It is funny to me how our culture feels about the noun, “speculation,” and the verb, “to speculate.” It has the same roots as words like, “spectacles, spectacle, spectators, spectacular,” etc., which means that it derived from the concept of sight, of seeing something. But if it derived from sight, and we as a culture like to talk about and uphold sight, then how did it come to mean something ungrounded, essentially something you couldn’t see? I am pretty sure that this is from modern responses to about two thousand years of philosophical and theological history, in which much of what was practiced was called “speculation” in a positive sense – basically “sight.” Sure, it referred to sight of the mind’s eye, in many ways. But at the same time, often enough we use and refer to the same kind of sight regularly at least in popular America. Much of American culture is made up of speculations – sights justified because they are the sights of the mind’s eye (we make mistakes about these sights, but such sight is still how we justify many beliefs and actions – and even scientific thought is a history of mistakes, hopefully being corrected, but still a history of mistakes – and so is philosophical history).
The elite and some people who pride themselves on their scientific education will probably object to this precisely on the grounds that only the scientific is reliable. But then the grounds of scientific method are non-scientific. In fact, they are speculation. How do we know that nature obeys laws and will continue faithfully to do so? Well, “sight” of the speculative kind, is what justifies such belief – the specific speculative kind which also happens to be extremely unique since most of the 6 billion people on the planet do not share that exact speculation. This is important because people who talk about science in America commonly assume that the bases of science are self-evident – but if they are self-evident why did we not come to them sooner? And why don’t most people hold to them regularly today? In fact, they are speculation. They may be good speculation – a lot of medieval speculation was good speculation. But they’re still speculations, to be held up or knocked down on those grounds, not as self-evident authorities. It is also the case with the belief that we can consistently and coherently observe, theorize, and experiment in the natural world – this essential belief of modern scientific method is speculation which is not held universally or by the majority in history or the present, and it is not a self-evident authority. It falls or stands on speculative grounds – on the sight of the mind’s eye, and our reasoning about such sight.
Adapted from Private Conversation:
A good philosophy is like a well-built house. There are many different ways it can be built, but there are certain basic needs (or even very particular needs) which it needs to meet in order to be a good house. In the same way that a house needs to keep people warm, some philosophies can leave people out in the cold if they don’t answer certain questions well. Modern science is a primary example of this because it was developed in a specific way that it didn’t need to be and now it has a habitual way of seeing the world which subtracts meaning from it (see Lewis’ The Empty Universe, or Barfield’s The Rediscovery of Meaning, or Charles Taylor on Buffered and Porous Selves). So, again, a world primarily informed by modern science is often lucky if it isn’t left significantly empty by that science. This is why Lewis wrote the essay called the Empty Universe. The way of seeing which science pushes is a big deal, and part of how it got there was often the result of certain decisions in philosophy or spirituality that have had a big impact along the way.
Then again a good philosophy is like a computer program – I learned this because around the time I was getting into Philosophy I also was taught some programming classes by my dad – these gave me much more knowledge of structural issues than of computer languages, which I hardly know now. But a computer program is made to call up certain code under certain conditions. If it goes to certain code and the code doesn’t actually remedy the situation satisfactorily, then the program defaults and an error occurs, sometimes crashing the system. The same thing happens in people’s lives. People run into real life issues when the (implicit or explicit) philosophy they have been taught requires certain “code” and calls it up and they discover that the code is lacking. This can create great despair and years of searching.
Now this doesn’t mean that philosophy is supposed to be taught completely authoritatively. In fact it only works by dialogue and dogma (in the traditional, European sense of doctrine and tradition), which is why it is so significant that Socrates and Jesus and the best Philosophers have written by showing little talks. If something is not convincing, we discuss why. If it is finally found lacking, it is acknowledged and that is that if nothing else is proposed. The history of philosophy is thus a long conversation. Someone who has studied it well can dwell in it like a house. Either it works or it does not. It works like a code in that it will run into errors sooner or later, bigger or smaller. The smaller they are, the more it will be like a dialogue. The bigger they are the more it will require both creativity and even revelation
I am saying all of this to illustrate how I believe philosophy has very real consequences and how it is important.
