odysseus wrote: ↑
Sat Feb 15, 2020 6:17 am
Take a lighted match and apply it to your finger. Now ask, what is THAT doing here, as a possibility in the world?
This is the sort of thought with which I ended my last message. We have to square up to the problem of pain. But one question we must ask right away is, "Why is it a problem?" I mean, other than the fact I don't happen to like
pain, which could be merely a contingent fact anyway, what is essentially wrong
with there being pain in the world? (I don't mean this rhetorically, as in "pain is good," but literally, as in "what precise factor makes it the case that pain indicates a wrongness?")
Immediately we are thrown into the realm of ultimate goodness for the answer. Why is it that pain is "wrong" to us? Because we have a definite sense that things ought to be right...and they're not. But where does this sense of the oughtness of things come from? What is its justification? Is it real, or is it a mere accident of our nervous systems? Does it have any real referent in the actual world? And to whom are we appealing, when we cry out, "Little girls burning to death is so unfair!
What I mean is that there is no apparent redress for our suffering beyond what is empirically verifiable. Lisbon was annihilated in 1755 on All Saints Day by a tsunami. Lots of praying on that day, very sincere.
It sounds to me like you've read Susan Neiman on that. We could talk about her objections.
Nevertheless. Nietzsche, of course, likely never prayed at all, despite his wretched physical health. He made a philosophy out of self sufficient "will".
He was a stubborn cuss, to be sure. But he died insane (and probably syphilitic too). So his "will" didn't get him as far as he hoped.
Nietzsche had faith in all kinds of things...just not in God, like Kierkegaard.
Oh, then he did have faith. Just as I have faith the sun will rise in the morning.
A good deal more than that, although that, too, might require faith. After all, we have no guarantees we will not die in the night. We just hope and believe so. But Nietzsche's faith extended to much less high-probability things, as I have suggested.
But then, there is metaphysical faith in the redemption for human suffering. This is the ethical nihilism where Camus makes his stand. The absurdity of our existence is simply this: we suffer for no reason. Just suffer.
Yes, Camus thinks this. There is no inherent justification for the rock, he thinks. It's just how this miserable place is. Suck it up, Chuck, and learn to roll it with some creative gusto. That's a terrible answer, of course.
But is it true? We may not all know the reason for every bit of suffering that happens. But sometimes we do. Sometimes, we know that the reason our muscles ache is that we are training to be triathletes. Sometimes we know that the ours of misery in the library got us the degree we now hold in our hands. And sometimes we even meet hard circumstances that make us say, "I know now that I am a better person than I was before I suffered. My pain has deepened me, and given me wells of compassion I never had before; and while I would not wish it to come again, I am glad to stand on the other side of my pain, and hold the goods it purchased for me." That sort of understanding is not too much to suppose, at least in some circumstances.
Of course, the Lisbon Earthquake isn't like that. Nor would the child burning to death be like that. But it raises the question: how are we certain that suffering can find no explanation? Is it because we currently possess none? But is that enough reason to believe that none can be had?
That's a difference again between Kierkegaard and Camus. For Kierkegaard, the absurdity of things is a product of our failures of epistemology -- not that there IS no answer to why things happen, but that, being merely localized, contingent, moribund human beings, we lack the means to achieve the perspective to see any answers, if answers there be. For Camus, on the other hand, absurdity is an inherent fact -- Camus thinks he's got it right, and anybody who even imagines there's a truth beyond the absurdity of things is merely deluded. Yet, why would we jump to the conclusion that Camus is right, and Kierkegaard wrong?
Now, of course, we cannot say with confidence -- at this point in our inquiry, anyway -- that an answer can
be had. But we can realize we have insufficient evidence to blithely embrace Camus's despair, at the same time. And, if we are courageous, we can decline to embrace despair at this point, and say, I will continue to look; and as I do, more information may be available to be had.
I think that's what, perhaps, you might wish to be arguing for. Not a capitulation to despair, nor to a hasty conclusion that un-understood pains can never
have explanation, but that a knight of faith would continue the quest for more answers. If he takes off his armour, and sits down in despair, he is most certainly no knight of faith, right?
That his system if true, puts the realist "beyond good and evil." That ethics, as a category of thought, cannot survive Materialism.
Sorry, I am still mystified. Ethics cannot survive materialism? i don't really know what materialism is. I find the word 'material' useful in certain contexts and I use it all the time. But as a philosophical idea, it simply stops making sense.
