Friday, November 10, 2006

Articles to Read

An online "reader's digest" has an excellent selection of articles including one by yours truly.


Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason Pappas has written another fine article (with which I resonate). I presume that his concluding question “can Islam still be Islam and introduce reason into human affairs?” is rhetorical, where it is understood that the answer is ‘No’.

I find it interesting that a couple of generations ago, many believed that Islam had ceased to be an important force. Even as brilliant an intellectual as Ludwig von Mises viewed Islam as effectively dead. Similarly, the Bolsheviks viewed Orthodox Christianity as dead in Russia, while the communists in Poland thought Catholicism dead, and Arnold Toynbee viewed Judaism as a hopeless anachronism (where the Jews were a fossil and “the appendix of history.”) Perhaps intellectuals, focusing on reason and technical matters, underestimate the central role of ultimate aspirations, and as such cannot imagine why religions would have strong supports, especially when they are unseen. I submit that secular outlooks will not become competitive with religion, until they offer visions, motivation, and aspirations.

Now I overwhelmingly agree with Jason’s article, yet have some minor comments. First, I doubt that our primary challenge is how to reform or improve Islam, but how best to defend against it. Second, perhaps the best thing that could be done to improve it, is to undermine and defeat it, for Islam is akin to an addiction, where its growth is that of a cancer. (Does one seek to reform a cancer into a constructive organ?) Rather than warranting respect, it requires humiliation. Third, if we view Islam as a religion (which I do not) then religions do not necessarily deserve respect. Why would we for example respect those “religions” that practiced human sacrifice (such as the Aztecs who would plunge a weapon into someone’s chest, and pull out the beating heart to show to the gods)?

Finally, I would welcome a discussion on ‘faith and reason’ provided that an advocate defined his terms. Some define ‘religion’ as dogma, whereupon it has no value, and puts an end to what is significant about religion (for dogma can be absent in religionists, and present in secularists). The fact that the greatest scientist (Newton) and the greatest logician (Godel) believed in God is thereby dismissed by declaring them as thinkers to be disregarded. I would define ‘religion as that which uplifts the inner man, (while ‘faith’ is ‘an attachment to the transcendent’) and consequently needn’t require any belief in God, as for example in the atheist Tom Paine. However, by this definition there would be a summa bonum (or highest good). Here, we could agree that those who were motivated by aspiring to their summa bonum, were in no way in conflict with reason.

Yet if we are unable to agree, for purposes of discussion, on definitions of ‘faith’, ‘religion’, and ‘reason’, it may be pointless to debate them, when it is our conflicting definitions that lead to interminable discourse.

11/8/06, 4:51 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Yes, I agree that “our primary challenge is [not] how to reform or improve Islam, but how best to defend against it.” The above reprint of what I wrote in 2005 is more of a descriptive overview of the lack of potential for any scalable and sustainable embrace of a liberal order while clinging to Islam in any substantial manner. While this understanding isn’t required for those of us who maintain that we need to establish a deterrent and respond swiftly to threats, it is still important to assess the impediments to other policies our goverenment has taken as well as the meager potential for self-change within Islamic societies.

I agree that the failures of contemporary secular ideologies that have been dominant in the last few centuries have understandably encouraged a return to tradition. In America this is a return to both religious and Enlightenment values although packaged under one big label “tradition.” In Islamic countries this has led to the Islamic Revival. While we disagree on how to define religion and its boundaries, we can note this fact and be aware of the difficulty in discussing such broad categories without getting into details.

It doesn’t surprise me that people who call themselves religious can agree on substantial matters with people who call themselves secular. One has to go past the broad classification scheme to examine the particular way those two approaches are implemented. That’s why, contrary to some of my critics, I rather look for common ground when there is a considerable overlap and leave differences to another time. It usually is better in-person to appreciate the unique manner that each person manifests their worldview.

11/9/06, 9:23 AM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason, I expected you to say that our primary challenge is how to defend against Islam, but wanted to emphasize this point. I concur with all that you have written about it.

On the other hand, I do not think that our difficulty in dialog about religion is due to our different definitions, but rather to our not establishing a given definition, for purposes of discussion.

Although I concur in seeking common ground, I believe that religionists and secularists can find common ground (as have Pope Benedict and George Gilder) once a common definition is employed.

Having submitted the need for defining one’s terms, I should do so for my own diatribes. Thus I wrote that “Islam is akin to an addiction, where its growth is that of a cancer” without supplying the needed definition. To do so, I first define ‘morality’ as the way to achieve justice (which in turn is defined as people receiving what they deserve). Here, I submit that *what one seeks to achieve is less important than how one attempts to do so.* To illustrate, we would look askance at an aim to have a world without Jews, or capitalists, or unbelievers. Yet how much harm would occur if the advocate added “My method (for achieving my goal) is solely by suasion”? Conversely, we would look favorably at an aim to have a free-market. Yet this would not be welcome if the advocate added “My method for doing so, is to murder and torture the opposition”?

