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Author Topic: Voltaire's Bastards
Constitutional Peasant
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posted 30 October 2006 01:01 PM      Profile for Constitutional Peasant     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Im about halfway through this book by John Ralston Saul, anyone else reading it?

So far ive found it provides a lot of insight into the way many of our societies institutions have developed and perpetuated themselves.


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Brett Mann
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posted 30 October 2006 01:40 PM      Profile for Brett Mann        Edit/Delete Post
Voltaire's Bastards is an important, perhaps even a seminal book. Saul confronts the difficult question of how much reason and rationality is too much? He traces much of the modern western predicament to an over-reliance on reason at the expense of other human abilities. I agree with him. An important book.
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jeff house
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posted 30 October 2006 02:23 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I disagree.

Abandoning "reason" as a standard means that there is no universal standard upon which societies can be judged.

Consequently, one is left with ethnic or religious critiques (my group dislikes your group) or other identity-based critiques.

These are always flawed because they contain no basis to convince non-members of the group.

The debate over topics like evolution are bad enough when both sides claim to value reason (but one side doesn't). Imagine the outcome if scientific reasoning had no status higher than that of another value system such as Christian fundamentalism.

How would one decide whether evolution is true or not? Brute force?

It should surprise no one that the abandonment of reason as a standard has long been associated with the politics of the far right.

One of the slogans of the Nazi S.A. was "Think with your blood." We don't need that.


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Constitutional Peasant
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posted 30 October 2006 02:37 PM      Profile for Constitutional Peasant     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
The books is more about how institutions developed to serve a certain purpose, but they got so caught up in following their own internal reasoning that their original purpose was left by the wayside.

Saul talks a lot about WW1 and all of the bad decisions made by the Allied commanders like Haig and Foch. He claims that they were simply following a system so caught up in self-perpetuation that its ultimate goal was to follow its own rules instead of achieve an external goal like military victory.

Blind reason or reason within the confines of some pre-determined rules is extremely stifling and dangerous.


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Brett Mann
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posted 30 October 2006 03:34 PM      Profile for Brett Mann        Edit/Delete Post
Your points are well-taken, Jeff. This is dangerous ground Saul is treading. When disagreements occur between people or nations, abandoning reason seems like a really bad idea. But what Saul is really saying is more subtle. In effect, we have become irrationally attached to rationality and try to apply it always and everywhere, even when it doesn't apply. And this over-reliance on reason is dangerous because it leads us to ignore or neglect other human faculties. "Imagination is more important than intelligence" Albert Einstein famously said. Saul is arguing (I think - I read the book years ago) that a society that worships reason and rationality to the exclusion of other human ways of thinking and knowing is in danger of becoming anti-human. I see much that is anti-human in the modern world, and particularly in predatory capitalism. John Ralston Saul is offering us another way to look at things, a viewpoint that I and other people have been playing around the edges of. But your critique and warnings are relevant.
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gbuddy
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posted 30 October 2006 09:39 PM      Profile for gbuddy        Edit/Delete Post
Before I had (fairly recently) picked up a copy of another of Saul's books, "The Doubter's Companion", I only knew his name because of newspaper articles about our former Governor General, to whom he is apparently married.

Now I pay close attention whenever his name is raised, and I intend to read more of his books. "The Doubter's Companion" is deliberately structured as a dictionary, and each entry stands alone, so it provides an opportunity to sample a variety of Saul's ideas, although taken together I sense that they reveal a thesis that is very compelling.

I've always favoured what I call reason over superstition and nothing I've read so far by Saul seems to suggest a different viewpoint. I suspect he would agree that the development of science was a good thing that took us out of the dark ages. We tend to forget that a fundamental premise of the scientific approach to understanding is to continuously question everything. The nineteenth century brought us a flowering of scientific discovery, but it also brought us powerful technologies enabled by that scientific discovery, and these have had very mixed results.

Another book I read recently that does a superb job of illuminating the price paid for unquestioning reliance on technology is "A Short History of Progress", by Ronald Wright. Wright talks about the many instances in history of civilizations that have advanced rapidly for a while because of some new technological development, only to eventually fall prey to the unintended consequences of that technology. To the best of my recollection the book includes limited discussion of what distinguishes the current situation, which I suspect is where Saul's writings may be particularly valuable.

Today, we are being overwhelmed by "consumer" technologies that none of us can really understand and that we, as a society, may not ultimately be able to afford. The public relations machinery, much of which operates on us subliminally, has developed a rationale that seems to rely on "reason" as used in the sense that discourages questioning.


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Geneva
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posted 31 October 2006 03:38 AM      Profile for Geneva     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
for me, VB was hugely overstuffed, like one of those 6-inch-high New York sandwiches, packing in everything Saul have ever picked up anywhere,
and the point of departure, that Voltaire launched an unbalanced cult of reason, also seems weakly justified

loads to digest, some nice ideas about overreliance on rationlist prescriptions, but unconvincing overall


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BitWhys
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posted 09 November 2006 09:31 AM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Geneva:
...
and the point of departure, that Voltaire launched an unbalanced cult of reason, also seems weakly justified...

That wasn't my take on what Saul said at all. What I read out of it was that the skepticism personified by Voltaire was quickly abandoned and that the icons he had an influence in tearing down were quickly replaced by a new idolatry.

I think he demonstrates that quite well in his discussion of how post-revolutionary France really only replaced the aristocracy with a new bureaucracy and how he goes on to point out that the courtesans of that period have been replaced by the lobbyists of this.

[ 09 November 2006: Message edited by: BitWhys ]


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
BitWhys
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posted 09 November 2006 09:32 AM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by jeff house:
I disagree.

Abandoning "reason" as a standard means that there is no universal standard upon which societies can be judged.
...


Saul addresses these issues more directly in "Equilibrium".


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jeff house
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posted 09 November 2006 12:58 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I appreciate each of the posts above, which are all thoughtful and stimulating. I'll use this one for a response:

quote:
In effect, we have become irrationally attached to rationality and try to apply it always and everywhere, even when it doesn't apply. And this over-reliance on reason is dangerous because it leads us to ignore or neglect other human faculties. "Imagination is more important than intelligence" Albert Einstein famously said. Saul is arguing (I think - I read the book years ago) that a society that worships reason and rationality to the exclusion of other human ways of thinking and knowing is in danger of becoming anti-human.

Setting aside Einstein for the moment, the argument you say Saul makes is actually one of the more characteristic arguments of the moderate right in the 20th century, the argument that reason creates an "iron cage" which stifles humanity. The source of this is no doubt Max Weber, but it extends to people such as Francis Fujiyama, whose idea that there is an "end of history" results from the Weberian idea that history is enclosed in the cage of reason and will result in flattened out and soulless beings.

It sounds like a nice idea to say that we should not "over rely" on reason. Everyone agrees with the sentiment, since no one thinks that painting sculpture, and singing are illegitimate activities.

But I fear the forces of unreason, whether they be the ayatollahs and mullahs, or the evangelicals and haters of Darwin. Certainly the ideological structures underlying Naziism and fascism relied heavily upon a distrust of reason and a reliance upon passion and biology as underpinnings of the state.

I am seldom impressed by those who prefer some other standard to reason, unless they make it VERY clear where the limits are to that principle.

Do0es anyone thing Saul does this?


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Sisyphus
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posted 09 November 2006 01:34 PM      Profile for Sisyphus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
My reading (about 5 years old) of what Saul is trying to get at in VB, has nothing at all to do with the application of "rationality" or the scientific method to particular questions, but rather the application of radical reductionism, not just as an epistemological methodology, but as an organizational principle within government and financial instutions.

This leads to ends-based policies which become so narrowly defined by the technocrats whose expertise is profound but limited in scope, that they cause far-reaching problems which, by definition, cannot be anticipated within the "rational" definitions of the problems the technocrats are hired to solve.

As I recall Saul is critiquing, not Reason itself, but the "bastard" child of reason and pragmatism, efficiency, which doesn't examine context, but only purity of logic within a context whose origin may be profoundly irrational. The discussion of Eichmann's profoundly rational response to the problem of efficient genocide is emblematic of what I understand to be Saul's essential critique of slavbish devotion to Reason in any context.

ETA: I don't recall Saul suggesting that reason be abandoned in favour of another standard for evaluating knowledge, merely that it has limits which have been ignored at the cost of great suffering.

[ 09 November 2006: Message edited by: Sisyphus ]


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BitWhys
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posted 09 November 2006 02:17 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
"On Equilibrium" spells out Saul's thoughts about where reason fits into the scheme of things. By no means does he dismiss its relevance. He does, however consider reason and ethics as separate human qualities. For him its about balance.

quote:
Certainly the ideological structures underlying Naziism and fascism relied heavily upon a distrust of reason and a reliance upon passion and biology as underpinnings of the state.

At risk of the evocation of reductio ad Hitlerum I don't think the Nazis would have seen it that way. That was kind of Saul's point.

quote:
Highly important to the German-Nazi ethos was the claim to logic, rationality, and science.

[ 09 November 2006: Message edited by: BitWhys ]


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 09 November 2006 03:15 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
It doesn't take very much knowledge of Nazism to understand that it was an explicitly anti-rational movement.

A central idea was that the Fuhrer had a relationship to the German Volk which was non-rational and mystical.

In law, for example, there was an explicit non-rational standard for determination of guilt. Everything was illegal which contravened "the good sense and beliefs of the German people" (inexact quote, can't find easily on google).

Nazis believed there were two kinds of science: German science and "Jewish science" like Einstein's theory of relativity. Obviously, if you start choosing your science on the basis of the race of the scientist who makes the discovery, you are not being scientific.

This is the reason why I think it is silly to talk about Eichmann as being "rational". He could organize a bureaucratic task, of course. But he also accepted the racial prejudices at the core of his task of deporting Jews. Racial prejudice isn't rational at all. It is the height of irrationality.

If Saul is simply fighting narrow bureaucratic thinking, thinking which accepts as a given the irrational views of the political masters of the bureaucrat, that is fine.

If so, the connection to Voltaire seems tenuous.


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Brett Mann
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posted 09 November 2006 03:37 PM      Profile for Brett Mann        Edit/Delete Post
An excellent synopsis of Saul's key points, Sisyphus - thank you. You've saved me the bother of revisiting VB immediately.

I approach the question of over reliance on reason from my background in psychology. For over a decade I worked in a field dominated by the presumed authority of behaviourism, itself the most reductionist model imaginable of human nature. The behaviourists solved the problem of the mysteries of consciousness quite handily - they simply dismissed the entire concept. Every single human action and thought was in theory directly re-traceable in a cause and effect fashion to clear, measurable learning tasks.