It's very simple, of course. It's just the idea that "materials" are all that constitute "the real." There are two types of it: reductive and non-reductive, but both presuppose that "matter" is the base substance of existence, and everything else must be explained in terms of material properties. In a subject like cognition, Materialism takes for granted that brain is the total explanation of mind, for example. Or in cosmology, it presumes that the accidental combination of matter into an accidental explosion, followed by a billions-of-years process of material change, is the total explanation of why we are here.
If such things are true, there is no "ethics." What is
, simply is
. All is accidental, all a mere chance combination of materials. And pain and suffering are just very strange facts which, for no possible reason, evolution has caused us to experience. Therefore, there is no "injustice" in our experiencing of them. And there is no "wrongness" to little girls burning at the stake, or to Lisbon being flattened. Whatever happens, just happens.
And like Camus says, then, you will find it nothing but absurd. Your cries to the effect that it is unfair actually make no sense in light of how things really are. All you can do is roll the rock. The whole sense of absurdity
is an inexplicable, contingent byproduct of some evolutionary quirk; no more. It means nothing, signals no real
absurdity, and ends nowhere.
I'm not thinking it should. The right answer is complicated, to be sure. But I think there are good reasons why such things can happen in this world. And they don't require us to disbelieve in ultimate justice, or in God.
Kierkegaard certainly saw this. His "Fear and Trembling" is, in part a response to that sort of objection.
You mean by good reasons along the lines of the plate tectonics providing a good reason for the formation of geological faults?
No. I don't mean mere causal "reasons." I mean existential reasons. Reasons that make sense. Reasons that explain not just the "how," but the "why."
Certainly, suffering and joy in the world have their reasons: they are conduce to survival and reproduction of the species.
No doubt. But what makes us think the universe "cares" about survival and reproduction of the species? Are these not also contingent facts of this quirky universe into which pure chance threw us?
This is where we will disagree, likely. For I am an ethical realist and I think ethical good and evil are part of the fabric of the world. To show this I would need to argue the case. If you are interested, let me know. It rests with the distinction between contingent and absolute goods and bads.
This is what I am MOST interested in. If you would make your case, I would be very grateful.
But here, intuitively, I argue that our ethical intuitions are dulled by discussion. One has to look squarely at the suffering, in and of itself, not in some context that provides outside explanatory reasons.
This was what I said at the end of my last message: we must face up to the "square look" at suffering. We must not hide behind explanations like, "Well, it's not so bad," or "Maybe it will issue in good things eventually," or "Well, if that little girl had survived, she would have bred the next Hitler, maybe." These are evasions.
But so is capitulation to despair. To conclude, prior to knowing, that the "square" way to look at suffering is to conclude that it is simply absurd, meaningless in itself, and devoid of possibility, is (I will say) a coward's move too. We have simply taken off our armour, and ceased the quest for answers. We have not at all established there ARE no answers, or that it is inevitably tragic if WE do not have all of them.
My claim is that there is an intrinsic "badness" is pain, and this makes the world qua world a moral place.
I want to know why we think this is so. There's no way we can say "Well, the fact that we don't like
pain makes it intrinsically bad." Such an answer can be subverted seven ways.
I do not disagree that at least some pain is intrinsically "bad." But I do not think it's easy to adduce any remotely plausible secular reasons why it is inherently morally
bad, or how our human desire to cast the cloth of morality over the hard table of facts is warranted at all. Hume saw this problem, and though I disagree very much with Hume, I don't on this. When two such opponents agree, it is a rare thing indeed, and often signals a very profound problem.
What are we doing on this place such horrors occur? I ask Kiekgaard's question, from his Repetition:
Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? Why was I not consulted, why not made acquainted with its manners and customs instead of throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I should like to make a remark to him. Is there no director? Whither shall I turn with my complaint?”
This is excellent. These are precisely the kinds of questions the knight of faith must pursue without relenting. But what quest is there that sets out with no hope of answer? Who is so foolish as to put on his armour knowing not only that there will be dragons to fight and enemies to vanquish, but that even if all of that is done, there is absolutely guaranteed to be no prize at the end?
I don't think he "dismisses" it. He certainly affirms it. But he denies that there can be a "why" which is not a product of the sufferer's own interpretation of the situation. Sisyphus has to transform "the rock" into "his rock," and thus become "happy."
I'm not saying I buy Camus's answer. But I am saying we can't accuse him of just "dismissing" it. He does recognize it.
Ok. It is rather hard to miss its presence, granted. But he doesn't take it seriously, which is rather the point of Sisyphus rolling the rock up the mountain with a smile. I think he is presenting a false idea, false about the world, for there is something in the suffering the joy that commands our attention, that intimates a profound dimension to our being here, and we should not live the life of Meursault, distant from life's depths.
