Thursday, November 30, 2023

Enlightening the Dark Ages once again: Grammar as an Epistemology worthy of the name - You keep using that word 6

We began this series of posts with Inigo Montoya's 'You keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means' being the perfect meme for 'Epistemology', whose philosophical system bears little relation to what the word was coined to mean. As it turns out, much the same applies to Grammar. But to avoid the Inigo Montoya treatment, let's have a look at what that word is now defined to mean, which the Merriam-Webster's online dictionary has as:
1a: the study of the classes of words, their inflections (see INFLECTION sense 2), and their functions and relations in the sentence
b: a study of what is to be preferred and what avoided in inflection
, inspiring, isn't it? What most people might not recognize as a definition of Grammar, is one that comes from a source that we'll get into below, which was a norm before Modernity got a hold of why and what we're taught today:
"...Grammar [which] is "the science of speaking and writing correctly - the starting point of all liberal studies." Grammar is the cradle of all philosophy, and in a manner of speaking, the nurse of the whole study of letters..."
, and if the idea of Grammar as the cradle of philosophy isn't how you were taught it, I'd suggest asking some questions about the 'education' you did get, and maybe ask a few more questions about why that might be.
Disclaimer: no, I'm no Grammarian and I still struggle with being grammatical - having only discovered its importance late in life, I'm but a bumbling admirer.

With that in mind, let's turn to the question asked at the end of the previous post, which was essentially that if having an epistemology of metaphysics, logic, and ethics is as important as I've argued it to be, and if most people aren't interested in even philosophy, let alone epistemology, what are we supposed to do about that? And the answer is that we don't need to teach any new subjects, we only need to teach a subject we're already teaching, but begin teaching it as we once did and are no longer doing: teach Grammar as a meaningful subject.

From the earliest years of schooling (hello: 'grammar school') grammar is the first subject taught, because like philosophy, which everyone has whether they are conscious of it or not, everyone will learn grammar in some form - the words we do or do not learn to refer to our world through, what we do or do not learn of prefixes and suffixes that help us in identifying a word's nature, and all of the other parts of speech which exist to help us to understand what is being spoken of, and why - and whether crude or polished, a person's grasp of grammar is what they'll be using to think with and communicate to others through.

And yet as necessary as grammar is to communication, that was understood as the minimum measure of it, as in its larger sense, grammar was to function as philosophy in miniature, as the ancient grammarian quoted above wrote: "Words admitted into our ears knock on and arouse our understanding", in pursuit of that clarity of expression that would bring both writer and reader nearer to a wisdom that could improve their ability to live their lives well.

That purpose is not served with 'grammar lessons' of "See Spot run. Run Spot; run fast.". What the *author* of this 1908 primer intended instead, was primarily to make lessons so easy and trouble-free for students being introduced to "...the struggle with word-forms..."(!), as to ensure that "...there must be no steep hills to climb..." in learning.

Well... mission accomplished. God help us.

Such treacherously easy 'grammar lessons', pointlessly teaching what isn't worth learning, has left more than a century of student's hearts and minds comfortably ignorant of what it takes to engage with beauty, truth, and goodness, and unaware that the dark age we live in today is even worse than the last one, whose people were at least aware that what was worth learning, had seemed to have been lost.

Grammar as the cradle of philosophy
The ability to recognize and put into words what is real and true, and to extract meaning out of what others have written, was once seen as the vital and beating heart of an education in the liberal arts. The alternative definition of Grammar given above, came from one of those now forgotten guides to education that've been around since the 1100s, a work called The Metalogicon (which I highly recommend to modern readers - even though it was written by an Englishman before English as we know it existed, it's the principles of it that matter, not the particulars - it is exceedingly relevant to our world today), which had been prepared for England's Thomas Beckett by an English monk, John of Salisbury, and it has a well-earned reputation for teaching grammar as a subject that employs metaphysics, logic, and ethical considerations, in the intelligent use of language.

From that form of Grammar School education, students gained a handle on the liberal arts, which:
"...are called "arts' [either] because they delimit [artant] by rules and precepts; or from virtue, in Greek known as ares, which strengthens minds to apprehend the ways of wisdom; or from reason, called arso by the Greeks, which the arts nourish and cause to grow. They are called "liberal," either because the ancients took care to have their children instructed in them; or because their object is to effect man's liberation, so that, freed from cares, he may devote himself to wisdom. More often than not, they liberate us from cares incompatible with wisdom. They often even free us from worry about [material] necessities, so that the mind may have still greater liberty to apply itself to philosophy.

Chapter 13. Whence grammar gets its name.
Among all the liberal arts, the first is logic, and specifically that part of logic which gives initial instruction about words. As has already been explained, the word "logic" has a broad meaning, and is not restricted exclusively to the science of argumentative reasoning. [It includes] Grammar [which] is "the science of speaking and writing correctly - the starting point of all liberal studies." Grammar is the cradle of all philosophy, and in a manner of speaking, the nurse of the whole study of letters..."
, and in that he makes clear how the essence of what we call 'epistemology' (in name only) today, was effectively being practiced centuries before the Modern's term was ever coined, and it is no coincidence that that understanding, approach, and expectation, began to vanish soon after the Modern's 'new' 4th branch of philosophy became known under that term.

It's important to point out that the ability to understand and communicate which came out of that Pre-Modern grammatical cradle, was once a normal expectation of a 'grammar school education' (as was having some ability to read and write Greek & Latin, up until the 20th Century). It was a normal expectation that when the grammarian taught students how to read, he wasn't just teaching how to sound out words from the letters on a page, but was teaching how to read, think, question and reason their way through the thoughts those words formed, and their own grasp of them, in an intelligible manner, with the goal of understanding what is real and true and what is not.

Learning the grammar of what words mean and what the parts of speech refer to in the process of thinking, from "the best that has been thought and said" - not textbooks as we know them - was in a very worthwhile sense, 'doing metaphysics'; as being able to understand and confirm the statements and conclusions of those works while also assessing how accurate and intelligible their claims are, is 'doing logic'; just as assuring that an idea is treated honestly and appropriately - neither inflated, minimized, or turned away from - is 'doing ethics'. And whether engaged in extracting a sound understanding from what you've read, or putting your own understanding into words that others could understand your meaning from, conveying both a belief, and identifying whether or not its meaning is justified, is in the most meaningful sense 'doing epistemology'.

If you'd like to see how utterly different our notions of an education are today - in every way - from that which formed our Founders, read "Education of The Founding Fathers of The Republic" by James J. Walsh (1936). Truly, America was founded at the last possible moment in history... even a decade later, it likely could not have been successfully carried out.
Students who were educated in that way, as were most in our Founders' era, were not only skillful in the use of language, but were in the habit of sounding thoughts out and following them to their furthest reaches, and so would see implications that were otherwise too easily missed. It's not too much to say that America would not exist, if its people had not been educated in the habits of mind that gave the deepest consideration to what were
"... the greatest of all reflections on human nature..."
, and yet today it's too often considered a 'successful education' when a student manages to graduate with the ability to 'decode' letters into words, as if having the ability to read, is the same thing as having learned how to read. For the student who's skilled at finding useful facts and picking out gotchas of 'i before e, except after c', but doesn't comprehend how language conveys meaning (or why it'd matter), what can they meaningfully get out of decoding the words of the 'great books'? They, as Daniel McCarthy noted in his review of Russel Kirk's "The Conservative Mind",
"...not infrequently have difficulty with works that must be read the way music is heard."
, and what such students are able to receive from the greatest treasures of our Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian culture, will, at best, be taken in through a verbal straw, rather than the firehose that a good education would've provided, and the frustration of getting so little out of so much effort, too often turns them away from, and even against, the 'great books' they hadn't learned how to treasure.

Of course that realization is what those who desired a more easily controlled populace, figured out long ago.

