The Accretion of Value

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[Update below]

Whitehead’s philosophical work is not often viewed with an eye toward its contributions to ethical or political theory. David Hall’s work stands out as one of the better known exceptions to this rule, and Jude Jones’ study of Intensity in Whitehead’s thought has immediate applications in the area of ethics, though it is often viewed from a purely metaphysical angle. I thought it high time to bring a little Whitehead back into this nominally Whiteheadian blog, and current events have offered some examples of how this might be done. Obviously this won’t be anything even remotely approaching those mentioned works’ level of scholarship; indeed, I wish to say up front that anything I say here is simply a product of my own musing, and not to be attributed to anything Hall or Jones said (although, at this point, I can scarcely tell how much is my own thought, and how much I’ve just internalized from others’ work that it is now a part of my own fabric.) No small part of the problem is that, by the time you’ve explained Whitehead, you’ve no space or energy left to apply him to ethics. This is why this post will be some 200+ words longer than I otherwise aim for.magnetic-field

One thing that can be usefully set out right up front: Whitehead’s entire professional career, whether mathematical or philosophical, was dominated by two generic problems that can be usefully described as “the problem of space” and “the problem of the accretion of value.” This issues often overlapped for Whitehead. Thus, in his earliest major professional work, his Treatise on Universal Algebra (a mathematical work on logical forms of space), he devotes several paragraphs to the importance of good symbolism for efficient and unambiguous expression and use of concepts. This is a matter directly relevant to the accretion of value, because good symbolism is a value that accumulates with each gain in efficiency and clarity. In his works on education (widely acknowledged to by sympathetic with Dewey‘s) Whitehead uses ideas of mathematics pedagogy to advance claims about the nature and purpose of a liberal education, education being one of the primary means for the accretion of value. These examples by themselves are almost enough to (loosely) ground the case for a Whiteheadian ethics. But I want to add a few details and then (as mentioned) give a brief application. Details of my discussion can be found HERE. Continue reading

The Quantum of Explanation (book)

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Publication is almost upon us.

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The Quantum of Explanation advances a bold new theory of how explanation ought to be understood in philosophical and cosmological inquiries. Using a complete interpretation of Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophical and mathematical writings and an interpretive structure that is essentially new, Auxier and Herstein argue that Whitehead has never been properly understood, nor has the depth and breadth of his contribution to the human search for knowledge been assimilated by his successors. This important book effectively applies Whitehead’s philosophy to problems in the interpretation of science, empirical knowledge, and nature. It develops a new account of philosophical naturalism that will contribute to the current naturalism debate in both Analytic and Continental philosophy. Auxier and Herstein also draw attention to some of the most important differences between the process theology tradition and Whitehead’s thought, arguing in favor of a Whiteheadian naturalism that is more or less independent of theological concerns. This book offers a clear and comprehensive introduction to Whitehead’s philosophy and is an essential resource for students and scholars interested in American philosophy, the philosophy of mathematics and physics, and issues associated with naturalism, explanation and radical empiricism.”

This author’s profile can be found HERE.

More information on the book can be found HERE.

Let’s just say I’m a little excited.

The World is a Circle

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The title is an ironic gesture to a disturbingly cheerful (some, like me, might say saccharin) tune by Bacharach and David, but my intention is to talk about what is less happily categorized as circular reasoning. This is one of those fallacies that has been recognized for so long that the medievals gave it a Latin name: petitio principii. It is also one of those painful failures of basic reasoning that goes beyond the narrow confines of formal logic, or introductory critical thinking classes. This is one of those monsters of bad thinking that empower authoritarian minded individuals and their enablers to unshamefacedly spout about “alternative facts” and other infantile drivel. You see, the problem with a circle, as well as with a mind that reasons in one, is that the circle is closed; inquiry, on the other hand, is (by necessity) open and ongoing.disturbing-1

I’ve talked before (several times, in fact) about what Altemeyer describes as the “compartmentalization” that occurs in authoritarian belief and ideology. One can scarcely dignify this latter as “thinking,” regardless of the degree of sophisticated cleverness employed in maintaining those compartments as air tight against all facts and logic. Authoritarian thinkers, following Hamlet’s example, keep their minds, bounded in a nutshell and count themselves kings of infinite space, were it not that they have bad dreams. (Of course, Hamlet was being ironic, and mocking his interlocutors, something the Mango Mussolini’s enthusiasts entirely fail to grasp.) The thing is, these people choose to be bounded by a nutshell, all the while imagining themselves in princely command of infinite space. Meanwhile, their bad dreams (which are the trailings of reality, dogging them despite their dogmatism) are the sources of their willing embrace of Trumpian neo-fascism. Because the nutshell – the “nut house” – in which they have bound their minds is a tightly enclosed circle that permits no entry from reality. Continue reading

