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Archive for February, 2013


Kant proposed that we divide thought into two broad categories: seeing, observing and describing which he called speculative reason and appreciating, loving and approving, which he called practical reason. Thus logic, science and mathematics were contrasted to ethics, religion and aesthetics, though aesthetics as requiring accurate description seemed to point to something else called judgment which requires both descriptive and appreciative heuristics. Thus Kant built the container into which the romantics poured the most marvelous draught. The expansion of the appreciative modes of being defined a horizon Kant was certainly well aware of, yet could only hint at, thanks to the titanic challenge of re-inventing all the vocabularies of his ancestors. In this world the human truly lives, they claimed, and never looked back.


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In 1651 the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote in what we think of as the classical liberal tradition of political philosophy. His was the notion that humans require society because left to a state of nature we are incomplete–being fundamentally unruly, aggressive, unmanageable and miserable. Liberalism posits that the role of government is therefore to enforce an implied social contract by which people come together for mutual aid and protection against the forces of nature, including the un-tamed forces of other people’s desires and brutalities. Thus government and society liberate humans from the misery of their natural state and bestow the possibility of something more than “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” It is interesting to me how classical liberalism is in many ways a secular echo of the medieval Christian church. Because ever since St. Augustine, Christianity had also seen humans as living in a desperate state, badly in need of transformation, protection and salvation. The holy sacraments, like the social contract, are also here to save us from a state of incompleteness and sin. The traditional pillars of the church–baptism, submission, prayer, holy communion–all of these are aimed at enclosing the individual in a sanctified community protected from the untamable urges of human nature. Sin and nature are transformed by rituals proclaimed by the Christ whose universal (Catholic) church redeems the imperfect body through ritual washing and anointing, by regulating the calendars of existence, and by sanctioning communal feasting on the divine corpus itself. In liberalism no place remains for what the romantic authors of the 19th century ardently defended as an equally valid model of human nature: a nature that is itself worthwhile, vigorous, creative, and life affirming. A human nature that need not be transformed, sanctified, regulated, observed or redeemed from within or without. This is why romanticism is often the enemy of both liberalism and Christianity. They insult what romantics hold so dearly in their dreams of life. Life which is virtuous itself and to itself being alone, naked, vigorous and vital.



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“I promise to change my habits if you promise to help me change compassionately and non-judgmentally.”



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Many contemporary psychologists make the mistake of conflating effect with intent. That is, they reason from the observed effects backwards to some sort of goal or objective that someone “had.” Someone who experiences recurrent chaos in relationships, school or work is presumed to be “self-sabotaging.” And if the person doesn’t endorse awareness of this, psychologists put the intent into some sort of unconscious place. Freudians put it in the drives, Lacanians in the chain of signification, others into some general rule following heuristic. This habit seems to me as misguided as the custom of putting the cause of the universe in God.



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why was i born with this body that betrays love at every opportunity? that kills every dream i have ever had? can we love, what doesn’t even exist?



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how did the universe begin? hard to say. if the universe began with a space-time event, something must have caused that event. the cause must also be localizable in space-time, so the universe must have begun at some time prior to what we thought was its beginning. but that event also must have had a cause and since this goes on ad infinitum the universe must have no concretely localizable point of origin in space-time. but that’s impossible because if it had no point of origin it would not exist, and it clearly does exist, so it must have a point of origin in space-time even if it is not readily identifiable. we must therefore conclude that we cannot say anything intelligible about the origin of the universe. the data is elsewhere. not accessible.



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Speaking as a “pragmatist,” I’m asking the question: are your behaviors more usefully modeled by someone’s notion of “rationalism” or “empiricism?” I’m not interested in the question of whether you are a rationalist or an empiricist. That would make me a “rationalist” of sorts and I prefer to think of myself as a pragmatist of sorts. Which is to say, an existentialist empiricist phenomenologist humanist deconstructor of words and assays.



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