“(..) 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).
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
Heidegger says: “Already the ‘thinking of death’ is publicly considered as the cowards fear.”
I die a thousand deaths each and every day.
They creep up on me like shivers up my crooked spine.
Make me catch my breath into my chronically shrunken lungs.
Slowly swell my prostate as if I was hit – hard – in the fucking groin.
Makes my mind spin into feeling (oh so!) special.
At the end of a life I feel like I am on top of the world,
before it all comes a-crushing crashing down. I melt – down –
to being dead inside. Life springs from that, I mean: for now at least.
‘Bummer!’ being booming business nowadays, I just go for “Mens insana in Corpore non sano.” Is it so strange to want death or is it just a part of life I happen to know better than most? The idea that dying is a once-in-a-lifetime thing at the end of life is entirely strange to me. Which makes me strange but maybe not a stranger to you.
Permit me an accusation in the form of a confession.
“Let us keep this notion of split reference in mind, as well as the wonderful ‘It was and it was not,’ which contains in nuce all that can be said about metaphorical truth.” P. Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor, Routledge Classics, 2003, p. 265.
Being a logical kind of guy, I don’t particularly like fairy tales. Still, I think the law of non-contradiction is worse than a fairy tale. It is a hoax. Proven useful to open cans, it wound up opening one full of worms. Its next of kin are identity and the excluded middle. It’s the triumvirate of a logical tyranny that suffocates us to a point of becoming a prejudice against every prejudice.
I believe can-openers are useful tools, certainly if the can they open is critical thought. It is however not the case that critical thought has merit in and of itself. Critical thought is to the good life as food is to a healthy body, not less but at the same time not more. What it allows if taken in good measure is to find the middle; overconsumption though leads to becoming bloated and – full of it – using it as a stick to beat the life out of every argument.
The nice thing about stories is that, as Ricoeur rightly has it, they keep us in suspense and thereby create something new. They’re alive and as such infinitely closer to the good life than any artificial construct could ever be. I will believe in Artificial Intelligence if it can weave or listen to a good story, create a telling metaphor or be insulted by being likened to artifice. Call that the Bervoets-test.
Anyway, let’s make this political.
Four years ago I wrote a piece titled “Mr. Presessor“. In it I predicted the future. I got it all wrong. Instead of a “rational” political turn – inspired by Obama’s second win – we got the present ’emotional’ turn culminating in Trump’s first win. Mr. Presessor morphed in Mr. Presdator. Maybe Hobbes was right after all: we are wolves in search for a leader for our pack. Our fate is to howl – so loud nobody dares to cross our borders. The only place for reason is to power our pissing contests with the inevitable other packs of wolves.
So, is it a matter of what happened in the East? Or is it a matter of what failed to happen in the West? Let’s be hip and cool and pull out that finger to do some good old pointing.