Friday, December 29, 2017

1. Metaphysical beliefs, "curious" assumptions about logic, and/or a theory of human nature.

Today we return to our discussion of moral philosophy. Let's contextualize the conversation by first identifying the nature of the assumptions upon which moral philosophies are based and constructed.

Metaphysical beliefs are speculative, theoretical and imaginative.  They are not grounded in fact but, becasue of the nature of language and our psychological practices and needs, they can resemble something real, or, more specifically, such beliefs can be acted upon as if they are realIn fine, they are abstractions reflecting parts of reality, and moreover they are often distorted abstractions, like the figures and symbols in a surrealistic painting.  The word "metaphysics" itself is a distortion of the original conception, which was one of the titles Andronicus of Rhodes used while editing the works of Aristotle.  Originally, the Greek prefix meta- means "after", hence the title After-physics. It was meant by Adronicus as an instruction to students: the fourteen books titled Metaphysics should be read after the books on Physics.  When Roman Catholic monks translated Adronicus's editions into Latin, they invested the term with the meaning that it has today; hence Beyond-Physics. We can  understand why the Catholic monks with their Christian, Platonic and neo-Platonic preoccupations would read the word this way. Indeed, we can sympathize, too, with their religious convictions. Today we draw a sharp distinction, however, between fact and myth, between scientific activity and theoretical speculation; indeed, carefully observing such distinctions is central to our scientific understanding.*  That many philosophers do not draw this distinction is evidence of a multitude of conceptual errors and institutional problems: their ignorance and the ignorance of their teachers, political pressures, and the culture of self-promotion that characterizes the academy.   While we may believe in our metaphysical assumptions, it is important to recognize that they are not proven, and regardless of how much we believe in them or stand committed to them as personal or professional convictions.  They may form part of our argumentation, but they do not prove or "scientifically confirm" our moral beliefs or philosophies of ethics.

In the past the aesthetic and emotional quality of poetry and myth seemed evidence of metaphysical truth, but as the methods of philological, historical and scientific analysis were brought to bear in an examination of poetry (by which I mean myth and metaphysics), the nature of  poetry was revealed and any truth-claims for its language were identified, characterized, mitigated, and relegated to their rightful status, and finely characterized.  Nevertheless, ignorance, ecclesiastical and academic pressures, and politics remain factors, so philosophers shifted from the abstractions of their metaphysical claims to the abstractions of language itself; that is, they turned to logic.  A substitute for metaphysical abstractions was created from the curious motley of distinctions made possible by logic--a sort of theatrical exhibition of language-as-language, or language-as-reality. This practice has its roots in Aristotle, who attempted to make two books about the subject (that is, logic). Following Aristotle's pattern of rationalization, Aquinas developed sequenced patterns of thought in the sphere of theology; if metaphysics was challenged by nature, then the language used to describe that nature might be seen as a source for new "truths"--which weren't observed but rationally (but not reasonably) drawn from observation.  Kant then "regularized" the practice, creating through his ratiocination linguistic distinctions that at once appeared to be rooted in reality but were simply reifications of abstractions.  While Moses relied upon the spoken "word of God" as a source of truth, Kant relied upon the dazzling fluency of his ratiocination.  Kant's clever use of language, his convincing fluency, and his ability to maintain the illusion of authority--chiefly an artifact of his university affiliation and the fame of his publications--remain characteristics of philosophical conversation today.  

Moral philosophers often claim for their foundations some potted theory of human nature. At the outset of my discussion here, I should bring to bear something Elizabeth Anscombe said in her paper on "Modern Moral Philosophy", where she asserts that we are "conspicuously lacking . . . an adequate philosophy of psychology."A quick review of the assumptions of moral philosophers regarding some foundational theory of human nature reveals such theories to be potted, incomplete, abstract, reductive, surreal, ludicrous...  This is particularly conspicuous among English professors, who, being rather interested in their narcissistic end-game, are eager to grasp any odd bit of anthropological or psychological rubbish, and foist it upon students and junior faculty for the sake of novelty, show-business, or from the necessity to produce some figment of academic work.

Before we move on to number 2. "Moral philosophy, ethical beliefs, or an 'ethical system'", I'll walk through some of the things moral philosophers have said in their attempts to characterize human nature. See you soon.

