The Suicide of Thought (Complete)
As a convenience for the reader, all parts of this essay have been here gathered in one place:
Part One: the Murder of Euclid
Imagine you are a detective called to a crime scene. You unlock the room where the corpse, dead under suspicious circumstances, hanged, but also stabbed and shot. Outside the window, at the same time, you see skyscrapers dark, crumbling, cracked and empty, the streetlamps unlit, and corpses heaped in the silent streets. Churches are burned. All monuments and courthouses are coated with graffiti. The public parks are filled with smoldering rubbish, the rivers with floundering wrecks.
As a detective, your mission is not only to solve the murder mystery of the locked room, but discover what unknown force has destroyed the whole city.
A detective works partly by deduction but mostly by induction. You look for clues that form patterns, and seek additional clues as confirmation when they seem to fit the pattern. While it is not impossible for a man to stab, shoot and hang himself, it is rare. When seeking the cause of the downfall of the city, seeing bloated corpses no dogs approach suggests a different conclusion than seeing shattered windows and smoking craters.
I am in something of the same position as that detective, attempting to puzzle out for myself a smaller mystery in the middle of a larger.
Like out hypothetical detective, the task here is one of induction rather than deduction, seeking patterns rather than finding a proof beyond all doubt. The effort is an empirical one, not a deductive certainty as we find in proofs of mathematics and geometry.
The smaller mystery touches on a few well educated men of my casual acquaintance with whom I have had the opportunity to discuss one certain philosophical topic in depth: call this the mystery of science-worship.
The larger question concerns the whole matter of Western thought for over a century: call this the mystery of the suicide of thought.
Let us look at the smaller first.
The smaller mystery is based on this statement: geometry is empirical.
That is the statement, but not the mystery. This statement came up, in one form or another, with well-educated men with whom I had been discussing philosophy. Geometry was not the main topic of conversation, merely an example of something we all agreed was real knowledge, fact and not opinion. Each said that geometry was an empirical science.
The mystery was why they said it.
To say geometry is empirical is an absurd claim, one that can easily and unambiguously be shown false. It is not one of those questions about which there is a sincere argument on both sides well worth pondering. The only way to maintain the claim is by never defining one’s terms, that is, by never discussing it clearly, or perhaps never discussing it at all.
Here is the smaller mystery: Not one or two, but all the educated determinists with whom I spoke, also happen to be convinced of the doctrine that geometry is empirical and, as such, is a branch of natural science like physics or chemistry.
These were men who clearly knew something about science and math, and the should have known the difference between the two: and yet they all affirmed something men in their fields should have been trained to know and show to be false. So why say something so clearly contrary to their own expertise?
We have three clues.
In three of the cases (I cannot speak to the others) the men said that they were determinists because they were radical materialists. That is the first clue.
Some of these men had degrees and professions requiring rigorous and logical thinking. None were dull-witted. One was (or, at least, claimed to be) a nuclear physicist, and yet he had no idea of what the empirical method was, how it worked, nor its limitations. I add this caveat of doubt because this was like meeting an accredited expert ornithologist who cannot tell whether birds are fish.
Questions of scientific methodology, the basis on which scientific models are accepted or rejected, questions of what science could and could not do, or even the question of what a scientific question was, all left them unable to answer.
The second clue is that they are educated, some highly, but none knew the basics of their field.
As near as I can tell from their words, none of these educated gentlemen were playing devil’s advocate nor making a sly joke. None, when questioned, were able to state clearly their opinion, to give any argument in its favor, or to give any reason why to believe it. All seemed taken by complete surprise. None, indeed, seemed to entertain the least suspicion that any opinion to the contrary even existed, or ever had.
Ponder this, for it is rather remarkable.
Imagine being taught astronomy, but with no mention ever made of anyone earlier than Copernicus, so that you are under the impression that all men through all history thought the sun the center of the solar system. You have never heard of Ptolemy.
This is a poor example, since heliocentrism is actually sound. A better example would be to imagine being taught Marxism, but with no mention of any economist before him, or any economic system he criticized or opposed. You have never heard of Adam Smith. You have never heard an argument favoring capitalism because you have never heard of capitalism.
The third clue is that they apparently never had heard any serious contrary opinion.
The smaller mystery, hence, is this:
How is how is it possible for educated men (1) to believe something which is effortlessly easy to prove untrue (2) and which is openly contradicts the methodology that is absolutely foundational to their chosen (3) and yet to be utterly unaware of the contradiction?
The larger mystery is what turn of philosophy made modern man constitutionally unable to link even the simplest of logical arguments together in his mind? What is the philosophy that killed philosophy? What is the thought that causes the suicide of thought?
The larger mystery much wait for the answer to the smaller, for the two are linked. Let us start small:
None of these educated men actually, that I recall, made the claim that all knowledge is empirical, but, if he had, it would at least made a kind of thematic sense that a radical materialist would also be a radical empiricist.
Radical materialism, also called panphysicalism, holds that no substance aside from material substance does or can exist; everything that seems to be non-physical can be reduced to a physical phenomenon. Radical empiricism holds that no knowledge aside from empirical knowledge can or does exist; everything that seems to be non-empirical knowledge is either induction from empirical examples, or mere arbitrary opinion.
Had any of them been able to put together an argument for their position (none did) he would have argued something like this: 1. All things are matter. 2. Empirical observation is the sole means to gather knowledge about matter. 3. Therefore empirical observation is the sole means to gather knowledge about any thing; therefore all knowledge is empirical. 4. Geometry is a branch of knowledge. 5. Like all knowledge, geometry is gathered solely by empirical observation: therefore geometry is empirical.
That argument is valid, that is to say, the logical form is followed. This means that if the premises and definitions are true, then the conclusion must be true.
But the hackles of our candid suspicions should be raised by two points:
First, the syllogism contradicts itself by holding all things known to be true to be known by empirical means, that is, based on an observation.
For the statement 3 ” all knowledge is empirical” cannot be based on any observation unless an omniscience observer has observed all things and gathered all knowledge about them, and seen, not deduced but seen, that all knowledge is empirical.
But empiricism, by definition, is limited to what we can observe.
What of thing is observed? There could be one object on Mars, smaller than a mouse, or object larger than the moon orbiting a dead star in some dwarf galaxy Horologium supercluster, which is both true and, for the space of four minutes and a half, was entirely non-empirical in how it was known. Until and unless the observer goes to Mars, and to Horologium, and to all other planets and stars, and every square inch of space in the entire macrocosmic universe, and every four minute interval of time, then the statement “All” cannot honestly be uttered.
One must say “all things known heretofore to humans I happen to have met are empirical” or say some other limiting qualification. In which case the syllogism fails, because if only some knowledge is empirical, from the statement the geometry is knowledge the conclusion that it is empirical does not follow.
In sum, the syllogism given above has both universal and unconditional axioms and thus has universal and unconditional conclusions, which empirical observation, by definition, cannot confirm.
If the statement “All knowledge is empirical” is true, then the statement “no universals are known” must also be true, since no empirical knowledge confirms a universal statement.
But if “no universals are known” is true, and if I know it to be true, then I know a universal, in which case the statement is false. Which is a contradiction in terms.
Second, it is evident that geometry, which consists of planes with zero volume, lines of zero thickness, and points of zero size, consists of nothing but objects that could never be seen by the eye. Photons cannot bounce off am imaginary point with no extension, no location, and no duration.
Nor could things of two, one, or no dimensions exist in the material universe, nor things occupying no extension and having no location, nor things that are timeless, infinite, eternal, and incapable of change or decay. But points, lines, figures and solids are precisely such things.
The empirical method is based on observation. Observation cannot possibly study something which presents nothing, directly or indirectly, to the senses.
Perhaps, in counterargument, one might say that geometers like Euclid and Pythagoras first suspected the properties of these imaginary and mathematical objects by the inductive reasoning from examples of physical objects. The problem with this counterargument is that such things are hunches, daydreams, suspicions, or idle thoughts concerning the subject matter of geometry, but themselves are not part of the science and nothing the student of geometry need learn. Asking where scientists or mathematicians get their inspirations is like asking poets where they get theirs: it is a non-rigorous mental process with no power to convince a skeptic, and no ability to prove a conclusion is true. The dreams of geometers are not geometry, and not part of the method of geometry: only their definitions, common notions, postulates, proofs and conclusions.
Or, again, perhaps, in counterargument, one might say the geometrical concepts can be perceived indirectly, in the same way, from the motions of objects in the air, the changes of chemical weights, or the actions of friction and erosion, we deduce atoms exist, albeit we cannot see them.
