The Suicide of Thought (Part Four)

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.