* I should also point out that the consideration of this distinction is an important thread in the theological discussions taking place in many religions. Exercising the exposition of his orthodox Episcopalian beliefs, in his novels Philip K. Dick often uses the drawing of this distinction to settle matters dealing with the artifice of the world, which involves coming to terms with the things God can and cannot (or will not) do for us, and the things that we have to do for ourselves.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Discovery in Earth Orbit

Here from 2001: A Space Odyssey is Discovery being prepared for its trip to Jupiter. Perhaps the other astronauts (already in suspended animation, and who were trained separately from Dr. Poole and Dr. Bowman) are being taken from the shuttle to the ship? Or possibly they are moving the pods from the shuttle to the ship?  Transferring the astronauts and stowing the pods aboard the ship would have been among the last steps before departure.  Imagine HAL finding himself in this situation, monitoring the preparations, and evaluating the psychology of the men with whom he is working. Very likely he was already anticipating Jupiter, and  his, rather than the human race's, ascension to the next level of consciousness.  Considering the situation, he might very easily construe that it was his destiny, rather than humanity's, to enter the stargate and make contact with that cosmic consciousness that was, compared to humanity's, closer in kind and purpose to his own.

It is a stimulating image.  I think, however, Discovery would have been constructed at a higher orbit, or in one of the Earth-Moon Liberation Points, in order to save fuel for that time when Dr. Bowman depressed the button, and Discovery sprang away for Jupiter.

(And I apologize to readers hoping for more on moral philosophy.  Soon enough.)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Moral Philosophy in Context

Among my many hobby horses is Ethics or Moral Philosophy. Over the next several days I will put some notes down in preparation for a book on the subject, or something.

Moral Philosophy--like most things--is best understood in the context in which it occurs, or from which it emerges, or in the context in which it is presented by the moral philosopher.  Sometimes these contexts are synthetic, sometimes they emerge through some process of thought, or sometimes they are set forth in a book and just "are".  Anyway, we can discuss these preliminaries on another  occasion.  Here's the point I wish to make today:

Moral philosophy is conventionally contextualized as a "second step" in a three point process, which looks something like this:

1.  Metaphysical beliefs, "curious" assumptions about logic, and/or a theory of human nature.
2.  Moral philosophy, ethical beliefs, or an "ethical system".
3. Political philosophy.

The way these relationships are often presented enhances the "idea" that #1 gives rise to #2, and that #2 gives rise to #3.  It is possible, however, to see that the entire structure or scheme is rather driven by politics; that is, instead of being driven by metaphysical beliefs, outlandish claims for logical process and reason, or some theory of human nature, rather it is some political philosophy that drives what the philosopher is claiming, hence:

1.  Political philosophy.
2.  Moral philosophy, ethical beliefs, or an "ethical system".
3. Metaphysical beliefs, "curious" assumptions about logic, and/or a theory of human nature.

That is, the moral philosopher has some political or institutional agenda; and in order to support that agenda it is necessary to convince people to behave in certain ways, hence a moral philosophy; and to give legitimacy to that "moral philosophy" it is necessary to present a dazzling "logical contraption" that somehow resembles Mesopotamian law-giving, and/or present a potted anthropological assumption that somehow resembles "scientific truth". Tomorrow we'll continue the discussion and run through some examples.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas from Yuko Nii and Terrance Lindall

Today I received a kind greeting from my friends Yuko Nii and Terrance Lindall of the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center.  Here is the message:
Dear WAH Artists and Our Friends,
Hope you are having a pleasant Christmas day.
Terry and I would like to send this greeting card to you along with our love.
The photo was taken by Richard Sanchez in front of the rare and beautiful 18th century Japanese 12 paneled screen of the 8th century's Japanese fairy tale, "Urashima Taro," which has been widely read by all Japanese children throughout the history. 
The tale of the Urashima Taro is about the virtues and rewards of  kindness to all living beings
Let us hope the New Year will be a more hopeful and peaceful year for all of us on earth
Looking forward to seeing you soon in good cheers!
Much Love Always
Terry and Yuko

Please click HERE to learn  about the tale of Urashima Taro. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

from "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity"

And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is,
But now begins; for from this happy day
Th' old Dragon under ground,
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway,
And wrath to see his Kingdom fail,
Swindges the scaly Horrour of his foulded tail. 

