My New Diary, 12/14/2018

By Alan Carl Nicoll

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Bertrand Russell is not mentioned in this post

{12/14/18}  Weight 218.8.

From the murk of Barrett to the clarity of Bartley, namely, William Warren Bartley, III:  The Retreat to Commitment, Open Court Publishing Company, La Salle, IL, 1962-1984, hc:

“The individual’s problem of identity, encountered by most people in late adolescence and early adulthood—though it can occur at almost any time—is to shape, out of the elements provided by his heritage, his conception of himself, and his idea of what others see in him, an identity that he believes he will be able to live with in integrity. The problem of integrity is, given one’s identity, purpose, and claims about oneself, how to live up to them.”  p. 7.

The words are different, and the expression is much more concise, but much of the thought here is what I was struggling to understand in yesterday’s long consideration of Barrett’s “man’s alienation from his own self.”

It’s 1:42 am.  Perhaps feeling self-destructive, or resenting the necessity to cut down on calories, I had a couple glasses of non-diet Cherry Dr. Pepper (with caffeine), and so was unable to sleep earlier.  I got up and, finding that my Internet connection wasn’t working, I read philosophy in the hope of getting to sleep sooner rather than later.

I read Bartley’s book several decades ago, and found it mighty persuasive, going so far as to say that “I believe in Critical Rationalism,” (hereafter “CR”), or words to that effect, whenever I could find someone to say it to.  I exaggerate, but I’m not feeling especially lucid at the moment.  Anyway, I’ve been wanting to reread it, although I read another of Bartley’s books lately, with the horrifying title of Rationality, Evolutionary Epistemology, and the Sociology of Knowledge.  Actually, he’s one of the editors of that collection of articles or essays, and an excellent book it is, too, and it helped me expand “my philosophy” in some areas that I haven’t really got at the tip of my tongue.  But so has Richard Rorty (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature), and all the new stuff has yet to be boiled down into something I could actually talk about maybe someday with some hope of coherence.

Bartley will help me get past the quote from Wittgenstein that has hung me up for a couple of decades:  “The difficulty is to realize the groundlessness of our believing. At the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not well founded.”  This is quoted in Kai Nielsen:  Philosophy and Atheism (see Collected Quotations).  The details aren’t worth recounting here; Bartley will persuade me that CR provides a “ground” that is not “groundless.”  I’ll write about it as I go along; right now, I’d rather not.

Later (i.e., 7:00 am).  The Wittgenstein quote gave me a reason to “go easy on” beliefs that are contrary to my atheism-rationalism.

“Rationalism” is sort of a loaded word; I am not a rationalist in the sense of basing my world view on a few carefully-chosen, “self-evident” premises, from which all else is to follow logically; rather, when I call myself a rationalist, it’s just a way of saying that I reject supernaturalism in favor of some version of realism.  More than that, I am strongly sympathetic to this quote from Thomas Nagel:  Mortal Questions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge & New York, 1979, pb:

“My own philosophical sympathies and antipathies are easily stated. I believe one should trust problems over solutions, intuition over arguments, and pluralistic discord over systematic harmony. Simplicity and elegance are never reasons to think that a philosophical theory is true: on the contrary, they are usually grounds for thinking it false.” p. x.

“Trusting intuition over arguments” is perhaps a kind of philosophical dynamite, a lurch into irrationalism; yet, I cannot disagree.  Whatever you care to prove to me with symbolic logic, when it comes to conclusions, I may reject them without foundation or argument if they fail to pass a kind of “smell test.”  That is, intuition.  I think this is not too far from Richard Rorty’s position, and he’s one of the other twentieth-century philosophers whom I read with approval but am in no position to quote at the moment.

But back to the Wittgenstein.  Based on it, I finally came to the conclusion that, regarding religion, “Whatever works for them is okay by me.”  Bartley’s book argues against this conclusion:  “I see no point in construing these limitations on explanation, prediction , and knowledge achievement as limitations on rationality. Yet whatever one calls them, the limitations themselves are, in my opinion, quite real and inescapable. Any theory of rationality, rationalism, that tries to avoid these limitations (and most do) is doomed to failure.

“…my own primary concern is to deal with a so-called logical limitation on criticism and rationality which is sufficient, without aid from other limitations, to create and perpetuate the sceptical, fideistic, and relativist positions which this book attempts to refute.”  p. xvi-xvii.