Modernists on both sides of the Atlantic were fully aware of how essential it was to their 'new philosophy' (of old sophistries) and to the 'new man' they wanted to create with it, that people's minds not be furnished with the priceless treasures of the West, as those fostered the ability to spot the snares of ignorance which the unfurnished mind was more easily entrapped with. They quickly realized that in order to have a populace who'd be willing to accept what they were told they needed to know, without habitually questioning what they were told and who told it to them, it wasn't the publishers and booksellers they needed to gain control of, but the schoolhouse and what and how its students were taught within it. After all, there's little need to engage in the messy business of banning and burning books and authors, when the same results can be had by simply teaching students that grammar is nothing more than a number of arbitrary rules of where to place commas and apostrophes and to make sure you write 'i before e except after c... sometimes'... as teaching 'grammar' in that manner, is even more damaging to a student's ability and interest in reading, than not teaching grammar at all.

Learning the rules of Grammar is of course important and necessary, just as erecting a scaffolding is necessary and useful in constructing a building. But to focus upon the rules, as less a means, than your purpose, is like focusing only on constructing scaffolding, while ignoring the building that it was supposed to help with constructing. Through the use of ever more efficient modern textbooks of 'Grammar', which focused upon teaching students to memorize 'the rules of grammar', while neglecting the very best uses of language known to man which demonstrate the best use of those rules, in the language that could have helped their students to learn them by heart... without that, students' familiarity with those works soon began to fade from popular awareness. As people cheered the efficiency and usefulness of innovations like Noah Webster's exceedingly popular - and very useful -'Blue Back Speller's, few noticed what students were no longer learning to read from, and why.

It's of course easy to see how far 'See spot run!' has fallen away from the language used in Webster's spellers, but what's not as easily seen, is how far the efficient lessons of textbooks such as Webster's, had already fallen away from the language of Cicero & Shakespeare that had been used before them. Analogous to the pull of physical gravity, under which a falling object accelerates at the rate of 32' per second, per second', the downward pull of intellectual gravity's rate of acceleration, is measured through the absence of eloquence and wisdom which is typically only noticed by the parent, not the child, and the great-great-great grandparent's perspective never enters the picture. And unlike physical gravity, where acceleration is eventually stopped by impact with the ground, the impact of intellectual gravity is felt in an immediate and continuous endarkening of the mind, which is only indirectly noticed by the victim through increasing feelings of anxiety, confusion, and lack of self-control.

Nevertheless, for those who take the trouble to look past the appearances of the moment, it is easy enough to see that stepping off the educational ledge of the best that had been thought and said, into the textbook plunge from the Blue Back Spellers, to the McGuffey Readers (this will shock many, as both seem great from our perspective downstream, but consider that they too are downstream from what came before - a post on this to follow), to 'Whole Language', 'See Spot Run', Ebonics, 'whiteness', and whatever new horror that tomorrow will bring, has been demonstrating intellectual gravity's ever accelerating rate of conceptual freefall into the language we use today in promoting narratives without regard for the truth, wisdom, or beauty, that they do, or even could, contain.

Those who shake their heads and fists at what's happening in our schools today, as if it's a recent result of negligence, error, and/or incompetence, would do better to spend less time looking for errors and incompetence, and give more consideration to how students receiving such an education as that might be of value to those who're insisting that you and your children receive it. If you start following where questions such as that might lead, they'll bring to your attention instances such as when Woodrow Wilson's speech on 'education' to the new 'High School' teachers, said the quiet part out loud, back in 1909:
"...We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forego the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks..."
Never forget: The modernists goals for 'education' was not well educated students, it was (and is) a means of implanting the most 'useful facts' (what today we'd call a 'narrative') into the minds of the students in their care, so as to progressively produce - manufacture - a populace who're less questioning and more accepting of what authorities tell them, as a means of making a more perfect world (under their power). They felt then and still feel today, that their ends fully justify their means, and in their judgment, what is real and true, plays no part in either (except to interfere in their plans).

In one of the rare bright spots of the modern world, more than at any other time in history, those works are available to anyone today than ever before, and those works that taught how to mine them for meaning, are as well, which can be done either in the privacy of their own home, or through a computer, tablet, or even apps on their phone, wherever else they might be (I've had a library in my pocket for a couple decades now. What... you thought I was just glad to see you? ;-) ).
If you ask your child's 'English Teacher' what the purpose of teaching grammar is, their answer should include at the very least, that its purpose is to bring clarity to what they read and write, in order to better understand and communicate those thoughts which they are being brought into contact with in their materials and lessons. If not, if its practice is indifferent to, or even at odds with how to use language to understand and communicate such ideas to others, what possible value can grammar (never mind philosophy and epistemology) have, and why should any student be subjected to wasting years of their life studying and memorizing intentionally meaningless rules?

Education for Life
The sort of education that's concerned primarily with transmitting 'useful skills', isn't one that can enrich your life and character. Frederick Douglass risked everything as a slave, to study the best of what had been thought and said, by illegally purchasing his treasured 'Columbian Orator', in order to escape the limitation of only being trained in useful skills. He described that kind of training in his essay on the "Blessings of Liberty and Education", as intending for students:
"... learning only those skills that were useful to their masters..."
, trading as it does the development of understanding and wisdom, for the confused equivocation of shallow cleverness with the skill to manipulate materials, their fellows, and of course themselves as well, in order to gain some measure of the world, at the expense of the wealth which cannot be weighed upon those scales.

Those who give their time and attention to "the best that has been thought and said" in our culture's stories, arts, letters, and religion, will benefit from the experience of reading from what is well written, engaging, and thought provoking, such as is found in the pages of Homer, the Greek Tragedians, The Bible, Shakespeare... Dostoevsky... J.R.R. Tolkien... even Agatha Christie. In doing so, a person enters into the landscapes and palaces of the West, and to the extent that they pause and ponder upon their surroundings, they're drinking from its philosophical well. But how deeply they'll be able to drink from the well of the West, will be limited by how familiar they are with the philosophy with which that well operates.

Of course, most people have little need or interest in studying philosophy, and likely especially not epistemology - but fortunately, they don't need to.

However wise it would be to familiarize ourselves more explicitly with both, a premodern education that intelligently teaches the grammatical basics through the words, concepts, and ideas of the best that has been thought and said on what actually matters in life, and how to convey your understanding of that, will be implicitly teaching the habit of epistemological thinking to students as they identify what is being referred to and how (metaphysics), learn how to judge the veracity of that (logic), and recognize what that understanding requires of them in thought and action (ethics). That, which at one time was the normal expectation of a 'Grammar School Education' through quality literature, would work just as well for us, as it did throughout our Founders' era, for them. If, that is, we also point out the dangers which we can see from our vantage point in time, that were not yet obvious to them, in their time.

The Modernists not only don't teach that, they ridicule and undermine that, and even when they are made to teach some part of it, they do so disjointedly and through a materialist, pragmatic, and utilitarian (to say nothing of Marxist) lens, which is more harmful than having learned nothing of such matters at all.

Similarly with philosophy itself, as I've been pointing out over the last several posts, instead of teaching the unity of its three branches (metaphysics, logic, and ethics) as you might identify the head, torso, and limbs of a person in order to better understand and appreciate the whole human body, the modernists approach the subject as a vivisectionist would, using their new '4th branch of philosophy' as a tool for severing one from the other.

The modernist does what they do because they believe that the world will be improved by remaking it (and you) in their own image... for 'the greater good', which necessarily requires abandoning the pursuit of truth and wisdom, in favor of seeking power over you (which is the only means they can experience their 'reality' through), and that requires that you think of such things as grammar and philosophy as being little more than arbitrary and meaningless rules. The power which that gives them over you, leaves you with little or no control over yourself - how could it be otherwise? In such a world as that, you don't get ahead by understanding what is real and true, but by studying meaninglessly useful facts in order to 'get good grades and get a good job!', which those schools had been designed to fit your life into, as a harmlessly useful cog in that world which, in their expert opinion, would best serve 'the greater good'.

For those inclined to say that 'We pick up grammar, even philosophy, through day to day experience and so there's no need to waste time on studying either!', I'd advise you to keep in mind something about the experience of experience: untutored experience is limited to the good and bad you have experienced so far, which is always one step behind the next hard knock you've not yet learned from experience to look out for. To say nothing of the common experience of those who don't know where to put their 'i's and 'e's and apostrophes, makes them the easy butt of jokes from those who take pride in their belief that those rules are the height of learning - learning by such painful experience is possible, but it is by no means preferable. In the end, experience shows that one very useful benefit of a good education, is that it enables you to learn from the invaluable - and often fatal - experiences of some of the best who've ever lived.