One might say that things like the dot above the letter iota, or grains of sand; or walking sticks or the horizon seen at sea; or the shapes of tripods, frame tents, and the pillars of public buildings; and all fashion of other visible things from boxes to billiards, suggest points and lines and figures and solids to the imagination, and act as visible agents of an invisible reality, much as an emissary represents a king without himself being the distinct hence unseen king. Deductions from the audible words of the visible emissary is a sound basis to deduce the intentions and state of mind of the unseen king.
The problem with the counterargument is that no one who has read Euclid could possibly be deceived or confused.
There is no way to explain, see, or observe this link between the visible examples of things that are approximately straight or approximately triangular and the real, perfect, timeless and infinite mathematically straight line or mathematically perfect triangle.
Without this link of representation being visible to observation, it cannot be confirmed that is it trustworthy, or even that it exists at all.
Since by definition we cannot see the infinitesimal and indivisible mathematical point, the mathematically straight and infinite line, the mathematically perfect triangle, then how do we know if any alleged representation of them are accurate? If we do know they are accurate, is this knowledge based on observation? If so, observation of what?
If the emissary is an ambassador to only an imaginary king, he is not an ambassador at all.
The theorem of Pythagoras, Euclid 1.47, does not consist of a request to build a model of a right triangle out of three walking sticks sawed to differing lengths, and then count the square inches of the square erected on the hypotenuse using a convenient postage stamp, then to do the same for squares built on the remaining two sides, and to compare the numbers thereof: and to do that for a sufficient number of models, each one with legs and hypotenuse of different size, perhaps made out of matchsticks or soda straws in one case, or, later, with lines ploughed very straightly in a small field or a large one, or, as mathematicians grow more ambitious, with highways paved in marble running perfectly straight commanded to be built by a mad king exactly for that purpose; and then inductively to conclude whether there is a repeating pattern in all the ratios of all the examples, and, if so, what it is, and to what cases it applies.
This is not the method Euclid uses to convince the student of geometry that the theorem of Pythagoras is true in all cases for all right triangles.
Indeed, had a mad king build such an extensive road system and sent his slaves for hundreds of years placing postage stamps over each square inch of terrain, presumably levels of trees, houses, and populations, the answer received would invalidate the theorem, for the insensible curvature of the earth would make the marble-paved highways representing the right triangle a false representation. A three sided figure inscribed on the surface of a sphere does not have the properties of a triangle in a flat plane, for the sum of the three angles in a spherical figure do not equal two right angles in a plane.
Euclid, in his proof, makes no mention of the distance of his line segments, nor the size of the angles opposite the right angle. No matter what these values are, the argument is the same and the conclusion is the same. Hence, his proof is necessarily true universally, absolutely, for all time, and everywhere.
Had the proof been gathered by frantic students duct tapping walking sticks together, or frightened slaves counting the square inches of provinces enclosed by the mad king’s triangular highway system, it would not and could not be necessarily true universally, absolutely, for all time, and everywhere.
An empirical proof of the theorem of Pythagoras would be true only under the conditions that all trials of observation happened to hold in common: true for us, here on earth, during the span covered by historical records, but with no particular assurances that it will be true tomorrow, or on Mars, or for triangles too small to see or too large to measure. We would no more know what a Martian triangle was like than we know the scent of the thin and freezing Martian wind at dawn. As of the time of this writing, no man as smelled it.
Likewise, no real circular object you see with your eye will ever actually have an irrational ratio called pi between its radius and its circumference, simple because all objects seen by your eye will be composed of some sort of particle, atomic or photonic or what-have-you, and particles alter their mass or location when placed under observation and one value or the other is determined, and this indeterminacy is quantized, that is, the particles exist in a non-continuous state. They are either here or there is no halfway point in between. So likewise the ratio of the number of all particles occupying on strand of the radius compared to the number of all particles occupying the circumference will be a rational number.
If you do not believe me, try it. Take a number of pingpong balls or round beads, as many as you like, and place as many as fit on the radius and the circumference. There will be no half, quarter, eighth, or other fractional pingpong balls. The larger you make the circle or the small you make the beads, the close your derived ratio will approach pi, but in the empirical world, you can never reach this value.
Pi does not exist in the empirical world. It is a geometrical entity only.
Empirical knowledge is always provisional, never universal, and never absolute. Empirical conclusions are accepted as given only until an observation contradicts one of them. When, for example, Newtonian mechanics inaccurately predicts the precession of Mercury, or predicts wrongly the behavior of light moving through the luminiferous aether, or fails to predict the bending of light seen around Sol during an eclipse, the whole of Newtonian mechanics is revised and dethroned, and held to apply only to limited cases, as approximates.
Newtonian mechanics certainly still holds true, but only for macroscopic cases, over non-astronomical distances, near the Earth’s surface, where the increments of time are rounded to the nearest second, and all this for objects not moving near lightspeed.
In the same way the Ptolemaic model is useful, indeed, necessary for stellar navigation from the surface of the sea at night, so, too, Newtonian mechanics is useful for ballistics and billiards and all other non-extreme cases involving non-relativistic motion. But Newton cannot explain the ignition of an atomic bomb.
This is because empirical axioms are not accepted intuitively or logically or metaphysically, but provisionally. They are if-then statements. If you accept Kepler’s three laws of motion or Maxwell’s four laws of electromagnetics, then certain motions in planets or magnets are predicted: when and where and if real observation does not contradict the predictions, the assumptions are assumed, until further notice, to be laws of nature. When observation does contradict, the laws is taken to be limited to certain cases but not to apply to other cases, for which a more general law is then sought.
The scientific method, which even at least one highly educated and accredited scientists with whom I had the misfortune to argue did not seem to know, plainly stated, is this: an hypothesis intended to explain a wide number of cases of matter in motion all belonging to some one category is imagined. Motion here means any fashion of physical change. The explanation eschews any mention of final cause: only efficient causes are regarded. The forms of the motion, where they can be, are reduced to a formula, equation, ratio, or simple set of rules.
These rules are called a model. If the model is inelegant, that is, it multiplies entities unnecessarily, it is ruled out in favor of a less inelegant model. If the model is not robust, that is, it only covers certain cases and not others, it is ruled out in favor of a more robust model.
An example of an inelegant model is Ptolemy or Copernicus, whose circular orbits requires scores of epicycles to save the appearances. It was rejected in favor of Kepler, who postulated elliptical orbits that followed three simple rules of celestial motion.
An example of a non-robust model is Kepler, whose three laws explained celestial motions only, and took no account of inertia, mass, or gravity, and could not be used to explain any terrestrial motions, such as the collisions of billiard balls or the parabolic flightpath of cannon balls. Newton, with his three simple laws, explained both celestial and terrestrial motions.
In neither case was the model of Ptolemy yielded to Kepler or Kepler to Newton due to inaccuracies of prediction. It is not as if Ptolemy predicted a solar eclipse would happen on a Tuesday, Kepler predicted it for a day earlier, and when the eclipse happened on Monday, Kepler was vindicated. Nothing like that happened.
The methodology is humble, therefore invulnerable. Any skeptic unconvinced need only examine the evidence himself, take his own observations, make his own measurements, and draw his own conclusions. Nature volunteers no information, but she tells no falsehoods.
So empirical science is limited to cases precisely like these: theoretical models making falsifiable predictions which have not yet been proved wrong, and such models are not ad hoc, but make minimal assumptions (elegant), and apply to maximum possible cases (robust).
A falsifiable prediction is one that some possible, imaginable sense impression can prove wrong. If I predict a solar eclipse on Tuesday, and it happens on Monday, my prediction is wrong. That is an empirical prediction based on a scientific model. If I predict the sun will always and forever rise in the East, but I do not take into account that tidal friction slows the rotation of the Earth one day to a standstill, my prediction is false, but my model is a scientific one. I am making a statement that empirical science can disprove.
But if I predict that a square built on the hypotenuse of a right triangle will embrace a surface area equal to the sum of the areas of the squares built on the two remaining sides, that is not a prediction at all, since it is not an even happening any moment in time nor anywhere in space. There is nothing to look at. There is no prediction because I am making a statement about an entity that exist in a timeless and conceptual aspect of reality the senses cannot reach.
Likewise, if I predict that any statement which both affirms and denies its predicate at the same time and in the same way is not true, this again is not a prediction, but is a universal law about purely formal relations between sign and signified that exist in a timeless and conceptual aspect of reality the senses cannot reach.
Knowledge which is self-evident (that is, merely knowing the meaning of the terms is sufficient to affirm certainty) is called intuitive. It is unfortunate that the same word is used to refer to hunches and strong feelings, but that is the correct term. For example, when Euclid offers the common notion that two things equal to a third thing are equal to each other, this is intuitive. No additional proof is needed as no other possibility is logically coherent. Likewise, when he claims all right angles are equal, this is intuitive.
Interestingly enough, Euclid’s Fifth Postulate, also called Playfair’s axiom, is not intuitive, albeit for centuries men held it to be so. The investigation of the logical deductions of systems where Playfair’s axiom does not hold, by Riemann or Lobachevski, explicated Non-Euclidean geometry, of which Euclidean geometry is a limiting case.
