Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Our Roman Heritage

"There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil. Whether it enjoins or forbids, the good respect its injunctions, and the wicked treat them with indifference. This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation. Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice. It needs no other expositor and interpreter than our own conscience. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing to–day and another to–morrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable. It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings. God himself is its author,—its promulgator,—its enforcer. He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man. For his crime he must endure the severest penalties hereafter, even if he avoid the usual misfortunes of the present life."
On the surface, the above quote could have been written by Thomas Jefferson or John Locke. It was, however, written in 51 BC by Marcus Tullius Cicero in his work on political philosophy, The Republic. In his classic history of political philosophy, Prof. George H. Sabine writes:
“Cicero’s true importance in the history of political thought lies in the fact that he gave to the Stoic doctrine of natural law a statement in which it was universally known throughout Western Europe from his own day down to the nineteenth century. From him it passed to the Roman lawyers and not less to the Fathers of the Church. The most important passages were quoted times without number throughout the Middle Ages. … its most striking passages had already been excerpted … and so had become matters of common knowledge.” George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, 1937

Cicero, while sympathetic to the Hellenic schools of philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, accepted many Stoic ethical tenets. Indeed, Cicero is a main sources for the Hellenistic schools of thought of which Stoicism was the most influential in the Roman Empire.

Stoicism advanced the idea of ethical universalism and natural law. Law, or logos, is the driving force in nature. Their idea of God (although not Cicero’s) was the pantheist notion of a force of nature. In Roman hands, Stoic thought influenced legal theory. Sabine writes: “Legalism – the presumption that the state is a creature of law and is to be discussed not in terms of sociological fact or ethical good but in terms of legal competence and rights – had hardly existed in Greek thought; it has been an intrinsic part of political theory from the Roman times to the present.” Leo Strauss disagrees “that this change marks an epoch in the development of natural right doctrines” but holds that it is a seamless continuation of Hellenic philosophy [P135]. The relationship between Roman thought and Hellenic philosophy is complex; suffice it to say that the Roman thinkers were more applied, thorough, and complete in their exposition and in their aspirations for universal rights.

On the other hand, Sabine goes too far when he argues that “[t]he astonishing fact is that Chrysippus and Cicero and closer to Kant than they are to Aristotle.” The Stoic philosophers sought to build their ethnic system on the notion of self-preservation as the underlying telos. Cicero severely criticized the Stoic notion of “virtue of virtue’s sake” in his critique of the Hellenistic schools of philosophy, De Finibus. I’ll argue, in the future, that Cicero sought to establish Stoic normative ethics on a Hellenic meta-ethical foundation. Kant, whose emphasis was meta-ethics, rejected this foundation completely.

Sabine correctly notes the influence of seminal ideas such as “the great human brotherhood,” and the notion of “common goods or a commonweal,” but Cicero was quite clear by the use of his examples. He defended private property and objected to the redistribution of wealth. He remained part of the Hellenic eudiamonia school of thought. The excesses of Stoicism would re-emerge in later Roman writers. Cicero, however, took exception to the pessimism of the Early Stoa while avoiding the world-weariness of the Late Stoa. Virtue is a Roman word that like virility has as its root, vir -- manliness. Cicero is Roman virtue par excellence.

The rule of law brought Rome respect and loyalty. At its height Rome’s security required a military of less than 1% of its population. Almost all (about 300,000) were employed in border operations fighting barbarians. The whole of France required only 500 men situated at the seat of power at Lyon; there remained only 10,000 men in northern Africa, from Morocco to Tunisia [P211]. Even the earliest Christian writers expressed admiration for Roman law; Paul invoked his privilege as a Roman citizen to be tried under Roman law instead of Hebraic law. In Romans 13, he expresses unbounded respect for Roman authority.

Roman jurisprudence was the crowning achievement of the Roman civilization. Underwritten and refined by Greek philosophy, it was eventually absorbed by the Christian regimes of the later Roman Empire. Justinian, in the 6th century, commissioned an extensive compilation -- digest of Roman law -- even as he was closing the schools of philosophy that nurtured and fortified the development of these very laws. The revival of Roman law, starting in the 11th century, became the foundation of continental European law.

We owe to Rome a highly developed notion of law, universality, and rights. At its height, Roman was able to integrate and assimilate peoples from Britain to Syria in a peaceful and prosperous empire. Edward Gibbon, writing in the 18th century, says: “If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.”

92 Comments:

Blogger Weingarten said...

As Jason says “We owe to Rome a highly developed notion of law, universality, and rights.” We ought to also consider what is referred to as: "a true law…universal (which) cannot be contradicted by any other law…this universal law of justice (needs)…no other expositor…than our own conscience…God himself is its author.”

This raises the question as to what is the foundation of our values and beliefs. Is it God, the summa bonum, common sense, or science etc.? Now I recognize that many, if not most people, view such abstract matters as removed from the issues of the day, or are reluctant to deal with what might bring out conflicting views on religion. Nonetheless, I wish to state some of my views on this subject, for I believe them to be imperative for avoiding the moral relativism that operates today. [For those who do not find such matters compelling, I suggest reading no further.]

Let us consider two fundamental issues in philosophy, namely how to establish knowledge on sound foundations, and how to improve our understanding. I submit that to do so involves a certain definition of the ‘a-priori’, as well as its meaning with regard to our aspirations.

*I define the ‘a-priori’ as that which is undeniable, in the sense that in order to refute it, one must acknowledge its validity.* Here, we must differentiate between the analytic, the synthetic, and the spiritual.

Consider the analytic a-priori which includes logic and mathematics. In order to deny it, one must presuppose it. For example, to deny logic (e.g., 2<3 necessitates that 3>2), it is necessary to demonstrate the opposite (for example to show that 3 isn’t >2). Yet this constitutes the very logic that one sought to deny. Similarly, to deny the synthetic a-priori, we must show that man lacks intention (or causality, choice, etc.). Yet doing so exhibits that very intention (or causality, choice, etc.) that one sought to deny. By the ‘moral a-priori’ I mean that which is an undeniable aspiration, such as respecting truth, justice, beauty, responsibility. Note that the denial of truth is an affirmation that one’s denial is true; the denial of justice (that things ought to be a certain way) is an affirmation that things should be a different way; the denial of beauty affirms that something is not beautiful, which presupposes a sense of beauty; the denial of responsibility is an affirmation of the responsibility to do otherwise. Consequently, the sense of truth, justice, beauty, responsibility, is self-evident and known from within, for one knows whereof he speaks. Most pertinent is that to deny the existence of these qualities is to affirm an appreciation for what they are.

I wish to focus upon our fundamental aspirations (which I refer to as the ‘moral a-priori’, consisting of truth, justice, beauty, & responsibility). Here, it is necessary to differentiate between three forms. There is an ‘ideal’ form of an aspiration which goes beyond what we can apprehend. Thus it is clear that in time our insight will grow with regard to them just as it will with any form of knowledge. Thus what is ideal includes what we shall learn, and in that sense transcends our present view. There is also an ‘operational’ form, which is how it is presently described. Then there is that form of an aspiration that has been ‘validated’, and is hence well-defined and as certain as the language we use. It is also necessary to note that there are individual as well as group aspirations for these forms. Once we are clear that there are different forms of aspirations, and that they apply differently for individuals and for groups, we can avoid what is ordinarily problematic as a result of conflating these differences. Since each of us knows his aspirations (which may well oppose his drives and intentions) there is a sense of them, which I call ‘SINCERITY’. This constitutes a state of being open to life (and ensures truth, justice, beauty, and responsibility). Yet there is one more component that must be included, and is the most important of all, namely the summa bonum, or highest good. This too has three forms, and is applied differently for an individual and a group.

With these qualifications, we can now state how the moral a-priori constitutes the logical starting point for reasoning and behavior. An individual intends to do something because he views it as the most important thing at the time. Thus, in theory, one begins with his summa bonum as he organizes his aspirations around it. He then acts so as to bring himself in line with his ultimate ideal. The moral a-priori is then the basis for understanding others, since they too act to achieve what they value, whereas the technical a-priori indicates how people are likely to carry out their intentions. The a-priori must be so, because its denial is contradictory; one’s summa bonum must be so, because to deny it contradicts who one is.

