The Great Ideas ~ The Answer to Darwin

The Answer to Darwin

In The Darwinian Theory of Man’s Origin, Adler of course explained Darwin’s theory of evolution and the evidence that anchors it.  Here in The Answer to Darwin, he continues with the evidence, adds to it more current research and the gives some evidence of his own to the contrary.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters Francisco Goya

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1799) Francisco Goya ~ source Wikiart

Adler reminds us that Darwin never built his theory on the anatomical or physiological resemblance between the higher animals and man, nor embriological similarities or fossils.  He rested his whole argument on mental power, in respect to the differences and similarities.  “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”  What evidence did Darwin use for his conclusion?  It is all on the basis of human and animal behaviour.  He claims animals reason, use tools and use speech the same as man but to a lesser degree.  Adler then gives examples of experiments of animal behaviour since Darwin’s day, all seemingly to support Darwin’s theory.  But Adler does not believe they are indisputable and he is going to dispute them.  He believes that men differ essentially from all other animals in kind, and his evidence will be presented under three different headings:

  1. Only humans make artistically
  2. Only humans think discursively
  3. Only humans associate politically

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The Great Ideas ~ The Darwinian Theory of Man’s Origin

From How Different Are Humans? we move to the Darwinian Theory of Man, the argument and evidence for his origin and nature.  While Darwin did not present his theory until his second book, The Descent of Man, he relied on his first book, Origin of Species for the truths of his theory.

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The Great Ideas ~ How To Think About Man

As I start my sixth lecture/essay of Adler’s, we are moving from the examination of knowledge and opinion to the nature of Man.  Adler is appearing to take one idea and have five lectures that focus on it, and so far I’m really impressed by the way he logically and reasonably develops his arguments.

In dealing with the Great Idea of Man, Adler states that the problem can be posed in two questions:
  1. With regard to man’s nature, is man different or different in some degree from animals?
  2. With regard to man’s origin in that, is he a created or an evolved being?
Adler says that if he presented a thesis to you that “there is a discontinuity between man and the rest of nature,” you would disagree or feel very uncomfortable with his claim.  Why?  Because of the instilled beliefs prevalent in the 20th century.
Luckman, his co-host, here interjects, challenging Adler.  Is Adler only allowing for the Darwinian view of man, because there are certainly a number Christians who hold a very different view from that of Darwin.

Adler agrees that there is a lively division between science and religion with regard to the views of man’s nature and origin, but he wishes to speak outside of the religious scope and simply wants to address that the traditional view of man has had very little defense.   Apart from faith, there has been very few who have stood against Darwin’s theory “on the grounds of reason or in terms of the facts and the interpretation of the facts.”

The Three Ages of Man (1500-1501)
Giorgione
source Wikiart

Before and After Darwin

Adler means that in the 20th century, the main secular worldview would reject his thesis that there is discontinuity between man and the rest of nature.  Looking back historically, there is a traditional view of man before Darwin and a completely different view after Darwin.  He will explain the history.
The predominant traditional view of man began with the Greeks and continued into the 19th century.  They believed man was the only rational animal and therefore distinct from the other animals.  While many great thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle, the Roman Stoics and the Roman Epicureans disagreed on many things, they all held that man had a “special character” and was the “only thing on earth descended from the gods.”  This is also true of the Middle Ages, as well as Mohammadan and Jewish culture and beliefs; although they disagreed on much, they agreed on this point, as “theologians, but as philosophers as well, in terms of reason.”  One can say the same of Decartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Kant and Hegel.  He supplies some quotes but claims Hamlet says it best:

“What a piece of work is a man!  How noble in reason!  How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.”

Or Milton, who is less poetic but perhaps more clear:

“A creature whom not prone and brute as other creatures, but embued with sanctity of reason might erect his stature and upright with front serene govern the rest, self-knowing and from thence magnanimous to correspond with heaven.”

The opposite point of view did not become popular until the end of the nineteenth century, although as early as the sixteenth century people such as Machiavelli and Montaigne introduced the idea that man was no better than beasts.  It is the biology, psychology and science of modern times that have entirely altered society’s perception of man.  Sigmund Freud points to three men who have fatally injured man’s traditional view: Copernicus who displaced man from the centre of the universe; Darwin with his research stole man’s special privilege of a created being; and himself, who said, “Humanity has in the course of time had to endure from the hands of science two great outrages upon its naïve self-love ….. But man’s craving for grandiosity is now suffering the third and most bitter blow from present-day psychological research, which is endeavoring to prove to the ego of each one of us that he is not even master in his own house, but that he must remain content with the various scraps of information about what is going on unconsciously.”

Luckman interjects asking if Adler is going to deal with Copernicus and Freud instead of Darwin, but Adler confirms that his focus will be on Darwin for he feels he has made the only serious attack on the traditional view of man.

Study for ‘Man and Nature’ (1987)
Stephen Conroy
source ArtUK

How Are Human’s Different From Other Animals?

Copernicus does not essentially attack the view that “man differs in kind essentially and radically from other animals,” and Freud does so only from the perspective that he is a follower of Darwin, so Darwin is the true obstacle.

Bear with me here because he gives a quote of Darwin’s:

“The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, is certainly one of degree (Adler directs us to notice the word ‘degree,’ and not of ‘kind’.) ……. We have seen that the senses and the intuitions, the various emotions and faculties such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, of which man boasts, may be found in incipient or even sometimes in a well-developed condition in the lower animals.  They are also capable of inherited improvements …… If it could be proved that certain high mental powers, such as the formation of general conceptions, were absolutely peculiar to man …… “  which Darwin doubts, and claims that man merely has a higher language than other animals.

