Watch it here. And it will teach you to love classical music, even if you already do.
Just returned from a Liberty Fund conference in Indianapolis. The topic was religion, freedom of speech, and politics in Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise.
These folks really know how to run a show. Three 1.5-hour sessions in the morning, lunch, 4-hour down-time, a fourth session, cocktails, dinner, cocktails. Repeat. Discussion was at a consistently high level, with excellent moderation, and good ground rules to keep anyone from hogging the show. I learned a lot: I just signed a contract to write a book on Spinoza’s theology, and the discussion gave me pages of new ideas to explore. And I didn’t mind being lodged in a 5-star hotel.
Also was able to visit dear friends Peter and Tami and their little farm. After Peter and I broke our backs on demanding chores, we grilled some brats and were treated to a gen-u-ine midwestern thundershower, followed by a brilliant rainbow. Also was treated to a tour of Liberty headquarters — sort of a “corporate life of the mind establishment,” resembling an insurance office but with lots of great books, busts of greats, and artwork (and people busy exploring ideas and putting together conferences).
I must remember to bring a camera to my next conference, whenever/wherever it is!
Leslak Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial, pp. 135-6:
“My general attitude may be thus expressed: What philosophy is about is not Truth. Philosophy can never discover any universally admissible truths; and if a philosopher happened to have made a genuine contribution to science (one thinks, say, of the mathematical works of Descartes, Leibniz, or Pascal), his discovery, perhaps by the very fact of being admitted as an ingredient of established science, immediately ceased being a part of philosophy, no matter what kind of metaphysical or theological motivations might have been at work in producing it. The cultural role of philosophy is not to deliver the truth but to build the spirit of truth, and this means never to let the inquisitive energy of mind go to sleep, never to stop questioning what appears to be obvious or definitive, always to defy the seemingly intact resources of common sense, always to suspect that there might be “another side” in what we take for granted, and never to allow us to forget that there are questions that lie beyond the legitimate horizon of science and are nonetheless crucially important to the survival of humanity as we know it. All the most traditional worries of philosophy – how to tell good from evil, true from false, real from unreal, being from nothingness, just from unjust, necessary from contingent, myself from others, man from animal, mind from body, or how to find order in chaos, providence in absurdity, timelessness in time, laws in facts, God in the world, world in language – all of them boil down to the quest for meaning; and they presuppose that in dissecting such questions we may employ the instruments of reason, even if the ultimate outcome is the dismissal of reason or its defeat. Philosophers neither sow nor harvest, they only move the soil. They do not discover truth; but they are needed to keep the energy of mind alive, to confront various possibilities for answering our questions. To do that they – or at least some of them – must trust that the answers are within our reach. Those who keep that trust are real diggers; and although I cannot share their contention that by digging more and more deeply they will eventually reach the Urgrund, the foundation of all foundations, I do believe that their presence in the continuation of our culture is vital and indispensable. They are utopians and we need them. Next to diggers, however, we need healers who apply skeptical medicine in order to clean our minds from prejudices, to unmask the hidden premises of our beliefs, to keep us vigilant, to improve our logical skills, not to let us be carried away by wishful thinking. Philosophy, to survive, needs both diggers and healers, both reckless adventurers and cautious insurance brokers. They even seem to prop each other amidst their never-ending squabbles. The trouble is that whoever says so while being himself interested in philosophical riddles and thus involved in the conflict in one way or another cannot avoid the risk of antinomy or contradiction: he is not capable of taking sides in the conflict, and he asserts something that would ultimately compel him to be at both extremes simultaneously. We can escape the contradiction only by trying to place ourselves outside philosophy, to suspend our interest in the issues and to climb up to a vantage point from which philosophy itself appears part of the history of civilization. The trouble is, however, that to reach this point we almost certainly need some premises and some conceptual instruments that have been elaborated in the ambiguous realm of philosophy.”
After the last post on incommensurability, Mike provided a link to a more theoretical discussion of Lakatos’s and MacIntyre’s objections to Kuhn. In my opinion, the linked article is too abstract to provide any guidance. The author favors MacIntyre’s idea that a scientist moves from one paradigm to another when the old paradigm fails to meet its own objectives. But it would be nice to have good examples of this (maybe MacIntyre provides these; I haven’t looked up his discussion). Initially, I am skeptical that this ever happens; smaller theories reach clear dead ends, but paradigms don’t.
So what brings a scientist to switch from one paradigm to another? So far as I can see, it is the potential for new fields of ideas (and publications). This has been happening in the field of chaos theory. Somebody develops a new toolkit, and pretty soon people start seeing ways to apply those tools to all sorts of different phenomena, and they publish like crazy. No one wants to get left behind. It’s not that the new applications are clearly better, or that the old business is clearly worse. It’s just that the new is new and the old is old. And the “new” isn’t merely arbitrary or hollow or fake: the new applications show something, or do something, that the old applications couldn’t, so something new is being learned and uncovered.
What becomes critical is whether there is something we really need to get done that only the old application can provide. With Ptolemy/Copernicus, eventually the answer became “no” — everything we needed Ptolemy for could be done by Copernicus (at least after Kepler). But with chaos, the answer is still “yes” — we still need linear dynamics and Newtonian determinism for lots of tasks, so chaos will not be taking over anytime soon. In the meantime, it is a fertile ground for new publications.
Sometimes, I imagine, the old paradigm gets discarded not because the new one can do everything it could do, but because our needs and interests change. So we no longer need the old services, thank you very much. So maybe one “need” keeping Ptolemy around was our interest in astrology. As that need faded, so too did Ptolemy. (I’m making up that example; I don’t know the history of astrology well enough to know if this is indeed the case.)
So can we say that new paradigms are always “true-er”? Not exactly. We can say that they are a better fit for our needs (and they couldn’t do that without being linked up to truth in some way), and the old paradigms no longer provide that fit.
T. P. M. Barnett’s take on the need for Blackwater-type companies here, along with a link to a NYT article. What I find interesting is his remark that Blackwater is today’s Pinkerton’s.