Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why I Am the Ultimate Philosopher

[Some very-rough draft material for the book.]

A philosopher, more than anyone, sees things in the most fundamental, broadest-reaching, furthest-reaching form. A philosopher should be able to look throughout history and identify fundamental causal sequences that shape the course of history. "Fundamental" here is crucial: it does not identify the only causal sequence, but the causal sequence that best explains all the greatest number of other causal sequences. This is looking at things in fundamental-causal, not mono-causal, terms. Ideas most fundamentally shape the course of history, but they are not the only shape-r of history.

On this point, the message Rand and Peikoff give off is quite misleading to readers not well-versed in themes discussed in, say, Peikoff's The Art of Thinking course, say, lecture 3 where he talks about thinking in terms of fundamentals. Yes, if something thinks with a healthy psycho-epistemology to guide them, then they get the message that ideas are the fundamental and not only factor shaping history. But it is simply assuming too much cognitive efficacy on the part of the average reader to tell them, "Ideas are the fundamental shaping force in history." They'll just mistake fundamentality for monocausality, then look at the state of philosophy today and its irrelevance for most people's lives, and dismiss any such notion. What causes someone to mistake fundamentality for monocausality? An improper theory of concepts, of course!

People simply have not been given - until Ayn Rand developed her theory of concepts, or until someone presents an improved theory that would still be fundamentally similar to heres - a proper means of tying down the best of everyday commonsense cognition to the fundamental theoretical roots. As far as the "big philosophers in history" go, the closest anyone had come was Aristotle. But his moderate realism was not a fully satisfactory answer. Lacking such an answer, people will give up on philosophy as a guide to life. Ayn Rand has come closer than anyone else before to providing an accounting for that. What was the key to Rand's success in this department? Basically, dismissing basically the entirety of the modern philosophical tradition! What she did, instead, as she educated herself in the philosophical tradition, is compare the performance of the ancients as against the moderns, think in terms of the relevant essentials (for instance, Aristotle's views in astronomy, biology, physics, and politics are not the most relevant essentials in his way of thinking), and identify Aristotle as the man whose lead we need to follow in order to use philosophy as a means of improving our lives! So follow Aristotle's lead as best as you can, that's all.

Now, a crash course in fundamental-level causation in history:

The Greeks were going to be fine as long as Aristotle's works were preserved and disseminated. But those works got misplaced, and so for most of the next, oh, 1,500 years the dominant forces in intellectual life were Platonism and Christianity. Now, consider this: without Aristotle, and without Aquinas, where would the West be today? Think of how the Church ruled: all the greatest intellects were part of the church hierarchy, and Plato-Plotinus-Augustine were the most dominant intellectual forces until Aristotle's work was rediscovered (this was more fundamental than whether it would have been Aquinas or someone else making the reconciliation - it should not be called a synthesis, which is a goddamn modern term indicating the fusion of contradictory attributes [again, indicating a failure to find a proper theory of concepts]). Aristotle inserted a wedge fundamentally deadly to Church dominance: the independent use of secular reason as against received theocratic authoritarian dogma. The Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution would follow in historically short order.

Science since the Renaissance has basically - at a practical level - provided all the solution we need to the "problem of induction." (We now just need to recognize the alignment of the theoretical and the practical in a proper theory of concepts.) The Church, meanwhile, in canonizing Aristotle, turned his ideas into a dogma. Along the way, no proper solution to the "problem of universals" had been presented. Philosophers, not seeing the relevant fundamentals about Aristotle, then set on a course of trying to "ground" natural science all over again.

Kant is Rand's chief whipping-boy among the moderns. I do not think Kant had malicious intentions in setting out to create his philosophy. Kant was merely the most impressive cashing-in - a dead end if you will - of the modern approach to philosophy. In Kant perhaps than anyone, you find the basic cleavage between ideas and the concerns of everyday common sense, i.e., between philosophy and life. Kant was an arch-rationalist in the more fundamentally relevant, i.e., psycho-epistemological sense. But Kant didn't do this all alone. This was an entrenched practice that Hume had perfected quite well himself - and admitted openly in his writings that he could not reconcile his philosophical ideas with his daily routine. But was this just Kant and Hume, or were they following other leads?

