September 23, 2016 § 53 Comments
“Given an arbitrary world and arbitrary fitness functions, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but that is just tuned to fitness.”
Now we are getting somewhere. If evolutionary theory is true, as opposed to merely sophistry which has evolved as a political defense of metaphysically naturalist hubris, then the humans who evolved to become evolutionary theorists ‘see none of reality’.
Or, alternatively, it might just be time for some folks to check their metaphysical premises.
April 24, 2016 § 13 Comments
I’ve expressed before why I am not concerned that some artificial intelligence is going to take over the world and turn humans into slaves any time soon. Computer scientists have been yammering on about how AI was just around the corner since before I was typing rudimentary game programs into Hewlett-Packard calculators in the 1970’s. The pinnacle of what all of this massive human effort has produced is smart phone autocorrect.
Computers don’t have intelligence and they will never have intelligence. They do just exactly what they are told to do, nothing more, nothing less. Because they can do so very, very quickly, and because human beings are telling them what to do, they can be used to do some astonishing things. But they are just mindless tools, and that is all they will ever be.
However, computer-infected objects have managed to become quite narcissistic, at the instruction of their programmers. It is astonishing how many inanimate objects are constantly nagging me for attention, not because of something they can do for me but because they need me to attend to their own special needs.
Of course if humans continue on our current trends Alan Turing may turn out to have been prescient after all. As human society approaches the Narcissism Singularity it may ultimately become impossible for a third party observer to distinguish between the nagging narcissism of circuits and the nagging narcissism of meat.
March 8, 2016 § 165 Comments
One of the ways that folks keep falling into the mind trap of liberalism is through failure to grasp that liberalism is specifically and concretely a political doctrine: a basic understanding or view about the right exercise of authority. Liberalism makes freedom into a purpose, final cause, or telos of political action, that is, of the exercise of authority. Discussion of freedom as something other than final cause of political action is a change of subject: it is a squirrel, a red herring. Liberalism is freedom as a purpose or final cause of political acts.
Politics in action specifically just is the art of discriminating authoritatively, restricting freedom in controvertible cases to promote some particular understanding of the good. Actual politics – politics in act, in action – every specifically political act – involves the exercise of authoritative discrimination to restrict freedom. So it is impossible – nay not merely impossible, it is incoherent – to try to make freedom a telos or final cause of political acts. Political acts just are restrictions on freedom.
Political acts always and necessarily involve the resolution of controvertible cases. Freedom as final cause of political action quite precisely demands that we do not resolve the specific controverted case in front of us: that we do not exercise substantive discriminating authority: that authority must refrain from prejudicial acting, must remain neutral in a specific controverted matter. But when we authoritatively decide ‘not to resolve’ the controverted case in front of us – whatever that implies for the particular case – we have still made an authoritative, discriminatory choice about that controverted case.
Making freedom the principle of political action requires politics to not act. It requires politics to remain non-actual: it insists that prejudiced political authority a priori favoring a particular understanding of the good must disappear. Insisting that freedom (and concomitantly equality and fraternity) are the principles of political action, are the final causes of political acts, requires politics to remain literally unreal, non-actual. It creates a political wraith, a ghostly creature which pretends not to exist as it tears out your entrails: the unholy ghost of modernity.
Naturally, in the context of real people competing over real controversies, liberalism’s inherent anti-realism is invoked selectively by parties in political conflict with each other. Rather than defusing violence coming from unreasoning prejudice as it pretends to do, liberalism amplifies violence and covers it up with a positivist blindfold.
But freedom or liberty as a specifically political priority/telos – liberalism – is not just wrong. It is not merely a mistake which places a lower good in too high of a place in a hierarchy of goods. It is quite literally rationally incoherent, and thus destroys politics. It invalidates actual authority (authority in action), makes rejection of authority into the principle of authority, thereby unleashing the unconstrained will.
There is no coherent freedom as a specifically political prior which does not entail empowering wickedness and suppressing the good.
February 23, 2016 § 53 Comments
Most people are, naturally enough, scandalized by the idea that a sitting Pope could be a heretic (and nonetheless still legitimately Pope).
