Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bertrand Russell and the War on Terror

     I have still been reading Power by Bertrand Russell and ran into a section that I wondered whether people thought were descriptive of the War on Terror.  He is describing the leader and the situations that are best for the maintenance of power.  He writes:

"The best situation is one in which there is a danger sufficiently serious to make men feel brave in combating it, but not so terrifying as to make fear predominate -- such a situation, for example, as the outbreak of war against an enemy who is thought formidable but not invincible.  A skilful orator, when he wishes to stimulate warlike feeling, produces in his audience two layers of belief:  a superficial layer, in which the power of the enemy is magnified so as to make great courage seem necessary, and a deeper layer, in which there is a firm  conviction of victory.  Both are embodied in such a slogan as 'right will prevail over might'.
"The kind of mob that the orator will desire is one more given to emotion than to reflection, one filled with fears and consequent hatreds, one impatient of slow and gradual methods, and at once exasperated and hopeful."(pg. 17-18)

Any comments?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Rebel, a couple of comments

"When the personal god begins his reign, rebellion assumes its most resolutely ferocious aspect and pronounces a definite no...From this point of view, the New Testament can be considered an attempte to answer, in advance, every Cain in the world, by painting a figure of God in softer colors and by creating an intercessor between God and Man.  Christ came to solve two major problems, evil and death, which are precisely the problems that preoccupy the rebel.  His solution consisted, first, in experiencing them.  The man-god suffers, too -- with patience.  Evil and death can no longer be entrirely imputed to Him since He suffers and dies."(pg.32)

Christ justifies ways to Man by suffering them Himself.  But then God has to justify His was to Man and to Himself in the form of Christ.  Does this mean that God has so little control over suffering that He must suffer Himself?  But then there is an apocolyptic hope for the end of suffering, but what about the meantime?

I want to look back at the previous post about theodicy broadly considered.  Evil can be considered a process of education and/or progress both for individuals and societies.  For Hegel, God goes through a 'logic' of history where evil is part of the unfolding of ultimate rationality, and all these evils are themselves part of this rationality. For Marx evils have a specific cause which will largely be eliminated by the end of history.  All of these attempt to explain, if not justify the history, of evil.  Of the accounts in this post, only Marx does not suffer an outright contradiction.  Hegel has to explain the rationality of evil in History, and I am not satisfied logically by Camus' presentation of the solution of the problem of evil in Christianity.

Reading opposed philosophies at once: Russell and Camus

I am currently reading the somewhat unpopular, POWER, by Bertrand Russell, at the same time that I'm reading The Rebel, by Camus.  The two could hardly be more different.  Where Russell emphasizes the universal desire for power, Camus emphasizes the Absurd, and a metaphysical rebellion against the human condition.  Power is a very easy read, Camus, is tough and slow.  The rebel tries to go beneath the merely political and to what he thinks of as a universal response to the absurd.  For Russell, rebels are only those who see themselves as competent to take power; those who don't think they're competent don't take the lead.  Their whole starting point is different. 

I have to say I can adopt both positions here.  I will try to figure out how which point of view is mine, if I can choose.  Russell's has a cleanliness to it that makes it very appealing, but Camus tries to go deeper into the human condition. The temptation is to stay with Russell on the surface. On the other hand, what if Camus is just spouting literary nonsense?

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Rebel, Albert Camus -- Entry 1

"If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance. There is no pro or con: the murderer is neither right nor wrong.  We are free to stoke the crematory fires or devote ourselves to the care of lepers.  Evil and virtue are mere chance and caprice."pg. 5.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

About the Russell Video

Bertrand Russell was a hero of mine many years ago, and occasionally I find him so again.  He says in the video that there are two things he has to say to future generations, one intellectual, one moral.

For the intellectual piece he says we should make philosophical decisions based SOLELY on the facts, and not on any other consideration.  I can hear the snickering of the postmoderns.  But let me remind you that if you see the failure of metanarratives as a 'fact', and you make philosophical decisions based on that you are following Russell's advice. So, haha.  If you think that the failure of metanarratives means that you should make decisions based on the social effects of beliefs since there are no facts to draw on, you are still basing THAT decision on a fact(the failure of metanarratives), even though it appears you are violating his remarks. SO, haha. Really, though, you nihilists who are PC are just doing it to fit in with some crowd, which is perfectly logical given your nihilism, so you're still in line with Russell, so haha. 