When we deal with analytic matters, our conclusions derive from axioms (which include the rules-of-inference). These are the primaries by which we determine whether or not a statement is established. Something similar holds for science, where statements are validated by testing and measurement. Here however, reality is to be explained, while the model employed is revised accordingly. Thus the main primary is the requirement to represent reality, while the axiom system is employed for doing so. We may view the analytic models as having assured axioms, in contrast with the synthetic models wherein the axioms are modified until they represent the realities.

At issue however, are the human questions, which are based on our desires, and comprised of social, political, & economic considerations. Here the desiderata for determining a conclusion or policy is whether it will further our objectives. *The primaries are then the cornerstones of our civilization, namely the summa bonum, truth, justice, beauty & responsibility.*

12/19/06, 10:28 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...so then, what is the summa bonum?

12/19/06, 11:40 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Once again your definition is unique. A priori often means innate knowledge or knowledge prior to the examination of reality. From having taught mathematics I can assure you that math and logic are not innate but learned. However, you are using the phrase to mean self-consistency or the avoidance of self-contradiction.

You then proceed and note that people know there is such a thing as justice. But it is obvious that people will disagree on what is just. If this wasn’t so, no discussion would be needed. The awareness that “things ought to be a certain way” doesn’t lead to a definite idea of which way they ought to be.

Since each person’s character differs so do their summa bonum. It clearly reflects who they are but as you note we are individuals. We can, of course, change our ultimate goals. Thus, the question of what your summa bonum is isn’t eliminated merely because you may have some ultimate purpose or goal. Your choice may be a poor one.

You’ve moved from a lack of self-contradiction to substantial matters of content. Knowing that there is such a thing as justice doesn’t mean you believe doing X is just as opposed to doing non-X. There is no innate knowledge of what is just nor does the avoidance of contradiction tell you to reject X or non-X or both.

However, you may be right that consistency can validate an objective standard of value. To live yet reject life as the standard of value suggests an inconsistency. There is always two ways to resolve an inconsistency. If one does some life enhancing acts (which one obviously does if one is alive) and yet embraces practices inimical to the requirements of human living one can change the former or the latter. One can stop living or living fully.

This doesn’t get us very far since it leaves open the question that a mixture of life enhancing and life diminishing practices can be affirmed by another standard. What is required is showing that life simultaneous allows and requires ethical practice. It makes ethics both possible and necessary at the same time. I haven’t argued that but Rand does as does Tara Smith in Viable Values. I’d have to think more about this to be able to argue for or against this notion. Read Smith, she does a good although not perfect job.

Once again I've only toughed upon 1/5 of what you wrote. You pick a big topic.

12/19/06, 1:27 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...so much for universalism and natural law.

12/19/06, 3:03 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

One of the interesting things about Cicero’s universalism is that he isn’t dogmatic in the application of universal law. Apparently following Aristotle, he notes that general principles manifest themselves differently given the particulars of the individual.

If I remember correctly he used occupation as an example and realizes that the right occupation depends on individual traits. Aristotle used to note that the mean is applicable to each person given their circumstances. Being overgenerous harms one’s own and a niggardly character is unbecoming but what may be appropriately generous for one person will be foolishly overgenerous of someone of lesser means. Cicero clearly shows that he understands Aristotle’s point in his book, De Officiis.

12/19/06, 3:12 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

I didn't ask what the bonum was. I asked what the summa bonum was.

12/19/06, 4:06 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

life

12/19/06, 4:30 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Life? for a criminal? a murderer... a genocidal maniac? How can you justify the death penalty or fighting wars?

12/19/06, 4:35 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...and if all these things are "self-evident", what purpose does logic serve?

12/19/06, 4:41 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

whats is the difference between wisdom and justice?

what is virtue?

what is temperance. what is courage.

These are the questions that demand answers.

12/19/06, 5:22 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

In fact, according to you & weingarten, we all know what they are... and they're all different and unique for each of us... and their is no commonality or universality in them.... despite what Cicero said.

12/19/06, 5:30 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil. Whether it enjoins or forbids, the good respect its injunctions, and the wicked treat them with indifference. This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation. Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice. It needs no other expositor and interpreter than our own conscience. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing to–day and another to–morrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable.

12/19/06, 5:32 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Actually, you are making one of the points I had hoped to make. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero believed that objective ethical knowledge was possible and that human reason could establish such knowledge. They approached ethics as they approach any aspect of nature: observation (well perhaps not for Plato,) reflection, and reason could establish ethical knowledge.

Today, most secular or philosophical schools are relativist and often materialism. It’s important to appreciate that the great Greek and Roman philosophers held that objective universal and eternal ethical truths were possible. So I agree with you.

12/19/06, 6:15 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Plato tried harder than anyone else ever has. Unlike Aristotle, he actually experimented with and tried out his ideas. He later refined them.

12/19/06, 6:24 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Cicero had great respect for Plato and Aristotle. He did see as great of difference between them as the moderns do.

Cicero had complete contempt for Epicurianism and partial respect for Stoicism.

12/19/06, 6:31 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

I think I see what you’re bothered by, FJ. Re-reading what I wrote, I was unclear. When I wrote that character differed and as a consequence different people had different summa bonum I was being descriptive. I didn’t mean to imply that these were legitimate ultimate ends. On the contrary, upright character and vicious criminals have very different ends: the former chooses a life as a productive citizen and the latter chooses a life as a predator and criminal. Likewise, when it comes to the ultimate end of political institutions some uphold liberty and others seek an equal redistribution of wealth.

Of course, I’m arguing that some people are right and some are wrong when it comes to choosing ultimate ends. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero all believed there was a proper life suitable to man by his very nature.

Does that clear it up?

12/20/06, 8:34 AM  
Anonymous Bilwick said...

I imagine Farmer John is more of a Catiline kind of guy.

12/20/06, 9:18 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...that depends, do you think that an "equal redistribution of wealth" is an adequate/ or substitute definition of justice? Perhaps of Fairness? Social justice? Is there any principle greater/ above/ more precious than liberty? How does it differ from freedom?

Until people start to define what terms like "justice" and "liberty" mean, and their inter-relationships, the left and right will continue to talk around each other in circles, and never the 'twain shall meet.

And until one defines these terms clearly one cannot distinguish right from wrong. And believe me, the dictionary is of little help in adequately defining these terms.

12/20/06, 9:30 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Nah, Farmer John is not a demagogue and has claimed there isn’t an ounce of Mars in his soul. A Roman he is not.

He might, however, be over sensitive to my less that enthusiastic reference to Leo Strauss. I meant to be respectful in my disagreement but it may have been lost in the translation.

PS, I agree, FJ, that the terms have to be defined. As you note that is a gigantic task and that’s why I’ve skirted around the issue. I wanted to stick to my main point: we are indebted to Rome more than people realize. Of course, we shouldn’t slavishly accept tradition without critical assessment.

12/20/06, 9:35 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

I never claimed any desire to avoid the campus martius. I simply acknowledge that we owe a debt to Jerusalem, as well as Rome.

And since we're on the subject of Rome, you could start by defining courage. The left sees courage in civil disobedience. What say you?

12/20/06, 9:41 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

btw - Why do you think that someone chooses to become a predator/criminal?

12/20/06, 9:49 AM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

FJ,

If John Wayne Gacy were insane, why did he hide the bodies of his victims under his house?

Why did he hide them at all?

12/20/06, 9:57 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Machiavelli, "Discourses on Titus Livy"

You give all credit for Rome's greatness to Romulus, and disdain the accomplishments of Numa...

12/20/06, 9:59 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...because he didn't want to get caught, beamish,

...not because he consciously decided that he was going to do something "wrong" that day.

12/20/06, 10:01 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Criminals aren't insane. They just think they're not going to get caught. And nine timse out of ten, they're right.

12/20/06, 10:10 AM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

FJ,

I was making a play on the "legal" definition of insanity (being able to distinguish "right" from "wrong")

Of course, Gacy's insanity defense failed and he was ultimately executed - on the basis that he hid the bodies - consistent with knowing "wrong" enough to seek to prevent discovery and punishment.

My point was that our law recognizes that the "sane" can innately make moral distinctions, or rather that the "insane" can not.

We believe in self-preservation.

12/20/06, 10:18 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...that isn't the Socratic/Platonic view at all, Jason. It isn't that no one knowingly commits a wrong, it's that everyone does what he believes is will profit him most. And a criminal believes that crime pays.

Wanna know a secret? He's usually right!