So my primary concern is not the stated objectives of the Islamists, but how they aim at achieving them, i.e. their morality. Hence I define ‘Islam’ as the use of the sword (power, intimidation, lies, etc.) to spread their faith. This clarifies why it is not reformable. Can one reform the method of using force, into the non-initiation of force (NIF)?

Now if Islam accepted the Judeo-Christian commandment “Not by might nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts” it would not be Islam, and would never have gotten off the ground. So what is essential for understanding Islam is its “morality” or method for transforming the world. (Note that I have placed “morality” in quotation marks, for I do not view the method of the Koran as moral, and for similar reasons place the “religion” of Islam in quotation marks.

11/9/06, 11:07 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

I agree that morality has at its core the proper means of advancing one’s goals but I don’t believe that “proper means” is independent of all ends. I’d argue that the virtues one cultivates are appropriate to the challenges of life and living well in a society conducive to human flourishing.

Thus, while killing isn’t a proper means to advance one’s cause when dealing with civilized people, it is when defending one’s life against the savage attack of those bent on plunder and subjugation. Of course, you used the word “murder” and not “killing.” That, of course, is a loaded word for “wrongful killing” or more exactly “illegal killing.”

It’s an interesting question, nevertheless, of how to describe the broad range of rights that are logically prior to and independent of the particular goals of one’s fellow citizens and the substantial grounds that make those rights important and powerful, which requires references to a fundamental purpose for a proper foundation.

This isn’t normally required when talking to civilized people since most sense the need for “ground rules” to establish the trust that civilization requires. But it is challenging to try to explicate the exact nature of the ethics that underwrites individual liberty as apart from the ethics left to the individual to achieve with his liberty.

This is one issue that comes to mind when reading your post and you raise many more. But that is a major undertaking.

11/9/06, 11:43 AM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason, I defined ‘morality’ as the way to achieve justice. When you counter that you “don’t believe that “proper means” is independent of all ends” you appear to view what I wrote as ‘morality has nothing to do with any end.’

Perhaps when I wrote “*what one seeks to achieve is less important than how one attempts to do so*” you interpreted it as meaning that ‘what one seeks to achieve is of no importance’? On the other hand, you may have meant that what one seeks to achieve is as important, or more important, than the means used to do so. Please clarify your qualms with the view that *what one seeks to achieve is less important than how one attempts to do so*.

Next you correctly state that killing is necessary for self-defense. Yet this in no way obviates the guide that one ought not spread his faith (or values) by force. Self-defense is imperative, but it keeps us from deteriorating, rather than enhancing us. I have defined the non-initiation of force (NIF) as “none have the right to initiate force, but the obligation to counter it.” We then agree on the necessity of force, but perhaps disagree as to its role. I view culture as the way to enhance man, while government (which is essentially force) is defensive. That is, although one must put out a fire in a table factory, that is not the same as producing more tables. (Perhaps a clearer illustration is that preventing a book from being stolen is necessary, but is not the gauge of how much one has read in it.)

Finally, I am unclear as to your asking what is “the exact nature of the ethics that underwrites individual liberty, as apart from the ethics left to the individual to achieve with his liberty.” Isn’t the ethics that underwrites individual liberty NIF? Isn’t the ethics of an individual regarding what he does with his liberty self-enhancement?

11/9/06, 2:58 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Please clarify your qualms with the view that *what one seeks to achieve is less important than how one attempts to do so*.

It’s not clear. Let me assume one sense of that phrase. Then it’s only true in the short term. Insuring that you have the skills to earn what is required to buy the next meal is more important than eating that one particular meal. But that’s because the skills enable one to support one’s whole life. Only to the extent the skills are useful in this life do they have any meaning (if we assume this life is all there is.) Thus, the virtue of productivity is driven by “life as the standard of value.”

Compare that to a person who steals to get their next meal. They’ve betrayed the virtue of productivity and are unworthy of living with peaceful productive people. If they get what they deserve (justice) they will suffer in the long run. A society built around justice will have proper means in tune with proper ends and only the foolish will try to sustain the attainment of values by theft. A society built around parasitism, (socialism), will betray the means proper to the goal of well being despite professed intentions. And the goal won’t be met in the long run. They’ll have consumed their productive capacity with little to expect in the future.

Thus, I don’t see the “tool” or “means” (i.e. virtues) being more or less than the goal of a “full life of self-actualization” but as equal to it in importance. It’s a matched set: the power of virtue is exemplified in achievement of the values over a lifetime. And only values so achieved exemplify the capacities of a person worthy of high esteem.

But I admit this idea of “less important” or “more important” tends to beg the question: in what way? You may have meant that in another way.

Finally, I am unclear as to your asking what is “the exact nature of the ethics that underwrites individual liberty, as apart from the ethics left to the individual to achieve with his liberty.” Isn’t the ethics that underwrites individual liberty NIF? Isn’t the ethics of an individual regarding what he does with his liberty self-enhancement?

