Category: Philosophy

Voegelin and Pressure

Voegelin with a Nock Kicker

History, said Voegelin, is “the perpetual task to regain the order under God from the pressure of mundane existence.”

That’s the science of history? Heck, it’s the science of everyday life. Just as Plato noted that society is man writ large, I guess history is everyday life writ large. It reminds me of Nock’s observation that each person has one responsibility and one responsibility only: to present society with one improved unit. I don’t know if Voegelin would agree (one of his heroes, Solon, impressed his one improved unit on all of Greek antiquity), but he would certainly agree that, at a minimum, each man has that responsibility.

Kinda related:

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More Gilson and God and Philosophy

“Just as science can play havoc with metaphysics, metaphysics can play havoc with science.” Gilson

There is a natural antipathy between the two. Gilson goes on to point out that metaphysics stifled science for centuries, just as science today stifles metaphysics. Empiricism is the belief that only those things that are scientifically verifiable exist . . . or are worth studying or have meaning.

So, science is arguably returning to metaphysics the suppressive abuse that metaphysics dished out to science for such a long time. Thing is, metaphysics never denied science altogether, but merely claimed its (rightful) primacy and often asserted its primacy indelicately, whereas science’s suppression rises to the level of wholesale denial of metaphysics’ existence.

It’s also worth pointing out that two wrongs don’t make a right. Both metaphysics and science–and mankind in general–are best served when both are recognized and respected. Metaphysics’ earlier suppression of science doesn’t justify science’s suppression of metaphysics today.

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And Taleb

“Socrates required of astronomy, if it was to be true science, that it should show why it was best that the sun and moon should be as they are.” Santayana (emphasis in original).

I suspect Nassim Taleb would have fun with that passage. Not with Santayana (whom, I suspect, he respects), but with Socrates. I’ve always liked Socrates. Most people do. It’s hard not to like the guy, but he’s had a number of detractors: Willmoore Kendall, Nietzsche, Popper.

And Taleb. During my godson’s Confirmation Mass on a chilly Friday evening in Alpena, Michigan (Nock’s boyhood home for a few years, incidentally), I read a handful of pages in Taleb’s Antifragile. Okay, I shouldn’t have been reading during the Mass, but it was a long one and it wasn’t an obligatory Mass and it was only during the first part of the Mass (not the actual lMass part), so there you have it.

Anyway, it was some of the best content I’d read in years. At some point, I will re-read it and, hopefully, distill it better in my mind and, perhaps, distill it for TDE readers, but when it comes to Taleb’s message about Socrates, the point stuck with me: Socrates was a pain because he refused to accept that certain things cannot be adequately articulated. If people claimed to know something that they couldn’t articulate, Socrates beat them down (kindly, I suppose, but he still beat them down). That, Taleb argues, is absurd. The world–society, business, individuals–run on uncertainty and probabilities. We can’t articulate rationale for everything we do and think, but that doesn’t mean our thoughts and actions are void of meaning.

Taleb’s point was well-taken. I still hold Plato in higher esteem that Taleb’s Popper, but Taleb succeeded in knocking Plato-Socrates down a … Read the rest

God and Philosophy

I try to be judicious in my book annotations, but every so often, I find a book that has more passages underlined than not. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed probably holds my library record in this regard, but Etienne Gilson’s God and Philosophy isn’t far behind. If anyone doubts the Judeo-Greek formula for Christianity (Jewish God + Greek philosophy through Plotinus = Christianity), he should read this book carefully. He might also want to pick up Werner Jaeger’s Early Christianity and the Greek Paideia.

From Gilson’s book:

“I AM WHO AM . . . [was] a nonphilosophical statement which has since become an epoch-making statement in the history of philosophy.”

The revelation given to Moses–that God’s name is I AM WHO AM–contained in it philosophical truths that wouldn’t be developed until a thousand years later (possibly 2,000 years later, since I seem to recall reading that Aquinas was the first one to develop fully the philosophical truth that God’s essence is merely to exist . . . but I could be wrong about that). It speaks volumes that a philosophically-primitive man like Moses came up with such a bizarre name that wasn’t bizarre at all: it contained the truth of God’s nature. It was a truth that Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus would scrape up against on the strength of their powerful (yet revelationally-deprived) philosophy a thousand years later, but Moses was chronologically and geographically far removed from those philosophical truths. He merely regurgitated what he heard. This historical coincidence–that his primitive regurgitation ended up mirroring highly-sophisticated philosophical truths–should give even the stoutest atheist pause.

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Miscellaneous Rambling

“Alteration between centralized and decentralized power is one of the cyclical rhythms of history, as if men tired alternately of immoderate liberty and excessive order.” Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage.

So where would we place the United States on this pendulum?

Swinging hard toward excessive order, I’m afraid, after enjoying freedom for the first couple of hundred years (from colonial times until the Civil War, when the national government started its first serious forays into power).