12/20/06, 10:33 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

erratum: remove the is

12/20/06, 10:34 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

okay then jason, remove "will profit him most" with "is best" or "make him happiest".

12/20/06, 10:49 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

beamish,

Do you recall the case where a mother drowned her kids in a bathtub? She was found insane because she insisted that G_d had told her to do it. If her defense had been that the "devil" had told her to do it, she probably would have been found "sane".

12/20/06, 10:58 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

One of the problems in reading the Ancients is that they didn’t hold the dichotomy between deontological and utilitarian. Plato and Aristotle certainly condemned hedonism while praising happiness (perhaps well-being is a better translation.) The notion of utilitarian as used in modern ethics is too narrow and inapplicable to Hellenic philosophy. They saw ethics as purposeful and fulfilling: flourishing is a word currently in vogue. I think the author of the above is using modern terms that are misleading when applied to the meaning of Hellenic thought. Neither Aristotle or Cicero talked about "the greatest good for the greatest number."

With the advent of the Hellenistic schools of philosophy, a step towards the modern distinctions evolved. The Stoics developed a notion of duty that involved dedication to virtue despite any hope of fulfillment while the Epicureans (as materialists) sought solace by withdrawing to a simple life of pleasure. Cicero criticized both in his book De Finibus. He loathes Epicureanism with every fiber of his being. However, he also criticizes the early Stoa for what he sees as the absurd idea that happiness is “virtue for virtue’s sake.” Read his book IV of De Finibus, Bonorum et Malorum.

12/20/06, 11:06 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

I agree that happiness is a modern concept. And I do think it's definition was best put by Marcuse (who attributed it to Freud)... Happiness is NO culture.

In other word's... "happiness" is Rousseau's Emile before he was corrupted by civilization (the city). In still other words... "happiness" is Crusoe on DeFoe's Island... in his natural state with his natural instincts unsubmimated/NOT repressed

12/20/06, 11:28 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

and pleasure/epicureanism has always been thought of as degenerate, just a stoicism is too ascetic. Plato advocated a "mixed" life which admitted "pure" and "necessary" pleasures. (Philebus)

12/20/06, 11:33 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Yes, and that’s what Cicero is getting at. The Hellenic viewpoint saw virtue and value in an integrated manner. Plato and Aristotle differed on their description but for Cicero they were in the same camp. Cicero studied in Athens at the New Academy but he had great respect for Aristotle.

12/20/06, 11:42 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

but ultimately, the whole thing boild down to answering the question... why...

the good respect its injunctions, and the wicked treat them with indifference

because the good (civilized) man has an ego ideal that was inculcated by his parents that form his conscience, and the evil (uncivilized man) does not. Nietzsche "Genealogy of Morals" (origin of conscience). The good man has a hard time even thinking about doing "wrong". The uncivilized man has no such thinking barrier.

12/20/06, 11:43 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...and if he does do wrong, his "furies/conscience/euminides" pursue him relentlessly until he is "cleansed/purified" by a priest ie-confession

12/20/06, 11:45 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

criminals have NO conscience.

Prison time does nothing... they have no conscience... and will derive no benefit from time served.

12/20/06, 11:47 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

The civilized man does not choose to do evil, because he can't even think of doing evil... his mind prevents him from even recognizing the option.

12/20/06, 11:51 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

A civilized man is a tame/domesticated animal. An uncivilized man is a wild animal.

Domesticated sheep to not "choose" to do wild things. They can't.

12/20/06, 12:01 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

I was just getting at the presumption that our law (Western civilization, really) has about the inner moral workings of the individual.

We presume every "healthy" person has a conscience. And we presume to punish those who violate what we presume a "healthy" conscience ought to deter them from.

We presume everyone is aware of, and takes for granted, a higher principle that we derive our laws from.

12/20/06, 12:29 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Hence my distinction of "Western civilization."

We hold these truths to be self-evident. They do not.

12/20/06, 1:40 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

That's what Shari'a was for. To teach... they don't presume that anyone has a conscience. Quite the opposite. They assume all are anumals... and dress their women in hijab so as not to entice the bulls to charge... and whip them if they're uncovered...

12/20/06, 2:05 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Lycurgus bred his dogs for courage.

12/20/06, 3:02 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

In other word's... "happiness" is Rousseau's Emile before he was corrupted by civilization (the city). In still other words... "happiness" is Crusoe on DeFoe's Island... in his natural state with his natural instincts unsubmimated/NOT repressed

The lone hermit is an unnatural state for humanity. Essentially how we behave when left to our own devices is to find others to interact with.

12/20/06, 4:36 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Crusoe fought the headhunters and "adopted" a slave. He wasn't alone. He did what was "necessary", and natural. There were no kings and nobles w/hereditary privledges and social positions. He became a "native American"... the model for Franklin and the founders (Rome w/o the Senatorial/privledged classes)... an aristocracy of merit.

12/20/06, 4:42 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

So, are these Western "truths" self-evident if the Islamic world doesn't "see" them?

Or, are these truths self-evident, and the Islamic mind insane?

12/20/06, 4:44 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...they're not "truths" at all beamish. They're "charms".

12/20/06, 4:46 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...and the charms are anything but self-evident.

Reality is freakin' self-evident.

12/20/06, 4:47 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

We will not hit girls. Why? That makes US insane.

Civilization is a sickness like pregnancy is a sickness (Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals)

12/20/06, 4:50 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

but to be sane, is to be inhuman.

Nietzsche "Gay Science"

115
The Four Errors. Man has been reared by his errors: firstly, he saw himself always imperfect; secondly, he attributed to himself imaginary qualities; thirdly, he felt himself in a false position in relation to the animals and nature; fourthly, he always devised new tables of values, and accepted them for a time as eternal and unconditioned, so that at one time this, and at another time that human impulse or state stood first, and was ennobled in consequence. When one has deducted the effect of these four errors, one has also deducted humanity, humaneness, and "human dignity."

12/20/06, 5:02 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

Reality is indeed self evident, power is indeed self evident.

A state/society with its norms is in reality more powerful than an individual, this is self evident. We are not insane to adopt group behaviour, because we are social and adopting our societal norms provides us the protection of our society.

12/20/06, 6:29 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

Our summa bonum is acquisition of power.

All the lessons we learn are derived from the reward of or rebuke from power.

Not hitting a woman or praying five times a day, done to conform to the power of our societies. The super ego is not something formed in childhood of good parenting, it is a continually adjusting feature of our reaction to the power society has with respect to us.

12/20/06, 6:45 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Respect is what one gains when one exercises power successfully...from self AND others. It is earned. Truth is a criteria of a feeling of power. Feeling. Feeling. Feeling of power. The feeling is self-evident. Truth is not. The false can give one the same feeling, provided it gains one more power.

A group is only more powerful IF it cooperates towards the same goal. A state that disgrees with itself is a mess. Western society can no longer agree as to its purposes. Our power is thereby diminishing.

12/20/06, 7:01 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

The truth is there are NO "equal" things, but if I pretend there are, I can now reason and use logic. 10 years in jail does NOT compensate one for manslaughter of a son. We pretend that "justice" is served if the perp gets 10 years. death does not equal 10 years. Revenge killing for one's son is not equal... but the killing makes us FEEL better.

12/20/06, 7:06 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

I agree with your proposition.

12/20/06, 7:07 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

You guys lost me.

12/20/06, 7:51 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Farmer Jones asks “what is the summa bonum?”. On Sept. 12, 2006 Jason raised the same question, which I addressed the following day, including “My view is that the proper end of man is ‘integrity’ where the individual is united within himself, and in partnership with others, toward his personal summa bonum. Man would then be guided by his highest aspirations (including the truth provided by reason) where his passions (or emotions) would be subservient.” However, such a discussion is extensive, where people differ individually, and by groups. I would be pleased to go into it, but only after dealing with what I have called the ‘a-priori’, for until we can agree on what constitutes the foundation of knowledge, a discussion would be interminable.

Jason questions my definition of a-priori, writing “From having taught mathematics I can assure you that math and logic are not innate but learned.” Yet that holds for language itself, so by his view nothing would be ‘a-priori’ since someone who lacked language could never hold that ‘if A is less that B, then B is greater than A’, or even ‘I am alive’. I presuppose that (acculturated) man finds certain things to be undeniable. This a-priori is not found by what is learned by experience (which is a-posteriori) but by what is built into our bones as necessary, by which, and only by which, we interpret all experience and reasoning.