My own view is that this is mainly driven by ignorance of Catholic history combined with modern/protestant attitudes toward authority.
Often enough when someone’s world view (in this case the world view of, say, a sedevacantist or the like; or his mirror image the ultramontane) is rooted in ignorance of history, it isn’t enough to dispel the ignorance by presenting the inconvenient facts (e.g. Pope Honorius I, clearly the Pope and yet posthumously anathematized by an ecumenical council). Historical facts tend to be met with some sort of revisionist approach, rather than taking a step back and just accepting that ultramontanism/sedevacantism is another one of those ubiquitous false dichotomies: that the truth must lie not so much somewhere in between the horns of the putative dilemma as somewhere else entirely, somewhere outside the padded walls.
Whatever it is precisely that Vatican Council I meant by the doctrine of infallibility, it can’t mean that it is impossible for a Pope to be a material heretic and it can’t mean that it is impossible for most of the hierarchy to be mired in heresy (see e.g.: the Arian crisis).
It has been pointed out before that the most obvious corollary* to the doctrine of infallibility when speaking ex cathedra is that almost everything that a Pope says and does is, like the acts of any other legitimate human monarch, perfectly fallible. As with other human monarchs, though, fallibility does not call into question his administrative authority.
Modern Catholics (including modern trad Catholics, I’m afraid, although many trads do tend to have better immunities to this than non-trads) are typically modern first and Catholic second. What this means is that we don’t really want to live in a world of messy, fallible, often dysfunctional human authority. So we look for some kind of machinery: some fixed body of text or bureaucratic machinery to substitute for authority, formal machinery which we can depend upon to give us rigorous assurances and treat us fairly.
That is, we lack faith.
Second guessing the Holy Spirit is a fool’s errand, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the people who are really supposed to learn something from the current crisis are the traditionalists — those who truly aspire to be faithful sons of the Church.
And another thing I’ve pointed out before is that it is easy to ‘obey’ king or husband when you agree with what he says; or, even if you disagree, when you are confident in his competence. Who wants to be obedient to the juridical directives of the Clown King? What wife wants to submit to an obsequious whining loser?
I’ll tell you which one.
The one who has faith.
* Another obvious corollary is that although a statement of dogma is infallible when the conditions of ex cathedra are met, the person interpreting that statement of dogma is not infallible – including his interpretation of whether a given statement precisely meets the conditions of speaking ex cathedra! So there is always rather less to infallibility than meets the eye. The Church may speak on matters infallibly here and there — though by all accounts this is rather rare. But I am quite aware of the fact that no matter how infallible the speaker may be in what he is saying, I am not an infallible listener.
[The current post is an elaboration on an OT digression in the combox of this post.]
January 20, 2016 § 73 Comments
The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a reference to God. Indeed that is its very point: to craft a blasphemous and silly concept of God as a rhetorical way of trying to justify disbelief in Him. It wouldn’t be blasphemy if it weren’t referencing God.
I think there are a lot of people who are successfully referencing God who will be, in the long run, quite surprised at the consequences of their success in referencing God.
January 20, 2016 § 9 Comments
One way to be an Aristotlean-Thomist is to understand AT metaphysics as consistent and complete. If you aren’t a positivist though then seeing ‘consistent and complete’ together like that ought to make you chamber a round. If Aristotlean metaphysical theory is in any sense consistent then it cannot at the same time be formal and complete. If it is not formal then the symbols and grammar have to have epistemic wiggle room: the meanings of words and rules of inference themselves have to be allowed to shift around from one thing to another in a literally unspecified and unspecifiable way. This is basically the same as being inconsistent.
If AT metaphysics is not complete that just means that there are metaphysical truths that it doesn’t capture. Modern people find the idea of there being truths within the domain of a theory that the theory doesn’t capture rather alarming. But I’m not a positivist, so what modern people find alarming is just what I expect to be the case.
So when I say I am not an Aristotlean part of what I really mean by that is that I am not an Aristotlean in a positivistic sense. And that is because I am not a positivist in any sense. It is possible to take any theory as positivistic: as a “theory of everything” within the domain it covers. This is always a basic epistemic error, for any sufficiently interesting subject about actual reality. The relationship between theory and reality is inherently non-positivistic.
