“A” rarely if ever equals “A” only

Sully wrote:

When someone says “A” you look for a reason he may really mean “B”.

Absolutely. “A” has no intrinsic meaning. “A” is defined only ever by a “B,” a “C,” a “D” and so on, backwards and forwards, to first principles, which, as it happens, in the case of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, are the same first principles.

I was just reading the lines below in Religion of Reason (which, incidentally, lives up to the Straussian accolades – see sidebar for link), from the Talmud:

In that hour, in which man is led to judgment, it is said to him: did you execute your business in good faith? Did you appoint times for the study of the Torah? … Did you pursue your studies with wisdom? Did you make inferences on the basis of one sentence to another?

In quoting the passage, Hermann Cohen emphasizes that the word for “wisdom” also translates as “method.” He also notes that this emphasis on methodological knowledge – “inference of one sentence on the basis of another” – connects the Jewish to the Greek spirit (Jerusalem and Athens) as well as Judaism to its “daughter” Islam, the latter two having been “intimately” connected throughout the Middle Ages, their shared first principles residing in monotheism. Such intimate relationships – rather like real world mother-daughter relationships, or, in fuster’s example, arguments between brothers (or in the Bible between Cain and Abel) – can, of course, become all the more violent and perplexing because of their very intimacy.

The greatest impiety in the Western (Greek) tradition, the Judaic tradition, and the Islamic tradition would be the refusal to “make inferences on the basis of one sentence to another” – which refusal is the spirit of literalism, also the spirit of so-called “common sense” and the ridicule of intellectualism or mere “angel-counting.” A philosopher who placed himself self-consciously in the Christian tradition put it this way:

Since the man of common sense makes his appeal to feeling, to an oracle within his breast, he is finished and done with anyone who does not agree; he only has to explain that he has nothing more to say to anyone who does not find and feel the same in himself [!]. In other words, he tramples underfoot the roots of humanity. For it is the nature of humanity to press onward to agreement with others; human nature only really exists in an achieved community of minds. The anti-human, the merely animal, consists in staying within the sphere of feelings, and being able to communicate only at that level.

This is what I see too many calling for: A “common sense” rejection of a misunderstood, mis-defined collective other. It is the contradiction that pervades the Islamophobic right, and that recurs at every level of political discussion – a constant betrayal of what it is that the self-styled advocates of the Judeo-Christian West pretend to be defending. Yes, the alternative approach, the one rejected by literalists and common-sensicalists alike, is difficult, and puts many simple securities and habits of mind and feeling seemingly in jeopardy, but it’s what, to put it in religious terms, God demands of us, and, according to the Rabbis, will be demanded of us .

And if you can’t handle that, then I suppose I should be concerned for your soul, but I will continue to press on to agreement and a community of minds even with those whom tragic history, original sin, bad ideas, images, distorted facts, ignorance, and the Devil have put on the other side.

I’d say more, or, better, less, after careful refinement of the above, but I have some plutocratic gladiatoricals to watch now, and my stomach calls for lunch.


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49 comments on ““A” rarely if ever equals “A” only

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  1. Even though the idea of pressing toward agreement might at first seem to be at odds with Buddhist philosophy regarding speech, I think it goes to what Buddhist’s refer to as “idiot compassion.” We don’t want our compassion to be idiotic. It becomes idiotic if we give up and just stand by as people harm themselves karmically. We’re supposed to speak up and let people know when they’re screwing up. Otherwise, it’s idiot compassion, and its opposite would mean pressing toward agreement. Mindfully, of course. So Fuster might want to refrain from calling you an ass. Although, I know you could take it, so that was fine. “Ass” away. Naturally, given my avatar, I would eventually arrive at that sense of things.

  2. @ Scott Miller:
    A question is whether Buddhism would remain Buddhism if it yielded to the logic of monotheism – in a parallel manner to the way that Buddhists appear ready to yield to science wherever convinced that doing so is reasonable:

    http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/science/3631/for_buddhism%2C_science_is_not_a_killer_of_religion/

    When I say the logic of monotheism, as when I refer to God in the post, I’m not referring to any particular mythology. An insistence on a particular mythology would always on some level equate with an insistence on literalism as I’ve been using the term.

