Thursday, May 29, 2008

Michael Oakeshott, "Rationalism in Politics"

Characteristics of rationalist politics: (1) politics of felt needs, of crises (2) certainty, perfection (3) uniformity.

Custom, tradition, and established patterns worth nothing for rationalism.

Two kinds of knowledge - mechanical and practical. Rationalism substitutes the former for the whole. Mechanical can be formalized in rules, practical knowledge must be learned from working contact with a carrier of a tradition. (What about what is learned by doing, irrespective of tutleage by a mentor -- isn't "hands on" knowledge the key part of practical knowledge?)

Rationalism is a pervasive intellectual tendency which also affected politics (and affected it earlier than most fields).

Identifies rationalism with idealistic projects and movements. This seems strange, perhaps because the discussion is made in a vacuum of any context in modern bureaucracies.

22: "Rationalist politics, I have said, is the politics of felt need, the felt need not qualified by a genuine, concrete knowledge of the permanent interests and direction of movement of a society, but interpreted by 'reason' and satisfied according to the technique of an ideology: they are the politics of the book." (This hints at what Oakeshott thinks politics should be.)

Oakeshott sees Rationalist politics as a consequence of the rise of politically inexperienced people and classes to power. He takes Machiavelli's writings as an exemplary case; Oakeshott sees his work as an advice book for the novice ruler. This really makes no sense in light of the longstanding existence of self-governing communes in Renaissance Italy; political experience had long been a fairly widely distributed good.

In general, Oakeshott moves casually from Rationalism as a style of governing to Rationalism as propaganda and a form of political mobilization. This is a significant confusion. Although the ultimate disposition of who rules in a modern state may be in the hands of an ever broader array of people and classes, it is the politicians who rule, not the social classes. Within the political elite, the discontinuities do not seem strong enough to bear the explanatory burden that Oakeshott wishes to put on them. Long before the supposed end of absolute monarchies, ministers ruled as much or more than kings, and there was no hereditary requirement for those ministers. Today, voters choose their rulers from competing parties composed mainly of lawyer-politicians, many of whom come from political dynasties. The political "new man" is neither as recent nor as pervasive as Oakeshott makes out, so this will not do as the explanation for any decline of governing as a kind of traditional craft.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 3, "Skepticism Contains a Residue of Trust in the Cosmos"

Hellenistic philosophy has a therapeutic character. The classical schools of philosophy had failed to deliver undisputed truth, but claimed that possession of truth was necessary for happiness. Hellenistic philosophy represents a drawing back from theoretical pretension, separation of truth from happiness.

For both Epicureans and Pyrrhonian Skeptics, philosophy doesn't provide happiness, but eliminates the impediments to it (especially those created by theory).

Pyrrhonian Skepticism accepted that man has a natural drive for knowledge, and that man's happiness was tied up with it -- but in the seeking of it, not in the fulfillment. Knowledge of particular events in the present may be or become evident to us, but happiness does not depend upon this. The danger lies in trying to see behind what is present, the phenomena, to something more real. An abandonment to the immediacy of life. Man is thus not responsible for his happiness -- even Epicurean ataraxia is rejected as dogmatic -- which Blumenberg claims is bearable (and this is an argument by appea to anthropology) only under the unclaimed assumption of a stable cosmos.

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 2, "The Indifference of Epicurus's Gods"

Epicureanism sees striving for knowledge as disruptive of human happiness. It tries to tame this striving by showing that all possible explanations of natural events are equivalent in their consequences for man -- hence the actual state of affairs can be a matter of indifference.

Negative valuation of curiosity. Views man as having a natural state of happy obliviousness that is shattered by curiosity about the heavens (contrast with Stoic admiration for and taking comfort in the regularity of the the heavens).

