Break of Day

'Tis true, 'tis day, what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise, because 'tis light?
Did we lie down, because 'twas night?
Love which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.


Must business thee from hence remove?
Oh, that's the worst disease of love,
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.

John Donne, The major Works, Oxford World's Classics, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 102.

Nothing like an early 17th century poem delivering an early 21st century truth. It is a testament to the ease with which words can travel - that's however not what I wanted to think about here. 'Busy, busy, busy,' - the more time we reclaim from nature, the less time we feel to have. Formulated in this way, it's a boring old commonplace but that's just because we don't take time to lie still at the break of day. If we would, we would question the busy-ness of business. Why do we reclaim time from nature, just to wind up spending all of it to change nature in ways that satisfy this self-defeating circular obsession to be able to spend ever more time changing nature?

The answer is simple: we're in need of some serious brainwashing! When we were all brutes & beasts we needed an unsatisfiable drive to bend nature in ways which would allow us to cease beasts & brutes. Such got some elites into a situation of humanoid behaviour, referred to pejoratively - from our current imperfect state - as decadence. This situation was not evolutionarily stable - through ups and downs the elite started to grow until, at least in some geographies, it became a vast majority. This growth is still ongoing; cultural pessimists need to realize that society 'deteriorates amazingly well' nowadays.

The role of cultural pessimists is a crucial one: they keep the evolutionary dynamics as per the above intact. They avoid us getting a thoroughly enjoyable brainwashing, keeping our hands & minds continuously dirty, by pointing out 2 things. The elite is, & will always be, a happy few so the struggle to get there or keep your offspring in it is a continuous sruggle. Let's call this first point the 'original sin argument', or, when you are less religiously inclined 'The Carrot'. On top of this they highlight that, being in the elite, too much is worse than not enough. Scare stories about 'decadence' are put in place taking coincidental moralizing standards & showing how a decadent elite not only will violate them but will infect the 'lesser' classes thereby blocking progress for all. Let's call this the 'armageddon argument', or the 'fall of the Roman Empire'-argument or, more simply, 'The Stick'.

This way the business that was the means to an end becomes the end in itself - and all of us hurry at the break of day away, away from our true love: spending time with ourselves and others disregarding nature, nurturing the words with which we speak to each other and using our movements for furthering our human pleasure. Yes, that's decadent! Once our brains are washed in a shower of nice words, and dried in a light of love, we will understand (and feel!) that decadence is what we need to create what others crave. We will never be busy again, & our business will be instrumental again, instrumental to get a maximum amount of people to become part of an elite that is bestial only insofar as it behooves them (in bed, in sports but not in business). This is not a plea against business - once our brains are washed clean from the desire to over-achieve, we will continue to consume (in fact we will only consume) because we know we are not responsible for keeping things on track.

In fine: we will know we are not responsible. Responsibility is a bestial notion. It is a notion that is completely superfluous in the context of real love - not lovy-dovy love, not romantic love of feeling responsible but simply love of being human & acting as humans with no interest except human interests. Neither the carrot, nor the stick will impress us. Insofar as the elite is by definition a minority, we will no longer feel this compulsion to be part of it or have what they have. Inasmuch decadence consists in violating the non-coincidental moral claims of what makes humans human all will be cognizant of the fact that such is not the way of real decadence - because decadent love is love of what makes humans human.

I am very pessimistic about cultural pessimism :-)

Whilst writing this I was listening to 'Shostakovich: The Jazz Album' but I advise you not to because it is a hoax, my friends.

13:32 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: friendship, optimism, decadence, dynamics, donne |  Facebook |


On Saying That

"If we could recover our pre-Fregean semantic innocence, I think it would seem to us plainly incredible that the words 'The earth moves', uttered after the words 'Galileo said that', mean anything different, or refer to anything else, than is their wont when they come in other environments. No doubt their role in oratio obliqua is in some sense special; but that is another story." Donald Davidson, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, p. 108, Clarendon Press 2001.

This essay is one of the most wonderful pieces of reasoning I have had the honour of reading. It does precisely what it sets out to do: make it plausible that a strange notion like 'intension' - a notion so private & subjective as to obliterate any hope of ever getting rid of the magical from our lives & our thinking - is superfluous. Instead of it a simple extensional alternative is put in place, an alternative that allows what we normally do in public discourse, in science, in any reasonable human endeavour: check with the observable facts.

Read the essay to get the alternative! Put succinctly (and undoubtedly incompletely) it goes as follows: when someone is indicating to believe, desire, want that ... what's happening is that someone is making a relation between herself believing, desiring, wanting and something that is pointed to (much in the same way as she would point to a bird in saying 'that is a bird'). So you extend the pointing to-reference to allow pointing to something non-physical. That's it. Away with the talk of thoughts that are mysteriously, opaquely embedded in clauses and somehow cannot break free out of the intimacy of the person thinking. Great!, isn't it?

Unfortunately, Davidson leaves it very much at that. That's unfortunate because it's one of the few philosophers that have achieved the credible link between philosophy of language and moral philosophy & that has done so by delivering a damning blow (there are philosophical knock-down arguments) to both moral relativism and a type of moral absolutism that prescribes behaviour in excruciating detail, leaving humans like shackled feet and hands to some arbitrary notions of 'the good life'.

