Brand Blanshard: rationalism’s “working hypothesis” and the Van Tilian verdict

Image result for brand blanshardIn the discourse we call philosophy, noncognitive interests are in play, interests that compete with, threaten to interfere with if not overwhelm the interest in knowing the truth.  Brand Blanshard—the one member of my pantheon of former philosophical heroes whom I could have met, but now regret never having exerted myself to do so—acknowledged their efficacy:

What our intelligence wants is, of course, the truth.  What the rest of our nature asks from our intelligence is not what is true but what will satisfy. By that we mean what will appease our impulsive and emotional nature, our longing to be liked, our desire to see our future secure, our character respected, our faith vindicated, our party shown to be the party of sober sense, or nation triumphant. When one considers how hidden and barricaded the truth commonly is, how definite it is, allowing no alternative, how feeble is our passion for it, and how overwhelming the tendencies in us to look for it through distorting prisms, the wonder is not that most of us are irrational but that some of us are as rational as we are.[1]

He denied, however, that non-cognitive interests smothered the interest in truth. He thought it worthwhile to cultivate the latter to see (almost experimentally, ironically enough) how far one could go if one gave reason its head.

Unlike Blanshard’s empiricist and pragmatist critics, however, I affirm an irreducibly distinct love of truth. But that’s because I presuppose that the One who is Truth (John 14:6) created the context within which human truth-seeking takes place and makes sense.  Continue reading “Brand Blanshard: rationalism’s “working hypothesis” and the Van Tilian verdict”

Philosophy: its descent from loving wisdom to studying problems

The fifth footnote to the Wikipedia article on “Philosophy” cites an introductory textbook as follows:

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Philosophy is a study of problems which are ultimate, abstract and very general. These problems are concerned with the nature of existence, knowledge, morality, reason and human purpose.[1]

What is the relationship between the study of problems and the love of wisdom? Has the former been finally detached from the latter, assuming the one arose out of the practice of the other?

If the progressive, historical untethering of the study from the love is a fact, is it worthwhile to evaluate it, or need we only adjust to it? May we ask about it critically or would it be unfruitful, even unwise (in the sense of imprudent, impractical, or pointless) to do so?  Did not Pythagoras, who coined the term, intend for the love to guide the study? Did he not assume that the study flowed out of and expressed the love?

Since the very beginning of the discourse called “philosophical,” its practitioners have held one conceit, namely, that reason is autonomous and therefore can identify, study, and perhaps solve general and fundamental problems.

Image result for rescher the strife of systemsEven if self-identifying “philosophers” disagree about proffered solutions, they would all agree (if asked) that such diversity, what Nicholas Rescher called the “strife of systems,” can in no way discredit the conceit. I say “would,” for taking that conceit for granted is so ingrained that it takes considerable research to find its self-conscious articulation and defense.

Consequently there’s rarely been an occasion for philosophical rivals to express such solidarity. They hold that conceit implicitly, but absolutely. For them it is non-negotiable—ethically, metaphysically, and epistemologically—and, as such, invulnerable to discrediting.

Continue reading “Philosophy: its descent from loving wisdom to studying problems”

Bill Vallicella on Cornelius Van Til: An open mind and heart

Image result for bill vallicellaBill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, is currently reading Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith, and that delights me no end. Bill was the first philosopher to welcome my old site (now 15 years old) and greet the launching of this one (which occasioned his republishing a generous and stimulating critique of one of my efforts).

I thank Dave Lull (the “Omnipresent Wisconsin Librarian,” now retired) for alerting me not only to Bill’s “Van Til and Romans 1:18-20,” but also to “God, the Cosmos, Other Minds: In the Same Epistemological Boat? The latter is Bill’s response to my “God: “behind the scenes” (or “under the floorboards”) of every argument.” (I’m grateful to Dave for many other unsolicited yet invaluable leads he has sent my way over the years.)Image result for dave lull

After reading the second post, though, I wonder whether after a few chapters Bill’s thrown Defense against the wall in exasperation—one of my reactions, decades ago—figuratively speaking, of course.