Administrators loved it. Nothing that wasn't measureable. A certain kind of psychologist liked it as well. But as an adequate attempt at an explanation of deeper human experience, behaviourism is a puerile, spiritually for-shortened, creepy kind of idiocy that any fully functioning human knows to be false.

With no offence to out southern neighbours, I truly believe that a philosophy as misguided as behaviourism - the ultimate example of expecting science to explain that which it cannot, by definition, understand - such a deformation of science and rationality could only have gained such dominance in America, a nation in love with measureable technology. It is in light of this divide in the world of psychology, that I read Ralston Saul. He echoes a view I have of a triumph of science and rationality in our society which destroys our souls.


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N.Beltov
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posted 09 November 2006 04:04 PM      Profile for N.Beltov   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I've never read any of Saul's books. I may yet. But Voltaire was up against precisely the sort of bureaucratic theological rationality, within the confines of the religious practices in France at the time, that matches the technocratic or political rationality contributors in this thread seem to suggest is Saul's target and focus. That theological rationality had to be overturned for France to move forward.

I hope those who are summarizing Saul's ideas can do a better job. So far, I ain't impressed. There's far too much in the way of intellectually fashionable anti-rationality these days, dressed up as one thing or another, for my liking. The remedy to the state developing its own instrumental and scientistic rationality is the democratisation of the state. One needs to look at the France of 1871 rather than the France of 1789 for that. The French can teach us lots if we just have a good look.

A final comment: it's pretty ironic for an intellectual to critically cover the issue of (what I am calling) scientistic state rationalistic ideology from a guy who gets the job of consort to the representative of Her Majesty the Queen in Canada. That's one of the biggest rationalizations of them all. Ha ha!


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BitWhys
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posted 09 November 2006 04:37 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
"If so, the connection to Voltaire seems tenuous."

again

there IS no connection to Voltaire and the technocratic boxheadedness we're stuck with today. that's the point.

He didn't call it Voltaire's Progeny.

and we can go around in circle about the Nazis all day but that would only continue to miss the point. the point there is whether they thought they were being rational, which according the article I linked to they certainly did, not whether we think they were.


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jeff house
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posted 09 November 2006 04:39 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I didn't know there was such a thing as "theological rationality".

Maybe it means: how do we do it once the Pope tells us to do it?


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Doug
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posted 09 November 2006 04:48 PM      Profile for Doug   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Geneva:
for me, VB was hugely overstuffed, like one of those 6-inch-high New York sandwiches, packing in everything Saul have ever picked up anywhere,
and the point of departure, that Voltaire launched an unbalanced cult of reason, also seems weakly justified

I'm not so sure that that's weakly justified - other than to say that it's all Voltaire's fault. Secondly, yes...JRS badly needs an angry editor.


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N.Beltov
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posted 09 November 2006 04:55 PM      Profile for N.Beltov   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
jeff house: I didn't know there was such a thing as "theological rationality".

Within the confines of their religious views Jesuits, for example, have a tradition and history of deep learning and education. [They also have the tradition of the Inquisition.] In the Jewish religion there are the same sort of dignified traditions of learning and reason. The few Muslims I know personally invariably speak of the religious teachers in their lives with respect and admiration. Such terms are usually preserved for thoughtful, intelligent and (yup) rational people.


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BitWhys
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posted 09 November 2006 05:10 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by N.Beltov:
...
I hope those who are summarizing Saul's ideas can do a better job. So far, I ain't impressed.
...

ok

so you don't like a book you didn't read. buy something else.

[ 09 November 2006: Message edited by: BitWhys ]


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Contrarian
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posted 09 November 2006 06:14 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Here's a fairly detailed review that appears to have paid attention to what Saul actually says and means.
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Brett Mann
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posted 09 November 2006 07:53 PM      Profile for Brett Mann        Edit/Delete Post
It seems to me that Sisyphus said much the same thing as your review, Contrarian, and in fewer words. The arch attitude some have towards Saul is puzzling. He may have his faults, but if he is anywhere near correct in his analyis, he has put his finger on a central and defining flaw in western civilization of which we might wish to take heed. Given the paucity of writers advancing this thesis, I think maybe Mr. Saul deserves revisiting, and perhaps even (gasp!) greater recognition.
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BitWhys
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posted 09 November 2006 09:09 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I really don't recall Saul claiming Voltaire ever argued in favour of specialization the way that reviewer describes it.
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Sisyphus
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posted 10 November 2006 09:02 AM      Profile for Sisyphus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
The arch attitude some have towards Saul is puzzling. He may have his faults, but if he is anywhere near correct in his analyis, he has put his finger on a central and defining flaw in western civilization of which we might wish to take heed. Given the paucity of writers advancing this thesis, I think maybe Mr. Saul deserves revisiting, and perhaps even (gasp!) greater recognition.

I think Brett Mann's got it it one!

Seems that some folks have a knee-jerk hate on for JR Saul.

It's clear he's in desparate need of an editor, I found On Equilibrium self-indulgent and meandering and without particular insight. Certainly, VB would benefit greatly from a hundred or so fewer pages.
Nonetheless, VB showed me a point of view I'd never considered before and one that I'd argue has considerable explanatory power. For example, it makes sense of Robert McNamara's career and describes precisely why the IMF and World Bank have been such abject failures.

Bremer and Rumsfeld, among others, are flawless personifications of Saul's rational technocrats, and VB suggests why their whole programme was structurally flawed and doomed to failure, in any circumstances, let alone in post-invasion Iraq.

Editorial missteps aside, I think JRS has demonstrated that he is an intellect of consequence. Even if he often lacks the discipline to produce a coherent, sustained thesis, I find that he's always thought-provoking, and his best insights often turn up in his asides and digressions.

That's enough for me these days, and it's still pretty rare.

[ 10 November 2006: Message edited by: Sisyphus ]


From: Never Never Land | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 10 November 2006 01:34 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
He may have his faults, but if he is anywhere near correct in his analyis, he has put his finger on a central and defining flaw in western civilization of which we might wish to take heed. Given the paucity of writers advancing this thesis, I think maybe Mr. Saul deserves revisiting, and perhaps even (gasp!) greater recognition.

The thesis is actually pretty commonplace. As I said above, it derives from Weber in the 1920s, who was influenced by Nietschze.

Of course, if it IS a "central and defining flaw in Western civilization", then by all means, pay lots of attention. But if it really amounts to a fashionable rejection of Enlightenment values in favour of fuzzy things like "intuition" or "common sense" then we have to be a lot more sceptical.


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Stephen Gordon
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posted 10 November 2006 01:55 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
I haven't read Saul, and I've seen nothing in this thread that suggests that it's worth doing so. It sounds way too much like a facile justification for claiming intellectual authority without doing the hard slogging that rational empiricism requires.

[ 10 November 2006: Message edited by: Stephen Gordon ]


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jeff house
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posted 10 November 2006 01:59 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I like Stephen's post.
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unionist
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posted 10 November 2006 02:01 PM      Profile for unionist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by jeff house:
I like Stephen's post.

Me too. I'm sick and tired of these pretentious thinkers.


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jrootham
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posted 10 November 2006 02:09 PM      Profile for jrootham     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
The posts on this thread may lead you to think that but I must respectfully disagree.

Saul is not an academic so he doesn't do the formal butressing that, say Jared Diamond, does. In fact I don't think that his intention is to reconstruct the concept of reason as much as it is to identify carefully where it is being misapplied in the interests of power. This is useful for those of us who are engaged in the struggle with power.


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Stephen Gordon
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posted 10 November 2006 02:17 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
If that were the case, the argument would be that errors in logic and/or errors in inference had been made. Those are errors in the application of reason, not excuses to downgrade its importance.
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jrootham
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posted 10 November 2006 02:19 PM      Profile for jrootham     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
It's usually errors in premises. Within the premise frame there are no errors, it's the failure to move up a frame that is the problem.
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Stephen Gordon
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posted 10 November 2006 02:27 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
Then why not say that? Wait - I think I know the answer: the point is too well-known to make it a basis for a book.
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jrootham
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posted 10 November 2006 02:29 PM      Profile for jrootham     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
The examples and exposition are entertaining though. Which makes it a fine proposition for a popular work, even if it wouldn't make it out of a PhD committee.
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BitWhys
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posted 10 November 2006 04:14 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I very much doubt Saul was worried about scoring more than 3 snoots out of 5
From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 10 November 2006 05:49 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I think Saul could handle being called 'pretentious" by those who haven't even read his words. The reason this discussion hasn't gotten much beyond point A, gentlemen, is because you keep arguing "reason" from a position that Saul never takes. As those who have actually read his work here have already said several times.

He has Never said that we abandon reason itself, for superstition or instinct, he has only said that reason cut off from commonsense, intuition, ethics, experience etc -or more accurately, reason seen as being so far Above all other human qualities-- has led us towards "reason being used in the service of the irrational" as some bright bulb or other once said.

To put it in another way, he's Not saying that janitors or waitresses should be free to take up brain surgery, or that they consult a Ouiji board before operating, only that janitors and waitresses retain the right to criticise brain surgeons if they for example start charging too much. The assumed pretense of what he calls corporatism is that allowing real or imagined "experts" to run things without "interference" by the big bad state would mean more efficient (and therefore profitable and therefore good) society. He argues instead that it often takes the janitors and waitresses to remind the 'experts' that their own demands can also have negative impacts on others in society, and yes, we Do live in a broader society with broader needs than some special interest groups might admit -even ones which might still serve some necessary purpose. There's lots more to it than that but that's about it for point A.


From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
unionist
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posted 10 November 2006 06:01 PM      Profile for unionist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Janitors and waitresses?
From: Vote QS! | Registered: Dec 2005  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 10 November 2006 06:24 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Box boys or cab drivers then, it was just an allusion.
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Sisyphus
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posted 10 November 2006 09:58 PM      Profile for Sisyphus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
But if it really amounts to a fashionable rejection of Enlightenment values in favour of fuzzy things like "intuition" or "common sense" then we have to be a lot more sceptical.

It doesn't.

quote:
I haven't read Saul, and I've seen nothing in this thread that suggests that it's worth doing so. It sounds way too much like a facile justification for claiming intellectual authority without doing the hard slogging that rational empiricism requires.

