Fichte, Part 3? 4? Where Were We?

Note: I’m reading and posting about Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762 – 1814) because he is widely recognized as a key figure in modern education. He greatly influenced von Humboldt’s reforms of the German school system, which in turn greatly influenced Horace Mann and that crowd. It’s important, I think, in any discussion of modern education to recognize just what kind of a nut Fichte was. 

About 2/3 through Addresses to the German Nation, and the word that keeps popping into my head is ‘humbug’. But that’s probably not fair, as Fichte seems to be drinking his own cool-aide.

High points so far:

– we have these quotations, famous among opponents of compulsory factory schooling:

“It is essential that from the very beginning the pupil should be continuously and completely under the influence of this education, and should be separated altogether from the community, and kept from all contact with it.”

and:

 ”Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.”

And, despite Fichte’s flights of rhetorical fancy, wherein he describes in florid detail the wonders to be achieved by truly German German education that is all, like, Germanalicious, he’s scant on details. He thinks poetry is good.  Kids have to be removed from their communities and get educated 24 x 7. When they’ve been thusly purged of all evil, limp-wristed un-German foreign influence, and infused with pure natural living Germanness, they will then rise above the current age, and a new truly German age, all German-y in its Germanaliciousness, will dawn. All nations will be drawn into this new age (like moths to a flame, one impoliticly imagines), and the serious, orderly, intellectually alive and – he goes there- holy German way of doing things will prevail.

Nothing creepy about that, uh-uh.

Much-needed comic relief is provided by context: these Addresses were delivered in French-occupied Berlin. So, imagine the good burghers and minor nobles of Prussia (who else has got time and money to attend paid lecture series?) having to walk past Napoleon’s French troops to get to the lecture hall to hear Fichte tell them how much better the Germans are than these lovers of dead languages and dead ideas, that the French are doomed to think dead thoughts and are indolent and locked into an historical dead end of dead death and OH MY GOD! THESE FRENCH LOSERS JUST KICKED OUR GERMAN HINIES ALL THE WAY FROM JENA TO BERLIN! AND IT WASN’T EVEN CLOSE!  They sit their prissy French hindquarters on our solid German furniture in all those solid German buildings they commandeered at gunpoint and tell us what to do, and we’re all, ‘Jawohl mein herrr!’ about it. Please, Herr Fichte, keep telling us how much better we are than them!

Or, as the Oracle Wikipedia has it:

In total, Napoleon and the Grande Armée had taken only 19 days from the commencement of the invasion of Prussia until essentially knocking it out of the war with the capture of Berlin and the destruction of its principal armies at Jena and Auerstadt. Most of the shattered remnants of the Prussian army (and the displaced royal family) escaped to refuge in Eastern Prussia near Königsberg, eventually to link up with the approaching Russians and continue the fight.

You can’t even pull a Fish Called Wanda and call it a tie.

Anyway, a brief high-level recap of Fichte’s points:  Continue reading “Fichte, Part 3? 4? Where Were We?”

Today’s Thought on Schooling: Happiness

(Salvaged from a long post on a delicate subject that will never see the light of day):

One weird feature of the modern world is the definition of happiness. It’s not so much Aquinas’s definition that has been rejected – happiness is the activity of the soul in accordance with virtue – it’s that we’ve replaced his definition of virtue with Callicles’s: the power to reward your friends, punish your enemies and indulge your every desire.

in fact, I think this thought right here might be the most indisputably true thing I’ve ever thought about the times we live in. (Yeah me.) Happiness is what happens when we get even, make people like us, and get to do whatever we want.