Now Adler say that, apart from the question of God’s existence, this question about the nature and origins of man is the most serious question that can be considered as it involves all of religion and science and philosophy.

He reminds us that by arguing his points, he is going to make no appeal to faith whatsoever and approach them merely on the terms of science, philosophy and in interpretation of the facts.  The facts that will be dealt with have crucial consequences for religion, morals and politics, that are even more serious than the division of culture between the West and the East and the way each views man and animal.  He gives examples of the customs of India with regard to monkeys and cattle, then goes on to present a description of a novel by Vercors, You Shall Know Them, where the line between man and animal is blurred and by this uncertain distinction, so is the moral code against killing a human being.

Origin of Species IV (1959)
Coqué Martinez
source ArtUK

Man’s Nature and Origin Are Inseparable

Luckman asks is there not two questions: the origin of man, which Adler is discussing, and the nature of man? Are they inseparable, and Adler states they are indeed, although be believes the question of man’s nature is more important than the question of man’s origin.

The contemporary view starts with “an hypothesis about man’s nature, about man’s origin, his evolutionary origin,” which moves to “a conclusion about man’s nature.”  The traditional view begins with a conclusion about man’s nature which moves to “some hypothesis about his origin.”  Adler believes it’s best to start with man’s nature and then move to his origin.  Why?  Because we have more observable facts about man’s nature yet more conjectural facts about man’s origin.  To start in the reverse order would be “beg(ging) the whole question, scientifically speaking.”  Where one begins is of paramount importance.

In the next lecture/essay he wants to devote a good amount of time to the logic of the issue.  We need to be distinct when we are referring to “degree” and “kind”.  Then he will present Darwin’s point of view, followed by the opposite point of view.  Finally he will emphasize the significance of this issue and reveal why everyone must take sides.  And even though he has taken a side (which I won’t reveal yet) he is going to attempt to argue the question as fairly and equitably as he is able and he welcomes any objections, happy to include other viewpoints in the argument as well as his own.

Adler’s next essay is entitled, How Different Are Humans?, where he continues his discussion on the nature and origin of man.

The Great Ideas ~ Opinion and Majority Rule

Opinion and Majority Rule

Adler states that he is going to discuss the problem of majority rule, how the opinions of the majority clash with that of the minority and the controversy about basic social issues. Before he proceeds, he reminds the reader about the issues already considered: that central to opinions we have the freedom with regard to how we act; we also have a right to disagree reasonably about policies, actions, etc., however to live in a peaceful society it is imperative to have means to resolve disagreement, to allow that society to work toward a common goal.

Luckman queries of Adler, why political differences cannot be solved in the same way as disputes in science or philosophy?  Adler says it entirely depends on whether one sees science and philosophy as knowledge or opinion; as far as science and philosophy are seen as knowledge, problems can be solved by investigating facts, but because political controversy is seen as opinion, it must be solved in a different manner.

The Attributes of Science (1731)
Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
source Wikiart

Offering a fabricated and implausible example of a Supreme court judge claiming that he can scientifically prove his independent decision, Adler shows that if this were possible, we would not have contradictory opinions, nor the need to vote to determine how the majority stood on issues.  It would be equally ridiculous for a mathematician to determine the answer to a problem by taking a vote.  However since politics (and judicial matters) are a matter of opinion, voting is the only reasonable way to proceed.  Luckman wants to know if there is no other way to settle political differences.

There are two possible ways:

  1. Force:  However force only silences differences of opinion, it does not resolve or eradicate them.  It is not a way for reasonable men to behave, as opinions should be heard and settled by debate.
  2. Autocracy:  a majority of society agreeing to give one man the authority to make all the decisions for the society to accept and act on.  Adler does not think this way is as reasonable as letting the majority directly make the decisions, which is more conducive to human freedom.

In political freedom there are two integral factors: 1) that the citizens are “governed for their own good for the common welfare of the State,” making men free when they are governed for the good of all and not for private interests; 2) men have a voice in the government who makes the decisions.  Citizens of even the wisest monarchy or a judicious despot are never completely free and therefore majority rule, where each citizen has a voice in the decisions, imparts the fullest form of political liberty, which should be a right for all.

Wisdom (1560)
Ticiano Vecellio
source Wikiart

Luckman counters with examples from Plato and Hegel who thought it was better for men to be ruled by a wise ruler for their own good, as the majority were often misguided and did not make decisions in the best interests of all society.  Adler agrees that some of the greatest political theorists have disagreed with majority rule and since it is a matter of opinion, he can only defend his case by producing opinions from some of the most respected minds in history:

“Ordinary men usually manage public affairs better than their more gifted fellows for on public matters no one can hear and decide so well as the many.” ~ Thucydides

“The many of whom each individual is but an ordinary person when they meet together are likely to reach a better decision than the few best men.  For each individual among them has a share of virtue and prudence.  And when they meet together they become in a manner one man who has many feet and hands and senses and minds.  Hence the many are better judges than a single man; for some understand one part, and some another, and together they understand the whole.” ~ Aristotle

“The people of any country, if like Americans they are intelligent and well-informed, seldom adopt and steadily persevere for many years in an erroneous opinion, respecting their interests.” ~ John Jay

“The people commonly and usually intend the public good.  They sometimes do make errors, but the wonder is that they seldom do.” ~ Alexander Hamilton

Luckman mentions John Stuart Mill who greatly feared the majority but Adler bring in two quotes of his that appear to prove he accepted the principle of it.  Because Luckman brings up Mill’s idea of protecting the minority, Adler then begins to speak about the majority’s responsibility for the opinions of dissenting minorities, implying that we have a problem in how we approach this responsibility in modern times.