One of the things I think Aristotle gets right at a high level is his conceptual understanding of act and potency: of actual things, and the real potentials these actual things have to transform or move into other things or states. If a boulder sits on top of the mountain then the potential to roll to the bottom of the north side of the mountain, and at the same time the potential to roll to the bottom of the south side of the mountain, really do exist in that boulder. Real potentials inhere in actual things. In addition, if the boulder ends up at the bottom of the north side of the mountain it remains true that the boulder really did used to have the potential to roll down the south side of the mountain: a potential it no longer has.
Human beings have imaginations which allow us to conceive of counterfactuals. Sometimes the counterfactuals pertain to things which really could have been but now cannot be. Sometimes they pertain to things which may come to pass in the future. But often they are merely stories – stories like my boulder and mountain, which may illustrate a point about reality but which do not refer to actual reality.
So to Aristotle’s act and potency we should probably add fantasy: that is, made up stories about ‘things’ which are really concepts. Whatever we may think of concepts – and as a mild sort of Platonist I am likely to grant them more reality in some senses than you are, if you are a typical post cartesian modern – it is clear that concepts and actual reality are not the same. A concept of a boulder is not itself an actual boulder.
And at the root of recent controversies over making reference to ‘the same God'[*] lies, in my view, an incapacity to distinguish fantastic reality from actual reality.
January 19, 2016 § 20 Comments
Suppose there is only one Bob. Suppose the Neeches and the Screeches engage in different practices that they call “feeding the One Bob”.
The Neeches have a better understanding of Bob’s nature than the Screeches (though of course really knowing Bob is not a matter of fully grasping his essential properties from a philosophical point of view, if that is even possible). Both groups do things that they understand to be ‘feeding the One Bob’, but because of their different understanding of Bob’s nature they have very different understandings of feeding. The Neeches feed the One Bob by making him a sufficiently nutritive meal, according to instruction from Bob himself. The Screeches ‘feed’ the One Bob by throwing excrement at his house and beheading people.
There are plenty of other people around too, who are neither Neeches nor Screeches, who have varying understandings of Bob’s nature. Some have more in common with the Neeches, others have more in common with the Screeches, and sometimes it is a complex mix of commonality and difference. These people don’t come into the story, except that who wants to have cocktail parties with whom may be a motivating factor for the insanity which is about to follow, and some of them join in on the insanity. In addition still other people are wandering around carrying signs that say “there is no Bob!” or “there are many Bobs!”
Some Neech ecumaniacs stand up in the public square and proclaim “both Neeches and Screeches feed the One Bob!” and start carrying around buckets of excrement as a show of solidarity with the Screeches. These ecuneeches seem to think the fact that the One Bob is the focus of the various actions each group calls “feeding” has some significance.
This so outrages other Neeches that they lose their minds, and start insisting that because the Screeches’ concept of Bob is radically incompatible with the Neeches’ concept of Bob, the Screeches aren’t even referring to Bob when they use the word “Bob”. These contraneeches develop a theory of the essential properties of Bob, insist that nobody can even talk about Bob without first accepting their theories and their understanding of Bob’s essential properties, and go on an Internet rampage. They insist that the Screeches are not even referring to Bob when they use the word “Bob”, because they don’t understand Bob’s essential properties.
Bob, who at the end of the day is perfectly capable of feeding himself, encloses the ecuneeches, contraneeches, and Screeches in an insane asylum where they scribble things on the walls and mistake their scribbles for the real world outside the padded walls.
January 19, 2016 § 14 Comments
Let me tell you a story.
Bob and Fred met up with Ted.
(I didn’t say it would be a good story).