Sort of like the facile justification for dismissing a book based on a straw man erected because one doesn't want to do the hard slogging (i.e. reading the book) that rational empiricism requires?

Damn irony meter just can't seem to handle these surges!!!

[ 10 November 2006: Message edited by: Sisyphus ]


From: Never Never Land | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 12 November 2006 11:25 AM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Probably empiricism has the most intellectual conquests to its credit; the whole of science for starters.

The problem with pure empiricism is that it contains no critical/normative element. It is as if we investigate and describe human biology with no interest in using what we learn to cure disease or lengthen productive life.

So, there is nothing wrong with a critique of empiricism, provided you have a suggestion as to how one might re-design thought to provide better answers to questions which arise within human thought.

But it seems that no answer is provided by Saul, rather he is content to pose questions.

So, here's Saul:

quote:
Saul: I have an idea of what the spectrum, if you like, of human qualities is. It seems to me we have about six qualities which are: common sense, creativity, ethics, intuition, memory, and reason.

London: So reason is just one of many faculties?

Saul: Yes. You'll notice that I gave them to you in alphabetical order because I don't think that any one of them is any more important than any other. This number of six seems to fit. I can't think of anything else that belongs there.


Later in the interview, he says:

quote:
I'm not in the business of suggesting solutions, by the way. I don't belong to the Platonic tradition, I belong to the Socratic tradition.


That's a bit of a cop-out. Flattering though.


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 12 November 2006 12:28 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
Yeah. Asking questions is the easy part - although sometimes it`s not as easy as you might imagine. Answering them is harder.
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Erik Redburn
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posted 12 November 2006 05:35 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Jeff, I really don't think Saul's trying to build a whole alternative orthodoxy around balancing reason with common-sense, memory etc, that's only one part of what he's putting forward. I don't know what the big issue is here either, so I'll just say you can't get the basic drift of his arguments unless you read one of his books. He does cover a lot of diverse ground. Doubters Companion is probably the best one to start with IMO, as its broken into small sections if you get bored and has abit more humour than the rest. I think he's just saying there, that even the most perfect logic can go astray without using our other qualities of judgement.

Even what you call 'empirical knowledge' can be manipulated any number of ways, depending in part on what data was used for their models, how complete the data really is, how abstracted it is from the issue it's supposed to represent, how much the issues at hand have shifted since their 'authoritative model' was first accepted, or even how honest the supposed experts are in their basic assumptions -management experts or doctors arguing for privatization as a general 'necessity', for example, when it usually only benefits a narrow section of society -like there own.

Every organization has a tendency to serve its own needs first, retreat behind self protecting jargon, or start thinking theyre so wonderful that others can't Possibly understand why they Need so much More than we do -another of his arguments.

I'm not really a big acolyte of his either, if that's how it looks. I find he's gotten rather repetitive lately and ya, some of his bigger claims should be backed up by a bit more data than he uses. I just don't think he can be dismissed as talking out of his hat, as he does have a degree in history, he's run a couple business ventures himself and he does cite a number of solid sources for his arguments -which IMO is all these sociological issues are anyhow - arguments. I mostly just thought he makes a lot of useful observations and connects a lot of issues that most specialist groups and other supposed authorities don't.

[ 12 November 2006: Message edited by: EriKtheHalfaRed ]


From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 13 November 2006 04:17 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I don't think he's talking out of his hat.

That said, I believe that attempts to "balance" reason with other qualities...like common sense...often amount to a way of protecting the status quo.

For example, where do we get our "common sense"? Isn't it largely an amalgam of established ideas which haven't been challenged?

So, to carve out an area called "common sense" which has the same value as reason is just to protect traditional thinking.


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
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posted 13 November 2006 04:44 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by jeff house:
I don't think he's talking out of his hat.

That said, I believe that attempts to "balance" reason with other qualities...like common sense...often amount to a way of protecting the status quo.

For example, where do we get our "common sense"? Isn't it largely an amalgam of established ideas which haven't been challenged?

So, to carve out an area called "common sense" which has the same value as reason is just to protect traditional thinking.


That's ridiculous, considering that Saul spends much of his time skewering the status quo. jeff, read the damned books; you clearly have no understanding of what Saul is saying and it's silly for you to keep constructing little straw sauls so you can knock them down.


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Stephen Gordon
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posted 13 November 2006 05:07 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
If you can come up with a more plausible Saul whose ideas are worth spending time reading, that would be helpful.
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BitWhys
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posted 13 November 2006 05:40 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
the tell-tale snapping sound of yet another mind closing
From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 13 November 2006 05:46 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Stephen Gordon:
If you can come up with a more plausible Saul whose ideas are worth spending time reading, that would be helpful.

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BitWhys
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posted 13 November 2006 05:52 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
who the hell are you?

vice-president of sales or something? piss off then if you're not interested. its not like I'm looking for work.


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 13 November 2006 05:58 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
I'm afraid that my curiosity about what Mr Saul has to say has not increased.
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Michelle
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posted 13 November 2006 05:59 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Now, now.

Although BitWhys does have a point. I'm not sure what the point is of folks posting in a thread discussing Saul's book that they don't want to read Saul because it's not worth it. Who says you have to read it?

[ 13 November 2006: Message edited by: Michelle ]


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
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posted 13 November 2006 05:59 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
It's years since I read the books, but I do have some of them. As the title of one indicates, he thinks it is important to doubt and to question. When he claims to be in the Socratic tradition, he means that he asks questions; that is, his purpose is to get people to think for themselves.

He writes:

quote:
...it is the Platonic tradition which has fed the corporatist, technocratic, anti-democratic ideology. The humanist, citizen-based, democratic movement has been nourished by Socrates.
p234-235 of The Doubter's Companion, 1994

Here are some other quotations:

Wiki quotes from several of his books.


More quotes from The Doubter's Companion, which is the most fun to read:

quote:
An obsession with polite or correct public language is a sign that communication is in decline. It means that the process and exercise of power have replaced debate as a public value. The citizen's job is to be rude — to pierce the comfort of professional intercourse by boorish expressions of doubt. Politics, philosophy, writing, the arts — none of these, and certainly not science and economocs, can serve the common weal if they are swathed in politeness. In everything which affects public affairs, breeding is for fools.
—John Ralston Saul, Canadian essayist, novelist, and critic, The Doubter's Companion, 1994

quote:
Dictionary: Opinion presented as truth in alphabetical order.
—John Ralston Saul, Canadian essayist, novelist, and critic, The Doubter's Companion, 1994
Others at that link.

Basically, he does not trust people who say they have the answers. Think about some of them; the Christian fundamentalists, the political ideologues of every stripe, "The Decider" in the US, and his imitator Stephen Harper who supports Israel even when its army murders Canadian civilians and UN observers, because he cannot express doubt about whose side he's on. I prefer people who will question themselves and everything around them.

[edited multiple times; I hope you guys appreciate the effort. ]

[ 13 November 2006: Message edited by: Contrarian ]


From: pretty far west | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
BitWhys
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posted 13 November 2006 06:05 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Stephen Gordon:
I'm afraid that my curiosity about what Mr Saul has to say has not increased.

Unless I'm mistaken this section of the board is here to discuss books, not promote them. Nevertheless, thanks for finding the time to point out JRS is beneath your station. You can count on me, for one, to write that down somewhere so I don't forget.

[ 13 November 2006: Message edited by: BitWhys ]


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 13 November 2006 06:08 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
The thing is, this sort of stuff is the lazy way to claiming the title of 'Important Intellectual'. From what I've seen of Mr Saul (the occasional interview and op-ed), it's not at all clear that he even understands the ideas he's questioning. If all he has to offer is poorly-thought-out questions without answering them, then he's getting altogether too much attention as it is.
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BitWhys
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posted 13 November 2006 06:10 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
OIC

you're just jealous

my bad


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
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posted 13 November 2006 06:13 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Stephen Gordon:
The thing is, this sort of stuff is the lazy way to claiming the title of 'Important Intellectual'. From what I've seen of Mr Saul (the occasional interview and op-ed), it's not at all clear that he even understands the ideas he's questioning. If all he has to offer is poorly-thought-out questions without answering them, then he's getting altogether too much attention as it is.
Stephen, you and jeff are each attempting to provide your final answer on JRS without first examining the evidence. This is a flaw in your thinking. Answers are not that important. You call his questions pporly thought out, without having read them, and probably what bothers you is that you want to construct a question that you can answer once and for all. Saul is saying reality isn't that easy to define. Answers are not always as useful as questions are.

From: pretty far west | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 13 November 2006 06:15 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
If you're trying to sell a book, perhaps not. If you're trying to increase our understanding, then that simply makes no sense.
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BitWhys
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posted 13 November 2006 06:22 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
"If you're trying to increase our understanding"

why the hell would I waste my time doing that? you lose your library privileges? that's not my problem, either.


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 13 November 2006 06:23 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Okay, enough sniping.
From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
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posted 13 November 2006 06:37 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Stephen Gordon:
If you're trying to sell a book, perhaps not. If you're trying to increase our understanding, then that simply makes no sense.


quote:
Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate.
* "Ideology"


[W]e have more than two options... a critique of reason does not have to be a call for the return of superstition and arbitrary power.... [O]ur problems do not lie with reason itself but with our obsessive treatment of reason as an absolute value. Certainly it is one of our qualities, but it functions positively only when balanced and limited by the others.
o "Instrumental Reason"


Panic: A highly underrated capacity thanks to which individuals are able to indicate clearly that something is wrong.... Given their head, most humans panic with great dignity and imagination. This can be called democratic expression or practical common sense.

* "Panic"


from the Wiki link

From: pretty far west | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 13 November 2006 06:44 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
Still sounds like some dumb self-help book: 'How To Be An Intellectual Without Doing Any Hard Thinking'.
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Michelle
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posted 13 November 2006 06:49 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Hey Lisa, maybe you should get this book into the rabble bookstore.
From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 13 November 2006 06:54 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
Gimme a chance to write it, will ya?

I should be done by Thursday. Friday, if you want pictures.


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Michelle
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posted 13 November 2006 07:09 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Stephen, you know I think you're awesome and all, but really, what are you contributing to this thread at this point? Why not just leave it to those who have actually read the book? They'd like to discuss it with each other, y'know?
From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 13 November 2006 08:18 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Stephen Gordon:
Still sounds like some dumb self-help book: 'How To Be An Intellectual Without Doing Any Hard Thinking'.

That's quite a condemnation from a man who thinks he can judge what he's not even remotely familiar with. Read his books or don't, makes no difference to me.