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 1, "The Retraction of the Socratic Turning"

Blumenberg tells an admitted just-so story about the development of Presocratic philosophy -- an original harmony of the knowing subject and the world it knows, which philosophy disrupts by pulling truth increasingly apart from appearance

Socrates' turning -- rejects natural philosophy (which is portrayed as futile and endlessly disputatious) for philosophy directed at human self-knowledge

But the Platonic Socrates (at least) brings nature back into his inquiries again. Dogmatic myths are provided to fill in what must be believed about nature in order to shore up investigations of human and political life. In any case, the conflict with the Sophists includes the germ of justification for inquiring into nature. The argument against sophism is that knowledge of human affairs is properly directed not towards any one individual's interest, but to what is good for us as humans, by our nature. But human nature is not really seen as separate from the entire natural order.

Aristotle -- severs the bond between theoretical striving and moral knowledge, defends pure theory against suspicion that it is reaching beyond what is suitable for man, into the divine - the highest goal for man is to become more like the gods by seeking knowlege, and this is possible becasue of the reason which is in us

Stoicism - combines dogmatic assertion of the general principle of world's favorability for man with a number of practices which foster a partial or complete withholding of judgment on specific questions about nature.

The Machiavellian Moment

Pocock presents the Florentine civic humanist as the heirs to Aristotle's conception of the nature of the political human being. The core of the problem was to reconcile this view within a Christian context where "secular fulfillment" was impossible. By virtue of Christian doctrine, there were not many ways to define the secular in a morally Christian way. The Machiavellian moment describes that basic tension between the pagan and Christian worldviews as well as the viability of the republic itself. The moment is longer than the moment. Its legacy is long because it plays a part in the development of modern political thought from Medieval modes of thought. Secular political self-consciousness poses problems in historical awareness. These thinkers legacy include "balanced government, dynamic virtue and the role of arms and property in shaping the civic personality."

The Machiavellian Moment

Republicanism is a form of historicism since it deals with sequence of events, events themselves and political interactive relationships. Basic conflict is explaining human sequences. Medieval thought avoided it by not creating a historicism. Rationality dealt with universals. Historicism itself was questionable because it by necessity was about time and contingency which were inherently not rational. With the Greeks, history as a philosophy was not solved or seen as a problem. Aristotle's cyclic view of time based on the perfect sphere served as a metaphor for time in human interactions. It took other modes of thought superseding the Christian one to develop an historical frame of reference for the temporal or human. Christianity discarded the cyclical view because of the obvious constraints it imposed on a God outside and superior to time. Philosophy itself was inadequate to reconcile universals within a temperal context. Political society is time bound, contigent and particular. New modes of thought developed outside of philosphy to deal with this fact. Republicanism revealed the tension by offering universal values for the attainment of human perfection within a politcal context that was time bound. The tension of universal values within an imperfect and changable temporal mode of existence is the heart of the matter.

The goal--a philosophy of history--republicanism is a philosophy of history.

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III ("The 'Trial' of Theoretical Curiosity"), Introduction

inescapablility of science in contemporary world -- questioning the value or consequences of science itself yields a scientific discourse -- moreover, science is necessary for life, in the sense that it has created conditions in which most humans alive today could not continue to live without it

232: "Since ancient times, what theory was supposed to do was not to make life possible but to make it happy."

232-233: "The 'theoretial attitude' may be a constant in European history since the awakening of the Ionians' interest in nature; but this attitude could take on the explicitness of insistence on the will and the right to intellectual curiosity only after it had been confronted with opposition and had had to compete with other norms of attitude and fulfillment in life."

'naive' curiosity - curiosity as an anthropological constant

'reflected' curiosity - curiosity which takes the orientation and direction of inquiry itself as its object

Diderot's Encyclopedia as a project of reflected curiosity, an attempt to understand what is known and direct inquiry on that basis

The encyclopedic ambition itself exposes a key modern predicament: individuals can no longer even hope to orient themselves with respect to the totality of knowledge. The subject which grasps what is known is now a collective or an institution. Under these conditions, it becomes impossible to sustain the ancient identity of complete knowledge and happiness.

Francis Bacon reformulates relation between knowledge and happiness - happiness is the result of humanity collectively knowing enough to take control of nature

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part II, Chapter 5

Separation of truth from theoretical effectiveness corresponds to the decline of anthropocentric teleology.

Copernicus - a regression from the trend who illustrates this correspondence in reverse. He objected to astronomy that was constructed inelegantly with the aim of being good enough for practical use. He objected that it lacked the clarity and precision it should have in order to describe God's design.