Some people can’t tell the difference, or assert that they cannot tell the difference, between reality and make believe. The story is something that I made up, so in a sense it is not possible for me to be wrong about it. If someone says “Bob and Fred did not meet up with Ted” either I am right and they are wrong, or they are just writing fan fiction – a different story from the one I wrote. More subtly, if someone says “Bob and Fred were not walking on a sidewalk!” he is wrong. It is my story, a bundle of concepts I crafted in my own mind, and when I wrote it I was thinking of them meeting while walking on a sidewalk. The object under contention is a story I made up myself; so, again, there is a fairly strong sense in which it is not possible for me to be wrong about its content: though it is possible for me to lie, or to tell a different story from the one I originally crafted — to make a new edition of the story. When an author revises his own story it isn’t that the original is destroyed: it is that he has written his own fan fiction, if you will, making a new and different story out of the old. A new arrangement of some old music is in some sense a new song and in some sense is the original song; but the original song does not cease to exist when a new arrangement is made.
This is why Gandalf is a Maia and Dumbledore is gay in the original stories. Fan fiction is, uh, a different story — but in the original stories Gandalf is a Maia and Dumbledore is gay, unless Tolkien and Rowling are telling lies about their own stories.
Now, I am not presenting a rigorous analytic theory of art or counterfactuals or the relation between implicit and explicit content here, and someone who jumps all over this as if it were a rigorous analytic theory will have missed the point. Just about any theory of make-believe stories will do for my purposes, because the main point is just that reality and make-believe are ontologically different. (This is something that children understand, but it has to be explained to adults). It is of course possible to make fictional characters with the same names as real people and some of ‘the same’ characteristics – though of course they are fictional characteristics in the case of a fictional character, so they aren’t really ‘the same’ characteristics – or even for listeners or readers to mistake fiction for reality.
None of that, I trust, casts even a slight whiff of doubt upon the fact that fiction and reality are ontologically distinct. If we cannot agree that fiction and reality are ontologically distinct, I’ll just tell a story about a nice little padded cell in which you can go live and we’ll call it a day. But be careful, because in the modern world you might get charged real rent for the imaginary padded cell.
The Pythagorean Theorem isn’t just some story that Pythagoras made up, because if it were something he just made up then it wouldn’t be possible for him to get it wrong. Understanding the Pythagorean Theorem would just be a matter of understanding whatever Pythagoras wanted it to mean, and the theorem would imply only what Pythagoras agrees that it implies in his story. A historical account of real events can be more or less accurate and complete (though it can never be, um, completely complete); but historical accounts are not the same kind of thing as make believe stories. Historical accounts make reference to real persons, objects, and events; fictional stories make reference to fictional persons, objects, events, aliens, creatures, magical powers, and authorial gods of the different universes standing behind the fourth wall making the fictional universe in their own image and to their own liking.
Whatever else may be the case, when we are talking about reality it is a different kind of discussion from when we are talking about make-believe. When Aquinas and Spinoza disagree about God they are not contending over whether Dumbledore is or is not gay, flitting equivocally back and forth between some original story and fan fiction, changing universes from one in which the original author is ‘god’ to one in which the reader or writer of fan fiction is ‘god’. When Aquinas and Spinoza disagree about God they are disagreeing about God, not writing two different fan fictions in which the God-character of one story isn’t really the same character as the God-character in the other story.
God actually exists, is indeed the grounding of all existence.
Folks who insist that when Mohammedans refer to God they are not referring to God have become confused, or perhaps in some cases are sowing confusion for rhetorical purposes, about the difference between reality and make believe. It isn’t that Mohammedans don’t believe in God, despite having a highly defective concept of God: it is that anti-realist ‘not the same God’ critics themselves don’t believe in God, God as real not just a character in a story. They have confused the world of concepts for the reality which those concepts are about. They have become trapped in their own stories, unable on their own terms to make reference to reality outside of the fan fiction written by the post cartesian mind.
An atheist who (incorrectly) believes God to be fictional might view the Christian and Mohammedan “Gods” to be different characters: one character written by Mohammedan fans, and a different character written by Christian fans. He can view things that way because he is an atheist: he believes God to be a made up character in a fictional story. (In this sense he himself actually does make reference to God, though, in asserting God’s nonexistence). A polytheist is in the same position as the atheist in this respect: he asserts the existence of gods but denies the existence of God. Someone who grasps that God is in fact real must view this as simply false. The Mohammedan concept of God is very wrong: very different from the truth. (So is the Calvinist concept of God, for that matter). But that doesn’t make it about a fictional character.
