Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Glimpse into the Singularity?

I may have had a glimpse roughly a month or less ago. It was some far out stuff ("man"). I don't really know who else might have had a glimpse, but I think it might involve a lot of people sitting around and getting high on what would by that point be perfectly legal drugs, and laughing their asses off to the tunes and lyrics on the Best of Bond . . . James Bond 007 soundtrack compilation. In such a scenario, people would be looking at each other shit-faced and asking such questions as, "So this is process panentheism?" and laughing their asses off some more. A nearly universal bond of mutual trust might well have been established by this point, so paranoia and other "mindfuck" experiences on these unnamed by-then-legal drugs would not be an issue, or presumably wouldn't be. (I'm assuming some high-tech reverse-engineering of these drugs might have happened at this point such that that paranoia would be, ahem, weeded out of the whole consumption-and-effects process.) Also, the whole "keep plenty of good food and water handy" issue would be addressed one way or the other.

In other words, the questions have to be asked: would people in the Singularity look a lot like this, and do we all die laughing? Or, perhaps, do we all get a little bit "crazy" and begin dancing/raving to a certain early 1990s album with heavy Singularity-like themes?

Always remember: The dialectic embraces everything good.


[Currently listening/integrating: J.S. Bach, concertos, such as the one featured here. Dialectics, man.]

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Problem and Solution #1: Understanding Aristotelianism

I don't claim to be a scholar of Aristotle; the extent of my Aristotle studies culminated in a graduate-level course on ancient philosophy in which I looked fairly indepth at his views on the nature of the soul. It told me a lot, specifically about his method of approach to philosophical questions.

If there's one thing that I find most dismaying among "students of philosophy" I encounter is the stunning level of inability to Get It about Aristotle. I can only attribute this to a remarkable failure of philosophy professors to Get It about Aristotle - for where else would these students learn such a remarkable failure (and have such a failure go uncorrected)?

I would say that failure to understand the essence of Aristotle or Aristotelianism could be chalked up to "inability to think in essentials," but perhaps the ability to think in essentials is the #1 core solution to all philosophical (and all human) problems, so going around and shouting from the rooftops, "Think in essentials, damn you!", while correctly stating the essence of, and solution to, the core human problem, it wouldn't help much. As I stated in my previous posting, thinking in essentials is not for amateurs and requires loads of practice or habituation.

(This is not to say that there aren't self-made amateurs - people, such as many a professor of "philosophy," who are led to the water of thinking in essentials and failed to integrate/drink. Some such professors go on to emulate certain non-Aristotelian "giants" of the field, but under the false impression that their non-Aristotelian heroes are where it's at philosophically. It comes as no surprise, then, that their students/victims would likewise fail to integrate.)

So when it comes to Aristotle, what is the thing that advanced student and amateur alike need to know more than anything else? If one were to examine his treatment of the subject of the soul in De Anima in light of the treatment of that subject in the history of philosophy (I'm looking right at Cartesian Dualism and all the subsequent confusions Descartes's approach spawned in modern analytic philosophy), what could one say most in praise of Aristotle?

The non-essentials "thinker," when hearing the name "Aristotle," will tend to hone right in on Aristotle's views concerning 55 unmoved movers, or his views on slavery and women, or his outmoded views on teleology, or his quasi-Platonic views on universals (assuming that's even a correct interpretation), or other such things that make Aristotle's views unacceptable to modern minds. It's like a clockwork pathology among students of "philosophy" to do this with Aristotle. If asked to distill the essence of Aristotle as a philosopher, however, I don't think they could do it in a hundred years. (Hell, we've had over 700 years since Aquinas reintroduced Aristotle to the Western intellectual tradition, and the point has been missed time and time again ever since (except by a few hearty philosopher such as Ayn Rand). It should make a perceptive student of philosophy ask why Aristotle's reputation has held up so well as it has.

Here's the reason it's held up so well: Aristotle was the first known Western philosopher to have really perfected the art of thinking. Just as Miss Rand observed about Aristotle, it makes his errors irrelevant by comparison. His errors are quite inessential to understanding him as a philosopher. This is actually true for any other philosopher, when you apply the question of essentials to this or that thinker. And the essential here is: The philosopher's method of approach to this or that subject matter.