[It occurs to me that that some people will think this is meant to be exhaustive, or that this means I am purely constructivist about philosophy. I believe there is a “single truth” in life, but exactly how one gets there, or in what sense or degree anyone does get there, is a very complex matter. In short, Truth is not constructed; Philosophies are.]
These have been slightly adapted from a discussion I had on Facebook. Hopefully they will appear to be of merit. Most or all of this is not original to me.
1. The problem with Kant (and others) saying that you should think for yourselves is that he is still telling you to think that. This is a modern doctrine; it has benefits, but it is not so bad to imitate the thought of someone else so long as you find the right thinker to imitate. This is difficult. There are good things to imitate in Kant and Descartes and modern (and Post-Modern) philosophy, but there is an unnatural and unnecessary rejection of earlier philosophies in them and a misunderstanding of how they work. For a Christian, this is undoubtedly the place where Revelation, that He is There and He is Not Silent (as the non-Academic but often quite edifying Francis Schaeffer puts it) comes in most significantly and profoundly, redemptively.
2. Words are so interesting. My impression is that dogma still has a real existence as a word in Europe, and even indoctrination originally (if I remember) had, too.
[Meaning, I don’t think these words are essentially used negatively or even manipulatively at all points in their history. The Vatican has a Ministry of Propaganda – but they don’t mean what we mean by “Propaganda.” They are probably using two-millenia-old Latin terminology for the purpose of the ministry – to propagate.]
3. I think, interestingly, that both conformity and “criticism” are largely imitative. An original thinker almost never happens unless they are original by knowing what they imitate so well that they improve on what they imitate (both C. S. Lewis and George Steiner testify to this in remarkable ways). In this way, I don’t think it is totally fair to say that “indoctrination” stifles creativity and criticism. It is like that Owen Barfield quote from The Rediscovery of Meaning – we tend to think we are open minded today, but in reality we are just more open minded about different things.
4. I am beginning to think the issue of indoctrination is complex. Belief A can be held as a good belief to teach by both Man X and Man Y (and yet, what do we mean by “Good”? Two different concepts are commonly operative. See Lewis’ The Abolition of Man), but Man X wants to raise the student to a fuller humanity, whereas Man Y just wants to manipulate the situation to his advantage. In the absence of access to the truth about the belief and/or a good third perspective which can try to avoid the belief’s being used manipulatively, I think it is unfair to say what is exactly actually indoctrination and what isn’t. Perhaps a different word should he used.
5. Complicating everything is my belief that authority can be a category of legitimate knowledge (think of the role of Revelation and of Mysteries specifically in the Christian faith). I think that there are generally three means of knowledge or rational knowledge – being Experience, Logic/Reason (a priori), and Authority. The question here is not, for me, whether authority can be a proper base for knowledge, but which authorities are and to what extent. Many of the points often made about manipulative “indoctrination,” as opposed to humanistic education, can, I think, be used edifyingly for humanistic education to the point that they are neither manipulative or indoctrination. Yet we have a habit, a tradition, in the modern West, to rejecting the face of authority. (We see how false this rejection is when we see the defacto authority which science, academia, politicians, media, and even regular entertaibment TV can have in the establishment of “public truths,” unquestioned, or questioned even sometimes at potential peril.) — This edification, then, is diametrically opposed to the manipulation which we are talking about. This is inherently related to the issue of idols and true worship in the Bible, historical Christianity and post-modern thought (Heidegger’s teachings are signfiicant here, through Westphal’s readings of them alone).
6. Also, I think The Trio of Sources for Knowledge help upbuild each other. It is often by a mix of Authority and Experience that we learn about Reason/Logic. Geometry and Logic are literally learned practices which require discipline and a devotion of rigor. Anyone who tells you to think for yourself is giving you a tradition to follow and a thought that is not your own, and they give it to you on the basis of their authority and experience much more often than on the basis of reason alone, although that is in theory possible. Alternatively, experience seems to yield knowledge both on the basis of reason, “this worked in the past” and similar propositions, but it also is from a sort of tradition which is passed on to us; the very fact that most humans do not hold to modern science and its assumptions is proof that the assumptions of modern science are not really so self-evident as they are professed to be but that they are accepted often on authority of a tradition (with some experience and supporting reasons). Then again, authority is held up because experience teaches us that our elders, and some “authorities,” are often right; and reason can supply reasons as to why or how this is so. You cannot really rely on experience and reason without authority, for you learned of the value of experience and reason from authorities in your life. Experience testifies to a degree of veracity in both Reason and Authority. And the Reason can offer up not just “reasons,” but a substantial way in which the content of beliefs (beliefs proffered by Experience, Authority, and Reason) can be structured and held coherently. Yet even the structure of a system is affected by tradition and experience as well as by logic.