In a blog post I can address only some of the issues Bill raise. That is, what follows does not answer Bill point for point. I’ll only suggest the lines of a fuller response.

Bill is ambivalent about Van Til: his “presuppositionalism is intriguing even if in places preposterous.” Bill doesn’t specify what merits that assessment. In any case Van Til’s distinctive charge was that all non-Christian thought—including much that is professedly Christian but infected with non-Christian presuppositions—is preposterous at its roots.

Continue reading “Bill Vallicella on Cornelius Van Til: An open mind and heart”

Martin Luther King’s 90th: a friend remembers

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Prince George Motel, Miami, 1960

Hugh Murray, Civil Rights Movement veteran, Scottboro Boys historian, and my fellow Herbert Aptheker research assistant, marked the 90th anniversary of King’s birth today (which was actually last Tuesday) with an email to friends. I share it with his permission:

To All,  HAPPY MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY.  I certainly do not believe King was a saint; few people are. He is memorable because of the courage he showed in standing up when it was difficult, and in the end, standing up against all the forces of the US government. While he was preaching non-violence, the Feds paid various Blacks to join his movement and use violence to discredit King. I think the Feds even supplied the weapons. One such was a civil rights photographer, and recently it was discovered just what he was doing for the Feds to undermine King. There is a reason that many documents relating to the assassinations of JF Kennedy and ML King are still kept from the public. Trump angered the Deep State when he opened some of the material, but eventually Trump caved and kept some materials secret. About murders in 1963 and 1968!? It is not to protect the reputations of Lee Harvey Oswald or James Earl Ray. It is to protect government agencies. Well, as the Scots say, cheerio! Hugh Murray

In summer of 1960 King and others (including Jackie Robinson, the centenary of whose birth is ten days away) trained about two dozen civil rights activists, including Hugh, in the strategy and tactics of non-violent civil disobedience. The sessions were held in the Prince George Motel in Miami. The photo at the head of this post was taken at one of them. Here’s the other side of the room. Hugh’s on the right:

A month after this session Hugh helped integrate a Woolworth’s lunch counter in New Orleans, his home town. Forty years ago he recalled this event and others, including the workshop with King, in “The Struggle for Civil Rights in New Orleans in 1960: Reflections and Recollections.” Here are other pix from long ago:

Future Freedom Rider Jerome Smith, a 21-year-old Hugh T. Murray, Jr., and others integrate Woolworth’s counter during the first New Orleans sit-in. September 9, 1960. Below is the same scene from a different angle. Hugh’s third from the right. The gentleman standing behind them is not waiting for a seat to become available, but rather the reason Hugh took off his glasses. No violence ensued at this protest. Both pix are from

The September 10, 1960 edition of the Biloxi MS Daily Herald links ran “College Students Held in Sit-In in New Orleans” on its first page. After listing Hugh, Smith and several others the reporter notes: “Hugh Murray Sr. attempted to get his son to leave the others but police would not allow him past the barricade.”

It has been my pleasure to provide a platform for my good friend’s papers over the past fifteen years: Hugh Murray: Independent Scholar. His autobiography will be well worth reading. I pray he’ll get around to writing it.


Evidence that demands a worldview: or how apologetics requires a metapologetics

Image result for evidence that demands a verdictThe new edition Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World, edited with his son Sean, recently caught my eye on Amazon. The first edition did that over 40 years in Christian Publications’s bookstore in Manhattan (8th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets).

Gabriel Monheim (1936-2015: this pic is circa 1979-80), who preached on Wall Street, recommended it to me in 1978. The occasion was my asking questions that someone (certainly an ex-Marxist graduate philosophy student) might have about the Bible.

The McDowells’ 700+-page tome is a compendium of orthodox Christian answers to (mainly) historical and archaeological objections to belief in the Bible as the Word of God written and to the many propositions that this belief logically commits the believer. That is, it’s a contribution to apologetics.

Mainly, but not exclusively. To address new versions of perennial philosophical objections the McDowells have added six chapters: “The Nature of Truth,” “The Knowability of Truth,” “Answering  Postmodernism,” “Answer Skepticism,” “Are Miracles Possible?,” and “Is History Knowable?”