There are no doubt roles for all of us in this tragedy – for it is a tragedy, perhaps even the primordial tragedy, to mistake what happiness is – for all sorts of people and institutions, but let’s look at the role of education. Along with mentally and socially crippling us, modern education has also succeeded marvelously in ‘dumbing down’ our appreciation of happiness. I’ve been fortunate enough to know a number of big, happy families, and, in fact belong to one (through no merit of my own, I hasten to add). There is a  level of joy present in them that far exceeds what most people I know ever experience. In fact, it’s different in kind, not just degree – to be a part of something joyful, to have people to love who love you back, and to know that your belonging is not contingent on anything other than you being you – that’s a life-creating experience of another kind entirely. Yet the image of happiness that is most held up in schools is the idol of self-fulfillment. You will be happy, we are told in a million ways, when you get what is yours and nobody dares contradict your completely self-determined self.

These two images of happiness – the beloved and loving member of a family versus the Nietzschean self-willed uber-human – are not just mutually exclusive, they are opposites, in the precise sense that the first model is a reflection of Heaven, while the second is a reflection of Hell.

(Aside: I don’t think it needs to be noted that of course some families are miserable, and some loners are tolerably happy. But I’ve been wrong before. This does not change the fact that that the greatest natural happiness a man can have on this world is to be part of a loving family.)

There’s a memorable passage in Lewis’ Great Divorce where he argues in Hell with, I think, a bishop, who patiently explains to Lewis’ protagonist that while Heaven (meaning the Hell he’s chosen to live in) is perhaps not what they expected, it is nonetheless to be appreciated for what it is – and it is just fine. The bishop finds it better to redefine the misery he is living in as happiness, than to face the pain of recognizing his own unhappiness.  I see this every day, unfortunately. The amount of violence perpetrated in the cavalier destruction of families is less mind-boggling than the lies told to defend that violence. The majority of the families I know are ‘broken’ or ‘blended’ or both at the same time. In each case, the children are made to accept some lie about why the adults inflicted this misery upon them. The children act up, and get to be the ‘identified patient’ – their violence or lies or drug use or other anti-social behaviors are the problem, not the fact that Dad (when there even is a dad) has fled, and only talks to mom in order to scream and curse at her, or, perhaps even more insidiously evil, when mom and dad can usually pretend to be pals, the kind of pals who ended up sacrificing their children on the altar of their own self-fulfillment.

Sure, often the parents are struggling mightily to be good and to love their children, and often the children make enough peace with the situation to at least function day to day. They are to be commended for this, and, more importantly, we who have been blessed with family are to love them and support them as fellow fallen people no worse than we are – because they really, truly are not worse than we are. But while I’ve heard of  people who have truly faced the violence and lies and tried to deal with their aftermath, I’ve yet to any personally. Instead, parents will act shocked if you offer, however gently, the idea that maybe little Johnny is acting up because it’s hard to live just with a stressed out mom and her current boyfriend while dad doesn’t ever want to see you. Nope, that’s not it – it must be too much refined sugar. Or ADHD. Or too many video games. Something else, in any event.

Why We Should Care If Aristotle Has Been Disproven or Not

Getting ahead of myself, perhaps, in writing about whether or not Aristotle has been disporoven, when it’s possible – probable, even – that almost nobody cares.

Well, you should care. If you like science and technology, you should care. If you love truth, you should care. If you understand anything at all, you should care. So, let’s set the historical stage:

Prior to the early Greek philosophers, there’s no evidence that anyone anywhere believed that the world – physical, intellectual, moral, artistic and political – was understandable in any sort of systematic way. Some, most notably the Israelites, developed a detailed and objective moral code and theology – no small thing, to be sure. And human beings everywhere have made day-to-day technological advances. But you won’t find anybody laying out a well-thought-out approach to understanding the world around us until the Classical Greeks.

There’s a good reason for this: as foreign as it sounds to modern ears, nobody believed the world was such a thing as could be understood. In all the literature I’ve ever read from any culture (I’m no scholarly genius by any stretch, but I am pretty well read) in all cultures except those descended from Aristotle’s thought, there’s constant recourse to the arbitrary, petty or otherwise  incomprehensible acts of the gods or chance as the cause of Things.