Well, NIF is liberty. If you are not forced, you are free. Socialist have less need of liberty since their ultimate concern is security. Thus, they don’t respect property rights as we know them. They’ll define “proper ownership” as something determined by committee while we respect any transaction that is the result of a free association. Thus, “proper means” assumes an ultimate view of what is important. In the long run they’d prefer to be poorer with a more defined pre-determined outcome.

Cultivating the virtues of productivity matter less if the main values of your life are insured by others. You may continue to produce as a duty to the nation but the passion for life lost, the pride of achievement becomes a noose, the tight connection between virtue and value achievement is severed. For people frightened by life, this doesn’t seem like a big loss. For “we the living” who want to fully live our lives, this is intolerable.

Now, I expect that you’re sympathetic to what I'm saying for the most part. The question is how best to get to the essence of what powers the need for liberty, justice, and virtues. I say it is the nature of human life, actualized and achieved by the cultivation and application of the skills and virtues appropriate to that task. But that’s a claim. I haven’t supported it.

I don’t disagree with what the gist of what you’re saying but I’m not sure it gets to the essence. Perhaps I don't understand how you phrase it. Nevertheless, we don’t have to agree in general to agree on a broad range of what is important. It sometimes pays to wait until we see a significant issue to motivate the examination of any difference.

I haven’t answered half of the issues you raise because you ask a lot.

11/9/06, 4:03 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason, allow me to state the context of our discussion, because it might render the issues in a simple form.

You had asked whether Islam could be reformed, and I had commented that it couldn’t. Then I suggested that in discussing Islam, it would be helpful to define it. Do you agree?

Here, given a subject so broad, I submitted that we ought to examine Islam from a moral perspective (where I stipulated what I meant by ‘morality’). Do you agree or disagree that we should view Islam from that perspective?

On that basis, I defined Islam by the use of the sword to spread their faith. Do you agree or disagree with employing that as an operational definition?

Finally, using that definition, I deduced that Islam was not reformable (for how could one reform the use of force to further values, when morality requires the non-initiation of force instead.) Do you agree or disagree with that derivation?

11/9/06, 6:46 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

I don’t quite agree with the definitions you gave but I agree that you have described Islam correctly. Let me explain. A definition gets at the essence; one can say many things about the subject without getting to the essence. Islam does accept expanding the domain of its rule by the sword. This is true but I don’t take that to be the defining attribute.

Of course, Muslims would rather others surrender without a fight. However, the ready acceptance of war as a means of spreading the domain of the faith is central to the religion. Of course, Islam would prefer that others convert … on paper. In practice, it is the expansion of the domain of Islam over non-Muslims that takes a priority. At times conversions were restricted or even prevented to keep from depleting the supply of oppressed.

But all this begs the question: what is the rule of Islam? What is it that Islam seeks to expand, so often by the sword, but by other means (demographic in Europe) if effective? The means of expansion include the submission by force but what is it that is expanding? Here I think it is harder to define Islam and I don’t think we need to in a first pass description. Certain central attributes are enough to be critical.

Islam is a warrior supremacist ideology in origin and this disposition remains a core element of the religion that can only be brushed aside temporarily or in isolated cases. Submission in every manner is central. This is epistemological (rejection of independent thought or “innovation”), ethical (submission to authority), political (bringing others into submission), and even aesthetic (prohibitions against portraits or music among the most devout.) It has tended to embrace a determinist God-controlled fatalism (Inshallah) that fits an autocratic regime.

As a working definition, I’d define Islam as a particular Bedouin-originated rejection of personal autonomy, independent thought, and voluntary or involuntary submission (or subjugation) to the secular authorities that represent the community and it devotion to God. OK, that’s more of a description than a definition but particulars, as opposed to universals, are better served by descriptions.

The embrace of force in human affairs is what concerns us most. Should we focus on that? After all, we aren’t that concern with their self-immolation. Although we should be concern with a possible peaceful take-over of some European nations as demographics make that feasible. But even there we’re mainly concerned because of possible use of force once in power. Islam’s acceptance of forceful domination is our bottom-line concern. Is that fair to say?

11/10/06, 8:24 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

You don’t think the Orthodox religion, in the mid-20th century, was marginalized and effectively inert as a social force in Russia? (I didn’t comment on the Ukraine!) Sure, some peasants remained privately devout but I’ve seen little evidence that the religion was a major factor in the culture circa 1960.

Were there major raids on secret religious gatherings in Catacombs as there were during Roman times? Were there major pogroms and public vilification? Were there religious leaders who were smuggled out (again circa 1960) to spread their message of oppressed Christians being persecuted? As an anti-communist, I heard and read of the horrors under communism and those sent to the Gulag for being enemies of the state. But sent for religious reasons? If so it wasn’t the same order of magnitude as other opponents of communism. Have any references to show that the Orthodox in Russia were as organized and powerful as the Catholics in Poland?

