its aesthetic appeal.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 5:07 PM

Mr. Cohen;

Perhaps than you can spell me over at the other thread.

I would agree that anyone arguing that religious belief doesn't confer a strong survival advantage is simply ingoring the evidence. In fact, as has come up here before, I have come to the conclusion that until the Extropians succeed, religious belief will be essential for the survival of societies. We have seen a grand experiment on this over the last couple of centuries and religion, particularly Judeo-Christianity, won. I'm just looking to get a comfortable parasitic relationship.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 23, 2006 5:16 PM

You miss the point. These inhuman ideologies are beautiful in the eyes of the true believers because they have put aesthetics above compassion. Compassion isn't necessary in a beautiful world. To be a moral person is to learn to have compassion for people despite the frequent ugliness of their natures.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 23, 2006 5:27 PM


Yes, the point is that there aren't any of them and there are billions of us. Their concept of beauty is wrong as is yours, which is why they fail.

Compassion is all that's required--Love one another as I have loved you.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 5:31 PM


The huge costs of religious belief I am so good at identifying -- and, absent argument to the contrary, I presume they exist -- pose a problem for religious believers.

Why must those costs exist?

Why is it that God insists those with proper fealty must slaughter those with faulty fealty?

I have no trouble with the fact that we are genetically pre-disposed to religion.

Perhaps you should, because presuming as fact such a genetic pre-disposition is simplistic, and unnecessarily excludes the possiblity that religious belief is an emergent behavior of any brain sufficiently complex to form explanations and foresee its own demise.

As for your suggestion that there must be some significant survival benefit from religious belief, that may well be. But since all human brains are essentially identical, the emergent behavior is universal. You are forming a concluions based upon one data point.

Besides, there is a counter example. Would you care to argue that a nearly 30% maternal/infant mortality rate, prevalent before modern medicine, is beneficial? Or would you rather argue that it failed to be costly enough to result in our extinction?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 23, 2006 7:30 PM

Costs? There are 3 billion monotheists and rising. There are a few hundred million secularists (maybe) and they're dying. Which has a high cost?

God doesn't need us to kill you--you die off on your own because of your faulty metaphysics.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 7:37 PM

Costs? There are 3 billion monotheists and rising. There are a few hundred million secularists (maybe) and they're dying. Which has a high cost?

Costs and quantity are two different things.

As you might remember from your tirades against the automobile.

God doesn't need us to kill you--you die off on your own because of your faulty metaphysics.

You missed the point -- all revealed religions direct killing off adherents of other religions. Why is that?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 23, 2006 8:13 PM

Costliness inhibits quantity.

For the samne reason that the rationalisms have run up the biggest butcher's bill in human history--we like killing each other.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 8:35 PM


Bin Laden's hatred of modernity may be an aesthetic issue (in a tangential sort of way), but at its core he is afraid. The moonbats in the madrassas are afraid. They want things to be simple. But life isn't simple and spirituality isn't simple.

Did you see the piece in the WSJ on Friday about the missionaries killed by the Waorani (i.e., the Aucas) in Ecuador in January 1956? The five men who were speared to death were following their 'calling'. They had guns, but did not fire at their attackers. Later, two of the widows (and one man's sister) went to live with the tribe, which subsequently became largely Christian.

The modernist would despise both the Indians and Christians. The aesthete would probably say that the tribe was purer before being contacted by the missionaries (although, as the article points out, the murder rate in the tribe was higher than 50% and some anthropologists considered them the most violent people group ever encountered). But the tribe changed because the relatives of the missionaries lived with them. They loved them.

We are told that 'perfect love casts out fear'. How many people do you know who aren't driven by fear (or anger in response to fear)? I don't know very many. But meeting someone like that, spending time with someone like that, is a beautiful thing. I understand what you mean about the shiny wrapper - but we're not talking Jesus in my heart at the Miss USA pageant here.

I can only say that my faith was sparked and sustained by meeting people (from my church when I was a teen-ager) who had no reason to love me, but they did. Not in a militant way, and not to meet some kind of quota. Not in a needy way at all. But that touch of beauty opened my eyes to the reality behind the "performance" of church on Sundays.