We could digress at Russian novel length here on the confluence of factors that came together in Attica over the course of a thousand years to set the stage for a Plato, an Aristotle and a Thucydides. Suffice it to say that, in the fullness of time,  Greeks who loved their city, who committed to memory and wept at their poetry, who saw no limit to their arts that study and skill could not transcend, and whose hubris likewise knew no bound – they came up with the crazy idea that the world was understandable. The undisputed apex of this belief is Aristotle, who in one of the top two intellectual peaks of all time, systematically laid out his methods in a series of books. He represents the sum and apex of centuries of Greek thought.

Socrates was willing to say that the poets – the core curriculum of Greek education – lied about the gods. He said this because his reason told him that the actions and attitudes of the gods on display in Homer and the playwrights was contrary to divine nature. So: Socrates laid down the idea that the gods were in some ways at least understandable by reason.

At the same time, Socrates largely eliminated what we might call Revelation – what the gods chose to tell us about themselves. Since the poets could not be trusted, and the meanings of the oracles were shrouded, we could only say with any confidence about the gods what our reason revealed.  Effectively, Socrates had constrained the gods as explanations. While it was never wrong to attribute the cause of events to the work of the gods,  as properly and reasonably understood, it was also clear that this was not the end of thinking about things, but rather the beginning, as even the gods have natures, as the Greeks understood nature.

Aristotle takes up the challenge. Everything is subject to review and thought. Even God could be thought about and reasoned over. All the works of nature and man could be examined, using the skeptical scalpel  of logic, and checked against observation. Knowledge of that world could thus be gained.*

And Man is up to the task. The world was not arbitrary and unknowable in its essence, but – reason revealed – reflected the order and reason present in the Unmoved Mover.  Our natures as intelligent beings likewise reflect this order, enabling us, however imperfectly, to understand and know the world.

So, we can and do get push back on the conclusion that a very particular God – the Unmoved Mover is hardly what the Jews and Christians and even the Greeks themselves thought a god would be like – is required for human beings to have any sort of knowledge of anything. So, one would not be surprised to find schools of thought which reject the specific arguments about the necessity of a God at the end of the Physics, but are OK with everything else. But that’s not what seems to have happened, unless one is to take Kant to be that philosopher – a bit of a stretch. Kant loves, loves, loves Aristotle’s logic, but starts with Descartes’ radical doubt (and fudges it, as all who start there do) rather than Aristotle’s more common sense world of form and matter.  That’s not where he’s going.

Instead, all philosophy since 1600 that isn’t expressly Aristotelian at its roots seems hell-bent on getting away from Aristotle. The point of these last few little essays is to show that, while the likes of Descartes, Hume, and Hegel would like to disprove Aristotle’s whole world view, they don’t actually do it. What they do is set it aside.  What they do is embrace nonsense – non-sense both in terms of rejecting sensation and in terms of not making sense.**

Why this animosity toward Aristotle? Couple reasons:

Aristotle got drafted by the Church. Once the West stopped being constantly overrun by barbarian invaders, the Church settled down to founding universities and inventing modern science. From about 1200 to about 1500, Aristotle was deployed – baptized, the joke goes – in defense of the Church’s thinking, her philosophy and theology, most ably by St. Thomas.

Upon the occasion of the Protestant Reformation, everything associated with the Church’s defense of her teachings was tainted in certain influential circles. To read Thomas is to experience, in a way, Aristotle defending Mother Church. Thomas’s massive work towers in every sense above all the works of all the Reformers, like a Gothic Cathedral towers over a lean-to.  There was simply no chance thinkers like Luther and Calvin were going to make an dent in Thomas. So, the sought to belittle and dismiss him.

If you want to bring down a massive edifice, as all siege engineers know, attack the foundation.

But if you are not Catholic, should you care? Yes! Because while Protestant theology and the philosophers who spring from it might trudge along without Aristotle, modern science and technology can’t! As modern science more and more pretends it doesn’t need Aristotle, it more and more becomes a slave to politics and activism. On this blog, and on other blogs in my blogroll, a recurring theme is battling the forces of zealous partisans and fiery-eyed activists pretending to do science to promote their goals.