11/10/06, 9:10 AM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason, I raised a few questions, in a given order, to determine where we agreed or disagreed. These were: would it be helpful to define Islam? should we view Islam from a moral perspective? can we define Islam by the use of the sword to spread their faith? do you agree or disagree with the derivation that Islam is not reformable?

Since I did not get a yes or no answer, ad seriatum, I can only infer the following. You believe it would be helpful to define Islam, but it should not be defined from a moral perspective, hence the definition is mistaken, and does not therefore derive the conclusion (which you agree with).

*So at issue is: what is the perspective by which we should determine the essence of Islam?* I had submitted the perspective of morality. Here, we would judge ideologies (e.g., fascism or communism) by their method for influencing the world.

You however find the essential characteristic of Islam as “the expansion of the domain of Islam over non-Muslims”. You have then implied that this objective is more important than the method for achieving it. That is precisely what I have denied. To me, if the method for achieving that objective were by suasion, or by setting an example, Islam would be a minor problem. It is rather the method (of force, intimidation, and deception) that is the essential problem.

Next, as a working definition, you “define Islam as a particular Bedouin-originated rejection of personal autonomy, independent thought, and voluntary or involuntary submission (or subjugation) to the secular authorities that represent the community and it devotion to God.” Thus you have presupposed a non-moral, and in particular a structural perspective.

Yet in the very next paragraph you write “The embrace of force in human affairs is what concerns us most. Should we focus on that?” This states the very opposite approach, of viewing Islam morally rather than structurally.

My position has been *what one seeks to achieve is less important than how one attempts to do so*, consequently I define ideologies from a moral perspective. I would welcome the arguments for why to define ideologies from a non-moral or technical perspective.

As an aside, someone might say that we ought to define something in terms of how it is, rather than in terms of our concern. Yet consider an orange, and determine what it is. From a biological perspective it is a fruit, from a nutritional perspective it is a combination of vitamins & minerals, from an artistic perspective it is a shade of color, from a physical perspective it is a mass, from a mathematical perspective it is a sphere, etc. I submit that we define something in terms of our purpose or concern. That is, I take an anthropocentric view, where man’s purposes constitute the desiderata for our epistemology.

11/10/06, 10:07 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

I’m not unsympathetic to that notion but I don’t quite agree. Our relation to what an object is has bearing on what is the essential, but it resides in both what it is and what we are. Being comes before evaluation even if we are considering both the factual nature of the object and ourselves. I’m not sure if you disagree with that.

As an aside, someone might say that we ought to define something in terms of how it is, rather than in terms of our concern.

Yes and no. We have many concerns. One could say that what is essential in one context is not in another. But for ongoing understanding, we still have to organize our knowledge by the elements that have the greatest explanatory force to integrate the whole. If we take a too narrow definition because of immediate concern, we’ll undermine a long-term robust epistemology. That’s what Pragmatism does. Let’s get back to Islam as an example.

I think we can proceed with Islam by starting with the most important facet, to us, of its willingness to use force to expand the domain of Islam. However, we best understand this (explain it not explain it away) by understanding the metaphysical, epistemological, and overall ethical disposition, of the religion even if they would not otherwise concern us. This solidifies how important and intransigent jihad is in the history and practice of Islam. Obviously, not everyone wants to know the “why;” many will be satisfied with that “what:” Islam is a doctrine that embraces war to expand its domain. That’s a good starting point for exposition but not for explanation.

The evaluation follows: Islam is a threat to us. Understanding that is enough to know what to do. I don’t think we disagree there. But understanding the long-term inability of Islam fully and irrevocable shed the drive to dominate, requires the knowledge that ties jihad to the spine of Islam. That’s why it is worth seeing how hard it would be to invent a moderate Islam (even for those who aren’t interest in such a pursuit.)

But it’s more. To see that this evil is tied to the core of Islam, heighten one’s resolve, increases one’s moral righteousness, and gives one the strength to face the threat. Those, like the President, who try to give us the impression that it is a mistake by some, or growing phase, weaken our resolve.

Again, I can only deal with a small part of what you said and only briefly at that.

11/10/06, 10:47 AM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason, you write that “Being comes before evaluation” but how do we determine ‘being’? Is an orange a mass, a sphere, an object of art, or an endless collection of all of these and other particulars? Is Islam essentially geographic, historical, political, ethical? (From my point of view, if we are going to imbibe Islam, it is a poisonous fruit.) It is true that “what is essential in one context is not in another” but isn’t the context the threat to civilization? Do you have a different context in mind (such as the esthetic, where we ought focus on Islam’s works of art)? If so, why not provide the other context?

Defining Islam primarily in terms of its (lack of) morality does not mean that we have taken a narrow definition that will “undermine a long-term robust epistemology”. It rather states that what is most important is its method for influencing the world (and goes on to examine all of the features that you have raised). Let us note that despite the myriad discussions that have occurred with regard to Islam, they have not made it clear that its method is central, or even worth mentioning).