Next he notes that people disagree on what is justice, and he could say the same for truth, beauty, and responsibility. Surely there cannot be any fully expounded treatment for any aspiration. Yet that misses the essential fact about the a-priori, for *the issue is not in what remains to be expanded and clarified, but precisely in not taking advantage of that which is already known.* The problem today is not that our aspirations aren’t perfected but that we have lost sight of their having any validity. Some argue that there is no such thing as truth, justice, beauty, and responsibility, or more pertinently, disregard their existence in practice. Let us note that our social-democratic society follows the guide that we ought to distribute wealth from the productive to the non-productive, based on various economic, anthropomorphic, and materialistic theories. Yet there is virtually no discussion of whether there is justice in doing so. Even those who say that justice means equality of outcomes do not seriously hold that if one person works harder and longer, he should have the same benefits as a loafer. The social-democrat does not address whether rewarding the unproductive (or destructive) means that we should reward everyone, or only reward the unproductive. Nor is there an examination of whether charity should be voluntary or coerced. When one asks people about justice (defined as people getting what they deserve) they find it self-evident that those who strive to succeed ought to be better off than those who engage in destructive practices. The problem is not that they lack the sophistication of a professor of theology, but that they have not considered what is self-evident.

Next, Jason notes that individuals (and he could have added groups) differ as to their summa bonum, and that one can select as a summa bonum, a poor choice. Yet, my point that people ought to seek that which unifies them is no more invalidated by ineffectiveness in practice than is the pursuit of any aspiration. Science, for example, is not invalidated in its search for truth because it can and does draw false conclusions; conversely, it would be invalidated if conclusions should instead be based on what is politically correct.

Then Jason claims that “there is no innate knowledge of what is just…” Now I have stated that the moral a-priori includes acculturation, so I am not discussing that which would apply to someone who lacks language, or has not experienced our civilization. So instead of employing my definition of ‘a-priori’ Jason has substituted his own, whereupon nothing is necessarily so by a-priori. Hence we cannot even say that ‘if A is less than B, then B is greater than A’, or even ‘I am alive’ for Jason can counter that this is not a-priori. OK, let’s take the view then that such things are not necessarily true (for their contradiction is in theory possible). Then not only can we not claim that genocide is wrong, or that destroying all of mankind is wrong, but we cannot prove anything. Discussion is then pointless, for there cannot be any basis on which to decide anything, but only an exchange of preferences, such as I would like vanilla, or I would like to rob you, but you would like something else. Even language itself would be meaningless, for there could be no certainty as to what any word means. The argument that “There is no innate knowledge of what is just” fails by being too good, for it not only removes the basis for moral motivation, but its logic precludes any certitude. Once I have no certainty that I am alive, there can be no certainty at all.

Yet this does not get to the point of what is involved in the imperative of the a-priori. The issue is not that we are unable to guarantee perfect applications. The situation is rather that upholding social-democracy violates the a-priori. There are claims that violate truth, that pretend that evading an issue makes it go away, or that a program is successful by pandering to what is preferred. People know deep down that violating truth is wrong, as is evading or misrepresenting it. Once they are asked whether pretense determines truth, they say ‘of course not’. Again, the problem is not that they lack theological sophistication, but that they do not check their implicit beliefs by the a-priori.

Consider that when I present a definition and characterization of something (such as a-priori) a person could argue that my definition is incorrect. He can also go on to follow his own definition. However, if he attempts to show that something is wrong by my definition, by employing his own definition, it contradicts what he knows to be true. So while in practice, people argue with one’s definition by substituting their own, they would never say ‘I can refute your conclusion by substituting a different definition’. They know that one cannot refute what follows from a definition by substituting a different definition, but do so in practice by not considering that it violates the a-priori. Similarly, if people evade an issue, or misrepresent it, they know that this is not a refutation. Thus when they do so in practice, it is not that they need to understand complex subjects, but rather to recognize what they already know, but disregard.

Now I would welcome a criticism or correction of my position. This would require employing my definitions and characterizations, and showing them to be contradictory or wrong empirically. However, there is no refutation by using a different definition, or by repeating a characterization as though it contradicted the proffered position. (It is of course sound to present a different position on what constitutes the foundation of knowledge, and to discuss that on its merits.)

I repeat the definition of the ‘a-priori’ as that which cannot be contradicted without affirming it, where this requires acculturation, such as language. This constitutes the desideratum for determining what is so, and what is not. (Even if one didn’t find the term ‘a-priori’ acceptable, he could stipulate a different word, to follow the argument.)

I have much to say about the ‘moral a-priori’ and the summa bonum. However if we cannot acknowledge the necessary nature of the analytic a-priori (such as whether A is less than B necessitates that B is greater than A) or the necessary nature of the synthetic a-priori (such that people possess and operate by intentions) there can be no foundation on which to resolve any issue.

12/20/06, 9:12 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

FJ,

Here's where the noodle gets twisted:

Islamics are to first to cry about the deaths of the "innocents" among them, and they transfer the blame for these deaths on convenient targets - Israel, America, whatever - in that they use some standard of determining that the death was unjustly delivered.

They see enough of the "self-evidentness" of Western values to attempt to foist a sense of guilt upon us.

Which makes them dishonest and further... evil.

They know right from wrong. They just don't give a fuck.

12/21/06, 2:23 AM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

And why don't they give a fuck?

To borrow a line from FJ - no one has MADE them give a fuck.

We need a "daddy" who spanks with precision guided missiles - who spanks until his arms are tired - then spanks for having to get tired over spanking - then spanks for crying without permission.

Our values ARE self-evident. And SUPERIOR.

Or they're not worth fighting for.

12/21/06, 2:29 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Weingarten, you say that I imply “Hence we cannot even say that ‘if A is less than B, then B is greater than A’, or even ‘I am alive’ for Jason can counter that this is not a-priori. OK, let’s take the view then that such things are not necessarily true (for their contradiction is in theory possible).”

I never said that. Saying that “X is true” and saying that “John knows that X is true” are two different statements. Thus, someone may not know that “if A is less than B, then B is greater than A” even though it is necessarily true. I was merely saying that sometimes people don't know what is true even if it is necessarily true. There are ignorant people; I've met them.

I still don’t understand your definition: “I repeat the definition of the ‘a-priori’ as that which cannot be contradicted without affirming it, where this requires acculturation, such as language.” I thought you meant simply avoiding contradictions. I must be wrong about that. I don’t know what acculturation and language have to do with the issue of avoiding contradictions. You'll have to explain.

12/21/06, 9:31 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason notes that saying “X is true” and saying that “John knows that X is true” are two different statements. He is of course correct, and we are not debating whether X is true, but whether it is “necessarily true” and known to be such. Remember, we are addressing the foundations of knowledge, rather than opinions. If I gave the impression that Jason disbelieves that X is true, I apologize, and affirm that in his opinion B is bigger than A, and he is alive. In contrast, I claim that I *know* these things, and that they *must* be true, and that these are precisely what is meant by the words ‘know’ and ‘must’.

I claim that the ignorant people Jason refers to, do ‘know’ that B is necessarily bigger than A, and that they are alive. Again, I have been discussing the fundamentals of knowledge, and not the esoteric periphery. I wrote about what was “necessarily true” and not whether someone believed it to be true.

Jason asks for an explanation of what I have defined as the ‘a-priori’ as that whose contradiction affirms it. I wrote “Consider the analytic a-priori which includes logic and mathematics. In order to deny it, one must presuppose it. For example, to deny logic (e.g., 2 is less than 3 necessitates that 3 is greater than 2), it is necessary to demonstrate the opposite (for example to show that 3 isn’t greater than 2). Yet this constitutes the very logic that one sought to deny. Similarly, to deny the synthetic a-priori, we must show that man lacks intention (or causality, choice, etc.). Yet doing so exhibits that very intention (or causality, choice, etc.) that one sought to deny.” This of course requires the ability to speak a language, so for Jason to argue that it is not known a-priori is to substitute a different definition.

I do not know what Jason wants explained. Does he hold that there are no statements that cannot be contradicted without affirming it? He appears to be saying that this is not known a-priori by someone who was brought up by the apes, whereas the stipulated definition presupposed a person with language skills.

