Blanshard, Langer and Voegelin on Cassirer

Over the years I’ve collected short essays by and about the morphologist of the human spirit, Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945)* by diverse thinkers I also admire and posted them on my other site.  Image result for ernst cassirer

In his 1944 review of Cassirer’s An Essay on Man, Brand Blanshard sounded a note of disappointment:

It is hard not to think, as one reads a book so wealthy as this in historic and scientific erudition, but at the same time so oddly inconclusive, that Cassirer was rather a distinguished reflective scholar than a great speculative philosopher. The learning is not mobilized in the interest of any theory; the book is not so much an ‘essay on man’ as a series of essays, all suggestive and enlightening, which converge on—what? It is hard to say. Perhaps there is no end, or harmony of ends, toward which all these activities are moving. But then, on Cassirer’s own showing, no philosophy of man would seem to be practicable; there would only be a theory of art, a theory of religion, and so on. This is in fact what he gives us. And an admirable gift it is, for which I, at least, am thankful. Only it is not what he sets out to give, nor all that the reader hoped to gain.

Image result for cassirer an essay on manWilliam Schultz commented on Blanshard’s assessment:

Here is the assumption of a continental philosopher that a system must ‘converge’ on something or lead to an overall unity of experience, an ideal unity. To some extent, the criticism is correct, for the main arguments are not in An Essay on Man, yet Cassirer’s claims about the need for unity should have alerted Blanshard that they were in his previous books, as Cassirer himself said in the Preface to that work written almost twenty years after the three-volume masterpiece [The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms]. Ironically, both Blanshard and Cassirer share some of the same assumptions about what philosophy should do, but Blanshard did not study Cassirer’s work enough to recognize the revolutionary way in which Cassirer satisfies traditional expectations about what a philosophy is and does. (Cassirer and Langer on MythRoutledge, 2000, 51)

The other subject of Schultz’s study was Susanne Langer, whose thought was shaped largely by her absorption of Cassirer’s writings in the original German as they were published. She contributed an essay on his theory of language and myth to the Library of Living Philosophers volume dedicated to him.Image result for susanne langer anthony flood

. . . myth and language appeared as genuine twin creatures, born of the same phase of human mentality, exhibiting analogous formal traits, despite their obvious diversities of content. Language, on the one hand, seems to have articulated and established mythological concepts, whereas, on the other hand, its own meanings are essentially images functioning mythically. The two modes of thought have grown up together, as conception and expression, respectively, of the primitive human world. . . .

The first dichotomy in the emotive or mythic phase of mentality is not, as for discursive reason, the opposition of ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ of ‘a’ and ‘non-a,’ or truth and falsity; the basic dichotomy here is between the sacred and the profane. Human beings actually apprehend values and expressions of values before they formulate and entertain facts.

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“Philosophy vs Misosophy”: Paul’s theology and my (admittedly peculiar) terminology

Christians believe that the ultimate truth is a divine person. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” says Jesus Christ. “No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the heavens and earth (Genesis 1:1), is the express image (eikon) of the Father (Hebrews 1:3).

He is also the Word (logos) of God (John 1:1) as well as the wisdom (sophia) and the power (dunamis) of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Jesus Christ is before all things (ta panta), and by him all things cohere (susesteken) (Colossians 1:17). Every human being is surrounded and penetrated by creation, as the Apostle Paul wrote:

Because that which may be known (to gnoston) of God is manifest (phaneros) in them (enautois); for God has made it evident (ephanerosen) unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:18-19

This is our epistemological situation with respect to God. We either responsibly affirm or ignobly suppress God’s plainly evident existence in creation. Reason is a tool, not a court before which God may appear as a defendant.

Philosophical theology as it is practiced rejects the epistemological situation as Paul described it.

Continue reading ““Philosophy vs Misosophy”: Paul’s theology and my (admittedly peculiar) terminology”

God: “behind the scenes” (or “under the floorboards”) of every argument

My lifelong interest in arguments for and against the existence of God was never the same once it dawned on me that unless the God of the Bible exists, there wouldn’t be any such thing as argumentation (and therefore no theistic argumentation).

A study of Cornelius Van Til Image result for cornelius van tiland his interpreter Greg L. Bahnsen occasioned that dawning.