    Buddhists seem intent on asserting that Buddhism is also “religion of reason.” Guided by philosophical scrutiny of the “sources” of Judaism, Cohen finds a pure definition of monotheism that renders God and God’s relationship to humanity in a way that almost suggests a merely terminological rather than essential difference between major spiritual outlook. But it’s an important “almost” that I don’t think we should want merely to set aside or wish away, since the difference may have everything to do with how we conceive of and approach the purpose, or possibility of a purpose, of life.

  3. yes, do say more later. I’m not real clear on this ‘graph

    This is what I see too many calling for: A “common sense” rejection of a misunderstood, mis-defined collective other. It is the contradiction that pervades the Islamophobic right, and that recurs at every level of political discussion – a constant betrayal of what it is that the self-styled advocates of the Judeo-Christian West pretend to be defending. Yes, the alternative approach, the one rejected by literalists and common-sensicalists alike, is difficult, and puts many simple securities and habits of mind and feeling seemingly in jeopardy, but it’s what, to put it in religious terms, God demands of us, and, according to the Rabbis, will be demanded of us .

    As unclear as I find it, there are several interesting things there.

    The quotation above it that defines common sense as being based on feeling is one of the least satisfying and plausible explanations that I’ve ever read.

  4. fuster wrote:

    The quotation above it that defines common sense as being based on feeling is one of the least satisfying and plausible explanations that I’ve ever read.

    The passage doesn’t define common sense. It describes how the appeal to common sense operates, specifically in relation to the introduction of complex, difficult, or unexpected propositions, as in, for example, the statement that someone can say “A” and mean “B.”

    What is “common sense” as it is expressed or as it operates based on, if not on feeling?

    The appeal to common sense amounts to a claim that intuition or observation (or what I claim to have observed or think I have observed) tells me something is so – that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects, that the Earth is flat, that God is pleased by the murder of infidels, that siting a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero is obviously wrong, and so on.

    Common sense opposes itself to reason, which it calls intellectualism or sophistry. It always claims to know what’s right, what needs to be done, without needing to explain itself. It has therefore been adopted as a political value, a slogan, by so-called “common sense conservatives.” Common sense seems to tell them all sorts of things. If you don’t accept them, you’re simply wrong. There’s nothing to discuss. Your claim to want to discuss them is a trick, a sign of weakness or decadence or ulterior bad motives. It’s also, of course, a sign of distance from the common man, who knows in his heart (who feels) that he’s right, and can’t be expected to put it in terms that you East Coast Ivy League Big City types will like.

  5. CK MacLeod wrote:

    Common sense opposes itself to reason, which it calls intellectualism or sophistry. It always claims to know what’s right, what needs to be done, without needing to explain itself. It has therefore been adopted as a political value, a slogan, by so-called “common sense conservatives.” Common sense seems to tell them all sorts of things. If you don’t accept them, you’re simply wrong. There’s nothing to discuss. Your claim to want to discuss them is a trick, a sign of weakness or decadence or ulterior bad motives. It’s also, of course, a sign of distance from the common man, who knows in his heart (who feels) that he’s right, and can’t be expected to put it in terms that you East Coast Ivy League Big City types will like.

    I’m thinking of reading this quote before yoga in the morning. My students would appreciate your insight. Of course, they wouldn’t understand the “you E.C. Ivy League Big City types” part.

  6. “West Coat New Age Hippie Dippie Navel Gazers”?

    (Hey, frog, I just realized that JE Dyer was a Naval Gazer!)

    I think that the quoted passage on “the man of common sense” that fuster found implausible said the same thing, and more, much better. Mebbe I’m biased, tho I’m still curious what he meant by that…

  7. intution as common sense? nah

    experience or observation yeah

    and no common sense does not oppose reason or call it sophistry.

    it opposes application of formal logic or formulaic logical process to situations in the very real world. usually these situations are too complex to yield a simple and certain resolution and common sense has a damn good reason to resist people insisting on that their reasoning has produced one.

    common sense says that there are possible answers and that they each will only give answers of differing probabilities.

    the people saying that common sense has dictated a sure answer are either simply wrong and simple or are asserting that their analysis of probabilities has produced one that is superior to the point of being the best.

    you’ve got to sort out the lousy versions of common sense from the people inarticulate but sensible.

  8. @ CK MacLeod:
    what’s a naval geezer?

    you better not be saying mean stuff about my Jennifer.

