Civilizations Don’t Grow in Wisdom

John Lanchester · The Non-Scenic Route to the Place We’re Going Anyway: The Belgian Solution · LRB 8 September 2011.


Blackburn reads Parfit


Blackburn, too, is unimpressed (here is another underwhelmed reviewer).  I haven’t read this particular iteration of Parfit’s view yet, but from what I have previously, I give him credit for his ‘quietism’.  If your are going to be a normative realist (in the philosophical sense of that term), then own up to the fact that you will never say anything intelligible about normativity (that couldn’t be wholly repeated by an irrealist).

When Good Arguments Go Bad: The Credentialed Society – By Michael Walsh – The Corner – National Review Online

The Credentialed Society – By Michael Walsh – The Corner – National Review Online.

I am quite in sympathy with the argumentative point of this piece; higher education, such as it presently is, is overvalued by both suppliers (in terms of what they charge for it and what they promise by it) and by consumers (in terms of what they believe it will secure for them). The good life, understood both materially and spiritually, can certainly be achieved without contributing to the bloated nature of the education sector while burdening oneself financially in the process. I also concur with the corollary that an effective, productive political agent needn’t be fêted by an Ivy-trained political class.

The problem with Walsh’s snark is with the ridiculously inane exhibit he would have us contemplate in support of those theses. Sara Palin stands as a powerful counterargument to these theses, theses that it is important for us as a country that we believe. It is unfortunate that the wise claim that there are a multiplicity of routes to the good should be obscured by the use of such a singularly bad example.

I find my self thinking of Anton Ego, who expressed the core idea much more graciously and humbly.

The (Im)Possibility of Rationality

“The important point, however, is that there must be some normative principles bearing on PAs [propositional attitudes] to the effect that we ought to modify our PAs because of how they are. Rational normative principles are of the form that if one has such and such PAs then one ought to modify them in such and such ways. Unless there are such principles there is no rationality and no reasoning.”  – Nick Zangwill, “The Normativity of the Mental”

This is the simplest, most direct argument for normative ‘realism’ I’ve found. It is refreshingly plain in that it wears its transcendental structure on its sleeve: believing, wanting, and the like must be normatively governed psychological processes if rationality and reasoning are to be possible, and rationality and reasoning are not only possible but abundantly actual.  Moreover, it’s a wonderfully, boldly assertive philosophical mouthful, just the way I like it; when it comes to the root philosophical issues (and there is nothing more root than the normativity of the mental; everything of a peculiarly human interest stems from this) they invariably involve at their core simple, stark choice points.  Capturing those choice points in simple, direct language takes philosophical talent, and Zangwill brings plenty. But what makes philosophical disputes so thrillingly interminable is that virtually no two philosophers conceive the choice points in precisely the same way: God, the Devil, and each and every Man is bound up in his own peculiar details.  More on this presently. (more…)