Tag Archives: dynamics

On Saying “That”

Perhaps it should come as no surprise to learn that the form of psychological sentences in English apparently evolved in much the way these ruminations suggest. According to the Oxford English Dictionary

The use of that is generally held to have arisen out of the demonstrative pronoun pointing to the clause which it introduces.

(..)” D. Davidson, “On Saying That” in Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 106.

Charles Taylor is right, the question ‘Why?’ is humanly unavoidable. My question is why this is so. If we know why we cannot but ask ‘Why?’, we have resolved that part of the mystery of life which tends to separate people. I agree with Charles Taylor as well that naturalistic reduction – scientism is the more appropriate label – is a moral hazard but I think science, under the lead of the human sciences, must address why this is so. The strategy for doing so is the most basic strategy of all science: to trace to the origins of the phenomenon, just like Charles Darwin did.

Well, I think the origin of the word ‘why’ lies in the word ‘that’. The latter word has been the object of intense scrutiny for instance by Donald Davidson. Its non-verbal equivalent, finger pointing, is a  necessary gateway between the realm of things and that of thought. The word ‘that’ presupposes a lot. It presupposes a lot of things of which at least two need to be complex enough to point to some third thing. These things qua things are the subject matter studied by so called hard science. Kant called this pure reason. Most have forgotten his critique of it though. Basically: that this hard science presupposes subjects that do the pointing and have mastered a language consisting of a lot more words than ‘that’.

Indeed, on the other side of the word ‘that’ lies our language and therefore also lie we qua humanity as studied by human science. These are sciences that do not merely use words but are, strictly speaking, about words. The division between the hard and human sciences cuts across scientific fields, in particular across psychology, which explains why they are internally so divided. It has become a vulgar truth of scientism that individuals become objective if they just follow the insight of the hard sciences; that the question ‘Why?’ Is just a phenomenon, that there is no basic reason why this is so, that the word is the mental equivalent of an appendix that just needs to be removed when it is inflamed. This runs counter to the origins of hard science in multiple ways. Just take “that”: it’s no small matter that before it can be uttered there need to be at least two beings complex enough to point to some third thing and identify it as the same. The work of George Herbert Mead is a work of hard science and already explains that it takes a community to create anything that can be properly called an individual.

Tracing our origin to the word ‘that’ establishes a before and an after but only what comes after is capable of examining what came before. People may have little patience nowadays to appreciate  a difficult point: still, the hard sciences presuppose human sciences and not vice versa. They will be as incapable of overtaking them as the tortoise the hare. Scientism is a dangerous, and harshly metaphysical, fallacy that subjects subjects to matter. It’s to be fought with the type of science so characteristic of a Ludwig Wittgenstein. That’s a fight we will fight insight by insight for the patient who know solutions don’t come cut and dried and overnight. Everything I ever wrote is dedicated to this fight.

Another fallacy is the Augustinian one of spiritualism in which the before and the after of the word ‘that’ are impermeable. The word then stands alone without its body, without grounding and (speaking as an as of yet unconfirmed autist) leads to the kind of mysticism and skepticism that throws a tantrum every time its selfmade why it is so gets challenged and changed. It ignores that desire, vital energy in the sense of Bergson, was there long before the word ‘that’ – and that this desire is as fully permeating the creation of anything in language as it permeates any living thing. It ignores the fact that human science is science as wel: a human activity of reason (and therefore of mathematics) that can explain why a tantrum is thrown. Philosophical hermeneutics as proposed by Gadamer is nothing else as tracing what is after ‘that’; it is the origin of humanity in the survival of ideas that fit the environment of reason.

Before the word ‘that’ there was only desire and its dynamics of energy shaping matter against entropy; all a mere matter of pure probability whether physical, thermodynamical or evolutionary. After the word ‘that’ there’s a new force of energy in the development of reason that shapes thought, basically around the mathematics of probability. We’re still discovering how this is all linked but one link is a priori necessary (even if it is real hard to synthesize): that we are creatures driven by desire in developing reason and creatures of reason in driving our desires. Neither reason nor desire can rule (in) us – this is why asking ‘Why?’ is so basic, so universal and so common to all of us. What rules in us is judgment (it is Deleuze who explained me why Kant wrote 3 critiques). If we realize we all ask the same question for a same reason we can transcend the specific comprehensive answers that we individually need at any given time. This does not discredit any of these answers as such but opens the playground to develop understanding – to develop our common language, to discover the Rawlsian overlapping consensus we all share. We may be just (im)probable creatures, but as creatures we are necessarily driven to adaptation to a common judgment sharing as we do a common desire and a common reason.

So in this Charles Taylor is most probably wrong: there is a universal moral claim of reason – there is a “basic reason” of morality. We should not seek it in what specifically comes after the ‘that’, in what we point to (we should not seek it in the specific answer we give at a certain point to the question ‘Why?’). We should see it in the fact that we all use ‘that’ in the same way to point to what we believe (this is the universal ‘Why it is so’ we all ask that same question ‘Why?’). This may seem opaque but it really isn’t. It’s something we know in everyday life and everyday speech. There is nothing ultimately arbitrary or relative or perspectivist in what we point to with ‘that’. A bird is a bird even if it may be difficult to be sure we are pointing to the same thing. The same is true for beliefs in a ‘that’-clause, they are not magically lifted out of the realm of logic to do with as we please (not even Humpty Dumpty can do that). We can hold many false beliefs but once somebody points us out that the earth is round we simply can no longer also believe it is flat. You cannot hide stupidity in personal opinion even if it has become the most popular political opinion. There always is a fact in the moral, however difficult and endless it may be to uncover all the facts.