Re what Jeff House said, sure, what's called "common-sense" may be nothing more than recieved wisdom or prejudice, Saul makes that point too, but it can also be used to describe long understood forms of practical knowledge, something most share in common, but maybe something we may no longer be able to articulate clearly or even be aware of when it's operating. But we still rely on it in most situations. I think it can also be used to describe certain forms of instinctive pattern recognition, not all that different from what we sometimes call intuition now that I think about it. Hard to define exactly but we all know when its missing in action.

I suspect what youre calling "empiricial reason" alone assumes a certain amount of it in practice too -what to focus on, what to put aside, what to ignore completely etc. Alot of what we "know" in a line of argument isn't necessarily apparent except by past experience or commonsense, right? But hopefully it's shared to some degree by whoever youre dealing with, otherwise any argument, factual or not, will fall on deaf ears. I don't know if I'm making sense anymore or not or starting to ramble, so me own common-sense is telling me time to quit. Night.

ETA: Going over this again I think I have an idea what both you and Professor Gordon are getting caught up on -if so, it's not at all what he's trying to convey. It's not a straightfwd linear argument, but then he's not talking about straightfwd linear problems which can be resolved with an instruction booklet, but relationships between broad-based political trends and modern economic structures. I'll try to explain this little sideline Re 'commonsense' and 'reason' abit more thoroughly later, but right now...I'm just feeling too lazy to bother.

[ 13 November 2006: Message edited by: EriKtheHalfaRed ]


From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
Sisyphus
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posted 14 November 2006 09:14 AM      Profile for Sisyphus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
...it's like trying to argue with fundamentalists who know nothing about evolution and just repeat the mantra "it hasn't been proven"...

As to "common sense", I'd say Jeff House has nailed the elitist definiton cold.

For those of us who've learned that education is often wasted on the unintelligent and denied to the brilliant, "common sense" is also a repository of empirical truths and observations coupled with the application of logic and a firm appreciation for cause and effect. In short: an informal, but nonetheless valid application of the Scientific Method.

That it is mixed in with " an amalgam of established ideas which haven't been challenged", as well as received wisdom, established prejudices and faulty logic, only underscores its connection to formal science.

Luckily, both rely on the application of more-or-less the same methodology (empiricism plus reason)to discard the erroneous and fine-tune the correct.

The results are not always perfect. That's why we should all "Question authority and think for ourselves."

[ 14 November 2006: Message edited by: Sisyphus ]


From: Never Never Land | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
B.L. Zeebub LLD
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posted 14 November 2006 10:12 AM      Profile for B.L. Zeebub LLD     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Stephen Gordon:
If you're trying to sell a book, perhaps not. If you're trying to increase our understanding, then that simply makes no sense.

Things don't make "sense" - we make "sense" of things. That's our condition.

Questions, especially the unanswerable ones, are the beginning of that understanding.

JRS sees himself in the mould of a Socrates who, fictitious or not, made an art form of pointing out that our "answers" are most often just questions repeated with emphasis. Closures, rather than openings.

That probably doesn't make sense.


From: A Devil of an Advocate | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 14 November 2006 12:56 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Saul, in his interviews, claims that reason and common sense are separate, and equally important faculties of the human mind.

Sisyphus says that common sense is basically a repository of reason, so why not rely on it?

Of course, the problem would arise when reason tells you one thing, and common sense another.

Then, you have Saul saying they are both equally important, and that it is impossible to prefer one conclusion to another.

To me, it's obvious that this is a way of shielding certain traditional practices from reason. The same is true for claims that "intuition" is as important as reason.

Let's say I intuit that the Jews are to blame for everything. Maybe I even think that common sense shows that they started by killing Christ and kept right on. (Mel Gibson thinks this.) So, may reasoned argument defeat these intuited conceptions? I think so. But does Saul? Or does he think that reason is overvalued, and so on?


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
B.L. Zeebub LLD
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posted 14 November 2006 02:12 PM      Profile for B.L. Zeebub LLD     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by jeff house:

For example, where do we get our "common sense"? Isn't it largely an amalgam of established ideas which haven't been challenged?

The operative being "largely". Isn't "common sense" also the amalgam of ideas established by countless informal experimental repititions?

In "common sense" we also have a repository of accumulated experiential (dare I say empirical?) knowledge about the world. True, some of it is superstitious bunk. Some of it is the cumulative behavioural and biological adaptation techniques practiced by our species for eons.

I recall once seeing an episode of "Dr. Dean Adell" talking out of his ass on CTV about some multi-million dollar study that had isolated a certain chemical and found that it had beneficial properties for humans. The chemical, it was found, existed in certain plants. The upshot? Eat your greens! Something even the most unreasonable baboon knows without needing a silk stocking scientician to tell him...


From: A Devil of an Advocate | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
B.L. Zeebub LLD
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posted 14 November 2006 02:22 PM      Profile for B.L. Zeebub LLD     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Reason is not our only skill. Is it reason that tells you what a lover needs? Is it reason that experiences empathy and compassion? Is it reason that sends a man back into a burning building when he hears a baby crying?

Saul is suggesting that we need to step outside the narrow confines of our rational, logical, systematised minds and accept some of the less "wordy" signals coming from other forms of sense and psychological conditioning. His emphasis on "balance" is not to suggest a fixed "50/50" relationship, but rather that we open ourselves to the possibility of tempering our thinking apparatus with the data collected by other systems operative in our bodies.


Recall that it was a systematised, logical, rational mind that carried out the Final Solution. Jeff, in all your rush to paint the Nazis and Fascism as utterly irrational (and Neitzschean; which I oppose to the nth degree...) you have failed to account for the utterly rational "Enlightened" way in which they went about their business. Yes, atavism was the game, but the game was an applied technique of social control. It was, is, and will be a perfectly "reasonable" way to control people. In fact, it might be the most effective method of all, once we do away with "atavistic sentimentalities" like love, compassion and empathy. Furthermore, the application of "reasonable" manufacturing and scientific techniques to the obliteration of lives is not peculiar to the Nazis themselves, but that instance certainly demonstrated the limits of the "Enlightenment" trust in reason to produce only benign results.

Funny, so many have recognised this consequence and tried to (re)theorise the world in it's wake and yet you cling to a thoroughly modernist faith in the powers of unbridled intellect to achieve only the greatest results.

[ 14 November 2006: Message edited by: B.L. Zeebub LLD ]


From: A Devil of an Advocate | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 14 November 2006 02:29 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Sure, but "common sense" is filled with misconceptions and misunderstandings, too.

Twenty years ago, the idea of gay marriage would have been rejected as contrary to common sense.

I would say that the reason that Mike Harris chose "Common Sense Revolution" as his slogan was so that he could rely on all sorts of nostrums...if you are unemployed, you are lazy...and so on.

So, wherever common sense provides the same solution as reasoning, there is no problem. That's your example about eating greens. What I DON'T like is someone claiming that reasoning should be restricted, and an independent sphere called "common sense" be given full cognitive status on the same plane as reasoning.


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
B.L. Zeebub LLD
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posted 14 November 2006 02:37 PM      Profile for B.L. Zeebub LLD     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
A heirarchical relationship is perhaps the problem. Your reason is not likely to help you fight off an attacking dog. Your reason is not going to fend off an attacking bacteria. Your reason is not going to recognise a threat on dark path. Your reasoning is not going to give you that subtle sense that your lover is upset by the way they walk in the door and reach out to them.

But without these responses, and without giving the utmost urgency to the messages coming from the apparati that deal with these phenomena (apparatuses that have been developing in us since before we believed our "reason" is our defining feature as a species) our "reason" would be a dead issue.

Everything in it's place.

An experiment: sit back, relax and see if you can "watch your thoughts". With the right practice, you will. Then ask, "who's watching my "reason". Reassess.

[ 14 November 2006: Message edited by: B.L. Zeebub LLD ]


From: A Devil of an Advocate | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
B.L. Zeebub LLD
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posted 14 November 2006 02:48 PM      Profile for B.L. Zeebub LLD     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by jeff house:
So, wherever common sense provides the same solution as reasoning, there is no problem. That's your example about eating greens.

From another point of view, that's simply our intellect catching up to what we already KNOW. Thanks for coming out, guys, but the party's over...


From: A Devil of an Advocate | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 14 November 2006 03:07 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
Y'know, anti-intellectualism is generally considered to be a right-wing vice - creationism springs to mind. I don't see why this is something that progressives should admire and copy.
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Contrarian
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posted 14 November 2006 04:11 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Describe it more accurately as anti-elitism, which is a progressive thing, is it not?
From: pretty far west | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
BitWhys
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posted 14 November 2006 04:13 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
That's funny, because I've always considered the rudiments of postmodern epistemology and the moral relativism that fostered it to be rather progressive.
From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 14 November 2006 04:16 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Frikkin amazin. Where did you learn that applying commonsense and intuition (and memory, imagination) to our process of "reason" was "anti-intellectual"?? What you and Jeff are repeatedly displaying here is a perfect example of what Saul says, it's almost becoming funny. Your recurring mistake is this -every line of your arguments just reasserts that "reason" (as you apparently see it, youre not making it very apparent to Others here) is by necessity at Odds with, or at least the first and Final arbiter, of ALL other human qualities of judgement, rather than part of complimentary process of judgement which we All use on a daily level.

Here's another illustration, when driving your car to and from your place of work everyday, you cannot be distracted by all the mechanical "learned" techniques of driving itself but rather focus on and react TO the road ahead. That way if something out of the ordinary happens, someone else screws up, you can instinctly react in a way that might just save yours and/or others lives. The "common sense" decision of braking or swerving, depending on the immediate and unplanned situation, is based on once consciously learned teachings and prior experience but at the moment of decision has to be made almost instantly, not through a commplex and slow (much MUch too slow) process of "reasoning" and not being distracted by whos at Fault. (that can come Later)

What you two are doing here is trying to prioritize one (reason) over the other, in All Circumstances and situs, yet plainly something as simple and unimportant as driving to and fro maybe be The Most important thing in your life at any one moment. If youre unable to use your Other inborn yet developed faculties Effectively when Needed you may not get Back to the job youve invested so much time into. You also have to pay attention to what others are doing around you, what Signals theyre sending, regardless of whether you preceive them as attending to less important business or driving a less valuable car. On the road we're all in it together, that's understood as its only Common Sense. I hope youre able to get the gist of where I'm going with this, it's not a simple one-two step causal relation that can be learned by rote or linear progressions from nowhere to God. It requires looking at things from slightly different angles at times.