Complementing this approach to apologetics for me are the works of Norman  Geisler (PhD, Loyola, 1970; b. 1932), whom I met at the 1982 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. Geisler starts with defending theism, grounding his premises in principles that one cannot coherently deny. He then defends the historical reliability of the Bible. On its basis he argues for the deity of Jesus. Whatever Jesus teaches is true, and He taught the divine inspiration of the Old Testament and promised an inspired New Testament. Image result for norman geisler

Geisler’s apologetical method is commonly labeled. “evidentialist.” It’s also categorized as “classical” as distinct from the “presuppositional” approaches of Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) and Gordon H. Clark. (1902-1985).

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But facts bear an evidential relationship to each other only if certain background conditions obtain. They connect (a) facts to each other causally and (b) each of them to our evidence-weighing minds (c) within a world created by God. That’s the worldview that grounds the premises of sound classical apologetical arguments. It would take me years to accept that from Van Til (above, on the steps of Federal Hall, Wall & Broad, NE corner, 1978, the year I met Monheim; the man in front of him, resting his chin on his left fist, is my old friend Eric Sigward. ). My reading and interacting with Greg L. Bahnsen (1948-1995) made the decisive pedagogical difference.

God has (as it were) encoded these conditions into every human mind (Genesis 1:27; John 1:6; Romans 1:18-20), even minds that reject the Bible. The worldview expressed in the Bible, and only that one, explicates them. The Bible confirms as divine revelation what every human knower tacitly and spontaneously works with, but can justify (when justification is called for) only on the basis of the Bible.

When apologists argue with an unbeliever about, say, the authorship of Isaiah, they should be prepared, at a moment’s notice, to foreground the conditions of intelligible discourse.

Continue reading “Evidence that demands a worldview: or how apologetics requires a metapologetics”

Happy Birthday, Lord Acton!

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (1834-1902), Catholic historian in Victorian England and thorn in Pio Nono‘s side (to whom he nevertheless dutifully submitted when he could do no other) was born 185 years ago today.Image result for lord acton israelites

As the Enlightenment’s embers flicker out I continue to engage his writings for their style as well as substance. Below are quotes (including the aphorism “everyone knows”) culled from Roland Hill, Lord Acton, Yale University Press, 2000.

Here are links to my review of Lazarski’s Power Tends to Corrupt and my essay on the limitations of Acton’s liberalism from a dozen years ago.

On Liberty

By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities. The State is competent to assign duties and draw the line between good and evil only in its immediate sphere. . . . In ancient times the State absorbed authorities not it own, and intruded on the  domain of personal freedom. In the Middle Ages it possessed too little authority, and suffered others to intrude. Modern States fall habitually into both excesses. The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities. Liberty, by this definition, is the essential condition and guardian of religion; and it is in the history of the Chosen People, accordingly, that the first illustrations of my subject are obtained. The government of the Israelites was a Federation, held together by no political authority, but by the unity of race and faith, and founded, not on physical force, but on a voluntary covenant. (278) Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Lord Acton!”

Murray Rothbard: on my late friend’s lamentable error

“I was sure I was going to predecease him.”

That’s how my friend Father James A. Sadowsky (1923-2012) confirmed the news of the passing of Murray Newton Rothbard (1926–1995) two dozen years ago today.

Picture 1It was after Sunday Mass at St. Agnes. Finishing breakfast with friends in a 42nd Street a coffee shop, I excused myself to call (using a 20th-century pay phone) my wife who, enduring a cold, couldn’t join me in Manhattan that wintry day.

“Father Sadowsky called,” she said. “Murray Rothbard died yesterday.”

It’s now been almost 36 years since the first chat that began my friendship with Murray, which continued through his last dozen years. His writings, illuminated by conversations, formed a major part of my education in economics, history, and politics. His personal influence makes it difficult to make a selection among the many memories.

