Saturday, August 26, 2006

Not As I Do

What should we think about the philosopher who acquires literary fame by eloquently persuading us to restrain our ambition and to live a quiet and humble life? Is his real motivation to help others, or is he driven by the very ambition that he claims to despise? Does he not foresee his own glory while he is urging the rest of us to embrace obscurity? He does if he is wise enough.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Dueling Egos -- or Ergos

"I think, therefore I am." -- Descartes
"I think, therefore matter is capable of thought." -- Hobbes

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Selected Ignorance

If Darwin's theory of the origin of species is true, then we have been selected to survive without any knowledge of it. This is an oddly logical fact. When you consider that man's first sin, according to the Bible, was to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, and that Oedipus, in the greatest of ancient tragedies, causes horrible consequences to himself and his family simply by discovering who he is, this oddly logical fact becomes fascinatingly eery.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Ghost and a Gambler

Every now and then a person comes along who ignores the living and holds his only meaningful conversations with the dead and with those who have not been born yet. If, for whatever reason, the latter fail to hear him after he is gone, he will have left no significant traces of himself. But he will have known the ghostly pleasures of living out of time and the thrill of gambling for posthumous status.

Selected Traits

If, indeed, as a species we have acquired our physical traits through natural selection, then we have acquired our behavioral traits through the same means. I will give it a quarter of a century at most before the comprehension of this simple fact dismantles the moral paradigm of Western society.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Will to Knowledge

Imagine a society consisting of two groups of people, called Alphas and Omegas, who quarrel with one another over questions of morality. The Alphas contend that morality ought to be based on the dictates of a god who created the human race and reveals his will to it. The Omegas deny the existence of this or any other god and argue for a morality founded not on the fiction of divine revelation but on the reality of human knowledge.

The strength of the Omegas’ position depends in large part on a scientific theory that states the human species was not created by intelligent design but came into being over time through the operation of a natural, organic, and impersonal process. The evidence in support of this theory is massive and persuasive, so much so in fact that the Omegas cannot understand how the Alphas can continue to disclaim it.

As the dispute continues, a curious thing happens. Some researchers working within the paradigm of the great scientific theory, themselves Omegas and therefore ideologically committed to knowledge in principle, begin to uncover evidence that calls into question the particular knowledge upon which the Omegas base their conception of morality. The general community of Omegas reacts furiously against this new evidence and categorically rejects it as false, continuing, however, to revere the theory in its prior form as the antidote to the morality of the Alphas. The Alphas for their part are relatively uninterested in the new evidence. They simply persist in dismissing the theory as a whole.

Ideal Germination

What percentage of those people who feel deep devotion to the theory of evolution have read Darwin’s Origin of Species? I suspect it is every bit as small as the fraction of ardent Christians who have actually read the Bible. It is hardly worth asking, moreover, how many of each group have read the textbook of the other, which they are apt to condemn with even more confidence than they glorify their own. Ideology thrives in a culture of mental laziness as prosperously as physical illness does in one of bodily carelessness and neglect.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Common Cause

Today’s philosopher-king is the professor who champions the cause of the common man, using language the common man cannot comprehend. “Aren’t you teaching me that I do not need a patron?” cries the confused common man. The king smiles and pats the poor man’s head. “You are even wiser than I previously believed,” he responds; “I must go and tell my colleagues.” “No, no! Explain it to me! I do not understand.” But the great man is already hastening away.

Moral Intensity

If a man with an enormous amount of money and influence devotes his life to the pleasures of the flesh and is intensely happy up until his final moment, should we moralists, who are concerned with human happiness, not be intensely happy for him? Or do we know him better than he knew himself? Do we know that deep down he was unhappy, and should we therefore strive with our judgments, our laws, and our loftier purpose to keep those like him confined within the limits of true contentment?

The Prescribed Limit

In return for the rewards of status, position, and recognition, scholars and scientists subject themselves to the unwritten command that they are to interpret their findings in a manner consistent with the ethical presuppositions of the academy. A moral philosopher at a university, for instance, will apply his rigorous, complex, and undeniably intelligent logic only up to a prescribed limit, even though in doing so he runs the risk of leaving his argument exposed. By way of compensation he is able to permit himself a premise, such as “ethnic prejudice is wrong,” for which he can rely on the quiet consent of colleagues who know deep down as well as he does that it cannot be rationally substantiated.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Willful Compliance

According to John Locke, I am bound by natural law to preserve myself and not to quit my station willfully. But if my nature compels me to kill myself, I obey natural law by complying. I am not capable of an unnatural act.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Cover Your Mouth

We all yawn uncontrollably at times. Why don’t we create a universal system of morality based on boredom, fatigue, and apathy?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Definite Desperation

When morality became the province of philosophers, theologians, and scholars, it ceased to be morality. Today we have a word with no meaning and a society that desperately needs a definition.

Scholarly Inertia

The scholar’s perspective is that of the observer and interpreter, rather than that of the doer. What are the implications of the massification of this perspective, especially as scholarship becomes more and more its own object of study? It is not insignificant that in our age artists have little subject matter other than themselves as artists and we are knee-deep in novels whose protagonists are professors.