I would not say “we can proceed with Islam by starting with…its willingness to use force…” because the use of force is of the essence, and not a removable property. That is why I submit that Islam is not reformable, whereas by your wording it would remain Islam if it proceeded by suasion or by setting an example.

But most fundamental is that *you have not provided the perspective for defining Islam*. Saying that we must understand “the metaphysical, epistemological, and overall ethical disposition” gives no indication of why to consider metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, or any other matters. You could just as easily have referred to history, geography, economics, ethnicity, etc. You disagree with my moral perspective, which characterize islam by its method for changing the world. Fine, but why not provide your technical perspective, to explain why you examine the features that you do? Are you suggesting that one does not need a perspective for defining something, but can arbitrarily select which aspects to consider? Apparently, you criticize providing a perspective for determining what something is, by arbitrarily selecting which features to include. But if one can arbitrarily select features, it would also be justified to employ the feature of morality, without providing a moral perspective.

Similarly, when you write that “this evil is tied to the core of Islam” you have not indicated why we care at all about evil. Unless you clarify where you are coming from, there is no necessity to address ‘evil’ for it could be a negligible factor.

So our difference is not about Islam, but is epistemological, namely *must we provide a perspective by which we define something, or can we declare what it is, without deriving it from some perspective*?

11/10/06, 12:29 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Let me restate what I said using a tighter exposition:

Being consists in the whole of the entity and is independent of the perceiver. Knowledge requires a grasp of this entity by its essentials. Islam, as a philosophy, is defined by the core texts and is understood by the centrality of the concept of submission. To get others to submit to Allah via submitting to his messenger is the key to the rest. So I’d agree that we’d be best serve by starting with the ethical/political and bringing in the metaphysical/epistemological aspects that underwrite the ethical/political practice. But Islam is the whole of this synthesis.

I have no qualms with focusing on an aspect --- one that is most important to us --- but fully understanding that aspect may require understand other dimensions that we normally might not be interested. This helps understand the depth of the problem and justifies making it the essential or inextricably linked to the essential. I think we agree that jihad is not a “passing phase” or “mistaken interpretation.”

The more general epistemological questions are interesting but we are going off into a more theoretical study.

Now let me ask for clarification about “we ought to examine Islam from a moral perspective.” This can mean examining their ethical doctrines or this can mean making a moral judgment about their doctrines. I think we should do both. You add later that “I had submitted the perspective of morality. Here, we would judge ideologies (e.g., fascism or communism) by their method for influencing the world.” This combines both: what does fascism say to do and what does that mean to us.

If so, I agree with that. I only add that one has to investigate the specimen to determine if the problem is accidental or essential or not essential but hard to avoid.

You continued with: “I defined Islam by the use of the sword to spread their faith. [U]sing that definition, I deduced that Islam was not reformable.”

My only problem with this is that it doesn’t show that this definition is the result of an examination. A definition is a conclusion. An examination tells us if” use of the sword” is “accidental or essential or not essential but hard to avoid.” Understanding how something fits into the whole tells us how it is inevitable or not. If it is the key to explanation, it can serve as a definition or part of a definition. I think it is a result of what Islam is and not the essence.

But not any inextricable attribute can be chosen as the essence. Definitions have to be justified by showing that the essence has the explanatory power to organize and maintain the grasp of the whole. A result, no matter how inextricable can not be the essence if it is only one of many factors that stem from a common cause. Take a physical example of a metal that is brittle and has a distinctive spectrum. Both are explained by the molecular structure which should be taken as the essential defining characteristics. To define it in terms of color leaves its brittleness puzzling. To define it in terms of its elasticity leaves its color unexplained. But the molecular structure explains both and in addition explains its ability to react with other chemicals. Doesn’t that get to the essence even if today we are only concerned with its decorative uses or other narrow aspect?

It doesn’t seem we disagree on Islam in any substantial way. But it is interesting how you use the important aspects of human purpose in the criteria of knowledge. Like I said I’m not totally unsympathetic but I haven’t established a firm notion of how this works. I suspect I won’t give it the weight that you seem to imply (but again it’s something I sense but may be wrong about.)

11/10/06, 1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The person who needs a history lesson is you. All those clowns in the gulags appeared magically. The Jehovas witnesses did what.

Who put the Muslims on cattle cars and sent them off to Siberia to die.
Then Ducky will turn around and blame zionists in Russia for this fiasco.

Your next intelligent thought will be your first. The plane to Cuba leaves in an hour. If you need a good meal drop by the folks at GITMO
it seems they eat better than the Comwads do. One Jihadi has tripled his weight since captivity. The American gulag that isn't. If you want to torture the vermin there read them excerpts from Menchu, Chomsky and Fanon.