Intuitive knowledge is not empirical, as it concerns matters that cannot be any other way. Deductions from intuitive axioms likewise cannot be empirical, since they necessarily must be necessarily the case, that is, universe truths unlimited to any particulars.
Those things that are true and known to be true because they must be true under all circumstances, that is, universally, are called rational. Again, it is regrettable that this word has other meanings, but that is the technical term in epistemology. Rationalism only concern non-empirical universals.
Those things that are known to be true because they fit into an elegant yet robust model of matter in motion, and the predictions of this model both are falsifiable and have not yet been falsified, are called empirical. Empirical models only concern non-rational particulars.
It is no use using the word empirical for anything else: that is not what it means.
Geometry is the study of abstract mathematical objects, such as points, lines and planes, which do not and cannot exist in the world apprehended by observation, nor can they have an observable, that is, a materially measurable relationship with the approximate objects, such as the dot or penstroke on a page, yardstick or discus or billiard ball, that remind us of points, lines, circles, spheres. There is no way to see of measure this thing called “representation” or “reminder.”
Nor can we be reminded of something we have never seen, nor can we know how well, or even if, a material thing represents or resembles another thing when this second thing is nonmaterial, timeless, infinite, eternal, and disconnected utterly from the material universe.
One way to escape the paradox is to claim that geometry is not knowledge, but merely a word game of logic. Its conclusions hold true only in the imagination of man, not in the real world, and hence any resemblance or representation of real figures and real conclusion is merely a coincidence. This is a very difficult, if not impossible, argument to maintain, since it undermines the use of mathematics in all sciences whatsoever, not just astronomy and ballistics. It becomes merely a matter of happy coincidence that planets move in elliptical orbits seemingly obedient to the laws of Newton, or that a gunner can use simple conic sections to deduce the proper elevation of his gun. All science becomes, not knowledge, provisional or otherwise, but an uninterrupted series of happy coincidences.
But the argument, as I said, is so plain that it cannot be denied, nor is there any wiggle room. Geometry is a rationalistic science in the sense of being deductions from intuited non-observable universals axioms; physics is an empirical science in the sense of being falsifiable elegant and robust models of observable matter in motion.
What is rationalistic is non-empirical; what is empirical is non- rationalistic. What is observational is not non-observational. What is non-observational is not observational. What is falsifiable is not non-falsifiable. What is non-falsifiable is not falsifiable.
Geometry makes no predictions and is subject to no observations. Geometry is not and cannot be called empirical by the very definitions of the terms.
Now then, this is obvious, and, at one time, was known to all educated men. How did these educated men of my acquaintance not know it? One and only one answered when I asked. The others grew offended that I dared to question them, and fell silent. That one said he had been so taught by his teachers.
Similar arguments can be made to show why mathematics or formal logic cannot be reduced to empiricism, to say nothing of metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, ethics, law, aesthetics, or, if I may be bold enough to name the forbidden and forgotten name, theology.
Why would the teachers of science, persons allegedly skilled and knowledgeable in the subject matter, made such a tyro mistake about the matter and methods of science, or conflate empirical with non-empirical hence rationalistic types of knowledge? It is not a mistake anyone conversant in the field would make, any more than an ornithologist would call a penguin a fish. It is certainly not a mistake an expert would make.
We can dismiss the idea that this is an innocent mistake, due merely to ignorance, because persons conversant with the field would know this. Scientists know the scientific method.
Is there a possibility that these teachers, whoever they are, happened to be sincerely convinced for whatever reason that the traditional and logical distinctions between empirical and non-empirical do not apply. Perhaps there is an honest philosophical argument, based on Hume or the writings of logical positivists, which gives a proof these teachers found convincing to support radical empiricism.
But if that were so, a competent teacher, in such a case, would teach both sides of the argument, so that a student would at least be aware that there was a second opinion in the matter, or previous models since overthrown.
This rather strongly suggests a dire conclusion to which all three clues mentioned above point.
When a teacher hides even the existence of contrary models, arguments and opinions, he is in no way attempting to teach his students to understand knowledge, but only to recite, without understanding, points of a dogma held to be beyond discussion.
This does not prove the case, but it does fit the pattern. If the teachers were attempting to indoctrinate rather than educate, this explains our third clue, why these gentlemen were not even aware of any contrary opinion. It explains why none could offer any explanation, much less a logical argument, to support their ideas. It explains our second clue, why their education hindered, rather than aided their ability to think clearly about the topic: they have been trained not to think about it.
This seems to suggest something deliberate, and even conspiratorial: a desire not to educate, but indoctrinate.
Again, no case can be proved, but the remaining clue fits a pattern. Radical materialism is not a sincere philosophical posture, but a cult dogma, something believed by an effort of will, not because there is or can be any proof or argument to show is must be or could be true. It is something that passes by indoctrination, from one incurious, unquestioning mind to another.
One of the many flaws in radical materialism is this: if radical materialism were true, radical empiricism must also be true, on the grounds that if nothing is real but matter, no knowledge is real except for knowledge about matter, and facts about matter can only be known by empiricism. But radical materialism is a universal metaphysical theory, and therefore cannot be known empirically, which means it cannot be known at all. Hence, if radical materialism were true, it is false.
It is a doctrine that refutes itself, something which the mere unambiguous statement of the terms proves false. No further argument is need, no other witnesses need be called.
Hence the final clue also fits the pattern, but also leads to a bigger mystery: the reasons why the teachers do not teach and the students do not learn about the basics of science is because of dogmatic yet illogical beliefs that cannot withstand such scrutiny that swirl about science.
These beliefs and beliefs like them are beliefs that make outrageous claims about the prestige of science, which is inflated to serve as a substitute religion. Such beliefs are called science worship. These beliefs flourish only in a dark age, when the lamp of reason is guttering or extinguished.
Science worshippers are not necessarily partisans of radical materialism and radical empiricism, but these and beliefs like them are friendly to science worship. Such beliefs dull the curiosity, encourage dismissive arrogance, or inspire bellicose narrowmindedness, which, in turn, forms a favorable environment to allow science worship to grow like mold.
Science worshippers do not do science, do not understand science, and are easily duped by junk science.
So, the lesser mystery of who killed Euclid now has have a reasonable theory that fits the facts. Since teaching the truth about geometry and science would necessarily cast doubt on a cult belief about science worship that is prevalent in society, it can only be passed along from one uncurious mind to the next by indoctrination.
Raising the eyes of a detective from the corpse to the window, and seeing a dark and dead city in a landscape of destruction, the greater mystery now demands attention. Science worship is a symptom, but only one, of a deeper sickness that afflicts more than just one field of study, more than just one school of thought or more than just one topic.
But that deeper question must wait for another day.
Part Two: the Treason of the Clerks
To recapitulate, we are contemplating a smaller mystery within a larger.
The smaller has to do with why several educated men of passing acquaintance would all just to happen to believe the same self-evidently false proposition that geometry is empirical. The topic of geometry came up when we were discussing some other topic entirely, by way of example, but all of them, independently, voiced the same opinion.
This is a rather odd belief to have any opinion about one way or the other. It never comes up in normal conversation.
Empirical means truth learned, not through abstract reasoning, but through repeated observation, that is, those things conditionally known via sense impressions.
Geometry is the study of abstract reasoning about points, lines, figures, volumes and ratios, their construction and deduction. The truths of geometry are unconditional. Plane figures are without width, lines are without breadth, points are dimensionless, and ratios are abstractions. Obvious no sense impression can observe these things.
The dots of ink and diagrams of geometer (which do not appear in Euclid’s original manuscript, by the way) are symbols used to represent invisible realities, in the same way words are symbols used to represent thoughts.
The proposition that geometry is empirical is self-evidently false because, with no further evidence or proof, merely the understanding of the words in the statement is sufficient to disprove it. It disproves itself.
So it is odd, to say the least, to find anyone who would believe such nonsense, much less several people.
The only common factor, if it is one, the educated men had with one another is twofold: first, all were educated in the modern fashion; and, second, all where one sort or another of reductionist, either reductionist materialists, or genetic fatalists, or something of the sort.
All prided themselves on their hardheaded, practical reasoning and all but one expressed indifference or contempt for philosophical reasoning. It is noteworthy that this pride is itself part of, or a product of, a modern education.
The smaller mystery of who killed Euclid has, as it turns out, a simple answer: educated men who are prone to believe what they are educated to believe.
This leads to the first step of the greater mystery. The natural question to ask is why the teachers and professors charged with passing along the Western canon of thought and knowledge to the young have failed their charge, if not betrayed it?
