Thursday, December 28, 2006


Imagine a family unit or a group of friends, and the variously helpful and malicious actions between them. Why do they remain in each other's lives?

Generally, we say that people make friends and keep them, or stay active within their family structure, because they feel close to these people and want to live alongside them. We say that this means augmenting the efforts of those they care about whilst minimising their risks and losses. We state this quite naturally, but we forget that on the ground this just doesn't look right.

Psychologically, the principle of common advantage doesn't enter the awareness of people when they have to make any one of the vast number of petty decisions that make up their everyday lives. It doesn't happen that whenever someone picks up a newspaper for someone else, they really consider why they do so. Reason doesn't really seem to have an input. We'd want to say, however, that although everyday action isn't derived from rational principles, it is nonetheless true that altruism is the determining factor. Again, I say this doesn't look right.

While it's probably true that people have in the main no conscious knowledge of the grounds of their relationships, this doesn't mean that tribalism (call it whatever) is a good thing rather than a bad thing. The way that an individual behaves within a network of people they are close with is often predatory. Mood swings are sent rippling out, having a negative impact upon others, and yet this isn't an arbitrary action - real positions of power and dominance are effected in this way. Indeed, we all know groups of people who constantly abuse and vie for position over each other. We know also that most friendships are borne solely out of the desire to feel better about oneself, without any thought for those people thereby befriended.

Victimisation seems a large part of tribal behaviour, and is perhaps directly proportional to the stupidity of the people bound into the tribe. This is particularly striking when we become momentarily assimilated into a tribal community, and a pecking order asserts itself roughly upon us, manifesting itself in our reactions to the feelings aroused by the abusive behaviour. Let us assume that people remain in these relationships through stupidity (though what exactly this means we'd have to do work on): What do we do when we are caught up in a tribal drama?

Patience and tolerance are key of course. Yet insofar as we are already caught up in a tribal drama, we are being buffetted around - we are ourselves reacting, rather than acting virtuously. Retrospectively, however, we can identify patience and tolerance as desirable, in the sense that it is good to act patiently and tolerantly in an abusive tribal situation. But we know that these are lesser goods - that it is better to avoid these situations in the first place (where we don't know that we have the strength to deal with them).

To help inform this issue, see Spinoza's Ethics, Part IV, Propositions 69-71. The Curley translation states these as:

P69: The virtue of a free man is seen to be as great in avoiding dangers as in overcoming them.

P70: A free man who lives among the ignorant strives, as far as he can, to avoid their favors.

P71: Only free men are very thankful to one another.

This last proposition is the one that elucidates the status of the tribal community. Insofar as people know why they network with each other, and act according to reason and virtue to secure their common advantage, this is a true community, and those within it are noble. But of the tribal community, the Scholium to P71 states in part:

"The thankfulness which men are led by blind desire to display toward one another is for the most part a business transaction or an entrapment, rather than thankfulness." (Penguin,1994)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Exploding morality

I mentioned in parenthesis in my last post that I am currently exploding my sense of morality. This is particularly difficult as my relationship with the world since I can remember has been one of disdain. What is it to explode one's sense of morality?

The best example I know of is in Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, where (to give a crude outline) the brute fact of a mistake being made doesn't lend itself to the further determination that the mistake shouldn't have been made. This extra move installs guilt, and compacts the force of the action. The mistake or action on its own is greater than this.

Should we consider the world to be guilty for its crimes? It is becoming clearer that we shouldn't. Indeed, Nietzsche affirms action to the extent that he asks for a vision of man in which 'there is still something left to fear!'. Can we feel fear without assigning guilt?

I am familiar with this: I have always given to Caesar what is Caesar's. But I have never liked this Caesar. While the world shouldn't feel guilty for being what it is, the expression of disdain is nonetheless central. Spinoza asks us to teach virtues, and not to castigate vices, but this is like learning a foreign language.

To explode morality is to push it further than the scope of its immediate use. Imagine the prisoner, sectioned off from society where we cannot look at him, cannot learn of him or from him. How very guilty he is! Yet insofar as we know this man, have grown up with him, laboured and loved alongside him, his prison becomes something - not fitting but - perverse.