11/10/06, 5:13 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason, I had one basic question, namely *must we provide a perspective by which we define something, or can we declare what it is, without deriving it from some perspective*?

You write that “Being consists in the whole of the entity and is independent of the perceiver.” That outlook may be termed the God-perspective or the intrinsic view, where there is omniscience. Yet note that man cannot define the ‘being’ of any given item or process. Try to do so, whether it is an orange or the contents of a trunk, and you will discover that it is fruitless. Consider an ostensive definition, such as pointing to the sky, and saying “That’s the sun.” Although this is called a (demonstrative) definition, it does not define what the sun is, but rather where it is. It provides no notion of what is important about the sun, but only that we are referring to all of it. Thus, we cannot grasp this entity by its essentials, since we do not have any perspective for deciding whether its essentials are its location, its age, supplying heat, providing light, having gravity or anything else. Similarly, we can define the contents of a trunk, as whatever is in it, which in no way provides any information as to what its contents are.

You refer to Islam as a philosophy, but on what basis can you say that being a philosophy is essential or even important? That is surely part of its being, but so are a thousand other parts. Similarly, you say that you would start with ‘the ethical/political and bring in the metaphysical/epistemological aspects’. Yet starting there does not derive from its being (but rather from your perspective). Again, that is a part of its being, but so are a thousand other parts.

Now you argue that you have no qualms with focusing on an aspect, but give no basis for determining why some aspect (such as what is important to us) can be chosen, without using a perspective.

Next you ask for clarification about examining Islam from a moral perspective. I had said this refers to its method for influencing the world, which is by force (including intimidation and deception). Here, we render a moral judgment about its method. I do not see what remains to be clarified? You ask what does fascism say to do. Yet its method is similarly that of force. Perhaps what you are asking about are its particulars, such as its approach to the Aryan race, the Jews, State regulation, the treatment of families, etc. Yet these too would be examined primarily by the methods employed to bring them about. Perhaps I do not follow your concerns, but I cannot find anything that needs to be clarified. We judge a mugger to be immoral because he takes what belongs to another; what more needs to be said?

Next you write that one has to determine if the problem is accidental or essential, but again, that cannot be determined by its ‘being’ but only by applying some perspective.

I deduced that Islam is not reformable, by arguing ‘the essence of Islam is the use of force, which cannot change into the moral practice of not using force (to further one’s values)’. This is a logical argument, wherein one cannot derive not-B from B. You claim that this requires an examination. Yet from a moral perspective, one examines the methods of Islam, and defines Islam by its use of force. You may dispute employing a moral perspective, and hence determining its use of force to be immoral. But if one adopts a moral perspective, and finds the essence of Islam to be immoral, the derivation is incontrovertible.

From your definition of ‘being’ there is no way to determine what is essential; from a moral perspective there is no difficulty. So when you write that definitions must deal with the essence, be explanatory, and organize and maintain the grasp of the whole, that is precisely done by employing a perspective, and never by dealing solely with its ‘being’.

Next you take a metal where its molecular structure explains many of its properties. Thank you for taking an actual example, since that clearly captures the issue. *Did you not notice that you employed the perspective of physics?* Once you decided upon that perspective, you could do all that you proposed. But none of that stemmed from its ‘being’. Part of the metal’s ‘being’ is economic, which deals with its costs; part of its ‘being’; is geographic which pertains to its marketability; part of its being is the history of who developed it, or sold it, etc. Such matters are not covered by its physical structure, although all are part of its ‘being’. *Let me asseverate that the example you have chosen has presupposed a perspective*, thereby demonstrating the exact opposite of the view of not needing any perspective.

*It is only by employing a perspective that one can define anything, and find what is essential to it.* Again, SIMPLY DEFINE ANY ONE THING, OR FIND WHAT IS ESSENTIAL TO IT, WITHOUT PRESUPPOSING A PERSPECTIVE, AND I WILL CONCEDE THAT PERSPECTIVES ARE UNNECESSARY. Such an example should easily be given in a sentence or two, since there are millions of definitions, and millions of things that have something essential to them.

11/10/06, 6:47 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

I have advocated employing a moral perspective for defining ideologies in general, and Islam in particular. Allow me to explain why.

The animal kingdom is comprised of species that develop, fight, and engage in alliances. A bird flies faster, a cheetah kills a dear, a fox and a badger jointly capture prey, and all are improved in the process, as they evolve zoologically. Man also evolves, but primarily through civilization, where there is development within given civilizations, as well as fighting and alliances between them.

In order to understand this process, it is helpful to describe man and civilizations. Man is a hybrid, composed of aspirations and passions, where he develops insofar as his aspirations govern his passions. His choice to do so, is the essence of morality (which is defined as the way to achieve justice). Civilization (which is guidance by a summa bonum) is comprised of the dichotomy of culture/government, where culture aims at uplifting man, while government aims at restraining aggression (including its own). In the terminology of linear or dynamic programming, culture is the objective function, while restraining aggression constitutes the constraints; consequently restraining aggression takes priority.

