Saturday, 26 September 2009


It is hoped under the impress of the mechanical philosophy that men will one day be able to look upon the world and explain all of its aspects in mechanical terms without the slightest reference to functionality or intentionality, including the very apparent and conscious intentionality of trying to explain all of the aspects of the world in mechanical terms. It seems, however, that this vain hope has not filtered down into the lower and less sophisticated reaches of reductionistic belief; for therein is taken for granted not only the existence of mere teleology in the microbiological world, but also the existence of strategic ability. An example follows:
“Of course, human environments consist mainly of other people, and the genes of those alive today contain many strategies for dealing with those other people . . . some of them are very good at manipulating other people.” [1]
The belief that bits of nucleic acid have strategies is so fantastic that I am baffled by how a man could hold it. No superstition of this age or any other is so deeply unreasonable. Nevertheless, if we were to entertain it for a moment, we should rightly wonder what dastardly strategy genes have in store for us in their tendency to reveal their dastardly-strategic natures to seemingly naïve and impressionable men.

[1] Anonymous, commenting on Dennis Mangan, “Social sciences as branches of biology”, Mangan’s (weblog), 24th September 2009. (Also: “as far as living things are concerned, genes are everything”. I once heard a man likewise claim that he was merely a genebot, and I must admit that, in view of his moronic character, I was very inclined to agree with him.)

Feser’s Unabsurdity Principle

“If that claim [about the nature of final causation] sounds obvious and trivial, then terrific: You’re starting to understand Aristotle and Aquinas, because it’s supposed to be obvious and trivial.” [1]

Or: If the concept of final causation does not strike you as absurd, then you have probably understood it.

[1] Edward Feser, “Teleology Revisted”, Edward Feser (weblog), 24th September 2009; original emphasis.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Mere Science

“The aim of life is to pass on one’s genes”, says Mr Worstall, adding that “we are told by the scientists” that it is so. [1] Well, randy scientists might tell him such things, but science — as knowledge only of the empirical-mechanical aspects of the world — does not. Aims, goals, purposes, etc, of any kind are outside its scope. To say that life itself has an aim of any kind is to impute to it a teleological nature, upon which science by itself is utterly silent. It ought to be obvious that the claim, to wit, that the aim of life is to pass on one’s genes, is not a scientific hypothesis, since it is not in any way verifiable or falsifiable. It is a metaphysical view in that it draws from the data of the physical world a conclusion which is not itself verifiable or falsifiable by the data thereof. [2] As a metaphysical view, it is open to rational disputation, wherein one may take into consideration whether it helps us, or is necessary for us, to make sense of the world, whether it accords with our experience, whether it is rationally coherent with our other claims, whether it leads to the denial of inconvenient facts, and so forth.
.....In speaking merely scientifically of so-called natural causes and laws, we are speaking only of the routines of sense-experience, as Karl Pearson phrased it, and not of some necessity or enforcement. All scientific laws and described regularities, taken merely scientifically without metaphysical insight, describe simply how things have behaved according to past sense-experience. Science, in the ideal-empirical state of having been stripped bare of all metaphysical insights, cannot claim any knowledge outside of the empirical-mechanical aspects of the world: “chaos is all that science can logically assert of the supersensuous”. [3] But if we are to think of order, causation, rationality, intentionality, teleology, and so forth, whereby we make sense of the world, then we must accept that our understanding of the world is something above a mere regular sequence of sense-impressions.
.....It is the spirit of positivism, however, which has the ideal-empirical state as its end for human thought as a whole. If a man ever achieved that state, he would become at that moment a brute. Perhaps then, having renounced his rational nature, his sole aim in life would be to pass on his genes, perhaps even as does the lowest life-form; and, having achieved his aim, he would spend his later years aimlessly writing popular-science books.

[1] Tim Worstall, “This is Absurd”, Tim Worstall (weblog), 19th September 2009.
[2] Even Richard Dawkins seems to be aware that his gene-centric view is not a scientific hypothesis: “I doubt that there is any experiment that could be done to prove my claim.” The Extended Phenotype: Gene as the Unit of Selection (London: W.H.Freeman & Co Ltd, 1982), p.1.
[3] Karl Pearson, The Grammar of Science (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900), p.108.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Restricted Entry

“A young man is not a fit person to attend lectures on political science, because he is not versed in the practical business of life from which politics draws its premises and subject-matter. Besides, he tends to follow his feelings, with the result that he will make no headway and derive no benefit from his course, since the object of it is not knowledge but action. It makes no difference whether he is young in age or youthful in character; the defect is due not to lack of years but to living, and pursuing one’s various aims, under sway of the feelings; for to people like this knowledge becomes as unprofitable as it is for the incontinent.” [1]

We should greatly enlarge the entrances to all the departments of political science in the land, not so as to admit more students, but so as to fit those words in large letters on the lintels.

[1] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, I.iii:1095a, tr, J.A.K. Thomson (London: Penguin Books, 2004), p.6; capitalisation added to first letter.

At School

“If one looks upon nature as a tutor, and us poor humans as listeners, then one is inclined to give room to a quite strange idea of mankind. All of us sit in a school-lesson, have the principles necessary to understand and comprehend it, yet we are always listening more to the chatter of our classmates than to the lecture of the tutor. Or indeed when a classmate next to us notes something down, we crib from him, steal what perhaps he himself has dimly heard, and we add to it our own misspellings and mistaken views.”

