What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

GUEST POST: Go Left, Young Man!

GO LEFT, YOUNG MAN!

Kenneth W. Bickford

NOVEMBER 13, 2012


A STRANGE COINCIDENCE HAS REVEALED ITSELF between our quadrennial presidential election and the coincident year’s gridiron grudge match between the L.S.U. and Alabama football teams. For three decades now—going back to Ronald Reagan—an Alabama win has coincided with a Democratic victory for president, while an L.S.U. win has consistently favored the Republicans.

More than a few Alabama fans offered to say “Geaux Tigers” for this year’s match if, in exchange, they were allowed to win the following three years. More than a few L.S.U. partisans were inclined to accept that offer.

Alas! It was not to be. In a closely fought game during which the L.S.U. Tigers dominated every statistic—rushing yards, passing yards, time of possession, etc.—Alabama put together a miracle drive in the last ninety-three seconds to win the game in the only place that ever counts: The scoreboard on Saturday night said Alabama 21, L.S.U. 17. The scoreboard on Tuesday night said much the same: Democrats 51%, Republicans 48%.

Close football games always bring out the losing team’s critics, where every play becomes a turning point to be analyzed and fussed over and debated. Why didn’t we pass on third down? Why didn’t we run to the left side? Why…..did we use a prevent defense? In the game of football, it’s clear enough that wins and losses can hinge on an inch more here or a penalty less there.

A political loss, however, is something different.

No one at L.S.U. has—so far as I know—suggested that the best way to win that game was to switch sides and declare themselves an Alabama fan. Nor can it be assumed that when L.S.U. won last year’s game in Tuscaloosa that Alabama fans thought it best to call themselves winners by changing their allegiance to the purple and gold.

How strange it is, then, to find some Republicans who believe that the way to win a presidential race is to become a Democrat. It is a strange path to victory, no? A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by college student Sarah Westwood essentially proposes just such a thing:

Another leg up that the left has is its claim to the moral high ground. The party of pro-choice, pro-gay has such a hold on young people because those are issues they can care about easily. Not many 20-year-olds can hold a coherent conversation about Social Security reform or double taxation, but all of them can argue passionately for gay rights.

As a member of this all-important demographic, I know that neither I nor (almost) anybody else coming of age today supports the Republican social agenda. That’s the way the country is moving—so just deal with it. Modernize and prioritize.

It is because there are no moral victories in football that we regret our favorite football team ran right when the path to victory was clearly to the left, because in football winning is not about right or wrong—it is simply about winning. But can the same be said for our favorite political team? Our collegian seems to think so. She advises that we move left, for victory. This is wise counsel if the goal is political power, but rather terrible advice if the goal is political truth.

It was once the case that conservatism represented itself as the clearest articulation for truth, that indeed it’s primary advantage over progressive and liberal political ideologies was that conservatism more closely reflected reality, and that to live according to its principles was to reserve for one’s self and one’s family a stable right to pursue happiness.

But pursuing happiness is not the same thing as catching happiness, and in this regard the modern conservative is at a distinct disadvantage—for this is precisely what the Left promises: The capture of happiness. Which party would you rather support? The party that guarantees the pursuit of happiness, or the party that guarantees the capture of happiness?

As it turns out, the happiness being pursued and the happiness being captured are two very different kinds of happiness. Let us see them as they are, two competing and oppositional images of happiness. We stand between them as we might stand between two paintings in a stark-white and sun-bathed hall, able to judge them on their own merits.

THE FOUR CAUSES

ARISTOTLE SAID “Happiness, therefore, being found to be something final and self-sufficient, is the End at which all actions aim.”

What sorts of actions aim at happiness? And what differences can we detect between the happiness arising from politically conservative-actions versus the variety of happiness arising out of politically liberal-actions? Let us examine these actions and outcomes in the light of Aristotle’s four causes.

The four causes may be thought of as a unity found in all things rather than as separate things in and of themselves. Your dinner last night is an example of such a unity. It contained a material cause—potatoes, onions, and beef tips, for example; it contained a formal cause—a recipe which contained the idea on how to assemble the material ingredients into a stew; it contained an efficient cause—action taken by the hands that cooked the meal; and it contained a final cause—the meal itself which gave you both pleasure and nourishment.

The diagram below may be useful for thinking about these causes. The material and formal causes are at the bottom, forming the foundation; The final cause is at the top where the highest things are supposed to be; and the efficient cause is located exactly where the action is—in the middle of everything.

image001.png

THE UNIQUENESS OF ACTION

ONE OF THESE CAUSES IS UNIQUE and merits special attention: The efficient cause. It is different because the moving cause is ordinarily invisible in the meal sitting before you. When you pass by a house or examine an origami swan or eat your supper at a restaurant you are immediately conscious of three of the causes. You can sense and observe the building materials, the plan and the purpose behind houses and paper swans and suppers.

But unless you were there to see the house being built, the paper being folded or the meal being prepared, the action which coordinated that home, that swan and that supper is invisible.

This places an interesting burden on our relationship with actions. Not because of any problems specific to us or the actions we pursue. The burden is on the relationship. That burden is the spirit of our age—our scientific mindset. It is a burden because it demands proof based on observation, and because proof is restricted to repeatable results. And it is a burden precisely because some of the very best parts of our lives are unique and, by definition, never repeated.

It was not always so. When Bacon, Galileo and Newton laid the groundwork for the scientific method, they fit it neatly into an older and broader approach to understanding. They could not foresee that the new method would come to supplant the broader approach, or that its narrowness would constrict sense and sensibility. In any event, the efficient cause was originally at home with men of science, and they with it.

When caught in the act, modern scientific observation can see action and describe it, but actions also confound science because of a second quality: Actions arise out of purpose and intentions. Science can describe what the cook is doing well enough, but seeing what the cook is doing is not necessarily to see why the cook is doing it. Action is directive and intentional—a manifestation of pure human will.

Our scientist knows this and is baffled on how to explain the cook’s intentions. Perhaps she is cooking because she’s hungry, or because cooking is a recreational activity, or because she wishes to feed her family, or perhaps even because she must bring a dish to tonight’s meeting. She may be cooking dinner for any combination of these reasons. But modern science has nothing to say about these intentions—because modern science has restricted itself to the narrow sphere of reason based on observation. The cook’s intentions—and the unobservable beliefs and inspiration underlying them—are forever separated from the conversations of modern science.

It wouldn’t do to run a home by the scientific method. When Timmy breaks the Ming Dynasty vase, it is of utmost importance that Daddy should know why the vase was broken because in the successful family, intentions matter. There is a great deal of intentional difference between accidentally bumping the vase and juggling with it. Fathers are keenly interested in the invisible intentions of their sons and insist on understanding why their children behave the way they do. None of this matters to the scientist because it cannot matter, and it cannot matter because the scientist’s reason is restricted to what he can see.

Asked to describe their actions, fathers would give reasons related to their intentions. It would not strike them that their reasons were unscientific or irrational. It is the scientist who believes otherwise. The scientist thinks this way because the reasons behind the father’s intentions are unexampled, specific and unique to the father. The scientist’s work requires examples—the father’s intentions provide none.