As a clarification, consider Jason’s statement “From having taught mathematics I can assure you that math and logic are not innate but learned”. Here, he was responding to my view of the a-priori, so by innate he did not mean someone who was brought up by the apes, but someone who understood language. Now let me suppose that Jason was saying that such an acculturated man would not know that 'if A were less than B, then B by definition would be greater than A'. Further suppose that Jason would argue from authority that this can be proven because he has taught mathematics, and will provide his assurance. I would then accept this argument (of authority and assurance) as a-posteriori (learned from experience). My response would be that I have taught higher mathematics in universities, applied it in industry, published and spoken in conferences on the subject, and am versed in the philosophy of mathematics. Therefore, it is true that math and logic are known innately. Jason could counter that not only does he know the subject better than I do, but can present authorities who hold to his position, who know more than either of us. I would then select Kurt Godel, who is the greatest authority of all, who holds to the view that we understand logic and mathematics by aprioristic reasoning, i.e., they know it innately.

Now the above reasoning accepted as given the authority that followed from experience. But we would then be left with the question as to whether it proved necessarily that the understanding was or was not innate. Yet we know on a different level that it is either innate or it isn’t. This is understood a-priori, for to hold that it can be innate and not innate is contradictory. Nor is the rejection of a contradictory argument a matter of opinion, for *it is known innately that an argument that contradicts itself is mistaken*, if only because that is what is meant by ’mistaken’.

Now I did not present the above to establish the foundations of mathematics and logic, where there are fundamental differences between Platonists, formalists, logicists, realists, objectivists and other crackpots. Rather I sought to differentiate between what is a-priori and what is a-posteriori (such as showing that a bachelor is not married by definition, or providing evidence that the man in question never signed a marriage contract).

Finally, let me state why I claim that this issue is important. The social-democrats undermine Liberty and Culture on all levels. One of the key levels is that of epistemology where they attempt to deny the self-evident and objective values on which our civilization is based. We can of course argue against their position, but unless we characterize our own position, they shall be the one’s to define the issue. Moreover, as Ayn Rand would say, if we continue to accept their premises, they will win. *At this point, people have not affirmed that there are things that they know, which are necessarily true.*

Mr. Beamish writes that the Islamists know right from wrong, but simply don’t care. A fundamental example is when they fabricate evidence, or claim that the Holocaust didn’t occur. Note that even they do not hold that there was no truth, but claim that their version is a truthful account (as though they cared). I concur with him that our values are self-evident, and would state one of them as it being better to seek the truth, than to fabricate. This would be difficult for even Mohammed to deny, although he would pick up a sword to prove his point.

12/21/06, 10:37 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

I wish to differentiate between not wanting to know, and not knowing. There were Holocaust deniers in Germany during and after WWII, who did not want to know, but deep down knew about the concentration camps. Their actions and statements were designed to refute the murders, and were effective precisely because they sensed what to avoid.

A good example of this attitude was shown in "The Treasue of the Sierra Madra". Humphrey Bogart wanted to believe that his co-workers were trying to steal his gold. So when one of them was overturning a rock that covered his gold, Bogart threatened him with a gun, despite the evidence that his co-worker was trying to catch a lizard. The tables were turned when the gun was taken, and Bogart was told to place his hand under the rock, since ostensibly there wasn't any lizard there. Yet as he began to do so, his hand quivered, and Bogart withdrew, because deep down he knew better.

Such is the case with those who say that there is no such thing as truth et al. They may even convince themselves of it, yet deep down they know better.

12/21/06, 12:38 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

First of all let appreciate that everyone here rejects the notion that ethnics are mere conventions. If I’m wrong correct me but I believe we all of one mind in rejecting relativism. The question then is not if but how to ground objective ethical judgments. There are quite a few theories on the matter. I’ll mention a few to set the context (and they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.) Ethnical knowledge is innate (we are all born with the knowledge of right and wrong.) Ethnical knowledge is stipulated by God. Ethnical knowledge is an awareness of objects in a transcendent realm. Ethnical knowledge is apparent by reflection on the nature of human reason about human affairs. Ethnical knowledge is recognition of a natural fact about human nature and the requirements of well-being.

I’m still not sure of what your position is. You’re trying to argue your position and I’m just trying to understand what it is. Let me see if I understand the elements that seem to be part of the picture. You see ethnical knowledge as prior to reality. But then you say it isn’t prior to speech which, I assume, you’ll agree requires learning from others. Correct me if I’m wrong. You claim ethnical knowledge can be achieved by the realization that it is logically inescapable upon reflection – any process to deny it will affirm it. But you also imply that even if one doesn’t have the thought that “X is just” one still knows it if not explicitly than in some implicit manner. Or do I misunderstand the examples you present?

12/21/06, 1:16 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason writes, and I concur, that the issue (for those of us who reject relativism) is how to ground objective ethical judgments. He then tries to understand my view on this matter (which I appreciate) by dealing with the difference between what is prior to reality, and what derives from reality.

Allow me to first note that what is called ‘a-priori’ does not arise without reality. Thus, man has had a history where his body and brain have built-in features that have evolved. So were there no reality, there could be no mind, no ethical judgments, no reasoning, and no man. Moreover, chronologically there were all sorts of experiences embodied in man, from even before there was a man. In addition, when we speak of knowledge it presupposes the employment of language, which does not reside in a baby. What then is meant by what I have called ‘a-priori’?

When people speak of the a-priori being prior to reality, they mean ‘logically prior’. An individual has been acculturated, and is now going to render judgments. What is the relation between that which is gauged a-priori and that which is gauged a-posteriori? I submit that before one can validate something that occurs in reality (i.e., a-posteriori) he must have an a-priori gauge. For example, suppose that we are interested in whether two stones fall at the same rate, and we observe that they do. To conclude that they do, presupposes that what we have seen is valid, and that what we mean by the ‘same’ is understood. Were someone to claim that we did not see it (or that what occurred at the time does not mean that an hour later, it happened earlier) violates that which must be taken as given. In short, *any finding about reality can only be made in the context of what is understood prior to it.* When we employ an ostensive definition, and (while pointing) say ‘that is the sun’ we have presupposed an understanding of pointing and what it conveys. When we say that 1 is different from 2, we understand that there is a disparity between being the same and being different.

It is this context of understanding, which cannot be reduced to further notions of reality, that provides the desiderata for forming judgments. Unless man has this grounding in the a-priori, there can be no mathematics, logic, physics, or any other discipline. It is a tautology, but one cannot avoid the fact that one cannot render a conclusion without having a basis on which to reach it. One could say that for a cat to see a mouse, the mouse must be there, but there is also the requirement that the cat has a means to recognize a mouse.

Note that the above did not employ my specific definition of the a-priori, but spoke instead of the notion of being logically-prior, which is employed in other definitions. Thus the fact that someone is a child presuppose that there was a parent (or being a parent presupposes the existence of a child). This is not a result of performing many experiments, and studying history. Regardless of what is taught or experienced, one knows that a child had a parent.

Now, I have not gone into how this relates to ethical knowledge or the summa bonum (or even the synthetic a-priori) for until the notion of the analytic a-priori is understood, I don’t see how we can go on to have clarity on these other matters.

Some Objectivists try to refute the a-priori by insisting that logical and empirical methods go hand in hand, so that there is no essential difference between proving something in mathematics and say in history. This can be phrased as the a-priori and a-posteriori are "metaphysically inseparable", with which I agree, but would add that they are "epistemologically distinct".

12/21/06, 4:28 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Why not start from a more modest point in order to find common ground (with anyone who may be reading or listening?) Why not start with the fact that reflection and analysis are activities suitable to mature individuals who have acquired experience and knowledge? Let’s return to ethics. One can expect everyone to be able to understand how trust-worthiness is desirable for living productively with others. In another words, anyone who has reached a certain age knows the value of being honest and trustworthy. And one can reflect for a moment and realize what society would be like if without cultivating such a virtue.

Plato starts this way in the beginning of the Republic when Socrates gets his opponent to admit that there even has to be a degree of trust among criminals. Thus, he is doing something similar to what you suggest. He shows that you can’t do without trust if you want to succeed in life. Of course, Socrates notes that doesn’t prove the full case and he launches into the main part of the Republic.

