Thursday, December 25, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Why am I alive?
In my early forties, I find myself in a state of tortured confusion where my every past action or experience, my daily movements are measured and appraised by one who does not seem to be myself. An alter ego who stands by with detached and contemptuous mien, sneering at the bumbling efforts of a human in search of a soul, a human burdened and bewildered more every day by the external questions: "Where do I come from? What am I? Where am I going?"
Swept by doubt, desperately seeking just one little sign from Heaven---the sign that those who believe do not demand, I am carried along like duckweed down a Chinese river, feeling yet always denying the existence of a benign Deity, knowing so well in my heart that I have reached the supreme goal of egoistic existence. For what?
Belief. Why does it elude me? Why can't I find peace of mind like those I envy? Those who have listened and heard and felt, and having done so, contritely let fall all other barriers and started to believe wholeheartedly in God?
Why am I even unable to begin by renouncing the material things, the transitory and ephemeral? Why, knowing---and knowing, strangely, with humility---my faults, my myriad imperfections, do I go on with outward complacency, yet with growing inward desolation? Why must my mind remain factual and materialist while within me I stifle my cry for help and will not yield an iota to the stumbling craving in my soul? Will this rebellion against God never end?
Whom the gods want to destroy, they first make mad. Perhaps this is what's happening to me. Or maybe I can seek solace in the thought that I'm only going through a sort of male menopause.
So this life is only a preparation for a hereafter? This is still an illogical premise to explain the period of human history in which I have lived. The graveyards at Anzio and ten million of the world's finest men swallowed up, sacrificed upon the most incomprehensible of all mankind's bizarre altars: humanity's inhumanity to humanity, war.
So belief is a word the meaning of which eludes me. I mean belief in the concept of a benign all-seeing God. God, in the sense of a creator, yes. God in the sense of a Supreme Being I can believe in.
But a God who believes in me, a God who is aware of my soul's existence, who after death will clear up the great mystery of my reason for life in this world, I have no belief in this God, nor can I even begin to seek it with a full heart.
Today I see a strange world, more bewildering and paradoxical than anything I have read in history, even the birth of Christianity. One half of mankind grimly devoted to stamping out the ideas of God and religion, the other half apathetic to both. Supine and hypocritical, the professed believers in a Christian God today give lip-service in the various totem-houses, listening in private to their ministers and priests dencouncing the other Chrsitian sects with hatred and malice. In the light of the Church's sordid history, its stubborn refusal to keep pace with modern thought, perhaps this apathy is understandable.
The world's need for belief is desperate, more desperate than my own, for I am only one lost individual in a tortured universe, a world that is weary, shocked, and shattered. No philosophy or fanatical political dogma can stand against a true belief in God.
Belief. I wish I had it.
Errol Flynn, "Faith?"
Rome (or Naples?) 1952 (1953?)
Friday, December 19, 2008
Few spend any time and energy on analyzing how we know our most basic and valued convictions are true. In fact, we have a natural repugnance to doing so. We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when these assumptions are openly doubted leads us to seek some excuse for continuing to believe them. So most of our so-called reasoning about basic convictions is just finding arguments for continuing what we already believe.
Adapted from James Harvey Robinson, 1912
July 28, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
"Once the Republican ticket was defeated, the time had passed for ad feminam attacks on Palin. Hence my surprise and dismay at Dick Cavett's Nov. 14 blog in the New York Times, "The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla," which made a big splash and topped the paper's most-read list for nearly a week. I have enormous respect for Cavett: His TV interviews with major celebrities, which are now available on DVD, set a high-water mark for sheer intelligence in that medium that will surely never be surpassed.
However, Cavett's piece on Sarah Palin was insufferably supercilious. With dripping disdain, he sniffed at her "frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences." He called her "the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High," "one who seems to have no first language." I will pass over Cavett's sniggering dismissal of "soccer moms" as lightweights who should stay far, far away from government.
I was so outraged when I read Cavett's column that I felt like taking to the air like a Valkyrie and dropping on him at his ocean retreat in Montauk in the chichi Hamptons. How can it be that so many highly educated Americans have so little historical and cultural consciousness that they identify their own native patois as an eternal mark of intelligence, talent and political aptitude?
In sonorous real life, Cavett's slow, measured, self-interrupting and clause-ridden syntax is 50 years out of date. Guess what: There has been a revolution in English -- registered in the 1950s in the street slang, colloquial locutions and assertive rhythms of both Beat poetry and rock 'n' roll and now spread far and wide on the Web in the standard jazziness of blogspeak. Does Cavett really mean to offer himself as a linguistic gatekeeper for political achievers in this country?"