And yet it is action that defines us—we are always and finally known by what we do. We shall need to inspect action very closely if we are to discover the crucial differences in the two images of happiness.

image003.png


A DIAGRAM OF HAPPINESS

HAPPINESS, for both you and your family, requires a unity of materials, ideas and actions—but which materials, which ideas and what sorts of actions cause that happiness?

Let us assume for a moment that you are awash in the materials needed to sustain yourself and your family. And let us assume that you have an idea about how these materials might be formed to deliver the final end of happiness and wellbeing. The question we wish to answer now is what should you do, for we will notice immediately that differences in political ideas necessarily lead to stark differences in political actions. The impact on happiness will be profound.

Our laws and our customs are far older than our science—to perceive them as they were we shall have to recall an older, pre-scientific understanding of ourselves. We will need to remember the stories we once told ourselves and see them with new eyes and hear them with new ears.

The two images of happiness are tied to two competing ideas on the origins of intention. Let us pause to consider what we are leaving behind so that we may better comprehend what we are rushing towards.


THE ORIGIN OF INTENTION

THE ACTIONS ARISING OUT OF OUR LAWS AND CUSTOMS are inspired by what we once believed to be true about ourselves. So what, exactly, did we once believe? Two ancient conversations shed light on our understanding of action inspired by belief. The first conversation took place around 400 B.C. between Meno and Socrates. The general subject of the conversation is virtue, what is it, and can it be taught? The specific passage below is concerned about what sort of thing “guides” or directs action:

Socrates: And in general, all that attempts or endures, when under the guidance of wisdom, ends in happiness; but when she is under the guidance of folly, in the opposite?

Meno: That appears to be true.

Socrates: If then virtue is a quality of the soul, and is admitted to be profitable, it must be wisdom or prudence, since none of the things of the soul are either profitable or hurtful in themselves, but they are all made profitable or hurtful by the addition of wisdom or of folly; and therefore if virtue is profitable, virtue must be a sort of wisdom or prudence?

Meno: I quite agree.

Socrates: And the other goods, such as wealth and the like, of which we were just now saying that they are sometimes good and sometimes evil, do not they also become profitable or hurtful, accordingly as the soul guides and uses them rightly or wrongly; just as the things of the soul herself are benefited when under the guidance of wisdom and harmed by folly? (emphasis added)

Meno: True.

Socrates: And the wise soul guides them rightly, and the foolish soul wrongly.

Meno: Yes.

Mark down the fact that Socrates and Meno both agree that the thing which guides one’s actions is something called the soul.


Now, let us consider the fifth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, written some 450 years later. I quote from the King James Version:

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Now, mark down the fact here that Paul identifies actions arising out of two very different kinds of desire, flesh-desire and soul-desire.

Between Aristotle’s four causes and these two ancient passages, I believe we have now assembled enough elements to reconstruct two types of action which result in the two competing images of happiness.


THE CAUSES OF ACTION

WHEN YOU AND I PONDER OUR ACTIONS, we are inevitably confronted with a most unscientific question: Why? Why did I do that? It is an unscientific question because no scientist can answer it. It is a question that can only be answered by the agent of the action—in this case, you or me.

The answer to that question begins with the material cause of desire. We want things. What do we want? We want food and friendship, rest and security, novelty and sex. Left to themselves, the ancient view was that such desires became “fornication,” “revellings,” and “drunkenness.” All of us are filled with desires of the flesh, and these desires are the raw material of our actions. By acting on these desires, we achieve happiness of a kind.

But the story we tell ourselves, about ourselves, doesn’t stop there. If it did we would be indistinguishable from the beasts of the field. The ancient story we tell ourselves—and the story upon which hangs our entire history of laws and customs—also includes our potential to develop desires of the soul. Soul-desire begins with the raw material of our flesh and perfects it by directing those needs towards a happiness that goes far beyond the eating of a meal or the orgasm of a tryst. Together, flesh-desire and soul-desire result in actions leading directly to a lifetime of happiness—the life of virtue.

Soul-desire aims higher than flesh-desire. When one has it, one can never be satisfied with gobbling a meal as one’s dog does. Soul-desire causes dining.

Flesh-desire unites one man with a momentary orgasm. Soul-desire unites one man with a relationship that is lifelong, sexual and parental.

Flesh-desire wants wealth. Soul-desire wants wealth with honor.

In every case soul-desire begins with the reality of flesh-desire and perfects it. Our laws and our customs assume the existence of soul-desire—of the ability of every man and woman to choose, and in choosing, to be higher than the choice-less beast. It is part of the reason we hold criminals accountable—they acted like beasts when they should have acted like men.

Arranged as causes, these desires look something like this:

image005.png

You can perhaps begin to see where I am leading this discussion. In the classical conception of a fully developed man and woman—and I emphasize again that our laws and customs are based upon just such a conception—lifelong happiness is achieved only when the material of flesh-desire is guided by the ideas and forms of soul-desire. The material itself is inherited—either by nature or nurture—whereas the ideas which form the material are subject to our choices. In the classical conception of the fully developed man and woman, the unity in our being arises from a compound of chosen and unchosen elements.

Our modern collegian would simplify that compound by building a rational political society on the choice-less and inevitable desire of the flesh. She thinks this way even as she believes that soul-desire is the deepest and truest part of her identity. How strange it is to believe in something high and noble about one’s self while denying its existence to society. How fickle to think that soul-desire brings out one’s best but that animal instinct brings out society’s best.

And how odd is it that any of us should possess deeply held beliefs and then work to eliminate those same beliefs from our political life.

The scientific method is attuned to knowledge that can be repeated. It tells you how to repeatedly lob a cannonball and hit a target a mile away with precision. But Napoleon Bonaparte—whose existence I do not doubt—is not reproducible. His uniqueness places him—and you and me, for that matter—beyond the pale of scientific inquiry. Walker Percy made an interesting observation about the relationship between the individual who finds himself embedded in a scientific society:

There is a secret about the scientific method which every scientist knows and takes as a matter of course, but which the layman does not know. The layman's ignorance would not matter if it were not the case that the spirit of the age had been informed by the triumphant spirit of science. As it is, the layman's ignorance can be fatal, not for the scientist but for the layman.

The secret is this: Science cannot utter a single word about an individual molecule, thing, or creature in so far as it is an individual but only in so far as it is like other individuals. The layman thinks that only science can utter the true word about anything, individuals included. But the layman is an individual. So science cannot say a single word to him or about him except as he resembles others. It comes to pass then that the denizen of a scientific-technological society finds himself in the strangest of predicaments: he lives in a cocoon of dead silence, in which no one can speak to him nor can he reply.

To believe in soul-desire is to simply have the ordinary belief that we possess agency and choice—and it is also to believe in something for which there is no scientific proof.

I am told that the Yąnomamö Indians of the Amazon have three numbers: one, two and many. In the same sense that one may not discuss the number “seventeen” with a Yąnomamö, one may likewise not discuss intention, belief or inspiration with a scientist—his vocabulary is not up to the task. Likewise, when we are tempted to speak in the exclusive language of science, we must necessarily excise words and ideas that describe the thing we most believe to be true about ourselves: Soul-desire. It is like discussing the number seventeen with a Yąnomamö.