Not even “God does not exist” is intelligible unless God exists.

Image result for greg bahnsenRare is the philosopher who, inferring God’s existence from the existence or character of the world, asks whether inference itself would be possible in a non-theistic world. If it isn’t, then theistic inference is redundant. Our ability to investigate is itself a divine intention.

Professions of atheism are spiritually insincere because they result from the affirmers’ suppression of their basic awareness of God’s existence. (Romans 1:18-20) We all know the latter as incorrigibly as we know that the world has existed for millennia independently of any of us, a world that has included billions of human selves.

Further, one knows the existence of God, the world, and other selves “primordially,” that is, neither by deduction nor by induction, but prior to any deduction or induction one performs. (See my discussion of Augustus Hopkins Strong’s notion of “first truths” here.)

Continue reading “God: “behind the scenes” (or “under the floorboards”) of every argument”

When Acton met Whitehead?

Knowing that the paths of two intellectual heroes, Lord Acton and Alfred North Whitehead, crossed at Cambridge, I’ve sometimes imagined Whitehead, whose mathematics fellowship (1888-1910) overlapped Acton’s Regius Professorship of Modern History (1895-98), attending his lectures.

We know that while at Cambridge Whitehead showed interest in history and theology. But did they meet? The truth may be lost to history.

Lowe’s life of Whitehead documents that he admired Acton, was aware of his “troubles with Rome,” proposed a Cambridge memorial to him, and dropped “in on some of his lectures after Acton was appointed” to the Regius chair.  (p. 186) “But I know of no discussions between them,” Lowe wrote.Image result for Alfred North Whitehead: The Man and his Work

Like Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon before him, Acton had rooms in Nevile’s Court.  In his Lord Acton Roland Hill states that the designation of his room was “staircase 2, A1, on the first floor. (His library would later occupy the apartment next door.) When Whitehead married [in 1891], he changed the rooms given him by Trinity College, moving from a large, high-ceilinged room (C2) in Nevile’s Court to a modest one there” until 1902, the year of Acton’s death.

During the years of the lectures, therefore, Acton and Whitehead were “next-door neighbors.” Someone with access to Nevile’s Court’s floor plans could judge the proximity of their rooms to each other.

Lowe mentioned that in the mid-1890’s the philosopher J. M. E. McTaggart formed Eranos, a discussion group and that Whitehead was a member, but he did not think much of it.  James C. Holland, in his introduction to Owen Chadwick’s study of Acton, noted that “it was at Cambridge that he gave it [i.e., “his commitment to moral judgment in history”] definitive and final expression, in May, 1897, in the privacy of his Trinity rooms in Nevile’s Court, where he [Acton] addressed a select society, the Eranus [sic], which never numbered more than twelve members.”

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Lord Acton: ambiguous democrat, libertarian modernist

Christopher Lazarski’s Power Tends to Corrupt: Lord Acton’s Study of Liberty  (Northern Illinois University Press, 2012) is, or at least ought to be, a reputation-making book.Image result for Power Tends to Corrupt: Lord Acton's Study of Liberty

It is the best discussion of the ideas of John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton in sixty-five  years, that is, since Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and PoliticsGertrude Himmelfarb’s ground-breaking study.

Image result for Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and PoliticsThe author achieves this in about the same number of pages (at least, sans apparatus) but, more importantly, he does so with equal readability, all the more remarkable since English is not his mother tongue.

After having immersed himself in the events of early 20th-century Russia, the fruit of which being his 2008 The Lost Opportunity: Attempts at Unification of the Anti-Bolsheviks: 1917-1919, Lazarski shifted his scholarly interest to the political thought of a 19th-century European who, while not predicting the Bolshevik Revolution, identified the spiritual fault lines that help explain such an anti-libertarian rupture with the past.

Currently Associate Dean in Warsaw’s School of International Relations at Lazarski University (founded by a distant relative), our author draws upon Roland Hill’s magisterial life of Acton for frame and meat, but does not minutely track that monumental biography.Image result for roland hill acton

What he does track are the contours of Acton’s prodigious learning. He divides his terrain into four parts, three devoted to Acton’s areas of interest—the ancient world (Jerusalem and Athens), the modern alternative (especially the Anglo-American tradition), and the revolutionary crisis to which that alternative succumbed (the French Revolution). A fourth part expounds and interprets Acton’s view of “the best regime,” a question rarely absent from Lazarski’s neat encapsulations of the master’s texts.