Learning grammar and literature as the premoderns taught it is not in any way opposed to benefits of Science & Technology that we enjoy in the world today, on the contrary, it's the best way to ensure that both continue to develop (and less likely that we'll kill ourselves with it). If your initial reaction to the mention of premodern society is to snicker & roll your eyes, you've probably internalized the modernists' deflection of temporal provincialism, which preserves our ignorance of what they understood, with an easily derisive laugh at the 'foolish' appearances of those not yet 'smart enough' to have our technology.

Escaping from the Dark Ages once again
If you look past the modernist blinders, you'll find that it was not the modernists that introduced us to the 'scientific method' - that began with English monks in the 1100s, who realized that if God said the world was 'good', it would be good to investigate how it worked. Neither was it the 'Age of Enlightenment' that introduced the logical method and 'ReasonTM' into our world - as you've seen from the Metalogicon, those were already central to the Liberal Arts that the premoderns educated students to know and understand. Despite what popular notions would have you believe, the leading lights of premodern thought, are the ones who carried the West through classical times, revived and rejuvenated them through Christian efforts during the middle ages (see Alcuin of York's influence under Charlemagne), and kept that wisdom alive and accessible through works like the Metalogicon and 'The Didascalicon' of Hugh of St. Victor in the 1100s, and on through St. Aquinas in the 1300s and beyond.

It was the premodern's focus on reality, logic, and reason, that made the Renaissance possible, and gave rise to that better aspects of thinking which we associate with the Enlightenment, and became the basis for the scientific developments we enjoy today. That same practice can get us through the dark ages we find ourselves in the midst of today - the absence of truth, beauty, and understanding, is the definition of a dark age - as learning well the ordering of and aims of language, will reveal to a reader what sound thinking is and is not, and will expose the follies lurking within what they'd previously assumed to be 'obviously true'.

As Frederick Douglass put it,
"...Education, on the other hand, means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light only by which men can be free. To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature. It is to deny them the means of freedom and the rightful pursuit of happiness, and to defeat the very end of their being..."
, and what it teaches is of real, practical, and timeless value, to your life. An education that springs from treating grammar as the 'cradle of philosophy', is one that will help develop an epistemology of metaphysics, logic, and ethics in a reader, and situate them in a world that is meaningful. That approach, even when begun upon the thinnest of fare, will incline the student towards concepts that are both higher and deeper, and disclose to them what is of value in living a life worth living, and reveal what is likely to hinder that.

For all of the shortcomings and errors that were present in premodern philosophy and the liberal arts, and there were many, their fundamental approach, including their honest errors in applying it, were and are far superior to the dishonest and malevolent approach that pervades modernist philosophy, the humanities, and wackademia in general. You needn't read much of modern misosophy to realize that clarity, understanding, and a respect for what is real and true, have been designated as enemy combatants by it. Sadly, those 'theories of knowledge' which modernist epistemology dominates our world through today, have attacked grammar and literature from the start, and have a lot to do with why 'the best that has been thought and said', a number of which Frederick Douglass's treasured 'Columbian Orator' enabled him to study, are now nowhere to be found in the materials which students are typically 'educated' with today.

Those promoting 'Ebonics', or who criticize paying attention to grammar as 'whiteness', or promising that students can each have 'their own truths', are not enlightening them, they are ensuring that their thinking will suffer from the absence of beauty, a lack of regard for truth, and little or no understanding of what is right and wrong, which are the hallmarks of our new dark age. The unfortunate 'good student' of such lessons as these, are led by them into a linguistic ghetto that's sure to be well populated both by those trained into their own 'activist' mindset, and those limited to comprehending only Woodrow Wilson's 'specific difficult manual tasks'... and of course, it's sure to keep them at a usefully safe distance from those 'who know best', who are those who did not '...forego the privileges of a liberal education...' (corrupted, though even that may be).

In the name of 'education reform!' especially across the 20th century, those materials that had been understood to be the most worth studying, have been removed from modern school systems. Such reforms have so savaged our students ability to read, that a sizable number of those who 'graduate' from school today, are unable to comprehend much beyond empirical step by step instructions, with the result that a horrifically large percentage of those who're able only to 'decode' words, see no purpose or pleasure in doing so - and so are becoming assimilated into the machinery themselves. Perhaps no better example of which, is the enthusiastic support by faculty and students for the murderous terrorists of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, over that of Israel and its people.

In the end, if grammar, logic, and reasoning, do not lead you to a better understanding of who you are, and what is real and true, and how to understand that yourself and communicate it to others, what possible value can such an 'education' have (to you)? Is the key to escaping a dark age more likely to lay in understanding the meaning that flows through the words which you understand your life with, or through the careless disregard of both their meaning and consequences?

Giving due consideration to those words which your mind is racing around in, putting your thoughts in order, verifying their soundness, and ensuring that the direction they're taking you in is justified and true, is what Grammar (and more formally, Epistemology) is meant to aid your mind in doing. Whatever tends to undermine, muddle, or otherwise degrade your ability to grasp and use such knowledge as you have, will tend to be harmful to your life and your ability to live it, and you should be on your guard against that (especially if it comes wrapped up in a diploma or degree).

And with that in mind, my next series of posts will start digging into how modernity has used its 'Epistemology' as the '4th Branch of Philosophy', to establish a new 'Social Epistemology', which gives the illusion of support to some of the most disastrous ideologies of the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Socialism, Communism, Diversity-Equity-Inclusion, Social and Emotional Learning, etc., etc., etc.,..

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all

For all my friends and family who understand the importance of talking to each other, and discussing all matters about family and friends, and religion and politics and nutrition, and who know how to disagree reasonably without becoming disagreeable - I give thanks that you are in our lives!
  • I am thankful for the ability to make an error.
  • I am thankful for the desire to correct it.
  • I am thankful for living in a Nation founded upon the understanding that all Men must be free to do both, in body and soul.
The Western world didn't catch on because of its answers... those are still being argued about more than 3,000 years on... but because of its people being willing and able to ask the right questions, with the willingness and desire to compare their answers to reality, and to pursue the questions which those answers will lead to. 

Some questions that will give you so many reasons to be thankful, are:
  • What is real and how do we know it?
  • What is Good? Why should we care?
  • How can we recognize what is not Good?
  • What is a Good life?
  • What is Happiness?
  • Should what is Right and Wrong, guide our actions?
  • What is Beauty?...What is Truth?...What is Justice?
  • What does it benefit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?
Ask the right questions, with those who are willing to question their own answers, and let the Good Lord and reality do the rest.

Question - not doubt, mind you, but question, what you assume to be true, and then what you know, and give thanks for the life you are blessed to build upon that, for it will surely be one that's well worth giving thanks for - and give thanks to God without whom there would be nothing to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Saturday, November 11, 2023

For Our Veterans on Veterans Day - Thank You For Persisting 'The Harder Right', Across Time

William Ernest Henley. 1849–1903

OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1837)
The Concord Hymn

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We place with joy a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

O Thou who made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free, --
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.

John McCrae. 1872–1918
In Flanders Fields

IN Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Commemorating Veterans Day once again, on the “11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month”, with two earlier memories (and a bonus of soul food in the sidebar); one from seven years ago now, which was itself remembering this day from 5 years before that, and doing so recalls what persists across time on this day, our fellows who choose 'the harder right' by volunteering to serve in our military. No matter where they may end up being stationed, when they volunteer to serve, they are volunteering to put their lives on the line, period. There is no assurance that they won't at some point be sent to physically put their lives at risk, be injured, or be killed. None. Whether their service ends up being given entirely stateside in administrative duties, or repeatedly at hazard in war zones, the worst case is risked by all at that moment when they sign their lives on the dotted line. In pledging their lives to support and defend our Constitution, they serve to secure to us the ability to live lives worth living (should we choose to).

To all of our Veterans - Thank You.