[“Wenn man die Natur als Lehrerin, und die armen Menschen als Zuhörer betrachtet, so ist man geneigt, einer ganz sonderbaren Idee vom menschlichen Geschlechte Raum zu geben. Wir sitzen allsamt in einem Collegio, haben die Prinzipien, die nötig sind, es zu verstehen und zu fassen, horchen aber immer mehr auf die Plaudereien unserer Mitschüler, als auf den Vortrag der Lehrerin. Oder wenn ja einer neben uns etwas nachschreibt, so spicken wir von ihm, stehlen, was er selbst vielleicht undeutlich hörte, und vermehren es mit unsern eigenen orthographischen und Meinungsfehlern.”]

G.C. Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher (Frankfurt am Main und Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1984), I/90,2, wahrscheinlich aus Sudelbuch K (1793), p.465; original emphasis.

Monday, 7 September 2009

A Review

“This website is made up of old, grumpy, impotent men who pretend to be profound thinkers. How sad they are with their limited views of life and how threatened they are with their deletions of other points of view. What is needed here are women’s perspectives, which tend to reflect more open and global perspectives. We doubt, however, that the ‘all-knowing’ men on this lowly blog would ever include intelligent responses to their shallow responses. Our criticisms of Curmudgeonry’s old men’s views have therefore been published in other international websites.”

Anonymous, in the combox to “Just a Beginning”, on this lowly blog.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

O Deo Whiggismum Odeo

“The best prediction that could have been made 20 years ago is that things can only get better. That’s also the best prediction that can be made now about the future and has been the best prediction that anyone can make about two decades in the future ever since we invented this liberal capitalism shtick back in 1750.”

Tim Worstall, “The best prediction of the past 20 years”, Tim Worstall (weblog), 3rd September 2009.

Monday, 31 August 2009

A Guiding Clue

“We must grasp the essential contrast between the whole modern world-view and that of previous thought, and use that clearly conceived contrast as a guiding clue to pick out for criticism and evaluation, in the light of their historical development, every one of our significant modern presuppositions.”

Edwin Arthur Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1925), p.16.

Without Embarrassment

“The left always feel faintly embarrassed at attempting to promote their own political agenda”, says Steven Barnett, [1] professor of communications at Westminster University, without the faintest trace of embarrassment. Odd, I say, for I had thought that much of the success of leftism through the centuries down to the present day had been owed to the diabolical shamelessness of its promotion. I must have been reading the history and seeing the sights of another planet. Perhaps I ought to go back to university in order to learn how to communicate with this one, perhaps even without embarrassment.

[1] Quoted by Mehdi Hasan, “Bias and the Beeb”, The New Statesman, 27th August 2009.

Monday, 24 August 2009

A Sham and Puerile Kind of Heroism

“Science being, it is said, a pure service of truth for truth’s sake, is not called upon to consider whether the selfish wishes of men’s souls are satisfied or not. Thus here, too, men pass from timidity to presumptuous boldness. Having once tasted the delight of impartial and wholly unfettered investigation, they rush into a sham and puerile kind of heroism that glories in having renounced that which no one has ever any right to renounce; and reposing boundless confidence in assumptions which are by no means incontestable, estimate the truth of their new philosophic views in direct proportion to the degree of offensive hostility which these exhibit towards everything—except science—that is held sacred by the living soul of man.”

Hermann Lotze, Microcosmus, Vol.I, tr. E. Hamilton and E.E. Constance Jones (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1885), p.viii.

Fewtril no.271

In the course of decline, a nation can pass through a time of pessimism into a time of optimism whence the gloominess of the earlier time looks silly, thereby confirming the fears of the pessimists: that after them would arise a mass of pigs satisfied.

Lucky Albion

“In Britain [between the world wars], many concluded that the wrong people . . . were giving birth at a rate that threatened to engulf society in a wave of mediocrity.” [1]

Phew! Thank goodness that didn’t happen!

[1] Matthew Price, “The end was nigh”, review of The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars, by Richard Overy, The National, 20th August 2009.

A Little Reminder

“I certainly cannot explain how we got here, but I’d rather wait a thousand years to see if science can push back a few more layers of our ignorance before positing what seems to me a somewhat metaphorical explanation for our place in the universe.” [1]

My dear lady, I do not know how to break it to you, but there is a fairly good chance that you will be dead in a thousand years from now.

[1] Heather MacDonald, “The Evolution of God”, Secular Right (weblog), 9th August 2009.

The Carefree Minds of Ants

“Ants behave in an extremely collective fashion. Each has no say in what happens, and it’s no problem for them, why should it be a problem for us?” [1]

It would not be a problem for “us” if we had the minds of ants. Forsooth we would have no problems at all. There are many other entities which have no problems: pebbles, leaves, stars, and so on. A utopian world free of problems is just a short step away.

[1] “Shlick”, commenting on Madeleine Bunting, “In control? Think again. Our ideas of brain and human nature are myths”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 23rd August 2009. (I do sometimes gape in wonder at what seems to be the profound stupidity of the commenters at Comment is Free, but then I remember that they are all geniuses, greater than which the world has never known.)

Fewtril no.270

The bellwether-intelligentsia are always one step ahead of the herd in the run of ideas, but are usually outpaced and trampled down in the realisation of their consequences.

Friday, 21 August 2009


“Novelty pleases all because it is uncommon, taste is refreshed, and a brand new mediocrity is thought more of than accustomed excellence.”

Balthasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, tr. J. Jacobs (London: MacMillan and Co., 1892), §.cclxix, p.162.