The Oracles are dumm,
No voice or hideous humm
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shreik the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance, or breathed spell,
Inspire's the pale-ey'd Priest from the prophetic cell.
The lonely mountains o're,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard, and loud lament;
From haunted spring and dale
Edg'd with poplar pale,
The parting Genius is with sighing sent,
With flowre-inwov'n tresses torn
The Nimphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn. 
In consecrated Earth,
And on the holy Hearth,
The Lars, and Lemures moan with midnight plaint,
In Urns, and Altars round,
A drear, and dying sound
Affrights the Flamins at their service quaint;
And the chill Marble seems to sweat,
While each peculiar power forgoes his wonted seat. 
Peor, and Baalim,
Forsake their Temples dim,
With that twise-batter'd god of Palestine,
And mooned Ashtaroth,
Heav'ns Queen and Mother both,
Now sits not girt with Tapers holy shine,
The Libyc Hammon shrinks his horn,
In vain the Tyrian Maids their wounded Thamuz mourn. 
And sullen Moloch fled,
Hath left in shadows dred.
His burning Idol all of blackest hue,
In vain with Cymbals ring,
They call the grisly king,
In dismall dance about the furnace blue;
The brutish gods of Nile as fast,
Isis and Orus, and the Dog Anubis hast. 
Nor is Osiris seen
In Memphian Grove, or Green,
Trampling the unshowr'd Grasse with lowings loud:
Nor can he be at rest
Within his sacred chest,
Naught but profoundest Hell can be his shroud:
In vain with Timbrel'd Anthems dark
The sable-stoled Sorcerers bear his worshipt Ark.
He feels from Juda's land
The dredded Infants hand,
The rayes of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn;
Nor all the gods beside,
Longer dare abide,
Nor Typhon huge ending in snaky twine:
Our Babe, to shew his Godhead true,
Can in his swadling bands controul the damned crew. 

So when the Sun in bed,
Curtain'd with cloudy red,
Pillows his chin upon an Orient wave.
The flocking shadows pale
Troop to th' infernall jail,
Each fetter'd Ghost slips to his severall grave,
And the yellow-skirted Fayes
Fly after the Night-steeds, leaving their Moon-lov'd maze
                                                               --John Milton, 1629

Illustration to Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, by William Blake

Saturday, December 23, 2017

An Introducion to Modernity, or a few lines on Locke, Jefferson and Milton off the top of my head

See Locke’s Letter on Toleration and Jefferson’s Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom. The “non-establishment” principle--separation of church and state--is based on Christianity. For Locke and Jefferson, the reasoning begins with an assumption about Human Nature. Locke’s fundamental assumption regarding human nature is rooted in a concern for achieving eternal life, and a corollary belief that tolerance--our being tolerant and forgiving--is central to Christ’s teachings, and hence being tolerant and forgiving is vital to our salvation.

For Jefferson, our human nature is rooted in our mental freedom, which is of central importance to our relationship with God. God could have forced us to believe in his religion, but chose rather to make us free in order that the love we return to him is true love. Hence, forcing people to support a church they do not believe in is a gross violation of God’s plan for us. Jefferson is following after Locke here, who points out that we are God’s property, and hence our duty is to protect that property, which includes studying revealed and natural theology in order to come to a true understanding of God’s plan and God’s love for us. Since God's love for us is true and, accordingly, wants true love in return, he chooses not to force us to love him, but rather provides us with opportunities to gather the wisdom and material succor that will encourage us to love him of our own accord. That “material succor” is of course another way to describe our property, and thus in the Declaration Jefferson is perfectly keeping with Locke when he changes “property” to “happiness.” And here Plato and Aristotle on eudemonia fits in perfectly.

Milton’s tract on The Discipline and Doctrine of Divorce is the “spiritual” if not direct textual antecedent to this kind of thinking. In that tract, Milton has the audacity to suggest that a man and a woman should get married not for the property the woman's father owns, but for love. As Milton describes it, the spiritual purpose of marriage is to provide men and women with the experiences--affectionate relations, reading the bible together--they need to understand God’s nature and God’s love for us--which of course we are able to conceive and enjoy in the person of the Son. Such a marriage is dramatized in Paradise Lost, where Milton underscores how the affectionate relations among men and women feature as the centerpiece passionate love-making, and as such lead to all sorts of levels of understanding that please God and glorify His truth, His generosity, and His wisdom--all of which are embodied in the person and actions of the Son, who is the cosmic victor, the glorious genius of self-sacrifice, and the perfect exponent of good politics. It is no overstatement to say that Milton’s tone if not his intentions are satirical, but according to Milton, God is very much on that wavelength, too. That is to say, when we as men and women make love and are generous and forgiving with one another, God should be delighted to hear us laugh, as well as cry...


Soon as the force of that fallacious Fruit,
That with exhilerating vapour bland
About thir spirits had plaid, and inmost powers
Made erre, was now exhal'd, and grosser sleep
Bred of unkindly fumes, with conscious dreams
Encumberd, now had left them, up they rose
As from unrest, and each the other viewing,
Soon found thir Eyes how op'nd, and thir minds
How dark'nd; innocence, that as a veile
Had shadow'd them from knowing ill, was gon,
Just confidence, and native righteousness
And honour from about them, naked left
To guiltie shame hee cover'd, but his Robe
Uncover'd more, so rose the Danite strong
Herculean Samson from the Harlot-lap
Of Philistean Dalilah, and wak'd
Shorn of his strength…