Thus, what you say is true; everyone knows or can know (if they exert the effort and reflect for a moment) that there are certain virtues appropriate to life’s challenges. We can ask ourselves about the nature of ethnical knowledge and examine its epistemological foundation but do we need to bring this artillery to the fore whenever we discuss an ethical issue? Is there not common ground about the general characteristics with which we can expect to proceed as a basis for further discussion?

It seems to me that an adult can be expected to comprehend logical and simple mathematical concepts as well as grasp other philosophical ideas that are close to common sense. Most won’t make detailed philosophical distinctions which I readily admit (from reading the literature) can be made endlessly. I generally find that it pays to bring in a fundamental distinction when the example at hand requires such power-tools. But ethics isn’t a specialist’s field; everyone should be able to tell right from wrong. Thus, why not prove an ethical point limiting one’s tools to the common currency readily accessible to a typical adult?

I only say this because while I’d love to hear more about how you solve a theoretical and technical problem it seems that this may be beyond the limits of this medium. In other words, if you were at the blackboard giving a lecture and outlining your integrated system from start to finish, we could understand exactly how you organize your concepts and achieve your conclusions. You are quite ambitions for this modest medium. You have to remember that I come back to your posts after hours of working or reading and I have to refresh my knowledge of your definitions. You’re writing a treatise in axiomatic form and while I respect that I can’t do you or your thoughts justice. Perhaps a more modest commentary would suit this medium.

I leave 95% of my thoughts out of my articles because I assume no one remembers what I said last month and I can’t build on that. A blog is very limiting.

12/21/06, 5:24 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason would start with the fact that we are dealing with “mature individuals who have acquired experience and knowledge” and hold certain values. That makes sense, but it does not result in determining the foundations of knowledge. I accept what Jason writes about the plausible views and approach of Socrates. However, *my aim was instead to address what Cicero was dealing with*, namely: "a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal…(which) cannot be contradicted…and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation…this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable.” So whereas I appreciate Jason’s quest, it is not quite the same as establishing what Cicero was seeking.
I would say that Jason aims at improving the world, and bettering the relations among people. My interest is more akin to that of a mathematician, who seeks the purity of rigor, even if that upsets people or is inconsequential. I am reminded of Hilbert who was giving a eulogy at the funeral of a young student of his, who mentioned what that student was working on. As he spoke, certain ideas occurred to him, and he went into a diatribe about advanced mathematical theory.

So I accept the impracticality of how I deal with subjects. Yet allow me to add that Hilbert claimed he didn’t understand an area of mathematics until he could explain it to the next fellow he bumped into on the street. I may be unable to provide such clarity, but I believe that my views are easily understood, if I could present them properly, for *I only want to tell people what they already know.* (To paraphrase Jason, people already know right from wrong.)

As an aside, Socrates viewed the material world as a reflection of an ideal world, which people understood innately. In particular he demonstrated how an uneducated slave understood the essence of geometry.

12/21/06, 8:17 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Islam fails because not even Osama Bin O'Brien believes 2 + 2 = 5.

12/22/06, 2:34 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Once again I concur with Mr. Beamish, for understanding is built into man, that truth cannot be made into what he prefers to believe. Even if Islam conquered the world, it would then fail.

12/22/06, 8:42 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Of course we disagree. The capacity to understand is built into human nature and the objective nature of reality is there to be grasped or evaded. My objection to built-in concepts is due to the fact that the integration of particulars into universals involves volition and it is such volition that gives rise to the need for epistemological norms if our concepts are successful in bringing us into cognitive contact with reality.

When Plato argues that concepts are pristine objects in another dimension that we only have to recollect, perhaps with some prodding, he assumes well-formed well-defined cognitive objects. For adults in a given culture and at a given point in time this may seem plausible as most agree on a wide-range of definitions or conceptual boundaries. However, I find this a poor description of human understanding, human development, and human psychology. It is beyond the capacity of this venue to do justice to this topic. But it’s good to know where everyone is coming from … with all due respect.

While we disagree if knowledge is built-in or the capacity to know is built-in, we all rule out subjectivism, wholesale skepticism, and nihilism.

12/22/06, 10:35 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Mele Kalikimaka.

Say brah, would luv talk story wid you, but I no have heart. Bumbye we talk moah bettah nex yeah!

May you find your wild wisdom, one day!

12/22/06, 11:43 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason thinks that I disagree with him when he writes “The capacity to understand is built into human nature and the objective nature of reality is there to be grasped or evaded.” Now I have no aversion to disagreements, but it is another matter if someone doesn’t address what my position is. Of course if there is a matter of history or archeology one has the capacity to understand it, but cannot know the reality without experiencing it. The question instead is *what are the prerequisites for understanding reality, and are they avoidable*. Reality could show that a man was guilty of a crime, or it could show that he was innocent. However, given that A is less than B, it could not show that B is less than A. Nor could it show that since today is Friday, the man was innocent, but on Saturday we can conclude that he was guilty.

If Jason is of the opinion that he is alive, and scientists come up with conclusive evidence that he is not, it is not Jason who must change his opinion, but science that has to go.

When Mr. Beamish said that Osama cannot conclude that 2+2 is less than 5, this is not a matter to be determined by recourse to the experience of reality, but that the conclusion would deny what is undeniable, regardless of what occurs in reality.

Perhaps the question that Jason might address is whether there are things that are necessarily true, or only things that could be true or not true, dependent on the circumstances. For example, could there be an effect if there were no cause, or is this merely a matter of opinion, to which we look to reality for validation? Moreover, if we must look to reality to find this out, is dependence on reality a matter of opinion, or must it hold?

My position is that matters of fact *must* rely on the a-posteriori findings of reality, while how one validates the findings of reality require standards that *must* hold. If I understand Jason correctly, the views that he has presented are matters of opinion, which do not necessarily hold, but depend upon what will occur in reality. Perhaps tomorrow he may find that 1 = 2, and that he is not alive. Should he not say that matters of fact may rely on reality, and that validating the findings of reality may or may not require standards? Why not keep an open mind, and simply say that many of us, at this time, share the opinion that 1 does not equal 2, and that we are alive?

12/22/06, 3:10 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Your rhetoric implies that necessity can’t be found in reality by observation, i.e. that anything found from observation can’t be necessarily true. Is that your position?

Now you focus on simple matters that don’t require drawing boundaries. “1+1=2” doesn’t require “error bars” because it is only saying the same thing two different ways. Reflection is able to help realize that one statement is equal to the other. (A note in passing: I had one elementary school teacher that thought it was possible that 1+1 could equal 1 in special cases. You might wonder why but I’ll leave her mistake for another discussion.) Once again this isn’t a matter of concept creation where the question of including cases within the boundaries of a concept is part of a debate.

I was just reading Forrest McDonald’s “Novus Ordo Seclorum.” He describes the evolution of the concept of “freedom of the press.” Here is what he writes:

“Liberty of the press had a different history and a more precise meaning. The art of printing, when introduced during the fifteenth century, had been regarded as ‘a matter of state.’ From the outset, in England as elsewhere in Europe, it was subject to regulation and licensing. The various regulations were codified by a Star Chamber decree of 1637, which required the obtaining of a license before any book could be legally published. … Renewals continued to be enacted until 1694, at which time ‘the press became properly free’: prior restraint was no longer the law except in respect to reporting parliamentary proceedings. In both England and America, throughout the eighteenth century, liberty of the press meant that and nothing more. ‘The liberty of the press,’ as Blackstone put it, ‘consists in laying no previous restraints upon publications.’ It did not, however, exempt people ‘from censure for criminal matter when published.” [page 48]

He goes on to describe when punishment was possible for printing so-called libels that were either “private [against a person], blasphemous, obscene or immoral, and seditious.” The concept of freedom of the press continued to be modified by allowing, without punishment, a wider range of expression and continues to evolve to this day.

Here it is not a matter of realizing that we are saying the same thing two different ways “A < B means B > A.” Such identifications require only reflection. As does “4 + 3 = 3 + 4.” Your examples are trivial. Most substantial matters require judgment as to the scope of a concept. Here both appeal to observation and reflection on human purpose is required. Our founding fathers studied history extensively. In contrast, the rationalist philosophy on the continent led to less stable liberal orders. Going back to Ancient Greece, Plato tries to deduce while Aristotle studied every constitution he could find. The difference is profound.

12/22/06, 5:25 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

A very Merry Christmas to you all. And to those who do not believe, may I wish you "Seasons Greetings".