There is not any easy way to get to the bottom of this, although I think tradition and authority are far undervalued and are important in ghe same way that there must be some originary force which institutes reason and experience. And we can learn about this from authority.
7. It is really very true that all of Western philosophy are footnotes to Plato. And yet Plato is built signfiicantly on Socrates. And Socrates had predecessors and had significant divine influences. And yet, even Nietzsche is hopelessly derivative, in many ways by being a negative imitator of what he rejects.
If you think that reading books just closes you off from the world, making you impractical and impersonal, you should consider what effect interactive, thoroughly involved and participatory reading has had in my life.
1- it introduced me to Spiritual inwardness and much wisdom
2- it helped guide me through no small depression and into action and purposeful life
3- in particular, it led me to volunteer several times and later work two summers at a Summer Camp for people with Special Needs, Camp Barnabas. This was no small feat for a shy, sheltered young man who knew at the time nothing about caring for others or about people with special needs. This in turn led me to be a team leader / staff supervisor at a small Summed Camp in New Mexico (which I thoroughly surprised myself by making not a terrible job of). And these experiences have certainly taught me a variety of excellent skills both practical and people-based (and self-based, like fear-management, which started in many ways with C. S. Lewis and led to volunteering at Barnabas, then working on their team that was in charge of the Rockwall, zipline, and ropes course, and so on — this was supplemented by Kierkegaard, Donald Miller, Dostoyevsky, Pascal…). Come to think of it, the inward life that books taught me, or that I embraced and learned through books, perhaps I ought to say, also provided me with the courage to pursue the possibility of the great, outrageous, living beauty who is my wife now. (Much of this also involved a long-time conversation with God, but the role of “books” generally is undeniable in all my major life decisions, which I value very much and do not believe have been foolish, at least in God’s eyes.)
4- it has helped make dull moments and dull jobs more meaningful or at any rate less dull; by 1st helping me to understand how mundane things tie into the big picture of the universe, humanity, and God in a way that is meaningful to me. Work and the very fabric of this world, however mundane, are holy and good and your conscious perspective about them affects your ability to be bored or exultant. Or 2nd by giving me plenty to think about, poetry and philosophy to learn and recite and dwell on, even while, or perhaps especially while, at work.
5- it has helped me connect with people who have similar thoughts and feelings, even though they may never have seemed to in the first place or never had the same way of thinking about it; it has helped me connect with people who are different from me.
I could go on. “Books” will not close you off to the world anymore than anything else, and, if you let them, if you work with them, they can help you make your life into something practical, beautiful, thoughtful, helpful, and Godly.
(My father and others also helped immensely with all of this, but this post is specifically about the influence of “books,” read with thorough involvement, like I said. If you don’t believe me, it’s your loss.)
You don’t have to read this to get my comments, but in all fairness this blog post is what inspired my blog post:
Several things are striking about this:
1) U. S. involvement is in many ways the cause or catalyst of this situation. And yet
2) U. S. involvement is acting on a set of Islamic laws which condone and encourage and even command such behavior – the US doesn’t provide the evil actions to Islam, they provide the incentive for Islam to show its worst. (Mimetic rivalry is at the heart of this, at the heart of the U. S. and of Islam.)
3) There is no real explanation for why “a secular law” is of much real benefit for the situation precisely because America’s involvement in the Middle East **is secular** and is exactly the proof that people ought to recognize as proof that nothing about being secular will make you neutral or fair or just or balanced towards those who disagree with you.
In other words, in conclusion, while a spirit of peace and hope is essential to reconciliation (I think St. Patrick, St. Francis), it is also important to recognize that in a world of people with hellish desires, you will get hellish things (from Secularists and Islamists and Christians) unless you can spread the source of hope and peace – Christ himself.
