What Is It Like To Be Uncaused?

The problem of free will is that to the extent that our acts are uncaused, they are irrational, but that if they are wholly caused (ergo wholly rational), then they are not free, but rather are straightforward functions of their causal inputs – in which case, they do not actually exist as entities disparate from those inputs.

It would seem that if we are somewhat free, we are to that extent irrational. There’s the rub.

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The Revolution Devours Her Young

I remarked the other day that for all practical purposes Islam cannot any longer attack the West except by attacking liberal institutions; for, the institutions of the West are all liberal.

But the same is of course true for liberals themselves. The only way they can attack the Establishment is by attacking liberals, because the Establishment is pervasively liberal. There are no right wing institutions out there, other than a few think tanks and magazines that don’t have budgets for the sorts of jobs that liberals are fit to do, with the result that few liberals infest their offices.

Who now is the Left attacking, and destroying? The Progressives who run the universities. Schadenfreude ain’t in it.

The Verdict of Paris

I’d been thinking I ought to post something about the massacre in Paris last weekend but without knowing quite what. Then today I realized that I had already posted on the subject, *before it even happened.* In On the Delicacy of Civilization, I distinguished in passing between crimes *within* a civilization and attacks upon it from without. Like market failure, crime is a vice and weakness of civilization. It may redound to civil death, but such deaths are endogenous, analogous therefore to kidney failure, cancer, or heart disease. In a sense, such deaths are processes of civilization.

An attack from without is more like … well, like an attack on a person, than it is like a disease. Diseases make attacks more likely, insofar as they are evident in outward weakness, as is usually the case with disease. But they don’t cause the attack; they rather only reduce its apparent cost to the attacker, thus inclining him more to attack.

As I pointed out in that post, any high civilization organized on the basis of a supposition that its denizens will not try to destroy it is quite vulnerable to sabotage at the hands of a fifth column of alien aggressors from another, antithetical civilization.

Among the galaxy of confusions evident in our leaders, the confusion between crime and attack is among the most important and often manifest. We hear always about “bringing terrorists to justice,” when justice ain’t in it. Such talk is confused, and confusing. One cannot but think that, the confusion being so very obtuse, it must be intentional, and tendentious.

Among all the things I might say about Paris, this only has not (so far as I know) been said already a thousand times: the attack in Paris. as being directed against the Power of the West, was directed *against the liberal order.* It is the liberal order that suffers from the attack. To the extent that it succeeded in jarring the liberal elite away from liberalism and toward a police state (Francois Hollande has already proposed some changes to the French Constitution), *it undermined liberalism.*

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On the Delicacy of Civilization

Civilization is amazingly robust so long as everyone in its ambit agrees in a commitment to its fundamental proposals. When everyone in Rome does as the Romans do, Rome is (within her own precincts at least) invincible. But when the phalanx breaks even a little, it tends to fall apart altogether.

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True Gnosticism

As with any other resilient heretical or erroneous doctrine, there is a kernel of truth at the heart of Gnosticism: namely, that if you are *merely* worldly, then the world is indeed truly evil, and with it the whole of our existence in it. By itself the world cannot but redound to its own corruption and eventual certain dissolution, rendering all creaturely suffering endured along the way completely pointless, base, and stupid. Mere worldliness is no more than ugly death.

The world and our life in it can be good only insofar as we approach it sub specie aeternitatis. In the world, but not of it; that’s the ticket.

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The Mind / Body Solution

The problem of how the mind relates to the body arises only if we presume – as perhaps is only natural for moderns – that bodies are prior to minds. If you think that minds somehow derive or emerge or supervene upon bodies consisting of mindless stuff, then you’ve got a problem: you’ve got to figure out how lifeless mindless stuff generates living minds. It’s an impossible project! Almost always, the effort to square this circle involves a lot of vague grandiloquence and handwaving.

The problem vanishes – is not there to begin with – if you presume the contrary: that bodies derive from mental processes. In that case, the body we now apprehend is as it were the record or fossil of the mental procedures of a moment ago. Just take mentation as fundamental, and bodies as derived from it, and hey presto, no problem.

I admit of course that the notion that the mental is procedurally prior to the corporeal is a stretch at first. I mean, it is one thing to think that my body as I now apprehend it reflects my mental acts of a moment ago – this is after all *exactly what our lives are like* – but what about all those other bodies out there in our sensoria? What about that rock? Is *it* a relic of some mental procedure?

Why not?

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The Argument from Finity

I have from time to time argued that this or that indispensable aspect of our lives presupposes in its partiality and incompleteness the prior exhaustive comprehension and completeness of the eternal divine act, so that absent that act we could not do what we do in fact constantly do. The Pragmatic Argument from Verisimilitude and The Argument from Truth both come to mind. The basic motion of such arguments is this: you can’t get a posteriori partiality or finitude of any sort unless wholeness and infinity have been accomplished a priori. More simply, the a posteriori as such presupposes the a priori, and cannot come to pass without it. No infinity, then no finite thing whatever.

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Sydney Traditionalist Forum: 2015 Symposium

Our own Thomas Bertonneau is one of the contributors to the 2015 Symposium of our friends over at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum, Quo Vadis Conservatism: or, Do Traditionalists have a Place in the Current Party Political System?

Before your knee jerks and you answer “No,” go check out the Forum, get educated about the question … and then answer, “No.”

The Argument from Imperfection

In general, an imperfection of x cannot be obtained in the absence of a perfection of x. This is most easily seen with noise. There can be no defect of signal if there is no signal in the first place. Likewise you can’t disorder what is not ordered. Nor can you sin if there is no righteousness, or kill what is not alive.

Partiality is another sort of imperfection: you can’t be a part of a whole that is not there to begin with. So likewise, participating a form is impossible if there is no such form.

Then there is incompleteness. What cannot be completed cannot be incomplete, strictly speaking. We can’t count to infinity; if we count to 100, then, we have completed, not part of the count to infinity, but only the count to 100. Likewise, partial knowledge is not knowledge at all in the absence of omniscience.

Our lives are pervasively imperfect. They point always toward perfection. They indicate it; and they aim at it. If there were no such perfection in the first place, there could be no imperfection in our experience, nor therefore any nisus to correct it. If there were no perfection, it could not be a problem for us that we feel we have not achieved it, and we would not feel its lack as painful. Yet we do.

Imperfection presupposes perfection. The latter is therefore prior to the former, and is its forecondition.

The Pragmatic Argument from Verisimilitude

What would life be like if God did not exist? If we found that such a life would be quite unlike our own lives as actually lived, that would be a pretty strong indication that atheism is false; that it disagrees with reality as we actually encounter it. Since God, if he exists, is by far – infinitely far – the biggest most important thing there is, our decision about whether he exists is the most important and far-reaching decision we can make in life. Thus if God exists, and we approached the question of his existence in the wrong spirit, it would be the worst mistake of our lives; as if we had spat on the Good King, but far, far worse; for the King in question would be the King of Everything.

It behooves us to approach the question in the right frame of mind, so that we are less likely to err in our thinking.

Part of approaching the question in the right spirit is being honest with ourselves about how things would be if God did not exist. To begin with a closed mind, or to beg the question and insist that nothing could be different if God did not exist, would be to cheat the whole project. But it is crucial to recognize that, in cheating the project, we would be hurting only ourselves.

What are the aspects of life that we are going to find most indicative? What, that is, are the things that might be quite different for us if there were no God? Well, what are the basic features of our lives?

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