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I believe that I may avoid absurdity and foolishness

The “motto” that summarizes my understanding of the relationship between faith and reason is not Tertullian’s Credo quia absurdum est (“I believe because it is absurd”).

It is, rather, a corollary of Anselm’s subjunctive Credo ut intelligam (“I believe that I may understand”) or Augustine’s imperative Crede, ut intelligas (“Believe that you may understand”).

It is: Credo ut evitam absurditatem somniumque. I believe that I may avoid absurdity and foolishness.

Absurdity and foolishness are the fruit of “philosoph[izing] after the elements of this world” (Colossians 2:8). In those elements is rooted the opposite of wisdom, “every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV). The term “misosophy” marks off that discourse from philosophizing “after Christ.”

“We will hear again of this matter” (Acts 17:32) was the lame response of the Areopagite misosopher to the preaching of the Apostle Paul.

“He who is not with Me is against Me” (Luke 11:23). Non-Christians are not disinterested observers. What God says about them is what matters, and He denies the possibility of their neutrality.

The non-Christian who claims to be neutral about Christ may think he makes good on his claim if he only refrains from ridiculing Christians. They, however, may not (at least not integrally) take the non-Christian’s self-representation at face value.

In Proverbs 8 Wisdom is a person who was with God at Creation. John 1 elaborates upon and complements that picture: the Wisdom of God is the Word of God.

There is a dual promise: “For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:35-36; ESV).

It’s safe to assume that he who loves death does not love wisdom. To remove all doubt, God says that such a man hates WisdomHe is, therefore, a misosopher

Bernard Lonergan had it backwards; August Hopkins Strong, about right.

This post develops the point of an earlier post on the Roman Catholic theologian Bernard J. F. Lonergan (1904-1984).Image result for bernard lonergan

“If the real is completely intelligible,” Lonergan argued, “God exists. But the real is completely intelligible. Therefore, God exists.” Insight: A Study of Human UnderstandingNew York: Philosophical Library, 1957, 672; Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, Book 3, U Toronto Press, 5th ed, 1992.

Image result for bernard lonergan

Lonergan seems to derive the minor premise (“But the real is completely intelligible”) from the alleged fact that the human desire to know, which by nature seeks complete intelligibility, therefore affirms (at least implicitly) the existence of a completely intelligent object (which satisfies that desire).

This affirmation in turn entails the existence of a completely intelligent “unrestricted act of understanding” that understands everything about everything and all the attributes of the God of Christian theism to boot.

Epistemologically self-conscious Christians know that Christ is the light of every human knower. (John 1:9; “In thy light shall we see light.” Psalm 36:9b) They not only know God exists, but know that they know God exists. (Romans 1:18-20)

And so they do not feel a need to prove God’s existence from things allegedly known better, any more than they feel the need to prove the existence of a world order existing independently of their experience of it or the existence of persons like themselves. They reject any presumption of atheism.

Continue reading “Bernard Lonergan had it backwards; August Hopkins Strong, about right.”

Antony Sutton’s Inconvenient Research

I’m not an expert on the works of Antony C. Sutton (1925-2002), but I hope to be one day, and this post will explain why.Image result for antony sutton

Deep within the second volume of his magnum opus, Sutton posed the following alternative:

To subsidize and support a system that is the object of massive military expenditures is both illogical and irrational. . . . it calls into question not only the ability and the wisdom but indeed the basic common sense of the policymakers. The choice is therefore clear: either the West should abandon massive armaments expenditures because the Soviet Union is not an enemy of the West, or it should abandon the technical transfers that make it possible for the Soviet Union to pose the threat to the Free World which is the raison d’être for such a large share of Western expenditures. Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, 1945-1965, Stanford, Hoover Institution, 1968, p. 400.

Image result for western technology and soviet economic developmentWhen I chanced upon Sutton’s trilogy at a public library in the early ’70s, I was still viewing the world through Herbert Aptheker’s red-tinted spectacles. The massive amount of evidence of technology transfer that Sutton had discovered, organized, and published—under the imprint of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution—cohered with neither the Communist worldview I then held nor my anti-Communist one a few years later.