Honouring the consensus that is building outside of the published works between all people busy with these matters - in other words: all people, as language & morality are not specific to philosophical investigations - honouring the consensus on such a link & its radical but softening consequences, we need to find Davidson's flaws in his philosophy of language in order to mend his remaining inadequacies in his morality. Indeed, his moral philosophy is inadequate: close, but no cigar. It does not allow to derive a categorical imperative, not even a very modest one.

That's what I need to research because I believe that, I am in fact convinced that, it is necessarily so that in morality we need something categorical. I also know that it's just not sufficient for me to point to that, even if I point vehemently to it. No, I need to not just demonstrate the truth of my little that-clause but I need to prove it and I will only be able to prove it by finding where the flaw is in Davidson's philosophy of language because I am willing to bet that that flaw is linked to the inadequacy of his moral philophy.

So, there you have it: a project. The project will maybe start with 'on saying that', as it is something that I think is safe; & along with it, all things it presupposes are safe and the consensus is building from there that there's nothing magical about thought that can keep it confined, under a spell, within our heads.

Thoughts are not in heads, thoughts are between heads - they're there to point to & to analyze from different angles in order to see whether they refer to the same, and from there whether they are consistent & ultimately true, or not.

Whilst writing this I wasn't listening to anything really.

23:47 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: language, davidson, convergence, tones |  Facebook |


Zu theoremen der Motivationskrise

"Eine prinzipielle Moral ist mithin ein System, das nur allgemeine Normen zulässt (d.h. Normen ohne Ausnahmen, ohne Privilegierungen und ohne Einschränkung des Geltungsbereichs). (..) Formalität heisst, dass keine konkreten Verpflichtungen (wie im traditionellen Naturrecht oder in der Ethik), sondern nur abstrakte Erlaubnisse rechtlich normierbar sind (Handlungen dürfen nicht geboten, sondern nur freigestellt oder verboten werden)."  Jürgen Habermas, Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus, edition suhrkamp, 1973.

(amateuristic English translation below)


Not what I wanted to quote; I would have preferred something in English, something non-political & preferably something linguistic. But this is what I came across, &  my old fascination with the subject outweighs the less-than-lyrical Habermasian style. So, here goes: morality and ethics or, cross-wise, content and form.

I have long been obsessed with the difference between morality and ethics. It still strikes me that in ethics we have something less, something merely instrumental & rather contingent whilst morality is, or more fitting: should be, more universal & basic. I associate ethics with lots of paper, back & forth on interpretations, codifications, ... It's not just that we need something more stable and pure than that but, essentially, we would not be our human selves without it. Maybe it's mere contingent wish to want to be our human selves but you'll agree that the level of contingency is qualitatively distinct from all that instrumentally needs to be put in the body of law (& its many derivatives in group rules and the like).

The argument for this is Habermasian, I guess. It is essential for us to communicate (take a linguistic quought from here, it will probably be about that). Communication can only be achieved if there is a common shared thing that can be discussed, however imperfectly. Human progress is such that one is bound to engage, potentially, in discussion with anybody else whether we like it or not (& it is yet another truth that most of us most of time instinctively do not like it at all). Hence, universality can't be avoided & the positive expression of it is morality (the negative is fear from it - commonly known as xenophobia). The distinction with contingent legal codes & ethics is very marked in principle as in the latter stability is the prime goal, not progress (not that it's bad; it's practical - practicality should not be brushed away too rapidly).

The turn of phrase 'to moralize' and its associated gut reaction of wanting to vomit could well be the reflection of all of this. People react negatively to moralizing on this view not so much because they want less morality but because something as essential as morality is put in the everyday dirt & made to do work as a slave to the benefit of something or someone particular. My favourite example of it would be the 20th century myth that 'one needs to work hard to earn one's way' - this is moralizing, it may well have been true in the 20th century and for some time to come but it still is contingent. It is not essential to work, it is essential to communicate. It may be unethical to be a lazy bastard, but it is not by definition immoral.

Morality can only consist in very few claims; claims which are indeed formal, not in a legalistic sense but in a logical/dynamical sense (the same logic/dynamic one will find in natural languages to make a little bridge to linguistics). Obviously this does not mean that morality allows you to be unethical as in most cases the unethical or illegal (and maybe there is something between ethical and legal as there is between moral and ethical) will be the best practical way to make moral sense of specific cases (at least when the ethics and the laws have evolved in a moral way i.e. via due process preserving the due process). But just like etiquette does not translate into ethics, we should not take a moralizing & maximizing approach of having ethics translate into morality because morality needs to be light - and not burdened with all the things that happen to be important here & now to keep the beasts in all of us from breaking out.

I believe (but have time nor motivation) that taking the details of the quote, with a lot of hard work, one can make logical connections between my quought and this quote.

Oh well, another time. Maybe ...

" A principled morality is therefore a system that only allows general norms (i.e. norms without any exceptions, privileges or limts on its applicability). (..) Formalness means that there are no concrete obligations (like in natural law or in ethics) but only abstract permissions which are rightfully put as norms (actions cannot be ordered but only allowed or forbidden)."

Whilst writing this I was listening to Ozric Tentacles, Swirly Termination.

22:48 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: habermas, convergence, form-content, universals |  Facebook |