(This is why, in the past, I have quoted Dumbledore imploring Cornelius Fudge to see reason about thw death eaters as being relevant to the situation with Islam – because Dumbledore is also the man who most of all offered his friendship and forgiveness, his humanity, to Lord Voldemort, by always calling him by name, speaking calmly and with reason. We need an attitude which recognizes violent worldviews and cultures caught up in mimetic rivalries, but which also speaks with grace into them. An attitude of ignorance will only compound the problem.)
(Some aphorisms, some assaying of 3 ways to enter the bleakness)
This post is dedicated to my wife – “Come live with me, and be my love”
0. “We have lived a long time.”
“We have lived a long time.”
“Yes,… and I plan to live some more.”
“Yes, and I might, too.”
“We did a lot of things.”
“We did a lot of things, didn’t we?”
“Yes, we did. I circled the globe.”
“And I spent three years in the far east.”
“You served well.” (He had been in the military.)
“We have done a lot of worthwhile things.”
1. She asked me how old she was, to do the math. (89 years, I figured from 1927 to 2016 so far.)
2. They keep telling each other that they’re going to get through this, this is just a bump in the road, and that sort of thing – genuine encouragements. They’ve been doing this a lot.
3. He asked her if they still had a two bedroom apartment, she didn’t understand the question and he didn’t know how to clarify (along with being exhausted of trying to explain). I don’t know the answer, don’t know them, and nobody has come by today who would know if they still have a two bedroom apartment. (After writing this post I learn that they have “no next of kin.” Does anybody come to visit them? I don’t count, I am an intrusion.)
4. She is very hard-of-hearing and apologized sincerely to him about it, and he just said, “It comes with the territory.”
This is heart-breaking.
5. Once or twice I heard the gentleman made negative comments to the effect that someone is holding them here. The woman has asked who sent me here, who I work for, under whose orders I am – not asking in a challenging way, but in a probing way, not as though she expected anything, exactly – but the very nature of being accompanied suddenly by someone you don’t know in the least, and not knowing why they are there … it is horrifying to think about. The man at one point asked, I believe in exasperated exaggeration, if there was some sort of experiment going on.
6. I also overheard him observe to his wife that the people in the dinning room, other elderly ladies and gentlemen, looked depressed, and that he saw some of them crying. (Today, I am observing an elderly couple discover some of the realities which elderly people face in America. Some of their experiences they seem to be having for the first time, some they are used to, some, I wonder if they would be more used to if they had better memories – but I don’t know.)
7. He doesn’t understand why, for now, he has to wear certain medical apparatus (those words are perfect for the awkwardness of what they describe). They both have complained about the service – not, I think, because the service is bad – on the contrary, this must be one of the nicest senior living centers in Colorado. The real reason is that communication, understanding, empathy, are so difficult to achieve even by those really trying and really skilled at it. It is terrifyingly, depressingly unavoidable. And much of the medical skill required to take care of these people can’t easily be explained to them. In other words, increasingly, these men and women live in a world which they can’t understand, and which doesn’t understand them. They live in a world where they have things done to them which, even if they are just, seem to be injustices, and must feel to them to mean they are voiceless and sometimes even without basic rights.
8. And in fact, I know very little. Either about them or about their health or about any conspiracy about an experiment. I certainly believe that great good has come from modern medicine, and yet it seems quite undeniable to me that it is an industry, not to say many people don’t mean well by it. – I do suspect that a government which rules by absolute law could not do better than an industry in the sense that an industry can adapt, more or less, while changing unjust or overextensive laws once they have been made can be extremely difficult. But I am concerned. Above all, when I am asked why I am here, I can only say my company sent me (basically), as almost nothing of the science or their human situation has been explained to me.