My “whatever works” is a relativist position, thus a target for Bartley.  It is not immediately obvious why I now choose to reject this relativism.  In part, perhaps, it is because I believe that I now have a foundation for “my ethics,” that foundation being, “If anything is evil, then unnecessary suffering is evil.  So, if anything is good, the relief of unnecessary suffering is good.”  I can find no way to deny these premises without falling into absurdity—not that I’ve tried very hard.  But, so it seems that to this extent at least, I am an old-school “rationalist.”  I’m expecting that Bartley will help me to shore up this position.

In fact, I consider myself a “Critical Rationalist,” which basically means that I refuse to accept (as “provisionally true”) any belief or proposition that fails to answer (to my satisfaction) criticism of it.  Or, in someone else’s words:

“Subject all theories and ideas, your own and other people’s, to the most rigorous criticism, trying to falsify the ideas by finding countervailing evidence.”  I found this on the Internet, here (copyright Richard Burnham).

There is a bit of an escape hatch in my formulation:  what does “unnecessary” mean, or more simply, what could make a specific example of suffering “necessary”?  I have not looked at this at all, really, and don’t want to now.  I have no interest in the seemingly-relevant “stupid” (my term) trolley problems, like, “should I kill the fat man”?  These have been popular among philosophers or perhaps Internet-philosophers, if I may coin a disparaging term, for a few years.  And books have been written about them.  My “solution” is to refuse to play the game:

“If you insist on killing people, I will have no part in it.”

“So, by choosing inaction, you are killing five people when you could have saved them by killing one.”

“No, dude, you’re killing them by setting up this monstrous situation to try to force me to choose which people to kill.  I won’t choose.  You need to stop the test.”

This won’t persuade most “Internet-philosophers” (hereafter “IP”) who like this logic puzzle, I guess; but any answer to the puzzle is immoral in some sense, and that’s sort of the point, it seems to me.  Of course, all I am myself is a disparaged (by myself) IP.

And, of course, if my own life were on the trolley tracks, so to speak, I would indeed make a forced choice.

Had my first latte today, which may give me sleep issues tonight.  Went to Starbucks with Pablo, where I bought a Juniper Latte because they were out of the eggnog.  I added three sugars.  To me it just tasted like coffee, but when I started buzzing from the caffeine, I gave the rest of it to Pablo.  He said he could taste the juniper.  I’ve never really had plain old coffee before and am not really keen to try it again, as I didn’t enjoy it and it was $4.95.  I’d probably go for the eggnog…”Extra eggnog, please.”

Second “Meetup” of the Writers Writing group tomorrow, 8:00 AM.  It now has ten members.  One has indicated that he intends to show up.  That would be one more than last time.  I’m doing this primarily to get myself to focus on getting my NF book finished; any companionship and future friends would just be gravy (though if I didn’t have that hope, I’d just stay home).

Painted a book cover using watercolors, on postal wrapping paper, then sprayed it with clear acrylic.  That part was a mistake, as the fumes are really powerful.  It also essentially ruined the book cover, because the smell is pretty awful.  Next time I’ll try acrylics.  A suggestion from Rod Judkins:  The Art of Creativity [highly recommended] is what got me started; here’s the quote:

Chapter title:  “Make a mark”
“Sometimes one of my students is burning with desire to be creative but doesn’t know how to start. It may be that the student loves painting and desperately wants to paint, but can’t think what to paint. Such students are waiting for a deeply meaningful, earth-shattering concept. It never arrives. I tell them to make a mark on a canvas with paint. It might be a slashing stroke. Then make another mark in response. Then another. A conversation begins. Soon they have a painting. The same is true of writing or any field of creativity. Write one word, then another in response. Soon you’ll have a story.”

Abraham Maslow says something to the effect that doing art will help you become self-actualized.  Why book covers?  I came across something that said that enriching your environment leads to a better brain.  Also, it will provide a conversation-starter.  So, lots of reasons to give this a try, which I’ve been wanting to do anyway but never took the plunge.

The “mark” I made was essentially a long, wide red slash.  I also did some splattering and such.  Then I switched to a sort of sky blue, and more splattering.  It looked okay, but turned out as I’ve said.  I threw the thing away when I got home.


Diary entries from 10/1 to 10/31 are available here:  link.

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All right reserved.

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