MacIntyre on Protest

Protest is now almost entirely that negative phenomenon which characteristically occurs as a reaction to the alleged invasion of someone’s rights in the name of someone else’s utility. The self-assertive shrillness of protest arises because the facts of incommensurability ensure that protestors can never win an argument; the indignant self-righteousness of protest arises because the facts of incommensurability ensure equally that the protestors can never lose an argument either. Hence the utterance of protest is characteristically addressed to those who already share the protestors’ premises. The effects of incommensurability ensure that protestors rarely have anyone else to talk to but themselves. This is not to say that protest cannot be effective; it is to say that it cannot be rationally effective and that its dominant modes of expression give evidence of a certain perhaps unconscious awareness of this.

From After Virtue, by Alasdair MacIntyre

https://epistemh.pbworks.com/f/4.+Macintyre.pdf

Hegel and History

What does philosophy have to do with history? Well, one might argue philosophy is necessary for any interpretation of history to be possible. How can we interpret the raw data of history without a framework for the interpretation of data? How are we to discern what constitutes data in the first place? Is history merely a succession of events, “one thing after another,” or is it a progression? If it is a progression, is it one of peoples, thoughts, ideas, or…?

Hegel argued, rather weirdly, that World History was a progression of the Idea of the World Spirit, the process of God coming to know himself via his expression of himself through the development of history.

Regardless of what one believes about Hegel’s ideas, he had some interesting things to say about the field of history itself. Difficulties arise when we attempt to “learn” form history–to learn moral lessons, or to discern patterns. This is the realm of history, but it is also the realm of philosophy. The very transmission of history involves narration, selection, rationality.

When we have to deal with the Past, and occupy ourselves with a remote world, a Present rises into being for the mind – produced by its own activity, as the reward of its labor. The occurrences are, indeed, various; but the idea which pervades them – their deeper import and connection – is one. This takes the occurrence out of the category of the Past and makes it virtually Present. Pragmatical (didactic) reflections, though in their nature decidedly abstract, are truly and indefeasibly of the Present, and quicken the annals of the dead Past with the life of to-day. Whether, indeed, such reflections are truly interesting and enlivening, depends on the writer’s own spirit. Moral reflections must here be specially noticed – the moral teaching expected from history; which latter has not infrequently been treated with a direct view to the former. It may be allowed that examples of virtue elevate the soul, and are applicable in the moral instruction of children for impressing excellence upon their minds. But the destinies of peoples and states, their interests, relations, and the complicated tissue of their affairs, present quite another field. Rulers, Statesmen, Nations, are wont to be emphatically commended to the teaching which experience offers in history. But what experience and history teach is this – that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it. Each period is involved in such peculiar circumstances, exhibits a condition of things so strictly idiosyncratic, that its conduct must be regulated by considerations connected with itself, and itself alone. Amid the pressure of great events, a general principle gives no help. It is useless to revert to similar circumstances in the Past. The pallid shades of memory struggle in vain with the life and freedom of the Present. Looked at in this light, nothing can be shallower than the oft-repeated appeal to Greek and Roman examples during the French Revolution. Nothing is more diverse than the genius of those nations and that of our times.

Among us, the so-called “higher criticism,” which reigns supreme in the domain of philology, has also taken possession of our historical literature. This “higher criticism” has been the pretext for introducing all the anti-historical monstrosities that a vain imagination could suggest. Here we have the other method of making the past a living reality; putting subjective fancies in the place of historical data; fancies whose merit is measured by their boldness, that is, the scantiness of the particulars on which they are based, and the peremptoriness with which they contravene the best established facts of history. The last species of Reflective History announces its fragmentary character on the very face of it. It adopts an abstract position; yet, since it takes general points of view (e.g., as the History of Art, of Law, of Religion), it forms a transition to the Philosophical History of the World. In our time this form of the history of ideas has been more developed and brought into notice. Such branches of national life stand in close relation to the entire complex of a people’s annals; and the question of chief importance in relation to our subject is, whether the connection of the whole is exhibited in its truth and reality, or referred to merely external relations. In the latter case, these important phenomena (Art, Law, Religion, etc.) appear as purely accidental national peculiarities. It must be remarked that, when Reflective History has advanced to the adoption of general points of view, if the position taken is a true one, these are found to constitute – not a merely external thread, a superficial series – but are the inward guiding soul of the occurrences and actions that occupy a nation’s annals.

Even the ordinary, the “impartial” historiographer, who believes and professes that he maintains a simply receptive attitude; surrendering himself only to the data supplied him – is by no means passive as regards the exercise of his thinking powers. He brings his categories with him, and sees the phenomena presented to his mental vision, exclusively through these media. And, especially in all that pretends to the name of science, it is indispensable that Reason should not sleep – that reflection should be in full play. To him who looks upon the world rationally, the world in its turn presents a rational aspect. The relation is mutual.

From the introduction to Hegel’s Philosophy of History

https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hi/introduction-lectures.htm

What is it like to be a bat?

Thomas Nagel’s now-famous article about the impossibility of using a reductionist approach to understanding human consciousness.

We appear to be faced with a general difficulty about psychophysical reduction. In other areas the process of reduction is a move in the direction of greater objectivity, toward a more, accurate view of the real nature of things. This is accomplished by reducing our dependence on individual or species-specific points of view toward the object of investigation. We describe it not in terms of the impressions it makes on our senses, but in terms of its more general effects and of properties detectable by means other than the human senses. The less it depends on a specifically human viewpoint, the more objective is our description. It is possible to follow this path because although the concepts and ideas we employ in thinking about the external world are initially applied from a point of view that involves our perceptual apparatus, they are used by us to refer to things beyond themselves—toward which we have the phenomenal point of view. Therefore we can abandon it in favor of another, and still be thinking about the same things.

Experience itself however, does not seem to fit the pattern. The idea of moving from appearance to reality seems to make no sense here. What is the analogue in this case to pursuing a more objective understanding of the same phenomena by abandoning the initial subjective viewpoint toward them in favour of another that is more objective but concerns the same thing? Certainly it appears unlikely that we will get closer to the real nature of human experience by leaving behind the particularity of our human point of view and striving for a description in terms accessible to beings that could not imagine what it was like to be us. If the subjective character of experience is fully comprehensible only from one point of view, then any shift to greater objectivity—that is, less attachment to a specific viewpoint—does not take us nearer to the real nature of the phenomenon: it takes us farther away from it.

http://www.philosopher.eu/others-writings/nagel-what-is-it-like-to-be-a-bat/

Plato’s Forms

For further reading on the forms. This seems pretty basic, but there are references to the works where he talks about this idea.

Scholars disagree about the scope of what is often called “the theory of Forms,” and question whether Plato began holding that there are only Forms for a small range of properties, such as tallness, equality, justice, beauty, and so on, and then widened the scope to include Forms corresponding to every term that can be applied to a multiplicity of instances.

http://www.iep.utm.edu/plato/#SH6b

The Wikipedia article goes much more in-depth, and includes criticism of the idea, from Plato himself. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_Forms

Finally, here is the Wikipedia article for Plato’s theory of knowledge, which I referenced in the last discussion. It contains reference to the Theory of Forms, but it doesn’t necessarily rely on it. I had confused the two during our discussion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platonic_epistemology