Endless Debate
Norman Rockwell
source Wikiart

First, there are three ingredients for making the majority responsible to the minority:

  1. We should never fear controversy but embrace it.  We have a moral obligation to seek out controversy, engage in it, and see it as good.
  2. We should safeguard public debates on public issues and ensure that they never become farcical.  When one uses propoganda and dishonest pressure and does not employ rational discussion, it is as bad as using guns and bombs.  He says this about the Lincoln-Douglas debates on the hot issue of slavery: “neither side in those debates was intimidated by sinister pressures or counteracted by insidious propaganda.”
  3. Public debate on public issues should be maintained as long as possible until all sides have been heard and all issues presented.  Even when a decision is made there should still be avenues for discussion for those who do not agree with it.

Only when these three elements are employed does majority rule have its fullest positive effect on decision-making.  Adler adds a quote from Mill which he believes should be engraved on the heart of every American:

“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may for ought we can certainly know, be true.  To deny this is to assume our own infallibility. Second, though the silenced opinion be in error, it may and very commonly does contain a portion of the truth.  And since the general or prevailing truth on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only be the collision of adverse opinion that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.  And third, even if the received opinion be not only truth, but whole truth, unless it is suffered to be and actually is vigorously and earnestly contested, it will by most of those who receive it be held in a manner of prejudice with little comprehension or feeling of its rational ground.”

Finally Adler brings up a collision of opinion that he grieves will never be resolved: the difference of opinion between generations.  In this “irresolvable dispute”, the older generation because of their life experience and maturity should be wiser than their children but the problem is that the children have not had that experience to be able to find common ground with their parents’ generation, and often irreversible mistakes are made.  His final words are compelling: “I regard this as one of the saddest facts about the human race.  If we could only do something about this, if we could only find a way of having children profit somehow by the experience of their parents, of accepting somehow the wisdom that is in their parents’ opinions as a result of that experience, I think we could change the course of human history overnight.  Progress could be made to move with much greater speed than it ever has in the whole course of human history.”

The next essay is titled How to Think About Man.

Opinion and Human Freedom                             How To Think About Man ⇒

 

The Great Ideas ~ Opinion and Human Freedom

In the last chapter, Adler examined in detail the difference between opinion and knowledge.  Now he takes us on another path in examining various problems linked to opinion, but this time in the realm of action rather than the realm of thought.

Opinion and Human Freedom

Luckman prods Adler to investigate another form of skepticism which holds all matters of fact knowledge but all matters of value only opinion. and he brands it as a sociological skepticism.  Adler concurs and declares that it would be very difficult to graduate from college or university without being “inoculated with it.”  It is the skepticism that questions how any man or society’s opinions can be better than another’s, because the opinions always come from the point of view of that man or society.  This skepticism goes back to the Greeks and with Herodotus’ The Histories (which I’m reading at the moment), the Greek sophists argued that everyone was different in how they lived and acted.  Science could only explain natural matters but the regulation of society should not be governed by it.  In fact, this view was prevalent in the sixteenth century and the discovery of cannibals by Montaigne, who is somewhat the spokesperson for European thought, made him conclude that there was no practice so hideous that man might not only adopt it, but think it good.

When Luckman inquires as to how Adler would answer these types of skeptics, Adler responds that the topic is too broad and would lead them away from the discussion, but he will attempt a brief answer.

Fundamental Values Are Universal


First Adler introduces some facts that the sociological skeptics ignore.  While it is accurate that practices vary from society to society or culture to culture, there are also foundational human values that remain constant.  John Locke, an English Enlightenment philosopher and physician, illustrated this point well when he said:

“…. there is scarce that principle of morality or rule of virtue which is not somewhere or other slighted or condemned by general fashion of whole societies of men, governed by practical opinions and rules of living quite opposite to others …….  Nevertheless the most general rules of right and wrong, the most general rules of virtue and vice are kept everywhere the same ….”

To explain his point, Adler claims that acts of murder, courage, cowardice are valued or despised in every society, only each society may define each of these acts somewhat differently.  For example, some tribes might call a particular killing a mercy killing while others would label it murder.  Yet Adler acknowledges that we do have knowledge of very general fundamental questions of action and behaviour which involve only the most universal principles, however other than these basic standards, all other questions can only be answered by opinions.

Between Art and Nature (1888)
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
source Wikiart

Opinion and the Need for Freedom


On all detailed practical matters men can have different opinions and reasonably disagree, however this fact leads to two practical consequences.  The first is human freedom, and the second the need for authority.  At first glance, these two consequences appear to contradict each other.  Adler examines both in an attempt at reconciliation.

Our judgement with regard to human freedom — in that we decide to adopt a means of behaving or not, to follow a particular course of action or not, etc. — although it is based on opinion is one source of human freedom, yet not the only one.  There are three levels of explanation for this distinct freedom:

  1. When we act voluntarily and are not manipulated or impelled by others about our judgement of what to do, we act using free will, carrying out our own judgements.
  2. With regard to practical judgements, we use our opinions about right and wrong to carry out our decisions.  In both cases, we are not compelled by anything to make up our own minds.  We are free to decide.  We use practical judgements as to what to do and call it having free will.  But if the Latin was literally translated, “free will” would be “free judgement”, librium arbitrium.  In actuality, our action is “double free”: from the fact we have free opinions, we have free judgements which spur us to action.
  3. Now let’s suppose the opposite, and construct a case that is rather contrary to what we have been discussing:  what if it was possible to know with complete certainty what was right and wrong is every case?  Our actions would still be free but our judgements would not be free.  Adler uses a story where he and a colleague argued about democracy, the colleague advocating for it and Adler not convinced that it was the best form of government.  However, with study, Adler was brought over to his colleague’s point of view and wrote a paper supporting it, as a mathematician supports a conclusion.  Was his colleague happy that he was in agreement?  Absolutely not!  He felt the very fact that Adler could demonstrate that democracy was the best form of government, went against the very tenets of it, in that it did not allow men to be free in their own conclusions.  It took away their free choice.  Interestingly, Adler states that he does not agree with his colleague and that his conclusion is actually knowledge and not opinion, yet it does not take away from human freedom at all, as his conclusion remains a general principle.
Freedom in the Aquarium
Sabin Balasa
source Wikipedia