The two images of happiness require two very different languages. The ancient tongue speaks broadly of things inside and outside of reason, whereas the modern tongue can only speak in the narrow and exclusive language of reason.

Science speaks with confidence and precision and certainty. It is an honest and purely human inclination, this desire for certainty. It should be no surprise, then, that our collegian, wishing to “modernize and prioritize,” finds herself caught in quite a pickle because the world that is exclusively made of flesh-desire is the animal kingdom. It is all very fine for dogs and hyenas but it isn’t nearly good enough for human habitation.

Her victory over soul-desire is a pyrrhic one—for it is her fully developed human happiness that she has vanquished.


THE CAUSES OF SOUL-DESIRE

IF YOU CAN STAND ONE MORE DIAGRAM, I should like to speculate on the four causes of soul-desire. In doing so, we shall leave the narrow realm of modern science behind the cosmic curtain enveloping human sense.

To the extent that you possess happiness greater than your dog, it is because you possess knowledge that is unavailable to your dog. It so happens that this knowledge is also unavailable to the modern scientist. This is not a problem for you unless you happen to find yourself embedded in a scientific society that treats your beliefs as non-existent.

What are the causes of belief in things that cannot be seen? The answer is simple, ancient and deeply personal: Revelation. We believe in some things because they were revealed to us. We believe in the grandfather we never met because his person was revealed to us by his daughter and our mother who loved us both. We believe in a past we never experienced because it was revealed to us by persons who did experience it. Revelation relies on something accepted in every court of law—the testimony of witnesses, both human and otherwise.

And there’s something more: Where revelation leads to belief, belief leads to inspiration.


image007.png

No amount of mathematical precision has successfully predicted the future, and yet we believe in the future and act on that belief as though it were as real as a brickbat. Belief leads to an act of inspiration that carries us beyond the mathematical models of science into a future that is permanently uncertain. Without inspiration we would find ourselves paralyzed in the present moment, with very little use for the future and no use at all for soul-desire. For the sake of a future, then, we may paraphrase Voltaire and say that if soul-desire didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent it.

Soul-desire comes into existence when the action of inspiration is formed by beliefs that coordinate the material of revelation. None of it is subject to measurement or observation or verification in the scientific sense—and yet we all act on beliefs and find inspiration in them. A world without such beliefs and inspirations would be a mechanical world bereft of soul-desire, its citizens mere automatons.

Various socialist and communist regimes have been formed on the assumption that soul-desire doesn’t exist. But soul-desire cannot be ignored anymore than gravity can be ignored. All such regimes have failed at some level because soul-desire is a real and ineradicable part of the human constitution, totalitarian assertions notwithstanding.

Ancient narratives that assumed the existence of soul-desire—of which I mentioned the Meno and Galatians—have played a powerful role in shaping the deepest paradigms in our laws and customs. It is no exaggeration to claim those laws and customs begin with Genesis where “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.”

But a powerful modern narrative has risen up to challenge soul-desire. It is championed by twins of the Enlightenment, the scientific mindset and the political narratives of Rousseau and Marx. The new narrative was present at the American founding—present but not yet powerful enough to conquer. We see the conflict in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, where the modern narrative favored a different beginning for the nation in Jefferson’s first draft:

“that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness…” (emphasis added)

But the final draft of the Declaration showed the power of the ancient narrative was not yet broken—for a season yet, soul-desire would define and shape the American founding:

“that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (emphasis added)

In the intervening centuries the modern narrative has advanced and taken ground from the classical world. We are living with the consequences of that advance, because the modern narrative tells a radically different story about human nature, and because of it, a radically different story about human happiness. The steady advance of science is mirrored by the steady advance of this modern narrative where happiness can be coldly and mechanically captured as easily as a quark.

THE TWO IMAGES OF HAPPINESS

MODERN CONSERVATISM ASSUMES THE EXISTENCE OF SOUL-DESIRE. It therefore begins its account of the world with a broad view that lies both within and beyond the powers of verification. This is why the conservative has a special place for tradition, memory, and imagination—all of which lie beyond observation. It also explains his need to integrate reason into that broad and ancient view, which the scientific mindset thinks to be impossible in the same way that one may not discuss higher numbers with a Yąnomamö.

Strangely enough, ideologues for the scientific mindset believe in their own personal soul-desire and live as if it were the truest part of their selves while denying it for their political community. This peculiar internal schism baffles even them.

It all gives to conservatism a completeness lacking in the modern scientific-political narrative, which attempts to cover the world with the constricted view of reason alone—and by doing so fails to envision a future worth defending.

I am thinking here of a 2007 study at University College in London which compared the imaginations of ordinary volunteers with those of persons suffering from amnesia. Each group was asked to imagine a day at the beach and describe it. Those whose memories were intact imagined the whiteness of the sand, the vibrant colors of beach balls, the blue of the sky and the turquoise water, as well as the squawking of seagulls overhead and the rhythms of the surf. The amnesiacs—each of whom had suffered damage to the hippocampus where space, navigation and memory are coordinated—were at a loss. They mostly saw sky. Their inability to recall the past left them without the materials needed to create and imagine even an ordinary scene. This absence of a past left them bereft of a future—the present moment enclosed them like a coffin.

By itself, flesh-desire is the philosophy of the present moment—and it goes a very long way towards explaining the loneliness and alienation of its adherents. Those who are faithful to its principles find themselves enclosed in the cold crypt of verification.

Conservatism proposes an escape from the tomb of the present moment. It does so by embracing unverifiable soul-desire. It is the viewpoint that gives what’s due to tradition and memory, and because of that it also gives what’s due to an imagined future.

Lately, some conservatives have expressed embarrassment over this extra-scientific approach to political truth. I myself have experienced this type of embarrassment before. Long ago I was among a group of fraternity boys who bragged about the women they had ravished and remember feeling somewhat embarrassed that I couldn’t share in their stories because I had treated women better. My victory seemed, to them, a defeat. Our modern political moment may bring defeat because loyalty to truth could well lead to the slaughterhouse.

If so, this is the price for taking a side.


THE CHOICE

OUR YOUNG COLLEGIAN ADVISES US TO TURN LEFT, and thus, to victory. And if the victory weren’t hollow and empty we could do it, too. But the happiness it so readily captures is cheap and common and short. If only our collegian could see that the capture of happiness requires both a machine and a machine culture for its success—none of which is fit for citizens. If she did, she would understand fully the elation that Whittaker Chambers expressed when he decided to leave the cold machinery of Communism and return to the warm blood of liberty. It was the strangest of elations:

This elation was not caused by any comparison of the world I was leaving and the world I was returning to. By any hard-headed estimate, the world I was leaving looked like the world of life and of the future. The world I was returning to seemed, by contrast, a graveyard.

I wanted my wife to realize clearly one long-term penalty, for herself and for the children, of the step I was taking. I said: “You know, we are leaving the winning world for the losing world.” I meant that, in the revolutionary conflict of the 20th century, I knowingly chose the side of probable defeat. Almost nothing that I have observed, or that has happened to me since, has made me think that I was wrong about that forecast. But nothing has changed my determination to act as if I were wrong—if only because, in the last instance, men must act on what they believe right, not on what they believe probable.

