How positivism can get you killed

February 24, 2014 § 5 Comments

Better that patients should die than that medical science cop to ignorance:

The dangers of assigning a psychosomatic diagnosis are shown in a March 2013 article by Alice Philipson in the Telegraph of London. The title is: Professor Dies of Lung Cancer After Doctors Dismiss Illness as ‘Purely Psychological.’ If the DSM-5 SSD category is widely used in its present form, this patient fatality could be joined by many more. Rare disorders and chronic pain patients are already frequently dismissed or marginalized as “head cases.”  DSM-5 will only make this problem worse.

At least when the Aztecs sacrificed you to their gods you got to visit a nice ziggurat.  Modernity’s gods are so much more clinical.

Tortured Positivism

April 25, 2009 § 7 Comments

Strong positivism insists, from one point of view, that unless we have a theory of everything X we don’t know anything relevant about X. (Another point of view is that it insists that anything not expressed in our theory of everything X is irrelevant, which amounts to the same thing). I’ve talked before about how the positivist-postmodern dynamic works out in practice: positivists believe (contra all evidence and reason) that we can formally express everything true (or relevant) about X. Postmoderns conclude that because positivism is irrational we don’t really know anything about X. Both positivism and postmodernism, then, depend on a particular approach to knowledge: an approach which insists that completeness is required in order to have relevant knowledge at all; that incomplete knowledge is invalid. In a sense, then, they both confuse the incomplete with the indefinite.

Modernity exists in a stew of positivism and postmodernism. Because of this, arguments often proceed as though definite conclusions cannot be reached until a comprehensive definition or “Theory of Everything X” is produced.

But we don’t need to have a Theory of Everything in order to know some things. For example, we don’t need to have a Theory of Everything Abortion to know that when a woman has the living child suctioned out of her womb because she doesn’t want to get fat, she has procured an abortion. And we don’t need to have a Theory of Everything Torture in order to know that when we waterboard a prisoner to get him to talk, we have committed an act of torture. Sure, stating what was done in that manner doesn’t fit a careful and formal deontological casuistry of the morality of acts, and it doesn’t provide us with a Theory of Everything with respect to the moral subject matter in question. But that doesn’t mean we are even slightly uncertain as to whether what was actually done in the particular case was abortion or torture.


Pope Benedict on Legal Positivism

October 26, 2007 § 8 Comments


The pontiff also pointed out a problem that many modern democracies are facing. “What dominates today is a positivist conception of law” according to which “humanity, or society, or in effect the majority of citizens, become the ultimate source for civil legislation.”

“When,” the Holy Father proceeded, “the fundamental essentials are at stake: human dignity, human life, the institution of the family and the equity of the social order (in other words the fundamental rights of man), no law made by men and women can subvert the norm written by the Creator in man’s heart without society itself being dramatically struck … at its very core.”

St. Paul on Positivism

January 30, 2007 § Leave a comment

If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

St. Paul Against Positivism

September 17, 2006 § Leave a comment

6 Who also hath made us fit ministers of the new testament, not in the letter, but in the spirit. For the letter killeth, but the spirit quickeneth.

This is why we can’t have nice things

August 24, 2016 § 42 Comments


Proposal: modern politics is analogous to a black hole, because at its very center is a self contradictory logical singularity where all reason breaks down.

The model is incomplete (as we should expect), and far from perfect.  I’m not really sure what I think of it myself, even though I drew it. But in the Internet age folks seem to like diagrams as a basis for discussion: I remember seeing question-begging text based libertarian diamond diagrams on Usenet way back in the late eighties or early nineties, years before the first web browsers.

Because modern politics – liberalism – is insane and self contradictory, it can be very difficult to describe as an objective phenomenon situated in reality.  This is mostly a description of how things look from various positions inside the modern mind trap. Locally, politics looks kind of like a spectrum from left to right.  When left liberals look to the right they see through the translucent right liberals to the nazis beyond.  When right liberals look left they see through the translucent left liberals to the Stalinists beyond.   What you see when you look around depends very much upon where you stand.

And just about everyone is trapped in the inescapable gravity well.


The universal permission slip

January 11, 2016 § 22 Comments

Modernity is characterized by a whole array of incoherent doctrines: liberalism, positivism, nominalism, feminism, materialism, relativism, financial anti-realism, etc.

