My philosophical “credo”: all right (mostly) after all these years

“Elements of a Credo” was probably the first piece I wrote for my antique (i.e., not mobile-friendly) philosophy site in 2004. (Compare the edited version below with the original.) I wrestle with its applicability to my current thinking. That is, I’m unhappy with its pretension to theological “neutrality.” But reading it as though it were written by someone else, I think it good enough to share in the hope that it might provoke conversation.—AGF

“He who tells me only what I already know, what I already believe, and what I like to hear, may please me, but he does not contribute to my grasp of the subject.  Whereas, he who compels me to face aspects of the matter which I would like to avoid really does something for me.”

  George Andrew Lundberg 1

I am a philosopher. That is, I seek to “frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.” (Alfred North WhiteheadProcess and Reality).

I am also a commentator on the passing scene.  Apart from any degree of success I may enjoy as a philosopher, I feel compelled to venture provisional, qualified judgments in advance of the completion of my speculative philosophy.

As philosopher and commentator, I seek the truth. To do that, I need the cooperation of some and, more importantly, the noninterference of all.

Some may not refrain from interfering.  They would even coerce my cooperators into shunning me.  For the unfettered seeking of truth invariably leads to the expression of particular truths, or just the exposure of falsehood, which threatens to harm the (at least short-term) interests of the coercers.

That has ever been the nature of the truth-seeking business. It has never been merely about straightening out someone else’s muddled thinking within the ambit of a journal article and then repairing to one’s study for a cigar and a glass of sherry. Socrates made that clear. Nothing has changed since his day. Continue reading “My philosophical “credo”: all right (mostly) after all these years”

Adolf Hitler: Socialist Activist

Going over articles by my friend Hugh Murray, a veteran of the civil rights movementImage result for hugh t. murray, jr (third from the right;  New Orleans lunch counter sit-in, September 9, 1960), I noticed in one of them his elaboration upon an inconvenient (for some) fact of Adolf Hitler’s political trajectory.

Rejected by several journals in the late ’90s, Hugh’s “Affirmative Action and the Nazis: Or: Why Liberals Cannot Understand a Holocaust” at last found a home in 2004.  Here’s the salient passage (lightly edited; my commentary follows):

Turmoil erupted inside Germany.  On New Years 1918-19, the radical Spartacists attempted a coup, but were foiled by soldiers returning from the fronts [of the Great War] who formed into new groups, the Freikorps (free corps). They killed the two Spartacist leaders, Karl Liebknecht and the Jewish Rosa Luxemburg.Karl and Rosa Elsewhere events went in the opposite direction. In the large southern German province of Bavaria a republic was also proclaimed, led by the Jewish journalist Kurt Eisner, then by the Jewish playwright Ernst Toller, and finally by the Jewish Communist Eugen Leviné . Apparently, one of the supporters of this radical Left regime was a young corporal, recently released, who had been gassed in the trenches toward war’s end, Adolf Hitler (far right, seated, with his Bavarian Reserve Infantry comrades).

The television program The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler: [Part] I, The Private Man contains some revealing sequences. [It’s available on YouTube.] I quote from the narration:

With the defeat [of Germany in 1918], revolution broke out across Germany. In Bavaria a revolutionary government was set up. Image result for kurt eisnerThe socialist president Kurt Eisner was shot on the street in [25] February 1919. The people turned out to say farewell. Hitler had returned to his Munich regiment, his only foothold, his only home. He was threatened with demobilization and a return to the hostel. A fellow soldier later remembered that Hitler seemed like a stray dog, searching for a new master. In the funeral procession for the Jewish Socialist Eisner was a detachment from Hitler’s regiment wearing both red armbands and black armbands. The film clip shows a lance corporal marching with the officers—Adolf Hitler. Continue reading “Adolf Hitler: Socialist Activist”

Hans-Herman Hoppe’s 2017 Property and Freedom Society talk repays study and debate

When it comes to the fate of Western civilization, I often wonder whether “it’s all over but the shouting,” whether the odds favor our enemies.

(Secularly speaking. The Kingdom of God will interrupt the current evil flow. If you think the secular is all there is, we need to have another conversation.)

The sheer volume of material one has to grapple with to come to a responsible answer overwhelms me. And then there’s what one might call the secondary literature, the thousands of worthwhile blogs and other platforms on which pro-Westerners can hash things out and find their way through the maze. One cannot responsibly dismiss it with a wave of the hand or pretend to have mastered it.

Only today I stumbled upon the text of the talk that Hans-Hermann Hoppe‘s gave to the Property and Freedom Society last year. (Once upon a time I was au courant on all things libertarian. Better late than never.) Hoppe’s frank discussion of our parlous estate is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time (but you may discount the appraisal of one who’s just admitted to being late to the party).

It’s long. You’ll probably skip it. After all, life is short. I understand.

It ends with a list of imperatives I agree must be carried out. But how? I’m left with skepticism, if not despair, about what those who agree with Hoppe’s diagnosis can reasonably hope to do. It seems there is much more sand in the bottom of the hour glass than the top.

I invite debate not only about Hoppe’s remedies but also about the prospects for their ever being applied in time. Ludwig von Mises‘s aphorism* doesn’t allay my pessimism. (Yes, Mises believed this while escaping the grip of the Nazis, and the Institute that bears his name promotes his ideas, and yet . . . here we are.)

Let’s affiliate, help each other find the truth of the matter, support each other’s efforts, build each other up, encourage each other.

Our enemies need to be more than ridiculed, exposed, and refuted. They need to be defeated.

Here’s the link: The Alt-Right and AntiFa—A Libertarian Strategy for Social Change

 

* Tu ne cede malis [Virgil wrote] sed contra audentior ito. That is, “do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against them.” (Part of it is the motto of The Bronx.) Is giving up tantamount to giving in?

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.

Continue reading “Blanshard, Langer and Voegelin on Cassirer”

“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.”

Continue reading “When Acton met Whitehead?”

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.

Continue reading “Lord Acton: ambiguous democrat, libertarian modernist”

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.”