According to Saul our structures have become so far abstracted from their functions thanks to overspecialization, too much "rational" structure and management, etc (which He calls Real inefficiency) it has lost sight of its original Intended (and once agreed upon) goals, what these these rational structures Themselves were originally designed to Achieve, modest as they may once have been. Reason in other words is just another Tool in practice (albiet a very fine one if used properly) it is N0t the Reason de Etre as Rationalists often insist in their medieval search for certainty and unquestionable hieracharchy of values (with their own profession at or near the top of course) and it is Not the final destination or justification for itself. But if it's Seen as such, as it increasingly is in our post-modern structures, then we lose our ability to actually Judge the efficacy of the said instituion within society. Which Oc is Exactly what most Technocrats Want, Theyre the "deciders" and final aribters, not those who generally pay for their educations.

Amazing thing about Saul is how many Different ways people have of describing him, that says something for his technique IMO.

ETA: And no, not quite, JR Saul isn't saying "reason" and "common sense" are "separate", only that they're two separate Aspects or Functions of the same Process or organism. My feet and my hands are two separate things with different functions too but I'd hate to have to decide which one must be sacrificed for the sake of other. In reality we all know that the either would function Less efficiently without the other, and the whole organism would suffer.

But thats Exactly what most most loony tune neo-liberal economists now say -business is Central to society they insist, not an Aspect of it or useful function serving other limited functions, and therefore All Good things flow from it alone, investment in all Else is Waste, and therefore even justifying Harming the rest of society in the delusional but repeated attempt to use all the social body's surplus on a few limited mechanisms (and their high functionaries OC) promising that the "savings" will flow back to the rest later -only in a more Efficient "competitive" fashion of course. Thats one of the unsubstantiated "rational" assertions Saul is challenging. Oh half of us may lose our jobs in the process (there'll be "some Losers" they said) but hey, the price of sugar will be cheaper. Thats where comnmon sense should have come in and replied, but cheaper sugar isn't Really cheaper if you have no Income in the first place. But thats usually met by rationalists with macho dismissal or Calvinist moralizing -not at all rational Or commonsense except to class bigots like Mike Harris or Gordon Campbell.

Whether commonsense itself goes "wrong" doesn't matter much either. By using it as Part of the ongoing Process of reason -with Other qualities mentioned- we can then just adjust ourselves again to any future mistakes, better than "rationally" insisting the process is perfect as planned and any deviation from script will only lead to disaster. I don't believe Saul is arguing Final destinations, justifications or authorities here, he's arguing against these concepts themselves as reversions to ir-rational, emotional and innappropriate medieval fixations, which are then carried through in a narrow rational process - regardless of broader consequences. But like I said, with a bit more commonsense we wouldn't have had to waste our time even Asking whether we should sacrifice our feet for our hands or visa versa, as the a-priori "rationalist" frame generally insists now.

[ 14 November 2006: Message edited by: EriKtheHalfaRed ]


From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 14 November 2006 04:25 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
I don't know what to make of that last sentence: if Saul's ideas were clearly stated, why would there be any variation in how they were described?

As for the rest, yes, there are certain areas where instinct and non-rational behaviour dominate. But public policy should not be one of them.


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Stephen Gordon
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posted 14 November 2006 04:26 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Contrarian:
Describe it more accurately as anti-elitism, which is a progressive thing, is it not?

Huh?


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Catchfire
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posted 14 November 2006 04:27 PM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I don't know anything about Saul, but I know you will never get a lawyer or an economist to accept anything else but positivism. Of course postmodernism is progressive, but postmodernism is anathema to anyone in the legal profession where decisions must be direct and to the point. I've always found that funny, because if anyone should understand the instability of language, it should be a member of the judiciary. Canadian Supreme Court Judges are just about the greatest writers I've ever seen, and yet their judgements cannot help but be applied in vastly different, even contradictory ways.

Any discussion that touches Heidigger with Mr. House always leads directly to Nazism, even though I would call First Reich thought equal parts Heidigger and absolute rationalism (as this thread seems to have evidenced with both of jeff's and BitWhys's earlier posts).


From: On the heather | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 14 November 2006 04:36 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post
I don't mean to be more obstreperous than I have to be, but the only response I have to that is: huh?
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jeff house
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posted 14 November 2006 04:43 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I generally think of postmodernism as an ideology which systematically denies certainty.

In the absence of certainty, all critiques, such as, for example, a critique of the distribution of wealth, is disarmed. Everything becomes a "discourse" and all truth claims are equally valid.

Catchfire is right that lawyers who think about it dislike postmodernism. That's because the rule of law requires at least SOME objective meaning to every enactment. If there wasn't, who could know what is legally permitted? And why wouldn't Catchfire be subject to arrest, right now?

Supreme Court judges and others are very well aware that legal enactments have elements of vagueness in them. But for something to be a law, it has to have a specific, ASCERTAINABLE content.

There have been jurists who say that there is no fixed content to any enactment. They were mostly Nazis, like Carl Schmitt.


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Sisyphus
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posted 14 November 2006 04:50 PM      Profile for Sisyphus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I'm just talking about Voltaire's Bastards here. My experience with JRS' ideas as enunciated in On Equilibrium, made sure he gets no sight unseen agrrement from me so I'm not going to touch anything he may have said about any subject in an interview.

quote:
Sure, but "common sense" is filled with misconceptions and misunderstandings, too.
Twenty years ago, the idea of gay marriage would have been rejected as contrary to common sense.

I would say that the reason that Mike Harris chose "Common Sense Revolution" as his slogan was so that he could rely on all sorts of nostrums...if you are unemployed, you are lazy...and so on.

So, wherever common sense provides the same solution as reasoning, there is no problem. That's your example about eating greens. What I DON'T like is someone claiming that reasoning should be restricted, and an independent sphere called "common sense" be given full cognitive status on the same plane as reasoning.


I mostly agree with all but the last point because reason, as formally practised, is so damn conservative. For example, long before the epidemiological data confirmed the link between cancer and smoking, medical "common sense" consensus held that smoking was detrimental to health even as cigarette companies were touting the health advantages of their products.

Whether "common sense" rather than simple prejudice would have rejected gay marriage 20 years ago is moot, since no logical argument exists for its prohibition, unless certain very specific premises are accepted (and this is the eternal Achilles heel of reason anyway). I have read that state-sanctioned same-sex unions were customary in ancient Sparta, some parts of what is now China, under some Roman emperors and among some North American indigenous peoples. clearly it didn't violate the "common sense" that prevailed in more than one human society.

Which brings to the issue of defining "common sense" in a way that we can all agree on. Frankly, I don't know how JRS defines. What's more, I don't even how he separates it from the garden-variety empiricism and informal rationalism that those of us who've defended it on this thread equate it with.

I suspect a decent definition doesn't exist and that we're all defining it to suit the connotation it has for us.

That Mike Harris and other ideologues invoke "Common Sense" to stifle oppostion to their radical agendas strikes me as identical to Discovery Institute loons invoking "Scientific Evidence" to prove that dinosuars walked with humans...

I'm not convinced that JRS knows what he means when he uses the term "common sense" and i certainly don't recall any such notion, wooly or not, cropping up in VB.

I do think, that the crtitique of rationalism as the sole basis for decision-making and worse, as some sort of Platonic Ideal Form upon which to base the structure of institutions that serve real people in all their messy complexity and irrationality is very well-founded and brilliantly-argued in VB.

I haven't seen the merest whisper of an argument to the contrary, which is not suprising since you have to know what someone is arguing to refute them.

quote:
Reason is not our only skill. Is it reason that tells you what a lover needs? Is it reason that experiences empathy and compassion? Is it reason that sends a man back into a burning building when he hears a baby crying?
Saul is suggesting that we need to step outside the narrow confines of our rational, logical, systematised minds and accept some of the less "wordy" signals coming from other forms of sense and psychological conditioning. His emphasis on "balance" is not to suggest a fixed "50/50" relationship, but rather that we open ourselves to the possibility of tempering our thinking apparatus with the data collected by other systems operative in our bodies.


Bingo. My conviction is that reason has given us all the analytical and technical tools we need to solve almost all of the world's problems.

What we lack is the morality (ethical sense, political will, whatever you want to call the irrational impulses that lead to empathy) to see other people as intrinsically valuable. This means not abandoning the knowledge that we are composed of energy, subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, cells, organs and minds (souls?) each of which obeys rules that derive from their emergent properties when examined at different points in the hierarchy.

None of this leads logically to the Golden Rule, the Geneva Conventions or why you might grow to love a particular squishy bag of organs, but these supra-logical consdierations are where hope for our species lies.


From: Never Never Land | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 14 November 2006 05:14 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
It is striking that people like Locke, whose idea of human rights informs the US Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, DID think that you could derive the Golden Rule from empiricism.

His "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" talks about this.

If we are all made up of the same materials, and no one is physically/intrincially better than anyone else, then we are all equal.

If we are all equal, then you should do unto others....


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Sisyphus
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posted 14 November 2006 05:33 PM      Profile for Sisyphus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
If we are all equal, then you should do unto others....

The devil's always in the assumptions and as his advocate, I start from the premise that we are NOT equal. The unequal distribution of resources, talents, health and moral character is an observable demonstration of the correctness of this premise.

Simply put, some of us are better (read: more valuable than others). Wealth accrues to the deserving and the rest are surplus population that should be eliminated by attrition just as occurs in nature, when populations fluctuate according to the implacable logic of resource/prey/predator numbers.

[ 14 November 2006: Message edited by: Sisyphus ]


From: Never Never Land | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 14 November 2006 05:46 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post

[ 14 November 2006: Message edited by: EriKtheHalfaRed ]


From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 14 November 2006 06:03 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Stephen Gordon:
I don't know what to make of that last sentence: if Saul's ideas were clearly stated, why would there be any variation in how they were described?

As for the rest, yes, there are certain areas where instinct and non-rational behaviour dominate. But public policy should not be one of them.


Behaviour? Were talking copnsideration here t0 start with, I was just using an illustration or analogy to make the point, its not the final Destination of the point. Look, with a bit More "commonsense" the public might have realised from the first that the rich guuys weren't suffering under the yoke of the poor or the poors imaginary servants -the 'liberal elites' -they were Still pretty rich after all. Maybe we could have even laughed it all off when bankers started preaching the evils of "debt" or speculaters about "responsibility", but there I go again -bringing up what's actually happened and what Hasn't. Observable I hope to others here.