The problem with facts implying reasons ala Derek Parfit

Derek Parfit talks about the fact that you are allergic to walnuts is a good reason not to eat them. Thus, and with other examples, Parfit tries to connect facts with reasons/desires and hence off to providing a normative ethics.  BUT, being allergic to walnuts is a reason not to eat them only if I'm not suicidal or in love with the pain of an allergic reaction.  It certainly provides no reason why I shouldn't encourage an enemy to eat them if they're allergic -- or to do it to satisfy my own sadism. 

Facts and values are intertwined, I'll admit that, but there is NO reason to think they are uniquely paired or united.  That's the whole point of relativism/nihilism etc... Fact-values, or fact/values, can be organized in many nonisomorphic ways.  Parfit's arguments are useless.  UNLESS, gentle reader, I'm missing something crucial.  See, my neck is exposed.  I DARE you to respond.  BOK! BOK!BOK!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bertrand Russell Video

Theodicy, broadly considered -- with a shot from Mathewes

The word 'theodicy' originates with Leibniz.  I am considering lately the possibility, borrowing some language from Mathewes, that theodicy is really a subsumption of facts to a theory of history or progress.  More recently it is a theory of secular progress.  In Christian theodicies, the evils of the the current age were justified by the apocalypse, when everything comes together and makes sense.  Secular theories are not of the every sparrow that falls counts variety, but there is always a nonempirical theory that subsumes them.  Suffering is thus bereft of its own moment and its own meaning and is put in another, theoretical construct.  What would it mean to our compassion if instead of subsuming suffering under the eye of eternity, we gave to each moment of suffering its own unique moment, again I'm borrowing from Mathewes. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

More Goading from Charles T. Mathewes

Consider what is at stake in taking on subjectivism as Parfit has done.  Mathewes, in his book, Evil and the Augustinian Tradition writes:
"Insofar as our thought remains in the thrall of subjectivism, we cannot adequately respond to evil's challenge to us, and any subjectivist response to evil's challenge will be vexed by the challenge's complexity; we either take it too seriously, and think of evil as a natural reality; or we do not take it seriously enough, and assume that, since it is due to us, we can straightforwardly change our actions and simply overcome it.  That is, modern thought cannot handle evil because of its essentially subjectivist tenor..."Subjectivism" here means an account of human existence which gives priority to the human intellect, and/or the brute fact of human action, over against some mute and inert reality, material or otherwise."(pg. 52)

It seems in this passage that Mathewes is assuming that we agree that certain things are evil, rather than starting with raw nihilism.  What he says is that moderns either resign ourselves to evil as just part of nature and thus unavoidable, or we buy into notions of human progress...  He then clarifies what he means by subjectivism itself.  The human intellect ovder against the inert material world.  The material world has no moral order(think Discovery Channel here) ;we are left construing morality as resting in subjectivity.  This is one of the reasons, at least, why Mathewes can say relativism is a 'local manifestation' of this subjectivism.

Now, I know that Parfit did a lot of thinking about human identity that I haven't read and maybe there is some depth to his thought here that bears upon his attempt to defend a normative ethics; here  I confess my ignorance.   But, from what I read, NOTHING he wrote successfully defends normative ethics.  Absolutely NOTHING.   I am still left with nihilism. PERIOD. 

Mathewes writing is actually more probative to me.  He writes plainly that the problem is subjectivism, that relativism is one of its offspring.  The implication is that we have to undercut this subjectivism. Now, ultimately, Mathewes is coming from a theological position, which has its own problems, but ultimately seems more understandable than attempting to make something out of nothing as Parfit attempts. 

I might as well come clean and tell you my commitments.  I am an atheist materialist.  I think freewill is an incoherent notion.  I think things that cause purposeless suffering to others are bad but I don't think this claim is anything other than my own response to it-- it has no logical defense whatsoever. Does this make me a nihilist?

Derek Parfit -- Goad for more responses

     I was happy to see that one of my posts, Derek Parfit -- Final Entry, elicited a response.  I want more responses.  So, I am going to gratuitously goad this person or persons for more responses.  I think the entire project of normative ethics, to find any kind of reasons for morality in a philosophically defensible way, is doomed to abject failure.  Parfit is clearly VERY well qualified to talk at length on these issues, and at times in the reading I did of him I found his combination of Kantian, Utilitarian, etc... thought interesting, see some of my earlier posts about him if you don't believe me, I think his over all arguments fail.  I would have been more engaged with his writing if at any time I felt he was really winning a fight with subjectivism/relativism etc...  IF YOU THINK HE IS WINNINGTHE ARGUMENT, PLEASE HELP ME.  I am, if he is right, living in darkness....