9. If I was here as some part of a conspiracy, I wouldn’t know and couldn’t tell them. I don’t believe I am, but my point is that they really are becoming more and more passive agents in a world where things are done to them, just or not, and there is little to nothing that I can do, since we don’t know each other, to change that. My point is that only personal, long-lasting acquaintances, probably family, could really adequately respect them and give them the whole world, or anything like the world, which they are used to. But that would require an entirely different social structure, one that would allow even relatively skilled medical help to become commonplace (and probably commonplace in the home). And then there is the fact that most people struggle with respecting and loving those closest to them in the first place. You cannot stop this situation from being horrifying. You can ignore it, but it will creep up on you. I am not talking about “old people.” I am talking about people – because unless you “die young,” this is each and every one of us. The existential certainty of death is far too ignored. When did you last contemplate just how many years you might spend alone, or not alone but alienated, not understanding everyone around you? And even with those who “die young,” or who don’t make it to old age “whole:” –
A poor black woman hears her son has been shot, she has a stroke, goes to the hospital, is unable to see her son before he dies; her own mother won’t tell her that her son has died, sells her house, and she will spend the rest of her life half-paralysed in a wheelchair (this is a true story, I know this resilient but mistreated woman); my own uncle, Kerry Chadwick, entering his fifties, not really that old, not nearly old enough, died last year in a zipline accident. He was just beginning to live a dream of his, he had earned a Doctorate in Ministry (his dissertation was on Mentoring), and he had just completed a whole year (a whole year, so long, so small, – not enough time, it makes me want to cuss and I’m crying writing this) a whole year, only a year, but an important one, as a Camp Director at Inlow Baptist Camp and Conference Center in New Mexico, a camp of his childhood. He is survived by a wife, a son, a daughter. He was a loved and respected pastor for about a decade. He had experience as a chaplain, I believe both for the military and for the police force. He had worked as a bus mechanic and as a bus-tour guide in Alaska (many of these vocations he had fulfilled simultaneously). He was an incredible man, a phenomenal man. I had just been getting to know him when I worked for him almost two years ago, the summer before he died. No man is an island; my family, myself, are all lesser because of his death. The world is missing something, and I am crying again.
And this is so very, very depressing. To try to speak adequately about these things is to know you will fumble, but decide to fumble anyways. Here I turn from more aphoristic wonderings to my attempt to “assay” the difficulty. Being more directed, I expect it is easier to fail; I only hope I can “fail, fail again, and fail better,” as George Steiner says, that my weakness in not knowing what to say might be as a strength, that if my own words fall to the ground like seeds, they abideth not alone, as the saying goes.
Most of the time we all just want to ignore this sort of thing – certainly myself included. I often turn away from articles and blog posts, other peoples’ despair, saying, “I don’t even want to entertain that or let it in. If I were to take it seriously I would be wrecked.” I understand. Contemplating all of this makes me want to go home and just hold my beautiful wife. **(Note 1, scroll to bottom)
The fact is, though, even if science could progress (I heard someone say recently that progress isn’t finite), if death by old age could be done away with (“old age is the failure of stem cells”), that slow cold melting of your self, the fact is that we live in a precarious universe. If you put hope in ignorance, or in manipulative knowledge (called “science,” where “knowledge is power,” which more appropriately means that knowledge is primarily power and if it is not power then it is not really knowledge) – either way, you are only putting off the problem. Unless you deal with the existential crisis awaiting you in any and every situation, in the end, then it will become that much worse in the meantime. Putting off facing the problem extends its consequences further into the present.
But there is a way to deal with it – this crisis of old age, young death, or just death – sort of. There is a necessity that we go through the problem, through death, rather than around it, or than backing away from it. While my Uncle was no fool, and he did not take death lightly or get on that zipline without taking it seriously, – and I have talked with him about death (I only wish I could remember more than the gist of what he said) – he also new that “solving the problem” is something of a different nature than ignoring it or trying to power your way out of it. In fact, it is also different from even “solving” a “problem” – which is a mathematical and chemical phrasing – tied to the project and the hopes of modern science. (See Dorothy Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker, specifically her chapter titled, “Problem Picture.”) Death, and coming to terms with it, is a matter of character, of quality, of subjectivity, not in the sense of relativism but in an objectively human sense, a moral, relational, even religious and sacred sense. Coming to terms with death means coming to terms with the crux of the despair in your own self, which stops you in the here and now from becoming a person, the person whom you ought to be, your true self. (For the Christian, this is the self as God sees you.)