With respect to zealotry, I doubt if Lenin, Stalin, or even Trotsky thought any of their ideology was 'beautiful'. Neither did Goebbels, Himmler, Bormann, or Eichmann. It just isn't part of who they are. It is utterly foreign to them.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 23, 2006 11:23 PM

People don't only believe in things because they're beautiful but because off hatreds. There's nothing beautiful about a Darwinian world, but it's a way to kill God.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 11:44 PM

Jeff: I'm the guy who believes that natural selection is vanishingly weak, so I don't really have to explain anything about costs and benefits. If it doesn't kill us, it doesn't kill us.

By the way, I'm not aware of any religion that requires its believers to kill all unbelievers. I think your mixing up your unbelievers with your heretics.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 24, 2006 12:42 AM

Jeff: I don't see how religion being an inherent property of consciousness changes my point any. That's just how we're made.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 24, 2006 12:44 AM


See Deuteronomy for what God says must happen to all those who worship false gods.

If you feel that natural selection is vanishingly weak, then perhaps you should stop using natural selection as an explanation for things.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 24, 2006 4:12 AM


It is possible to imagine that I am a brian in a vat, or plugged into the Matrix, or five interconnected brains in a kidney-shaped swimming-pool full of marmalade, being fed fake sense-impressions by an army of blue wombats.

So what?

The most reasonable explanation for my impression of an objective material world - and indeed, the only one worth assuming for practical purposes - is that they come from an objective material world.

Name a more Reason-able explanation, and I'm all ears.

Posted by: Brit at January 24, 2006 4:13 AM


No, that's the least reasonable, but the only one we're capable of. We're all faith-based.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 7:44 AM


People who don't worship God have no basis for morality and can't be tolerated unless they at least outwardly conform to monotheistic morality.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 7:47 AM

Strikes me that those who worship God will only be tolerated to the extent that they at least outwardly conform to the moral standards of modern society.

For example.

Posted by: Brit at January 24, 2006 8:17 AM


Yes, he failed to live up to Judeo-Christian moral standards.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 9:18 AM

That's exactly what he'd say to you, too.

Posted by: Brit at January 24, 2006 9:36 AM

Yes, but he's wrong--which is why we executed him. Juries dispose of the anti-social rather efficiently in America, thereby enforcing our conformity.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 9:43 AM

I didn't read that article, but I have the WSJ online subscription so I'll take a look.

I guess I will have to preface any remarks I make that are not a criticism of Christianity or religion, since the default seems to be an assumption that I am. My remarks about aesthetics weren't directed at either, but was an across-the-board consideration that applies to ideologies or values systems of every stripe.

I can't speak for Lenin or Stalin, but the Nazis were very strongly motivated by aesthetics. Hitler was a failed artist with a passion for architecture. Albert Speer started out as the party's chief architect before climbing the ranks, and renovated the interior of the Reichstag building using elements of classical and Germanic influence, including a chamber room modeled on some ideal of the Round Table. He designed and built scale models of a new Berlin, complete with personal palaces for Hitler and Goering that would put Ciachescu (sp)The whole Aryan purity myth was an aesthetic construct, defining the physical and facial characteristics that were acceptable to the master race. They enforced strict codes of acceptable art, which was put to the service of the Reich to propagate their aesthetic ideals.

The point being that aesthetics are morally neutral. Everyone likes beautiful things. But when aesthetics becomes the driving value, it often tramples morality underfoot. My comment about Marxists wasn't so much about Lenin and Stalin as it was about the garden variety university Marxist. It is hard to grasp their utter distaste for bourgeois, or middle class life, without seeing it as an aesthetic value judgment.

The ivory tower Marxist seems to share this distase with the declining nobility of Europe in the 19th century. The notion that people can get ahead in life, and can become wealthy through such base activities as trade and manual labor, to the point where they can outdo their betters by birth or by intellect, just rubs against their vision of what the beautiful society should look like.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 24, 2006 9:57 AM


That's quite wrong. Only the moral is aesthetically lovely. That's a function of Creation.

