Tag Archives: love

On “truth and Truth”, in William James

“(..) this command that we shall put a stopper on our heart, instincts and courage, and wait (..) till doomsday, or till such time as our intellect and senses working together may have raked in evidence enough – this command, I say, seems to me the queerest idol ever manufactured in the philosophic cave.” W. James, The Will to Believe, p. 32 (1).

1. Introduction

In his essay “The Will to Believe” (1), William James makes the case that reason does not stand supreme, that being human we always also have some passional skin in our games. James relies on “Pascal’s wager” – where passion and reason are so peculiarly mixed as to yield holy waters that can’t be reduced to the characteristics of hydrogen or oxygen. His paper maybe reads more as an attack on our modern scientific consensus, as establishing its own scientistic holy cows, than as a defence of religion. He challenges a purely rational truth-seeking attitude as committed to a prior passionate and absolutist conception that we ought to constantly suspend judgment to avoid the False. My short piece will not challenge that analysis – mainly because for the most part I pragmatically agree with it –  but analyze whether we can, by James’ own lights, be passionately committed to believe in Truth at all. If not, as I will try to defend, then the whole business of comprehensive doctrines as taken for granted by Rawls (3), and certainly sympathetic to James’ view, becomes problematic – even within a religious or moral philosophical outlook. Believing in truth is not the same as believing in Truth and sceptics get away with not believing in the latter if they’re passionate in practice i.e. willing to act on their moral passions and reflect on their actions.

I proceed as follows: in the next section I explore the link between passion and truth in (1), the section thereafter deals with truth and practice, then I conclude. Continue reading

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Anti-physics

“(..) who cannot reveal himself cannot love, who cannot love is the unhappiest of all. But you do this out of sheer obnoxiousness, you train yourself in the art to become a riddle for others.” S. Kierkegaard, Either/Or, my translation from Dutch.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche have a common cause in destroying the confusion that places us as an instrument of ultimate truth. They are seen as anti-metaphysical and adopted by many of this very (psycho)physical age – oh, the irony of it! – as evidence that these times, our times, are superior in having overcome that specific Hegelian disease of thinking.

That’s not true. We straightened some wrinkles to find injecting botox has just made us look more preposterous than ever. We now believe physics can solve anything and that it is just a matter of time to resolve the riddle of life. Deep down we believe there is eternal truth; we happen now to believe as well it is just a matter of time before we find it. Some even think that if they live long enough they’ll live forever and don’t stop to think what a ghastly thought that is.

The question in this evidence based world is: what counts as evidence?

Is it the increasingly complex models picking out specific observations designed to falsify it but somehow always winding up verifying something? Or is it the everyday meeting of minds where you make yourself vulnerable to misunderstanding?

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The self was a good idea but its time has come to fade away

Identity is the new Holy Grail. Everybody is looking for something that does not exist, and still would somehow magically transform their mediocre existence into the golden rule. The quest for identity responds to the post-modern question of belonging. Whether they are patriotic nationalist or universal subcultural causes, we constantly contrive collectives within which to identify with other people. This is post-modern because it is a melancholy for modern times when belonging belonged to the self-evident, except for those who self-evidently did not belong – the gays, the displaced, the ill, the Western Easterners, the out-of-luck. It’s the excluded who shaped these post-modern times because they frantically started a quest for being included ‘somewhere’. This was, for them, of the essence because not-belonging was the essential problem they experienced in modernity.

The rule is that the exception always has a tendency to become the rule. The exception is entropy, and it causes energy to shift to keep it under control. This is how in modern times the excluded discovered this problem of identity, that quickly became the post-modern problem for everyone. The meaning of life was transformed into the meaning of me and here we are trying to resolve our selves in an identity with others. Continue reading