Aristotle's method of approach is what most impressed such perceptive thinkers as Aquinas, Hegel, and Rand. He is the father of dialectic as we now know it: the art of systematic integration, or context-keeping, or hierarchy-respecting. He was the first to really formalize the principles of right reasoning into a system, rightly-understood axioms and all.

(Contrary to the thinking of various amateurs, axioms are not "starting points" from which things get deduced. This is one respect in which too many students of "philosophy" misunderstand Rand/Objectivism on the nature of axioms. Axioms are, instead, distinguished by their being irreducible to anything further and yet which defeat their opponents in any attempt to deny them. They are not, however, "starting points." If anything can be called "starting points" in human knowledge, it's the evidence of the senses and the use of logic as applied to that evidence. In that regard, Aristotle was a perfector of dialectic, even if he did reach some conclusions which later proved faulty. And as a later perfector of dialectic, Ayn Rand, pointed out, axioms are "implicit" within every perception and thought from an early age, but many people don't even come to explicitly identify them later on. But they are contained within every act of thought, which is, as I understand it, what she meant by "implicit.")

Now, why is it that Aristotle (and Ayn Rand) have come to be so sorely misunderstood in terms of their essentials? I think it is because thinking in essentials is part of what it means to perfect the art of dialectic - in other words, you cannot perfect the art of dialectic unless you first learn to think in essentials. (I haven't thought thoroughly through whether thinking in essentials is perfecting the art of dialectic - but I think it is a necessary precondition for sure.) This is to say that, in the history of philosophy, perfecting the art of thinking in essentials has been a very rare phenomenon - and until it becomes less rare, the more the vicious circle of not understanding philosophers in terms of essentials would continue.

So, applying the approach of thinking in essentials to Aristotle, we get the following: Aristotle is best understood in virtue of his having perfected the art of dialectic, i.e., in virtue of his approach to subject matter, irrespective of the concrete conclusions he reached. He was, in other words, doing the best that he could with all the evidence at his avail. After all, isn't this what best makes sense of how important a philosopher is or should be? Had it been all about the 55 unmoved movers and shit, we'd never have gotten anywhere when it comes to the man. And rather than - like Descartes - dropping the context of what makes mind or the soul possible in connection with the body, he integrates one crucial real-world fact with his philosophizing: we don't actually observe any minds apart from physical bodies. (So "conceiving" of mind as "distinct from" body can only foster confusions. For Aristotle, mind is the form of a natural body organized a certain way. If Descartes's rationlistic-dualistic approach to the subject is what sets the tone for modern philosophizing, modern philosophizing is royally screwed. It's also no surprise in this context that Aristotle was all but set aside as Catholic dogma as modern philosophy proceeded forward. In this context, who is the real "king" of modern philosophy: Hume, or Kant? Are these two figures just different sides of the same parlor-game coin?)

Now, can I give some more precise content to what it actually means to think in terms of essentials? That might be the whole Perfectivism project right there. I could only give a barest summary at this point. To think in essentials is to grasp what is most significant about some subject matter, to retain that, and to move on to bigger and better subject matter keeping the previous essentialized context retained in mind for future retrieval. This is how I think (though I need to think it through further to be definitively sure) I managed to grasp the essence of Aristotle as philosopher via his highly-useful approach to thinking about the nature of the soul (as contrasted to Descartes's confusion-filled rationalistic approach). I learned that applying the same approach to any and all other subject matter in philosophy, a shit-ton of confusions and dead-ends could be avoided, and all at minimal cost. The "minimal cost" part here concerns the principle of unit-economy identified by Miss Rand: essentializing is a process of condensation, of reducing a vast body of observations to a small but workable mental unit. By essentializing, one reduces these observations to the mental equivalent of a file folder, which may contain and therefore be broken down into sub-folders, or which may be a sub-folder that can be related or integrated with larger containing folders, and so forth. To do all this mentally requires being able to organize one's mental contents effectively so as to respect the unit-economizing nature of human cognition. (This all seems to elementary, and yet why does the point get so missed so badly? Why do amateurs, to this day, continue to hate on Rand for inessential, much less totally false, stuff?) Then there is that point - well-understood to advanced students of Objectivism - that to capture what is essential about some thing is to capture what is of fundamental importance about it - that which best explains the greatest number of observations or conclusions about it.