Comnmonsense can apply almost everywhere to some degree (which once again is Not Saul's central theme) as long as its with a clearly defined (and conscribed) goal in mind (something we can judge by results) rather than Ultimate philosphical ones, some IOW approppriate for the task at hand but nomore. Agreed upon by the majority too, just sos we know that a wide Range of expereience and Needs are being considered. Then it can be worked out via pure logic and quantifiable means etc. Perfectly rational Process IMO -not that "Process is Everything" either as some technocrats try to claimn -process means Nothing unless theres some Substance involved. A Truly rational process is only applied to assure a better chance of achieving some common goals, but it won't as long as we Assume it Represents the final Aim or Value itself, opbscuring whats actually being done again. Oh, this is getting too complicated again, read his books guys or don't. I gotta get the mail.


From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
BitWhys
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posted 14 November 2006 06:22 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by jeff house:
I generally think of postmodernism as an ideology which systematically denies certainty.

In the absence of certainty, all critiques, such as, for example, a critique of the distribution of wealth, is disarmed. Everything becomes a "discourse" and all truth claims are equally valid.
...


Not that I'm necessarily up on the latest applications of the lingo, but that doesn't really strike me as a particularly "right-wing vice".


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 14 November 2006 06:23 PM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Law (as I see it) is oral tradition. It is a language fraught with contradiction and dependent on history. I would think a lawyer involved with an incredibly sensitive case on concientious objection that is so hard put against objective national and international legal precedent despite the obvious moral value of his defendant's position would be a little less allergic to the value of accepting different ontological discourses. Judgment is a politcal performance that relies not on an objective discourse, but on a subjective one. This is why the Christian Bible still informs courtrooms in the United States (and Canada) and why a courtroom in Canada represents a better chance for concientious objectors than one south of the border.

Postmodernism does not contend that all discourses are equal, but rather that all discourses deserve examination, or, in a word, respect. It teaches us that the more we assert the infallibility of a brand of thought, the less likely that brand will hold water against criticism. This does not mean that it undermines the claim that "racism is wrong." But it does complicate the notion of race and racism in the first place. It is also based on close, empirical readings of the things it examines, but understands that untroubled claims are impossible.

Obviously, I'm not arguing against the objective nature or presumptions of the courts in general. If someone steals a car, they should probably go to jail. But when we are dealilng with richer questions, like sharia law, or the meaning of "aboriginal title," or the meaning of justice, the conversation certainly does not begin and end with Western rationality (1973 Quebec Justice Albert Malouf, a Lebanese immigrant, recognized the difference of the James Bay Cree and shockingly ordered a court injunction against the government to halt construction of the Quebec hydro project. A week later, a much more racially sympathetic Appeal court ordered quite rationally, and quite unjustly, that the public interest of six million Quebeckers took precedence over those of six thousand Cree). I don't know if that's Saul's point, but I certainly sympathize with the undermining of previously untouchable occidental authority.


From: On the heather | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
Brett Mann
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posted 14 November 2006 06:50 PM      Profile for Brett Mann        Edit/Delete Post
This is not what Saul is saying, necessarily, but I would formulate things this way: rationality and reason are (arguably ) among the highest abilities (gifts) we humans possess. But human reality is not limited to the purely rational. And thank God it is not. With only pure reason, we have no fantasies, no myths, no poetry, no love. So reason must retain its throne as the ultimate arbitrator where and when it is applicable. But it is fundamentally unreasonable to think that everything in human existence and consciousness is susceptible to reason. Reason itself becomes irrational when applied to that which by definition is not accessible to reason. Reason which claims to represent all of our reality is fundamentally anti-human. Reason exists in the service of humanity, not the other way around.
From: Prince Edward County ON | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 14 November 2006 07:46 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
"Reason exists in the service of humanity, not the other way around."

That's it exactly.

The value of living itself is irrational to its core, but everyone naturally values their own and hopefully others share that understanding. By making "reason" into an absolute god though that's been inverted. Utilitarian "rational" values or their promised ends can't really be justified if the people theyre supposed to serve aren't themselves valued, so they now fall back on some fanciful theory of an all knowing arbiter called "the market" -which by abstraction is now supposed to more perfectly represent the people's will than the people themselves.

Not that different really from the way the old medieval church claimed it was the "Body of Christ" on Earth and therefore could turn around and betray any one of his supposed teachings in defence of his one "holy" institution. Interesting all the different takes on this.


From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
B.L. Zeebub LLD
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posted 14 November 2006 07:48 PM      Profile for B.L. Zeebub LLD     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Brett Mann:
This is not what Saul is saying, necessarily, but I would formulate things this way: rationality and reason are (arguably ) among the highest abilities (gifts) we humans possess. But human reality is not limited to the purely rational. And thank God it is not. With only pure reason, we have no fantasies, no myths, no poetry, no love. So reason must retain its throne as the ultimate arbitrator where and when it is applicable. But it is fundamentally unreasonable to think that everything in human existence and consciousness is susceptible to reason. Reason itself becomes irrational when applied to that which by definition is not accessible to reason. Reason which claims to represent all of our reality is fundamentally anti-human. Reason exists in the service of humanity, not the other way around.

As I said above, everything in its place.


From: A Devil of an Advocate | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
BitWhys
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posted 15 November 2006 05:51 AM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Brett Mann:
...
With only pure reason, we have no fantasies, no myths, no poetry, no love.
...

Great post! Really. Killer last line.

Just want to point out that "pure reason" is no guarantee against fantasies and myth. Case in point: neoclassical economics.


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Brett Mann
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posted 15 November 2006 07:15 AM      Profile for Brett Mann        Edit/Delete Post
Thanks BitWhys - I feel a bit like the proverbial monkey at the typewriter - if I babble long enough, sometimes something good comes out.
From: Prince Edward County ON | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 15 November 2006 12:29 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Law (as I see it) is oral tradition. It is a language fraught with contradiction and dependent on history. I would think a lawyer involved with an incredibly sensitive case on concientious objection that is so hard put against objective national and international legal precedent despite the obvious moral value of his defendant's position would be a little less allergic to the value of accepting different ontological discourses

Since the national and international legal precedents CLEARLY favour the position of the War Resisters, I would have to be an idiot to be chattering about "accepting different ontological discourses".

Here's what Canadian precedent actually says about the duty to refuse participation in an illegal war:

quote:
the Court stated that:

.... there is a range of military activity which is simply never permissible, in that it violates international standards. This includes military action intended to violate basic human rights, ventures in breach of the Geneva Convention standards for the conduct of war, and non-defensive incursions into foreign territory. Where an individual refuses to perform military service which offends fundamental standards of this sort, "punishment for desertion or draft evasion could, in light of all other requirements of the definition, in itself be persecution.


It is George Bush who wants to move away from a clear legal position towards a "different ontological discourse". Of COURSE Bush doesn't want there to be clear law on this point, or on the definition of torture. That's why he recently commented that outlawing "outrages against human dignity" as the Geneva Conventions do, makes no sense.

The problem in the War Resisters case is not that the law is not on our side. It is. The problem is that it is terribly inconvenient for Canada to bell the cat, and enforce the law against George Bush and his administration.


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 15 November 2006 01:55 PM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Well, I'm obviously no expert in law, and I will of course defer to you in all respects, but while Geneva may be quite clear on the matter, there is no precedent for giving refugee status to a U.S. war resitor. Of course, I'm not sure why you feel the need to repeatedly insult me in every thread we're both in. You've called be a nattering idiot and obtuse, you have intentionally provoked me in your above posts, and you have belittled my area of study with no provocation from me. I would expect an officer of the court to show a little more class, tact and respect. Why do you feel it necessary to do that?
From: On the heather | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
Sisyphus
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posted 15 November 2006 01:58 PM      Profile for Sisyphus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
It is George Bush who wants to move away from a clear legal position towards a "different ontological discourse".

Unfortunately, I couldn't find it on Google, but I recall an article about how the radical right (esp. the "Christian" Right) has co-opted the language of "multiple narratives" and associated po-mo tripe in order to fortify its lunacy against reasoned debate.

I wasn't aware that the law was so clear in the case of the War Resisters. I wonder how ignoring it will be justified if ideology trumps the Cons' ever-woshipped "Rule of law".


From: Never Never Land | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 15 November 2006 02:10 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I don't think I've called you a nattering idiot, or any of the other things you mention.

You are clearly not. But you do have a tendency to speak ex cathedra. Intimating that my philosopical positions undercut the War Resisters legal work I do is an example.

You are right, of course, that no Canadian court has held that an AMERICAN can refuse to participate in an illegal war. That's not because there are no precedents. There are. But the courts are EXTREMELY reluctant to judge the Americans by the same standards as they judge the rest of the world.

This is wrong, and I believe it will be judged wrong when we get higher up in the court hierarchy. Because the law is quite clear.

So why muddle things up with talk about how different ontological discourses create different meanings? That's an argument for those who want to escape being judged.


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
B.L. Zeebub LLD
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posted 15 November 2006 02:36 PM      Profile for B.L. Zeebub LLD     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by jeff house:
It is striking that people like Locke, whose idea of human rights informs the US Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, DID think that you could derive the Golden Rule from empiricism.

What's more striking to me is that while you feel the need to appeal to Locke's authority, you miss the crucial point - that he had to jerry fit a pre-existing ethic to fit his own set of "empirical" precepts. Again, here we have an intellect thinking its way to a conclusion that the ol' feller from Nazareth (and many before him) had come to long before Locke's mama fancied his daddy.

This oversight allows you to put the credit for our legal system in the lap of Locke et al. and ignore that Locke, Smith, Aquinas, etc. were all working from sources (Greek, Near Eastern, etc.) that had elaborated the ethical foundations of our "civilisation" before 17th-18th C. "Empiricism" came into fashion.

Moreover, I ask one simple question; what improvement did Locke make on The Golden Rule by elaborating it in Empiricist terminology? In what way did he make the dictum any more poignant or ethically forceful?

Work in Paleopsychology has begun to demonstrate that ethical dictums like "do unto others" may well be products of genomic trial and error which demonstrated to our forbears that a cooperative lifestyle was far more likely to produce group and individual nutrition, longevity, security, etc. In other words, the appeal of the Golden Rule goes to behavioural patterns operating at a level far deeper than the wordiness of 'reason'.

