Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Previously... John Gray, Popper, Romanticism, ASD and other stuff

Reading John Gray on Karl Popper
You may find on the internet, and enjoy reading, a short essay by JG on KP "The Liberalism of Karl Popper" (1976).
It offers a defence by JG of KP’s falsificationist stance against the criticism that revolutionary utopian social change is unfairly and dogmatically rejected by KP.

(The criticism is quoted by Gray: "If all scientific knowledge is tentative, and if social theories are identified as utopian on the basis of scientific knowledge, then all identification of social theory as utopian must likewise be

The critic claims here that KP employs "scientific knowledge" to identify utopian social theories; that KP asserts all scientific knowledge is tentative; and that KP's own philosophy demands that the scientist seeks to falsify the predictions of scientific theory, so there should - according to KP - be a test to "see" if the utopian social revolutionary social theiory is in fact utopian by, as it were, running the experiment, enacting the theory; so KP is being self-inconsistent by simply dismissing utopian social theories as non-scientific.)

I agree with Gray that the critic misunderstands Popper,and certainly I would not bother to reply to it. But that is the (weary) job of academics.

However, JG’s closing remarks in the essay have been of real interest to me. Here Gray identifies a link between Mill and KP, except that Mill’s liberalism and  pluralism relies on a "naturalistic conception fo man", whereas KP’s rests on an anti-foundationalist epistemology, which Gray describes as "an ideally appropriate metaphysical perspective".

Isaiah Berlin’s pluralism and “agonistic liberalism” is arrived at through consideration of the irreducible incompatibility of radical choices in human lives, therefore an outgrowth of the Romantic critique of enlightenment (but not as IB calls it “counter enlightenment” & not “irrational”)

KP’s critical rationalism can be seen to be oppressive and even dogmatic because it seeks to eliminate historicism and extend the falsificationist approach across all social and political “sciences”, not only science.
KP’s target is elimination of prophesising in the socal sciences.

Vico’s historicism, which influnceed Berlin and Gray (and Marx I believe) is essentially compassionate and empathic and preserves the particularity of past civilisations where Voltaire’s approach isolates pinnacle civilisations, each conforming on a human ideal. The Platonic one true answer to all questions is a myth.

Heideggerian ideas in work by British thinker John Gray
JG advicates a kind of Gelassenheit (releasement) to wean ourselves off technological domination. He looks to eastern non-monotheistic religions as giving potential clues as to how we proceed.
Quoted from “Agonistic Liberalism” essay to effect that Western civilisation will undergo decline.
JG rejects technological substantivism because this denotes, for him, a centrality to humankind, an anthropocentrism (man as the “shepherd” or “custodian” of “Being”) that is not legitimate in light of the Darwininan insight that man is the outcome of random mutation and environmental happenstance.
Scientific knowledge grows but with no commensurate increase in moral knowledge.

Jacques Ellul reminds us that technologists and scientists are most resistant to the criticism of the ethics of technology and science. In their thinking, technology and efficiency are a-moral categories. They deny others their highest freedom: the taking of a position on an ethical aesthetical matter.

Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico Philosophicus is a document I know of indirectly, as a result of reading thinkers who reacted against logical positivism, or else whose setting off point was the ethical human situation (existential philosophy, Romanticism, lebensphilosophie).
Wittgenstein arrived at the conclusion that all that is most important in our lives are things of which we cannot speak.
Not everyone takes this as the main point of W’s work. For example, some people take his work as having actually clarified questions.

I think that the position arrived at by W is derived from a belief that every expression preference or choice, every ethical or aesthetic stance, can be deduced from every other expression or statement. It is a belief in a totally rational world in which there are not different kinds of truth but in which all things converge on single universal truths. The example I give for this is a person who finds there to be a kind of deception behind poetic expression. If the reaction to artwork is envy, and if the work of architects (for example) is perceived to be the foisting of particular, partial opinions on “us” by individuals who regard themselves as superior to others, and if the basic position is “everyone has ideas, what’s so special about yours?”, then you are the kind of person who will try to reason out the existence of things like art and architecture, and will arrive, as did W, at the conclusion that such things are in-eliminable without the simultaneous elimination of what makes our human world of value to us.