The knight in shining armor who can slay the dragon Science! (meaning here pseudo-science) is none other than Aristotle, with his cool logic, keen insight and insistence that we start with ‘what is most knowable to us, and proceed to what is most knowable by nature.’ Getting close to Aristotle is getting close to real science. Real science is close to truth. And Truth is God.

* Aristotle is routinely faulted for what he didn’t invent – scientific tools such as clocks and scales – rather than credited with what he formulated and perfected – the idea that the world is knowable to any extent by us puny humans. So, for example,  he noticed feathers falling slower than rocks, and didn’t find the issue all that compelling, and so just went with the simple observation. Now days, we’d say that’s wrong. We have 2000 years of practice and refinement Aristotle didn’t have.

** Hegel is most explicit in rejecting Aristotle’s logic, especially the fundamental Law of Non-contradiction. Hegel, by his own pronouncement, is illogical and contradictory – if that isn’t nonsensical, what is?

Has Aristotle Been Disproven? Part 1:

It seems most people, if they think about it at all, assume Aristotle has been disproven. They seem to mean this in one of three ways. Here is the first and most common:

1. Because Aristotle has been shown to be incorrect in several of his more scientific observations, such as the relationship of mass to the speed at which falling bodies fall – a rock twice as large as another doesn’t fall twice as fast as the smaller rock – therefore, the reasoning goes, Aristotle has been shown to be wrong in general and must be rejected.

This  view even comes with a historical-flavored founding mythology: For centuries, the world labored in darkness, unable to figure anything out, until brave scientists such as Galileo threw off the shackles of Aristotle and really looked at the world. By carefully teasing out the truth through observation and experimentation, they were finally able to defeat Aristotelian dogma as handed down and brutally enforced by the Church, and create a new thing under the sun: Science! And so, as part of our warm embrace of science, which has given us all that is good, we celebrate its defeat of Aristotle. Aristotle is the disgraced and defeated enemy of Science!

As over the top as the above description is, I don’t think many Science! fans would fundamentally disagree with it. Trouble is, it is contradicted at every turn by history. Galileo (and all natural philosophers) base the whole process of scientific exploration on an Aristotelian foundation:

– logic: formal logic is Aristotle’s baby. Certainly, the early scientists learned how to reason logically from Aristotle via Thomas;

– insistence on natural explanations: the rejection of direct appeals to the will of the gods to explain natural events. Aristotle (and his disciple Thomas) reject as true but unhelpful the idea that the proper response to the question ‘why’ is to say God made it that way. (Compare with Islam after the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongol hordes, the dominant philosophical school of which rejects as blasphemy any other understanding). Instead, it is important to understand the natural world in terms of natural causes;

– the natural world is understandable by people: that, somehow, the human mind can grasp truths about the natural world through evidence acquired through the senses. I can look, feel, weigh, taste, smell and so on, and that these sensations can be processed and understood by my mind. The world is not the evil illusion of the Gnostics, nor the dream of Brahma, but a real, objective thing we can reasonably hope to understand.

– careful observation is the key: that careful and thoughtful examination of the world causes it to reveal itself. This is such a commonplace notion (despite being consistently ignored – but that’s another topic) that we’re tempted to believe it is ‘obvious’. If it’s so obvious, why has it been developed into an art in West and nowhere else?

Conclusion: No, modern science never disproved Aristotle. In fact, Aristotle’s key teachings – logic, and understandable world – are indispensable to science, and always have been. Even Galileo used Aristotelian methods to disprove individual conclusions reached by Aristotle – a fact Aristotle himself would have most likely been fine with or even proud of.

Summaries and Digests: Marriage and Philosophy

Frankly, you’d be better off reading Mike Flynn and William Briggs.  For example:

Here, in his inimitable style, The OFloinn creates a summary of the gay marriage kerfuffle via quotations from the ‘pro’ side. He deftly allows proponents to demonstrate the absurdity of the slippery slope argument – destroy marriage by expanding the definition to include polygamy and pedophilia? Crazy talk! Oh, wait – not so much.

