Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Thursday, December 21, 2017

very brief note on form, content, and scare quotes

The stance of many of Socrates’ opponents -- Callicles and Thrasymachus being the most obvious -- seems to have been that if you were fortunate enough to have the wherewithal to take what you wanted, you were a fool to waste time on those you took it from. You are happy; enjoy it while it lasts. To these opponents it was also plain that the stories about right and wrong were tools to be exploited. Persuade others that it is wrong to struggle, and your own work is all the easier. This critique of ethics follows upon, and is abetted by, a critique of religion. It is a short step from the cultural relativism that was making the rounds -- the observation that the nations’ gods all tended to resemble the nations’ respective inhabitants (for example, their kings), and the observation that the laws vary from city to city as well -- to the conclusion that laws and gods alike are mere stories that serve the interests of the powerful and distract the weak, the gullible, and the fearful. Atheism has not evolved very much since then. Neither, incidentally, has superstition -- i.e., “religion” as a human instinct; but that is not surprising, for atheism is simply a special case of superstition.

But faith has indeed “evolved,” if by this we may mean become deeper, more encompassing, more profound -- and also more wise. (More cunning, Nietzsche would rejoin -- and he’s partly right, but not for the reasons he thinks). This does not mean that “the faith once given,” as Jude 1:3 calls it, has changed, but the language for it has indeed developed, responding to one cultural shift after another. The critique of religion was not merely propounded by the sophists and tyrants and opportunists like Thrasymchus. It was also -- and perhaps even primarily -- propounded by philosophers themselves, albeit in a different spirit. But parallel to this philosophical critique of religion, there was developing another critique -- what I have called the religious critique of religion; and this has required a continual.

The other human endeavor that has certainly “evolved” is science. I would say -- in a from-the-hip sort of way that I might regret for its possibly too-easy symmetry -- that whereas faith has evolved precisely as regards its “form”, the cultural apparatus it uses, science on the other hand has evolved in the way faith has not -- and only in this way: as regards its “content,” which is (as is continually averred by scientists) corrigible and revisable in a way that “the faith once given” is not.

The scare quotes within which I enclose “form” and “content” here are meant to indicate that I'm using a rough and ready distinction. It needs to be be queried. But one possible formulation might be that faith is to form as science is to content -- this comes through, for instance, in a certain reading of Meillassoux in which he holds that it is precisely the content of a scientific assertion with which correlationism cannot cope, and precisely the form of faith which is ascendant in correlationism, because it has remained committed to the the idea of sufficient reason even after any possible candidate for such a reason has been abandoned. What this underscores is that the very idea of form and content are philosophical and when they are applied to faith they are a function of the philosophical critique.

Or -- possibly -- the very split between philosophy and faith is itself a function of religion fighting back -- a divide-and-conquer strategy, or a desperate cornered slashing.

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