Monday, September 23, 2013

Face the Strange Changes

It is perhaps [the concept of] time which best helps us to understand philosophical idealism in which the human intellect measures the physical world, the whole of reality, the whole of being, and gives it is meaning. Reality has no meaning for an idealist when it is not known; it does not really exist.

This is understandable when we realize that experience, bound to the judgment of existence, primarily regards that-which-is-moved. Now, that-which-is-moved is bound to time, measured by the present moment. Consequently, our intellectual life, the development of our intellect, is conditioned by time. It is easy to conclude, therefore—as some have done—that our intellectual life is determined by time and, by this very fact, that how we know time determines how we know being, how we know that-which-is. Is this not the deepest confusion of our intellect—confusing that which determines the judgment of existence and that which conditions it?
Marie Dominique Philippe, Retracing Reality: A Philosophical Inquiry

Reflection - OK, I haven’t had anything like this on the blog for some time: a genuinely dense philosophical passage that may be a little daunting for those readers not inclined that way (which is most of my readers…). Bear with me, and all shall become clear.

Philippe’s book is about the loss of metaphysics in the modern world, which means the loss of a sense of a reality that is outside of us, undetermined by us, but which is accessible to us as genuine knowledge. In place of metaphysics, philosophy has retreated to analysis of language (analytic philosophy), analysis of experience (phenomenology), and social activism (the various branches of philosophy roughly emerging from Marxist theory).

Now what does this have to do with you and me and the price of eggs? The importance of doing the work of philosophical reflection is that, if we do not do it ourselves, someone else will do it for us. Philosophy happens, whether or not we are inclined that way, and either we have a hand in our own understanding of reality or a pre-fab understanding of reality trickles down to us from lofty heights of academia and is presented to us with all the force of dogmatic certainty previous ages reserved for papal pronouncements.

For example, what Philippe is really referring to here is the one unquestioned dogma of our time, the one thing everyone ‘just knows’, although they can’t tell you why they know it, assume it to such an extent that it can hardly be questioned, even though when you think of it, it is rife with internal logical contradictions to the point of absurdity.

Namely: all things are in constant flux. This is the ‘knowledge determined (not conditioned) by time’ Philippe refers to. The one thing everyone knows today is that the world is in a state of constant change and motion. The stars in the heavens, which in a previous scientific model of the world seemed to be fixed in place, are themselves rushing along in their course, as is the earth in its seeming immobility. The whole cosmos is in motion, and there is nothing fixed, nothing stable, nothing unchanging in this world, and this world is all there is.

This is absolutely accepted today. This is why it is inherently offensive to use the phrase I used yesterday on the blog, that a given action can be ‘intrinsically evil.’ Everything is in flux: just because murder is ‘experienced’ as wrong right now is no assurance that tomorrow’s man, fluxing away, will not ‘experience’ it as quite right and proper. And this is why the march of progress cannot be gainsaid: once the flux of events is moving steadily in a given direction, there is virtually no reason to oppose it; in fact, if anything is an unchanging and intrinsic evil, it appears to be the act of opposing ‘progress’ as it is defined today. ‘Ch-ch-ch-ch changes, face the strange changes’, the prophet Bowie enjoins on us as the one law of post-modernity.

Of course all this is stuff and nonsense and doesn’t hold up to a moment’s serious scrutiny. This is why people are discouraged from thinking very much these days: the philosophy handed out to us is nonsensical in the extreme. Here’s a thought experiment to show this: we are told that all is in flux, there are no immutable moral standards, and that the only moral course is to go with the flow of social progress and evolution.

So, let us posit the world fifty years from now. Europe, that bastion of all things socially progressive and au courant, has largely become an Islamic society (current demographic trends suggest this as inevitable). Now I realize we don’t know what that will look like, but let us imagine that the Muslim population of Europe has continued on the path it currently is on: radical, Wahabist, Taliban-style Islam. Sharia law is enforced throughout Europe. Women are forced to wear the niqab or burka, or be harassed or beaten or worse in public. Gays are arrested and executed. Jews… well let’s face it, there won’t be any Jews left in Europe in this scenario, one way or another. This scenario may or may not happen; for the purpose of the thought experiment, that is irrelevant.

Now, if we are true relativists, believing in nothing but ‘progress’ and going with the evolution of society, we can, logically, have no response to that but to say ‘that’s just great! Sign me up! Boo, Jews!’ If we resist that, if we ‘feel’, at least, that there is something deeply wrong in a society that does these things, we have made the first step to retracing reality, to saying there is something that is not determined by time, by flux, by change. 

We have ceased to be relativists, and have begun to acknowledge the unchanging, the immutable, the presence of the true, the good, the beautiful, that lies under and underlies all our experience of change and flux in this world. We have begun, at least a bit, to bow before the unchangeable Law of God in this world.

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