Let us return for a moment on the educated men with whom I spoke, because the best way to understand the teacher is to see his handiwork in the student. I mean not to mock these educated men, but to point out to the reader how often you, also, have run across such men, perhaps unawares. Perhaps you thought such behavior was normal in educated men. Indeed it is not, not what education was before modernism took hold.
They believe simple nonsense because, first, they were taught it, and, second, they were trained and indoctrinated to avoid ever questioning what they were taught. I have never come across minds so dull, so devoid of curiosity, so fearful of confronting contradiction, so unable to explain themselves, as these.
None of them, as far I can could tell, had actually ever read Euclid. When I would make references to his famous postulates or proofs, they seemed baffled. It was as if they had been taught the Pythagorean Theorem in the same fashion Moses was taught the Ten Commandments: by a divine voice uttering dictation.
They could recite that A^2+B^2=C^2, but, unlike me, they could not prove that this was the case, they did not know how to construct a right angle and the squares on the legs and drop lines to the opposing angles and show the areas under the same parallels were the same. They do not actually know what it means. They certainly did not how it is known to be true.
All of them said Pythagoras observed triangles and performed experiments on them. No doubt this experiment was done in a lightning storm atop an empty castle. The triangles were seen galumphing in the wild about the wabes of sundials, walking on their toeless square feet, until the square footage of the dorsal fins erected on the hypotenuse became equal to those of the creatures other two legs.
None of them seemed to realize that Euclid’s deductive proof of Pythagoras was how we know the theorem is true and why we believe it true. To them, the statements of geometry are merely a given, taken on faith. Or, at least, that was the impression I took away from how they acted: certainly each one attempted to impersonate a divine voice when speaking to me.
They merely made pronouncements and scorned me if I doubted, as if to doubt were sin. It was as if they expected me to believe for the sake of obedience to a sound authority, as if I were a supplicant devotee asking a sage for secret lore, not as if I were a juror whose skepticism their skill at presenting proof had to overcome. I saw the ghosts of their teachers. By that I mean I presume they assumed an air of condescending authority that brooked no questions because their teachers brooked no questions. They were taught by the anti-Socratic method.
That is our first clue.
The anti-Socratic method is meant for a purpose, but is also the end result of a long corruption of the mind of the West.
Over and over again, all five educated men made the same mistake: they mistook the symbol for the thing the symbol represented. Each insisted that the dots and streaks of chalk on the blackboard used by geometers to give a visual representation to their slower students was the point, line or figure being discussed. Each insisted that the chemical brain operations the allegedly accompany thoughts about geometry, or any topic of abstract thought, were themselves the abstract thoughts. And if I said the word ‘elephant’ there was actually an elephant in my throat.
Confusing symbol for object is called semiotic confusion. It is the core component of all magical thinking, where, for example, the witch doctor’s wax doll is held to be the same as the target.
It was like talking to a child who cannot tell real from make believe, or, more to the point, like talking to a fish who cannot tell his image in a mirror is not a rival fish.
That is our second clue.
Semiotic confusion is a necessary component for any anti-philosophical philosophy: all questions of logic, epistemology and metaphysics are abolished without being answered if words are ultimately meaningless and concepts are ultimately non-existent or arbitrary entities.
It is not normal for men of above average intelligence to say things stupider than what a child or a fish would say.
It is not normal that, upon the error being pointed out to them, they would not react with gratitude and correct the error, because instead would cling more fiercely to it, and scorn the correction as the drooling of a dunce or the raving of a heretic.
It is not normal that men would be gripped by odium theologicum, the hatred of theologians for rival opinions, on a non-theological matter.
That is our third clue.
Theological odium, however, is normal when dealing with theological matters.
Let us turn away from these educated men of my particular acquaintance and talk instead about a certain strain of education in general. Here the reader is thrown onto his own experience for testimony: if you have met such men, you will recognize the description.
I make no attempt to prove to the skeptic what the diseased state of modern education is, for I hold that to be a matter of common knowledge. If you are convinced that modern education and modern intellectual life is not diseased, then go your way, my words will not address your doubts. My attempt is to explain to those who see the disease from what influences, damps, and vapors it was contracted.
The students, or, rather, the unwitting victims of modern education are intellectuals rather than intelligent. They are men who are proud of their learning rather than humbled by it. The word sophomores, wise fools, was coined to describe them. They are the men who have a little learning but not enough know how little they know. They have just enough learning to allow them to look scornfully on men who are less bookish but better in all other ways, more honest, hardworking, and decent; but, again, not enough learning to make them wise. The sadness, kindness, and sobriety wisdom brings, and above all the deep humility wisdom brings is notoriously absent from sophomores. Sophomores are as stubborn as jackasses, but bray louder.
The question, once again, is how and why their teacher took the minds of intelligent students and turned them into permanent sophomores.
Well, despite what they say about poets, philosophers are the unelected legislators of mankind. What we say as alarming innovation in one generation is accepted as the unquestioned verity in the next, and the laws and customs arise from the values and virtues of the generation, but those virtues come from their worldview, their belief in what is or is not true, what is or is not a valid argument, what is or is not blameworthy or praiseworthy. This in turn is based on the based unspoken axioms about the nature of reality, which is metaphysical belief.
The reason why the teacher in the modern day teach nonsense is because the philosophers in a prior age taught nonsense.
From are first clue, we know that the student is being taught, not a science, but a dogma to be taken on faith. From the second, we know that the words and concepts are subject to a confusion of symbol and object which makes literal language impossible. As in a mystical religion, the words are meant to express wonder and thanksgiving, not to convey information. From the third clue, we know the hatred is akin to a man whose most sacred beliefs are questioned.
The conclusion: this is not a philosophy, nor is it a rational religion like Christianity. It is a mystical cult belief, no more, and no less. This is the final product of a long line of accumulated errors and lapses in logic of generations of philosophers. It is the death of the mind of the West.
Where and what was the error?
Part Three: Strolling Down the Bookshelf
So to answer our greater mystery, the reader is invited to turn to his bookshelf. If the reader happens not to have a bookshelf to hand, let us imagine yours is stocked by Mortimer Adler. He has put handsomely bound editions of what he (and a great many others) hold to be the Great Books of Western learning, those with the most profound thoughts and the most profound influence on the course of Western history. Mr. Adler shelves the books in chronological order:
Look at the works of philosophy and ignore, for now, the literature, math, and astronomy. As you scan from the top shelves, where the ancient writers rest, and draw our eyes down the titles on the spines through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, the Reformation, the so-called Enlightenment, and the Modern, a certain unease should come across you.
On the top shelf is Plato and Aristotle and also Lucretius, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius; nearly the whole second shelf is Thomas Aquinas, perhaps with Boethius tucked in a corner behind the bookend; third is Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Pascal, Descartes; lower still, is Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel; on the bottom is Marx, Freud, Nietzsche; and in a heap on the floor or in the dust bin are volumes of William James and Wittgenstein and other moderns.
You notice that the works of the top shelf address deep and fascinating topics, including metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics. The writing is clear and lucid, and, in the case of Lucretius, is poetry. The thoughts are given in rational order. Plato writes in dialogs of questions and answers, Aristotle in lecture order, Marcus Aurelius in meditations. All, but most particularly Epictetus, write on the topic of ethics to put heart into the disheartened. The ethical precepts are examples of masculine boldness, profound prudence, iron self-command, uncorrupted integrity and fairmindedness. The writing is inspired and inspiring. You could read these books and decide, based on them, how to face your death and live your life.
The rigor seen in the top shelf comes to bloom in the second shelf. A final topic is added to all the ancient branches of philosophy, namely, theology. No one aside from Euclid achieves such pristine logical discipline of thought as St. Thomas Aquinas. Again, the topic of ethics is central. Philosophy is a practical science of learning how to live. But another and deeper layer is added to the old pagan stoicism: faith, hope and charity are appended to the classical virtues, and songs of thanks and joy.
Suddenly, a darker note. Machiavelli argues in favor of pragmatic corruption of laws and morals, and introduces the excuse that the ends justifies the means, the tyrant’s plea, into political discourse. Hobbes scorns the concept of limits on monarchic power, and boldly and cynically argues that the king can do no injury to his subjects. Descartes introduces the method of radical skepticism, deduces the existence of himself, God, and the world, but severs soul from body. In him, all writing on the topic of ethics among philosophers comes to an end.
The next shelf contains the writings of what seems a different race of beings written for a different purpose altogether.
Nothing useful for the question of how to live one’s life is here, nothing to the purpose of how to learn theological truths, very little to the purpose of how to learn scientific and physical truths, and nothing about politics except as a mechanism to secure one’s rights. The concept of politics as an organic, living means to inculcate virtue in the citizens is left by the wayside.
Hume states that all everything not confirmed by empirical knowledge is worthless, which means, since his own statement is non-empirical, it is worthless.