Presuming this formulation, we would evaluate civilizations by how well their cultures and governments achieve their objectives. That is, we take a civilizational perspective. (Here, as I have submitted previously, Islam is best described as an anti-civilization, for it squelches the human spirit, and unleashes barbarism.) Thus, we have two criteria for evaluation, the cultural and the governmental.

Next, let us consider what is most important in the human domain. I submit it is aggressive behavior (including the failure to counter it). It is this that brings about the greatest losses, and impedes all of the objectives that are worthwhile. Thus, whereas it is politically correct to speak of man in flattering terms, it is advisable to deal with him realistically, as going astray. (Can someone reflect on the hundred million murders and worse, that took place last century, and conclude otherwise?)

Now what is central to the movement of civilization is its ideology (or ideologies) for these ideas modify its direction. (The past generation in America, illustrates how our ideology of social democracy has undermined our civilization.) Thus our primary concern with Islam is its ideology of spreading its faith by the sword.

Finally, the last sentence has two components, the objective (spreading its faith) and the method (by the sword). How do we order them? I have written that *what one seeks to achieve is less important than how one attempts to do so.* Here, the objective is secondary, while the method is primary. Yet why should this be so? Why would the desire to do something be less important than how one does it? For example, why would the desire to cohabit be less important than how one brings it about? Couldn’t one gainsay that if not for the desire, nothing would happen in the first place?
If one brings about cohabitation by seduction, that is not comparable to bringing it about by rape. The former builds on human faculties, while the latter builds on what is bestial. In other words, it is the method employed that either cultivates culture or unleashes barbarism. So whereas it is true that our aims and our methods are important, it is primarily the latter that poses the greatest danger. So again, I would not fear the desire to spread Islam, were it to do so by suasion, but view with horror the methods of murder, intimidation, and deception.

In sum: man evolves through civilizations; the priority of civilization is restraining aggression; what is central to civilization is its ideology; what is most important is the method employed.

11/11/06, 9:00 AM  
Blogger JINGOIST said...

Bravo Jason! Well done sir. You are officially famous. :-)

Does that mean I'm now a groupie?


11/11/06, 9:37 AM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

I have argued that we should define “ideologies in general, and Islam in particular” by their method. Allow me now to digress into the importance of method in other areas.

Most people view science in terms of the truths it has developed. Here it cannot be denied that science has contributed enormously to the truths we possess. Yet science is primarily understood by scientists by its method. Not only has its method permitted truths to be validated, but it has led to unexpected truths, refuted what were viewed as certain truths, and even employed the nature of its method in developing new arenas, such as meta-mathematics and Heisenberg’s theory. So (although engineering is results-oriented) science is method-oriented.

Another importance of method is in intellectual discourse. People are generally concerned with the content of a position, but what determines growth and refutation is the method of analysis. False positions can be rectified by a sound method of evaluation, while true positions might be properly understood only after a methodical treatment.

Taoism treats morality by the method it advocates, which is called ‘Wu Wei’ or ‘inaction’. This can be interpreted from our perspective as non-intervention, where the individual for example is protected from the intervention of his government. Is it not evident that the flaws in our government are essentially that of intervening (when it is unnecessary)?

When children are raised, and they develop goals, isn’t the most important thing to teach them, is that they ought to earn their goals rather than steal them?

Yet if method is so important, so that what one does is less important than how he does it, why is it usually viewed as secondary, or as irrelevant? I submit it is because it is easier for people to comprehend the substance of matters, than the abstraction of their methods. One can understand goals by his passions, while understanding method requires cultivation.

11/11/06, 4:24 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Yesterday (Saturday night) I attended a lecture at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in New York. The subject was “Deadly Delusions” by the speaker Dr. Paul Hollander, a prominent conservative scholar and a leading expert on communism and anti-Americanism. His emphasis was on the intellectual supports of communism, and he had personal experience for having lived under fascism and then communism in Hungary, before escaping in 1956.
Dr. Hollander was quite knowledgeable about communist theory and practice, and described it thoroughly. During the question period, he gave a similar analysis of fascism and Islam. When I spoke, I concurred with what he had said, yet added that instead of emphasizing the many “Deadly Delusions” and then mentioning secondarily the lies and coercion of the communists, I would place the methods employed as primary, and the beliefs as secondary. I gave the same arguments as on this blog, and concluded by advocating a strategy for focusing upon the immorality of the method of force employed by the ideologies of fascism, communism, and Islam.

Dr. Hollander said he agreed with what I said (perhaps because he is a diplomatic gentleman). Yet he went on to interpret my view as emphasizing that an analysis should include the practice as well as the theory of an ideology. Here, ‘method’ was treated as though it were one of the components of practice. However, my position (which I might not have expressed clearly) was that *‘method’ is more important than theory and practice, and is employed in every one of their components*. (Perhaps it could be said that method is on a higher ontological level than theory and practice.)