Opinion and the Need for Authority

Adler now examines the second consequence of our practical judgements being matters of opinion.  Men cannot live in society in peace and harmony unless there are common rules to govern their actions to which they all can agree and assent.  Usually there is some authority which binds these rules over all.  Now Adler says that opinion over action is not only a source of our need for authority, it is the source.  To explain, human opinions can differ and men can reasonably disagree about matters of action, but ……. if you are going to live in society and all work towards a common goal, you must resolve your differences and find some way of agreeing.  How can this agreement be attained?  Not by reasoning because then you would have a matter of knowledge, not opinion.  Adler knows of only two answers:

  1. The issue will be decided by superior force exercising compulsion over those of inferior strength.
  2. The issue is resolved by some higher authority which both are willing to accept.

Luckman asks Adler that if force is an alternative to authority, why should authority even be considered?  Adler emphasizes that it is important that people submit to an authority that they are willing to accept rather than be compelled to obey, for only under the former do we remain free.

Luckman is still confused so Adler summarizes what he has already stated.  When I personally read over his viewpoint, I think it is easy to disagree with Adler because his argument sounds so factual.  In reality, because he is addressing opinion, right there we have a muddying of the waters.  If we were examining knowledge, our viewpoints could be much more precise, but because we’re dealing with opinion, already we have to compromise on how we view it and therefore what the best means are of dealing with many situations.  Adler is not prescribing the perfect mediums for a society that must function mostly on opinions, he is advising the best way given imperfect circumstances. Seen from this perspective, I can appreciate his argument.

Raising Freedom (1974)
Joanne Shaw
source ArtUK

Adler concludes by saying:

“What we have learned today is that opinion in regard to action is both one source of human freedom and also the source of our need for authority. And I hope what we can learn next time is how the principle of majority rule makes authority quite compatible with freedom in society.  In the course of doing that, we cannot help but face the conflict between the majority and the minority opinions, and with that the problem of controversy about the fundamental social issues of any society at any time.”

The next essay is titled Opinion and Majority Rule.

The Great Ideas ~ How To Think About Opinion

How To Think About Opinion

This section is presented as a conversation between Adler and Lloyd Luckman.  I’m not certain who Mr. Luckman is but he appears to be Adler’s co-host and interviewer for the TV show.  Luckman is confused as to why Adler would consider “opinion” a great idea. Adler explains.

He addresses both the theoretical significance and the practical significance of opinion.

The Theoretical Significance of Opinion

The greatest problem in determining certainty and probability is the distinction between knowledge and opinion, therefore to judge the worth of opinions, people created the theory of probability.  For a sceptic, we know nothing for certain and everything is a matter of opinion.  One opinion is just as good as another and everything is subjective and relative.

Opinion is also connected with the great theoretical problem of agreement and disagreement.  We essentially agree and disagree on every fundamental question.

The Practical Significance of Opinion

“Controversy” has almost become a bad word but discussion and public debate are crucial to the health of a society.  We have a moral duty to be hospitable to controversy.

Majority rule is essential in a democracy, but we also need to respect what is sound in the judgement of the minority.

A Difference of Opinion (1896)
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
source Wikiart

Characteristics of Opinion as Contrasted with Knowledge

It is important to see the difference of both in terms of truth, but there is a definition of truth that must be agreed upon, and he proposes the following:  “A statement is true if it says that that which is is, or if it says that which is not is not; and a statement is false if it says that that which is not is, or that which is is not.”

Opinion versus Knowledge

Knowledge is having the truth and knowing that you have it.  Opinion consists in not being sure that you have the truth or not being sure what you say is true or false.  For example, in a courtroom there is an opinion rule where the witness must state what he saw happen, not what he thinks happened.  Opinions can be right or wrong, true or false.  Knowledge cannot be false.

Another criteria for judging on knowledge or opinion is whether something is universally known or agreed upon.  If everyone MUST agree, it isn’t opinion, it’s knowledge.

Additional criteria:

  • Doubt and belief are relative only to opinion, never to knowledge. For example, “two plus two equals four” is known.  As to whether there will be another world war or not, one can only offer an opinion.

A Right To Our Own Opinion

  • There is no conflict with knowledge but there can be conflicting opinions.  Reasonable men can agree to disagree.
  • We can talk about a consensus of opinion, but we never refer to a consensus of knowledge.  Aristotle’s rule for consensus of opinion is:  “In arguments dealing with matters of opinion, we should base our reasoning on the opinions held by all.  Or if not by all, at least those held by most men.  Or if not by most men, at least by their wives.  And in the last case, if we are basing it on the wives, then we should try to base our opinion or arguments on the opinions held by all the wives or if not by all the wives then by the most expert among them or at least by the most famous.”  Rarely is there unanimity in consensus of opinion.
Aristotle
PaoloVeronese
source Wikiart

Questions, questions and more questions !!!

About what sort of things can we have knowledge, and about what sort of things can we only form opinions?  Plato believed that it was only possible to have knowledge about those things that were fixed, permanent or eternal, but Aristotle disagreed, holding that it was possible to have knowledge of both the physical world and eternal ideas.

What is the psychological difference between knowing and opinion?