[ 15 November 2006: Message edited by: B.L. Zeebub LLD ]


From: A Devil of an Advocate | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 15 November 2006 02:59 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Moreover, I ask one simple question; what improvement did Locke make on The Golden Rule by elaborating it in Empiricist terminology? In what way did he make the dictum any more poignant or ethically forceful?

Wow, that's an easy question.

The "golden rule" is a Christian doctrine. Several persons in the world are not Christians.

Therefore, a rule based on something other than Christian scripture provides a possible basis for universal rules of behaviour.


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
BitWhys
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posted 15 November 2006 03:07 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Locke was Hobbes with a measuring stick. I'd hardly call utilitarianism emperical.
From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Cueball
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posted 15 November 2006 03:12 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
No. He meant imperial not emperical. Inches and feet on his measuring stick.

[ 15 November 2006: Message edited by: Cueball ]


From: Out from under the bridge and out for a stroll | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged
BitWhys
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posted 15 November 2006 03:15 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
hmph

and here I thought they sold happiness by the pound these days. or the megabyte.

thanks for the tip


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
B.L. Zeebub LLD
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posted 15 November 2006 03:38 PM      Profile for B.L. Zeebub LLD     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by jeff house:
[QB]

The "golden rule" is a Christian doctrine.


Really? I guess will ignore analogous principles which appear in the texts of other faiths, some of which predate Christianity, and most of which predate Locke by centuries?

Again, the point is that the message "do unto others" WAS universal when it was first enunciated. That Locke even felt the need to (re)formulate it into his own tortured jargon was evidence that it already had the necessary ethical poignancy to be a candidate for "universality" It was intended for ALL of us. That "Christians" later solidified a doctrine, proclaimed the right to judge what was orthodox and proceeded down a path of sectarian particularism didn't make the message any less universal. In fact, the fact that the principle survived such atrocities to (re)emerge as the foundational ethic of our modern civilisation (by way of Locke, but probably more importantly from his nemesis, Kant) says something about it's force. The thing is, even through all the sectarian us/them that the Catholic (re: Universal) Church put Jesus' purported principles through, they always had the pretension of Universality based precisely on the profound ethical injunction of The Golden Rule. They could always claim to be talking to Everyone, because this central tenet was, from it's first utterance, intelligible to (if not intended for) Everyone. Locke didn't change that - it's clear he felt the same impunction to Preach the Good News in the new dialect of "philosophy". The message gained nothing but a new coat of paint.

Moreover, this also misses the crucial point that the tradition of Locke et al. is not outside the European Judeo-Christian mode, it is part and parcel of it. The principles of governance which Locke and others inspired still have recourse to a Big Other to sanction their right and justice. "Self-Evident Principles, Trust In God, God's Viceroy on Earth" and so on. All of this speaks of the Judeo-Christian tradition where right and sovereignty is conferred from outside the realm of the practical present from the transcendent, impossible and unarticulated. And He said the Word....

[ 15 November 2006: Message edited by: B.L. Zeebub LLD ]


From: A Devil of an Advocate | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
B.L. Zeebub LLD
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posted 15 November 2006 03:49 PM      Profile for B.L. Zeebub LLD     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
BTW, Jeff, is there any greater testament to the importance of "common sense" in our traditions than "We The People, holding the following Truths to be self evident." I.e. - they aren't arrived at by argument, by reason but are immediately intelligible to any particular plebe and require no examination or justification.
From: A Devil of an Advocate | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
Cueball
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posted 15 November 2006 03:53 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Well after that phrase it immediatly retreats into direct a-priori biblical meta-talk, wherein "all men are created equal" (all men are born in sin -- therefore equal) More or less a direct cop from the bible.

So there's you answer. Its god talk right from the get go.

So, perhaps its not reason, but culturally imbued faith stuff that seems like common sense?

[ 15 November 2006: Message edited by: Cueball ]


From: Out from under the bridge and out for a stroll | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 15 November 2006 04:16 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
BTW, Jeff, is there any greater testament to the importance of "common sense" in our traditions than "We The People, holding the following Truths to be self evident."

The authors of the Declaration certainly did not think they were articulating "common sense".

Most authors think they were following Locke. However, there are some problems with this interpretation, and other candidates, such as Frances Hutcheson, have been suggested. Gary Wills' book on the Declaration has some stimulating discussion.

It is important to understand that "self-evident" truths were an important part of European philosophy during the 17th and 18th century.

The most obvious example is Descartes.

quote:
Less than a mathematical formalist, Descartes supposes axioms to be "self-evident truths," and we can take him to regard the notion of self-evidence as the primary notion here: ideas are not self-evident because they are clear and distinct, but clear and disti nct because they are self-evident.

http://www.mtsu.edu/~rbombard/RB/Spinoza/cnd.html


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
B.L. Zeebub LLD
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posted 15 November 2006 08:01 PM      Profile for B.L. Zeebub LLD     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by jeff house:
The authors of the Declaration certainly did not think they were articulating "common sense".http://www.mtsu.edu/~rbombard/RB/Spinoza/cnd.html[/URL]

Well, my empirical little mind wants to know how you know that? Your evidence is all secondary source material.

There are a couple of ways to look at this but I'll start with this:

Regardless of what they "thought" they were doing, they were articulating a faith in common sense defined as a unified and equally distributed notion of what was "right" and "just". That's pretty much what Descartes thought, too - our minds are the same, so certain things are true to all of us.

Ironic that it was actually this a priori business that lead Descartes down so many blind allies, deftly pointed out not just by the arch-empricist Hume but by Kant and others. Ironic that that you should defer to Descartes in a thread in which you've been defending empirical reason against the onslaught of superstition and wedding your "empirical reason" to the triumph of liberalism in politics. You're going in circles.


From: A Devil of an Advocate | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
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posted 16 November 2006 04:21 PM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post
IMHO, Saul's "Reflections of a Siamese Twin" is one of the greatest books written about Canada. His essay on Joseph Howe is excellent too if you want to understand the tradition of freedom of the press in Canada.

Saul's critique of the isolation of reason from other human faculties is actually in a great Canadian tradition. It is very similar to what George Grant said, though Saul has a slightly different emphasis. Grant criticized the "technocratic" society where everything is called forth "to give its reasons" -- where nothing is intrinsically beautiful because it has a soul or a spark of the divine. Grant says this was Nietzche's point: God is dead, and you have killed him. Darwin's "dangerous idea" gave us much, but Grant's point is, what have we lost?

Saul's ideas are also close to McLuhan's. McLuhan believed print created a highly individualistic, rational society because of the way it depended on one isolated sense (sight) and the solitary way it was used. McLuhan believed electronic culture in its various forms created a greater balance in the way people encountered the world, and made society less individualistic and more collective. For Saul, Canada's traditional mix of oral culture (First Nations, Parliament, respect for poets) and the more rational print culture created a kind of humanism unique to our country.

[ 16 November 2006: Message edited by: -=+=- ]


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Brett Mann
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posted 16 November 2006 04:23 PM      Profile for Brett Mann        Edit/Delete Post
But what entertaining circles! I'm feeling a bit out of my depth in some of these discussion of Locke, Hume, Descarte et al. (even though I studied them years ago) - but I'm enjoying and learning. Regarding the "do unto others..." precept, I think it surfaces in one form or another in all the major religious traditions, but psychological research (sorry, don't have the reference at hand) has very recently found an astounding neurological basis for empathy. Researchers targeted key brain areas (in rats, I think, monkeys maybe) which "lit up" when the animal experienced distress and physical pain. (Aren't animal researchers kind of creepy?)

The amazing thing was that these identical brain pain areas were just as activated in an animal that was not itself experiencing pain, but simply watching another animal experience it. We evidently are hard wired to suffer when we see others suffering. Once again, the Big J. was really on to something.


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jeff house
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posted 16 November 2006 05:25 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Saul's critique of the isolation of reason from other human faculties is actually in a great Canadian tradition. It is very similar to what George Grant said, though Saul has a slightly different emphasis. Grant criticized the "technocratic" society where everything is called forth "to give its reasons" -- where nothing is intrinsically beautiful because it has a soul or a spark of the divine. Grant says this was Nietzche's point: God is dead, and you have killed him. Darwin's "dangerous idea" gave us much, but Grant's point is, what have we lost?


I agree completely that Saul functions within the "critique of reason" tradition pioneered by Nietszche and developed by Weber.

That is a reason to be extremely wary of Saul, since the that tradition tends towards the far right.

1. Nietszche said "God is dead", but proposed to replace Her by "The Superman", a leader not bound by paltry old Christian traditions.

2. George Grant was a Christian minister. So, in a sense he is a critic of reason, but one who leans towards its replacement by older, pre-Enlightenment traditions.

He declared Leo Strauss his most esteemed influence, yet Strauss is firmly associated with the political right.

3. Grant was also strongly influenced by Heidegger, whose metaphysics did not allow him to notice that Hitler was not a good guy.

Of course, it is not (as several posters seem to think I believe) that there is no role for lovemaking, singing, swimming, or marijuana. There is such a role.

But it seems that Saul and company argue that non-rational things like "common sense" have equal status with reason. Therefore, it follows that things acceptable to common sense are valid whether they meet reasonable standards or not.

But I think "common sense" in many places may favour maintaining women illiterate and pregnant, and firmly oppose racial equality.

That's why I don't want "It's common sense!" to be a valid answer to a reasoned critique.


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 16 November 2006 06:22 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
No Jeff, youre just clinging to one particular objection which as youve repeatedly been told has very little to do with Saul himself actually says. As a lawyer do you often argue cases which you haven't even read the brief and rely on hearsay and intuition instead? Of course not. Please read some of his books or let others argue their meaning. Saul is no fan of Neitzche either, nor is he a post-modernist.

My sense is he's mostly trying to reengage the old progressive tradition (or even conservatism, of the more historically and socially aware Edmund Burke variety) where both the public and their elected represenatativbes take into consideration their own tradition as shared historical reality, not as right or wrong Axioms, above criticism, but part of a widely shared (not Universal) historical continuum or movement or dialogue or collective memories, what have you, hopefully understood in the context of where we're headed now.

The corporatists you keep evoking only Claim they represent that tradition, but according to Saul (and something I agree with one hundred percent) theyve only hijacked the tradition which theyve always opposed but were no longer able to attack head on. Not after the great depression and WW2. Not unlike Stalin and his Taylorists hijacking the original ideals of socialism, or more recent "libertarians" hijacking older anarchist traditions (the more easily distorted emotive ones) and turning them on their heads.