[And now, back to 2015:]
For Veterans Day this year, I'm going with a re-post from four years ago, which isn't - for me or others - the typical Veterans Day post, but for me it really goes to the heart of the occasion. This post came back into mind a couple days ago when a 'Memories' app popped up some pictures from the 2011 Veterans Day parade in St. Louis that I took part in with Chris & Dana Loesch, "Patch" Po/ed Patriot and our kids [Patch just confirmed my sketchy pictureless memory, Stacy Washington was with us too). The memories were a nice tug - I mostly only see Patch online now, and the Loesch's have since moved to Dallas (catch "Dana" on the BlazeTV), but more than the sentimental value, was the point of this post, well-illustrated in the movie clip, of the importance of choosing the Harder Right - not only in the sense of putting your life on the line for it, but the importance of choosing the harder right to a life worth living, and that is what I associate most with our Veterans.

Our Veterans volunteer their lives onto the line, and in pledging their lives to support and defend our Constitution, they serve to secure to us the ability to live a life worth living, should we also take the harder right, and choose to.

To our Veterans - Thank You.

[And now, back to 2011:]
For Veterans Day, a clip that doesn't at first appear to have anything to do with Veterans or Veterans Day. It's the climactic scene of a movie that's really grown on me over the years, The Emperor's Club. In this, the point of not only an Education, but of a life well lived - or squandered - is conveyed in just a few moments.

The now aging Mr. Hundert, a Classics Professor, is found in the restroom after a debate competition, by his former student, Sedgewick Bell, who is now grown and launching a campaign for the Senate. Bell was a student he'd tried far more than he should have to help, and Hundert has realized that Sedgewick has yet again cheated in the "Mr. Julius Caesar" debate, which Mr. Hundert was moderating.

He lets his former student know that he knows he tried to cheat, again...
Mr. Hundert:"I'm a teacher Sedgwick, and I failed you. But I'll give you one last lecture, if I may. All of us, at some point, are forced to look at ourselves in the mirror, and see who we really are, and when that day comes for Sedgewick, you'll be confronted with a life lived without virtue, without principle - for that I pity you. End of lesson."

Sedgewick Bell:"What can I say Mr. Hundert? Who gives a shit. Honestly, who out there gives a shit about your principles and your virtues. I mean, look at you, what do you have to show for yourself? I live in the real world, where people do what they need to do to get what they want, and if that means lying, and cheating... then so be it.
So I am going to go out there, and I am going to win that election Mr. Hundert, and you will see me EVERYwhere! And I'll worry about my 'contribution' later.
(Sound of a toilet flushing, stall opens, Sedgewick's little boy comes out, stares at his dad in disgust)
Sedgewick Bell:"Robert? Robert...."
(Robert turns and leaves)
Sedgewick stares after him, stares down, glances at Mr. Hundert, and leaves.
What Mr. Hundert has, he has without need of power, position or wealth... what Cedric threw away, he can't replace through any amount of power, position or wealth.

The best things in life are free... but you've got to earn them, and sometimes fight for them; and some worthy few even choose to risk their lives for your chance to enjoy them.

Thank you to all those who chose the harder right, and especially the Veterans who agreed to risk their lives for it, if need be.

UPDATE - Pictures from the St. Louis Veterans Day Parade
Special thanks to Dana Loesh for inviting us to march with her crew in the parade, my daughter & I were honored to show our support.

Dana Loesh (in a strep throat burqa), Me, Patch Adams and Chris Loesch , ready to roll

... coming around the corner... (pic swiped from Patch Adams)
Parading past Soldiers Memorial
The best message of all!

Patch posted a video that should be an alarming shame in contrasts to all. For those who did turn out for the parade yesterday, thank you, your quality isn't questioned, but for the quantities of others who couldn't be bothered, shame on you.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Would you recognize it if one of your beliefs was wrong? How? - You keep using that word 5

We've looked at how Metaphysics, Logic, and Ethics, support a proper 'theory of knowledge for justified belief', but what does it take to realize that what you believe is right, is actually wrong? For instance, we noted that it was once acceptable behavior in turbulent times for leading Romans to publish lists of people to be rounded up and killed for the good of the state (proscribed), whereas today those actions would not (we hope) be looked upon as examples of upstanding civic mindedness - why not?

Because they didn't know any better?

What do you mean by 'know'? Did they just lack the facts? If we could zoom a modern Civics textbook back in time to them, with key lines underlined and the a) b) c) quizzes marked with the answers which clearly demonstrate that killing selected people in the streets was unjustified and 'wrong' - do you think that would change their minds? And maybe history too? But of course, we don't need a time machine to test and debunk this theory of knowledge, as we only have to look at the current practices of any school district that's been utilizing the immediately refuted '1619 Project', to teach their students 'history' with. It didn't matter at all to those schools that its 'facts' have been refuted, they actively disregarded and excused the textbook as 'narrative history', and continued on with teaching it.

No, 'facts' do very little to change the beliefs of those who want to believe, what they want to believe.

Why not?
As Aristotle pointed out in his Nicomachean Ethics, Socrates was wrong in thinking that ignorance makes one wicked, or that knowledge makes one virtuous - knowing is important but it's not enough, you also have to be in the habit of doing what you know to be right and true. Knowing 'the answers' doesn't make a person virtuous, any more than being ignorant of the right answer could make one depraved and evil. Believing isn't guided primarily by facts, but by what we are in the habit of acting upon, and anyone who's attempted to 'fact check' the beliefs of someone on the other side of the political aisle, has very likely seen that firsthand (and perhaps ignored it in themselves).

Those who're able to meaningfully recognize that the knowledge they've habitually acted upon as a 'justified belief', is wrong, are able to do so because they are already in the habit of cross-checking the facts they now know, with what is inarguably real and true, in order to see where their knowledge, understanding, and behavior, may need to be altered in light of that new information. They do so because they at least implicitly understand that failing to do so, would lead them or their people into living within an illusion of unjustifiable beliefs, falsehoods, and chaos, which would be at odds with what is real and true, and so of value to their lives.

In an irony that Plato would surely enjoy, modern 'philosophers' who use the term and branch of 'Epistemology' that was devised to deny and justify (!) our inability to know what is real and true, do so while knowing that their system has produced those ideologies of 'justified belief' that've darkened the modern world with illusions that most people are unwilling to acknowledge amidst their lives today. And of course they do so, confident that any 'fact checking' will reference only those facts that support the opinions that they've certified as being acceptable, and that by making themselves captive to those same beliefs, and safe in the knowledge that those they've taught to accept those facts and opinions in the educational systems that they dominate, will applaud them as being knowledgeable and correct.

What that means for you and me, is that if you'd like to be justifiably confident that your beliefs will help you to live a life worth living, then you first need to take the modernists at their word and ignore their literally ignorant advice, and look instead to the premoderns who actually cared about establishing what is real and true (Metaphysics), and about demonstrating how to soundly argue the merits of any claims about that (Logic), and understood that it was important to identify what if anything should be done in light of that (Ethics). Philosophers before the modern era did so, because unlike the modernist, they thought that wisdom was important, and valuable, in the pursuit of a life worth living.

Caring about what is true is the path to liberty and the pursuit of happiness
But getting back to answering our opening question, for a person to change what they believe and behave by, they first need to understand and believe that when we mistakenly believe something that is actually false, to be true, it is a consequential problem that truly matters to their life and ability to live it well, and to be in the habit of correcting themselves because of that. Those who don't believe that, are in the habit of dealing with errors and falsehoods, only when they present problems that interfere with their immediate plans and actions, and once those problems are 'resolved' into being out of sight, they are also out of mind.

Those who believe that gaps and errors in their understanding are consequential to their life and ability to live it well, are inclined by that towards developing those habits of mind across time that become 'second nature' to their character, which we recognize as the mark of a virtuous person - AKA: One who is up to the challenges of living a life worth living. For them, errors and falsehoods once discovered, can no longer be tolerated, no matter what comforting norms might have grown up around them, and it's those kinds of people who are able to come to see - no matter what popular opinion might say against them - that:
  • ... issuing proscriptions of people to be killed for the 'greater good', is an intolerable wrong;
  • ... that enslaving fellow human beings, is an intolerable wrong;
  • ... that an action that would be unjust to do to some, is 'somehow' just when done to others because of irrelevancies of race, creed, etc., is an intolerable wrong,
, and not coincidentally, it is that habit of mind of continually referencing back to what is timelessly true, that enables us to first see inconsistencies in what we had accepted as being solid knowledge, which indicates that it is incomplete or flat out false, which is what makes it possible to discover what is wrong and how to correct it. Those who develop that habit of mind and act in accordance with it, are most likely to live to see happiness within their reach, and - always aware of the role that chance plays in our lives - without also demanding that 'happiness' be guaranteed, before behaving in that way. That's the essence of the line from George Washington's favorite play, Addison's 'Cato', that:
"Tis not in mortals to command success, But we’ll do more, Sempronius; we’ll deserve it."
, meaning that they understand that the ends do not justify the means, and understand instead that our means are intelligent reflections of the ends we aim at, more or less successfully, as our habits of mind guide us in ensuring that both means and ends, fit within what we know, understand, and act upon, because they are real, true, and right; AKA: Integrity.