Can we have knowledge and opinion about the same thing?  Or is it possible for someone to have knowledge about something, about which another person has only an opinion?

How much knowledge do we have?  To what degree are the things that we deem to know really things we know or only things that we opine?

Socrates said that only God knows and for the most part, men have nothing better than opinion.  To know this is wisdom.  He was being rather ironic and intended to go on with the inquiry, which Adler plans to do in the next section where he examines in greater depth the difference between knowledge and opinion.

A Difference of Opinion as to a Treaty
Herman Frederik Carel Ten Kate
source ArtUK

⇐ How To Think About Truth    The Difference Between Knowledge and Opinion ⇒

The Great Ideas ~ How To Think About Truth

How To Think About Truth

Heavens, start with a light one, why don’t you, Adler!  And it honestly wasn’t a long essay at all but it was dense.  Dense, as in tons of relevant information packed into a small space.  Dense, as in my brain hurts.  Let’s see if I can untangle some neurons and launch into a coherent explanation.

Truth Stolen Away by Time Beyond
the Reach of Envy and Dischord
Nicolas Poussin
source Wikiart

Truth is associated with the pursuit of knowledge which encompasses all earnest endeavours or investigations.  False knowledge does not exist, therefore, what you have in your mind about the object you are trying to know is “knowing the truth”.

However, there are problems with the pursuit of truth and Adler summarizes them:

Scepticism – the sceptic either believes that nothing is true or false, or that everything is equally true or false.  We are unable to distinguish or know true or false, have knowledge, or possess truth.  Freud spoke against sceptics, saying, “If it were really a matter of indifference what we believe, then we might just as well build our bridges of cardboard as of stone, or inject a tenth of a gram of morphine into a patient instead of a hundredth, or take teargas as a narcotic instead of ether; but the intellectual anarchists themselves (the sceptics) would strongly repudiate any such practical applications of their theory.”

Relativism – Relativists believe that what can be true for one person, can be false for another and vice versa, or what was true in one point in history may not be true in others.  The opposite view to relativism is that truth is “absolute and immutable, the same for men everywhere.”

Pragmatism – Pragmatists believe truth is only truth if it bears fruit in action — it is only truth if it works.  The opposite view to pragmatism is that practical verification is unnecessary for man to have an awareness of truth.

Adler splits the problem into smaller pieces, now asking not only “what is truth,” but “what is true?”

Philosophy Unveiling Truth
Louis Jean François Lagrenée
source ArtUK




Truth Defined

The easier question of the two is:  What is Truth?

Within oneself, one knows the difference between the truth and a lie.  There is a correspondence between our own words, speech and thoughts.  Between two people, using words, we develop a truth of communication or a truth of understanding between each other.  However the third case is more problematic: finding truth within reality ….

The Easy Problem of Truth

The generally agreed upon definition of truth in European thought is the “correspondence between the mind and reality.”  From the ancient to the Medieval to the modern world this definition holds true.

Plato:  A false proposition is one which asserts the nonexistence of things which are or the existence of things which are not.

Aristotle:  To say of what is that it is or of what is not that it is not, is to speak the truth or to think truly; just as it is false to say of what is that it is not or of what it is not that it is.

Aquinas said that truth in the human mind consists in the mind’s conformity to reality (that which is)

John Locke:  Though our words signify nothing but our ideas, yet being designed by them to signify things, the truth they contain will be only verbal when they stand for ideas in the mind that do not agree with the reality of things.

William James was a pragmastist who maintained that the successful working of an idea signaled truth, meaning the truth of our ideas have an agreement with reality.

However, this definition is only the starting point and many problems remain.  It is more difficult to tell how something is true or false.

As mentioned above, it is relatively easy for the mind to directly correspond with its own thoughts or indirectly with the thoughts of others.  This brings us to our very difficult case.

The Difficult Problem of Truth

How does one test the correspondence with my own mind with that of reality?

We express our thoughts in statements or propositions; reality is the facts about which we’re trying to make the propositions.  The problem?  It is impossible for us to grasp the facts except within our own propositions, therefore we have no direct way of discerning whether the propositions correspond to the way things are.  Likewise, we have no indirect way of discerning either, because we cannot ask reality questions and reality cannot answer back.  We cannot have correspondence between what we know and what we are trying to know.

The Endearing Truth (1966)
Rene Magritte
source Wikiart

Consistency Is Needed For Truth

Some say a test of truth is noncontradiction.  For example, the propositions a is b and a is not b cannot both be true; one must be true and one must be false.  Consistency, coherence or absence of contradiction is a sign of truth for if reality were full of contradictions, then the presence of contradictions in the mind would not be a sign of falsity.  Descartes propounded the idea that when our ideas are clear and distinct and contain no contradictions, then we know truth.  Likewise, Spinoza said, “What can be more clearer or certain than a true idea as the standard of truth?  Just as light reveals both itself and the darkness, so truth is the standard of itself and of the thoughts.”

Yet Adler does not think this explanation sufficient, for, of the two propositions, how are we to know which is true?  We can only discover truth if we have some measurement or standard with which to measure these propositions.  Aristotle said, “The human mind uses two kinds of principles.  There are the unquestionable truths of the understanding which are axioms or self-evident truths and there are truths of perception, truths which we know, which we possess, when we perceive matters of fact, such as, ‘Here is a piece of paper in my hand,’ or ‘Here is a book, I see a book, I observe a book.'”  If we can test the truth of our propositions against these self-evident truths, we begin to solve the problem.

The Immutability of Truth

Many people can change their minds, but this has nothing to do with a change in truth or what is true.  If the earth is round, it is round no matter how many people claimed that it was flat.  It’s fair to say that true is immutable, but human beings do not possess truth immutably.