That's the biggest strength of his arguments IMO, he meanders around points alot -too much on certain points IMO- but is just trying to draw awareness out of academic ruts back to how far weve actually drifted From the original intentions of humanism -not a rigid doctrine to begin with.

I'm not sure how he relates to McLuhan as I thought McLuhan despised what modern electronic media like tv was doing to people, turning them into mindless passive consumers of pop "culture", though I could be wrong about that, not one I've studied in any depth myself.


From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 16 November 2006 06:25 PM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
I agree completely that Saul functions within the "critique of reason" tradition pioneered by Nietszche and developed by Weber.

That is a reason to be extremely wary of Saul, since the that tradition tends towards the far right.

1. Nietszche said "God is dead", but proposed to replace Her by "The Superman", a leader not bound by paltry old Christian traditions.


Aack! You could just have easily have said "pioneered by Nietzsche and developped by Gilles Deleuze"! (who was deeply involved in the Paris labour strikes of 1968.)

Nietzsche was appropriated by the Nazis, but only because they misread him. He certainly does not replace the dead God with a superman. The Gods are dead, as Deleuze explains, "but they have died from laughing, on hearing one God claim to be the only one." The death of God means the death of imposed absolutes and an acception of plurality. It is not, as the Nazis would have it, a strategy to replace God with an übermensch (an overman). I certainly wouldn't trust the Nazis to read philosophy properly.

Nietzsche does not suggest a return to the "blonde beasts." He acknowledges that human kind is limited in their capacity to think about things. By criticizing ideals, he is positing one. So Nietzsche produces an ideal that feels guilty (the "bad conscience") of having ideals. In true proto-postmodern style (wow. I can't believe I just wrote that. Alan Sokal must be ghostwriting my posts. Anyway...) he has turned the only way humans can think against itself.

I realize that the only contributions I make on this thread are drifting ones, but Nietzsche ain't a Nazi.


From: On the heather | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 16 November 2006 06:41 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
In fact, since you seem so suspicious of him, I'll pull out a couple old copies and just retype some of his thoughts about guys like Neitzche and Descartes. You might find yourself agreeing with some of it as a traditional Social Democrat. Later.
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BitWhys
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posted 16 November 2006 06:46 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
"nor is he a post-modernist"

sure he is. he just doesn't let it get the best of him, is all.

btw, for Descartes there was only ONE a priori truth. "I drink, therefore I'm spam" or something like that.


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
-=+=-
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posted 16 November 2006 06:53 PM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by jeff house:

But it seems that Saul and company argue that non-rational things like "common sense" have equal status with reason.

The crux of your argument is a straw man.

Saul's point is that reason, like all other human facilities, is taken in the context of the whole. He points out that Voltaire, with reason as his weapon, still operated in a society where the other qualities -- intuition, common sense and so forth -- had a presence in public life. This is no longer the case, and Saul says an over reliance on reason in our public officials leads to disasters like the mad cow epidemic in Britain (his example).

Nowhere does Saul say that all human faculties are equal all the time in every situation. He would not argue, for example, that the primary faculty of an evolutionary biologist should be intuition rather than reason. Though, he would probably say a good scientist must have some intuition in addition to a logical mind.

As for Grant, you do a good job of pointing out his failings. But what about his central point, that a "technocratic" society leaves us no innate value for life, beauty or anything without utility? This is again what Nietzche identified.

Can you show me how reason allows us to appreciate the innate beauty of a mountain or a new born infant? Surely being able to appreciate the goodness of a newborn is a quality healthy societies must have -- but how does reason give us this?


From: Turtle Island | Registered: Oct 2004  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 16 November 2006 07:02 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
No one said Nietzsche "is a Nazi".

Except, I guess, his sister. And Hitler. And the Nazi Party.

Becoming a little more nuanced, we can say that the concept of the uebermensch, or superman, was quite valuable to the Nazis.

So was the whole concept of "the Will to Power".

His hatred of Christian values came in handy, too.

Oh, did I mention how he hated the weak? And how he thought that "the transvaluation of all values" would lead to "an aristocracy of the strong"?

So, let's guess who said this:

quote:
"...Let us face facts: the people have triumphed -- or the slaves, the mob, the herd, whatever you wish to call them -- and if the Jews brought it about, then no nation ever had a more universal mission on earth. The lords are a thing of the past, and the ethics of the common man is completely triumphant. I don't deny that this triumph might be looked upon as a kind of blood poisoning, since it has resulted in a mingling of the races, but there can be no doubt that the intoxication has succeeded. The 'redemption' of the human race (from the lords, that is) is well under way; everything is rapidly becoming Judaized, or Christianized, or mob-ized -- the word makes no difference...."

Was it Nietszche? Or Hitler?


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
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posted 16 November 2006 07:03 PM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by EriKtheHalfaRed:

I'm not sure how he relates to McLuhan as I thought McLuhan despised what modern electronic media like tv was doing to people, turning them into mindless passive consumers of pop "culture", though I could be wrong about that, not one I've studied in any depth myself.

McLuhan was a very interesting thinker -- and worth reading in depth (instead of relying on how his ideas are described in the media).

He did actually "disapprove" of electronic culture -- but his whole mission as an intellectual was to actually describe what was happening, rather than hiding from it. He also believed if people were conscious of what was happening, they could translate the best of the old, print world that was being left behind into the new world.

Though, McLuhan liked to quote Harold Innis' phrase: "Most forward-looking people have their heads turned sideways" -- which is the quality all of these great Canadian thinkers have (Grant, Saul etc.) McLuhan was Roman Catholic convert, so he was really steeped in that collective, organic Catholic tradition. Perhaps this allowed him some sympathy for the new collective world.


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Erik Redburn
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posted 16 November 2006 07:03 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
"I realize that the only contributions I make on this thread are drifting ones, but Nietzsche ain't a Nazi. "

S'ok, there are always other angles these ideas can be approached too. I don't think Neitzche played much of role in Nazism either, he in particular criticised Wagners and Hiedeggers racial obsessions and anti-Semtism, while appreciating their gifts, but to carry the thread drift abit further I find Neitzche annoying myself on a number of levels.

He always seems to critique our culture's prevailing Judeo-Christian morality from its own contradictions and historical hypocricy, but instead of openly positing a more internally consistent Alternative he seems to abandon collective morality altogether in favour of individual self agrandizement and faith in supposed "Ubermensch" freed from traditional "slave morality". In other words, replacing it with an even more irresponsible kind of authoritarianism, the authoritarianism of force of character or singular "will". Others say differently I know, but that's always the underlying drift I got.


From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 16 November 2006 07:07 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by BitWhys:
"nor is he a post-modernist"

sure he is. he just doesn't let it get the best of him, is all.

btw, for Descartes there was only ONE a priori truth. "I drink, therefore I'm spam" or something like that.


I won't get started on Post-modernism and Saul as he's actually more harsh about it than I am. I do think PoMos and their "moral relativism" have good points too...long as they don't let it get the best of them, ya.


From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
Brett Mann
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posted 16 November 2006 07:07 PM      Profile for Brett Mann        Edit/Delete Post
"My sense is he's mostly trying to reengage the old progressive tradition (or even conservatism, of the more historically and socially aware Edmund Burke variety) where both the public and their elected represenatativbes take into consideration their own tradition as shared historical reality, not as right or wrong Axioms, above criticism, but part of a widely shared (not Universal) historical continuum or movement or dialogue or collective memories, what have you, hopefully understood in the context of where we're headed now."

That's well put, EriKtheHalfaRed. It is exactly this kind of perspective that makes a political entity work, and which seems to be missed by all ideological approaches. I've been meditating for a long time on the corruption of the elite in our society, and contrasting how in ages past the financial and power elites felt a conscious responsibility to contribute to the advancement of society in some way. To provide leadership, in a completely un-ironical use of that word.

I guess I'm not a Marxist. Sure I believe in ending poverty, but I don't believe in ending richness. A healthy society needs its wealthy elite and benefits from their contribution to arts and civilized living. Besides, people are inherently biased towards hierarchy as far as I can see, and will be for the foreseeable future. It is in the nature of things that some of us should lead and others happily follow. When societies are in balance and governed by our better natures this arrangement works. In times of "near total corruption", to steal Doris Lessing's phrase, hierarchies become malignant. The fish rots from the head. With the triumph of the win-at-all-costs ethos among the elite in our time, we have a front row seat on the rotting.

Edited to forstall an objection: it may appear in times of peace, comfort and prosperity that the human impuslse it towards more egalitarianism. But all it takes is fear, from a serious crisis, to have all those same people instantly uniting behind a "strong man". No nation is immune to this tendency, that I know of.

[ 16 November 2006: Message edited by: Brett Mann ]


From: Prince Edward County ON | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
BitWhys
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posted 16 November 2006 07:14 PM      Profile for BitWhys     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by EriKtheHalfaRed:

I won't get started on Post-modernism and Saul as he's actually more harsh about it than I am. I do think PoMos and their "moral relativism" have good points too...long as they don't let it get the best of them, ya.


Yeah that's cool. Its not like he dwelled on it. More like he took their advice, found ways to "change the prism" (ring a bell?) and actually try to do something constructive with it. He certainly didn't consider genre to be an end in itself.


From: the Peg | Registered: Nov 2006  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 16 November 2006 07:29 PM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Oh, did I mention how he hated the weak? And how he thought that "the transvaluation of all values" would lead to "an aristocracy of the strong"?

Oops, you missed it again, jeff. He did not "hate the weak." He was critiquing the terrible Christian notion that "the meek shall inherit the Earth," or if you like Hegel, that the slave raises herself by submitting to the master. See, telling someone to subjugate themselves because it promises a better life is the most terrible thing you can do if it's not true.

And as for his so-called anti-semetism, he was not attacking the Jews so much as he was attacking religion. Indeed, he is much more critical of Christianity than he is of Judaism. In fact, he also says that anti-semitism is the worst kind of prejudice one can have. Hitler didn't pick up on that quote, and apparently neither did you. I guess since Hitler really liked Volkswagens too, we probably should castigate them as well.

Oh, and my sister has called me much worse things than Nazi, but I wouldn't call her a competent critic of my work.


From: On the heather | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 16 November 2006 07:36 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Oh wow. Nietzsche, Hitler - and the thread is 121 posts! Darn it all, guess I'll have to close it.

Seriously though - this is an interesting conversation. Feel free to continue it in a new thread. A little hint if a newbie continues the thread: if you want to continue about Nietzsche and the Nazis, you should probably not name it "Voltaire's Bastards".

Have a nice night!


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged

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