At the foundation of ethics, are those fundamental virtues that 'fact-check' our behavior and keep us in accordance with first principles of knowledge and behavior, and a child's education should raise them up in those habits of thought and action, in knowledge and story. These habits of mind are what have been known since classical times as the Cardinal Virtues:
  • Prudence - 'the 'Mother of the Cardinal Virtues' - no one who's not prudent can be Just, or Courageous, or Temperate, as all depends upon perceiving and acting effectively upon what is true and good
  • Justice - the habit of consistently rendering to others what is their due, as the rightful response to an earlier absent or wrongful action
  • Courage - acting in the face of adversity to do what is right and just to do
  • Temperance - desiring and acting in accordance with a prudent and just understanding of what is real and true
These virtues are foundational to ethical thinking in all quarters of the Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian West, these virtues depends upon our seeing and seeking out what is real and true, and responding reasonably in accordance with what is - the thing itself. And central to that ability to understand, make sound judgments, and act to and carry them out appropriately, is the product of metaphysics, logic, and ethics, in thought and action.

These virtues are foundational to the West, which upholds (upheld?) the importance of acting deliberately by choice at the level of the individual, their family, extended friendships, and community, which became a vital component in bringing about what is the truest wealth of the West. The Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian West is not wealthy because of its resources - or resources taken from others - but because virtue, morality, and trustworthiness, became an expected norm in its communities, which made them as much or more inclined towards celebrating goodness, than power, and from that common sense, wealth and prosperity naturally followed in abundance.

The expectation of trust and accompanying trustworthiness, ushered in the circumstances which Adam Smith observed as the 'natural liberty' of each person, when they were, to the greatest extent possible, able to act as they saw fit without external interference. As Smith observed, those able to make their own decisions in regards to their affairs, on the basis of conditions & needs they had first-hand knowledge of, with little or no fear of being forcibly interfered with by either criminal or civic officials, that produced a market and pricing system that excelled at spreading the most reliable information of the value of products, supplies, and related concerns, throughout society, and it brought about an unheard of explosion of efficiency and prosperity not only for their immediate communities, but to society as a whole.

It's important to note that what was involved in those first stirrings of a Free Market, which they'd produced, involved far more than what the modern field of 'economics' concerns itself with, and is best addressed under the wider scope of Political Economy, which is what two of the last worthwhile Frenchmen, Jean Baptiste Say, and Frederick Bastiat operated within (with apologies to deTocqueville). Although Adam Smith essentially originated the field of Political Economy before them, both Say and Bastiat would make its principles even more clearly understood than Smith had (Thomas Jefferson explicitly recommended Say's clearer and far briefer study of 'Political Economy':
"...John Baptist Say has the merit of producing a very superior work on the subject of Political economy. his arrangement is luminous, ideas clear, style perspicuous, and the whole subject brought within half the volume of Smith’s work. add to this considerable advances in correctness and extension of principles..."
, over that of Adam Smith's).

All of which rests upon, and depends upon, a regard and respect for what is real and true, and without that understanding which Ethics insists upon, Western knowledge and understanding could not have reached as high as it did with Aristotle, and higher with Cicero, and higher still with the Christian era. Without that full foundation, the English Common Law could not have been developed, let alone what followed in our Founders' era with the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the realization of their understanding of a Free Market (which is NOT what libertarians & establishment GOP present as being 'Free Trade'), which are what have made the better aspects of our current world possible.

All of which goes to say, that Epistemologically speaking, where Metaphysics tells us what is, and Logic demonstrates what is arguably true, Ethics extends those into telling us whether or not such and such a conclusion is justifiable, and what should or shouldn't be done about that, and no 'epistemology' worthy of the meaning given to that name, can legitimately be practiced without employing all three. More to the point, undermining either one is an attack upon all three, and upon your ability to act in accordance with what you know to be real and true. Further, eliminating the expectation of the possibility of truth, has the effect of concealing all lies as such - what significance can a lie have, to a people who have no particular regard for what is real and true? - the lie is neatly cloaked in the attire of 'whatever' and 'just my opinion, man', and its corruption spreads with ease.

The Modern cost of Epistemology without Metaphysics, Logic, and Ethics (Narrator: Everything)
At the vague beginnings of modernity, those who saw themselves as 'modern' began moving away from that understanding, perhaps first and most notably with Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote such things as that it would be advisable for a Prince to send in a brutal authority to discipline and even kill troublemakers in a region, and then once having brought them under control, to then make a show of killing that authority who'd been acting on the prince's orders
"...Under this pretence he took Ramiro, and one morning caused him to be executed and left on the piazza at Cesena with the block and a bloody knife at his side. The barbarity of this spectacle caused the people to be at once satisfied and dismayed..."
, to convince the people that he cared about 'justice' for them and so deserved their loyalty. Hobbes put forth a similar notion from a different perspective, that since no one could be trusted to be honest and true, to avoid living lives that were 'nasty, brutish, and short', a prince must be given the power to say what will be accepted as if it were 'right', and to enforce that upon all.

Both of them imagined that such plans somehow could be effective, and therefore would be justified (if you apply Aristotle's 1st rule to the logic preceding the 'therefore', you'll find it to be lacking), and Hobbes's Leviathan was subject to the same contradictions and falsehoods for 'the greater good', as Machiavelli's, so that neither forerunner of 'real politik' could establish a 'justified belief', and so neither could ever truly be either desirable, admirable, or effective. A reasonable understanding of ethics, which enables us to see into the wider context beyond the present moment, would show that no such actions could be justifiable, nor since they ignore the likelihood of unforeseen consequences of committing wrongs, could they be effective - by definition such actions taken in contradiction to what is real and true - and no such shortsighted effort could ever be 'practical' in the end, and could not be because they are wrong in their beginnings.

What the term Epistemology was coined to mean, was being practiced in premodern philosophy long before its modern name was coined. To consider something philosophically, began with what Metaphysics could tell you is, which Logic examined and showed how arguably it could be justified, which led into an ethical understanding which disclosed what should or shouldn't be done about that. Doing so was and is inseparable from practicing the virtues of Prudence (a sound judgement about what is true), Justice (seeing that wrongs are appropriately righted), Courage (prudently applying justice even in adversity), and Temperance (doing what is right, in right measure, neither excessively or neglectfully). Practicing epistemology in a manner that lives up to the meaning assigned to it - distinguishing between justified beliefs, and opinion - is vital to determining whether or not a conclusion is not only the 'right answer', but is ethically justifiable to believe, stand by, and act upon - it doesn't make you infallible or omniscient, but it does help you to behave in a manner that is reasonably in accordance with what is real and true.

Epistemology, according to what its modernist granddaddy, Immanuel Kant, taught, was and remains thoroughly opposed to that premodern meaning which epistemology was coined to give modernism cover from. His, and every modernist system since his radical 'Copernican Revolution', which he conceived of in reaction to David Hume, he fashioned a gimmick (the details of that I'll leave for latter posts) in his 'Critique of Pure Reason', which responds to Hume's skepticism, by accepting his conclusions, and uses them as a pretext for devising a way 'around them',
"... thus rendering the practical extension of pure reason impossible. I must, therefore, abolish knowledge, to make room for belief. The dogmatism of metaphysics, that is, the presumption that it is possible to advance in metaphysics without previous criticism, is the true source of the unbelief (always dogmatic) which militates against morality..."
, which, as he's attempting to use reason to 'fact check' reason, by discarding metaphysics, in order to 'improve' reason (in all his concocted varieties of it), is just about the most dogmatic thing ever stated (at least to that date). At any rate, Kant's convoluted cogitations are what birthed the modernist's '4th branch of philosophy', which rests upon the assertion that what is actually real and true cannot be known, and in our ignorance of what is real and true and how to respond to that, we must instead treat all 'facts' as isolated events which serve only to indicate which of Kant's 'Categorical Imperative's we are to treat as being more relevant to us than reality.

