Two visions of a perfect language:
- A perfect language should be spare and clear. Ambiguity and obfuscation should be made impossible or at least very difficult. It should dissipate word game-induced confusion and allow reasoning in a straightforward, almost mechanical, way.
- A perfect language should be expansive and evocative. It should provide the resources to capture every experience and intuition, every shade of meaning. Far better to allow the possibility of confusion than to linguistically cut oneself off from a genuine aspect of the world and the human condition.
Analytic and Continental philosophy are divided by adherence to the different visions. Do we dissolve philosophical puzzles by linguistic therapy, like Wittgenstein? Does this mean removing pseudo-problems or just taking away the tools for expressing real problems? Or do we, like Hegel, seek a grand synthesis in which every conflicting intuition can find its home? This also has dangers, because attempts to “eff the ineffable” (as Roger Scruton once put it) often fall back on vagueness, and it really is possible to lose oneself in a fog of metaphors.
Liberalism is an attempt at a spare political language, one that cuts through problems by eliminating words and the ideas that go with them. Politics is indeed simplified when one is not allowed to talk about anything other than equal preference satisfaction. Justice becomes for Rawls a constrained maximization problem, no different than the ones engineers solve all the time. There is the price that one may only have arbitrary, private preferences, but liberalism disallows the language one would need to criticize this, making it an elegantly closed system. Russell Kirk’s conservatism of prudence, on the other hand, may do a good job of evoking certain political virtues misplaced by the modern world, but it is too vague to be used as an impartial analytic tool. (For example, has any traditionalist ever given a criterion, one that could be applied by any third party to give the same result, as to when a proposed reform is prudent vs. a utopian effort to build heaven on earth?) It’s application is next to arbitrary.
Scholasticism attempts a compromise practice between the two schools of modern philosophy: openness to the whole of reality–even though it means dealing in subtleties–while demanding the sort of clarity needed for the laws of logic to operate. It attempts to do this by making very fine distinctions, even at the risk of being cumbersome. In theology, the students of Aquinas and Scotus–and, for that matter, Calvin–have an austerity to them, a refusal to be carried along by pious sentiment past where their “data” will go, that I find beautiful. They strike me as being men of firmer faith than their more extravagant contemporaries, because they act like they care about what is actually true. Did Balthasar really believe that Christ descended into an otherwise-empty hell, or was it just for him a good story that expressed his own religious enthusiasm? The ratio of real evidence gathering and reasoning to opaque verbiage does not inspire confidence.
One might say that we at the Orthosphere are attempting to practice a scholastic politics.
[Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Part Six.]
We’ve been saying that traditionalism reconnects man with the wisdom of his ancestors, that the most important wisdom is to acknowledge God, and that intuition is the foundation of wisdom. But what about the liberal who refuses to acknowledge the order of being?
Or, more generally, what about the man who denies what intuition suggests? The most basic truths are known through intuition but since intuition sometimes seems irrational, not based on clear-cut data and sharply-defined modes of logical reasoning, the man who wants to deny an intuitive truth can easily fool himself into thinking that since “it isn’t supported by evidence” (or so he thinks), it must not be true.
Consider a simple example that is nevertheless a paradigm for all valid intuitive knowledge: The existence of your consciousness. If someone challenged you by saying “Prove to me that your consciousness exists,” how would you respond? Continue reading
Once and Future Traditionalist blogger and orthospherean Casey Ann, now on hiatus from her doughty online efforts so that she can concentrate on college, recently commented on a post from 2013 in which I offered an ontological argument for the existence of God, asking for help with the covalent ontological arguments of St. Anselm of Canterbury and of Alvin Plantinga. She wrote:
I’m currently suffering through a Philosophy of Religion course (the democratic nature of these courses is sickening), and we have just gone over the cosmological arguments, arguments from design, the ontological arguments, and their respective criticisms. I’m writing an essay about which I prefer and discussing its strengths and weaknesses. I immediately go toward the ontological argument per St. Anselm, which I have loved for years now. The problem is that each time I study it I find myself peering at it through seemingly various aspects that become obscure to me as the next one approaches (this also could be linked to sleep issues, but anyway). I would love to get your perspective on it. What do you make of St. Thomas’s criticisms of it? Can a Thomist use the ontological argument? Do you think that there are really two ontological arguments made by Anselm? How do you approach Kant’s criticism and does it reject the traditional notion of God as Being? Is modal logic orthodox? (ha…seriously). Lastly (at least for now), what about Plantinga? I’m very unfamiliar with analytic philosophy, so I hardly even tried to tackle his writing on it. I wrote on a paper for a concise summary of his argument, “If it is possible for God to exist, then it is impossible for God not to exist,” and yesterday morning it CLICKED, wonderfully (but at the same time I feel as though there’s a strange gap between the two statements that I need to work out). Is it possible to reconcile this with Anselm’s, whose I am assuming can be thoroughly defended (double question)? What about Aquinas? Please, Kristor, don’t be vague (not to say that you tend to be); I really could use your help even from a personal position. Thank you.
The rest of this post is my response.
The modern crisis all goes back to nominalism. The modern muddlings of clear definitions, confusions of really and essentially different things, and denials of essences or definitions in the first place are all outworkings of the nominalist turn. Once suppose that categories are merely conventional, that universals are merely nominal, that life is never simply black or white, but rather only shades of grey, and you find yourself on a steep and slippery slope to chaos.
[Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five.]
Recall from the previous parts that traditionalism reconnects man with the wisdom of his ancestors, that the most important wisdom is to acknowledge God, and that intuition is the foundation of wisdom. Recall also that man also needs revelation and personal repentance in order to be wise, and that once he has begun to repent of liberalism he is ready to find teachers of wisdom.