Christians often talk as though death had been overcome in such power that they can remain ignorant of it. But this is precisely not the death which Christ had, this is not carrying your cross daily, and this is not fear and trembling. In other words, Christians often say that because Christ died, we don’t have to, and this exhibits a loss of faith on their part. (Or a failure to truly appropriate faith – in which failure their “faith” is in-appropriate, a band-aid “solution” to a problem which must be met as a person with character and humilty, not by ignorance of the reality of death or by fake “power” which is the ignorance of arrogance – I mean scientific manipulation.)
But Christians do have the “answer” to death – and this is appropriate phrasing in as much as life is an ongoing dialogue, and in as much as the love and pursuit of wisdom is a philosophical midwifery, which means that it is a discussion which helps you bring yourself to maturity, to birth and then to rebirth. The answer is the Living Word (the Divine Other who Speaks into us, enters into dialogue with us), the presence of Justice, which is not a single, finite “solution” in a scientific sense or a sense which simply ignores the problem and the reality of death in spiritual procrastination. Instead, this presence is the quality and vitality of humanity when it is preserved, respected, creative, loving, familial and redeemed. So far as I can tell, Christianity generally is the only religion, the only “worldview,” which does not offer “band-aid” “solutions” which you apply yourself. It offers a spoken Word – spoken to you and me, a Word which speaks into the dark and makes it light. This light is the quality we try to preserve, the character and humility with which we are okay with neither ignorance of death and despair nor arrogance about them. Only this light can really carry you on in the face of death, into death, through it, past it. As George MacDonald says, “the Son of God suffered not that we might not suffer, but that our suffering might be like his.”
And indeed, once Christ had gone through the suffering of death, he came back to those who followed him and waited for him, he encouraged them, he gave them a direction to go in and he gave them a helper (the Holy Spirit) – all of these are what Christians regularly use to go through death and go on in a life full of bleak futures. (True evangelism is a life of spreading the Word, actively living with hope in the face of death, the threat of despair.) After Christ’s death, for those who lived in him, even those who were daily beaten and thrown in jail for not bowing to the ignorance and arrogance of the world – for them, death was a reality, but one with no sting. My own grandfather, or my own uncle, because they have been given the power to face and go through death (which power is the vitality and basic quality of their life-style; this is the calling of Christians) are able to face death and old age with confidence and hope, in spite of its bleakness, though not negating it. The “sting” of death is negated by entering the bleakness with the character of Christ.
This is why I have worked as a caregiver for the elderly in the first place, why I ever went to Camp Barnabas to serve and to love God and people with special needs, this is why I have embraced doubt and doubters, tried to be there when a void opened up inside of them (as it had inside of me, during my own existential crisis). This is why I want to be a professor, exploring the languages which we make in imitation of our maker, extensions of the Word. This is why I want to be a church planter (not in any boring sense); this is the application of the Gospel, the declaration of the salvation of my Lord.
(There is this idea, it is either the presence of the in-deconstructible, or it is deconstructive justice itself, that dialogue, “argument,” conversation, or community, call it what you like, “goes on forever,” as Aquinas said. I could talk on these themes forever, but here looks like a good stopping spot. Communion with the community of the Trinity goes on after my hand stops writing.)
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat should fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
**(Note 1: Two brief thoughts: 1. I mean here not to objectify my wife but to illustrate the very desire to reach out to the Other, I mean respectful desire, a desire for oneness, intimacy, over against exploitation. 2. It occurs to me here that there is a balance in the traditional vow, “to have and to hold;” marriage, when it is successful, is not a matter of mere “possession” without respect (mere “having”), but neither is it a matter of respect without commitment (mere “holding”). My wife posseses me not as one possesses a thing, but as one possesses oneself and commits to oneself; and the same goes for me “possessing” her. With God’s grace and help, we are hoping to become one. I am reminded of the couple here, of him getting up in the night, laboriously donning his robe and taking his walker down the hall to make sure that his wife is still in her room, that she will meet him for breakfast tomorrow – “there are a number of places she could be,” he tells me with concern. Their love in their old age is evidence of their efforts to be one in their life together. In at least one sense, their old age reveals a reality in which the “corn of wheat should fall” and thereby not “abideth alone.”