Rousseau abolishes all talk of original sin, and introduces the concept of the noble savage, that brilliant exemplar of human nature as it would be, shining like a demigod, if only human institutions of law and morality did not hinder it. Of course, one wonders why Rousseau in writing books protected by copyright for which he was paid in a nation and day when his words were allowed did not revert to his nobler state merely by working a passage on ship to some wild area, striping down to a loincloth, and running in among the aborigines and natives.
Kant makes a Herculean effort to erect some fashion of philosophical model without any metaphysics, and he manages to express his thoughts in a fashion almost comically elliptical, technical, and obscure. He holds forth the antinomy of reason as an example of the futility of philosophical reasoning, which, alas, undermines his posture. If all philosophy is vain, then Kantian philosophy is vain.
Hegel, in turn, reads like a parody of Kant, achieving impenetrable obscurity. For Hegel, A can also be non-A when the thesis and antithesis collide in synthesis. This abolishes logic. Abolishing logic abolishes Hegelian logic, for by his own terms, Hegel must evolve by encountering an anti-Hegel doctrine, and in an act of mutual destruction, give rise to a new synthesis, at which time Hegelianism is no longer true.
Each pares off another branch of philosophy. Hume rejects all abstract thought for reductionist empiricism. The sciences that rest on abstractions, mathematics, geometry, ethics, politics, are therefore left without any intellectual framework: all are matters of arbitrary opinion, except empirical facts, that are certain and reliable. Kant rejects metaphysics, substituting instead a theory that human thinking is restricted to inescapable categories, which, oddly enough, introduces a dichotomy between phenomena and noumena (seen reality and true reality) which makes empiricism doubtful and unreliable. Hegel rejects the concept of fixed conceptual definitions in favor of theory of an ever-evolving mental process of dialectic that abolishes and changes concepts over time, mingling them with their opposites. This renders all thought merely a pointless flux.
On the bottom shelf is an angry book by Marx that says the human laws, customs, and history are the byproduct of an inhuman and mindless flux of material forces. These forces also erect the ‘ideological superstructures’ of men, that is, the content of their consciousness; next, a rather supercilious (and unscientific) book by Freud which says that the content of that consciousness is a confused, dark maze haunted by drives and instincts ergo not under human control, and that God is a myth produced by these vapors in the brain; finally, an angry and supercilious book by Nietzsche that rejects all ethics and declare God is dead and life is meaningless, so that by mere strength of willpower, the human mind can create reality to suit itself.
Any student pondering these books on the bottom shelf cannot help but be reduced to utter confusion, for apparently the mind is an illusion produced by material factors of history; and the mind is haunted by the repressive ghosts of attempting to live by a moral code to control the sexual appetites; but finally the mind is an all-powerful godlike organ able to create reality by will alone, and erect new forms of morality beyond good and evil.
God is dead and all things are allowed.
What happened? Looking back along the bookshelf, you try to find the point where the clear, clean, noble and, above all, useful philosophies of the ancients degenerated into gibberish.
The answer rests on what happened between the second shelf and the third.
It is fascinating to read the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, because it is the last point in time at which the intelligentsia of society believed the same things the lowest peasants believed. There was agreement from most scholarly to the basics of reality, art, ethics, politics, and metaphysics. God was complex enough for a child to grasp in wonder and simple enough to baffle and fascinate the most venerable and subtle scholar.
Yet no later philosopher matches Aquinas for rigor or clarity. Their writing is inferior and lazy, their methods sloppy. Another mystery rears its head: why is the most rigorous, noble, and useful of philosophers dismissed unread by the moderns, whereas inferior writing, some of it appallingly inferior, is lauded as profound?
A second fascinating point is that, with the passing of Thomists, the last generation in which the world described by the philosopher and the world seen by the peasant was the same world. Common sense was always the starting point for the Thomists. They took what was commonly agreed as the starting point, the axiom, and deduced what else must necessarily be true if the starting point is true.
Not so later philosophers. Each indeed seemed intent on proposing increasingly Buddha-flavored assumptions that the human world, or human thought, was not what it seemed, but actually far different than its first appearance. Thomists concentrated on explaining why what common sense said at first was reasonable and sound. Those who came next concentrating on explaining why common sense is illusion.
It starts with Machiavelli saying that the common man’s common notions of decency are useless to a pragmatic prince attempting to quell rivalry to his reign. Ethics known to the elite is no longer part of the same world the common man knows.
The illusionists grow and grow as generations pass until all philosophy is dead. Apparently sound thinking or profound philosophy is not allowed: this generation enters enthusiastically into the notion that the human reason is powerless except as an engine of self-deception.
Freud and Marx both introduce what will become the leitmotif of the modern age: an irrepressible desire to write philosophy and mythology, but counterfeit it to be science, and to claim one’s vaporing, daydreams, idle thoughts, and unmoored speculations are actually a rigorous demonstration of objective science.
Marx claimed to have discovered the scientific basis of history and economics, but a close reading of his writings turns up childish errors, simple mistakes of fact, footnotes that refer to works that do not support the point being made, and so on. Each of his elements of his theory (the labor theory of value, the iron law of wages, the progressive immiseration of the masses, the inevitability of monopoly, calculation of factors of production without a price system) had previously been exploded by sober economists. His only innovation was the popularization of the ad hominem attack.
By claiming that all economists who argued against him were possessed of a false consciousness, mesmerized by the class interests whose ideological superstructure their means of production had erected, he has a get-out-of-jail-free card to elude any argument without answering it or addressing it. He merely refuses to address or correct errors in his theory, and instead attacks whoever dares point out the errors. This also becomes the leitmotif of the modern age, the one substitute for rational debate that grows and grows until rational debate dies.
Freud, it must be noted, when Jung criticized his theories, did not defend nor answer the criticisms, but invented a psychotherapeutic reason, unbeknownst to Jung, to explain Jung’s allegedly irrational and neurotic desire to attack, hence not to admit, the truth of Freud. It was as open an admission of fraud as anyone can imagine, yet Freud’s fame and prestige grew steadily.
And with Nietzsche, there is no reason to be honest to an opponent in debate, or even to be honest with yourself in your own mind. The superman makes his own reality. Contradictions in terms do not concern him. Nonsense becomes sense if he merely wills it hard enough, in much the same way the Tinkerbell will come back to life if the children clap hard enough, and really, really do believe in fairies. This reality-warping willpower is manifested only in one fashion: sneering at those with whom one takes a dislike because their philosophy makes more sense than yours. This also becomes the leitmotif of the modern age. Civility is abandoned. Reason is dead. Talk is noise. Everything is boring.
The books on the floor are hardly worth mention. One rejects not only all philosophy, but all abstract thinking for what is actually an abstract and philosophical reason, and the other uses words to say the all words are without meaning.
These is, of course, many more nuances and subtle layers of thought to all these writings, far more than my curt summary is meant to convey. But the summary does sum up the main point of what happened to Western thought.
Perhaps a passage from your favorite children’s book appears in your mind at this time, scene where children visiting a dead world see a line of the images of their kings and queens throned in order from ancient to modern:
“Both the men and women looked kind and wise, and they seemed to come of a handsome race. But after the children had gone a few steps down the room they came to faces that looked a little different. These were very solemn faces. You felt you would have to mind your P’s and Q’s, if you ever met living people who looked like that. When they had gone a little further, they found themselves among faces they didn’t like: this was about the middle of the room. The faces here looked very strong and proud and happy, but they looked cruel. A little further on they looked crueler. Further on again, they were still cruel but they no longer looked happy. They were even despairing faces: as if the people they belonged to had done dreadful things and also suffered dreadful things.”
Part Four: Sawing Off the Branch
One note, endlessly repeated with all the post-Reformation philosophers, cannot help but intrude on the attention. All these theories have an obvious, blatant, notorious, and gross flaw that even a schoolboy could see. Not one could possibly be true, and should not have been taken seriously.
Hume reduces everything to empiricism. He says that there is no truth aside from what empirical observation can prove. But this statement itself cannot be proved by empirical observation: by its own terms, it calls itself false. He saws off the branch whereon he sits.
Likewise, Hegelian logic holds that all truths eventually evolve by collision of their antithesis into new truths. But this statement, if true, must evolve through a contradictory statement into a synthesis which invalidates the first statement, which means this is not how truths evolve, or not exactly. He also saws off the branch whereon he sits.
The concept that truths evolve, even if no Hegelian method is invoked, is a self-contradictory concept: if “truth evolves” itself is true, this means that in the previous less evolved state, the statement was not true, and in the more evolved state to come, will be true no longer. It is a statement about the relation of the present to the past and future, namely, that present truth is evolved out of the past truth and will evolve into the future truth. But if the statement about this relation was not true in the past nor will be true the future, then it is not true at all, at any time.