Hitler wasn't motivated by a quest for beauty but by hatred. He was an Applied Darwinist and Darwinism is just a rebellion against the Beautiful.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 10:06 AM

Nonsense. Beauty is a subjective judgment, it has nothing to do with the Good or the True. You're a diehard Platonist.

If people believe that morality and aesthetic beauty are one and the same, then they will have no compunction against eliminating the ugly. No pangs of conscience when they execute the deformed, the sick or the feeble. Be careful what you equate.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 24, 2006 10:30 AM


I take your point about the Nazis and art, but don't you think they were more interested in the propaganda value (or energy) than in the aesthetic? They were pushing their Aryan (or German, at times) ideal as a justification for what they already wanted to do.

I did not mention Hitler in my previous comment because he was always motivated (energized?) to some degree by a perverted view of aesthetics. I remember reading in Johnson's "Modern Times" that the first thing he did upon leaving prison (after the Putsch) was to have Wagner's 'Liebestod' played for him. Very telling, no?

The Soviets certainly were into the propaganda, which is why their ideas of modernity (in art, in architecture, and so on) were so dreary and oppressive. Even today, can you imagine Putin being truly moved by beauty?

I didn't take your comments about aesthetics as a criticism of religion in general, just a response to what I initially wrote about beauty. Sure, it's subjective at first contact (i.e., in the eye of the beholder), but my sense is that ultimately the 'beauty' of God is quite objective, in that it should provoke awe in each and every one of us. That so many recoil in horror or fight against that beauty (or glory) says a lot about our the condition of our souls.

OJ - I would argue that once someone 'sees' the beauty of God, he will embrace that and let go of the other motivations (e.g., the hatreds). Not perfectly, to be sure, but it is certainly observable. Even old Hume might wonder about the cause for someone who is living such an effected life :>).

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 24, 2006 10:32 AM


Quite. Robert's mistake lies in believing that everyone believes what they believe because they imagine it beautiful.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 10:35 AM


No Beauty is absolute, not relative.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 10:39 AM

A question for you OJ. If all you know about someone is that they love beauty and that their driving goal in life is to surround themselves with beautiful things, people and experiences, then are you forced to conclude that he is a moral person?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 24, 2006 10:56 AM

No. It's morality that is the Beautiful.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 11:01 AM

You're just playing semantic games. Everyone understands what beauty means, and everyone has their own definition of it, although there tends to be a lot of overlap. Beauty is about the appearance of things, the look, the sound, the touch, the taste. Beauty excites the pleasure centers of the mind. Ugliness excites the revulsion centers of the mind. It is a biological thing.

If everyone were rewarded with pleasure when they did the moral thing, then morality wouldn't have much value. Morality has some value when you value it above beauty and pleasure. It is when you forgive someone who you feel really doesn't totally deserve it that you've done something special. As Jesus said, everyone loves their friends. Everyone loves the beautiful. Loving your enemies is the moral thing, even when it is distasteful.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 24, 2006 11:15 AM


No, Beauty is just the orderliness of Creation and reflections thereof. It's Absolute.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 11:25 AM

I suppose you are one of those enlightened ones who have freed themselves from the Cave and see things as they truly Are, and not as shadows on the cave wall.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 24, 2006 11:28 AM

No, the point of Aesthetics is that all we is the shadows but we all know which one is the Beautiful.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 11:35 AM

And yet we continue to disagree on what is beautiful.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 24, 2006 11:49 AM

No, we don't. Even you agree that Judeo-Christian morality is the Beautiful, you're just upset that it requires God. But you can't derive it without.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 11:55 AM


I would be very suspicious of someone who lived for "beauty". It sounds like a classier form of pornography, no? Like Al Goldstein or Bob Guccione (in the end).

And, the person who lives for the aesthetic ultimately is going to be disappointed, because it is not an end in itself. Just like living for chocolate, or sex, or sports cars. Or science. Or anything that is not sufficient in itself.

