Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Reply Upon Truth

I rather expected these sorts of reactions to my last post— my imagined audience is more and more securely atheist, but of course my actual readers are more religious. Aphoristic writings require a similar framework for the identification of the referent, and they are in essence untranslatable across a large cultural divide.

I've reconsidered my first aphorism, because it seems even to me to say what I did not intend. I am no relativist, and I will not cease seeking the truth out of some postmodern despair about articulations thereof. Rather, I meant to express the weakening of the faith in truth as absolute without abrogating its force. Let me explain briefly.

I reject any Platonic conception of the "true-in-itself" or a correspondence theory which asserts that a thought in our brain could truly match the 'essence' of something in the world. Everything we think and perceive— including memory, sense data and even mathematical proof— is an interpretation of reality, a will-to-believe something. But what relativists fail to realize is that interpretations are in perpetual conflict, and that some wills are stronger than others! Some interpretations are reinforced by others, while some have to reject others.

Mathematics and logic, for example, are a quite strong interpretation, a weapon of steel among the bronze and tin of other ideas. It would take an unimaginably strong interpretation of another sort to force me to abandon what I see as a valid logical proof. Direct sense perception is generally almost as strong, although there are cases (optical illusions, hallucinations, etc) where the convergence of other ideas is stronger than the evidence of the senses; given enough events of a certain sort, I might even begin to deny in general the evidence of the senses in favor of Berkeleyan idealism, a computer simulation of reality, or the like. The basic reliability of the cultural milieu (i.e. that we're not being systematically lied to about our overall political structure in favor of a shadow government; that the basic outlines of history and culture presented to us haven't been systematically falsified, etc.) could be overturned by evidence of a grand conspiracy, but I haven't seen anything of the sort. And so on, down the line of sources of ideas.

Of course, inherent in this hierarchy of interpretive strength is the realization that different sources can grow and wane in strength as the conflicts between them continue. For example, in the comparison of political ideas, I used to prize most highly a persuasive abstract argument of political philosophy; but the many historical examples showing that the better-argued policy often failed in practice have led me to weigh more heavily a more empirical and historical form of evidence.

And at the heart of all this, for me, is the will to truth— that which asks of any other interpretation what it stands on, how it tests itself against others, whether I might be holding to it out of psychological need. I've been willing to torment myself to a great extent in order to pursue this will against the things I'd have loved to believe. This will to truth is, as Nietzsche would say, only the Christian virtue of honesty internalized and grown to monstrous proportions (THOU SHALT NOT LIE TO THYSELF as the first commandment); but it has shown great value in questioning other frameworks and interpretations, reinforcing or undermining them (even overthrowing its father, like Zeus). For Nietzsche, this interpretation turned ouroboros in the end, critiquing itself as life-negating; he felt it denied too much and must be replaced by a creative will that was not so afraid of falsehood. But here I do not follow Nietzsche.

What I meant to say in the first aphorism is more along the following lines: only if you possess this will to truth in great abundance, only if it is strong enough to tear down all self-deceit it finds, can it at last triumph over the naive theories of truth (the Platonic or the Aristotelian) and recognize itself more fully. I do not and cannot possess the truth in the way I had once hoped— but what remains is sufficient for me!

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Pursue knowledge and truth at all costs, make them your constant mantra— only in this way will you discover that you can have neither.

The beasts of history— the Borgias, for example— exemplify not the rejection of morality, but rather the most basic form of it, appearing in an age where the common morality has grown exhausted.

"Turn the other cheek"— is this not the most seductive costume the will to power has yet worn, and also the most risible? The act of violence reinterpreted, in order to place the power on the side of the sufferer! Small wonder that the powerless flocked to this doctrine, even at the cost of their widow's mite of dignity...

It is no wonder that defection from the Christian faith is often preceded by a good hearty vice. The mind knows just how painful this operation will be— and it wisely prepares an anaesthetic.

Philosophy, once the refuge of the atheist, is now the refuge of the believer. When one's doubts pursue him too closely, there are no better hiding places than the thickets of Aristotle or Kant.

The modern saint has perfected her escape from doubt— doubt is now another hair shirt, nothing more!

UPDATE: After giving these a week, I'll admit that writing like this is a bit of an affectation for me, and that I'm quite displeased with the way the first aphorism turned out; I have too much of the naive will to truth to really affirm it. I still find some of them apt, however.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Heh heh heh.

Oh, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy setting April Fool's pranks; and I've just finished one bolder than most...

Depending on how it turns out, I might even explain it in a few days.