Likewise, Marx adopts Hegel’s error but adds his own. Marx says that a man’s theories are determined by class interests, thus not based on the facts of reality. But this itself is a theory, and if it is determined by class interests and not the facts of reality, it is false. He also saws off the branch whereon he sits.
Likewise, Freud invents a type of unconscious consciousness secretly in control of the human consciousness. It is an awareness of which we are unaware. Instead of a conscience which informs our moral sense, he holds we are guided by social conventions via this unconscious consciousness, which also inflicts madness should we attempt to abide by our conscience, which he calls repressing our natural drives.
While he does not sever entirely the branch whereon he sits, the wood creaks. One wonders why, considering the obsessively sexual and morbid nature of his writings, Freud himself is immune from the depredations of his imaginary inner entities. One wonders how he dares calls his musings a science, since the object of his investigation, by definition, is outside the range of our awareness, and is not open to the five senses.
Nietzsche is openly irrational, holding that neither goodness, truth nor knowledge exist, except when willed into being arbitrarily by superhuman willpower, which he imagines to be a pagan hero, except without the sorrows, piety and humanity of those heroes.
He is arguing in favor of immorality, which, ironically, means that he is arguing dishonestly even if he is not. He not only saw off the branch whereon he sits, he burns down the tree.
Not only is his own philosophy meaningless if his philosophy is true, all human thought is meaningless.
What, indeed, is the fatal error which makes all these philosophers uphold doctrines which disprove themselves?
What strange twist of logic makes these modern philosophers willing to construct a model of the cosmos which explains everything in the universe in simplest terms, but which prevents even the possibility of any philosopher existing, or any mind capable of constructing the model thus described?
Descartes’ radical skepticism reduced the otherwise flourishing tree of philosophy only to the two branches which admit of absolute certainty: geometry, which discovers absolute truth via pure reason, and the physical sciences, which discovers relative and conditional truths by empiricism.
It was the time of the Reformation and Counter-reformation, the shipwreck of the Church, when truths that had guided civilization for a thousand years were called into question for frankly frivolous reasons.
The only way the frivolous skeptics could give substance and weight to their frivolous arguments was by overthrowing all the previous learning of all prior generations, and starting, as all revolutionaries love to do, from scratch.
In the empirical sciences, particularly astronomy, that is exactly the right way to proceed, especially if one argues the heliocentric over the geocentric model, which was revolutionizing the physical model of the universe for the first time since antiquity. Nature herself sits arbiter between the disputants. Whoever correctly anticipates the observed outcomes with the model that is simpler and more robust is awarded the laurels.
In all other disciplines, on the other hand, this is the exact opposite of the method of procedure, because there is nothing other than the axiomatic first principles on which abstract deduction rests: there is no further arbiter. Tossing out those principles tosses out the whole science, and with nothing to replace them.
As we can see in Hume, there is frankly a jealousy between abstract reasoning and the physical sciences, where are regarded as more prestigious.
They are more prestigious because the endless wrangling that surrounds abstract thought is muted, and in some cases absent. Certain scientific theories simply die and stay dead, whereas no heresy of theology, ethics, or politics stays dead, no matter how often refuted.
They are more prestigious because they are more practical, and grant mankind obvious benefits in terms of technology, engineering, and toys. Optics produces eyeglasses, mechanics produces clockworks, and physics produces ballistics. The surcease of human suffering caused by modern medicine and pharmacology is beyond compare, nearly beyond imagination.
Measured against that, what good has Plato’s Theory of the Good ever done? What engines has Aristotle’s unmoved mover ever moved?
More to the point, the wars and clashes in the Reformation and Counter-reformation period were sharply aggravated by the differences between orthodox and heretic, and minor points of doctrine, so nuanced and refined as to be invisible to the eyes of outsiders, earned the scorn and hatred of mankind for the same reason medicine earned the gratitude: they caused pain all out of proportion with the minor significance of their causes.
This bitterness can be clearly seen in the writings of Edward Gibbon, who attributes (more learned historians would say, attributes falsely) the disorder and distemper of the Byzantine Empire to doctrinal wrangling, and he does his best to hold such disputes up to scathing mockery, careful never to state what actually was at stake.
So, in sum, history had reached a point where practical investigation into material truths yielded what seemed unmitigated benefit; whereas scholastic and intellectual investigation into abstract matters yielded nothing practical, but only confusion, bigotry, and misery.
Part Five: Science Envy
Starting with Descartes, the philosophers attempted to erect the whole of philosophy on a foundation of something other than the common sense observations of Aristotle or Saint Thomas Aquinas, as well as finding something other than the intuitive axioms of Plato or Lucretius. It was immediately discovered that common sense, being particular and local, cannot, without reference to some abstract principle, be applied universally; and likewise intuition, being universal, cannot be justified by a particular, such as an observation or such as an experiment. Hence the acid of universal skepticism was too potent a solvent for its task.
Men began a delusive search for perfect certainty while avoiding the two things on which certainty rests, namely, intuitive truths which we know in our hearts and common sense truths we can see with our eyes.
These men attempting to use science to bring rigor and certainty to fields where the methods of science have no possible application. To real scientists, of course, this attempt has no meaning and no appeal, because real scientists recognize that science has limits. There are questions the scientific method can address and there are those it cannot.
But a new breed was born: the science worshipper. A science worshipper is one who attributes mystical powers to the scientific method, and holds it able to answer philosophical questions as well as questions of physics. A science worshipper is aware of the uncertainties and anxieties of the human condition, and imagines in his delirious heart that somehow, by happy miracle, science will answer all questions of human life and afterlife, and tell us the meaning we seek, and cure our strange heartache for something beyond this life.
At the same time, please note, the real source of philosophical certainty, theology and metaphysics, was in the slow but ineluctable process of being dismissed from the academic life of Europe.
Religious conflict between Christian and Christian was too painful to contemplate, and the disputes barren of results. Unlike the ancients, who could debate, let us say, Trinitarianism for a century, hold a General Ecclesiastic Counsel, voted among the bishops, render a verdict and settle the issue, the intellectual anarchy following the Reformation meant no theological issue was ever settled. Any heretic with a new opinion differing by a shade from that of the previous heretic simply started his own denomination. Once theology was no longer the foundation of philosophy, metaphysical reasoning about abstract but non-divine things was sure to follow, since the axioms of the world were uprooted.
Then began centuries of mental effort which five minutes of sober contemplation should have aborted is a brief snort of derision, where the two properties for which natural sciences were admired were falsely applied to the other disciplines of ethics, metaphysics, politics, logic. Everything was crammed into the box of science, whether it fit or no.
What are the two beauties the physical sciences offer which abstract reasoning does not?
First, science reduces wide ranges of carefully gathered sense data to a few simple ratios or rules, as in Kepler’s Three Laws of Motion.
Second, deduction from axioms was rejected as the starting point of philosophical reasoning, so that man was studied, something more practical and empirical was sought in its place, until the meditations of the philosophers on their fellow man lost all wisdom altogether. They approached the questions not as a juror judging guilt or innocence of a fellow being like himself, but as a biologist studying livestock, and, later, as a mechanic studying a clockwork.
The sad side effects of the first attempt was to introduce reductionism into all branches of philosophy.
Part Six: Everything is Nothing but Reductionism
Returning to my example, the educated men with whom I debated the question of empirical geometry were locked into their conclusion because of their reductionism. No other explanation fits the clues.
These men are prone to believe in a simplistic answers to the complexities of life. These are philosophers who regard themselves as too pragmatic for philosophy.
But, of course, such reductionist thinking, by holding science and science alone in esteem, shared the contempt of Edward Gibbon for philosophy. This leads to the educated men of my smaller mystery mentioned above, and explains two things: first, it explains why such met when met in debate are utterly unable to defend, or even to state, the philosophical axioms on which their philosophical conclusions are based. Second, it explains why they reacted with confusion and contempt to any attempt to question or examine the foundations of their statements. They had been taught neither.
Indeed, none even recognized that they were addressing a philosophical question, nor knew the terms and techniques, evolved over centuries, which are properly used to address such questions. They were taught this because such is the outcome of reductionism.
Ayn Rand and Alan Bloom have written polemics on this topic, that is, the anti-intellectual philosophy of modern philosophy, the closing of the American mind, but this was my first exposure to men actually afflicted with the disease. It was quite disheartening to see fine minds so ruined and clogged that they could not follow a syllogism of three steps.
Reductionism is a powerful temptation: just as Newton was able to synthesize all terrestrial and celestial motions into three simple laws, the hope is that the other questions plaguing the human condition, metaphysical, ethical, and political, can be solved by reference to laws as simple. If all things were ultimately one simple thing, all answers would be within human grasp: this is not a foolish or ignoble ambition. But the reductionist skepticism of Descartes, the anti-metaphysical stance of Kant, the gibberish of Marx, are no way to discover the common truth behind common sense, or erect a sound metaphysic to explain the universals needed for a coherent philosophy, or to aid in any way distinguishing true from false, valid from invalid, virtuous from vicious.
The reductionists want a simple answer rather than a true one. They want a view of life that can be written in a sentence rather than a paragraph or a book. They want something that sounds modern and scientific rather than something that makes sense. They want a one-liner that can cow and silence any opposing views with a single sneer.
If everything is nothing but practical politics, as in Machiavelli, no discussion of the virtue of a policy need be held.
If everything is nothing but empirical knowledge, as in Hume, no discussion of ethics or metaphysics or any higher subject is allowed. Whole libraries of philosophy can be burned without loss, and we can spend our days playing backgammon instead.
If everything is nothing but economic class interests, as in Marx, one need only by revolution change the laws and customs and means of production allegedly giving rise to those class interests, and all human problems are solved.
If everything is nothing but the turgid clash of subconscious forces, as in Freud, no one is responsible for anything, and all human problems are solved by expert psychotherapy or amateur self help.
If everything is nothing but a chaos upon which the superman imposes his willpower, as in Nietzsche, all problems are problems of willpower.
If everything is nothing but illusion, a stance the radical materialists share with the Buddhists, or nothing but fate, or nothing but matter in motion, then the ego, the self, and all related illusions of selfhood, is the problem, and there is no answer.
Step by step the reductionist approach chopped away branches of the tree of philosophy. Ethics fell first. No one has written a rigorous and logical investigation of ethics in a century, with the sole exception of Ayn Rand (whose Objectivism is as interesting a case study in logic based on axioms as unreal as those of the Non-Euclidean geometry of Lobachevski). She alone took a stab at doing real philosophy because she alone rejected the irrationalism of the moderns.
Epistemology did not survive Hume. Metaphysics did not survive Kant. Politics was wounded with Machiavelli and killed by Marx.
The only thing left was logic.
It was in the strange position, since there were no longer any epistemological or metaphysical links between the laws of logic in the abstract realm of thought and the concrete realm of man’s life on earth. For them the question of why the logic of the world acts the same as the logic in the human mind was insurmountable.
The consensus opinion was that therefore the two realms, logic and human life, were utterly severed. Their motto was that everything logical was unreal, everything real was illogical.
The philosophers split into two opposite camps, each adhering to one and rejecting the other, and each more absurd than the next.
There were those that rejected logic in the name of man, or perhaps in the name of superman, and who claimed the human will, by will alone, created all that was needed for the life of man, intellectual and otherwise. Nietzsche and his epigones, Sartre and the like, follow this camp.
Then there were those who rejected mankind in the name of logic, and who claimed certain abstractions could be certainly known, but that they had no necessary connection with reality. The Logical Positivists and Wittgenstein, for whom philosophy was a word game without content, follow this camp.
Part Seven: Black Robes and White Labcoats
The second source of prestige for the physical sciences was that no judgment calls were allegedly involved. Let me digress to mention that in most languages there is a distinction between two types of knowledge that English does not distinguish: in French savoir and connaître are distinct, and in German kennen, is distinct from wissen.
Kennen or connaître means personal acquaintance. Wissen or savoir is book learning.
The closest we have in English is the difference between knowledge, a matter of memorizing facts, and wisdom, a matter of getting to know someone or something. One is brainwork, the other is familiarity won through experience.
The best way to explain the distinction is to use the example of a debate between scientists over a scientific issue, and a judge on the bench debating a legal issue, a matter of guilt or innocence, a judgment of which witnesses are lying, what evidence is admissible, what case is relevant as precedent.
Scientists need knowledge. They learn facts. Judges need wisdom. They acquaint themselves with the law, the caselaw, the case at hand, the reliability of the evidence, and the demeanor of the witnesses.
Scientist artificially restrict themselves to subject matters open to the measurement of matter in motion, and with the elegance and the robustness of the model. Nothing of final cause, purpose, intent of the motions is discussed.
It is it an intuitive axiom without which science is impossible that atoms and stars act and move due to external forces, and have no free will.
Likewise, when judges ponder the guilt or innocence where the intent of the accused is an element of the crime, it is an intuitive axiom without which legal reasoning is impossible that men in their right minds act and move according to their free will, that they are responsible for their actions, and have the power and duty to resist temptations inclining them to crime, howsoever strong.
Please note that in debates about these philosophical matters, no one bothers to explain why the axioms of scientific reasoning are regarded as unquestionable, even when applied to non-scientific questions; whereas the axioms of legal reasoning are regarded as dubious or absurd. Please note also that scientific reasoning applies only to a deliberately limited set of circumstances, that is, matter in motion; whereas we all use legal reasoning daily, including when weighing the pros and cons of a philosophical question like this one.
Part Eight: The Matter of Materialism
Please note that the endless and silly debate about determinism and reductionist materialism is nothing but the crudest possible form of science worship as I have here defined it: the materialist takes the intuitive axiom of scientific reasoning, that all bodies act without free will, and applies it to the thoughts and deeds of human beings, and comes to a conclusion that renders all law and punishment simply meaningless.
But the two methods of reasoning cannot apply to the subjects proper to the other.
No one thanks the sun for having the fidelity to hold the beloved Earth in orbit, never letting it slip out into cold interstellar darkness. It is gravity, not fidelity, that is the cause identified. Efficient cause.
Likewise chastity in a young and pretty wife allured by a dangerous Don Juan is of no account if it is merely the outcome of brain chemical actions beyond her awareness or control. It is fidelity, not chemistry, that is the cause identified. Final cause.
The reductionist materialist, of course, cuts off the branch on which he sits, just as all modern simpletons do.
If the words issuing from his mouth and the thought-symbols flickering through his brain are solely the operation of mechanical forces devoid of intent hence beyond human awareness or control, then his belief in materialism is not a philosophical belief, or indeed not a belief at all, but an epiphenomenon.
The belief cannot be debated because it is not a belief, merely a side effect of meaningless material motions. In such a case, a human would and could no more care about the electrical disturbances produced by the convolutions of his brain than a record in a phonograph would and could care about the sonic waves produced by grooves in the vinyl. Those sonic waves are not, strictly speaking, words. Likewise those neural electrical brain-motions are not, strictly speaking, thoughts.
The materialists never actually use scientific reasoning in their debate upholding materialism. They use judicial reasoning only.
Note that, like all philosophical arguments, an assumption is made by all parties to the debate that stare decisis will be followed: if you answer that in one given hypothetical you would decide or believe one given conclusion, you are expected to decide or believe the same conclusion in a second hypothetical unless the cases can be distinguished.
But if materialism were true, only scientific reasoning would exist. There would be no method of judicial reasoning and no subject matter of judicial reasoning.
Indeed, I will be so bold as to state that judicial thinking is what we use for all ethical and moral questions, as well as such judgments as whether to let a boy date your daughter, whether to trust a man to be your partner in business, whether to cosign a loan, whether to wed a suitor, whether to vote for a candidate. All political decisions are based on judicial thinking.
The grinding tedium of debates with materialists is also explained by the source of their error. They are using judicial thinking to appeal as if to a juror ruling on the case they present. The juror is expected impartially to study the pertinent evidence and render a verdict.
Unfortunately, mentally crippled by modern education, the materialists are unable even to imagine that there is a distinction between scientific and judicial reasoning. For them, the word ‘reasoning’ means scientific reasoning only. Anything not scientific reasoning is merely meaningless opinion. The error cannot be pointed out to them. There is literally no category in their mind into to put the debate being debated, to identify the proper means of debate, much less to identify the intuitive axioms without which the debate cannot take place.
Hence no debate takes place. Both parties state their positions and grow frustrated because they cannot identify the intuitive axiom they do not share in common. As if Euclid were to debate congruent triangles with Lobachevski, but neither mentions Playfair’s axiom.
Now the same criticism of materialism applies to all the modern simpleton systems of philosophy here listed: from Hume to Marx, each philosopher is looking at human nature like a biologist or rancher looking at livestock. He attempts to discover facts about men, trying to use wissen or savoir (book learning) instead of kennen or connaître (getting acquainted) to get acquainted. Hence, by the mere logic of the method of thought used, these simpletons eliminate themselves from the equation. The human livestock or the human machine at which they look with their scientific goggles is some object, a thing, unlike the philosopher doing the looking. And so the same logical trap always trips them up: their conclusions apply to all other men, but cannot apply to the philosopher himself.
Their pronouncements are always in the third person, never in the first person. It is never “My opinions are determined by nonhuman historical forces” or “My words are a meaningless word-game” but always “His opinions are by nonhuman historical forces” or “Their words are a meaningless word game.”
The attempt to produce a philosophy which has these two envied characteristics, simplicity and objectivity, produces no philosophy, but abolishes it.
Part Nine: Anti-Christianity
The ironic conclusion of all this centuries-long corruption of Western thought, pursued generation to generation, is exactly the opposite of the original design.
Radical skepticism attempts to reduce the number of intuitive axioms needed for thought to zero, and hence find a system that was the opposite of religion, a perfectly rational world where nothing is taken on the authority of prophets or apostles. A world without authority, where trust in teachers is needless. A world without faith.
But we have in postmodern nihilism the most grotesque opposite of these goals.
The conclusions are taught in a conclusory fashion, mostly by bullying and browbeating innocent, gullible, or defenseless children into repeating mere nonsense which they are not allowed to question. They are flattered and their self-esteem inflated by being told that only the low class, the foolish, the stupid, and the backward would question any part of the glorious dogma of the nothingness where nothing is true.
The self-contradictions at every step are so obvious that only extraordinary and lifelong efforts can prevent the obvious from leaking unexpectedly into the narrow and hooded minds of the brainwash-victim.
Without God, there is no objective reasoning on matters of politics and ethics, no human nature needing external and internal laws to find the happiness for which we were designed, for there is no designer, and no being with authority to impose just and fair imperatives into our conscience.
Indeed, without God, there is no ruler found in the nothingness called the universe, there is no conscience, only a murky, deceptive darkness in the brain that comes from nonhuman chemical entities, cultural conditioning, or invisible actions of the sub-consciousness. There is no objective reality at all.
In the universe of nothingness, there is no free will, only the self-deception of helpless meat robots, fooled by selfish genes for no reason at all.
In the universe of nothingness, there is no logic, because the instrument used to judge whether the formal coherence of symbols is itself subject to doubt. There is no way to calibrate the brain, the very instrument we use for judging logic and illogic.
And hence there is no science, no debate, no reasoning on any topic. There is nothing but the strong overawing the weak, and passing along ideas that are in turn ultimately meaningless.
It is a philosophy with all the drawbacks of cultic religion, but without any of the advantages. Pagans at least could make beautiful statues. Nihilist artists make nothing but ugliness, and desire nothing but to shock and disgust.
It is the perfect anti-Christianity, taken utterly on faith, lacking the slightest intellectual component, mystical because wordless, irrational because self-contradictory, absurdist because it is adopted without any standard of true and false. It preaches immorality as its only moral cause, and hatred as its only goal.
Part Ten: The Suicide of Thought
Thus philosophy ends. Without any ability to justify or explain itself, its goals, or man’s place in the cosmos, philosophical inquiry ceases as a rigorous discipline.
Nihilism is a halt state. Once the philosophy is adopted which, as a matter of doctrine, holds that no philosophical truths can ever be discovered or debated, that reality is optional, that ethics are a matter of the will of the stronger, there is no way to reason oneself out of this posture. Anything presented as true, real, or virtuous is dismissed before it is presented.
Hence we have the nameless philosophy of the modern mind.
The nameless credo is sometimes called postmodernism, but an aversion to naming, labeling and identifying things cuts against the modern mindset itself, and so no unambiguous term has come into common parlance.
The one metaphysical postulate of the credo is that there are no metaphysical postulates: all ultimate truths are ultimately subjective either to the culture or to the individual, and any attempt to judge between cultures and individuals are ruled out beforehand as impermissible, if not unthinkable.
The one rule of logic is that logic does not apply in any cases. Illogic, a wiliness to overlook and ignore inconsistencies, self-contradictions, and rank hypocrisy is, for reasons never made clear, regarded as being more practical and pragmatic, hence always to be preferred. Anyone insisting on using logic is to be denounced as a heretic, and accused of the one crime the system admits, the crime of certainty.
The one rule of epistemology is that there is no knowledge and no certainty. Questioning how, if this is the case, we come to know this is the case is the thought crime of using logic. Logic is no longer welcome.
The one rule of ethics, likewise, is that there is no rule of ethics. This rule has the strangest possible mechanism of propagation: it is held, on the one hand, that skeptical inquiry is enlightened and open-minded, but also held, on the other, that the certainty of any given belief, not the content of the belief, is what causes danger to the public peace, therefore ideas cannot be criticized for being illogical or evil, but the believer can and is criticized for being certain in his belief. Certainty is the one thoughtcrime that is unforgiveable. The moderns are certain of that.
Of politics, the less said the better. All the difficult lessons of history, and the vast and rich legacy of legal and judicial reasoning to which the English speaking world is heir, is undermined. Everything from trial by jury to individual rights is vanishing.
Finally, and most ironically, having killed off philosophy, the worshippers of science find that science itself cannot exist. Science cannot and does not use the scientific method to justify the intuitive axiomatic assumptions on which the scientific method is based. The regularity of matter in motion, which we call laws of nature, and the universality of those laws, and, much more problematically, the axiom that the simpler and more robust model is the more accurate and truthful one, cannot be justified by any application of the scientific method itself. These foundations of science are not part of science, but are the conclusions of axiomatic deductions from epistemology, logic, and ontology, which is a branch of metaphysics.
This fact shocks no one but the uprooted, simplistic, easily angered and easily confused modern. Sober students who haply avoided the poison of modern indoctrination in the cult credo of anti-intellectualism realize that no rigorous system of thinking proves itself. Every proof has a starting point, a common notion or principle which is either granted by the student or is self-evident, and these starting points are the end points, the conclusions, of higher and more abstract branches of philosophy, springing from metaphysics or theology.
The uprooted, simplistic, easily angered and easily confused modern finds all this thoughts to be rootless, merely a series of arbitrary assertions delivered by teachers and taken on faith. Questioning the roots of the thinking is heretical and dangerous, and runs afoul of the strict prohibition against certainty, which is the modern stand-in for original sin.
Thinking and reasoning is no longer taught in schools, but actively discouraged. Students are told they are bright and wise when and only when they utter not the correct answer but the politically correct one. Parroting back indoctrinated recitals is rewarded, original thought discouraged, free speech punished, free thought unthinkable.
The modern student is also taught to be proud. The other common factor I met in my conversations with educated men mentioned above (common, at least, to four out of the five) is that they speak without listening. Dialog was not possible: their only mode of addressing the other was the condescending lecture. None had any ability to answer questions or to respond to what someone of contrary opinion said.
They reacted to questions as if to question was back-talk, not honest inquiry. As if questioning was insolence.
(This jarringly inappropriate yet hostile condescension to honest philosophical questions was amusing at first, but grew to be wearisome, considering the topics being discussed where ones I had studied while they had not, and in which I had learning both wide and deep, while they had difficulty even grasping what the difficulty was. The toddler in the wading pool lecturing the professional pearl diver.)
Now, no one thinks he knows more about how to tune a piano than a piano tuner, or knows more about plumbing than a plumber, but everyone seems to think that being trained in physics or computer science makes you as skilled at analyzing philosophical issues as a someone who read Aristotle in Greek, and has a degree in the field.
In reality, a physicist knows as much or little about which washer or widget will fix a leaky toilet as would a phrenologist, a pneumologist, or a philatelist or a psephologist.
Studying Newton, Einstein and Heisenberg tells you no more about how to drain a U-trap via a standpipe, than does the study of skull measurement, lung diseases, stamp collecting or voting patterns.
Likewise, if the question is one of philosophy (that is, a question of metaphysics, logic, epistemology, ethics, politics, aesthetics, or theology) a physicist would be as lost at sea as any other amateur. You would be just as likely to get a clear answer from a psephologist.
I doubt this is deliberate. No one utters pure, self-contradictory nonsense on purpose. Or, to be specific, the purpose is unrelated to the content of the words, as when a man is boasting or joking or saying something else where his words are not meant literally.
For the modern, none of his words are actually uttered with the purpose of conveying the meaning of the words from one mind to another. The purpose is to count coup, to spread the peacock tail of vanity, to show intellectual superiority or moral supremacy, or to show loyalty to the postmodern creed, or, most often, to halt criticism, attack the questioner, hinder the reasoning process, and abolish human nature.
I speak here of the human purposes served by adopting this nameless modern philosophy of nihilism and irrationalism. The temptation to pride, and the sense of liberation that comes of holding oneself free to commit any act of immorality, lust or greed or avarice or wrath, without any social opprobrium is the true driving force here.
There are beings greater than human, once angelic in dignity, now wretched, who for reasons of undying malice, seek the destruction of the human soul and our eternal exile of man from heaven. It is hence part of their tireless work to blind and dim the mind of man, and convince him so tenaciously to adhere to the irrational and deadly nonsense I have described above.
Did someone tell you the Christian religion was irrational? It is the only bulwark against unreason.
Unreason is the philosophy of Hell. There is no language there, only an endless screaming of sounds without sense ringing in the darkness.
Reason is called Logos in Greek, and is another name for the only intercessor able to bridge the gap between God and Man. Reason is light.