The notions on which our moralities rest crumble under the power of the understanding. Is this right? Certainly something has changed, but is morality destroyed or simply transformed? Spinoza would say the latter, since as we become more familiar with the causes by which our actions are determined the proper scope of morality suggests itself from an emergent ethics. In the end, says Spinoza, is not morality misunderstanding, and nothing in and of itself? By shining light upon the world, morality vanishes like a phantom. Again, this is an explosion, not a reduction - for whatever there is in morality, in the sense of being, will be understood in its fullest aspect. Morality does not understand itself.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Tolerating intolerance

In 'What can we tolerate?', News Is Good puts lines across allegedly free religious convictions to pull the debate on religious tolerance in the direction of careful and critical moral objection. Currently, I am attempting to eradicate my own sense of morality (or, rather, to explode it), and I have had to come back to the notions of tolerance and intolerance to resolve a problem this creates.

I have always said, and have agreed with News on this, that the only thing we cannot tolerate is intolerance. To intolerance must be shown intolerance in return.

I now recognise that this is wrong, and that tolerance must be shown to intolerance. I shall offer a simple argument to this effect:

1) To be intolerant is to not consider all relevant facts
2) Intolerance must be dealt with justly
3) It is just to consider all relevant facts
Therefore, 4) We must not deal with intolerance intolerantly

To clarify this a little, imagine a situation in which a person, A, is being intolerant of another person, B. Specifically, A and B are walking together with B's dog, which B keeps on a lead. B's dog, 'Mr.Doggenson', repeatedly stops to sniff lampposts, which interrupts the conversation between A and B. After a few stops, A becomes annoyed and chastises B for allowing her dog to stop so much, and eventually A becomes so annoyed that he walks off in a huff. Now imagine that just before A walks off in a huff, another person, C, joins the walk. What does C say to A? Let me frame C's dilemma by considering hypothetical reasons behind A and B's attitudes.

The problem between A and B concerns the importance of the dog's natural disposition. B understands that, firstly, Mr.Doggenson cannot appreciate the level of interaction between A and B, and does not know that it is uncomfortable for them to stop every time he wants to sniff something; and secondly, B understands that it is important to allow the dog to do what comes naturally to him. This is why B stops while her dog satisfies his curiousity. A, however, is only aware of the negative feelings engendered by the interruption, and is not considering Mr.Doggenson at all.

C can either deal with A tolerantly or intolerantly. For C to be intolerant of A is to react to A's chastisements without considering them sufficiently to know what is best to do about them. C in this case is unjust regarding A's behaviour. On the other hand, should C be tolerant of A's chastisements, C would be able to think rationally about how A's disposition brings it about that A is behaving in this way, and would thereby be able to act occordingly. C in this case is just.

How does this stand with News' article? First of all, moral reactions to damaging beliefs and belief systems (in the sense of not tolerating them / not considering them with sufficient scope) are unjust. This answers News' question, "Is tolerance of a belief system more pressing than intolerance of harm?".

In a more general way, we can deal with the thrust of News' argument by dealing with the maxim that 'when a person believes something from which harm is done, and expects to be tolerated for being sincere, we should critically refuse this support.' The difficulty lies in this last clause 'we should critically refuse this support', and concerns what we mean by 'critically' and 'support'. For we tend to think that tolerance involves assent, and that correction works upon expressions. I will leave this analysis open, for anyone who wishes to clarify it in the comments section below.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Spinoza, Ethics, Part IV, Proposition 65, Curley trans. Penguin

P65: From the guidance of reason, we shall follow the greater of two goods or the lesser of two evils.
Dem.: A good which prevents us from enjoying a greater good is really an evil. For good and evil (as we have shown in the Preface of this Part) are said of things insofar as we compare them to one another. By the same reasoning, a lesser evil is really a good, so (by P63C) from the guidance of reason we want, or follow, only the greater good and the lesser evil, q.e.d.
Cor.: From the guidance of reason, we shall follow a lesser evil as a greater good, and pass over a lesser good which is the cause of a greater evil. For the evil which is here called lesser is really good, and the good which is here called lesser, on the other hand, is evil. So (by P63C) we want the [lesser evil] and pass over the [lesser good], q.e.d.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On the continual fear and danger of violent life (not death), or Why you must risk something that matters

Recent happenings in my life have inspired me, but not in the ordinary or casual sense. This post is an attempt to clarify what is meaningful in the context of my personal life, in shedding light on my shortcomings. This is not about recontextualising or subverting my failures, or even seeing them as in any way permissible. My failures are failures, and my bad qualities (or lack of good ones) really are bad. Not only this, but they are bad in such a way that extend real, sickening problems to me.