We have said that man can know the answers to many of his deepest questions or, in other words, that he can know the basic nature of the order of being, through his intuition. Since intuition can be corrupted or obscured, man needs to have these intuitions articulated, guided, and affirmed by authorities. And the highest authority is the Bible, God’s Word.
But there are other religious authorities. The Bible is not the only Christian authority. It is the highest (and the only infallible) authority, but you will need creeds and confessions, pastors and bishops, teachers and theologians to guide you. To become wise about God, you will need eventually to join one of the existing Christian traditions. Continue reading
In the discussion after a recent post here, commenter Vishmehr24 said [I’ve made minor corrections of spelling and form]:
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Protestant?
How is Protestantism defined ?
“confessional Protestantism (that is, the Protestantism that honors the Word of God by explicitly identifying what it teaches and then codifying these teachings in the various protestant confessions) is the best system.”
You write from theologian’s perspective, perhaps that is looking for best systems. But a believer or a seeker is looking for the best church. Your answer “confessional Protestantism” is too loose, too flabby. It seems like to mean -anything except the Catholic church or the Orthodoxy.
Here’s my response:
OK Vishmehr24, good questions. You sound skeptical, but I hope you’ll allow me to set the record straight.
The key issues underlying your questions would be these: First, Who, or what, has the authority to define Christianity? Second, What difference does it make if one adheres to an invalid (or not-fully-valid) version of Christianity?
The answer to the first question has to be Jesus Christ and the Apostles he trained. And since they are no longer available for direct consultation, we must look to the written record of God’s words, the Bible. This is the correct way to know what Christianity is.
[Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.]
Recall from the previous parts of this series that traditionalism reconnects man with the wisdom of his ancestors and that the most important item of wisdom is to acknowledge the God of the Bible. Recall also that intuition is the foundation of wisdom, and that man also needs revelation and personal repentance in order to be wise. Once you have begun to repent of your liberalism, you are ready to find teachers of wisdom
The greatest teacher, of course, is God, and His teachings are found in the Bible. The most important of these teachings is how you can be saved from God’s wrath through repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. This truth, of course, cannot be known through intuition. It must be revealed to you, and then you must believe it.
Since the Bible, and only the Bible, is God speaking, it is the highest authority other than God Himself[i]. It is the ultimate authority for testing and correcting our intuitions about the order of being.
But we face an immediate problem: Authorities disagree about exactly what the Bible means. Often these disagreements arise when men don’t want to acknowledge the clear meaning of the words. These are disagreements caused by stubbornness, not by a lack of clarity in the text. But there are genuine disagreements. The authorities disagree about what the Bible teaches.
Perhaps you, the reader, are already a part of a Christian tradition. In that case you already have an authority which clarifies the meaning of the Bible. But this essay assumes that you are not yet a traditionalist. That being so, you do not yet know which authority to trust. Continue reading
[Part One. Part Two. Part Three.]
Recall from the previous parts that traditionalism reconnects man with the true order of being and the wisdom of his ancestors, and that the most important item of wisdom is to acknowledge the God of the Bible. Recall also that intuition, despite not being infallible, is the foundation of wisdom.
But intuition, although necessary, is not sufficient. Man also needs revelation in order to be wise, for his intuition is not always dependable and because he has a natural tendency to rebel even against the true and the good.
“Revelation” includes Scripture as its most important example, but it also includes any instance when man is not able to know as a result of his own efforts, and must rely on the testimony of those who do know. “Believing revelation” is not the customary way to refer, for example, to a man believing the testimony of a scientist or other specialist about his field of expertise, but it is the same type of act as when a man believes what God has said in the Bible. In both cases, a man trusts the testimony of someone with greater knowledge. Most of what we know, in fact, is knowledge we cannot verify ourselves, and so believing revelation (perhaps under another name) is a necessary part of wisdom. Continue reading
[Part One is here. Part Two is here.]
Recall from the previous parts that traditionalism reconnects man with the true order of being and the wisdom of his ancestors, so that his life will be neither futile nor (like the leaders of liberalism) dedicated to evil. Recall also that the most important item of wisdom is the existence of the God of the Bible, a truth that has consequences for all reality.
This series emphasizes how a non-traditionalist can make the life-giving change to traditionalism. Instead of laying out a description of the content of traditionalism and then asking the reader to decide if he agrees, we speak in general terms about the need for traditionalism. Most details will come later. And although we have used the phrase “American traditionalist,” non-Americans can also make this change.
How is the understanding of the order of being cultivated? Fundamentally through intuition.
Intuition is the faculty of knowing something immediately, without engaging in a formal process of logical reasoning from premises to conclusions. Intuitive knowledge is something you just know, and it therefore develops naturally unless it is actively opposed. Most people, for example, have, when they are young, an intuitive understanding that sex is holy and therefore not to be desecrated. But today people often become jaded and cynical as they internalize the false liberal view of sex that surrounds us. For such people the beginning of sexual wisdom is to start to reclaim their earlier, more innocent and more correct view of sex. And the way to awaken this sense is to pay attention to one’s deep intuitions. Continue reading
Behavior as such is predicated upon the orderliness of the world. The acts of organisms are avowals of confidence that the acts themselves are appropriate to the world; that they make sense in terms of the way that the world is ordered. My walk to the store is an effectual assertion that there is indeed still really a store, that my path will still take me to it, that it usually offers for sale the items I need, and so forth. Likewise for a cow heading home to her stall from the pasture. Likewise even for the phototropism of plants. Behavior is a commitment to the truth of an idea.