I mention this because it indicates the consequence of addressing an ideology as multitudes of components, rather than defining it by its ‘method’. In particular, all of the intellectual supports were given for communism, but the most important one was omitted, namely the belief that one can improve the world by force. Similarly, particular practices were denounced, but not the essence of why they went astray.
Let us also note that by the approach of listing many theories and practices, a scholar could conclude that fascism, communism, and Islam are reformable, since they can changes many of their theories and practices. (E.g., Islam could remove the need to go to Mecca, or require prayers twice a day instead of five times.

I concur with Morgan (the jingoist) on his kudos to Jason, and apologize if I have taken the discussion far afield from the fine and important analysis he has done.

11/12/06, 10:04 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

I maintain that you’re contextualism is too radical but that’s too great a subject to get into here. It’s not clear to me how you arrive at a definition. I argue it is the result of a process of examination which yields the central component that organizes the rest by its explanatory power. I have no qualms with multiple definitions depending on context and I have no problem with defining some philosophies by their ethical practice; that’s often the key to understanding the rest. Nor do I have a problem with taking method to be central when it is. However, I prefer to describe rather than define religions because they are not concepts but particulars – a specific, quite often contradictory, system of ideas.

There’s another reason I prefer to describe Islam rather than define it. Most people are still learning about Islam. To argue at this stage that X is central to (or the essence of) Islam is premature in the discussion with our fellow citizens. Definitions are a result of a study, not a priori propositions. To say that X is central means you’ve seen how it centers the rest. I prefer to describe how tightly coercion is woven into the religion in both the example of its founder and the primary texts.

If I left the implication that Islam wouldn’t be Islam without the acceptance of coercion as a means of spreading and securing the domain of its rule, it was purely intentional. But I wanted people to feel the force of the evidence and not merely hear the summational statement. Let’s remember that we are far ahead of our fellow citizens. In all my writing I hope that I motivate my audience to read some of the books I’ve found helpful. A blog is no substitute for a book.

11/13/06, 8:45 AM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason, I had raised a few questions, in a given order, to determine where we agreed or disagreed, namely: would it be helpful to define Islam? should we view Islam from a moral perspective? can we define Islam by the use of the sword…

Since I did not receive a yes or no answer, ad seriatum, I inferred from your writings that you believed it would be helpful to define Islam, but disagreed with my definition.

Yet at this point you write that you “prefer to describe rather than define religions” and “to describe Islam rather than define it”. Consequently, whereas I presumed that our difference was about how it should be defined, and whether to do so by its method (of using the sword), that was not the issue. Rather we differ as to whether religions and Islam should be defined. Were that fundamental difference clear, I would not have engaged in my subsequent writings, for they were based on the presumption that we agreed on the imperative to define Islam, prior to analyzing it.

Since as you say my contextualism is radical, and “that’s too great a subject to get into here” there does not appear to be any basis for further discussion.

11/13/06, 9:53 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Yes, it became clear to me only in the course of the discussion that a description is more important at this point than a definition.

11/13/06, 10:20 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Thanks for confirming what I was saying. “Old Believers” differ from the mainstream Russian Orthodox by clinging to minor differences in ritual, such as using two fingers when making the sign of the cross rather than three fingers. The obsession with ritual (as opposed to belief) is a sign of a stagnant religion (such as Islam was until the Islam Revival.) One of the problems with the Orthodox rite, as compared with the Latin Church and its Protestant offshoots, is the dogmatic and ossified nature of the religious practice.

It is truly a Dark Age church. It did not have an Aquinas to champion Aristotle. It didn’t develop deist offshoots or splinter like Protestant churches as they either attempted to moderate their beliefs to be inline with common sense. It hasn’t changed since the ecumenical council, the Second Council of Nicaea, (787). It was authoritarian from the beginning.

11/13/06, 1:14 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

The fact that the Orthodox Church did the orthodox thing wasn’t surprising. It acquiesced to authority? Read Romans 13. We can see this also if we go further back. Once conquered the Greek Orthodox Church was complicit with the Ottoman Caliph in the oppression of the Greeks (and worse for the Serbian Orthodox given the pecking order.) Let’s remember that Jesus wasn’t a revolutionary; but, instead, he went out of the way to avoid any impression of seditious intentions when pushed to speak out against oppression 22:21 or fight arrest 26:52 or otherwise exhibit any act of sedition as Pilate noted 27:23.

The opposition to unjust authority is first defended by John of Salisbury who argues (based on Cicero) that even the King is subject to moral law and can be killed if he oppresses his subjects. Aquinas, influenced by Roman natural law and Aristotle, subsequently confirms that the King is subject to moral law and need not be obeyed. But all this happened in the West after the schism with the Orthodox Church.

11/14/06, 8:20 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Yes, that's true.

11/16/06, 8:03 AM  

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