It is technically impossible to say what a person committed to an incoherent doctrine should and should not do based on that commitment. An incoherent doctrine provides layers of intellectual rationalization for whatever the person committed to it happens to prefer — what he happens to prefer for reasons extrinsic to the doctrine. Incoherent doctrines create an illusion of being in the moral right, a structure of arguments and reasons which propose to justify whatever a person’s preferences happen to be independent of the incoherent doctrine itself.

This is a significant reason why incoherent doctrines are so popular.  They make it possible to argue, at least superficially, that the good, the true, and the beautiful are equivalent to whatever preferences we happen to have. Incoherent doctrines destroy objective values and replace them with whatever our preferences happen to be.

Now sometimes we have good preferences and sometimes we have bad or objectively disordered preferences.  Rather than examining the coherence of a doctrine used to rationalize those preferences, we prefer (ahem) to characterize people who rationalize what we perceive to be bad preferences as having an inauthentic commitment to the doctrine.


The positivist blindfold

January 8, 2016 § 36 Comments

For sane people, a real counterexample calls for revision of the theory or metaphysics which its existence contradicts. For positivists, a real counterexample is something to be dismissed unless it can be incorporated into positive theory.

Positivism refuses to grant the reality of anything which is not explained by positive theory. Reality[*] is limited, for the positivist, to things he can capture with his positive theories. His first instinct when presented with a counterexample, something real which is incompatible with his positive theories, is not to critically examine his question begging theories or his metaphysical dependence upon them. His first instinct is to disbelieve in the reality of the counterexample sitting right there in front of his face. He might start believing in the existence of the counterexample at some point — if and only if its existence can be incorporated into his positive theory.  But he doesn’t believe in it until its existence is demonstrated and explained by his theory.

This dynamic manifests itself especially when talking about intangible realities. Tangible realities are harder to explain away into oblivion, although it is worth noting that positivist anti-realism does ultimately explain away even tangible realities. For the positivist a rabbit doesn’t really exist qua rabbit: a rabbit is just a collection of selfish genes, themselves merely invisible wave-particles bouncing mindlessly around in conformity to the invisible laws of physics. And at some indeterminate utopian time in the future a positive theory will, the positivist believes with religious fervor, formally explain all of that. The messiah, I mean the ultimate Scientific Theory of Everything, will be completed in the Parousia and anoint us gods. What ‘explanation’ could actually mean – what ‘mean’ could actually mean – to a bunch of wave-particles bouncing around mindlessly in conformity to the laws of physics, is a minor metaphysical gap in the catechism. But I’m sure that gap too will eventually be filled by the Dawkins of the Gaps.

However, it is rather difficult for everyday people to deny the reality of rabbits even to ourselves, especially when we are actually looking at one.

Because we are all indoctrinated from birth into anti-realist physicalism though it takes somewhat less solipsism, though still a substantial amount, to deny the reality of authority, than it does to deny the reality of rabbits. So conversations with positivists (or folks with unexamined positivist commitments) tend to go the same way every time:

Positivist Pete: “Sure X form of government is immoral, because no man has the right to rule over other men; but someone is going to govern and X gives us the best outcomes”.

Me: “It sounds like you don’t believe in authority.”

PP: “No man has the right to rule over other men.”

Me: “There are times when children are morally obliged to obey their parents, and when potential trespassers are morally obliged to obey the property owner.  Therefore legitimate authority is real.”

PP: “But what if a father tells his children to torture kittens?”

Me: “The claim is just that authority exists: that sometimes – not always – children are morally obligated to do what they are told.”

PP: “You haven’t given me a theory of what authority is, even of what kind of thing it might be, or how to distinguish legitimate authority from illegitimate authority.”

Me: “So what?  I’ve given you actual examples of authority. Your metaphysical assumptions need to be examined if you still can’t believe in something when I present you with actual examples.”

PP: “You aren’t even listening to me!”

Me: “I understand you perfectly. You are putting your metaphysical assumptions ahead of actual concrete reality.”

PP: “I don’t want to talk about this anymore with someone who isn’t listening.”