Descartes - Science built through hypothetical construction is a different path than truth. Point of Descartes' materialist cosmogony is to illustrate that the world is open to human action and change. World is never complete, it has no end.

Precritical Kant - world is always changing, tending toward perfection.

Critical kant - teleology exists only in human action; 'unfinished' world precondition of human action.

Hobbes as illustration of dissolving political order to ints natural elementsin order to show how human action should shape it in response to those tendencies.

Theme of overpopulation as a natural tendency which is a disorder for human flourishing (Malthus) and as a regulatory princile which makes it possible to describe the biological world mechanistically (Darwin). Both advocate a resignation to laws of nature in culling human population -- a view which Blumenberg has no sympathy for, and celebrates the nineteenth century for finding a way to oppose it through technical progress.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Machiavellian Moment by J.G.A. Pocock

Chapter 1, Part 1

Temporality, Contingency and Infinity are necessary elements of human political society. Traditionally, philosophy's purview was not the temporal. But, republic/Aristotilian polis as well as Christianity dealt with the universal and its attainment. These universals were timeless. For Aristotle, the universals were values for which the citizens of the polis strove. For Christianity, it is a God who is outside of temporality but a Being for which humans strive to relate. Here, eternity is the goal of human striving.

We live with each other. There are modes of behavior under the rubric of politics. Initially, republicanism was the mode. Since it deals with events and their relationships, which are temporal, they are supra-philosophical--outside of philosophy. Republicanism is an explanation of events as its core which in term makes it a form of historicism.

The problem: How to overcome the republican ideal of universals with secular particularity?

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part II, Chapter 4

Key difference between Epicurean and modern objectification of nature: there is no 'technical implication' for Epicureanism. Epicureanism doesn't posit man's need to dominate nature. Aim is neutralization, not control.

Decartes' radical doubt transforms an existing predicament into a chosen challenge. His evil spirit (genius malignus) is an intensification of Nominalism's 'hidden God' (deus absconditus) who is is not committed to dependabilty except to the elect (who are unknown even to themselves).

William of Ockham - God can produce ideas without objects -- crux of late Nominalist encounter with prospect of radical uncertainty of knowledge.

Peter of Ailly - in ordinary circumstances, certainty about physical objects can be assumed ; otherwise, knowledge of nature would be unattainable.

Heidegger takes domination of nature to be the characteristic attitude of modernity but already had assertion of inviolable agency of judgment in Nominalist thinkers without project of domination.

Gregor of Rimini - man's senses may not correspond to reality, but man need not be deceived because he retains the capacity to withhold judgment about reality. (Note: Decartes also finds freedom from deception in ability to withhold judgment.)

By radicalizing doubt, Decartes undercuts earlier pragmatic formulas for self-assertion provided within Nominalism -- self-assertion after this requires strong subjectivity.

Jean de Mirecourt - If God could create ideas without objects, then He could also create actions without supposed agent being responsible. This possibility is rejected on grounds that it would make moral responsibility uncertain. Both moral and theoretical agency inhere in an inviolable subject which cannot be deceived by an external force.

196-197: "Under the enormous pressure of the demands made upon it by theology, the human subject begins to consolidate itself, to take on a new overall condition, which possesses, in relation to the ambushes set by the hidden absolute will, something like the elementary attribute of an atom, that it cannot be split up or altered. Absolutism reduces whatever is exposed to it, but in the process it brings to light the constants, the no longer touchable kernels.
The ius primarium [primary right], the primeval right to self-assertion, becomes comprehensible long before Decartes and Hobbes as the essence of the modern age's understanding of iteslf -- that is, as the anthropological minimum under the conditions of the theological maximum. This beginning does not come about as the formulation of anew concept against an old one, as the constitution of an epoch after the old one has broken off, but rather as the mobilizing of motives toward the definition of an opposing force, precisely while the attack is being intensified; not as the negation of the premises rather as a condensation under the pressure of their exaggerated power."

Withdrawal from world of guarantees of certainty and consequent treatment of its character as hypothetical -- condition for modern attitude of natural science