    I got high hopes and think that’s she’s young and spry and spirited.
    I’m sorta hoping that she’s really open to inter-species dating and I’m trying to get up the nerve to invite her to the Big Hop this coming spring.

    (mean things about the other Jennifer are allowed and encouraged. she’s just a lousy writer and either never learned anything in law school or is entirely dishonest. I also have a couple of people who’ve met the lady and assure me that I’m on solid ground in thinking that she’s dumb as a boot.)

  9. @ big city but groggy:
    well mr. big city, we can sort this out at some later time. I’m not sure that everything you’ve called “common sense” is really “common sense”: Some of it seems closer to wisdom, which may sometimes overlap with common sense.

    What you have put forward is a common sensical argument for using common sense in situations where common sense is appropriate, and perhaps for using common sense to determine which situations can best be addressed through common sense.

    In any event, neither I nor the philosopher was arguing that common sense is always wrong. It doesn’t make much sense to over-think the point of contact or action either from a common sensical or philosophical perspective. Few would argue that we need to phenomenologize our granola in detail prior to consuming it every hippie dippie West Coast morning. It likewise makes no sense, common or philosophical, to accept impossible or unjustified claims of having fully grasped an un-graspable situation. In other areas, however – such as the investigation of complex philosophical or scientific matters, for instance – common sense may offer little more than a beginning point, at best.

    The issue is the appropriateness of the appeal to common sense in situations like the last, or in others where my common sense and yours mysteriously reach different conclusions. In such situations the appeal to common sense may make no sense at all, or may equate with an effort to stifle discussion.

    Common sense might even tell you to stifle the appeal to common sense in favor an appeal to reason, especially when what has previously passed for common sense may only be a habit of mind, a piece of conventional wisdom, or a parochial viewpoint.

  10. Tsar, us old philosophers were taught that it avails you little to discuss the poorer versions of the argument that you’re opposing.

    I will most happily break off for the night or the century, but would suggest to you that miggs and Sully have a good common sense argument to offer and that their failings aren’t to be laid at the feet of common sense.

    Sully starts out with a good base of facts and then screws up by abandoning common sense and taking his facts and applying logic to tell him that everyone who professes to believe the same creed must be willing to take similar action.
    He abandons the world and common sense and screws himself into using logic to reach an illogical outcome that any common sense-loving non-German philosopher-loving person has to scoff at.

    Some people will do some things and say that their beliefs tell them to do it.
    Many people say that they share those beliefs.

    Therefore all of the many are thinking that they should, or are permitted, to do those same things.

    Common sense says that there are a zillion other things to consider and that the 100% of believers deciding that they approve or might perform or can tolerate those things that the Islamic radical terrorists do is a very, very non commonsensical percentage.

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZz’zzzzzzzzzzzzz’s

  11. @ fuster:
    frog, you ignorant sleepy slut and hippie wanton, no one is saying anything against common sense being applied common-sensically. The problem is people making an appeal to common sense when common sense – or another version of it – ought to tell them that common sense has little or nothing to offer, or is completely over-matched, or has been shown to be dysfunctional and destructive.

    You say that Sully abandons common sense in just the above way, but Sully’s common sense tells him that he is merely being common-sensically consistent. What is the common sense response to a situation when two mentally competent, well-intentioned people disagree about what common sense tells them is common sense?

    Here is Sully’s poetic tribute to common sense in the context of the clash of civilizations:

    Counting the angels on the head of a pin,
    Tends to be silly, but it isn’t a sin,
    Parsing the intentions of Islamist thugs,
    May not be a sin, but it won’t get you hugs,
    Among other things it may get you wings,
    And a harp you can play when the fat lady sings.

    When people avow that their God has said,
    And further attest that their Prophet has writ,
    That they may not rest until you are dead,
    Unless you bow, and scrape and submit. . .
    Believe them.

    The only way to disagree with, or make any sense at all of, his sentiment is to do exactly what the poem common-sensically condemns – parse it. Who are the “thugs”? Who are the “people” who “avow” and “further attest”? It turns out that Sully seems to believe that anyone who upholds the Qur’an as “literal truth” must be “believed” to have implacably murderous intent towards anyone who resists humiliating submission before them. There are a thousand common and uncommon sense objections to this position, but the sheer number, depth, and extent of those objections are turned around into an indictment by someone who thinks the description is common sensical and that common sense can tell you what simple common sense things to do with one’s common sense “belief.”

