Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Unpopular Essays, Chapter 4

Chapter 4 (pages 56-68), “Philosophy’s Ulterior Motives”

Philosophers want to believe general propositions about humans or the universe, but they are only satisfied if they can believe on intellectual grounds. So they develop intricate fallacies that provide the appearance of intellectual underpinnings to their beliefs. One false step enters their thinking, and they are led “into the quagmire of falsehood [p. 57].” Descartes found that he did not have an intellectual basis for almost any belief – except that his own doubts were evidence that the doubter himself existed.

From the starting point of Descartes’ existence, though, he proceeds to propound a slew of propositions that have only scholastic tradition to support them, including a demonstration that God exists. “In a man whose reasoning powers are good, fallacious arguments are evidence of bias [p. 58].” Desires become certainties. Leibniz’s chain of reasoning that ours is ‘the best of all possible worlds’ is of a piece with Descartes’ delusions. Leibniz, “like other philosophers,…believes it possible to find out important things, such as the nature of God, by merely sitting still and thinking…[p. 60].” To avoid a conclusion that would challenge his faith in free will, Leibniz “takes refuge in obscurity and ambiguity [p. 60].”

Bishop Berkeley attempted to show that matter doesn’t exist, and to deduce from this, that God does exist. His demonstration of the first proposition shows much valid reasoning, in that your perceptions of objects are in your mind, and don’t really need the objects themselves. But he shrinks from the next step, that objects exist only when we perceive them, and substitutes instead the notion that objects are ideas in the mind of God. Successors to Berkeley, with the exception of Hume, also have succumbed to a shrinking away from the consequences of their own reasoning. They won’t accept that we have no reason to believe that anything other than our own mental states exist (p. 61).

Despite the excellencies of Hume, his chief impact “was to stimulate two new sets of fallacies… [p. 62],” one by Kant and one by Hegel and Marx. Kant gets around Hume’s overthrow of causation by claiming that humans might experience causation, even if there is no causation in the underlying reality. But then space and time are our creations, too, while pure reason cannot tell us whether God exists, or whether our actions are free. So Kant invents a second type of reason, practical reason, that allows him to accept the moral truths he had been taught when he was young. Via the categorical imperative of practical reason, Kant could determine that free will, an afterlife, and God all exist.

Hegel developed a system that made the future, in its broad outlines, foreseeable. Improvements in logical thinking, from thesis to antithesis to synthesis, are somehow mimicked in history, from Pure Being (ancient China) to Absolute Idea (Hegel’s Prussia). Hegel’s reasoning is both obscure and optimistic – optimistic because the historical development is one of progress. [Hegel published a proof that there must be exactly seven planets a week before the eighth was discovered.] Marx took over Hegel’s dialectic as governing history, but instead of the Prussian state as the ultimate end, there needs to be “[o]ne more turn of the dialectical wheel – that is to say, one more revolution…[p. 66].” But Marx has the same deterministic future in his model, which gives believers hope for what is to come and belief that they are on the right side of history, like “the Christian belief in the Second Coming [p. 66].”

“Philosophy is a stage in intellectual development, and is not compatible with mental maturity [p. 67].” Philosophers must believe that they can uncover important truths through thought alone, but outside mathematics, truths through thoughts are unavailable. Philosophers come to this belief through a confusion of names with what those names represent, and a “conviction that the world must be ethically satisfying [pp. 67-68].” Science abandoned the comforting notion that the world will evolve more-or-less as we would wish – but science has its own brand of optimism, that through our intelligence we can satisfy most desires.

No comments: