Friday, 27 March 2009
The Yüan and Hsiang form into a mighty lake.
Above the lake are deep mountain valleys,
And men dwelling whose hearts are without guile.
Gay like children, they swarm to the tops of the trees;
And run to the water to catch bream and trout.
Their pleasures are the same as those of beasts and birds;
They put no restraint either on body or mind.
Far I have wandered throughout the Nine Lands;
Wherever I went such manners had disappeared.
I find myself standing and wondering, perplexed,
Whether Saints and Sages have really done us good.” 
 Yüan Chieh, “Civilisation”, in A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, tr. A. Waley (New York: Alfred. A. Knopf, 1919), p.149.
It is also, if care is not taken, why judgement is apt to go awry, since we are often so impressed with an old familiar conception that we fail fully to appreciate the significance of a new one for which it is meant to bring understanding.
 Ernst Mach, “On the Economical Nature of Physical Inquiry”, Popular Scientific Lectures, tr. T.J. McCormack (Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Co., 1898), pp.201-2.
Balthasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, tr. J. Jacobs (London: MacMillan and Co., 1892), §.xcii, p.54.
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1864), p. 67.
Monday, 2 March 2009
One may note the group-thought that greatly informs this fallacy. Mere conventionality to the prevailing intellectual climate of the age usurps the place and name of rationality, which is then made sacrosanct, whereupon the fear of appearing irrational — that is to say, of appearing out of step with the age — becomes greater than the initial motivating fear of being irrational. Guided by this conventionality, enticed by a progressive-historicism which sees the future as a bright light, and the past as a dark and terrible place, the fallacy is informed throughout by haughtiness and ignorance. The progressive-historicism of the fallacy often betrays itself in such epithets as “medieval logic”, spoken as though an instance of logical inference could somehow be invalidated and therefore ignored merely through association with a pre-modern source.
(1) It is argued that p implies q.
(2) That p implies q was argued long ago when people also believed such absurdities as r, s, and t.
(3) We are modern and up-to-date and thoroughly rational and do not associate with such stupid, primitive, pre-rational, superstitious, iron-age thinking.
(4) We do not deign to suppose that p implies q.
(5) That which we do not deign to suppose to be true is untrue.
(6) p does not imply q.
.....For near-daily examples, read the weblogs Overcoming Bias and Secular Right, wherein one may also enjoy the spectacle of what Arthur Schopenhauer called the secularised religion of reason, which has, as one may expect, much to do with passion.
Thursday, 12 February 2009
Mrs Ashmarr. I beg you pardon?
Mr Darwin. Ah, madam, I beg yours! I did not mean to suggest . . .
Dr Ashmarr. Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, we are here to celebrate the two hundredth birthday of our honoured guest, Mr Charles Darwin, a genius, I hope you don’t mind my saying, and a man of whom this country can be justly proud. The whole world owes you a great debt.
Mr Hipkins. Indeed, you have brought great intellectual fulfilment to men such as I.
Miss Treadwell. Hear, hear!
Mrs Ashmarr. Bravo!
Mr Darwin. I thank you all for your kind words. I must say that everything has been most queer for me today. I can see that much has changed.
Mr Hipkins. It has, Mr Darwin, and you are impressed, no doubt, by the progress that has been made.
Mr Darwin. I am shocked, sir, though I dare say I have not seen the half of it. Tell me, how is our noble race faring on the whole?
Mr Hipkins. Our noble race?
Mr Darwin. The English. They are still a noble race, are they not? 
Dr Ashmarr. Ah, Mr Darwin, forgive me, but we do not speak of ourselves that way any more.
Mr Darwin. Then it is as I feared. ’Tis all too true that the reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members.  With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. 
Miss Treadwell. But that is frightful!
Dr Ashmarr. Mr Darwin, are you seriously suggesting that we remove our aid from those less fortunate from ourselves?
Mr Darwin. Not at all, sir. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. . . . Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage. 
Mr Hipkins. It is true that many now refrain from marriage.
Mr Darwin. Well, that is splendid! Then there is hope.
Mr Hipkins. Err . . . of course.
Dr Ashmarr. But of progress, Mr Darwin, there is still much to be done. The dreadful inequality that still blights this country is enough to shame us all.
Mr Darwin. But this is far from an unmixed evil; for without the accumulation of capital the arts could not progress; and it is chiefly through their power that the civilised races have extended, and are now everywhere extending, their range, so as to take the place of the lower races. 
Miss Treadwell. Mr Darwin, you forget yourself. This is the twenty-first century. We do not speak of savage and civilised peoples, let alone . . . Such terms are vague and inappropriate.
Mrs Ashmarr. Oh, Mr Darwin, we are shameful — we have not offered you a drink!
Mr Darwin. That is of no consequence, madam. A small sherry should suffice, if you don’t mind.
Mrs Ashmarr (to the servant-girl). Aniela, fetch Mr Darwin a small sherry, would you?
Mr Hipkins. We understand that you have been away a long time, Mr Darwin, but I must say to you that we no longer admit race as a valid concept.
Mr Darwin. There is, however, no doubt that the various races, when carefully compared and measured, differ much from each other,—as in the texture of the hair, the relative proportions of all parts of the body, the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the skull, and even in the convolutions of the brain. But it would be an endless task to specify the numerous points of structural difference. The races differ also in constitution, in acclimatisation, and in liability to certain diseases. Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual, faculties. 
Mr Hipkins. Not any more.
Mr Darwin. I . . .
Dr Ashmarr. We have progressed beyond all that, Mr Darwin.
Mr Hipkins. Naturally, ha-ha, we do not look to natural selection for the progress of civilisation.
Mr Darwin. I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilisation than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risks the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is. The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world.  I see how the Anglo-Saxon race will have spread and exterminated whole nations; and in consequence how much the human race, viewed as a unit, will have risen in rank. 
[Mrs Ashmarr gives out a yelp. Miss Treadwell drops a glass. Mr Hipkins gapes in horror.]
Dr Ashmarr. But that is monstrous! That’s not what we mean by progress at all!
Mr Darwin. Oh dear, have I said something out of turn?
Miss Treadwell. You, Mr Darwin, are a savage.
Mr Darwin. You mean I am not civilised?
Miss Treadwell. I mean precisely that. Besides, you are quite wrong. We are becoming diverse, Mr Darwin, yes, vibrant and diverse! Things are changing, progress is being made. Europe will no longer be hideously white. Your beloved race will disappear. We shall make sure of it.
Dr Ashmarr. I think, Mr Darwin, that I speak for everyone here in declaring that you are no longer welcome.
Mr Darwin. But . . .
Dr Ashmarr. Aniela, show Mr Darwin to the door.
[Aniela leads the bewildered Mr Darwin out of the room.]
Mrs Ashmarr. Oh, what a frightful man! I had no idea! He’s not at all as he appears in the Sunday-supplements.
 [“As bearing . . . notice.”] C.R. Darwin, The Descent of Man; and Selection in Relation to Sex, Vol. I. (London: John Murray, 1871), pp.56-7.
 [“a noble race.”] C.R. Darwin, Letter to Syms Covington, 23rd November 1850, transcribed and published online for the Darwin Correspondence Project.
 [“the reckless . . . members.”] C.R. Darwin, The Descent of Man, p.174.
 [“With savages . . . to breed.”] C.R. Darwin, ibid., p.168.
 [“Nor could . . . from marriage.”] C.R. Darwin, ibid., pp.168-9.
 [“But this is far from . . . lower races.”] C.R. Darwin, ibid., p.169.
 [“There is . . . faculties.”] Charles Darwin, ibid., p.216.
 [“I could show . . . the world.”] C.R. Darwin, Letter to William Graham, 3rd July 1881, op.cit.
 [“how the Anglo-Saxon race . . . risen in rank.” ] to C.R. Darwin, Letter to Charles Kingsley, 6th February 1862, op.cit.; minor changes made to format.
Saturday, 31 January 2009
.....Popular government has taken the democratic ideal as the integral strength of its foundation, and, since all popular governors know that their power depends upon its spirit, they are little willing to weaken it. If they try to appease it, by praising it, so they encourage it, and its spirit becomes more a vital element of their governments: concessions and sacrifices must be made to it. Some governors earnestly reckon themselves true servants of this spirit, but naturally they cannot be entirely, at least not unless and insofar as they renounce their personhood to become passive media; for their very personhood and their status as governors of the people — all beliefs and deceptions of being servants thereof aside — means that their own personal and oligarchic interests are immediate. To strengthen their rule, to make it safe, whether or not by an earnest desire to make it safe for democracy, the governors must temper their oligarchy with the democratic spirit. So it is that they become more democratic.
.....For him who doubts the power of the spirit of this ideal, let him contemplate the ghastly aspect under which all political matters must appear; let him think of a political party that does not proclaim itself democratic. Whilst the democratic spirit predominates, oligarchy cannot stand without also being the herald of that opposing spirit.
To-day, all the factors of public life speak and struggle in the name of the people, of the community at large. The government and rebels against the government, kings and party-leaders, tyrants by the grace of God and usurpers, rabid idealists and calculating self-seekers, all are ‘the people’, and all declare that in their actions they merely fulfil the will of the nation. Under the jealous eye of a people spoiled by the ideal of democracy — a people, that is to say, made jealous of inequalities of power and antipathetic to authority — governors must become “ordinary” men, embodiments of an abstraction by which they might appear no different from the governed who are likewise becoming embodiments thereof. They’re just like you and me — if you and me happen to be just like them. This process — the governors and the governed each becoming like the other — is the process of democratisation. It is the melding-together of popular and governmental interests which occurs even as an oligarchic process against the ideal of democracy. The governors know that a tremour in the foundation can cast them down, they understand that their edifice is built also of other substances from that of its foundation, and they understand, even if only dimly, that democracy is ultimately the enemy of all such edifices, that it would shake everything to its foundation; and that is why, of course, the governors of the modern state seek to secure that foundation by a melding of the substances of edifice and foundation, a measure which, if perfectly realized, would make foundation and edifice one and the same. Thus the ideal of democracy can work itself out by means opposed to it, by the very means designed to stabilise and control it. In other words, the actions that secure the edifice from the instability of the foundations are the very actions that change the substantial character of both until they tend to become one. 
.....Purely and strictly conceived, democracy is not, never has been, and never will be a form of government, though we may loosely speak of such.  Insofar as it is expressed in government, it is one side of a relation between public opinion and government, the latter of which is oligarchic by its very nature. If, however, the essential ideal of pure democracy — total equality of political influence — were ever to be expressed utterly, democracy thus conceived would entail no government at all, as Marx rightly understood. It is nothing more than the commune.
.....The Marxist claims that, with the victory of his democratic-libertarian ideal , not only will the government of the state wither away, but democracy too. In this latter point, however, there is a misunderstanding which is part of the Marxist’s failure to envisage the democratic ideal in its purest form.  Under the condition of the ideal, democracy does not wither away; on the contrary, it stands as total fulfilment. Only the politicking and striving of democracy, along with the government of the state, become logically superfluous; for, in the total victory of pure democracy, each unit of the whole is exactly equal in influence to every other: there are no governors and governed, and no striving after equality, and thus no need for democratic politics. If this utopia is to be fulfilled for all time, and not just for five seconds, there must be no individual differences from which any advantage or domination can arise. There must be pure selflessness, and the whole must be of one mind. In other words, pure democracy is the death of the person. It strikes me, however, that in the very strictest sense, this ideal is not only nomologically impossible, according to the iron-law of oligarchy, but logically impossible too; for it seems that a world in which all individuals are exactly the same in political influence must be a world in which they are exactly the same in terms of spatial and causal relations too, which means that they cannot exist as separate, individual bodies at all. Still, the tendency thereto is most destructive.
Tuesday, 20 January 2009
George Savile, First Marquis of Halifax, “Of Vanity”, A Character of King Charles the Second, and Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (London: J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper, 1750), p.144.