When folks attempt to apply post cartesian anti-realism consistently they tend to become trapped inside their own theories. Rather than subordinating their theories to reality they become positivistic: refusing for example to believe in authority despite being presented with the counterexamples of property owner and parent. Because their theories don’t explain the ontological/deontological existence of intangible things like mathematics, love, loyalty, authority, etc – for example their theories don’t provide them with demarcation criteria giving an algorithm for comprehensively distinguishing all genuine authority from all false authority – they refuse to believe in these manifestly real things at all, and become solipsistically imprisoned in their own minds.
As with all crazy modern doctrines, nobody sane can assert a consistently anti-realist view of everything. That inconsistency is a feature not a bug.
January 16, 2016 § 110 Comments
Without getting into a full blown theory of language – as something expressed in language itself, a full blown theory of language may be intrinsically problematic, at least qua something expressed in language – I will simply observe that we often use words to refer to things out there in reality.
When we refer to a thing out there in reality using language, what we are doing is similar to pointing our finger at a bird, or a rock, a tree, another person, some numbers in a ledger, a book, a diagram, etc. We are concretely acting, using our material corporeal faculties, in order to assist another person in seeing or perceiving the objective thing to which we refer.
In this sense it is manifest that Christians and Mohammedans are both referring to God when we use our various words for God. The notion that monotheists refer to two different gods when they each use their various words for God is self contradictory. Referring to a thing is not the same as asserting a complete or even partial theory of the thing to which one refers. When I say “What the Hell is that?” I am referring to something or other by ‘that’: something or other about which I may know very little, and about which I may well have very mistaken beliefs or perceptions.
The question ‘do we worship the same God‘ is therefore malformed, because the emphasis is on the objective referent of ‘God’ not on the meaning of ‘worship’. The phrase ‘the same God’, understood as a reference used by monotheists, contains the contradictory notion within it that there might be more-than-one only-one God. Every monotheist necessarily refers to God when he uses his word for God.
So asking ‘do Christians and Mohammedans worship the same God?’ asserts a contradiction and then asks what follows from that contradiction. It is no surprise to find that people disagree over what follows based on their own extrinsic commitments and biases. Anyone who reads here regularly should realize by now that a contradiction implies everything and its opposite all at once, and when people reach various conclusions from contradictory premises what they are really doing is rationalizing: presenting a putative justification for something which they believe or assert for reasons entirely extrinsic to the doctrine which they are invoking to justify that belief or assertion.
To rationalize is to present arguments for a belief or assert rhetoric in favor of a belief apart from the actual reasons for a belief. Rationalization is a kind of lie: it proposes that we should believe Q because of P when P is not an actual reason to believe Q; or that we did Q because of P when P was not actually the reason we did Q. Rationalization proposes, as true, an actually false causal relation between P and Q.
A truthful, non-rationalizing answer to the question ‘do Christians and Mohammedans worship the same God’ is that the question is self contradictory. A more interesting question is ‘do both Christians and Mohammedans actually worship God?’
Modern people are post cartesian subjectivists/materialists, so when we use a term like ‘worship’ we tend to retreat to the purely subjective. What defines ‘worship’ in these discussions tends to be the purely subjective intentions (begging the question in favor of strict post cartesian dualism) of the person doing the ‘worshiping’. If the person thinks that his actions, including his acting by praying in a certain manner, constitute ‘worship’ in the requisite sense, well then that is ‘worship’.
But there is only one sufficient way to worship God: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Other people, including non-Catholic Christians, may well ‘worship’ God in a sense. And if they are baptized they belong to the communion of those actually worshiping whether they themselves believe it or not — there is that distinction between subjective belief and objective reality, again.
However just because something is labeled ‘worship’ it does not follow that it has the objective qualities essential to worship. Defective worship may still be worship in a sense, just as a play-acted wedding is a wedding in a sense. A merciful Father may well generously treat something that is not actually worship as though it actually were worship. Or He may not.
But there is certainly a sense – the most important sense – in which play-acted worship is not really, objectively, worship.
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.