What is a 'Categorical Imperative'? They are statements which Kant and other 'experts' have rationalized - necessarily independent of 'real reality' - as being 'truths' that it is your duty to
"...act in accordance with a maxim of ends that it can be a universal law for everyone to have"
, IOW you are to act as if the ends do justify the means, and which we are expected to abide by in lieu of our inability to observe, judge, and respond to reality (or so he says), and these predigested judgements - made without reference to what is real and true in your context, but which the moderns think should be accepted as if they were 'real and true' - are what you (actually 'they', in the collective sense) are to accept as being your duty to abide by (without, of course, any reference to what is real and true), and so you are to act, not on your own judgement, but by what authorities have told you that you should - quite literally 'like a good German' - no matter what.

"...that most deformed cripple of ideas that has ever existed—the great Kant..."
If that didn't clear things up for you, consider this scenario which Kant actually gave as an example of his ideal that “The Categorical Imperative commands us not to lie”, and you should keep in mind that "Kant subsequently says that a categorical imperative:
declares an action to be objectively necessary of itself without reference to any purpose—that is, even without any further end"
, and by that he means that you must obey it no matter what your own judgment might tell you, meaning that you shouldn't follow it for any benefit it might bring, but in fact you must abide by it even if it would cause you or others real harm, up to and including your and their deaths.

If it's not yet entirely clear how vastly different the modernist's approach is from the premodern one, a scenario that should make matters clearer, is one that Kant gave as an example of his ideal, which is in radical opposition to the premodern view (and I'll bet yours too). So let's take a look at the scenario itself, and then at how differently it might be approached from the premodern, and then the modernist, points of view:
  • Imagine a scenario of whether or not your daughter is at home, and what you should do about that when a murderer comes to your door armed with a knife to kill her with, and demands that you tell him whether or not she is at home.
In the premodern view would consist of something like the following, informed by:
Metaphysics (dealing with what is real and true) would inform you of the truth about whether or not your daughter is in your house, that the person with the knife is a threat, it would also implicitly inform you of who you are as her parent and what your role and responsibility towards her is, what your home and its purpose is, and every other relevant bit of knowledge and understanding.
Logic would tell you that the threat of force invalidates any demand made to you, as well as what other options are available to you, and making an argument that she isn't home, and that he should leave.
Ethics would unify the knowledge of metaphysics and logic with virtue, morality, law, and cultural customs, not to mention common sense, and inform you that you're fully justified in not providing a knife-wielding would-be murderer with any facts or anything else in your possession, and that any means of eliminating that threat, from deception to the use of lethal force, is also fully justified.

And so, as Socrates pointed out 2,500 years ago, anyone threatening violence or is in any other way out of their head, can have no claim whatsoever to any truth, or anything else you might possess, and it would be unjust to give it to them even if it's their own property. Meaning that, especially as their stated intent is to harm your daughter, you are not only justified in refusing their request, it is your responsibility to resist it by any means possible, up to and including blowing the would-be murderer's head clean off if they attempted to force their way in.
In the modernist view:
Epistemology, as the system was formulated by Kant, tells you that you do not in fact have any knowledge of anything that is real and true, the only thing you can know is your duty to follow the rule of the Categorical Imperative, and 'therefore' (a term reduced to be logic in name only) your duty is to tell the armed murderer at the door that your daughter is at home, even though the harm he intends to cause her would be considered 'unethical'.
Yes, Kant actually says that because the 'Categorical Imperative' is to always 'tell the truth' (about the reality that you can never really have knowledge of), and that it's not just that you should tell the murderer at the door that your daughter is home (which to Kant's mind already involves way too much thought and judgement on your part), it is your duty to tell the murderer at the door who is there to kill your daughter, that your daughter is home, no matter what obligations, responsibilities, and standards, that telling such a 'truth' would truly betray.

This should not be surprising, as modernism and all its children in highbrow pretenses, Marxism, pragmatism, post-modernism, wokeness, etc., all tell you that you cannot know what is real and true, and so 'logically' (by ignoring the fundamental rules of logic) you should (again, an ethical term) ignore the meaning of any and all terms and premises in favor of abiding by the Kantian Categorical Imperative to 'tell the truth' - if you cannot know 'the thing itself', then obviously your knowledge is not, should not, and cannot, be integrated or comprehensible, and so your only duty is to obey the rules of experts, and any judgment that'd violate those rules is wrong.

Remember, modern philosophy isn't about helping you to become wise, it's about what & who you should obey.

However many modernist experts have come and gone, and whichever ideological label, from Idealism, to Dialectical Materialism, to Pragmatism, and post-modernism they've operated under, and whichever political death-cult of socialism, communism, Marxism, Maoism, Pro-Regressivism, etc. that've brought in and out of favor, that fundamental 'truth' has remained a constant command - you kant know what's true, don't think for yourself, obey the experts.

You might recall from an earlier post on Fichte's influence in our school systems, that (Fichte was the first to lay out exactly what the meaning and consequences of this new '4th branch of philosophy' actually meant), advised upon reforming education in his 'Addresses to the German people', in order to eliminate the 'problem' of independent thought, and so make students more perfectly obedient to authorities (a message heard and transmitted into America by the likes of Horace Mann). If you ever wondered where the death camps of the fascists and communists came from, there's your answer - those are the ideas which those horrors originated from (and yes, they persist in the design of your current school systems), as does the modernist's reasons for using 'epistemology' to separate metaphysics, logic, and ethics, from your conscious consideration, comprehension, and judgement.

Whatever its claims, Modernist philosophy didn't fix the errors and weaknesses of premodern philosophy, it replaced their honest gaps and errors with deliberate falsehoods and fantasies. Modern Epistemology and the 'philosophy' it supports, makes a mockery of Philosophy - the love of and pursuit of Wisdom cannot be engaged in after first having denied everything in its foundations and goals that makes such a pursuit possible.

Beliefs are justified by what is real and true
What is real and true matters, and distinguishing between what is properly a 'justified belief', and 'opinion', can only be understood by those who care about and respect what is metaphysically true, logically arguable, and ethically understood. Those who deny what is real and true, can only follow rules and flow charts prepared and approved of by one expert or another, to achieve ideological ends which they expect you to have exchanged your ability to reason for (oh hi there 'Critical Thinking'), in order to obey what the experts tell you.

If the meaning ascribed to epistemology in the 1880s is to be taken seriously - as opposed to how the modernist's '4th branch of philosophy' actually presumes and operates - you could not even begin to identify a 'theory of knowledge', without first understanding the metaphysical importance of identifying what is real and true, and the importance of responding to that knowledge ethically, and no belief 'justified' without that understanding can have any real and true value. An understanding of and respect for Justice, is required for determining the proper response to popular ideals, and pursuing what correctives might be warranted, without excess or inappropriate rancor, and you could not justly stand for a justified belief without the courage to say that you've discovered what is popularly supported, is in fact false. The ignorance of or denial of that, is what lays behind the moderns' denial of our ability to perceive reality as it is, and our inability to say what is real and true (what is a woman?), and any 'justified belief' that's justified without that, can only serve to subvert what truly is so.

Outside of the vain pursuits of power, real power begins with a respect for truth, and having the humility to not only recognize the possibility of your being wrong, but the desire to discover that error, to treat people with respect, civility, kindness, and trust, comes naturally only to those who have a love of Truth. In that same soil is sure to be found a sound metaphysics, with a respect for logical reasoning, and an ethics which reflects and insists upon both, in liberty with their fellows in society, under heaven above.

One question worth asking after all of this, is that if philosophy and an epistemology of metaphysics, logic, and ethics is so important, and if the great majority of people have little or no interest in its pursuit, how is such a society to come about, let alone endure? A quick look at history will show us that it is not necessary that everyone be an academic - just as recent history will show how disastrous such an effort is - but a people can still develop a meaningful habit of epistemology in everyday practice, through an education that fundamentally values and transmits "the best that has been thought and said" through its culture's stories, arts, letters, and religion.

