(A continuation of God and Rationality.)
Yesterday I said that it is an interesting fact in need of explanation that the same dialectic seems to come up again and again through history. I said I would propose some possible explanations for this, and today I will.
Nothing to be explained
The first explanation is an anti-explanation that question there being a fact to explain in the first place. It might be that there is nothing to explain. This could be the case in at least two ways:
– One is simply that this is a statistical unlikely event, but that given the quantity of ideas being debated throughout human history it can only be expected that one keeps going throughout the times as others are falsified and then dead for good (Aether). The belief that there is something to be explained is then just a hasty generalisation.
– The other is that there is a selection effect in our view of history. There is always something illuminated and something darkened by necessary information compression. Since humans are compressing historical information one can. Seeing history from modern eyes we pick up some parts and hide others and it seems like we can make this red thread throughout the development of ideas. Apparently this is called presentism. (Of course, one could imagine that there are incentives to do this, like professional philosophers looking for distinguished precursors to legitimize their current pursuits. But this is terribly uncharitable.)
Something to be explained
The other option is that there is something to be explained. If so, there are two sub-options. First, the debate is about the “same”, and in the second it is not. We explore these in turn, fully aware that this is a continuum over a categorical distinction and that “same” is not the correct level of analysis.
This is a tough sell maybe in part because we, modernly, have a linear vision of the world. There was a beginning, and there will be an end, a judgement day. Other religions, like Hinduism or Buddhism, are cyclical – history is cyclical, repeating itself.
So, how could we say that the debate is the same? The way to say this is that memetic evolution in this debate has been solely about form, not content. The same thing has been discussed be it asking how the City of God and the City of Man relate and how S2 and S1 relate, there being apologists for either, and compatibilists.
Now, these obviously sound very different. How could they be the same? You can imagine that what is being really discussed, really referred to is never caught by any of these signifiers, and that the invariants of the human mind work as cultural attractors that make this idea come up again and again.
Another possible argument is that since theology does not causally connect to anything, it fails to refer – at some level – then there can be no progress and in fact the same debate is always being had. This could generalise to debates that don’t connect in general.
Ken Wilber has a model of knowledge development going through three phases – differentiation, separation and integration. For example, he claims that in pre modernity Art, Morals and Science were fused. Modernity then differentiated these three and separated them. This general model can be used to understand the dialectic of the development of ideas.
Eugene Gendlin talks about a “thinking that employs more than conceptual logic, rules, or distinctions”. The reference to experience to go beyond what has already been put under concepts, language and logic. In his method one uses concepts to stabilise experience to go beyond it, further and further. Experience is very precise because it crosses many meaning and there is this dialectical play between what has already been referred to, and how it changed by virtue of having been referred to.
Cantwell talks about the computer science term “unbundle” in On the Origin of Objects.
And of course, the quote I’ve referred to previously: “Before I had studied Ch’an for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers.”
I think all of these are circling the same idea. The topic is always the same, in some sense, but you get increased nuanced, increased precision, increased differentiation; and not “dead” precision either as the map changes as you get more precise.
One of the most interesting books I skimmed recently is Collins’ Sociology of Philosophies. He attempts to uncover the logic behind the history of ideas. He posits the following theory: Intellectuals interacting create an argumentative community. Intellectuals are actors battling to partition a limited attention space. There can not be more than 6 or less than 2 intellectual positions as these define themselves by oppositions to others. Two main strategies are available to intellectual actors: contradiction and synthesis. Finally, intellectual communities thrive on reflexivity and abstractness. If all these hold, then this explains the dialectic above. Contradiction creates separation, and synthesis creates integration. Reflexivity and abstractness allows to go one level up and repeat the procedure. (You had a division between reason and experience – rationalism and empiricism – and now you have a clear integration be it in x-rationalists or modern theory of Judgement and Decision-Making. Very few people even take the original division seriously anymore, they can’t, there was synthesis) (Increasing reflexivity and abstraction is seen in philosophy. Debates of positions become debates about how to know, and thus of epistemology and we just keep going up to reach metametaphysics and metaphilosophy contemporary)
Collins’ theory explains how it is that the debate changes whilst seeming the same. I’m uncertain about what actually is happening in this case.
- “same” is wrong here. A more precise view of what is changing and how and why and generalising. Relook at history of philosophy. What stays the same? What changes? How does it change?
- The “same” debate is terribly unlikely, except for the case in which things don’t connect – terms fail to refer, in some sense. This seems like an interesting avenue of exploration.