Truth presenting a Mirror to the Vanities of the World
Northern European School
source ArtUK

Oh heavens, I can already tell that this project is going to take much more effort than I expected.  It’s truly an introduction to philosophy.  I just have to keep telling myself that it will be worth it …….

How To Think About the Great Ideas Project

I’ve been having some wonderfully deep conversations with friends lately about life, but have been frustrated because I’ve felt that I’ve lacked the depth of understanding to communicate certain ideas and insights to them.  Pablo Neruda says in one of his love poems:  “Between the lips and the voice something goes dying,” and I’ve felt very much this way.  Somehow inside I know what I want to say, only when I attempt to articulate it, I’m left with a discouraging feeling of the inadequacy of my communication.  So with these experiences in mind, I’ve decided to resurrect a project that I’ve had on the back-burner for some time now.

Drawing from Mortimer J. Adler’s classic TV series, How to Think About the Great Ideas takes 52 great ideas —- ideas that stem from the ancient world —- and examines them from a philosophical viewpoint.  Adler, a philosopher and educator, taught that we are all philosophers and to ignore that which stimulates our minds, diminishes us to the level of ants; ants do not require the medium of choice but humans do, and, therefore, it is important to always choose “in terms of ideas.”  In the world of ideas there are always new frontiers to explore and I think I’m ready to take that journey.

There are 52 ideas in all, so I’m thinking of posting one idea each week for one year. The first idea is “How To Think of Truth”.  Yikes, not a light topic to start with but here I go, adding another project to my set of unfinished ones.  Wish me luck and please feel free to join me if the impulse so moves you!!

Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche

Ecce Homo

Ecce Homo: “In view of the fact that I will shortly have to confront humanity with the heaviest demand ever made of it, it seems to me essential to say who I am.”

I feel somewhat exhausted.  Approaching Ecce Homo with something akin to trepidation, it’s been proven that my expectations are often very accurate. Nietzsche was certainly a trial, but I’m glad that I read Ecce Homo, my first exposure to this singular German philosopher.  Wow, Nietzsche would hate that description.  He despised Germans and felt philosophy was a fraud.  In any case, he didn’t like most things, so any way I described him, I’d be in danger of his patronizing, scathing invective.

Ecce Homo, or How One Becomes What One Is (Wie Man Wird, Was Man Ist) was the last book that Nietzsche wrote before his death and gives insight into the man, his ideas and his works.  The words “Ecce Homo” are taken from the words Pontius Pilate used when he delivered Jesus, scourged and bleeding, to a riotous crowd right before he was taken to be crucified.  Nietzsche hated Christianity because he felt that it was the mechanism for the function of society and, therefore, was responsible for everything that was wrong with it.

Yet while the book gives enlightenment, it does so from Nietzsche’s perspective, words coming from a man who already seemed in the throes of the mental illness that would bring about his death.  It’s certainly helpful to see it in this light.

 

Ecce Homo
Ecce Homo (1558-60)
Titian
source Wikipedia

Why I Am So Wise

Nietzsche is better than everyone else in the world.  He is so incredibly wise and we are such small, insignificant beings compared to him, with nothing in particular to add to the benefit of humanity, that he can hardly stand to be in our presence.  Lest you think I’m being too hard on him, let Nietzsche speak for himself:

” ….. I have an instinct for cleanliness that is utterly uncanny in its senstivity, which means that I can physiologically detect —- smell —- the proximity or (what am I saying?) the innermost aspect, the ‘innards’ of every soul …… I am already conscious of the large amount of concealed dirt at the bottom of many a nature, perhaps occasioned by bad blood but whitewashed over by upbringing. ……. natures like this which are unconducive to my cleanliness feel the circumspection of my digust on their part, too; it does not make them smell any more pleasant ……. impure conditions are the death of me ………. This makes dealing with people quite a trial to my patience; my humaneness consists not in sympathizing with someone, but in putting up with the fact that I sympathize with them …… My humaneness is a constant self-overcoming …….”

Ecce Homo
Ecce Homo (1964-67)
Salvador Dali
source Wikiart

There is more blather stating that compassion, rather than being a virtue, is a weakness, and he references his work, Zarathustra, for proof (in this I believe Nietzsche misses making the distinction between false compassion and true compassion); and labelling rudeness as one of the foremost virtues (again, he muddles benevolent frankness with lack of resolution and fortitude to deal with issues).

He announces his penchant for war, or attack, and lists his rules of war:

  1. He attacks only causes which are victorious
  2. He attacks causes only when there are no allies to be found
  3. He never attacks people
  4. He attacks things only when all personal disagreement is ruled out

He claims that he can attack causes with impunity, and that there are no hard feelings from the victim, yet in his next chapter he states, “May I make bold as to intimate one last trait of my nature which causes me no little trouble in my dealings with people?,” indicating that his relationships are not so harmonious as he’d like to believe.

Why I Am So Clever

I seriously asked myself if I really wanted to know why Nietzsche thought himself so clever, but, foolish me, I decided to keep on reading.

Nietzsche lists the reasons for his cleverness at the beginning of this section:

  • he has not squandered himself
  • he has no personal experience with true religious difficulties
  • he is entirely at a loss to know how sinful he is supposed to be

Higher educations causes one to lose sight of realities and Nietzsche then begins to take pot-shots at the German education system, which regresses to insulting German culinary tradition.  How we got there, I’m uncertain.  He then conducts a detailed investigation into:

  • nutrition
  • place
  • climate
  • relaxation

Within these four topics, Nietzsche likens reading to letting an alien climb over your wall; claims he reads the same books because he is opposed to new books by instinct; states everywhere that Germany extends, it ruins culture; that we are all afraid of truth; and that Wagner to him, is like hashish.  It sounds bizarre and, quite frankly, is, but there are certainly some interesting ideas in Nietzsche’s convoluted onslaught of aberrant thought.