For a glimpse at how that once was done, and what had to be trivialized in order to dispense with it, we'll look at Grammar's role in implementing or abandoning an epistemology of metaphysics, logic, and ethics, next.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Ethics of Epistemology - Escaping the Inigo Montoya Trap - You keep using that word 4

We've looked at the misleading origins of the term 'Epistemology' in the mid 1800s, and at how the term purports to carry on the pursuit of 'meaning' that the premoderns were concerned with, even as the modernist's new '4th branch of philosophy' rejects the metaphysics and logic that any claim to meaning, is necessarily meaningless without. While modernity had been smoldering with skepticism & cynicism since at least the time of Bacon, Hobbes, and Descartes, it didn't burst out into flame until it was ignited by David Hume's declaration that we could not know the causes of anything or anything else beyond an empirical fact and therefore the best (!) thing to do regarding any ethical & moral advice based upon that illusive 'knowledge', would be to:
'Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion'
Claiming that Hume woke him up from his 'dogmatic slumbers', Immanuel Kant decided to oppose Hume by going even further with his systematic assertion that we can't ever really know the reality of the 'thing itself', and deeming earlier 'believable truths' to be outdated and 'uncritical', he led the moderns in systematically revising philosophy's role away from pursuing wisdom, and into providing convoluted sets of high-minded rules and rationalized 'truths' that they'd determined 'would be best' for society to treat as if they were 'realistic' and 'true'. And that system of German Idealism, is what the modernist's new '4th branch of philosophy' sprang from, and is what the word 'epistemology' was coined to obscure behind a facade of 'Greekness'.

For those who'd rather engage with ideas that actually help them to better understand themselves, the world, and how to live a life worth living within it, they'd do best to avoid the presumptions and practices of modern 'epistemology', and instead rediscover how premodern philosophy put what that word claims to mean - a theory of knowledge that distinguishes justified belief from opinion' - into action. The premoderns accomplished that through the only possible means of doing so, by establishing what is real and true, demonstrating how to soundly argue to affirm or refute claims about that, and by identifying what if anything should be done regarding that, which they did through the unified use of Metaphysics, Logic, and Ethics.
Knowledge without Wisdom is Monstrous

In coming posts we'll look at the details of how the modernists did what they've done and the subsequent ill effects that's had on the lives we now lead, but first, to avoid falling into the Inigo Montoya trap which the moderns stumbled upon with 'epistemology' ("You keep using that word... I don't think it means what you think it means"), we need to look at the meaning of the word Ethics, which is generally defined as:
"Ethics: Moral principles that govern a person's behavior and conduct"
, and perhaps the 1st thing to point out is that Ethics is more than merely rules of 'behavior and conduct', Ethics was traditionally the 3rd branch of philosophy, and contained the subjects of Politics, Law, Economics, and more, which matters a great deal to how philosophy 'distinguishes justified belief from opinion', and despite modern epistemology which concerns itself with that in name only, an ethical concern must be involved in any effort to understand what is real and true and how to respond to that, lest you reduce your own mind to that of an artificial intelligence like ChatGPT.

How do I mean that? Like this: it is not possible to meaningfully pursue the purported meaning of epistemology, without ethics - how would you justify - 'justify' being a term of ethics - belief, while having no belief in, interest in, or concern for, what is right and true? What can 'justified' possibly mean without a regard for what is real and true, and what, if anything, should - 'should' is also an ethical term - you do about that? Should you say anything if you notice an error in how something's been justified? What if that'd be inconvenient for you? Does it matter if you don't? Given its treatment of such stated concerns, it's not so surprising that modern philosophy has spawned a succession of evermore coldly antagonistic and brutal ideologies (utilitarianism, materialism, socialism, communism, pragmatism... etc.,), whose ideals are in constant competition to 'manage society', while agreeing only upon the belief that what is real and true, doesn't matter and can't be known by anyone anyway.

The truth is that it is not possible to be concerned with what we are told 'epistemology' means, without incorporating an Ethics that's more worthy of its name, than the '4th branch of philosophy' is of its name - the desire for knowledge without ethics, is a lust for power unburdened by wisdom. Or, to fit it to the season, knowledge without wisdom is monstrous.

Taking a different tact with the 3rd Branch of Philosophy - differences of degree, not kind
How we approach Ethics, necessarily has to differ from how we approached metaphysics and logic in the previous two posts (here, and here), and you can see why in the differences between the first two of the three philosophical questions, in relation to the third - they are again:
  1. 'What is this?', (metaphysics),
  2. 'How do I know that? (Logic)',
  3. 'What, if anything, should I do about that? (Ethics)'
, in that the first two are concerned with what is, while the third is concerned with what should be done because of what we understand those to be. The principles of Metaphysics and Logic rest upon what Aristotle identified as being the first rule of thought, that a thing cannot both be and not be, at the same time and in the same manner and context, and as Logic is entirely derived from that and exists to root out any such contradictions in our thinking, both fields have remained essentially unchanged from Aristotle's day on down to ours, and rightly so, because they are concerned with the timeless First Principles of what is. But as Ethics is concerned with how to respond in respect to what knowledge we have of what is real and true, and as the scope and depth of our knowledge and understanding has expanded and deepened, what is understood to be ethical in relation to that knowledge, has necessarily changed as well.

Put another way, imagine a scene viewed through a telescopic lens, where you see the ground of a yard with a house upon it and a nearby tree being the tallest figure within the scene - then as you zoom out, while the ground remains at ground level, the single house is seen to be one of many houses in a neighborhood, and the tree which had been the highest point visible has become dwarfed by the mountain which had been obscured behind it when zoomed in. Similarly, while the ground of metaphysics and logic remain solid and unchanged, as their ethical high ground had been raised upon standards that are now understood to be considerably lower from our perspective in time, so that what they saw as the high ground back then, we can now see as standing lower, overshadowed in places, and in some cases is now even seen as being disreputable, if not downright evil.

Because the fundamentals of what we accept as ethical behavior, are nearest to the timeless principles of metaphysics and logic which they are derived from, what we believe to be right and wrong in relation to those fundamentals (virtue, murder, theft, etc.,) change very little over time.

But. Since the breadth and depth of knowledge available to us has grown far beyond what was understood when the philosophical pursuit of wisdom was begun by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, that enables a difference in ethical perspective that's often glaring to our eyes today, which was unavailable in their own time. So that where on the surface there seems to be a common baseline understanding of what is ethical - murder was wrong in their time, as it is in ours - what was thought to be an ethical application of that knowledge can differ as much as its scope - i.e. the understanding of what does and does not constitute murder, has changed a great deal between their day and ours.

For instance, you've heard of the term 'decimated'? That comes from the Roman army's practice of discipling poor performance of the soldiers by lining up the troops and going down the line and killing every tenth soldier where they stood. In their eyes, that was not murder, that was simply maintaining discipline.

That's how much degree can vary within kind. And the more closely you look into the past, the more such differences of degree are revealed.

For instance, on the one hand, there were numerous positive developments over even the course of the 300 years from Socrates' time to Cicero's, where their knowledge and experience of the nature and purpose of the state (government and politics being a subset of Ethics), had further developed the idea of a Republic, into one that contained features of democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy (which was hugely influential on our founder's thinking). Also, the character and performance of the Roman's idea of a Republic depended greatly upon the character of their people, and especially upon the importance of the family unit. That also compelled them to seek out and admit more input from the people, and so they also began to see that The Law needed to be much more than an arena for verbal gamesmanship and rules for the rulers to rule their society through - which was the norm in Socrates' time - and instead needed to be based upon a principled understanding of right and wrong, which needed to be able to stand up to reasonable scrutiny, in order to be considered sound and acceptable as law (see especially Cicero's 'Republic' and 'The Laws').