The Left’s “claim to the moral high ground” is a claim on short-lived animal happiness. It is a claim on feral grunts in the bushes and mocking laughter in the casino. It is a claim on the short-term use of flesh to satisfy trivial and perishable wants. Like Cerberus in Dante’s Inferno, it simply wants. It is a claim that will mindlessly consume whatever it is fed—including slime and filth. And if that was all there was to men and women, it would be enough.

The Left proposes that we capture happiness, and it succeeds because it aims low. Conservatism proposes something harder—the pursuit of happiness which is high and slightly beyond our reach. It is a happiness that cannot be captured except when we no longer need it—with the dying breath of the life well-lived.

Comments (47)

An interesting and persuasive line of argument!

It seems to be congruent with what C. S. Lewis had to say in The Weight of Glory

In your view, what is the strongest argument against this Aristotelian approach?

The link between Meno/Socrates and the Letter to the Church in Galatia is interesting as well. How do you view that intersection? Is it wide or narrow?

Thanks for the interesting post, Ken!

Both you and readers may be interested in Joe Carter's timely dissection of the childish advice post quoted at the beginning of the main post:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter/2012/11/why-the-gop-shouldnt-take-advice-from-liberal-children/

I was especially struck by her use of the phrase "moral high ground." It simply leaves one gasping to see a young woman claim that the left has the moral high ground because the left wants it to remain legal for children to be killed in the womb. If she thinks that is the moral high ground, her mind has been truly warped.

It is an honest and purely human inclination, this desire for certainty.

Is it a flesh-desire or a soul-desire?

It is a happiness that cannot be captured except when we no longer need it—with the dying breath of the life well-lived.

True, and it is the pursuit that we need in order to be in a position to capture it with our dying breath: "I have run the good race, fought the good fight." Those words come not from a position of having finished and sitting, seeing the finish line in the background, but from the runner still running, knowing that he will continue running until his last breath. Because the only thing worth dying for is the kind of life worth living up to - a life of virtue, a life examined.

But what has Romney's defeat to do with these high sentiments?
What did Romney stand for?. For economic recovery and jobs.
His essential pitch was Trust me for I am a rich businessman.

But what has Romney's defeat to do with these high sentiments?

If I recall correctly, the opinion of Romney on this blog ranged from clothespin-on-the-nose support to rejection as a candidate. I don't recall any full-throated approval of him, but I could be wrong. In any case, I'd be more interested in thoughtful reactions to this lengthy and serious entry rather than scrying what motives inspired writing it.

The less said about the man, the better. I often say we know there is greatness yet in America when defeated politicians really do return to private life quietly, and especially unseated incumbents: alas that we couldn't have wished both candidates well in retirement.

Isn't it perfect that our first explicitly political remark is a bit of terse snark from a paleocon. Gian, you can see that Ken merely used the election (and an especially superficial reaction to it) as a platform from which to depart into the discussion of permanent things, can't you?

You all have raised some thought-provoking questions which I will attempt to answer.

Mr. Fosi asks two excellent questions. He asks first “what is the strongest argument against this Aristotelian approach?”

The answer to that question deserves a week’s worth of reflection and another essay, but I would begin by observing that strong arguments against a principle usually involve the reductio ad absurdum—taking that principle to its most absurd conclusion. Will Durant once said, and I’m recalling this from memory, something to the effect that “all philosophies perish by an over-application of their core principle.” (He said it better than I’m remembering it.)

Avoiding absurdity requires a true system, one that is capable of questioning itself and avoiding a mindless adherence to principles that will put the system into a death spiral.

The Aristotelian approach incorporates paradox into its explanation of things, and because of that, ought to have a strong claim on our reasoning faculty. It better describes the cosmos we live in by avoiding the absurdity that comes from following a set of principles past their usefulness. This means, in my view, that “the strongest argument against this Aristotelian approach” is one that indeed claims it has solved all of the world’s problems with a set of simple rules and propositions. Marxism is one such argument—and a highly persuasive one. Rousseau’s argument for “equality of outcome” is another, and one that has come to dominate our nation as the “new republican virtue”—even appearing this year on our stamps. (It is, in fact, the argument that the young op-ed writer was more or less foisting upon us.)

To Mr. Fosi’s second question, “The link between Meno/Socrates and the Letter to the Church in Galatia is interesting as well. How do you view that intersection? Is it wide or narrow?” I would say that Socrates’ view of soul-desire is narrower than Paul’s. The Greeks didn’t have a concept of “sin” that matched that of the Jews. When it came time to translate the Hebrew word sin, the closest match the early writers could find was the Greek word hamartia, which translates as “missing the mark.” For the Greeks, hitting the mark meant achieving physical and mental excellence, as in, for example, the Spartan emphasis on gym class. Paul’s description of Christian revelation goes beyond “hitting the mark” of physical or mental excellence—it actually promotes something foreign and excessive to the Greek mind: Love as a virtue.

Socrates was on to something; Paul was on to something more. Our civilization has benefited from both.

Reader Step2 asks whether the “desire for certainty” is a flesh-desire or a soul-desire? Both I would say, but pure flesh-desire is locked into the present moment so that the certainties it craves do not extend very far into the future.

Reader Gian asks “but what has Romney’s defeat to do with these high sentiments?” My goal here was to link Conservatism with “these high sentiments.”

Both the Republican party and Mr. Romney made every effort to attach themselves to moderate sentiments and they still lost. They lost to a left that has won the hearts of our citizens by promising the capture of happiness. The happiness captured is the life of a zoo-specimen, and those who promise it are zookeepers.

A large segment of our population have become the lion who thinks his native habitat is a five acre lot where steak is served every day at noon. The lion is mistaken, of course, and cannot see how unhealthy he is or how much better his life would be on the Serengeti.

The Left promises a slightly larger cage and steak twice a day. To the extent that the Republican party and its next Mitt Romney attempt to match or exceed such promises, they are promising to be better zookeepers.

Conservatism of the kind I propose promises the freedom of the Serengeti. It is filled with risks and days of hunger, but it is the lion’s natural home. Most zoo-specimens would prefer it, though in their weakened state they would be challenged to survive it. We could run an experiment by giving such a zoo-specimen his choice between the cage and the plain and see which way he runs. But you already know the answer to that question.

Conservatism needs to continue speaking the truth—even to those who think they prefer life in the zoo with its zookeepers.

And victory that is faithful to truth may very well lead to our political defeat—modern times may call for modern martyrs.

Ken,

Thanks for the thoughtful replies. The article and the replies have both provided material for reflection.

I think your statement, "Socrates was on to something; Paul was on to something more. Our civilization has benefited from both," is a good addition to what you have written.

One of my areas of interest is the intersection of faith in Jesus Christ, which is largely a product of revelation, and Reason, which (seems to be) complementary. What are the domains of each and can the thoughts of men like Socrates (et al) be considered and used without allowing them to creep into or divide us from the One who has saved us? It's a rhetorical question, of course, but one that I think your article+answers addresses.