This is not to say that the principle of fundamentality or thinking in essentials (all of this is there in the Lexicon, by the way, for any students who are serious enough to go through and integrate its contents - I tire of linking to specific entries every time only for the context to get dropped by amateurs the next go-around) can be misapplied or misused. To take Immanuel Kant, for instance, it would be mistaken, as Rand did, to identify Kant in terms of his (real or alleged) conclusions, when it is his method of approach that is more fundamental. Kant's method was one of a "dialectic" of sorts, a way of trying to integrate all of the previous philosophy he had at his avail. (There didn't seem to be any Aristotle involved in this to a meaningful extent, and therein lies the problem.) In this regard, Hegel had a "better" (i.e., more Aristotle-informed) "fix" than what Kant provided, though Kant and Hegel still shared a basic methodological problem: rationalism. In other words, they applied the art of dialectic within a fundamentally broken context. How can the malady of rationalism best be described to the amateurs as well as advanced students out there? Well, perhaps like this: Rationalistic thinking processes are the equivalent to treating philosophy like a parlor game. I'll leave it at that for now; this entry has gone on long enough as it is. Exercise for a future time: how does thinking in essentials (or not doing so) integrate with rationalism-as-parlor-game?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Notes On Essentializing

[Yesterday's blog entry was apparently wiped out due to Google Blogger technical issues, but the core essence of it is still contained here. Ain't essentializing fun? :-) (Another term for essentializing is "unit-economy," but that's probably casting more pearls before so many swine.)]

One thing I've come to discover, on a repeat listen to Peikoff's Art of Thinking course, and as I set Ayn Rand's essay "The Objectivist Ethics" to outline form (based more or less on the outline-examples provided in the Appendix to The Art of Nonfiction), is that essentializing is NOT for amateurs - repeat, NOT FOR AMATEURS. Essentializing an essay such as "The Objectivist Ethics" in a proper fashion takes years of context-establishing and understanding, including at least several reads through of that essay as well as other literature; it's damn near impossible to expect an appropriate outline-summary from an amateur to Objectivism.

(Anyway, yes, I was able to boil Miss Rand's 30-ish page essay down to a useful 12-point essentialization. Point number 9, concerning the relation between life and happiness, is the most extensive, going up to several lines of summary. Many of the other points were relatively short. I see little point in posting the outline here, however. It's primarily for personal use and edification. It is available on request to students of Objectivism whom I know, though. The fucking amateurs - and I think they know who they are - can wither on the vine at this juncture for all I care; those unfortunate souls cannot or will not think in the true sense.)

On a totally related note - but not something amateurs could possibly grasp right away, either on its own, or in conjunction with the foregoing - is the following observation for the day: The dialectic did flourish in the 1960s - but (aside from the work done by Rand and at the NBI) not in philosophy. Just as today, the Philosophy Profession had defaulted on carrying the dialectical torch. But dialectic did have an outlet then - in popular culture.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Peikoff's The Art of Thinking, Lecture Six

My mind can sometimes wander when listening to something, especially in this distracting multimedia age, so perhaps I didn't focus just quite enough during this particular lecture (see blog entry title), which is on the subject of certainty. Peikoff does realize that his live audience for this lecture might be varying states of intellectual preparedness as well as attentiveness for each particular lecture, depending on their individual contexts. For some, the content might be very redundant; I think it was in my case, because I heard a lot of stating and restating of the obvious. Referring to an earlier lecture (No. 3, on thinking in essentials) from this course, I think the essence of this lecture can be boiled down to the following: Certainty does not require omniscience. So, can I be certain that this is what the lecture could be boiled down to, essentially? I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

(One thing I am certain of: You can't refute perfectivism. ;-) )

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Question for the Day

Does "Academic Freedom" mean the same thing to pathologically-biased left-wing parasites in the Humanities as it does to ordinary Americans?