(..) einiges nicht in Ordnung

“Er hat sich augenblicklich zu der Erkenntnis durchgerungen, dass es in der Geschichte der Menschheit kein freiwilliges Zurück gibt. Aber das Erschwerende ist, dass wir ja auch kein brauchbares Vorwärts haben. Gestatten Sie mir, es als eine merkwürdige Lage zu bezeichnen, wenn es weder vorwärts noch zurück geht und der gegenwärtige Augenblick auch als unerträglich empfunden wird.”
R. Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, RoRoRo, 1978, p. 272.

[Amateuristic English translation: “He immediately came to the insight that, in human history, there’s no voluntary going back. But the really aggravating circumstance is that there is also no useful way forward. Allow me to put it to you that it is a most curious situation in which there is neither a way forward nor a way back and in which the current moment is also considered as equally unbearable.”]

[Re-osted from The Old Site, original dd. 15-04-201. This is the last one, if you find more here, they will be new.]

It’s definitely a bummer to think you’re at least somewhat original – and then reread something you read so long ago you couldn’t precisely remember why it
retained the impression of greatness … just to find that much of where you thought you were original wasn’t just anticipated but anticipated by something you can’t honestly claim not to have known!

Anyway, the twin monsters of ‘The Meaning of Life’ are cultural pessimism and utopianism, or in other words absolutism and essentialism. Looking back to the more innocent times of the past, or longing for the times to come where we will be finally redeemed and saved from all this mess which is the current.

The monsters are twins and therefore share the same genetic code: Continue reading

Book III: Of Morals – Conclusion

“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

L’élan vital

“Le mécanisme reprochera donc avec raison au finalisme son caractère anthropomorphique. Mais il ne s’aperçoit pas qu’il procède lui-même selon cette méthode, en la tronquant simplement. Sans doute il a fait table rase de la fin poursuivie ou du modèle idéal. Mais il veut, lui aussi, que la nature ait travaillé comme l’ouvrier humain, en assemblant des parties. (..)”,
H. Bergson, L’évolution créatrice, p. 90, Quadrige, Grands Texts, 1941.

[Amateuristic English translation below: “Mechanistic thought will, rightly, attack final causes for its antropomorphic character. But it doesn’t recognize that it proceeds following this same method, simply by leaving out a final cause. Without any doubt it makes tabula rasa with the objective sought after or with ideal models. But it wants, it as well, that nature works like the human worker, putting together piece parts.”

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 20-11-2009. This should be good.]

Going hard-core again. I apologize to those unwilling to dive deeply. It’s a ‘slippery slope’-mission which I’m about to embark upon. Nobody will be willing to wave the mechanistic flag but many will be willing to put anything – even remotely – Bergsonian out with the garbage of extraterrestrial, supernatural, or, extrasensory entities, or, beings, or causes. But, much worse than that (and here stoppeth the usual disclaimers because these religious bastards just won’t socially darwinize themselves into oblivion rapidly enough): the nut crew is all too happy to claim anything, knowing their own claims to be ludicrous.

Continue reading

Die Postulate des empirischen Denkens überhaupt

 “Nur daran also, dass diese Begriffe die Verhältnisse der Wahrnemungen in jeder Erfahrung a priori ausdrücken, erkennt man ihre objektive Realität, d.i. ihre transzendentale Wahrheit, und zwar freilich unabhängig von der Erfahrung, aber doch nicht unabhängig von aller Beziehung auf die Form einer Erfahrung überhaupt, und die Synthetische Einheit, in der allein Gegenstände empirisch können erkannt werden.”
Kritik der reinen Vernunft, p. 298-299, I Kant, Reclam, 1966.

[Amateuristic English translation (google will find you a professional one in no time): “Only in this then, that these concepts express a priori the conditions of perception in all of our experiences, can one recognize their objective reality, i.e. their transcendental truth, and this completely independent from experience itself, although not independent from any relationship on the form of an experience as such, and the synthetic unity which is the only way we can recognize things in an empirical way.”]

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 26-08-2009. Pffew, Kant’s synthetic a priori, hope I didn’t put my foot in ;-]

It’s been a while since I felt the urge to get my “Pure Reason” out and look for what is known as the “synthetic a priori”, probably over 2 months ago. I had it next to the bed, but did not open it. Fear, I guess, as well as a bunch of other things that were racing through my head (some of which you find here). Not to mention a family, a job and the many time consuming activities combining both imply.

But enough personalia already: Continue reading

The Origin of Species: Author’s Introduction

“This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms.”,
The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, Wordsworth classics of world literature, 1998, p. 5-6.

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 06-06-2009. Not only a simple one, a long one also. It’s also blunt in combining Malthus and multi-culturalism.]

A simple one. Malthus has gotten loads of bad press. If at all a connection is made between Malthus and Darwin, it’s mostly made under the heading ‘Social Darwinism’, which is meant insultingly as misapplied Darwinism and associated to extreme right political views. This annoys me. Or more accurately:  infuriates me. But more importantly: it’s incorrect. And, most importantly: the error blocks us from an important insight.

First the error. Continue reading

4.112 Philosophy is (..) an activity

“4.1122 Darwin’s theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other
hypothesis in natural science.”
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, l. Wittgenstein, Routledge Classics, 2001.
(this is the official translation, no original this time, sorry)

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 20-05-2009. I have almost come to the point where all old posts have been transferred to the new site and I feel like maybe one of these days I can make new stuff, hopefully having learned from all the many mistakes I have made previously.]

When discussing this with friends of mine, one of them suggested I argue for it on a reductio ad absurdum. I won’t. It seems more fitting to the case at hand to go for a less known (and known to be merely rhetorical) argument: the one “ab absurdo”, ie from the absurd. Hence (I am in a playful mood), I do apologize on beforehand: for assuming the existence of God in some parts of the below.

Continue reading