He claims that he now cannot avoid the question how to become what you are, but then digresses, and I can’t find anywhere where he answers it.

And asked why he concentrates so much on the small issues of above, Nietzsche alleges that to-date everything that man had deemed important is, in fact, lies because we have searched for divinity in human nature.  We must start relearning and therefore, we must begin with the basics.

Why I Write Such Good Books

“I am one thing, my writings are another.”

Nietzsche is resigned to the fact that no one will be able to understand his writing, feeling no ill-will towards anyone for their lack of intellect.

” …. in other words experiencing —- six sentences of it [Zarathustra] raises you up to a higher level of mortals than ‘modern’ men could ever reach ….”

Some day, there will be universities dedicated to understanding his works.  No one has experienced what Nietzsche has, and therefore is it not understandable that no one can comprehend his genius? Oh here, let me allow Nietzsche to speak for himself:

“I know my prerogatives as a writer to some extent; in certain cases I even have evidence of how much it ‘ruins’ people’s taste if they get used to my writings.  They simply can no longer stand other books, least of all philosophy books.  It is an unparalleled distrinction to step into this noble and delicate world — for which you must not on any account be a German; ultimately it is a distinction you need to have earned …… I come from the heights to which no bird has yet flown, I know abysses into which no foot has yet strayed.  I have been told it is not possible to let a book of mine out of one’s hands —- that I even disturb sleep …… There is definitely no prouder and at the same time more refined kind of book: here and there they achieve the highest thing that can be achieved on earth, cynicism; you must tackle them with the most delicate fingers as well as with the bravest fists.”

The birth of tragedy

Nietzsche then outlines each of his books, spending most of his time lauding their brilliance, mentioning the few geniuses who have enjoyed them, and condemning everyone who disliked them.

The Birth of Tragedy:  “It is politically indifferent  —– ‘un-German’ in today’s parlance —- it smells offensively Hegelian, and in just a few phrases it is tainted with the doleful scent of Schopenhauer.  An ‘idea’ — the Dionysian/Apollonian opposition —- translated into metaphysics, history itself as the development of this ‘idea’; in tragedy the opposition sublated to become a unity form this point of view things that had never looked each other in the face before suddenly juxtaposed, illuminated, and understood in the light of each other …..”

the untimelies

The Untimelies: The Untimelies can also be translated as “Thoughts out of Season”, “Unmodern Observations” or “Unfashionable Observations”.  In this writing, Nietzsche draws his rapier and launches four attacks:

First, an attack on the German education system.  I found that this was the first time I actually agreed with Nietzsche.  He purported that there was no evidence at all that Germany’s military success was a result of their education.  The school system in America is apparently an offshoot of this Prussia model.  I found an interesting article about it here.  One of my favourite authors, John Taylor Gatto, talks about this model in his book, The Underground History of American Education.  I highly recommend it.

The second attack is titled, On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life.  Nietzsche warns of the dangers of “our kind of scientific endeavour, what there is in it that gnaws away at life and poisons it —- life made ill by this dehumanized machinery and mechanism, by the ‘impersonality’ of the worker, by the false economy of the ‘division of labour’.  The end, culture, is lost — the means, modern scientific endeavour, barbarizes ….”  Hmmm ….. is it possible that I might again agree with Nietzsche?  That would be just too weird.

The third and fourth Untemelies, titled Schopenhauer as Educator and Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, give an impression of “a higher conception of culture, towards the restoration of the concept ‘culture'” in which two images are set, having the highest contempt for everything around them that is synonymous with the present culture.  I doubt that I’d side with him here.

Nietzsche appears to take great joy in upsetting everyone around him.

human all too human

Human, All Too Human: With Two Continuations:

Subtitled A Book For Free Spirits, Nietzsche claims in this writing that he liberated himself from idealism and is “a spirit that has become free, that has seized possession of itself again.”

I wasn’t quite clear as to what exactly this work was about, due to Nietzsche’s ambiguity and his habit of digression, but it appears that he mentions things favourable to Voltaire, and addresses his break with Richard Wagner.  Why am I not surprised that he extols the thoughts of Voltaire?

The work apparently evolved out of some mental crisis that Nietzsche experienced during the Bayreuth Festival when he felt a “profound sense of alienation” and went off into the forest before being coaxed back by his sister.

daybreak

Daybreak: Thoughts on Morality as Prejudice

Nietzsche states that this book commenced his war against morality.  Again, Nietzsche commends his work and genius, rather than getting to the meat of his ideas.

“Even now, if I encounter the book by chance, practically every sentence becomes a tip with which I can pull up something incomparable from the depths once again: its whole hide quivers with the tender shudders of recollection ….”

But finally Nietzsche gets to a description of what he believes is its value:

“In a revaluation of all values, in freeing himself from all moral values, in saying ‘yes’ to and placing trust in everything that has hitherto been forbidden, despised, condemned.  This yes-saying book pours out its light, its love, its delicacy over nothing but bad things, it gives them back their ‘soul’, their good conscience, the lofty right and prerogative of existence.”

Good grief!  You want to counter this statement but where do you start?  Does he think that there have been no societies that have tried to live without morality?  Is this morality-proper or Nietzsche’s type of morality?  Can one truly escape some sort of morality?

the gay science

The Gay Science:  This title is developed out of the Provençal expression which is used to describe the technical skill of writing poetry, as Nietzsche describes it, “almost every sentence here profundity and mischief go tenderly hand in hand.”  The quality of the Provençal style shows “unity of singer, knight, and free thinker which distinguishes the marvellous early culture of the Provençal people from all ambiguous cultures ….”

thus spoke zarathustra

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book For Everybody and Nobody:  Again, it’s best for Nietzsche to describe this, in his often lovely prose ~ what it means, however, one is often left wondering ….