The central movement of thought is something like as follows.
That inward response: “What’s so special about your ideas that you think you can foist them on everyone?” carries an appeal to a kind of supreme standard for “correctness” of ideas.
This is clearly a misapprehension. But it doesn’t stop there. The need to keep out perception of the actual lack of aesthetic responsiveness, it is necessary to reduce the partiality of expression, to neutralise it, level it off, to keep all feelings familiar. But to do this it is necessary to deny – on rational grounds – that others can really be experiencing what one is not oneself experiencing. The appeal to the objective power is not mere deference because, although it seems to suggest modesty, it is actually implied that one will know when the objective standard, the rule, will have been applied. The idea is that there is a rule for determining when the rule has been applies, and one emphatically has it!
The implicit assumption is that one has access to the limits of what language can demonstrate to be “true”.
I believe this is what W’s book is about, a delimitation of what language can demonstrate to be true, beyond which lie ethics and aesthetics, things that are true because we do them.

One objection to this is that there must be an infinite regress of rules for rules. As an experiment I could try to follow the reasoning back here, back from the moment when one tries to prove that others do not have the feelings they claim to have (their expressions do not actually point to anything real). It will be found that there is always a need to absent oneself from the world, eliminate the subject, and this is done by appealing to further rules. This is the character of many attacks on religious practice. “You can’t be experiencing that because there is no such thing as…”

But if the path is followed from the world back to the subject it is found that the needlessness of the individual collapses. Eventually the perception of lack of self is made inwardly apparent.

What characterises ASDs are an egocentrism and a need to shut out the reaility that others are experiencing what is not experienced onself. The defence of the ego that is felt to be complete is the denial of others’ realities.

Isaiah Berlin’s “The Roots of Romanticism” is not a work of philosophy, but IB’s personal account of the German Romantic movement, which, he claims, showed that values are rationally incommensurable and plural. Therefore we must defend agonistic liberal democratic social practice. A good review of the book is given by Andrew Bowie at

Fragments I recovered from the web having deleted my old blog

I believe this is precisely the territory of Wittgenstein 's Tractatus .... as an evolved barrier to screen out and limit the immense stimulation of the… (the idea in Freud of the “integument” that our central nervous system evolved from the ectoderm.)

to regard the early Wittgenstein's problem (and that of the logical positivists), ..... [Average Protestant thinks here of the idea that humans are endowed with the ...... for god, we approached the atom, we approached the limit. (Probably from the transcript of Zizek’s ttalk on Materialism and Theology)

That this question was ever called up shows why Wittgenstein could have become relevant - precisely because he sought to demonstrate what ... (can and cannot be demonstrated to be true in language)

(Ludwig Wittgenstein "Culture and Value", 1980) .."Aim at being loved rather than being admired". This aphorism is a help to anyone - if they can hear it and absorb it - who has struggled with the terrble disorders of self esteem.

Bentham: the tendency to want to form sentences that cover every single point with clarity only to generate impenetrable prose.

Dawkins’ Primitivism
RD uses generalisations such as “Religion is meant to make us pure” as a foil for his views on religion.
One can’t listen to him any more.

Loss of Self
How can it be that someone can come to depend for continuity of their self on maintaining approving and admiring responses from idealised others?

Kierkegaard, Saintliness and Self-esteem
Wonderful artistry of SK. But he was also driven to be perfect. He used irony. Romantic irony is acknowledging we can never grasp truth even while we make a truth claim. Socratic irony is indirect communication with an other, assuming a position on any given question (perhaps one that is taken for granted by the other) and inviting the other to participate in its development, which may or may not lead to some recognition of the limits or "aporia" in teh assumed position, or may result in convergence on some new understanding or knowledge.
SK's brekingh

Aesthetics and ASD
Belief that there can be a full-stop to painting, the ultimate painting, the one true painting.
It stems from a need always to absent oneself from the action and to appeal to a “standard”, which comes from the inculcation of deference to authority and power.

ASD and Asthetics
Simon Baron Cohen investigates the prevalence of ASD in the families of engineers.
It should be viewed the other way around: training and education in science and technical subjects induces ASD in people, and this needs tendency needs to be redressed by encouraging and developing individuals in their aesthetic responses to art and nature.

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