Thank you, Jason, for all your hard work. It has been greatly appreciated. May 2007 be a wonderful year for you, your family, and all your visitors.

12/22/06, 7:01 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason asks if my position is that “necessity can’t be found in reality by observation”. As I have stated before, necessity can be found by observation, but only if it is understood by a-priori criteria. To repeat “For example, suppose that we are interested in whether two stones fall at the same rate, and we observe that they do. To conclude that they do, presupposes that what we have seen is valid, and that what we mean by the ‘same’ is understood. Were someone to claim that we did not see it (or that what occurred at the time does not mean that an hour later, it happened earlier) violates that which must be taken as given. In short, *any finding about reality can only be made in the context of what is understood prior to it.* When we employ an ostensive definition, and (while pointing) say ‘that is the sun’ we have presupposed an understanding of pointing and what it conveys. When we say that 1 is different from 2, we understand that there is a disparity between being the same and being different. It is this context of understanding, which cannot be reduced to further notions of reality, that provides the desiderata for forming judgments.”

Next, Jason says that 1=1 equals 2 doesn’t require error bars, as though that pertained to our ability to recognize the notion of equality. Then he mentions, as any mathematician knows, that 1+1 can equal 1, which occurs in modulo arithmetic. For example, 4 hours after 9 o’clock is 1 o’clock, so in this sense, 4+9 = 1. Such specifics in no way refute the dependence on necessity. For example, given these assumptions, 4+9 *must* = 1, and cannot equal 2. Jason does not seem to note that his arguments presuppose certain understanding, and apparently believes that such understanding is not at issue. He then gives an example which is not a matter of tautology, as though that showed that it is unnecessary to be able to fathom the notion of a tautology. Yet by his very saying that something is not a matter of “saying the same thing two different ways” he has presupposed an understanding of that concept.

Addressing the evolution of a concept fails to note that certain concepts (such as tautology) are as true today as they were in the time of Aristotle, and these are what are at issue in discussing the a-priori. Similarly, Aristotle had intentions, and so does Jason. This contains a truth that is not a matter of concepts that evolve over time. Even the claim that concepts evolve over time presupposes the understanding that there are things that did not evolve.

So I ask Jason again: are there things that must be so, independent of reality, such as whether a child had a parent or a cause had an effect? If not, can he provide a single example of something that is known which does not presuppose something that *must* hold regardless of reality.

12/22/06, 7:58 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

First of all, I did not say that 1+1 can be equal to 1. I said that an elementary school teacher erroneously made such a claim and gave an erroneous example. Secondly, I said an adult has many basic concepts that have been established and are no longer in need of additional evidence. I called them trivial. You call them a priori. They are certainly brought to bear on further knowledge building as you once again reiterate. And I repeat that one uses logic, which is the art of non-contradictory identification. Thus, rejecting of contradictions, affirming identify (and similarity) are part of the process. There’s no argument there.

Now I have a real life example of the evolution of a concept – not merely the use of a concept – but the establishment and expansion of a concept. This is far more important and it is typical of the expansion of knowledge especially in the realm of ethics and politics.

12/22/06, 8:38 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Ontology, Jason. The greatest possible concept must exist, because things that exist are greater than things that do not.

Yes, we're still rejecting relativism.

12/23/06, 3:00 AM  
Blogger gandalf said...

to jason and all who visit his site:

I wish you a hopeful christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear

12/23/06, 5:45 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason is correct, and I apologize, that he did not say that 1+1 can be equal to 1. Rather it was I who said so (and pointed to its irrelevancy).

His next point is that there are well established concepts that are not in need of additional evidence, which is true but irrelevant. I have not denied, but affirmed, that there are a-posteriori certitudes, while asserting that *they depend upon the a-priori.* Jason and I are simply not communicating. I write that for a cat to see a mouse, the mouse has to be there (a-posteriori) but the cat must also be able to recognize a mouse (a-priori). When Jason denies the a-priori by addressing the a-posteriori, he might be providing a position of his own but is not addressing mine. When he says that one uses logic and non-contradiction, it is true, but does not address that *it is necessarily true, and not the contingent truth of experience*. Moreover, it does not address the foundations of knowledge, but rather affirms the obvious, namely that there is both the empirical and the logical. To repeat, the a-priori and the a-posteriori are metaphysically inseparable, but epistemologically distinct.

So I ask once again “can he provide a single example of something that is known which does not presuppose something that *must* hold regardless of reality.” His above response appears to say that any example presupposes non-contradictory logic, which must hold, yet he appears to deny that there must be that presupposition.

Finally, if anyone else is following this interchange, he might ask what difference does it make if one focuses on the a-priori or the a-posteriori, since both are important in the “expansion of knowledge”. Let us note that the difference between Austrian economics, (which opts for freedom) and vogue economics (which opts for government intervention) is precisely that the former is based on the a-priori, while the latter is based on the a-posteriori. I have postponed discussion of the moral a-priori but claim that the same disparity applies here.

12/23/06, 10:12 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason, I presume that you are familiar with Austrian economics, or can familiarize yourself with its approach by browsing the Internet or skimming “Human Action”. When I advocated the moral a-priori as the foundation for our values and beliefs, it was analogous to von Mises' approach of employing the a-priori as the foundation for economic values and beliefs. *My question is whether your criticisms of my approach apply equally to that for Austrian economics.*

In particular, you write that:

From having taught mathematics I can assure you that math and logic are not innate but learned;
people know there is such a thing as justice [substitute ‘sound economics’]. But it is obvious that people will disagree on what is just [substitute ‘sound’]. [Regarding your ideal] Your choice may be a poor one;
There is no innate knowledge of what is just [substitute ‘sound’] nor does the avoidance of contradiction tell you to reject X or non-X or both;
Why not start from a more modest point in order to find common ground;
why not prove an ethical [substitute ‘economic’] point limiting one’s tools to the common currency readily accessible to a typical adult?;
My objection to built-in concepts is due to the fact that the integration of particulars into universals involves volition and it is such volition that gives rise to the need for epistemological norms if our concepts are successful in bringing us into cognitive contact with reality;
Your rhetoric implies that necessity can’t be found in reality by observation;
Your examples are trivial. Most substantial matters require judgment as to the scope of a concept;
Going back to Ancient Greece, Plato tries to deduce while Aristotle studied every constitution he could find. The difference is profound;
one uses logic, which is the art of non-contradictory identification. Thus, rejecting of contradictions, affirming identify (and similarity) are part of the process;
Now I have a real life example of the evolution of a concept – not merely the use of a concept – but the establishment and expansion of a concept. This is far more important and it is typical of the expansion of knowledge especially in the realm of ethics [substitute ‘economics’] and politics.

Note that I am not asking you to prove your points, but rather to say whether or not they apply equally as well to Austrian economics. I would have no qualms if you argued for a rejection of Austrian economics, but only wish to know whether you do.

12/23/06, 11:51 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Unfortunately, it’s been several decades since I read Human Action so I can not say that I reject or accept Austrian economics completely until I review and figure out what the essence of the Austrian approach. I certainly agree with the bulk of it but I can’t say that I’d perfectly agree with the fundamental approach until I review the material and figure out what is the central principle of the Austrian approach.

I’d have to also decide if Menger, Bohm-Balwark, von Mises, and von Hayek are all using the same fundamental approach or whether there are differences that warrant the acceptance of the fundamental ideas of some but not others. I hear (but do not know) that there are important epistemological or methodological differences between Menger and von Mises. I wish I had time to review it all. It is interesting. A few years ago I read about 1/3 of Riesman’s book and would like to read it all. Another book to read!

Perhaps after finishing with Cicero and Kant I’ll return to these authors.

12/23/06, 1:22 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

I'm wondering if Weingarten considers instincts as a priori knowledge.

12/23/06, 5:52 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Mr. Beamish wonders whether I consider instincts as a-priori knowledge. I do not. Instincts are important, and provide built-in benefits, such as when a chicken runs from the shadow of a hawk. The potential for the a-priori is also built-in (for man), but it does not become actuated until there is acculturation, which includes language. One cannot 'know' that 1 is different from 2, without the understanding of the terms 'same' and 'different'. I grant that a cat knows whether he sees 1 or 2 mice, but until he can describe it in words, he lacks a-priori 'knowledge'.

I thank Mr. Beamish for the question, and recommend that anyone who is interested in this area read pages 32-41 in "Human Action" where von Mises explains the role of the a-priori
in human understanding and economics.