Thanks again. :^)

Ken,
I'm unsure what the point of your broadside against science is if you admit that its goal includes both types of desire. You suggest it leads to "live for the moment" beliefs but you haven't shown any evidence in its favor, i.e. science students or professionals are more likely to make short-sighted, selfish decisions than others.

Ken,

Thank God Chambers was proven wrong in the end (at least with respect to the Soviet Union)!

I was actually thinking of Chambers when I read this section of your essay:

Various socialist and communist regimes have been formed on the assumption that soul-desire doesn’t exist. But soul-desire cannot be ignored anymore than gravity can be ignored. All such regimes have failed at some level because soul-desire is a real and ineradicable part of the human constitution, totalitarian assertions notwithstanding.

Chambers own description of his 'conversion' into becoming a communist involved what I would consider a form of soul-desire: perhaps a deformed version of the real thing, but Chambers and sadly many young communists wanted to help their fellow man and bring peace to the world. Again, these folks were ignorant and misguided in many ways (and obviously some were just power mad), but I think we do well as conservatives who understand man's limits, that sometimes the demands of justice do require us to think about liberal cries of equality (even if our solutions will be very different than liberal solutions -- or even if we need to explain to liberals that so-called solutions don't exist).

The Conservatives may well scorn the Flesh but could they get rid of the World?
The World means the world of getting and spending (CS Lewis, Studies in Words) and its typical vices are Pride and Greed.
And can they embrace Aristotle while being tightly locked in with Adam Smith?


Step2, I fear the very phrase "broadside against science" suggests a misunderstanding of Ken's argument. It must seem at least a bit strange to accuse a writer who has gone to some length to uphold and emulate Aristotle (arguably one of humanity's greatest scientific minds) of hurling broadsides against science.

I’m pleased to respond to readers Step2 and Gian. Their questions and challenges remind me of the need to stay grounded and humble about my own desire to fully explain, since those who can “fully explain” imagine themselves worthy to rule the rest of us.

Step2 asks the more difficult question, mainly because of ambiguity in it. He or she states “I'm unsure what the point of your broadside against science is if you admit that its goal includes both types of desire.” I do not admit that science’s goal is “both types of desire”—indeed, it is my contention that living exclusively within the rules of the scientific method obviates and demotes soul-desire. My use of science as a straw-man was never intended to be an attack on science or scientists, for whom I have a great deal of respect. I am, rather, attacking the misuse of the scientific mindset.

The scientific method is well and good for exploring the innards of atoms or the “outards” of space, but has its limits in the public square populated with citizens in a political relationship. Imagine trying to raise a son or daughter via the scientific method, where you formed a hypothesis about their behavior, conducted experiments to see what conditions would bring out acceptable behavior, and subsequently built a universal theory describing your children based on the results. The first thing most parents would immediately notice is the way such a universal theory would not transfer from one child to the next, because of particular differences between the children. Science necessarily speaks in the language of universals, but persons require language which is particular and custom-fitted to the persons involved.

Here is the crux of the problem, then. The language of the exclusively universal is untranslatable into the language of the exclusively personal—but building such a universal society is exactly the goal of those with a scientific mindset.

My critique of science is really a critique of the scientific mindset and of those who insist on using the language of that mindset to tell a political story. This addresses Step2’s second challenge that I offer no evidence of science students or professionals being “more likely to make short-sighted, selfish decisions than others.” It is not the scientist that I am specifically charging with present-oriented behavior, it is his acolyte, the young collegian who speaks in the language of science. Her natural desire for sex is alone in the world. Her orgasm is disconnected from the things that perfect orgasms, a lifelong relationship and children. It is disconnected because her scientific mindset has aborted much more than the new life within her, it has also aborted the soul-desire that would have saved her, her child and her happiness.

Reader Gian begins with the statement that “Conservatives may well scorn the Flesh.” This is far from the position I am taking. Soul-desire perfects the flesh. I call your attention again to Galatians, which claims that the contest between flesh and spirit can end badly if “ye cannot do the things that ye would.”

“Ye cannot do the things that ye would” essentially means the loss of your agency and free will.

Some years ago, I read an article by a psychiatrist asserting that free will doesn’t exist, and that it was time we revise our laws to reflect that fact. This is essentially the argument of Marx dressed up in scientific language, and the results from such a conclusion will be no different than they were under Stalin and Chairman Mao. How could they be?

Gian’s question “can (conservatives) embrace Aristotle while being tightly locked in with Adam Smith?” is truly worthy of another discussion. The short answer is no, and the reason is because Adam Smith does not embrace Aristotle.

Every modern economic act contains four sub-acts: Production, Exchange, Distribution and Consumption. These match up rather nicely as causes, where production is the material cause, exchange is the formal cause, distribution is the efficient cause and consumption is the final cause.

The man in the brickyard produces a brick, which he exchanges with the baker for a loaf of bread. He then distributes that loaf of bread, some to his children, some to his wife, some to himself and even a slice or two for the widow next door. Each of these consume the bread. The economic act itself is a unity of these sub-acts.

Adam Smith’s theory only addresses production and exchange. Eighty years later, Alfred Marshall recognizes that consumption is missing from Smith’s theory and “perfects” it with a theory of consumption. Modern economic theory is built then, out of a theory of production, exchange and consumption.

What’s missing? Only the act of distribution! Modern economic theory has no theory of distribution, precisely because the active cause is beyond scientific verification. One simply cannot build a universal theory about why a particular man distributed bread in the manner that he did.

Modern economic science cannot explain why you distributed your wealth the way you did, or why you did not consume it all for yourself. But you can. And when you do, you will make reference to beliefs and inspirations which make sense to you, and if you explain them, would make sense to me as well. I can get to know you well enough to even predict what you would “do” under particular circumstances—but only because I addressed your particularity. To the extent that I rely on modern economic theory to explain your actions, I will miss every time.

Conservatism provides a powerful explanation for these acts when it is broad enough to include the particular revelations, beliefs and inspirations of men and women possessing soul-desire. Conservatism that speaks in the language of the scientific mindset must necessarily fight with its best idea tied behind its back: soul-desire.

And finally, to Jeffrey S.’s comments regarding Whittaker Chambers and soul-desire, I offer the following quote from Witness (whose 60th anniversary as a book we celebrate this year) where Chambers has broken with communism and is returning to life:


“As I continued to pray raggedly, prayer ceased to be an awkward and self-conscious act. It became a daily need to which I looked forward. If, for any reason, I were deprived of it, I was distressed as if I had been deprived of some life necessity, like water. I cannot say I changed. There tore through me a transformation with the force of a river, which, dammed up and diverted for a lifetime, bursts its way back to its true channel. I became what I was. I ceased to be what I was not.”

Flesh-desire and Soul-desire is what we are; flesh-desire alone is what we are not. Would that our conservative faithful could see this—see it and believe again in belief itself. Conservatism is about a return to the true channel.

Paul,
If you will reread the original post, nowhere does Ken mention the misuse of the scientific method, mindset or language, he mentions all those things without any qualifiers or restrictions. As I indicated in my comment, if he wants to attack short-sighted or selfish behavior that's fine, leave science out of it.