“Aphorisms quivering with passion; eloquence become music; lightning-bolts hurled on ahead towards hitherto unguessed-at futures.  The mightiest power of analogy that has yet existed is feeble fooling compared to this return of language to its natural state of figurativeness —- And how Zarathustra descends and says the kindest things to everyone!  How he tackles even his adversaries, the priests, with delicate hands and suffers from them with them!  —- Here man is overcome at every moment; the concept of ‘overman’ has become the highest reality here — everything that has hitherto been called great about man lies at an infinite distance below him.  The halcyon tone, the light feet, the omnipresence of malice and high spirits and everything else that is typical of the type Zarathustra has never been dreamed of as essential to greatness.  Precisely in this extent of space, in this ability to access what is opposed, Zarathustra feels himself to be the highest of all species of being; and when we hear how he defines it, we will dispense with searching for his like.”

I won’t sport with your intelligence in continuing to relate just how much more knowledgable and astute Zarathustra (and therefore, Nietzsche) is than you will ever be.

beyond good and evil

Beyond Good and Evil:  If Nietzsche doesn’t catch any “fish” with his works, what could that mean? The cause?  Is it perhaps because his arguments don’t make sense or people can’t relate to his delivery?  No!  According to Nietzsche, it means that there simply weren’t any fish to be caught.

This book is “a critique of modernity, not excluding the modern sciences, the modern arts, even modern politics, together with pointers towards an opposing type, as unmodern as possible, a noble, yes-saying type ….. refinement in form, in intention, in the art of silence is in the foreground; psychology is handled with avowed harshness and cruelty —- the books is devoid of any good-natured word …..”

 

geneology of morals

Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic:  

A book of three essays:

  1. the psychology of Christianity
  2. the psychology of conscience
  3. where the immense power of the ascetic ideal springs from

This actually sounds somewhat interesting to me.

 

twilight of the idols

Twilight of the Idols: How to Philosophize with a Hammer:

Nietzsche recommends starting with this work.  It’s a short book but “there is nothing richer in substance, more independent, more subversive —- more wicked …”

Nietzsche is the first to have “the yard-stick of truths in his hand.”  He is the evangelist to truth, and everyone was lost before him.

the wagner case

The Wagner Case: A Musician’s Problem:  To read this properly, you need to feel as though music is the history of your own suffering.  I think that this writing deals with his split from his friend, Richard Wagner, a well-known German composer, but Nietzsche launches a scathing invective against, I’m assuming, the ideals that Wagner supported.  He castigates Germans for many things, wrapping up his ire in their great cultural crimes.  He attacks Martin Luther along with Leibniz and Kant.  In fact, Germans have “robbed Europe of its meaning, its reason…”  

Why I Am A Destiny

Nietzsche is terrified that one day he will be called holy.  But, he admits, his “truth is terrifying, for lies were called truth so far.  —- Revaluation of all values: that is my formula for the highest act of self-reflection on the part of humanity, which has become flesh and genius in me.  My lot wills it that I must be the first decent human being, that I know I stand in opposition to the hypocrisy of millennia ….. I was the first to discover the truth, by being the first to sense — smell — the lie as a lie …..   My genius is in my nostrils.”

What follows is more exaltation of evil and lying, and conversely Nietzsche advocates war against the good, benevolent, the beneficent, and Christian morality.  More invectives against Christianity follow, the content of which makes me wonder if Nietzsche really had an issue with Christ, or simply with the way Christianity had been presented to him.  In any case, it really doesn’t matter.  At this point Nietzsche had drained me, and I predict that I’d have an issue reading any work longer than this book of his, which is only 138 pages. He signed this work  ~ Dionysus against the crucified one ~  Nietzsche aligned himself with the early Greek philosophers and thought of himself as a modern-day Dionysus.

bacchus
Bacchus (or Dionysus – 1596)
Caravaggio
source Wikiart

Never mind Dionysus —– Nietzsche is the consummate Narcissus.  He placed himself in the position of God; everything was measured by his own thoughts and emotions, and judged accordingly.  Since he was so much above everything and everyone, is it any surprise that all fall short of his ideal? Perhaps that is nothing, and for a great philosopher is understandable.  Yet the contempt and the disparagement that he exhibits towards nearly everyone, not only severely undermines much of his philosophy, but also twists his ideas into a mass of writhing snakes where one is at a loss to find the proper head and tail to each.

I found some of Nietzsche’s ideas fascinating, but as soon as I started to read his arguments that developed those ideas, he often lost my interest.  Not only were his disputations littered with self-praise, ambiguity and circumlocution, he often didn’t make sense, or perhaps I should say that, in this book, his explanations didn’t go far enough.  He also spoke from a very ethnocentric point-of-view.  Although he believed that he borrowed ideas from the ancient Greeks, almost everything he criticized was German, and everything he wanted to fix related to German society.  I’m not sure how well some of his arguments would hold up in other countries, but my brain is too done to wonder about this ——- no, my brain is not tired because it explored wonderfully deep amazing thoughts; it’s tired as if it’s had to put up with a recalcitrant child for the last couple of weeks.  And so ends my first experience with Nietzsche.

I am quite enjoying my WEM Project.  It’s forced me to read some books that I probably wouldn’t have touched otherwise.  I didn’t particularly enjoy Nietzsche but look at the length of my review!  He at least inspired something, even though it wasn’t admiration.

 

reading the biographies