December 10, 2008
December 10, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
But why? Why must smoke be a sign of fire and not evolution? Why should a fossil imprint be a sign of an individual species of fish? Why should a red and white striped pole be a sign of a barber shop rather than a candy shop?
In each situation there must be some underlying connection between a sign and what it stands for.
In whatever way a sign is related to what it is a sign for, there is another relation underlying and justifying the relation in question, the foundation relation. Natural signs are signs that have natural foundation relations.
Why is smoke a sign of fire rather than something else? Because smoke, the sign, is the effect of the fire, the thing represented by the sign, and fire is the cause of smoke. A total or partial cause, may sometimes be a sign of its effect. Carpenters at work (final causes) or stacks of lumber and bricks (material causes) or an architect's blueprints (efficient causes) are causes that may be a sign of the construction of an effect such as a building. The sign is a sign for whatever it represents because the two are by nature causally connected.
A fossil imprint is the sign of a species of fish rather than something else because it's appearance is similar to the extinct fish. In this example, the sign is similar because the extinct fish was the cause of the sign, the fossil. A picture reminds me of a loved one because it is a likeness of the loved one, because they really look alike.
So a foundation relation may also be one of natural similarity, either alone or in combination with a causal foundation relation.
Furthermore, similarity may sometimes be a similarity of relations rather than things or properties, in which case the sign is a metaphor. Light sometimes is a sign for truth, as when I say truth is light or truth is like light. There is no real similarity between truth and light themselves, but the relations each bears to something else are similar.
The relation between truth and the knowing mind is like the relation between light and the object it illuminates. A lion might make me think of a king, since the lion is believed to be, to other animals, much like a king is to their subjects. When I see a sunny sky, I may think of a smile, since the sun illuminates the sky as a smile illuminates the face.
Whenever the foundation relation is natural, real, and not made-up or artificially contrived by a mind, the signs in question are natural signs. Causation is the most common foundation relation for natural signs, but similarity and possibly other relations such as propinquity, spatial contiguity, or temporal contiguity also bring about natural signs.
A sign whose foundation relation is artificial is an artificial sign. A red-and-white striped pole might seem to be more similar to peppermint candy than to barbering. But it's a sign of barbering and not something else because our culture in its customs and habits, conventionally associates the two, even though it may have been motivated by some vague natural resemblance such as blood and face cream in shaving. Three balls are a sign for a pawn shop and the word "rain" is a sign for rain itself for the same reason.
When the foundation relation is not natural but imposed by choice, artifice, convention, custom or habit, either by an individual or group, it's an artificial, arbitrary, or conventional sign. And when these signs are specially contrived, I call them symbols.
So signs are either natural or conventional.
Language tools are similar to logical tools. And words are signs. But are language tools natural signs or conventional signs? Maybe they're both. Certain words are onomatopoetic or ideographic. When spoken, words such as "ring", "honk", and "bowwow" are similar in sound to all or part of what they represent, but they are still conventional and arbitrarily constructed. In the same way, Chinese and Egyptian written languages are almost entirely ideographic, the written characters appearing similar to what they represent, more originally than in their developed forms. The Chinese character for "move from place to place" is a picture of a foot. But no matter how much language may be based on original similarities between words and things, it's always arbitrarily designed to perform a certain function. So any sign is connected with what it represents either naturally as a natural sign, or at least partially arbitrarily, as a conventional sign.
Every sign refers to or stands for whatever it's a sign of. A sign is anything, including a symbol, that represents something other than itself.
When I say "Where there's smoke, there's fire," I mean that smoke is a sign of fire. I say that a red-and-white-striped pole is a sign of a barber shop, or that the word "rain" is a sign or symbol of rain. To recognize a sign for what it is is to be led cognitively by the sign to something different from the sign itself, that which the sign signifies. The physician Becquerel recognized that certain impressions left on a photographic plate signified something other than the plates themselves. The impressions signified the radioactive character of uranium. If I fail to recognize this pointing characteristic of a sign, I may know many of the characteristics of a sign, but I won't know what it represents, or its importance or its meaning.
So every sign represents something other than itself. And even though one may represent oneself in a court of law, that does not make one a sign of oneself. What is represented in a sign is always an existing thing that is distinct from that sign itself.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
The most basic feature of all knowledge and awareness is that it's always about something other than itself. It refers to something other than itself. We have an experience of beauty, a feeling of pain, a concept of a triangle. We make statements about gravitational objects, and arguments that are about the interior angles of a triangle equaling two right angles. All awareness, all consciousness, all knowledge, is about something other than itself. It tends into, or intends, something distinct from itself. Intentionality is one of the most basic traits of knowledge. All knowledge is intentional and every item of knowledge is an intention.