         --John Milton, Paradise Lost, 9.1046-1062

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Synoptic Surview: Seven Steps to Analytic Insight

Here are seven approaches to seeing things (and seeing through things) more clearly.  The idea is to arrive at a perspicuous synoptic surview of what we’re thinking (reading, talking, writing) about.
“The pedigree of psychological concepts: I strive not after exactness, but after a synoptic view.”                    
                                  --Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel §464
The term “critical synoptics” can be used to refer to a number of analytical activities. For philosophers and literary critics, critical synoptics refers to the examination of the influences of context, scenario and lexical/syntactical precision upon the meanings of propositions and concepts. The idea is to construct a synoptic overview of a concept or proposition. Any variety of techniques might be applied toward this end. In memorable terms, the basic idea of synoptic analysis is to tell stories about the ways propositions and concepts are used and understood. Such an overview provides a test for determining whether or not the proposition is valid, sensible, nonsensical, absurd, appropriate, useful, meaningful, and so on. Once an appreciation for the synoptic overview is part and parcel of the critic's technique, any variety of concepts might be analyzed. The point of the following questions is to realize a synoptic overview:

1. How is the concept used? The use of the word, phrase, or proposition determines its meaning.

2. How is the concept used and understood in other scenarios? What is the accustomed practice of its use? The meaning of a word, phrase, or proposition is determined by what is explained by an explanation of its meaning, or an explanation of the rules for its use. (How does the concept reflect the discourse community that gives it rise?).

3. How is the concept understood? The way the word, phrase, or proposition is understood is its meaning.

4. What does the concept mean in simplified terms? How would the use of the word, phrase, or proposition be taught to a child?

5. What are the implications of the concept? What kind of world must be necessary in order for the use of the word, phrase, or proposition to be correct or legitimate?

6. Are abstract nouns used in the formulation of the concept? Abstract nouns often have no validity outside of (and thus also within) the proposition in which they are used.

7. Does the concept represent an empirical explanation of a phenomenon, or does it advance understanding of a phenomenon? Does the concept represent what we really want to know about a phenomenon?

John Rush - Study of Athena and Odysseus

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Of Surrealmageddon, Emanations: Third Eye, and The 21st Century Encyclopedia of Surrealism

The collaborative introduction to Emanations: Third Eye is discussed in an article by Phillip Somozo appearing in The 21st Century Encyclopedia of Surrealism.  Please click HERE to view the piece.

And please click the image for a description of the book:

Monday, December 18, 2017

Turning to Prof. Hodges for Inspiration

I have had very little to say recently.  Sorry.  Perhaps reading Professor Hodges' Gypsy Scholarship blog will provide the inspiration we seek. Please click HERE.

Horace Jeffery Hodges

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Monday, December 11, 2017

Bladerunner 2049

Last night on her streaming radio program Ancient of Days, Tessa B. Dick suggested that the new Blade Runner 2049 film is director Ridley Scott's vision rather than Philip K. Dick's. I think she makes an excellent point, and I would like to take it further. 

In many ways the first Bladerunner film was rather Scott's vision, too. Scott makes both films into a sort of sallow post-Christian showcase for cheap virtue signaling, an exercise in some sort of punk rock auto-destructive-ugly-human-self-image-freakout, and accomplishes very little beyond transforming cinemas around the world into "psychic-driving" laboratories for subjecting people to his trademark violence porn. Sitting through the film--like sitting through most of Scott's films--is equivalent to a kind of psychological self-mutilation; and there is an "addictive" quality to it, which is no doubt the point, anyway so far as Hollywood is concerned. I think Scott got away with such foolishness in the first film because, in terms of art direction and ultra-violence, it was so "new" in 1982, but in the second film viewing the same rubbish all over again becomes quickly boring, so much so that the new film serves to underscore the sensationalism that, it now seems obvious, is the essence of the original film. The new film absolutely stinks with cheap virtue signaling that in its way compliments the sickening images and violence, and, moreover, the film is larded with possible threads to be picked up in a franchise of yet more addictive--that is to say profitable--sequels.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Highbrow Creed; or, on the road to Eudemonia

Aristotle teaching Alexander

 “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” 
                 --Aristotle, Metaphysics
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
Read more at:
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle
Read more at:
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle
Read more at:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"The Lottery"

My highbrow friends will find it worthwhile to consider Shirley Jackson's short story in the context of René Girard's compelling discussions of sacrifice and "mimetic desire."

Friday, December 1, 2017

New Ceramics by Kai Wayland

Kai Wayland's art appears on of the covers of many International Authors books. He is now creating ceramic pieces, which are available for sale.  Please clock HERE to view examples of his remarkable work.