Modes of objectivity

A: The concept that a reasoner makes is both objective and manifestive while the literature the author makes are manifestive but not objective. The author substitutes concretion for objectivity.

B: That is mostly true, but it distorts one thing. “Objectivity” is simply submission to experience, and the author submits to experience just as thoroughly as any reasoner. The author is simply an eye who can see in experience what is most manifestive.

A: But then what’s the sense in calling what he writes fiction?

B: If that’s what you mean by objectivity, then fine, but it’s a rather shallow and unreflective view of objectivity: it misses that the fiction is itself a product of submission to experience. To meditate on the way in which fiction is ipso facto non- objective misses that this very mode is itself conditioned by submission to experience.

A: But there is nothing reflective about it, there is no inquiry or discourse!

B: Maybe. Who knows how many philosophers Shakespeare had to speak to in order to write Hamlet? Maybe a hundred, maybe one – maybe he simply reflected on his own indecisiveness and over-intellectualization. He didn’t need reasoning, he just saw and wrote. This is not to say that there was no effort and discourse- it only means that the effort and the crafting of this sort of product is not the same sort of crafting that goes on when one tries to make a science. On some level, the effort is clearly the same: there were probably as many dead ends and half-baked attempts at Brothers Karamozov as there were at Newton’s Principia.

A: This can’t be exactly right: art is easier for human beings than science is. We succeed in making an end a lot more easily than we succeed in submitting to one.

B: Perhaps, but it is of little importance. It’s not as if great art or science are easy.

A: But they both consist in different sorts of making: the one seeks a construction that is true, primary, better known, more causative, etc; the latter seeks the construction that manifests through the concrete. Rational animal manifests all human beings in one way; Ivan Ilyich manifests them all in another.

B: this is true.

A: And the knowledge of the divine beings overcomes this opposition between what is poetic and scientific for us. All the concretion and distinctness that the author has is within the angel, but the mode of knowing is intellectual in the mode of the scientist. All sides of objectivity are present in those intellects above us as one, while what is objective to us is divided into diverse modes of objectivity.

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Being as opposed to generalization

Being is not a genus, and thus is not made by generalization. The unity that we experience in being is not the same unity that we experience in dog, since this latter unity only comes by abstracting from things that really exist (like the differences between Fido and Rover or between dachshunds and greyhounds). As it is not grasped by generalization, neither is it grasped by hypothesis, since every hypothesis generalizes. Induction from experience also does not mean the same thing in the investigation of being, since induction generalizes in trying to separate what belongs to all from what does not (though both are experienced together).  

Note that this absence of generalization is common to every analogous whole. One does not generalize a notion of health when in calling both medicine and the animal healthy.

The unknowable can be analyzed too

To call something unknowable or unexplainable, and leave it at that, is no better than to call it knowable or explainable and leave it at that. There are times when it is a great achievement to figure out whether something is explainable or not; but to decide the question one way or another is simply the first step of a larger inquiry.

What is a philosophical account as opposed to a scientific one?

Many opinions are accused of failing to distinguish a scientific opinion from a philosophical (or metaphysical) one. One weakness in this accusation is that almost no one who makes it ever goes on to explain just what a “philosophical” or “metaphysical” opinion is. When we distinguish these two, are we distinguishing different subjects, as happens when we distinguish, say, grammar and geometry? Or are we distinguishing two modes of studying the same supposit, the way that grammar and linguistics both consider words, or sociology and anthropology study human beings in groups?

First, there is a certain sorrow in the argument. It is lamentable that the most common response among various specialists is “you just have no idea what I am doing”. This all speaks to a loss of a common intellectual structure that might allow for a synthesis of various disciplines. The old role of the University was to provide the structure that allowed for the possibility of synthesis (not the synthesis itself, just the possibility of it) Until a hundred years ago, a university student graduated with a sense that one could draw together Euclid, Hobbes, Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Newton, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Scripture, etc. This does not mean that there would be universal agreement about where each fit in the scheme, but there was agreement that there was a scheme in which they could be found. One sees this sense of unity (especially between “science” and “philosophy”) very clearly in scientific writing until quite recently. Feynman is a transition figure, but all the great scientists before him (a very partial list includes Eddington, Jeans, Planck, Heisenberg, Einstein, and the too much overlooked Costa De Beauregard) presupposed a fruitful interaction between science and philosophy. After Feynman (though almost certainly not just because of him) the trend was towards isolating science and philosophy from one another and pitting the one against the other. One must either do science or philosophy; and one could popularize science or popularize philosophy, but the two were presumed to have nothing to do with each other. The old sense of a possible unity receded so far that no one took seriously any more.  Disciplines were seen as irreducibly and entirely pluralist;  the University became a heap of universities that happened to be sharing a campus – and no one assumes there is any reason for it other than ease of commute.