False Flag

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A “false flag” attack is a premeditated form of deception in which some disaster with a high number of casualties is inflicted upon a community, evidently by outsiders, but in reality by the community’s own leaders in order to fabricate the impression of immediate threat and danger within the community, so that the leaders may act with impunity by taking aggressive – and typically extra-legal – actions. This then establishes the leaders’ power, with the willing consent of those over whom they actually intend to exploit this power. If you are a movie buff, the “St. Mary’s virus” biological attack from the movie V for Vendetta, is an example of a false flag attack raised to the nth degree. Claims of “real” (note the scare quotes) false flag attacks are standard twaddle with childish conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and blathering histrionics of his “Infowars” website. Lest there be any lingering ambiguity, I do not hold much truck with such infantilism. People who have taught the subject know that such conspiracy theory drivel is used as comedy relief in Critical Thinking courses. Such material is swallowed with great credulity by a large number of authoritarian minded people, especially on the extreme right-wing of the political spectrum.

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But we are seeing a perfectly analogous move gaining traction on the political left, and it is worth our time to squash it before it gains any traction. Multiple peaceful protests have recently either been preceded by, or occurred in parallel with, violent actions that had no relationship to the original protest. One increasingly sees these violent behaviors decried as the work of “paid provocateurs.” There are more than a few problems with these accusations, not the least of which being that they come without even the tiniest scintilla of evidence to back up the accusation. And these accusations will often be made by the self-same people who will brush aside Alex Jones’s fatuous nonsense with a roll of the eyes and a sweep of the hand, all the while as they are doing the exact same thing as Jones: making hysterical, baseless accusations and assuming that the volume with which they make the accusations carries probative weight. Continue reading

Butthurt Baby in Chief

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Well, the first two weeks of Trump’s presidency bore no real surprises: the Butthurt Baby in Chief acted exactly the way you would expect a narcissistic psychopath with a fascist agenda to behave. Quite aside from the lack of organization, the total inability to grasp what governance is or ought to look like, executive orders pouring out like water from the fountains of the Nile, including the objectively illegal ban on Muslims entering the country (except, coincidentally, from those countries where Trump has business interests); indeed, there has not been a single terrorist attack committed by a refugee from any of the banned countries within the US since at least 1980. (One writer has suggested this ban is a “headfake” to test the loyalty of various departments, and the limits of what the courts will permit Trump to get away with.) We also have his infantile need to bring a cheer-leading squad along when he gives a press conference or a speech. He has declared the New York Times to be “fake news” for their failure to be his obedient and unquestioning mouthpieces, and has essentially put the Breitbart propaganda outlet in charge of the National Security Council, while removing persons with actual experience in and with intelligence. I mean that last in all the less flattering ways you can construe it. With regard to the non-voter fraud lie that Trump revels in spewing, the fact that such fraud is essentially non-existent is a matter of no concern for Trump: he doesn’t need facts, because the slack-jawed who swallow whatever lie that is spoon-fed to them by the paid professional liars at Fox “News” agree with Trump, so that makes it all true. This is so mind-numbingly childish that is seems to give it more credit than it merits to point out that it exemplifies the fallacy of the argumentum ad populum. And don’t even get me started on the Twitter storms …butthurt-baby

What kind of a “man” does this? (And yes, I use the term “man” guardedly, because I take the word to mean something more than merely an adult featherless biped with a penis.) Well, I’ve already said a fair amount about how and why Donald Trump is a fascist. I’ve made it clear that I do not use the term casually, or as a throw-away fallacy. But what about the other terms I’ve been using? I’ve characterized Trump as a narcissist for a while now, and have recently shifted from describing him as a sociopath to a psychopath. What sort of legitimacy can I give those terms, especially since I’m not really qualified to make such a diagnosis with any expertise? Continue reading

Reason as Revolutionary

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So now this appears to be happening: several users out in the Twitter-verse apparently are crowing about the repeal of Obamacare while defiantly bragging about keeping their insurance through the ACA. Again, to all appearances, these people are real. Meanwhile, racist Trump designee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, questions whether women and LGBTQ people face any serious discrimination in the world. Examples could readily be multiplied. This is because fascism is a movement that does not center on any sort of intellectual framework, while its appeal is to persons of an authoritarian mindset that rigidly compartmentalizes concepts and experiences so that genuine intelligence can never get a foothold on the person’s thinking. Under such circumstances, exercising reason – genuine reason – becomes itself a revolutionary act.revolution

But beyond that quip, what more can be said about the matter? Isn’t that a bit like dismissing Trump’s followers as being stupid? Even if this was true, would it really be an effective approach to dealing with the current consolidation of power by the fascists? In response, I would encourage people to read the above linked posts on the authoritarian mindset, but I’ll have a few more words to say about the nature of genuine intelligence below the fold. But mostly I want to think about the revolutionary aspects of reason around the topics of memory, logic, and leadership. Continue reading