Ken,
I do not admit that science’s goal is “both types of desire”—indeed, it is my contention that living exclusively within the rules of the scientific method obviates and demotes soul-desire.

If the desire for certainty includes both types of desire and that desire is one of the primary motivations for scientific language and methodology, what is the difference?

The language of the exclusively universal is untranslatable into the language of the exclusively personal—but building such a universal society is exactly the goal of those with a scientific mindset.

Even if I granted the first part of this proposition, which I don't because it assumes science denies complexity, the second part has no justification whatsoever.

It is disconnected because her scientific mindset has aborted much more than the new life within her, it has also aborted the soul-desire that would have saved her, her child and her happiness.

Okay, so now who is using universal language? You speak with certainty about her happiness but unless you actually know her personally by your own standard you are taking a wild guess.

Step2--I am afraid that you are being tripped up by my shortcomings as a writer.

My thesis, simply put, is that two narratives are competing for our allegiance. Each promises happiness. One, the narrative of the scientific-mindset and the political descendent of Rousseau and Marx, operates under the assumption that happiness is a "deliverable" because the world is understood as being fundamentally material. The other narrative sees the world as a material place--and it sees more. Beyond mere matter, the Conservative narrative also links happiness to beliefs and actions and thus makes a place for them in political discourse.

One narrative can make no sense of belief and excludes it from political discussion. The other narrative understands belief and includes it in political discussion.

I am afraid that my writing style may be a handicap for you. I have attempted to speak in a conversational and metaphorical tone when what you seem to prefer is exactitude and precision. Hopefully the propositions above are more straightforward and to your liking.

May I suggest that you put forward a proposition of your own that articulates where we differ on the above? Then perhaps we can fruitfully address our differences.

Of course our differences may remain, even after all has been said and done.

Ken,
Thanks for your reply, I hope you enjoyed the holiday.

My thesis, simply put, is that two narratives are competing for our allegiance. Each promises happiness.

The core of science doesn't require any allegiance, gravity and electro-magnetism are brute facts of reality whether you believe in them or not. The utilitarian narrative, which is what seems to be your real target, is “happiness” oriented but is not required to value short-term pleasure over long-term fulfillment. Science is “discovery” oriented which can produce happiness but isn’t promised. In summary, your criticism should be aimed at the misuse of science by short-sighted utilitarians.

One, the narrative of the scientific-mindset and the political descendent of Rousseau and Marx, operates under the assumption that happiness is a "deliverable" because the world is understood as being fundamentally material.

Rousseau was not a proponent of materialism; his ideal politics was somewhat contradictory but most closely resembles agrarianism. Marx infamously was a materialist yet his dialectical materialism was based on Hegel's teleological view of history and philosophy which he framed in mythological terms of the world-soul seeking wisdom.

One narrative can make no sense of belief and excludes it from political discussion. The other narrative understands belief and includes it in political discussion.

Nobody should claim that Marx didn’t propose a belief, a utopian fantasy in fact. I think you mean to claim that one narrative excludes reference to supernatural agents in its political discourse. The reason for that is because liberalism (which is historically friendly to deism) views those beliefs as a private matter, not as a matter of public debate.

Step2, I would assume that when Ken refers to a "narrative" and connects it with "science" he isn't referring to objective scientific facts but rather to what might better be called "scientism." Scientism definitely goes beyond mere objective facts to a whole ideology including the idea that material entities are all that exist (or, in a very slightly relaxed version thereof, material entities and composite or emergent entities which supervene on them but are not therefore anything like immaterial), that neither biological bodies nor human beings have a purpose or telos, and the like. It would be incorrect to say that this sort of scientism is a mere caricature by Christians or anything like that. Michael Ruse, for example, has argued,

In a sense, therefore, the evolutionist's case is that ethics is a collective illusion of the human race, fashioned and maintained by natural selection in order to promote individual reproduction.

He refers to this as "fac[ing] squarely our animal nature." He is therefore presenting this position as the outcome of science. The denial of what Wesley J. Smith calls "human exceptionalism" is widely touted as the delivery of evolutionary theory, which is itself touted as simply being science, so that any questioning of the Darwinist story of the total origin of man, including the human mind, etc., is called being "anti-science."

All of this is going on daily, under our noses, and there is no reason to let the intelligentsia get away with it. They cannot, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, sneer at everyone who doesn't adopt their entire worldview as "anti-science," and on other odd days when they feel like it tell us that "science" merely refers to plain, boring facts about things like gravity and electromagnetism.

Step2--

I think you mean to claim that one narrative excludes reference to supernatural agents in its political discourse. The reason for that is because liberalism (which is historically friendly to deism) views those beliefs as a private matter, not as a matter of public debate.

I had hoped you would outline a proposition on how to engage in political discourse in a way friendly to community and group-liberty. Instead, you make a claim for a liberalism that privatizes belief and therefore undermines community. This is the proposition of the modern scientific-political narrative, and I have taken a position that community cannot endure under such a regime. It cannot endure because it encourages the notion that beliefs are a private matter, that one may not share them with others in any logical way.

It is attractive because men and women get to live as they want and are able to justify any action by appealing to their animal desires. It encourages them to sever the natural bond to their family and community--even to sever the bond between a mother and the child growing within her--for trivial reasons by appealing to what is "useful" and "desirable."

If this is what you want for yourself, then your logic is flawless. To the man who desires nothing from community, nothing shall be received.

Lydia,
Until other animals start building tanks and drones I will take denials of human exceptionalism with a massive grain of salt. That said I don’t have to believe in an immaterial cause for this exceptionalism. Furthermore, the denial of heliocentrism that I recently complained about is basically a denial of gravity. For that particular person, holding onto his illusion by any means necessary is far more important than accepting scientific "facts".

Ken,
First, I was explaining the differences you said you wanted me to describe. Second, I dispute the notion that specific religious beliefs are friendly to community and group-liberty. One of the main reasons for the optimism of the Enlightenment was because they hoped they had finally escaped the unending divisiveness and strife of religious conflict, exemplified by you taking offense at the mere notion of justifying your political preferences without appeals to religious authority, even though I've indicated ways you could do so.

That said I don’t have to believe in an immaterial cause for this exceptionalism.

A lot depends on what you mean by "have to" there and whether you are referring to your own epistemic access to human exceptionalism, on the one hand, or to the metaphysical implications of that exceptionalism, which you might or might not acknowledge, on the other. But that's a big topic. I have a forthcoming article on that very question. But aside from that: If you or anyone else takes the denial of the existence of immaterial entities and/or an immaterial cause to be part and parcel of science (or Science), then I submit that that thesis goes substantially beyond the facts of gravity or electromagnetism and that it would be a bait and switch to ask us whether we accept the latter and then to pretend that doing so ought to commit us to the former.