This topic may seem esoteric, however it is the viewpoint of Austrian economists that the interventionist economics that is in vogue, goes astray because it is not based on the a-priori; and it is my view that conservatives, libertarians, Austrians, Objectivists, and religionists, lose out to the left and the liberals because their views violate the moral a-priori.

12/24/06, 9:10 AM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Now I'm intrigued. A priori knowledge is (or should be) independent of experience.

I think I see where Jason is going with identity and non-contradiction - towards the verification principle: the meaning of a statement is its method of verification. Symbolic logic requires a fixed syntax and coherent structure. Which, seems to bridge into Weingarten's view that apriority requires acculturation (language, etc.) to transmit data meaningfully.

But, data transmitted is a posteriori knowledge to its recipient, is it not? I believe that it is the condition that the recipient can [knows that meaninful claims can be tested] verify the validity of data recieved that is a priori.

The knowledge that truth can be discovered is the essence of apriority, to me. Truths that have been discovered, that's aposteriority.

I think that holds a challenge against Weingarten's view that a priori knowledge requires acculturation to actuate. Certainly a priori morality would. But I think that apriority by definition must be something more that language. It's not the statement, it's the meaning the statement represents.

A square had 4 sides long before anyone counted them.

12/24/06, 11:14 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

I concur with Mr. Beamish that: ‘the meaning of a statement is [understood by] its method of verification’; ‘data transmitted is a-posteriori knowledge’ and ‘the recipient can verify the validity of data’. I do not see why this challenges the view that the a-priori requires acculturation. When a person sees two rocks that fall to the ground at the same time, he has an understanding that is lacking in a cat who sees them do so, for the human has abstracted the result. I concur that the a-priori means more than the prerequisite of language, and provides the meaning that a statement represents. (I have stated that the a-priori is non-contradictory, and cannot be false.) Yet again, I do not follow how this argues against the need for acculturation. Is Mr. Beamish claiming that a person brought up by apes would be able to draw conclusions about the falling of rocks without acculturation? Would the ape man even know what a rock is?

Finally, when Mr. Beamish notes that “A square had 4 sides long before anyone counted them” it should also be mentioned that there was no 'knowledge' of this before there was (acculturated) counting.

12/24/06, 1:58 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Weingarten, I guess I'm getting hung at the "acculturation" part. The process of acculturation is experiential, indeed it is a body of experiences. And every aspect you would include in the process of acculturation - growing fluent in a native language, learning traditional customs and societal norms, etc. - are all recieved in the experience of growing up. A posteriori knowledge depends upon experience.

Do we truly "know" anything a priori?

Other than cogito ergo sum?

12/25/06, 5:33 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Mr. Beamish writes "every aspect you would include in the process of acculturation...are all rec[ei]ved in the experience of growing up. A posteriori knowledge depends upon experience. Do we truly "know" anything a priori? Other than cogito ergo sum?"

Perhaps I was not clear, but I affirmed that the a-priori did require a-posteriori experience, so a person could not say something about a rock without the experience of a rock. *What renders a-priori knowledge is that it is "logically prior" to experience.* Nor is 'cogito ergo sum' an example of the a-priori, which is instead the understanding that one couldn't think if he didn't exist. (One does not exist because he thinks, but existed before he thought about it.)

Allow an example. I spoke to a group claiming that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed" presupposses that the people have that right. That is known a-priori, for it is a contradiction to infringe on a right, if that right didn't exist. The group however while affirming the Second Amendment, claimed that people do not have the right to bear arms. They argued a-posteriori, providing many reasons why there was no such right, including that it depended on a militia that no longer exists. However, there is a-priori certainty that one can no more infringe on a right that doesn't exist, than have an effect without a cause. This is logically prior to experience, because it is known regardless of what can then be provided by experience.

My wife and I attend a discussion group comprised of a majority of liberals and several conservatives. Last night we had a few of the conservatives over for dinner. From about 7 PM to 8 PM, they lamented and criticized the liberals in the group, and spoke about their closed mindedness. Then the wife of one of the couples (who were teachers) asked why I was opposed to governmental supported education. I referred to the proper role of government as protecting the inalienable rights of the individual. In response, all of the 'conservatives' argued for the imperative of the government to supply those and other benefits. They gave views about society's needs, what happened historically, the imperative to be realistic, etc. The converation continued until 2AM, whereupon my summary was that these people, who were so upset with the liberals, shared their premises and methods of argumentation, so in that sense were also liberals. I also quoted Ayn rand as saying that one cannot defeat an adversary by employing his premises. (One fellow quipped that he came as a conservative, and is now leaving as a liberal.)

I mention this because it demonstrates what happens with regard to the moral a-priority. Whereas we know a-priori that one has no right to deprive another of his rights, this is violated by theories (generally false) on an a-posteriori basis. This was associated with other a-priori violations, such as the claim that taking someone's money for public education does not violate his rights, nor does educating his children to doctrines he finds abhorent violate those rights.

My point is that the abstract discussion of the dichotomy of the a-priori and the a-posteriori, is pertinent to the issues that we face today.

12/25/06, 12:17 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

I agree with what I think is the most important point: identity. If one is saying something one way but contradicting it another way, one (or both) ways are wrong. Traditionalist conservatives (as opposed to classical liberals and today’s libertarians) were never comfortable with the notion of rights. I can give you certain books as references if you need.

It is interesting that they realize the problem with relativism and formally accept the notion of eternal (they’ll add transcendent) truth but they aren’t clear about what is the invariant part of established truth and what is not yet established or should still be considered open to discussion. Without answering that I agree it is an important issue. I suggested my views in the link above on the “universality of rights” where I tried to separate what I thought was universal given human nature and across time while discussing the possible limits of the concept.

Many people, including conservatives, will simply drop the concept in an expedient manner. However, discussing the contradictions helps to further discover the truth. What it doesn’t do is say whether A is true or non-A is true. There are certain truths that can be shown to be inescapable in the way you suggest: it can be brought to the attention to the person that they implicitly rely upon these truths, perhaps even when denying them. However, we’d actually have to discuss them to understand how much they give us and what remains to be discovered or validated by further argumentation.

While this is important I don’t believe it gives us everything we are entitled to. What I mean by this is that we have significant history with which to create a much broader argument for ethical and political truths. Thus, I’m sure it would be enjoyable to see where we’d draw the boundary in terms of philosophy and history. But while I appreciate your goal and much of which can be achieved by this goal I assume we all can come to the conclusions of establish truth.

I’ve given this thought form time to time and I try to be careful when I use history, in particular, the history of economics. I try to say that history “dramatizes” the well-being that is achievable in a rights-respecting society so as not to imply a utilitarian criteria. Thus, if I said competition gave New York nine daily newspapers (which it once did) I wouldn't say that we no longer have competition. Thus, I’m sympathetic to the misuse of empirical and historical studies. I bring this up because I appreciate the importance of an issue that is too demanding for this venue. I’m not dismissing it even as I try to give a hint of where I stand. I just can’t do justice to the topic here.

12/25/06, 2:17 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason, thanks and Merry Christmas.

12/25/06, 3:27 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Cogito erso sum was Decartes' answer to doubting the perception of existence - Who's doing the doubting?

I thought I was seeing a bifurcation on the definition of a posteriori knowledge (must be independent of experience) but I understand what you were saying now, Weingarten.

12/26/06, 3:08 AM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

erso = ergo

12/26/06, 3:09 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

A belated Merry Christmas, Allan.

12/27/06, 9:04 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Nietzsche "Beyond Good and Evil"

For us, the falsity of a judgment is no objection to that judgment—that's where our new way of speaking sounds perhaps most strange. The question is the extent to which it makes demands on life, sustains life, maintains the species—perhaps even creates species. And we are even ready to assert that the falsest judgments (to which a priori synthetic judgments belong) are the most indispensable to us, that without our allowing logical fictions to count, without a way of measuring reality against the purely invented world of the unconditional and self-identical, without a constant falsification of the world through numbers, human beings could not live—that if we managed to give up false judgments, it would amount to a renunciation of life, a denial of life. To concede the fictional nature of the conditions of life means, of course, taking a dangerous stand against the customary feelings about value. A new philosophy which dared to do that would thus stand alone, beyond good and evil.

12/27/06, 4:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home