And here, the Statistician to the Stars* recaps a digest of the summary of Philosophy. Or something – I’m getting that book. All that’s left – and it’s not a small thing – is to somehow make clear to moderns why caring about the truth is important. Literally crucial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Have Mr. Briggs and Mr. Flynn thumb wrestled for the presumably coveted ‘Statistician to the Stars’ title? Or is it hereditary or something? Maybe there’s a league?

Words

Yesterday, on one of the conference calls that make up much of my working life, a problems with words arose. This is not unusual. My company’s products and services straddle the finance and high tech worlds, where jargon and acronyms rule the earth. This conference call was typical, involving people from IT, finance, training, documentation, management.

Having been  ‘tasked with’  creating training*, we were working on  putting together a list of items that the salespeople were going to need training on. About a half hour in, I meekly suggested that we needed to translate the items from various preliminary lists into the words our customer uses to describe various processes. Making a list of items where there is no agreement on what those items mean is not going to be very helpful.

The team seemed in general agreement wit this observation, and assigned people to do this thing. We may all end up meaning pretty much the same things when we use the set of words used in the document. This is a minor illustration of how people, no matter what they say they believe, always behave as Aristotelians whenever they try to get anything done. Idealist, Nominalist, Marxist, Deconstructionist: they all call a plumber when the pipes need work.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up: Say my sink backs up.

Aristotle:  I, a rational soul in the physical world, with a mind capable of receiving sensations and processing those sensations to arrive at perception which end up after further mental work as conditional knowledge of the physical world, see that my sink is backed up. Since I desire the sink to be unclogged, I exercising my free will and intellect and call a plumber, who is another rational soul who existence, like that of the sink and the world in general, is in no way contingent on me. This plumber I will choose based on him having special, detailed (if nonetheless contingent) knowledge on the workings of plumbing – hence the name ‘plumber’. He and I will deploy words, the truthfulness of which is solely based on how well they correspond to the reality to which we are applying them. I expect that, in exchange for some consideration, this plumber will be able and willing to unclog my sink.

Idealist: I profess that the only knowledge I have is of  my own mind, whatever ‘mind’ may be. I have no evidence that an external, objective world exists, per Descartes’ evil demon. l only claim to know of some things in my mind as I whistle past the rather obvious  notion that the evil demon could just as easily put those ideas there as well. So, sink? What sink? Plumber? What plumber? But, alas! Within my utterly self contained and demon-haunted mind the prospect of a flooded, stinky floor seems real-ish. Real-ish enough for me to act as if I exist in an Aristotelian universe and call a plumber. We’ll call this ‘irony’, because ‘intellectual dishonesty’ and ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘self-delusion’ are such harsh words.

Nominalist: Universals like ‘sink’ and ‘plumber’ and ‘clogged’ don’t exist, which makes talking about any particular sink, plumber or clog difficult, if the impossible can be called difficult. I might want to call a plumber, but since that particular whozit isn’t looking at this particular whatzit  having this particular cablooey, I’d have to use words representing universals to ask his help. But I can’t. In fact, I’m not even having this internal discussion, either, as it is impossible. But, alas! The illusion that there are abstract universal concepts shared by both me and any potential plumber and manifested in a particular way in this particular clogged sink just won’t go away. In my inarticulate weakness, I’ll have to call – using meaningless  deceitful words – a plumber, who – miraculously – knows stuff about sinks and clogs in general that he claims – impossibly! – to be able to apply to this particular never before seen by him clogged sink item thing. I’ll simply mock anyone who points out how stupid this thought process is, and layer on the obfuscatory nonsense. Then I’ll behave exactly as if in a world as described by Aristotle.

And so on.

* I am assured that completing what we’ve been ‘tasked with’ will be easier once I’ve been ‘on-boarded’. Resistance is futile.

