Although the concept of “selfish gene” has been all but scientifically abandoned, the basic concept of “survival” underlying it remains firmly entrenched in naturalistic narratives. This is a problem for this simple reason: it blocks us from increasing our understanding of (our) nature.
Part of the myth of survival is the myth that it is an inescapable consequence of going for a naturalistic narrative in the first place. That it is not is something Deleuze tells us based on a thorough reading of Hume (in his Empiricism and Subjectivity) where he says: “And, above all, Hume centers his critique on the theory of egoism.” The myth of survival is, of course, also the myth that, when push literally comes to shove, we choose based on self-interest. Hume was not Hobbes.
The other part of the myth of survival is that we need a unifying concept of life to which all else can be reduced. Survival seems to be the only concept that survives the struggle for narrating nature and culture alike. But, as Deleuze says, this falsifies both as: “Nature and culture form a complex. Hume refuses theories that reduce everything to nature (..) just like those reducing everything to nurture. The first, in forgetting culture, give a false impression of nature; the others, in forgetting nature, deform culture.”
The question then is: do we need the concept of survival at all? And if we do, what needs to be put alongside it such that we get a naturalism doing justice to all the facts (included those related to notions like solidarity, friendship, love, and self-sacrifice)?
Religion is not getting a lot of slack nowadays. Maybe in reading those who were first to be overtly critical of religion we can learn exactly what occasioned the onslaught. This is an exercise in that, FWIW.
In tracing back the questions raised in the early modern period we may hope to trace back the current secular attitude to religion. To make a start with this analysis, I focus on 2 short texts by Baruch Spinoza, The Metaphysical Moralist (1), and David Hume, On Superstition and Enthusiasm (2), where they explicitly treat of the threats inherent to religions when the imagination goes unchecked by rationality. My analysis tries to bring to light that there is a crucial difference in their treatment: whilst Spinoza sees linear progress in using reason to eliminate ‘uncalled for’ imagination, Hume puts reason as a mediator between two extreme uses of imagination (one leading to docile superstition – the other to fanatic enthusiasm). In my view there is something of fanatic enthusiasm to Spinoza’s view on rationality which, in denying a constructive impetus in imagination, denies something more basic to the human condition than the arbitrary conventions of specific religions. Both Hume and Spinoza utter profanities against religion, but only Spinoza utterly desacralized the human condition. Continue reading
“The interest, on which justice is founded, is the greatest imaginable, and extends to all times and places. It cannot be possibly serv’d by any other invention. It is obvious, and discovers itself on the very first formation of society.”
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Penguin Classics, 1985, p. 669.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 23-12-2009. I don’t know how good or bad what follows is, but it is for sure a great quote.]
Call it the Roddenberry-principle: you can’t imagine, can’t conceive of, a society that is composed of intelligent individuals in which there is no basic notion of justice & therefore of fairness. So much so that even the biggest bands of thieves have some code of law internal to them and that any changes to current laws are invariably justified – with recourse to some ‘higher’ principle of justice. Continue reading
“But tho’ education be disclaim’d by philosophy, as a fallacious ground of assent to any opinion, it prevails nevertheless in the world, and is the cause why all systems are apt to be rejected at first as new and unusual.”
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, p. 167, Penguin Books, 1969.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 13-08-2009. Sounds promising, it’s at any rate actual.]
I do not exist! Or more accurately (and more boringly non-provocative): the ‘I’ does not exist. This claim would come closest to summing up my system, if such a thing as philosophical ‘systems’ would remain after Hume and Kant. As one was tempted to sum up Hume’s system in Hume’s day as “This world does not exist” in preparation of a smug chuckle with which to discard the details of what was said by him; I’m sure one would be tempted to Laugh Out Loud reading how I sum up my thoroughly individualist thought.
“The tear naturally starts in our eye on the apprehension of a warm sentiment of this nature: our breast heaves, our heart is agitated, and every humane tender principle of our frame is set in motion, and gives us the purest and most satisfactory enjoyment.”, The enquiries concerning human understanding and concerning the principles of morals, D. Hume, Clarendon Press, 1975, p. 257.
I chose this quote six weeks ago and can’t quite remember what I then thought. This is what I (try to) think now: Continue reading
“If objects had not an uniform and regular connection with each other, we shou’d never arrive at any idea of cause and effect; and even after all, the necessity, which enters into that idea, is nothing but a determination of the mind to pass from one object to its usual attendant, and infer the existence of one from that of the other. Here then are two particulars, which we are to consider as essential to necessity, viz. the constant union and the inference of the mind; and wherever we discover these we must acknowledge a necessity.” D. Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Penguin Classics, 1985, p.448.
Too many take Hume to talk mainly, and in a definitive way, about how the world is. Hume himself is confused sometimes, taking psychological subject matter to physical conclusions. This is an annoying fallacy, & more annoying still is a tendency of some who self-advertise as being part of the Humean tradition to promote it to an empirical dogma.
As pointed out by Davidson, there is a difference between our everyday statements of causality and the lofty heights of mathematical physics. To put it more tellingly: there is a difference between ‘if A then B’ and ‘E=mc2’.
This difference is a difference of more consequence than mostly thought. Let us go & explore it, so we can plant the seed of a long needed civil war on ‘minds’. Continue reading