I smell a stink of blatant hypocrisy here among leftist scum who whine about their "academic freedom" supposedly being under attack. Sure, in a better (i.e., more perfectivist) world, universities would have plenty-adequate policies concerning genuine academic freedom in the light of political differences. But the blatant hypocrisy involved here is what happens to all too many non-left-wingers in the academic Humanities - as anyone paying close attention knows happens. One need only look at the political makeup of the leading departments listed in the Leiter Report to figure out that one; the evidence of political bias and hypocrisy there is quite compelling - especially when you consider this piece of manifest intellectual dishonesty going unchallenged by those in the profession, and all under the guise of "academic freedom." Justice would dictate that "academic freedom" doesn't protect blatant, accountability-free dishonesty.

So, what exactly does the leftist-scum version of "academic freedom" ultimately amount to, anyway?

[ADDENDUM: As I have pointed out elsewhere: "Given the overwhelmingly compelling case for capitalism presented in the works of Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Robert Nozick, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, David Friedman, James Buchanan, George Reisman, John Hospers, Richard Epstein, Randy Barnett, Eric Mack, Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl, Loren Lomasky, David Schmidtz, and Chris Matthew Sciabarra, not to mention the overwhelming, real-world, not-merely-theoretical, demonstrated superiority of capitalism in practice, the opposition to capitalism in the Intellectual Class is nothing short of pathological - quite frighteningly so, in fact. It's hard to expect the Intellectual Class to take Rand seriously when it hardly takes anything pro-capitalism seriously, which in turn makes it exceedingly difficult to take the Intellectual Class seriously." Hell, Rand and Mises alone are pretty much enough to make the slam-dunk case for capitalism; the fifteen or so other names are like adding a punctuation mark to the blatantly obvious. So, again, what does this say about the scummy Leiters of the world?]

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Blissing Out

The latest in the soundscape-dialectic.

[ADDENDUM: Thought for the day: Dialectic must embrace everything (or, perhaps more precisely, it must embrace everything essential). This means not just the history of philosophy, which does indeed have a primacy of its own, but also the artistic world (music, films, etc.), and the business/economic world, and the scientific world, and the religious or spiritual world, and the sports world, and ... . Now, is there any other philosopher on today's scene saying (much less doing) that? (Currently listening: Miles Davis, "Sanctuary.")]

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Slam-Dunk of the Day

I did a little browsing of Slavoj Zizek's recent release, Living in the End Times, the other day, and certain no-gloves-wearing thoughts regarding this Euro-fashionable, no-Mises-referencing, "post-capitalist" thinker came to mind. Then I found out that the essence of my views concerning this "thinker" had already been summarized quite well (though in nicer and more forgiving terms) here, saving yours truly the time and trouble of explaining my assessment.

(The sad part of the sordid story of this "thinker" is that he's apparently beloved among a certain left-oriented segment of ignorant college punks here and abroad, who most likely do not major in economics. [Sadder still, in connection with this observation, is that if you're not majoring in economics or a hard science in today's university setting, you're probably not getting your money's worth. As hard evidence of this, observe the effects of globalization on the employability of today's youts. Surely Zizek, without citing a single economist, could "explain" this trend in his unusually-irritating style. It probably has something to do with the likes of Ayn Rand being A and non-A at the same time and same respect, or some such complete and utter horseshit.])

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tearing the Academy a New Asshole: A Preview

I've actually touched on this issue already:

The Nature of the "Educators"

The integrating strand between the "educators'" evasions described therein and what the Leiters of the world are up to is almost too obvious to require further explanation.

There is a difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An evasion is the wedge-in-the-door to immorality. (There is actually an interesting psychological question here: how does one determine whether one is in fact on a course of evasion? I think the very raising of that question in a person's own mind is the chief saving grace, because it means the mind is calling itself to attention and signaling a course of caution.) At some point, the "educators" (or anyone else for that matter) lose the benefit of the doubt, when they demonstrate in action a vicious, base, ignoble, or cowardly tendency without a course correction.

Errors of knowledge are quite commonplace - much moreso throughout history - than breaches of morality. For there to be a breach of morality takes quite a bit. Intellectual dishonesty is a relatively rare - but real - phenomenon. And that's where such moral terms as "praise" or "blame" come in. If we observe some disastrous and deadly human-caused event in history, we can make objective, fact-based assessments as to whether the disaster was a result of lack of knowledge, or of evasion. (Socrates apparently held that it is lack of knowledge that leads to vice. But I think that is mistaken; lack of knowledge is either a product of a lack of information having been presented - or it is due to a willful refusal to face information that has been presented. In other words, a lack of knowledge can arise out of a freely-chosen decision.)

To apply this to the question of the Academy as it is today:

To wax Randian for a bit, if you want to gauge the health of a country, look at the state of its universities' philosophy departments. (If it doesn't have universities, much less philosophy departments, that signifies a more primitive state than what we have in America.) At present, Ayn Rand is what might be termed "dialectically alienated" from the Academy to a very large extent. There is the Ayn Rand Society, but it is at present still a small organization without a lot of what those in the Academy would regard as "big names." So to a large extent, Rand's ideas just aren't being talked about much in the academy - despite her affinity methodologically and substantively with Aristotle, and despite the profound human need for integration. A lot of this has to do with a conscious or unconscious bias against pro-capitalist ideas, something Nozick identified (though didn't quite fully diagnose) a few years back.

The Academy has many good people in it, doing quality work. It is just about the only place philosophers - lovers of wisdom - can make a living doing what they love doing. They are entrusted with a serious responsibility - of educating those of college age who will then go out and make of the world what they will. If they fail in some way at this responsibility, the real-world results are quite inevitable. We are seeing those results in all the crises we observe today. A lot of the philosophers lament this fact, and are at a loss for explanations or solutions.

The solution, of course, would be a better dialogue between advocates of Ayn Rand's ideas and the Academy as a whole. Ayn Rand's importance lies in the fact that her philosophy is so representative of America's founding ideals, and in the fact that her writings have influenced and inspired millions of Americans. It would be a default on the responsibilities of the philosophers were there to be a failure of communication between the Academy and the ideals upon which this country was built. But that is exactly what has been happening.

What turns this problem - this error of knowledge, if you will - into a breach of morality, is when leading figures in the Profession engage in the kind of smear tactics that Prof. Leiter engages in - and when the others in the profession sit by in silence. That sort of default is a moral one. And that is when we can begin assigning praise or blame - be it at an individual or (to some degree or other) an institutional level - for the state that both the philosophy profession and America at large are in currently.

There's really no excusing the sort of thing Leiter does when it comes to Rand and advocates of capitalism - and there's no excusing the behavior of academic philosophers who sit by and utter not a word of protest. It is the height of anti-philosophy to smear Rand the way way Leiter does. Rand herself did commit errors of knowledge - quite notably in her assessment of Kant the man, to name a most notorious instance. But Leiter's behavior is downright dishonest, and readers of his blog sanction that dishonesty with their silent complicity.

(More to come.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thoughts for the Day

(1) On the playlist:
Bernstein Conducts Sibelius
Camille Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals
Debussy, La Mer, etc.
Satie, Popular Piano Works (Ciccolini)
Holst, The Planets (Previn/RPO)
Howard Hanson, Symphony No. 4, etc. (Schwartz/SSO)

(2) On the short, short reading list: Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience"

(3) Legalize it already. This is America, goddammit. The Framers wouldn't stand for one effing minute the present insanity called the "Drug War." I know it, you know it, and, deep down, the American people know it.

(4) In the docket: At long last, the skewering the present insanity called the "philosophy" profession really deserves. The gloves are coming off. Remember: this is America, goddammit.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Worship, 5/1/2011

A philosopher who stood head and shoulders above the rest:

Quote of the Day

"If [Andrei Tarkovsky's] Sculpting in Time could be distilled to a single message, it would be this: Content and conscience must come before technique—for any artist in any art form."
(Los Angeles Times Book Review)