[*] Strictly speaking, not all versions of positivism deny the reality of things which are not explained by positive theory. They just deny that things which are not explained by positive theory can matter in any important way. Positive theory is on this view at least potentially complete with respect to everything that matters.

How the desire for ‘hard currency’ is driven by liberalism

November 3, 2015 § 25 Comments

Liberalism can be understood as an ultimately self-contradictory attempt to escape from the messiness of natural human authority; human authority which configures itself in a disorganized, organic, patriarchal cluster of hierarchies. Human beings do often tend to abuse authority when they have it, so moderns are always looking for some way to practice politics by abolishing it: to replace humanity with technical machinery so that babies will be raised as equals free to make their own choices in the loving arms of standard bureaucratic procedures, and the right set of paper documents with just the right clauses written on them will ensure that nobody will be able to lord it over anyone else. Intolerance cannot be tolerated, society must be forced to be free, and no mere human being can be permitted to interfere with the Great Emancipation.

This ends up concentrating power into a monolithic monstrosity responsible for making sure that everyone gets with the program of rejecting authority, imprisoning the human beings who live under liberalism into tiny private cells in the hive where they are forced, good and hard, to be free and equal like everyone else. Those who cannot or will not conform and accept their imprisonment in free and equal cells along with the other emancipated supermen – those who for historical or natural reasons represent the traditional less-than-human oppressor, the Low Man – these Low Men, because they cannot or will not get with the program and accept their fate as superman-snowflakes in tiny cells along with all the other diverse individuals in our free society, tattooed with the signs and symbols of unique specialness along with everyone else – are considered less than human. Ultimately the only solution to the problem they represent is a Final Solution.

I’ve noted before that the modern project is fueled by a relentless drive to deny and avoid messy fallible human authority. Positivism attempts to do this in the domain of epistemology. Nominalism attempts to do this in the domain of language. Liberalism attempts to do this in the domain of politics. Protestantism attempts to do this in the domain of religion. Feminism attempts to do this in the domain of sex and the family. Scientism attempts to do this in the domain of ontology. Utilitarianism attempts to do this in the domain of deontology.

And the drive for ‘hard currencies‘ – for economic value which can be controlled by private individuals and groups on a massive scale divorced from the authority of sovereign governments and the economies which they oversee – attempts to do this in the domain of economics.  As with all of these modernist initiatives, this cannot be ‘accomplished’ without being very careful to avoid seeing the whole picture.  As we saw in the neoreactionary discussion of exit versus voice, the substantive difference between the proposal of ‘exit over voice’ and our current actual situation was to install an emperor who would be put in charge of everything, to make sure everyone got with the program of making ‘exit’ available and to create artisan polities from which the exiting superman could choose in a “free market.”  And in the case of ‘hard currency’ the proposal is to put an Escrow Emperor in charge of economic wealth, so that he can ensure, good and hard, that all parties in the marketplace have equal economic rights which cannot be violated by the decisions of those awful sovereign governments.  As usual, the proposal to undermine the monolithic power of government requires increasing the monolithic power of government. The cure for the disease is a more concentrated and monolithic form of the disease than we already have.

But I am sure that the Great Escrow Emperor in charge of the Big Dragon Hoard won’t actually be a human being subject to human foibles, this time. Those clauses on the papers in the filing cabinet, granting rights to the Big Dragon Hoard, will finally free us from the messiness of human authority.

Give me a break

February 24, 2015 § 8 Comments

The recent usury discussionfest, sparked by a comment thread at the Orthosphere, tossed a bit of a monkey wrench into my plans to take a break from blogging in the fall; so I’ll probably avoid even commenting on other blogs for the next while just to stay out of trouble.  That’s an oblique way of letting y’all know I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a bit (and I really mean it this time, honest — so don’t say anything interesting, doggone it!)

For those who stumble upon the blog for the first time, it isn’t really ‘about’ any particular subject or subjects; but our discussions on usury, liberalism, positivism, democracytorture, and game are probably the most ‘popular’ (or controversial). The first four are personal hobby horses of mine; the latter were more a matter of just going where the discussion leads.  Feel free to browse around and make comments: I probably won’t be gone forever, since the sirens always seem to call me back; and the regulars may have something to say even if I don’t.

Speaking of the regulars – and you know who you are – in the words of the Prophet Bilbo Baggins, I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

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