Reading Man, Economy & State , a project I began on March 22, 1983, inspired me to call him one evening. Barely two months into it, I looked up his number (in a 20th-century phone book) and made bold to use it on May 18 (my diary says): “I got six new [libertarian] leads from him, including a Fordham [University] history professor who lives in Jackson Heights [John McCar­thy] . . . . Rothbard is so easy to talk to and make laugh. . . . Look for­ward to meeting him in the Fall [at the Libertarian Party National Convention].”Image result for murray rothbard

Finishing that stout tome on June 19th marked the end of my political wilderness-wandering to which I had sentenced myself after breaking with Marxism six years earlier. By the time my “Jürgen Habermas’s Critique of Marxism” was published in the Winter 1977/1978 issue Science & Society, a Stalinoid academic journal, I was in the free market camp.  (Its text with corrections and editorial notes is freely available here.) But I didn’t find National Review conservatism sufficiently inspiring.

Less than a year later I was invited to particiapte in Murray’s 1984 seminar on the history of economic thought:

Last Rothbard class was a damning critique of Adam Smith.  Smith has almost no libertarian credentials. Marx can have him. . . . [T]here’s an essay in the latest Libertarian Vanguard that Rothbard wants me to read, and Mark [Brady] is going to copy for me . . . . Murray Rothbard was very friendly again with me after class. He’s busy packing for his move to Stanford CA, so, he says, he’s sorry he couldn’t have invited Gloria and me to dinner. Discussed my Christian libertarian idea with him on the bus. I’m flattered.” (May 4, 1984; unless otherwise marked, dates refer to diary entries.)

I met him for first time at the 1983 Libertarian National Convention at the Sheraton Hotel in New York. (This pic was taken there.) “He re­membered my name,” I recorded, “and when I discussed [Bernard] Lonergan’s economics briefly, he said Lonergan struck him as an ‘institutionalist.’” (September 4, 1983)

Continue reading “Murray Rothbard: on my late friend’s lamentable error”

What kind of Muslim is Wajahat Ali?

Every year around Christmas illiberal “liberals” (aka Progressives) lecture Christians, mostly those of the white conservative persuasion, about the “true meaning” of Jesus and how they obscure it. This year is no different.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez. D-Ill., questions Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she testifies before the House Judiciary Committee Dec. 20, 2018. The congressman could have benefitted from getting manners for Christmas. Photo: SARAH SILBIGER /NYT / NYTNSRetiring Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) recently shouted at Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “Shame on everybody that separates children and allows them to stay at the other side of the border fearing death, fearing hunger, fearing sickness,” he fulminated. “Shame on us for wearing our badge of Christianity during Christmas and allow the secretary to come here and lie!”

He  bolted from the hearing room before she could respond to his slander.

Gutierrez’s rhetoric was on par with his manners: the Roman Empire had impressive walls, but none prevented migration from Judea to Egypt, i.e., from one Roman province to another.

A few days after Gutierrez’s theatrics, the day after Christmas, Gustavo Perez Arriaga—gang-banger, DUI violator, and illegal immigrant—murdered Newman California Police Corporal Ronil Singh, thereby separating his child and wife from him. Permanently.Image result for ronil singh

Arriaga had snuck into the U.S. through Arizona. How many others like him are in the caravan passing through (if you can believe it) Arriaga, Mexico? Is it un-Christian to ask how likely any of them are to make orphans out of American children?

Or are we morally allowed to fixate solely on the tragedy of children whose migrant parents expose them to harm, sometimes fatally?

Wajahat Ali is a Muslim, perhaps the way Gutierrez is a Christian. He’s a Progressive who focuses on combating “hate,” especially “Islamophobia.” Cafeteria-style, he picks out what he likes about Islam and ignores the embarrassing remainder as if they were accidental features of Islam.

Image result for Wajahat AliThat is, Ali provides what William Kirkpatrick calls the “smiley-faced version of Islam which emphasizes the commonalities with Catholicism and leaves out the scary parts.” (“Pope Francis, Indifferentism, and Islamization,” Crisis Magazine, December 31, 2018)

Continue reading “What kind of Muslim is Wajahat Ali?”