Seven Quick Hits

1.

You know, I love Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog, partly because it is so different than my blog, but mostly for the scorpion stories. But here, at least, is something that sounds like it sorta kinda could be more or less related to the sort of things she writes about: what I learned from my father.

2.

Another difference is that Mrs. Fulwiler is careful not to needlessly offend people.  I, on the other hand, have a gift for cluelessly writing offensive stuff, offensive to people I really don’t intend to offend. Only much later does it dawn on me how it will be taken. Such is this post on Higher Education.

The discussion in the middle on how Science comports with distinctively Catholic versus distinctively Protestant metaphysics is very much based on actual history and on somewhat technical philosophical points. What I’m not saying: that modern Protestants and Evangelicals have rejected the scientific method, or consider the truth of Scripture to preclude certain findings of science. What I am saying is that there is an historical tension present between science and uniquely Protestant theology such as Sola Scriptura that is not present between science and Thomism, and that this situation is reflected in the Church essentially shrugging at scientific claims that have – historically – caused much consternation and conflict in Protestant circles.  This conflict smolders in some circles even today. But this requires a book, or perhaps a book case, to explore.

What we all can agree on and unite behind, I hope, is that it is a bad thing when colleges and universities no longer believe in truth.

3. 

As the Caboose’s corn snake gets bigger, so do the mice we feed it. The snake is now around 2′ long, so we fed it older pinkies – mice a few days old, starting to get a little bit of fuzz, and starting to move around a little. This triggered a tiny amount of sympathy, even though I’m of the ‘Die, vermin! Die!’ school of nature lover. (Vermin include mice, rats, uppity squirrels, and suburban deer. Among other things.)  But that whole Circle of Life thing kicked in – that’s what I’m calling our bloodthirsty fascination with Death when it happens to vermin. For the first time, the snake didn’t just swallow the prey live – it constricted it. Seems the snake can constrict a young mouse to death in a minute or two. But mouse #2 – the snake gets 2 at this point – got the suck it down live head first treatment.

Should I be mortified that I find this stuff fascinating?

On the plus side, our son now handles the snake like a pro, and the snake has grown used to it. I was worried for a time because the snake seemed calm enough when I picked it up, but tended to freak our a bit when the Caboose held it. Now, it’s pretty mellow – as long as you’re not a little mouse.

4.

William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, is doing a series of posts on arguments against redefining marriage. While these are typically brilliant, the kicker is his instructions to his commentators:

Warning Tolerance is a hallmark of those supporting same-sex marriage. Never will you find proponents employing abuse, vituperation, appeals to emotion, or angry senseless shouting. They do not label their opponents enemies, nor accuse them of being hate-filled. They instead use calm, logical, well-reasoned argument; they understand rational and sincere people may disagree on certain points. I therefore expect supporters of traditional marriage to act similarly. Comments which do not accord with ladylike or gentlemanly behavior will be ruthlessly expurgated.

Nyuk.

5. 

Humor:

You never really know who your friends are until you accidentally set them on fire and then knock out several of their teeth trying to put it out with an hors d’oeuvre tray before inadvertently pushing them into the champagne fountain, bringing down the entire wedding pavilion and getting their pictures on the front page of the society section as they’re carted off to the emergency room in their smoldering formal wear.  But, once that happens, it all becomes very clear, the lying weasels!

6.

Next time, I’ll tell you about our psychotic dog. For now, just know that the teenagers in the household have decided it would be cool to get a parrot and train it to say: “Jimmy (that’s the dog’s name), nobody likes you.” So, you know, they can stop having to say it all the time.

7.

Northern California suburbia is largely free of scorpions, so we must make do when the situation calls for either large poisonous inveterates or terror and/or humor based on same. Deer ticks, as disgusting as they are, just aren’t in the same league. Therefore, I must direct you, again, back to the epic Jennifer Fulwiler: Scorpion Slayer‘s blog. Oh, and there’s more Quick Takes there as well.