On the other hand, while these were important and sound advances, advances that could be foreseen only dimly, if at all, from Socrates' position in time, from our perspective perched high atop of their shoulders, we're able to look back and down into their details, and see problems which they could not. For instance, as important as the family was believed to be by Romans to the Roman way of life, the near total power that the Roman Husband/Father, the Paterfamilias, had over the lives of his wife and children - he could put either to death if they had in some way (determined by him) dishonored the family - is something we're able to see today as being intolerably wrong and corrupting. And for all that they'd advanced in an understanding of the Law, and of Government, it was not uncommon for leading citizens and politicians, from Lucius Cornelius Sulla to Marc Antony and Octavian (later Augustus), to issue proscriptions for the good of the state, in which were listed the names of hundreds and even thousands of people who were to be hunted down and put to death, based solely upon the say so of whichever eminent figure had put their names onto that list - Cicero himself met his end in that way.
Death of Cicero

Those differences in degree, follow from not just ignorance, but from the scope of knowledge and understanding that was available to them. In Aristotle's day at the opening of the philosophical pursuit of wisdom, the good of the polity, the state, marked the upper limit of known value and virtue, and that meant that the value of the individual was measured by their ability to serve the needs of society and the state. It was from that perspective that it was believed in Aristotle's time:
  • that the state 'should' direct the education of its youth,
  • that some men were naturally slaves and so should serve their masters,
  • it was considered perfectly acceptable for unwanted or disabled children to be 'exposed', tossed out on a hillside, where, unless retrieved by a stranger for some desperately specialized slavery, they would die of exposure to the elements or become food for the wild things and vultures.
Our very different takes on those situations today come from our present vantage point (or at least one that was common to us in our Founders' time), which sees the purpose of the state to be to
  • uphold and defend the rights and property of the individual within society,
  • treating people as property is seen as an evil that is fundamentally opposed to the individual rights which it is the purpose of the state to safeguard,
  • leaving infants for dead is seen as murder and an intolerable evil (*cough* abortion *cough*).
The vantage point from which we see those situations so differently today, comes from the considerably expanded scope of knowledge and understanding of what a person is, and what a society should be, which was largely unknown and unavailable to them in their time - but we cannot forget that our vantage point is built upon the foundations which they laid.

Note: Far from this being an argument for 'relativism', it's in fact the very opposite, in that it is because the range and scope of what we know today - not just in quantity, but the height and depth of understanding that is available today - that it's possible for us to see more clearly what is right and true and good and proper in relation to what is and can be known, than could even be imagined in the absence of that understanding. Note Also: Attempting to reverse that perspective, to judge them by the wider perspective of our day which they lacked, is being anachronistic - imposing something from one time, out of place upon another - and should not be engaged in, as doing so doesn't make you look superior to them, but only shows your judgment to be inferior to the knowledge that is available to you.

And yet, the differences are worth noting, if only to highlight the importance of understanding what is available for you to know, and the enormity of what can be missed through ignorance.

It's also important to point out that a vital part of what made our elevated perspective possible - even imaginable - to us today, are due to the major additions to knowledge and understanding that came from the Christian quarter of what was fast becoming the Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian West, and that raised the bar in ways that truly were inconceivable to Aristotle, and to Cicero as well.

In addition to the four Cardinal Virtues that had been known to them - Prudence, Justice, Courage, Temperance - were added three more virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, which altered how the original four were understood to be applied. And so, in holding that violence was not only wrong, but that every person was made in the image of God, it was able to be understood that every person - child, mother, father - should be seen as equally human in the eyes of those whose own eyes had been opened to that. From that perspective it gradually became more and more difficult to not see the rich & powerful, as well as their humblest servants, as being equally human, and so equally deserving of the mutual respect and civility that should be extended to all as members of society.

The (very) Slow (then really fast) Progress of History
We today hardly notice how revolutionarily new these innovations were, and many today even cynically treat them as being outdated - not as a result of any new knowledge of ours, but out of a new ignorance of our old knowledge. What we miss, at the very least, is that these new ideas were such that within a remarkably short time they'd defeated the 'gods' of mighty Rome, within Rome! True, they couldn't stop the rot which centuries of corruption had already brought Republican Rome to ruin, and raised the Roman Empire up in its place, but Rome was able to continue on for another two centuries in the western half of the empire, before collapsing from opposing forces within and without at around the 400s. OTOH, the eastern half of the empire in Byzantium - which had never stopped thinking of itself as Rome - endured and prospered for another thousand years, before it too was finally defeated, though more by external forces than internal failures (though those last weren't lacking).

Centuries more passed by before Thomas Aquinas was able to bring that new Christian understanding, into Aristotle's philosophy, while the 'little people' continued to receive very little benefit or recognition of what we would understand today as 'individual rights', and even once violence, slavery, and immorality, had been brought into clearer disrepute, there were still few substantial barriers to stop the powerful from abusing the weak, as 'needed'. As the centuries passed, the ideas began to bubble up as with England's Charter of Liberties, and still centuries after that before monarchs began to be bound to respect the lives & property of their subordinates (barons, earls, etc.,) began to be codified into British law with the Magna Carta, and still several centuries more before people would begin to see that those same rights should be extended to the non-aristocratic population as well, and only then was the understanding expressed by Sir Edward Coke, able to begin to be infused into British Common Law with the idea that 'Every man's home is his castle', and the corollary realization that everyone's 'Castle' depended upon everyone recognizing that every person was due the equal protections of society's laws which were to be defended by the state, against all enemies, foreign & domestic.

With the solid foundation in fundamentals provided by the early Grecco/Roman half of the West, expanded and humanized by the Judeo/Christian half, and refined over the course of the developments of Europe and especially Britain over the course of two thousand years and more, their accumulated experience and discoveries and knowledge, eventually achieved such an elevated understanding as what began to be expressed with the idea of the English 'Bill of Rights'.

The ethical development of the 'Rights of Englishmen', was a tipping point, spanning as it did across Ethic's subsets of governance, law, economics, and societal norms, and became a new norm that America's Founding Fathers refused to relinquish it, even though England was clear across the ocean. They soon set about refining the idea further still, and then extended the theory of its applicability to mankind as a whole, with the understanding that not only did and should the choices of individuals have value and standing before the law, but that government must be barred from infringing upon those fundamental individual rights. With that understanding becoming widespread, a new soundness and prosperity of their entire society soon followed, and hard on the heels of that came the realization that it all depended upon the people having a moral and liberal education, because an uneducated people, as John Adams put it:
'...would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net...'
, and so it was seen to be necessary that each person's choices and rights & property, would be respected and defended against forcible interference, through the principled Rule of Law, which even the State and its officers were to be held accountable to.

John Adams: '... would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution
 as a Whale goes through a Net...'
America's Declaration of Independence, its federal Constitution (and those of its united States), and Bill of Rights, arguably expressed the most radical and revolutionary leap of political progress in human history, and though 'self evident' to them then, it took over two thousand years for that knowledge to be developed and understood, before it could become 'self evident' to our Founders. It is important for us to understand today, that though we share essentially the same understanding of metaphysics and logic and the same Cardinal Virtues of ethics understood in Aristotle's & Cicero's time which our Founders understood to be invaluable 'common judgments of public right' and are still of immeasurable value to us today, 'The Spirit of 1776' was an ethical development that was utterly and completely beyond the ability of anyone to perceive in Aristotle's & Cicero's time.

What beliefs that are justified without reality, looks like 
Ethics develops from our understanding of the knowledge available to us, which is just one reason why it is so unforgivable when systems of education fail to teach our youth the history which our standards of ethical behavior depend upon - how else do you think we came to have college campuses where students chant for death to Israel?! Students protesting for 'free speech' by supporting terrorists, is what it looks like when a person is given an education that has had metaphysics, logic, ethics, and the knowledge they make possible, removed from their understanding.

Ethical understanding is developed from what we know, and that cannot be ignored in any attempt to identify a 'theory of knowledge for justified belief', and it is our ethical responsibility today to carry that on, which means that you cannot blindly accept the judgments of any time - theirs or ours - without giving reasonable consideration to what is right and wrong, if only to ensure that you understand what you're doing and why, rather than timidly obeying a set of rules that then can have no meaning to you.

Because we have abandoned our ethical responsibility in what we accept as a 'theory of knowledge for justified belief' from modern 'epistemology', we now thoughtlessly accept almost any rule that experts tell us is 'justified', and it has taken less than a century of that for our own people to become largely unable to see what had been seen as self-evident in our Founders' era.

We'll take a look at how the three branches of philosophy work together and are embedded in the ethical virtues that need to be recognized in order to defend against that, and the key epistemological method that was used to blind us to all of that, next.