    Common sense applied with uncommon self-consistency always turns to bullshit. Common sense asserted with uncommon stubbornness is just the intellectual burqa draped over brute self-interest.

  12. CK MacLeod wrote:

    no one is saying anything against common sense being applied common-sensically. The problem is people making an appeal to common sense when common sense – or another version of it – ought to tell them that common sense has little or nothing to offer, or is completely over-matched, or has been shown to be dysfunctional and destructive.

    You’ll be happy to know that the naval gazers understood that completely. I read them the quote, and then explained the whole BC type thing and how I had told you that I was going to read the quote and that you suggested that I call them W.C. hippie-dippie naval gazers and they cracked-up. They loved it.

  13. Sully I think is just tired of CAIR, ISNA, et al, crying ‘look squirrel’ when the manifestations of Salafism and Wahhabism see the light, maybe he cast too broad a brush, but since there are so few public advocates of the other side, and no the fair Imam is not one of those. Maybe it is the cost of business to give sanctuary in word and deed, to those things he doesn’t believe. Awlaki, formerly of Al Hijira is another, so is a local fellow who I’ve brought up, where El Shukrijumah and Muhajir, among others called their worship spot. Geller is another who even though I don’t concur with hereven 90% she more often then not point correctly with Occam’s razor

  14. It may mean ‘method; but clearly he means wisdom,proper train of thought. Strauss has been so ravaged by ideological scavengers of ill will, specially in the last few years, in a matter totally unwarranted. You only get so far in the dialectical scavenger hunt, (ie; Evil is not a subset of Good, it is the absence of all that is) Now there is a distinction between those who believe that the body be subjugated to the soul (or put another way, the id to the super ego) and those that demand that the state do such a thing. The latter is the Wahhabist way in practice, and the more public practice of Shia governance in Cyrus’s old haunts

  15. miguel cervantes wrote:

    The latter is the Wahhabist way in practice, and the more public practice of Shia governance in Cyrus’s old haunts

    As Cohen demonstrates, a philosophical investigation of monotheism will reveal that all states founded on its precepts are theocratic, because morality (or moral reason) inherently takes the share in ethics/politics of religion. It should go without saying that the reluctance of modern states to elucidate or identify, or even to understand, their own foundations may weaken the superstructure, but doesn’t suspend it in ideological mid-air. In that sense, the distinction between so-called theocratic states and our own is more a how than a what: In no human state do souls or super egos exist uncorrelated with and unconstructed by fellow souls or super egos, or without relation to concepts of the whole society, of the whole of humanity, and of the divine.

  16. And the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, the Greeks and the Romans were able to pull it off for a while, but they ultimately reverted. But it has little to do with the religion, from Solon to Alcibiades, from Cincinatus to Caesar, not to say Augustus

  17. I’m back, but only to share my latest; not that every single one of you deserve it.

    A horse trots into a bar,
    The Barman asks, “Why the long face?”

    Greeting that horse,
    The barman, of course,
    Hardly a plodder,
    Inquired re remorse,
    Before serving up gorse,
    His usual fodder.

    The horse made reply,
    Exceedingly wry,
    “Why the long face?
    I’ve been off the pace,
    For many a race,
    And thus out of grace.
    I fear for my goal,
    Of siring a foal.”

    Later he said,
    With a shake of his head,
    “Plus there have been calls,
    For changing my stall,
    To one far down the hall.
    And what even more galls,
    Confounds and appalls,
    I heard through the wall,
    A sly joke about balls,
    That didn’t seem funny at all.”

    “Don’t worry your head,”
    The kind barman said,
    “Here, drink up instead,
    Relax and kick back, have a ball,
    I’ll see that your lead,
    In good time to your stall,
    By dawn when the vet comes to call.”

  18. I can’t hang around here long enough to formulate complex responses, fuster. Since his two attempts to lower my resistance and convert me with Scholasticismic overload failed, MacLeod has formulated a plan to have me detained and reformed using a refinement of the Ludovico Technique.

    You’re the only one I can trust. I think. . .

  19. Sully wrote:

    You’re the only one I can trust. I think. . .

    I’m Trustworthy,; Loyal,; Helpful,; Friendly,;don’t believe what my wife says. she lies about everything.