So much for the parenthesis – what’s the difference between a scientific opinion and a philosophical one?

All accounts of what now gets called science see hypothesis as proper to and distinctive of it, and so philosophical knowledge must be non-hypothetical. While the scientist starts off not knowing, guesses about what the answer would be, and then tries to marshal up evidence for a case, the philosopher apparently just knows. The objection to such knowledge is immediate: if philosophers just know, why so much disagreement? Why don’t they just say what they know, and everyone will immediately agree with it? If the sort of knowledge they have doesn’t require guessing at an answer and building a case to prove it, what do they even need an argument for? Again, isn’t it simply irrational to say that human beings start off knowing anything? Give an example!

All of these objections turn on the confusion between knowing something and being able to articulate it in a clear and distinct way such that it could never be prone to sophistical attack. But the two are obviously different – everyone who has ever tried to express himself has felt the chasm between what he knows and what he can express clearly. Taken in this way, philosophy is the endeavor to build bridges across those chasms. Whereas science consists in moving from a guess to a confirmation or from ignorance to knowledge, philosophy seeks to move from what is already known, but indistinctly to distinct knowledge of the same. Said another way, it is not the same thing to start with an imperfectly known or an unknown, even if these both states can be called ignorance in different ways.

And even among things that everyone knows distinctly enough, there is still room to draw out their significance. All the ancient Greeks were masters at this, though Aristotle deserves special mention: he would start off with a harmless or even banal observation like “some things come to be by art, others by nature, others by other causes”, but then use it to derive the whole second book of the Physics; he would notice that things are predicated in different ways, which ends up proving that the adequate explanation of the universe requires a being that was existence itself.

The general problem is that we can be certain of something without knowing it distinctly, and so this requires some method to move from the one to the other. This division is between two modes of knowing, and so there is no reason that they might fight with each other or play off one another to explain the same thing; but at the same time, distinct modes of knowing divide different subjects in some way, and in this measure there is an unbridgeable division between what the two study.

Modes of abstraction from experience

Science is made by one sort of abstraction from experience, poetry (and art) is made by another. The poet and artist each makes something universal, but he makes it within a concrete particular.  The scientist makes his own universal – but not one that shines forth from a concrete particular. The character, for example, illuminates all that are like him in a way that actual persons rarely do; and the Theory or Relativity and French Impressionism do not abstract the same thing from the experience of light nor do they make it universal in the same way.

Even within scientific abstraction, the universal made is not the same. Some are hypothetical, subject to review, requiring testing and confirmation; but not all can be such. (Since the  notion that all is hypothetical falls by liar-paradox arguments familiar to everyone.)

Moral experience is a third sort of abstraction and construction, where the universal means yet another thing, and where one abstracts from experience in yet another way. This is perhaps what people are groping for in the slogan “you can’t get an ought from an is”.

Poems I can’t write

I’m a bad poet. This means I frequently see poems but have no ability to write them. The images nevertheless continually arise in daydreams. The images themselves are probably unfit for poetry, but they are at least poems to me, which is to say that at least within my own intentional world, none of these are corny, or simplistic, or shallow.

1.) Seven years ago, Amy Richards found that she was pregnant with triplets, and chose to carry only one child to term (the story popularized the term “selective reduction“). In explaining her choice, she said:

 When I found out about the triplets, I felt like: It’s not the back of a pickup at 16, but now I’m going to have to move to Staten Island. I’ll never leave my house because I’ll have to care for these children. I’ll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise.

To this day, I can’t walk by those (completely absurd) gallon jars of mayo without feeling like I am at a shrine.

2.) I would write about a frazzled and angry Roman housewife who was baffled at her children who kept repeating a nonsensical and absurd phrase to each other (in the way children can) and laughing like idiots the whole time. Finally, at her wit’s end, she kicks them into the backyard, happy not to have to hear them yell “Tolle, lege” at each other.

3.) St. Matthew at the last supper, looking down at the bread in his hands, and having a sense that the whole universe could be annihilated but that this would still remain.

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