For Sutton proved that for at least fifty years capitalists had sold their supposed mortal enemies helming the Soviet Union much more than the proverbial rope with which to hang them (thereby fulfilling a prediction apocryphally attributed to Lenin).

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Lew Rockwell and the Story of the Ludwig von Mises Institute

Soon my autobiographical vignette of Murray Rothbard will join those of Herbert Aptheker, Sidney Hook, Bernard Lonergan, and Eric Voegelin. In preparation for that post I’m sharing, with the author’s permission, a recent letter from Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. the Founder and Chairman of the Mises Institute. It’s a fundraising letter, one to which I hope you’ll respond. But it’s more than that: it’s his personal story of Mises, Murray, and the Institute, one he must have told a thousand times, but never more vividly and concisely. Let’s listen to Lew. — AGF

November 13, 2018

Dear Friend,

When I met Ludwig von Mises, he was exactly as I had imagined him: kind, brilliant, dignified, beautifully mannered and dressed, a gentleman from what Murray Rothbard called “an older and better world.”Image result for the ludwig von mises institute His wife, Margit, had been an actress, and she had great beauty, intelligence, and presence as well.

Image result for margrit von mises

A genius, Mises was the greatest economist of the 20th century, and a hero in his courageous battles with Marxists, National Socialists, and Keynesians. Never did he put his own career ahead of teaching the truth, which he did in brilliant book after brilliant book. As a result, he never had the professorships and honors that were his due. Forced to flee the Nazi occupiers, he found American Keynesians a hostile bunch as well. So his career was stunted, but not his spirit, and not the legacy and example he left to all who cherish freedom.Image result for last knight of liberalism

Murray Rothbard I had the privilege of knowing well. He was funny, charming, and a genius, too. Like his mentor Mises, Murray suffered in his career for his integrity and truth-telling, which he also displayed in brilliant book after brilliant book. Even billionaire oligarchs couldn’t stop him. A model scholar, teacher, and polymath, he seemed, like Mises, to know everything.

Murray once told me he never heard Mises express any self-pity for his treatment, but only good will and determination. I never heard Murray express such feelings either. He was the happy warrior of Austrian economics and liberty. Continue reading “Lew Rockwell and the Story of the Ludwig von Mises Institute”

The Problem OF Philosophy

Aristotle’s School

There are problems of philosophy, which philosophers have perennially asked and attempted to answer.  What really exists? What can (and do) I know?  What is the nature of the good, the true, and the beautiful?

But there’s also the problem of philosophy, one that philosophy raises implicitly but cannot answer directly. That’s the problem of worldview. Do my answers to those philosophical questions comport or clash with one another? How much about the world must I “take for granted” when I ask my first question? Can I query those takings?

When one is adverting to the problem of “background” worldview one is not trying to solve problems that arise on its terms. And one’s worldview must be able to acknowledge worldview-diversity. But where is one standing when one entertains that problem?

As my interest in the worldview problem has increased, that in philosophical problems has decreased.  That’s because philosophical problems now seem to me a function of one’s basic, non-negotiable stance toward the world. When philosophers pay attention to it, they’re not “doing” philosophy.  When they don’t, their philosophical work is exposed to worldview-level criticism.

It’s not that philosophical questions are unimportant. The almost fifty years I spent studying them were not wasted time. Philosophical questions are endlessly interesting culturally and historically. But worldview questions have supplanted philosophical ones in my mind, perhaps because my worldview is of paramount importance to me and, going forward, I wish to advert to it explicitly. Worldviews assign various values to cultural and historical importance and hence to philosophy.

Philosophers who profess the same worldview can agree or disagree fruitfully about, for example, the veridicality of sense perception. Those who do not profess the same worldview, but are not conscious of that disparity, may misunderstand both their agreements and disagreements, even if when they use the same natural language correctly.  If they are conscious of that disparity, then it is not clear what their apparent agreements or disagreements could mean. “God exists,” affirms the Christian, who thinks the idea of God important. “Yes, God exists!,” answers the Buddhist, who deems it a distraction from the main issue of living. Continue reading “The Problem OF Philosophy”