It may seem that I am departing in practice from what I believe in principle, but this isn't the case. Affirming power means understanding what power is there, even if that means we are pathetic and weak. The internet is full of snivelling bastards, all too happy to tell you how sad (!) they are, but I don't mean to be one of these. Despite the subject matter, I am not sad.

Perhaps I should start with the current problem. I have noticed that my interpersonal competence varies wildly. Given recent situations where small talk was an urgent requirement for any flowing conversation, I found myself unequal to the task. The outcome of this is that, firstly, I can be unacceptably boring, and, secondly, I can be unacceptably boring for sustained lengths of time.

I spent this afternoon with Dr. Jim Urpeth, in frantic conversation concerning the nature of belief, language games, forms of life, and especially the reality of power and what it means to be a philosopher. This I can do. Stopping to chat to a final year undergraduate, a little later on, found me as dynamic and friendly as I am used to being - yet the focus of conversation was mainly on the exegetical problems of elitism in Nietzsche.

What is it about the price of chips that I just can't make sound convincing and vital?

But I jest. It would be extremely bad faith to paper over the cracks and count my blessings, comparing worthless currents of social bondage to the supercharged meaningfulness of high-brow thoughts. I refuse to posit that attempting to relate to someone on something approaching a ground level is inferior to demanding they satisfy intellectual curiosity. I just don't believe this, and in any case it smacks of denial.

Relationships between people framed by their trying to relate on an 'everyday' level, with a 'normal' - that is, quick - level of success, seem to surpass my competence. This is actually a frightening problem. It is so frightening because of the importance of everyday relationships. Yes, we usually say random, painful relationships, where desires butt heads and the war of all against all rages continuously. But this is wrong. The acceptance and affirmation of what happens between people is the most joyous thing, and the love engendered can, will, and does fill our hearts in exactly those ways in which it can possibly be filled. If you risk everything for some notion of meaning, let it be this one.

People matter utterly, some more and some less than others, but each in their own way. When I reason for myself, I reason for you too. If this weren't the case, thoughts would be totally worthless. Attempting to act equal to this truth is an extremely hard, one might say an impossible task. But in fact, even though this sounds akin to 'there's a hard hill to climb', we do in fact want the difficulty of doing justice to reality to match the importance of reality. We cannot throw our hands in the air. What we can do, what we can affirm, we must and do affirm, and not because we are forced to, but because we will for the love between us.

I am unequal to the tasks before me, and I have to become equal to them. I am, under certain conditions, a bore. What I must do is move through, via this and other problems, the following transition: 'Will understanding that I do and mean to do the best for those I have contact with stand over and above any notion of suffering I could endure?' Which should instead be thought of as: 'Can my love overcome my hate and allow me to give with love to others what they are able to receive, and be satisfied?'

My changeability - now competence, now incompetence - demonstrates that I need people, that I am vulnerable to them. Investing in other people to the extent required (how much more do you have? chuck it in the hat) brings the worry that emotional violence can happen very easily and simply. But isn't this the Hobbesian fantasy? I know the issue, really, is knowing what to fear and what not to fear, but this is still young with me. In the meantime I am at your mercy, whoever you are.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reason is not a language game

The purpose of this post is to come back to the idea that belief is not a discursive reality, following a conversation with Dr. Jones. This conversation brought forward an absurdity: The abstract framing of this issue as outside of meaning negates the utter investment involved when something is held to be necessarily true. This doesn't have any bearing on the belief problematic per se, just in the way I explain the problem.

So, then, the direction is to go deeper into Spinoza, and the status of universality in reason. This happens to be a suggested paper title. Meep meep!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Belief(s?), Wittgenstein and proofs

This post concerns my recent assertion that what we call beliefs socially are in fact not beliefs, and that we are in fact largely unaware of our actual beliefs. To sum up my earlier post, 'Old beliefs, new beliefs' (posted in September, and which might be a good starting point for the reader), there are two occurances of the word 'belief' in common parlance: one a construct forged around social use, and the other the precise usage that deals with what we in fact do believe. Of course, the way I've just worded what the latter means informs the meaning of the former, which by implication I mean to say is a lie.