Yes, I agree.
Ask what a thing is, Derrida says, and you will get vocabulary and after vocabulary, all of which requires more of the same.
I do not believe Derrida is right about this. He banishes the referent, and turns all into language games. There is a truth in the complexities of language; but language is a mere tool of meaning
. Without the "prize," the language games all turn hollow.
And yet, there is actuality, this spear in my kidney or the taste of this bisque.
This is closer to the truth than is Derrida. I have no doubt, though, that he would have some explanation of how this is all just your nervous system, not the reality itself. And it would be couched in the most opaque and circular language-babble.
Metaphysics is a transcendence, and all things possess this. That is what actuality is, says K.
Well, K. has warrant to say so, granted his suppositions. I'm not sure what secular
warrant can be found, though.
I guess my response to this lies in the above. Ethics is, as Levinas put it, first philosophy.
I've heard this. I don't think it's at all true.
Ethics, I would insist, is always derived from ontology.
Before we can ask, "What should we do with X," we always have to ask, "What is the referent of X?" That is, until we know what we have, where we are, what's real and unreal, and what's going on here, we can't intelligibly ask, "how should we then live?" (ethics).
Of course. And there is no greater ontological concept than ethics, for ethics is essentially about value, and value is what the entire human enterprise is about.
If' I'm Camus, then naw, I'm not buying that. "The human enterprise" has no special dignity, given Materialism. We might think we're "about" all kinds of things, but existence isn't actually "about" anything, in Camus's world. The "aboutness," he would say, can come only from how we think about reality...not from reality itself.
We have a belief in a thing called "ethics." So what? This is contingent. We might not have had. The universe is an indifferent collision of atoms, and cares nothing for our "ethics." Morality is not encoded into the fusion of particles that makes us what we are. And "enterprise"? We are merely here, contingently, for no reason, and doomed to extinction, also for no reason. The universe does not know or care. And our belief that it should is merely a flaw in our material sequencing.
So says the Tale of Atheism, anyway.
What is value in Being?
None, says Camus. "Valuing" is a gerund, a verb-in-action, a verb functioning the place of a noun, not a true noun, not a "thing" that can 'be". It's a thing we merely contingent human beings happen to do
. It is not part of the structure of "being."
Value is THE primordial concept.
"No!" says Camus.
"Value" is a human overlay on inherently meaningless existence, he adds. To fail to grasp that is to miss one of the two essential polarities of the dialectic that brings us to the realization of the absurd (the other is our undeniable longing for
value, value which we simply cannot have). You have let go of one of the poles, he would say: and in so doing, you are committing "intellectual suicide."
Sign me up. I want to be a "knight of faith," as he calls them. But I agree this can go too far, if "inwardness" is the only direction it goes.
Me too. His nights of inwardness were not about his being aligned with God. He new he wasn't...
He knew he aspired to be. And that was the whole point. Just as one becomes a self by recognizing oneself as standing before God, one become a knight of faith by embracing and living that recognition. To be such a knight is not a "fait accompli": it is a quest one embraces dynamically.
The knight of faith is not constituted as a knight of faith by his having arrived
He is constituted as a knight of faith by having embraced the quest
in a dynamic, daily, ongoing, lived way. One cannot wear faith like a badge; one has to practice it amidst the terrors of unknowing, of big questions, of uncertainty, of doubt, and of fear. The knight of faith fears and trembles; but the knight of faith does not relent. He is a man-in-action, not merely the possessor of a title.
A starting point would be, "Whence this concept 'injustice'?"
How does such an intuition -- such a strong and, I would argue, justifiable intuition -- ever arise this world, if the world is only constructed of events of chance? And who will answer this most natural cry of the human heart, if we are alone in this place? Indeed, why cry at all?
I think one has to keep in mind that the concept of chance is our take, and it is an interpretative one. The world does not disclose itself in all that it is.
Absolutely right. But since "the world does not disclose itself in all that it is," how have we managed to arrive at Camus's certainty that suffering can have no answer?
We admit the data's not all in...the case is not closed...yet we will look no further, but will sit down and take off our armour?
And conceit of conceits, we will preen ourselves on the conviction that that is not cowardice, but a hard-nosed looking at things-as they-are?"
For me, it is quite literally impossible for the world to be simply as it appears, with all of its horrors unanswered and unredeemed.
Ah, then you are putting your armour on
, not taking it off
Good. I thought as much. You didn't seem the sit-down type to me.