I think you might want to 'deepen' your definition of beauty, if only because the most moral people are often the least noticeable. For example, the most 'transformed' man I ever met was missing a leg, smoked three packs a day, had trouble holding a job for more than 2 or 3 years, and struggled against his alcoholism for over 25 years. But he knew the beauty of God, he read Thomas Merton, and he was able to genuinely touch people from every station in life, fellow drunks to corporate leaders to prissy ministers.

I don't know what Hume would say about this thread, but Pascal would approve.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 24, 2006 12:02 PM


Yes, you're talking about "inner beauty" or spiritual beauty. But recognizing such is only possible once a person has matured to the point where his sense of beauty is subordinated, or more accurately sublimated, by higher values such as justice or love or mercy. But don't be fooled into thinking that the impulse to value beautiful things does not start there, nor does it necessarily go there in every person's life.

I agree that the pure aesthete will encounter dissapointment in his life at some point. I'm reminded of a talk show interview I listened to many years ago on NPR, and the subject was music. The guest was some kind of musical conoisseur who could discuss music with the sort of outsized, descriptive vocabulary that only the true music fanatic could muster. He was a musical snob, basically. At some point he let it slip that he could not possibly be friends with someone who listened to Kenny G. He valued the aesthetics of music over friendship, which is a very shallow values system. But these people exist.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 24, 2006 1:08 PM

Beauty isn't inner and ugliness isn't beauty no matter how much someone thinks it is within themself.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 1:26 PM

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which is in the beholder.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 24, 2006 2:08 PM


No, the Beholder. Beauty is absolute, having been Created by God--the Beholder. Individual beholders perceptions of it will vary, which is what makes us mortal and Fallen.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 2:14 PM

I know this one thing: using 'someone' and 'themself' in the same sentence is ugly as heck. Even Flannery O'Connor used 'theirself'.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 24, 2006 2:49 PM


No, the beholder.

Unless the final word on beauty is from God's lips to your, or anyone else's, ears.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 24, 2006 2:55 PM

Is Julia Roberts beautiful?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 24, 2006 3:26 PM

Jeff: I'm willing to look at any text you'd care to share, but as Judaism accepts the idea of the righteous Gentile it is unlikely that we're also commanded to go off and kill all unbelievers. Now, G-d does tell us to go off and kill certain unbelievers, but that's a different issue.

Brit: If I weren't myself guilty of so many typos, I'd have an awful lot of fun with your being a "brian in a vat."

Actually, as we learn more and more, it becomes less and less likely that we live in the world we perceive. Faith keeps me firmly rooted in reality; I suspect that it does for you, too.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 24, 2006 4:06 PM


No, he isn't.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 4:15 PM


No the final word is God's--your ears can't affect His Word.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 4:18 PM

I actually had a philologist (?) contact me because of using archaisms like themself.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 4:20 PM

So he/she is evil?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 24, 2006 4:32 PM

Disordered, which is by definition not beautiful, since Beauty is order.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 4:41 PM


"as we learn more and more"...um.

Are you talking pure armchair internal navel-gazing 'learning' there, or do you in fact mean, as we perceive more and more about the objective material world?

Posted by: Brit at January 25, 2006 4:29 AM

We don't perceive any more, we just refine our scientific theories. Those refinements destroy the scientific notion that our perceptions are reliable. Of course, as a matter of philosophy we'd known that for quite awhile, but science is always a trailing indicator.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2006 7:27 AM

Order as displayed at the Nuremberg rallies?

Order as displayed by the social hierarchy of a Southern plantation?

Order is another one of these morally neutral concepts. Morality depends on what is being ordered and for what purpose. Sometimes morality requires disorder, as with the invasion of Iraq.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 25, 2006 11:24 AM

No, racism is disordered. God Created all men equal.

Saddam Hussein's Iraq was likewise disordered.

God has told us what Order and Beauty are, you're just feigning ignorance because you resent that they're impossible for us to achieve. That's the human dilemma.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2006 11:32 AM