Step2, I can assure you that I have read and re-read the post several times. But it is incorrect to say that "if {Ken} wants to attack short-sighted or selfish behavior" he should "leave science out of it." Part of his purpose was precisely to show how proper science cannot address itself to the causal movers of human action and intention; and thus to show why it is indeed shortsighted to smuggle the materialist assumption into the logic of science itself. Lydia is quite right when she writes, "If you or anyone else takes the denial of the existence of immaterial entities and/or an immaterial cause to be part and parcel of science (or Science), then I submit that that thesis goes substantially beyond the facts of gravity or electromagnetism and that it would be a bait and switch to ask us whether we accept the latter and then to pretend that doing so ought to commit us to the former."

Paul,
Does a belief in science proper entail short-sighted or selfish behavior? If yes, science students and professionals should be the most hedonistic individuals in society. If no, its misguided use by hedonists has nothing to do with science proper.

The core of science does indeed assume materialism, but remember what Ken claimed the primary motivations for science are: precision and certainty. What is the direction or measure of an immaterial force or object? That answer is an exercise in futility if you are trying to be precise and certain.

There are other areas of science that are less precise and certain, including many of the social sciences, but even those can make some predictions about behavior given a strict enough context. You could claim that every behavior outside those limited situations are generated by immaterial causes, although I would say the cause is unknown rather than immaterial. Like the two top seeds in the BCS both losing games near the end of the season, I would be shocked if Notre Dame fans aren't claiming divine intervention even though you can point out each mistake that cumulatively caused the loss.

You could claim that every behavior outside those limited situations are generated by immaterial causes, although I would say the cause is unknown rather than immaterial.

It is unknown to a narrow materialist science; but the error consists in supposing that a thing unknown to materialist science is a thing unknown simply.

Scientists may or may not be hedonistic individuals. Evaluating that will require entering into the non-material causes of their actions, motives and intentions, in other words leaving purely materialist science behind.

But leaving that behind hardly means we have left behind reasoning, rationality, evidence, logic, demonstration, etc.

The core of science does indeed assume materialism,

In any meaningful or important sense, this is false. The fact that, in some given pursuit (say, the study of electromagnetism), one is actually dealing only with entities that happen to be material *does not* entail that the philosophy of materialism is a necessary premise of that pursuit.

It is unknown to a narrow materialist science; but the error consists in supposing that a thing unknown to materialist science is a thing unknown simply.

Your statement suggests that everything that happens is necessarily known by someone. If so, what makes you believe that?

Scientists may or may not be hedonistic individuals.

Shouldn't they collectively be the most hedonistic since their professed belief in science logically entails it?

Evaluating that will require entering into the non-material causes of their actions, motives and intentions, in other words leaving purely materialist science behind.

No, I think motives and intentions can be analyzed based on their relation to Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the underlying biological responses that support it, although it would take extreme amounts of study to figure out the intricate web of chemical reactions that control a particular behavior for a particular individual.

The fact that, in some given pursuit (say, the study of electromagnetism), one is actually dealing only with entities that happen to be material *does not* entail that the philosophy of materialism is a necessary premise of that pursuit.

What sort of physics can a physicist do with an immaterial force or object? Antimatter and black holes still are technically "something" even though they have negating aspects.

Step2, perhaps you don't understand this, but the philosophy of materialism isn't, "My breakfast Cheerios (or the electrons I'm dealing with in this laboratory) are material objects" but rather, "Material entities or entities which supervene on material entities are all that exist in the world."

The scientist doesn't need to assume any such materialist philosophical thesis in order to examine the properties of electrons, just as I don't need to adopt such a thesis in order to examine my breakfast Cheerios. This is pretty simple. Materialism goes way beyond, "This thing right here that I'm dealing with is material." That's why it's an -ism.

Lydia,
Maybe we are talking past each other, because the scientist should be assuming only material entities exist in the world when he is doing science. Otherwise he would be trying to look for or compensate for immaterial causes, maybe spraying holy water around to keep away bad spirits. If he gets an unexpected result from an experiment, would you consider it scientific to assume it was evil spirits that disrupted his experiment?

Maybe we are talking past each other, because the scientist should be assuming only material entities exist in the world when he is doing science.

No, no, no. That's just not true. It's just that the particular entities he is studying are in fact material entities. Auto mechanics also study material entities (automobiles), but this doesn't mean that they assume that _only material entities exist in the world_, not even while they are repairing a car.

Look, try it this way: Suppose that an auto mechanic in Alaska has an uncle named Joe who lives in Tulsa. Does the mechanic have to disbelieve in the existence of his uncle Joe when repairing cars because otherwise he'd have to worry about whether Uncle Joe is sneaking around and messing with the parts in the shop behind his back all the time? Obviously not. It's just that he considers the hypothesis of the meddling of Uncle Joe in his auto repair to be of sufficiently low probability that it's not something he has to worry about.

This is the answer, mutatis mutandis, for a scientist who believes in, say, angels.

And when we're talking about believing or disbelieving in *all* immaterial entities, which would include the human mind (!), things become even wilder. If the scientist really had to disbelieve in the existence of his own mind in order to do science, I'd say that would not solve any problems but could, on the contrary, cause problems.

Lydia,
Your example depends on knowing the "normal" physical location of a material entity. Is there some valid reason I should assume that evil spirits avoid science experiments? Since I've never claimed the mind is immaterial, I don't see a problem with your counter-example.

Yes, you don't think the mind is immaterial, but I do. So, whether the scientist agrees or not, he is acknowledging the existence of something immaterial when he acknowledges the existence of his own mind. He may just not realize that he's doing so.

As for your other question, a person who believes in immaterial entities other than himself need not believe that they act in entirely pointless and unpredictable ways, any more than he believes that about the embodied agents he knows. After all, even if Uncle Joe were in the same town with our mechanic, and even if Uncle Joe were known to be an especially quiet fellow, the mechanic would still not (except under unusual circumstances) be justified in worrying whenever he mislays a wrench, much less whenever he turns his back, that U.J. has engaged in the pointless pursuit of sneaking into his shop and hiding his wrench. He can assume that U.J. has better or at least other things to do that are more important to U.J. If angels (say) exist, and certainly of God exists, both he and they act *for reasons*, just as the other personal entities we know act for reasons. Materialists always tout their materialism by acting as though "immaterial" means "random" or "loose cannon" or "utterly pointless and capricious." I see no reason to think a thing like that.

Lydia,
What if Uncle Joe was a known thief, because it is an evil spirit we are supposedly discussing? I admire the fact you are still going to determine this immaterial entity has a home that is closer but not next door and also has a list of reasoned priorities that trivialize anything a scientist might do. Any other limitations on this evil spirit I should know about?

Step2, if you were right, then all who believe in immaterial entities other than, say, embodied humans would be _continually_ irrational for not _continually_ hypothesizing and worrying about their intervention. It wouldn't affect only scientists. It would affect butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. Does it occur to you that perhaps it's a tad arrogant to hold that all the Christians who have ever lived _ought_ to have been expecting demons to fiddle with their chicken soup recipe, their air conditioning unit, and their auto manufacturing plants, but somehow didn't find such hypotheses plausible and hence didn't allow themselves to worry about them, despite believing in the existence of both God and both fallen and unfallen angels?

Lydia,
If they aren't engaged in science they can believe whatever floats their boat.

