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Photo by Roma Kaiuk🇺🇦 / Unsplash

In the early 1990s, I practiced law with a lot of impressive Jewish attorneys. One, particularly so. He was brilliant, aggressive, and driven. He also held a Ph.D. in philosophy. I always wanted to ask him why he got a doctorate in philosophy and then went to law school, but the one time I broached the topic of philosophy, he was caustic and cryptic. When I asked him about a Cartesian assertion I had recently read about, he said, "Are those old bones still rattling around?" Then he moved the conversation to the case we were working on.

That was the early 1990s. At least in philosophical academia, I was assured in those seven words, Descartes' ideas were dead and discredited.

But those old bones are still rattling around. Indeed, they're so fixed in our cultural landscape, it seems like every legitimate thinker is trying to dislodge them from our collective crania.

I doubt any thinker today believes we are purely rational beings who make decisions based on objective facts. Yet, we live in a culture that bows obsequiously and submits to "experts" who claim to do just that. The morons who urge us to "follow the science" are wholly aware that no one follows the science. Everyone--and every scientist--approaches every subject of thought with assumptions, modes of interpretation, personal biases, and a host of other cognitive "imperfections" (not really imperfections, btw) that make objective approaches impossible.

That doesn't mean we oughtn't try to be objective, incidentally. There's a huge difference between trying to consider all the facts to reach a good (as objective as possible) conclusion and thinking you have all the facts and can reach a good (wholly objective) conclusion.

"All the facts" means taking into account our cognitive imperfections. That is the essence of Pragmatism (I find myself admiring William James more and more these days . . . 25 years after falling in love with his The Varieties of Religious Experience). When we reach our rational conclusion, it ought to be with intense humility: at our cognitive biases we perceive, our cognitive biases we don't perceive, the cognitive biases of the people who gave us the facts that we took into consideration . . . and 243,901 other things, including things that wholly transcend our understanding (let's lump them under the term "Providence").

Our inability to see clearly is clear (pardon the paradox).

But our culture continues to harbor the ridiculous conceit.

A Political Philosophy Addendum

The main reason, of course, is that those Cartesian bones can be wielded by politicians to implement their plans and designs. If there are objective answers to be derived from objective facts, the politicians who claim access to the experts to give them those objective answers can coherently implement whatever policies they want.

We all saw where it led in 2020-2021 when the experts merely "followed the science" and politicians had a great time, using a crisis to implement all sorts of draconian laws. I'm sure it was heady stuff for the politicians, to be using their superior intellectual powers to do so much good.

The problem, of course, is their superior intellectual powers are fatally flawed. They were fatally flawed four years ago; they were fatally flawed a hundred years ago; they are fatally flawed today; they will be fatally flawed forever.

That fatal flaw is the most important piece of information, but our politicians behave like it doesn't exist.

A Hemispheric Addendum

That fatal flaw, incidentally, drives the left hemisphere nuts. It craves certainty. Its entire outlook presupposes certainty. If certainty doesn't exist, its tasks--gathering, preying, conquering, accomplishing--become a whole lot harder. I suspect that's the real reason we're hooked on the fatal flaw: We are a left-hemispheric culture that needs the certainty presupposed by mental abilities that don't suffer from the fatal flaw.