When first-time students of philosophy today are introduced to certain thinkers, who do they get? Descartes and Hume. But Descartes and Hume are terrible examples to follow psycho-epistemologically. Absolutely terrible. When students are introduced to this as how philosophy is done in this day and age, it is no wonder at all they'll lose interest. All "philosophers" do is raise idle questions and irrelevant problems. With Descartes and Hume are the models - yes. With Kant's style of exposition - yes.

Kant was a culmination of that cognitive model. Hegel is a mixed bag; he tries to be a synthetic middle-way between Aristotle and Kant, but the product looks even more rationalistic psycho-epistemologically than Kant. They're both about equally removed from common sense, each in their own way. One thing Hegel did recognize, though - and, again, this is before a proper theory of concepts was developed - was that his philosophy was the culmination of everything that came before. He was, up to that time, the "ultimate philosopher." When Rand formed her theory of concepts, she then became the "ultimate philosopher," and, too, recognized in some sense that her philosophy is the "culmination" of what came before - i.e., once all the alternatives have been eliminated. As already pointed out, Rand recognized the essential - that Aristotle had come closest - and proceeded to follow his essential lead: to the full integration of philosophy and life.

Rand singled out Kant as the chief modern villain because of his substantive conclusions, but those conclusions and his method were the culmination of a method of (psycho-epistemological) rationalism practiced by (arguably) all the major moderns. Rationalism is characterized, in Peikoff's terms, by the widespread detachment of philosophy from life. It's clear-cut in Hume. In his own way, Hume represents the culmination of that method. He hit his limit and could go no further. Hume and Kant - they're both terrible (i.e., anti-Aristotelian) models of doing philosophy. They both set the tone for the impressive-looking splitting-up ("distinction-making") of what is, in reality, self-identical. Oh, and Descartes was a master of that, too. Just all the splitting-up as such: what for? What is accomplished? The practical effect, in the end, is a split of philosophy from daily life.

Then there's Pragmatism, which Rand and Peikoff attribute to Kant. But do we get Pragmatism in its mature form without both Hume and Kant, much less all the other moderns helping to set the tone? With Descartes, Hume, Kant, and the Pragmatists, we get in all cases a non-Aristotelian interpretation of the world. This is thew fundamental-level problem with all of them. So bombard the American intellectual scene with Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Pragmatism (and some Marx and, up until only recently, Aristotle and Rand), and what do you get?

Whatever it is, a figure like Rawls is emblematic of it. One thing Rawls does not do, is provide an integrated view of existence all the way to the fundamentals, metaphysics and epistemology. His project is, in his words, "political not metaphysical." If this is the philosopher most influential on the liberal intellengtsia in the last few decades, it's little wonder those on the left now feel helpless to implement the changes they want. Too few people listen to the intellectuals these days to be swayed by them, because the intellectuals have the reputation for being wankers and often elitist. Those of an intellectual bent on the Right are not impressed, because their opponents are reduced to arguing less-fundamental political matters and focusing on political change rather than a change to the soul. (This is not want Rawls intended, but it's the outcome of the intellectual process.) But focusing on political-level change without identifying the fundamental causes of the necessary intellectual change, represents a P/pragmatic influence. I take this to be the essence of Peikoff's distinction between "disintegration" or D (recall also how David Kelley ends up working with libertarian organizations to "help spread the word"), and varieties of integration that tie all ideas together systematically.

Meanwhile, if they would just recognize and understand the importance of a proper theory of concepts...

(To be continued?)

[ADDENDUM: Shooting right to the fundamental: So did the real Singularity begin here, or with Rand? Or with Kubrick, perhaps? Would that make for a catchy book title perhaps: The Singularity Began With Stanley Kubrick? But this title is more perfect than that one. Hmmmm....]

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