But so what? Why does the social use of 'belief' have to be eradicated? Is it not complete in itself, partaking in a different language game?

Well, yes, it is. But there is a technical argument here from Wittgenstein, who argues that language games are the expressions of incommensurable forms of life. This is, currently, how I see the Wittgenstinian problem here:

Elements of language games can only be subverted into other language games through the activity of a form of life that partakes in the subverting game, and, as they are closed systems, the subverted form of life does not therefore change except through its own ability to understand the conditions of the subversion (i.e. through its own nature and not by that of another).

I intend to offer a couple of proofs for my position, showing by reductio the necessity of my position. Does this mean that I am only reinforcing my own form of life and not affecting any other? No. Reason is not a language game. And not only this, but I feel Wittgenstein would agree.

My move is a Spinozian one. Compared one to the other, forms of life (or singular things) are different, and not the same, and contain more or less perfection only relative to the meaning each one produces through its striving to exist. This is the same as to say that forms of life create dynamic language games. But for Spinoza reason is not a power of abstractly crunching out whatever meanings our form of life arbitrarily produces, but is our power of striving itself and our highest excellence. Reason does not decide what is best in the context of the notion of perfection, but absolutely.

I mean not to speak only to those 'with ears to hear', but to all men, when I offer the following:

1) Categorical belief is necessary to social belief: To be convinced that there is a social 'kind of belief', it cannot be possible that we do not believe it.
2) Social belief is not a subset of categorical belief: The question is open whether a stated social belief is believed categorically.

On a final note, we have to ask ourselves what the meaning of a social belief is. If someone says to you that they have a non-categorical belief, this is the same as saying that they do not have a belief. The insistence that there is another kind of belief is precisely the attempt to convince you that they do in fact have a belief, without their having to believe it. This is a lie. Indeed, because thought is reflecting on itself in noting that belief is categorical, their lie is not simply a discursive instance of lying (about what they are claiming to believe), but is an operation of the privation of knowledge that is lying itself.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Diceman

Can we and should we let chance determine our actions? Consider this hypothetical situation:

Someone has to make a choice between putting their potential actions onto a die or not. At stake is an issue that they understand. This is to say that they know the importance and scope of the issue, and how to act regarding it. It doesn't make any difference what the issue is, so I'm not going to use a specific example. The choice is this:

1) It is certain that the person acts according to a thing's importance, or

2) The person has a 5 out of 6 chance of acting according to a thing's importance

I want to suggest two things about this choice. Firstly, and most simply, that the person should not let chance decide their action here, because this would be to introduce a 1 out of 6 chance that they act incorrectly. This is something they should not do for the same reason that they should not swap a ten pound note for nine pounds fifty: Although this is a material example, and we are talking about chance, the quality of what the person has is nonetheless altered in both cases. All things being equal (and I have to stress this), the chance of ten pounds -no matter how high- is never as good as ten pounds.

Secondly, I want to suggest that the person cannot choose option 2), and what appears as a choice in our situation isn't really a choice at all. If the premise that the person really understands the issue and what to do about it is correct, option 2 is already out of the question. It is not possible, given real knowledge, say that x is true of y, that x not be true of y. For if this could be the case, this is not real knowledge. A person with knowledge cannot be anything but certain regarding it, and cannot fail to know what to do where appropriate: to throw on any issue is to act inappropriately and to negate knowledge, which is impossible.

This last point understood, and since we agree that we always have some knowledge, it is always impossible to surrender your decisions to chance (indeed, insofar as an issue can be a candidate for a throw it is to that extent sufficiently known). So there's something amiss here, as we indeed seem to surrender decisions to chance - the Diceman, for example, claims to have done this very thing.

But the Diceman never surrendered a decision to chance.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Due to my penchant for interrogation, I have set up the following blog:

This blog will attempt to re-present conversations that I have taken part in, in which I will have attempted to bring to the surface
1) the real issues insofar as the person sees them, and
2) the scope and detail of these issues with any problems.

For my part I will have, from within the conversation,
1) interjected problematics (not necessarily in a Socratic style) and
2) helped the person to construct and/or clarify their position.

Once each conversation is uploaded onto the blog, I will attempt to inform them by suggesting alternative positions, clarify what I think the major issues are, and such like.