Tag Archives: Rawls

To the latrine with our doctrines!


My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.” 

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Routledge Classics, 1961.

I’m reading Cora Diamond’s “The Realistic Spirit” in which proposition 6.54 is seen as the key to crack the code of continuity in Wittgenstein’s thought. I don’t know about that but I do know this: what she says resonates with why I always liked reading Wittgenstein. It’s not the famous proposition 7 calling bull-shit on philosophy that enticed me, calling bull-shit is easy. It’s the resistance to clear-cut philosophical doctrines and a view of reason as somehow beyond life as we know it which rings true to me.

Is it possible to do philosophy without leaving behind you beliefs that one p or another is true in a deeper way than pointing to the coffee mug and saying that it is on the table? In a way we’re all philosophers who want to believe that what we say matters in a way that is beyond being merely true. Philosophy, I believe (and I believe Wittgenstein believed all his life), is about showing that to be a terrible equivocation. A terrible equivocation more specifically on two crucial real-life common words: the demonstrative ‘that’ and the verb ‘to believe’.

Let me show you that. Maybe if you read on you’ll believe.

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Towards a softly outspoken liberalism

Shouting begets more shouting. So I shan’t shout against a militant liberalism deafening our reason. I won’t even ironize about their inconvenient marriage with zealots. It’s their conviction that runs deep after all and we should respect people’s convictions.

I’ll just ask a simple question: “Are militant liberals still liberal?”.

There was a time not that long ago when being liberal was risky. It did not quite get you fed to the lions but it required you had a lot of money to get away with saying your piece. In an attempt to make peace, John Rawls said: “Thus I believe that a democratic society is not and cannot be a community, where by community I mean a body of persons united in affirming the same comprehensive doctrine.” Political liberalism was born again, and with it the new consensus of agreeing to disagree.

That got us here so another simple question is: “Were non-militant liberals ever liberal?”.

Scylla and Charybdis always all over again, can we find a way not to exclude the middle?

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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

Aixo era y no era

“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.

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Mr. Presdator

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.

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Shorter That

“What cannot be said shortly, should not be said.”, well sums up our zeitgeist.

The spirit of rudeness is by now well entrenched. A lack of mores has become a wish rather than the woe it once was. Time is of the essence. We cannot afford to beat around the bush so we spin around the bonfire of the vanities vainly hoping to catch a quantum of eternity. There is never enough time so we spend time to buy time. It’s a free market after all.

“Cut to the chase!”, I hear my subconscious shouting. 100 words and close to nothing said. 7 more wasted and less than 500 to go. Reflection takes up space-time. It is a black hole. A singular type of anomaly. I am chasing the capitalism that cuts into our subconscious. It is hopeless of course to catch up with capitalism. We can only cut it off by self-reflection.

Just cut it out, already, like this:

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The self is both made and explored with words

“The self is both made and explored with words; and the best for both are the words spoken in the dialogue of friendship.”
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self – The Making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, 1989, p. 183.

In reading these pages, I was reminded by the abomination that is the word “paradigm”. Although I am largely sympathetic to the project of Charles Taylor in tracing the origins of self and identity, there is a certain something about it which annoys me. Thinking about it his pinpointing of pivotal moments in philosophy is the cause of this slight discomfort. In his own words I think his is the natural way of explaining, as against the more convoluted way which is less prone to be accepted in this scientistic bottom-up world. Sure, this way serves the purpose of bringing home the point that the way we see things naturalistically is neither eternal nor inescapable. Still it also exposes us to the risk of marking “paradigm shifts” showing side by side clear before’s and after’s and simultaneously expressing a strong valuation that such before’s are inferior and the corresponding after’s are superior. Thinking in “paradigm shifts” has led to the abominable results that we see all around us, marking in’s and out’s in the most uncharitable of ways.

The quote stresses, I think, not the discrete but the continuous; not the sudden but the emerging; not revolution but evolution. It connects the continuous evolution of language with its essence in friendship. The quote gets it all right. From that very first time that people pointed to the same thing in uttering or gesturing (hence thinking) the word “that”, the mechanism of development is a mechanism of co-operation (see P. Grice), a mechanism presupposing being charitable to understanding the other (D. Davidson) and best seen in one of Quine’s favorite metaphors of rebuilding the ship as we are sailing it:

“We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.”
Otto Neurath, from Wikipedia. Continue reading