A Google search turned up something I had forgotten about demonic possession, that it was commonly believed to be the cause of most serious illnesses during that time period. So by the standards of the Biblical time period, every butcher, baker, and candlestick maker would have been worried they could become possessed because that was the spiritual view of sickness and fever. The Romans had all sorts of charm magics they used to ward off evil spirits, i.e. protections for their health and fortune.

"the scientist should be assuming only material entities exist in the world when he is doing science."

I see no reason why this should be so. He knows already that the intentions and subsequent action -- in a word, the mind -- driving his hypotheses and experiments exist. He knows that a whole body of thought deriving from previous experimentation exists. That all this arises out of purely material causes is a conjecture, a presupposition, not in any way an established empirical fact.

It is pretty narrow-minded to suppose, as your first step in reasoning, that materials things available to human perception exhaust the content of the cosmos. It's closer to superstition than to science.

If they aren't engaged in science they can believe whatever floats their boat.

Y'know, there really isn't such a sharp distinction as that, Step2. Cooking is practical chemistry. Small-appliance repair involves all sorts of controlled experimentation and trial and error, Mills' methods. And so on and so forth. If it is _rational_ for me, as a Christian, not to worry that demons are messing with my stuff while I'm cooking, it's just as rational for a Christian who is a scientist in the lab not to worry that demons are messing with his lab equipment. There's nothing special about lab equipment that makes it different from kitchen equipment.

It's just amazing how people like Robert Boyle were able to carry out experiments and be good scientists without being hindered by their not being materialists. Being Christians, even. Wonder how that could have ever been possible?

Paul also raises an extremely important point: Suppose that a scientist does not believe his own mind and the minds of his fellow scientists, scientists in the past, etc., to be material entities. Suppose that he is not a materialist about human minds. How does this harm his ability to do science? Answer: It doesn't. It's ludicrous to hold that one *must* be a materialist about human minds in order to be a good scientist.

Two modern political narratives have been presented. One, the narrative of the classic liberal mind--and which I identify with modern conservatism--makes full use of the faculties of that human mind: Memory, Reason and Imagination. In doing so, it retains a political capacity to engage with persons as unique creatures--each person utterly unlike any other.

The second narrative, that of Rousseau and Marx, uses the language of science to engage, describe and plan political reality. It is Reason, shorn of Memory and Imagination. The narrowness of its viewpoint imposes a deadening set of categorical similarities. No one can be treated as an individual substance because the language of the second narrative does not speak of individual substances.

Examples of this second narrative at work abound. One such example would be of an education system in which pupils and their teachers are interchangeable parts, and where a curriculum is merely a set of materials to be mastered. Education, understood as such, is a scientific endeavor.

I consider it no wonder at all that in such a setting some lash out in explosive and violent rage. To be treated as a part--a mere cog--in the education machinery would logically bring about such behavior in persons who thought more of themselves and were desperate to prove it. In earlier times--times when the broad view was brought into one's political discourse--individual pupils were understood and dealt with as individuals.

Step2 seems to be a partisan for the scientific-political narrative. He will not be persuaded by any argument here to adopt the broad view because doing so would entail obligations of the very kind he wishes to escape.

Perhaps Step2 can explain for us how his political narrative could possibly treat persons as anything but machine parts and give to them the dignity they long for.

As it is, he seems to have gotten rather stuck on defending science rather than on talking about the real topic--political discourse that "discourses" in the restricted language of science.

That all this arises out of purely material causes is a conjecture, a presupposition, not in any way an established empirical fact.

Why would you want empirical facts Paul? That is sort of materialistic, demands for objective evidence.

It's just amazing how people like Robert Boyle were able to carry out experiments and be good scientists without being hindered by their not being materialists.

Maybe it was because they acted as if they were materialists while they were doing science. Or maybe the god Apollo was blessing their experiments and cursing others. It is truly a mystery which method produces precise and certain results.

Perhaps Step2 can explain for us how his political narrative could possibly treat persons as anything but machine parts and give to them the dignity they long for.

I view persons as uniquely talented creatures who are partially self-directed. Since it is only partial self-direction, a presumption of tolerance and fairness are the ground rules for my political narrative.

Step2, having ascertained that The Old Step2 I remember so well from seven years ago or so, the one who doesn't do epistemology terribly well but is always quick with the snark, has returned, I will allow your unreflective and silly final comment about the views of Robert Boyle apropos of immaterial entities to speak for itself.

Lydia,
You are complaining about your views not including worries about demons, but that is because your views are modern and influenced by science. In traditional nonscientific societies evil spirits are everywhere. They are constantly looking for a way to cause disease or tempt somebody or cause some other trouble. We still carry remnants of those views in our customs today, when you bless somebody who has sneezed you are supposedly protecting them from evil spirits or in some traditions from losing their soul. So until you stop looking at it from a science influenced perspective you will of course conclude that immaterial causes are a remote possibility. You have to look at it from the traditional superstitious perspective to determine its probability.

You have to look at it from the traditional superstitious perspective to determine its probability.

Well, no. Probability isn't just a subjective function of the perspective from which one chooses to look at something.

I'm afraid, Step2, that your views on the "traditional perspective" also sound somewhat exaggerated, rather as though you are getting your history of science from the likes of Washington Irving. (Irving invented the idea that everyone in Christopher Columbus's time thought the world was flat and inserted it into "history" in order to further the "war of science with religion" meme.) It reminds me of the question that Austin Farrer is said to have included on one of his Oxford university examinations: "Just how ignorant was a first-century Jew?" There was definitely a strong notion of an order of nature, and it was only against the background of such an order of nature that miracles (for example) could even have meaning. St. Joseph was upset about Mary's pregnancy, for example, and took some convincing that she had not done wrong, precisely because he did know where babies came from and understood that this was a part of the stable order of nature. That is to say, because he didn't go about leaping to conclusions about the meddling of extra-human agency.

Was there an epidemic of demonic possession in Palestine then?
Indians and Africans believe in possession yet, almost as a matter of course, American Christians perhaps do not. The Catholic hospitals do psychotherapy, and not exorcism. Why is that?
Why is that with so many suicides, the modern Christians refuse to invoke demonic possession?

So the Christians talk of immaterial minds and demons and angels need to be matched with material act otherwise it is just vaporising.

Just to put your mind at ease, Step2, evil spirits are everywhere.

I agree with Lydia that Step2's trollishness here is unusual, but disappointing nonetheless. I noted the concern-troll edge of the early exchanges with Ken. Let me show your how your argument would be better and all that. You might even say it was ill-spirited at times.

Well I'm not going to apologize for trying to clarify what Ken meant when he admitted himself that his writing was unclear. However I will apologize for taking the discussion in the direction of our long-standing feud over materialism, which is a tangent from his main point.

Perhaps I should outline one area I think there is some agreement, even if it is only partial. Because science is analytic, objective and logical, it has inherent difficulty in explaining holistic, subjective and/or emotional matters. In my opinion it can be done but there are so many foundational biases that these different sides of human experience basically talk in foreign languages to each other. So I agree with Ken's claim that science is a poor system for explaining a comprehensive view of human nature.

Just to put your mind at ease, Step2, evil spirits are everywhere.

Thanks Bill, very reassuring :)

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