The moment we start to think about it, we can see the same of/about structure contained in instances of knowledge in all acts of will. I intend to study, the purposing of something, and so on. Willing and purposing are intentional because they contain a cognitively intentional element. I can find out the purpose of being courteous only when I have knowledge of what courtesy is.
So knowledge is intentional: it's always of or about something other than itself. It points or refers to something other than itself. This distinguishes instances of knowledge from other things. My concept of a triangle or my statement about its interior angles is of the triangle or about the triangle. But the triangle isn't of or about anything. It's just itself. So intentionality is the unique and most basic general characteristic of all items of consciousness.
That being so, the tools used to get knowledge are also intentional. Knowledge tools, like knowing itself, are necessarily revealing, disclosing, and meaningful. The tools we use to know reality must be signs of reality. So all cognitive tools are signs. An understanding and use of logic requires some knowledge of signs.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
But why are these tools usable in these ways? Why do I use them? What makes them useful to me for knowing and understanding things?
But wait a minute: What am I looking for in "why" questions? What kind of answer do I want?
I'm looking for a reason, an explanation, a cause.
What and why questions implicitly contain a third question: Is there something?
When a child asks "What is that?", implicit in this question is a further question: "Is that something?" "Is there anything there?", and an assumed answer: "Yes, there is something there." When the child asks, "Why do birds fly?", the further question, "Do birds fly?" and its assumed answer, "Yes, birds do fly", are present as silent determinants. This question as to whether something is such and such is usually tacit because the question concerns things which are immediately sensed and whose "whether" is therefore beyond question. Hence "whether" questions usually increase as my mind extends itself beyond immediate sensation, and consequently as I mature.
But even in children the question is often explicit: "Is it raining outside?" "Do dogs go to heaven?" "Is Santa Claus real?"
What kind of answer does a "whether" question require? Answers using the word "is" or something equivalent, as in:
"Yes, it is raining."
"No, Santa Claus is not real."
"I don't know whether dogs do go to heaven or do not."
A "whether" question asks for an answer concerning the existence, reality, or factuality of something.
So there are three knowledge objects: what, whether, and why.
"What?", "Why?", and "Whether?" are natural and inescapable questions for me. They seek three kinds of objects: a characteristic, a reason, or a fact.
The mind intends three aspects of reality: essence, cause, and existence.
And that is what I'm seeking to know.
So the objects of knowledge are phases of the reality around me, and there are three kinds: The "what" of things is their essence or nature, which I seek knowledge about when I ask "What?" type questions.
The "whether" of things is their existence or nonexistence, which I seek knowledge about when I ask "Whether?" type questions.
And the "why" of things is their cause or reason, which I see knowledge about when I ask "Why?" type questions.
These three kinds of knowledge objects are precisely correlated with and determine the nature of the three logical tools. The tool for knowing a what or essence is an idea or term or concept. The tool for knowing a whether or existence is a statement. And the tool for knowing a why or cause is an argument or demonstration.
Furthermore, since language is designed to convey knowledge, there will necessarily be three types of language tools corresponding to the three types of logical tools and the three objects of knowledge. If I'm asked what I'm reading, I might say "a blog". The language tool corresponding to a concept and to a "what" is a word or phrase.
If I'm asked whether or not this is a logic blog, I might answer, "Yes, it is or claims to be a logic blog." The language instrument corresponding to a statement and a "whether" is a statement, although not always a declarative statement.
And if I'm asked why this is a logic blog, I might reply, "Because it's a blog that is explicitly concerned with the universal tools for knowing, and any blog with this explicit concern is a logic blog."
So the language tool corresponding to an argument and to a "why" is an integrated set of statements.
The parallels between knowledge objects, logical knowledge tools, and language knowledge tools can be summarized in this way:
- I conceive an essence or "what", and express it through a word or phrase.
- I state an existence or "whether", and express it through a sentence.
- I reason about a cause or "why", and express it through one or more sentences called arguments or paragraphs.
ATTAINING AND CONVEYING KNOWLEDGE
- Knowledge Object --> Logic Tool --> Language Tool
- Essence/What --> Concept --> Word/Phrase
- Existence/Whether --> Statement --> Sentence
- Cause/Purpose --> Reason/Argument --> Paragraph
- Logic Tools
- Language Tools
- Word or Phrase
- Essence or What
- Existence or Whether
- Cause or Why