But are we witnessing “excessive order”? I suspect Durant missed one key libertarian insight (brought home–recently, by intellectual history standards–by Hoppe’s Democracy, the God that Failed): centralization of power results in inequitable distribution of wealth (read: looting by the State, for the benefit of its allies (read: for the benefit of Wall Street and its favored institutions, like higher education and the medical establishment)) and other unfortunate phenomena, but it doesn’t result in “excessive order.” Far from it. As the breakdown of the USSR established: centralization of power leads to dissolution of society. Society is the adhesive that holds individuals together in a flexible order. As it breaks down, disorder spreads, which is hugely unfortunate since the order imposed by society is not an involuntary order, like the ersatz order imposed by the State and its police force. The order of society is largely voluntary: if you choose not to participate in that order, you might be ostracized and face economic consequences; you might even be viewed as a freak. But you’re not put behind bars. The ersatz order of the State can impose only the sanctions of violence: fines, jail, and death–and the threat thereof. By comparison, the sanctions imposed by the order of society are mild and to be preferred. … Read the rest


Family Guy

I’ve been reading some Nock. Albert Jay Nock, one of the premier American essayists of the early twentieth century and one of the founders of modern conservative/libertarian thought. A weighty man, that Nock.

But also a disturbing man. In a 1964 biography, Robert M. Crunden said Nock was greatly fond of the ladies. Nock was also greatly fond of being absent from his wife. He apparently deserted her after she bore him two children.

Let me qualify this: I don’t know any details about the abandonment. Nock was an extremely private man who took secrecy to new levels. He would, for instance, occasionally bundle up his outgoing mail and ship it from another state, so people wouldn’t know where he was living. Was the abandonment wholesale or more like a divorce with child visitation rights? Nobody seems to know. We know he left his family and his job as an Episcopal minister, but we also know his sons knew their father well enough to assist later biographers.

But what I’ve always found fascinating about Nock is this: only after leaving his wife, children, and conventional job did he climb up the ladder as an intellectual man of letters, joining the staff of the popular American Magazine at age 39.

It kind of reminds me of Jean Rousseau, who orphaned five children so he could continue as Europe’s leading man of innovative letters. It also reminds me of this little poem by the philosopher George Santayana:

I cannot part from what I prize
For all I prize is in my head;
My fancies are the fields and skies
I will not change till I am dead,
Unless indeed I lose my wits
Or (what is much the same thing) wed.

I like Santayana. He knew he couldn’t have a … Read the rest


Nockian Corner

I mentioned last week that I was in the process of comparing the political theories of Orestes Brownson and Albert Jay Nock. Someone could, with disturbing insight, ask, “Why bother?”

My answer is simple: I’m smitten with Nock, but I’m more smitten with the Catholic Church. I would like to square Nockian political philosophy with Catholic political philosophy, without turning my endeavor into a game of Twister. Among all American political philosophers, Orestes Brownson may have been the greatest. And he was a fervent Catholic convert. If the Nockian and Brownsonian thought patterns overlap, I’d be onto something.

I think I ran across a starting point last weekend. Brownson distinguished among three types of democracy: (1) territorial democracy; (2) Jeffersonian democracy; (3) humanitarian democracy. He strongly endorsed territorial democracy and said it was, beyond doubt, the form of democracy on which the American Republic was built. He disliked Jeffersonian democracy (which emphasizes individualism and states’ rights to the undue detriment of the central authority) and humanitarian democracy (which is a vague type of feel-goodism crusade to better humanity, without regard to territorial and other demographic limitations).

Now, I’m reasonably certain that Nock was a fan of Jeffersonian democracy. Although I haven’t read his (supposedly) splendid biography of Jefferson, I’ve read enough by and about Nock to think he (i) would have agreed with Brownson’s characterization of Jeffersonian democracy, and (ii) would be a fan of Jeffersonian democracy. Brownson, on the other hand, was no fan of it.

Yet they have a great common enemy: humanitarian democracy. And this is the form of democracy that ran roughshod over the political scene ever since the Civil War: from Reconstruction, to the Progressive movement, to Woodrow Wilson’s Federal Reserve and income tax, to the New Deal, to the Great Society, … Read the rest


The Philosophical Life

A rambling little piece

Alex is a Freshman at the University of Michigan. He’s taking “Introduction to Philosophy,” and he’s really digging it.

I guess he went in with one advantage: a father who encouraged him to take the subject seriously, not to feel stupid for grappling with the higher questions of existence, and not to think he’s wasting his time because he’s not learning how to make money. I’m certain that many fathers install such thoughts in their kids and, in fact, I’m willing to bet that 90% of fathers do so. History is filled with fathers who want their son to put away foolish things and move onto the route of worldly success. St. Francis (not a formal philosopher, of course, but among the wisest ever) and St. Thomas Aquinas come immediately to mind, and I’m willing to bet that, if you lined up the twenty greatest philosophers, 15 had fathers who objected to the philosophical path. I know John Stuart Mill’s father encouraged his philosophy, but other than that? I suspect the philosophically-sympathetic fathers are few.

It’s not surprising, of course. If the father is responsible, he knows what it takes to raise a family. He wants his son to be prepared for the grind, and philosophy isn’t exactly a training ground for the stock market and nailing down the big sale. But I told Alex to embrace such classes anyway. I incline toward the view that a liberal arts education ought to prepare one to live life, not tell a person how to make money. He’ll have time during his Junior and Senior years to learn a craft, plus he’ll have the rest of his life to work and gain money-making experience. And heck, since I seriously doubt we’re going to come out … Read the rest