The “Savage” Mind

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The phrase that opens this post is one that has been around for some time. Claude Levi-Strauss used it as the title to what has since become his most famous, and possibly most important, book. Even in 1962, when the book came out, one could use such a phrase without irony and be accepted as a scholar. These days, the imputation of a “savage mentality” is likely to be met with considerable resistance, and general antipathy (at least from those with a more liberal political orientation.) “Savage” is a pejorative term, and its application (especially in matters of thought and mentality) was almost always applied to aboriginal peoples whom colonial invaders (almost always of European descent) wished to demean, degrade, and – rather savagely – exploit. Such attitudes have been quite rightfully (even righteously, in the non-pejorative sense of that word) denounced for many decades now.trump-rally-nazi-salute

Nevertheless, I submit that there really is such a thing as a savage mind, where such a mentality is understood as an antithesis to that of a civilized mind. It is an example of the genetic fallacy to reject the term because it has been seriously abused in the past. This is not a comparison between persons in pre-scientific, non-technological, &/or aboriginal societies and our own, “gloriously” developed Western cultures. Rather, I submit that the distinguishing characteristic of savagery is its rejection of community in various forms and to varying degrees. Continue reading

If You Didn’t Read It, Don’t Quote It

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I mentioned in a previous blog post how commonplace it was for people to misquote Emerson’s quip about “foolish consistency.” I got to thinking about that, as well as other (and more gross) forms of “lying by editing” – the cut-and-paste method of taking words out of context and making it appear that the person is saying the opposite of what they actually said. Right-wing ideologues with their authoritarian mind-set are especially prominent these days at such thinly disguised efforts at bald-faced lying, in no small part because their base, having abandoned any pretense at rational thought or even basic decency, will swallow any lie that is spoon fed to them, on no other account than that the spoon comes from the sources they’ve decided to believe without question, upon which they will swallow those lies without even a first, much less a second thought.pants-on-fire

Thus, the professional liar James O’Keefe fabricated a story that destroyed the organization ACORN with a highly edited tape that grossly misrepresented an interview with one of the group’s employees. But once the tape was made public, the facts no longer mattered: a lie will go halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on. The same vicious stunt was attempted against Planned Parenthood, but the hoax was uncovered with greater speed (spurred, perhaps, by the fraudulent accusations against ACORN). But there are lesser lies floating around out there which, while never as “compelling” as a video – people are more likely to react emotionally to videos, whereas reading activates more cognitive processes – they are nevertheless worth addressing. The habit (and it IS a habit) of dealing skeptically and intelligently with little lies, translates into something of a prophylactic against the really big lies. So let us look at a few of the lesser canards that are floating around in the great “out there.” Continue reading

Foolish Consistency

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It is certainly disturbing to see how many people prefer a convenient lie over a disquieting truth. But more importantly, we should make note of how many people will flee in abject terror to the warm, terroristic embrace of a convenient lie when confronted with an indisputable uncertainty, the unavoidable knowing that you do not know. I should get that tattooed somewhere … somewhere where no one will ever see it …dunce-cap

There is a formal structure to at least some kinds of disruptive uncertainty, and that structure is not all that hard to understand. I’ll mostly be discussing that logical structure, which often requires a kind of patience with inconsistency. But I will turn to the psychological issues of those who embrace inconsistency without thought at the end. What I wish to address here are kinds of inconsistency, most importantly noting that there are genuinely and importantly different kinds. I’ll mainly draw on investigations by Nicholas Rescher and Robert Brandom, coupled with developments by Jon Barwise and John Perry. Continue reading

Turn The Page

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If you were living in a dark age, would you know it? If you were a cavalryman under the command of the ancestral Artorius Castus (disputedly the bloodline of the historical “King Arthur”, assuming such a person ever even existed) would you have known that yours was a dark age? Echoing Patrick Stewart’s line from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “The Best of Both Worlds, part 1” (S3.e26):

I wonder if the Emperor Honorius, watching the Visigoths coming over the seventh hill truly realized that the Roman empire was about to fall? This is … just another page in history, isn’t it? Will this be the end of our civilization? Turn the page.

(H/t to Jane Schneider over at “The Zoo” for reminding me of this scene.)

With each and every twitter storm from the Butthurt-Baby Elect, our fearless leader demonstrates that he possesses neither the intelligence nor the emotional stability to manage a $10.00 stamp collection, much less that one nation with the largest economy, and largest military, in the world. But it is not just that our economy and military is “bigger” than “anyone else’s” in the world – gawd, what comes next? Shall we unzip our trousers and start comparing genital sizes? (Or hand sizes … ? I might not be Michael Jordan, but this last one is generally not a competition you want to get into with me.) Rather, they are big in a way that “big” has never been seen before. Continue reading