Friday, July 02, 2010

Click your heels together and say to yourself: There is no ontology, there is no ontology...


I once had a regular reader here, who (quite aptly) describing him/herself as "Chimera" used to come up with gems like "Well, it's not subjectivism to me!", and would then become all cross when everyone else at the Picnic would fall on the floor laughing. Who knows why this creature continued to pester us, since he/she seemed incapable of grasping anything that was said, but he did provide an excellent living example of the axiom, "liberalism makes you stupid."

No matter how many times, nor how patiently (admittedly, not my strongest suit) I tried to explain the nature of the logical principle of non-contradiction, Chimera would continue to fail to grasp the idea that a proposal and its oppposite cannot both be true. Of course, without the training, I could not identify in detail the nature of the intellectual errors he made, but of course, it was essentially the modernist error in metaphysics. Our world cannot seem to grasp the idea of the thingness of things.

I was having a conversation (perhaps ironically, on Facebook) with an old friend, about something related to the homosexualist ideology, to which she wholeheartedly adheres, and I realised that there was no point in continuing the discussion. She objected, I think I recall, to the prohibition against homosexuals giving blood. The indisputable fact that homosexuals, as a group, have much higher rates of diseases transmissible by blood meant nothing to her. It was discriminatory, and therefore needed to be stopped. Easily verifiable medical facts made no difference to her.

I could have begun the tedious task of taking apart her arguments and explaining the rhetorical errors she was using, and the factual mistakes, but I saw that she simply did not have the intellectual tools to grasp her error, which meant that there was no communication possible. I simply dropped it.

I have often talked about the feeling of living in a strange parallel universe in which I can see others and be seen by them, but in which there is no communication possible.

What is being lost is the capacity to think in terms of cause and effect, of distinguishing between differing levels of argument, and particularly any appreciation for abstraction. Increasingly, students expect to be spoon-fed with concrete examples, operational instructions, mechanical repetitions, and pictorial representation. The loss of language is but a symptom of the loss of thought -- and losing thought means losing much more.


The problem ultimately lies in a misconstrued metaphysics, or rather in the absence of any notion of ontology at all. When Bill Clinton was asked whether he had sexual relations with a White House intern and famously replied that this depended on the meaning of "is," his statement was of course evasive and facetious. But it was also intelligent: For apart from the time-indexed meaning of the copula in the present tense, the "is" in "This is a ball" is different from that in "A ball is a spherical object." The first sentence identifies a particular (or token) as a member of a class (or type), whereas the second offers a definition through the synonymy of types. The "is" in "it's like" is neither of these, for it seeks to define a type -- for example, "a ball" or "market segmentation" -- by reference to a token...

Providing merely an aspect of what is to be explained is not only reductionist (by substituting a part for the whole); it is also a subjectivist move that avoids describing and thus reflecting on the essence of what is to be explained. It is indicative of our age of increasing relativism under the guise of "pluralism" and "tolerance" -- your feeling about the nature of something is just as good as my feeling, because there really isn't any "is"; there may not even be an "a." Then a ball might as well have edges, for who can tell me that I can only call something a ball if it is round?

There is a curious reluctance to think about the nature of things, maybe as a result of decades of teaching that there is no such nature apart from what one wants them to be. Rather, students increasingly see the world phenomenologically -- as a haphazard arrangement of "stuff" and of events informed by the sensory impressions of their own experience but devoid of any structure.


Where in earlier ages people worked in their gardens, played an instrument, went fishing, read books, entertained guests, or engaged in conversation with family or friends, they have become passive and speechless consumers of canned content. These screens help produce a people that is losing its language. But more importantly, these people no longer see structures in their world but rather a bewildering juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated events.



Tawser said...

On another blog, I recently commented that the APA's change of atttitude toward homosexuality was caused by political pressure, not science. To which I got the outraged responsed, "How dare you question science?" "But my whole point was that it ISN'T science." (Brief pause.) "How dare you question science?" I have struggled with same sex attraction my whole adult life and it is important to me to confront people like this with the truth, but it is such a martyrdom because most of them care nothing for even the most basic principles of logic.

Aaron Traas said...

I have often talked about the feeling of living in a strange parallel universe in which I can see others and be seen by them, but in which there is no communication possible.

I get this feeling all the time. What's extra frustrating is when I get this kind of stupidity from so-called "conservative" Catholics, that are pro-life, adhere to the church teaching (in the limited ways they understand it), but think philosophical constructs and the intellect are meaningless detractors that keep one from getting too close to God. They replace thinking with talking points, and it makes the minority of us that do think look stupid by association.

Gregory the Eremite said...

Well...yes. Spot on. If I might inject a slight tone of optimism for the future, we are at least beginning to see a revival of Thomist realism within Catholic theology which occasionally reaches out into the wider academy. Here's hoping that when subjectivism finally eats itself, we will have made the preparations necessary to replace it with truth.

BTW, have you found Edward Feser's blog? Lots of good material there along these lines.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Yes, the one thing that I've been holding on to is the fact that self-negating ideologies tend to do just that. The eat their own tails, and eventually, by their very nature, must fizzle out. What damage they will have done by the time they get there, however, is anyone's guess.

Felix said...

when I was young, I studied logic. it was my major at college

but now I think that was misguided. The real problem is psychological, how to get people to disgard their prejudices and actually listen/ think

(and not just liberals. As Hilary says, it applies to conservative Catholics. But also trad Catholics who are into anti-semiticism, young earthism etc)

Not to mention the people in my office ...)

D Cummings McLean said...

Yes, exactly. There's been a triumph of the will over intellect.

People now think they control reality with their wills: "I want it to be so, so it is so."

This is why I think it is so important to point out that, for example, men who get themselves mutilated and then dress up like women are not actually women. They can say "we're women" til the cows come home, and they can even get an F on their government issue birth certificate, but they are simply not women and I refuse to say that they are.