Rebirth of Reason

Post to this threadMark all messages in this thread as readMark all messages in this thread as unread

Post 0

Monday, March 9, 2009 - 12:44pmSanction this postReply

Really, I want to know who your favorite philosopher is who is outside Objectivist circles and who isn't Aristotle. And I want to know why.


Sanction: 4, No Sanction: 0
Sanction: 4, No Sanction: 0
Post 1

Monday, March 9, 2009 - 6:25pmSanction this postReply
There are other philosophers?? Wow...
No, but seriously, folks, it's great to be here, tonight.  Let me tell you about my favorite philosopher, Herbert Spencer.

Herbert Spencer: Recovery of a Lost Resource
By Michael E. Marotta
SOCL 640: Advanced Sociologicall Theory
Dr. Robert Orrange
Winter 2009
March 2, 2009

Herbert Spencer’s massive three-volume Principles of Sociology was only a subset of a much larger Principles of Synthetic Philosophy, sold originally by subscription. (Wiltshire 59)  The project began in 1860 and ended in 1896.  The first volume in book form came out in 1873.  It is also arguable that the subject is “sociology” as opposed to “anthropology.”  In truth, Spencer provided a broad and deep comparative sociology that examined domestic, political, ecclesiastic, professional and industrial institutions across the fullest possible range of recorded human societies. 

The more portable and tractable Study of Sociology in a single volume also began as a series of installments, this time in an American magazine, Popular Science Monthly, from May, 1872 to October 1873, after which it appeared in book form. 

Spencer says that it is a superstition to attribute the creation of the solar system, plants and animals to God. (29) He goes on to say that it is also superstitious to claim that great men make societies.  “Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.” (31)  Even if we grant that a “great man” has certain attributes by birth, he is “powerless in the absence of the material and mental accumulations which his society inherits from the past, and he is powerless in the absence of the co-existing population, character, intelligence, and social arrangements.” (31)  Spencer warns his reader against the self-serving distortions of business, politics, and religion.  (84)

Like Marx, Spencer saw an evolutionary pattern in human society.  Like Marx, he identified the source of social stratification in that evolution.  Unlike Marx, Spencer regarded this evolution as neutral or benign, a fact of nature, no different from sunspots.  For Marx, the model was metaphysical: the dialectic materialism of thesis-antithesis-synthesis that underlies and powers the physical world.  As an economist, Marx explained all human relations in terms of the modes of production.  For Spencer, the model was biological: living entities respond to their environments by processes of differentiation and specialization.  Spencer considered societies to be analogous to plants and animals because societies are comprised of living things.  “The nature of the aggregate depends on the nature of the unit.”  (43; 44; 45) 

Structures begin with a heterogenous and generalized stage:  At first, the chief of a tribe may have a higher perceived status but will still fashion his own weapons and directly manage his own affairs.  As this “operative” function meets more complex demands, it differentiates into “regulative” structures: priest, captain, judge, warrior; with further differentiation and specialization within each.  (55-56)  But Spencer does not stop there.  He asks the cogent questions.  It is not that structure supports growth, but that structure is complete with the arrest of growth. (57)  And he offers evidence.  In the United Kingdom, rails were narrow gauge because they evolved from carriage stagecoaches and the roads along which they ran.  However, in the U.S. there was no prior infrastructure of coaches and roads, so rails here could be of wider gauge.  A city sewage system, once in place, is impossible to replace.  A functioning national educational system prevents different kinds of educational systems from being created.  (58-62)

Throughout all of this and beyond, Spencer is fully aware of the limitations of his model and of sociology as a science.  He points out that meteorology tells us that summer is warmer than winter, and yet we still may need to light a fire for heat in July.  Geology and even astronomy are established and general and yet often inexact.  (34-35)  So, too, do biology and ultimately sociology “yield much less definite results.” (91)

Spencer’s Study of Sociology devotes several chapters to these “difficulties” of prejudice.  Having ignored his work, we think that our problems are new and unique.  In discussing just that prejudice, Spencer says ironically that up until the 18th century, illiteracy was a “virtue” in the upper classes.  However, from 1771-1781 the first Quaker schools were established for commoners.  In his time, public funding for education in the United Kingdom rose from £20 thousand per annum in 1834 to £1 million 30 years later–“and it is claimed that we are perishing for lack of education.”  The lack of results from a 5000% increase in public spending on education over the course of a generation could be from today’s news.  In other words, what happens directly to us takes on greater importance only by proximity, a caution still found in today’s textbooks. 

In short, as the roles of society differentiate, each becomes mutually dependent on the other.  The farmer depends on the warrior to defend him.  The guardian gets his weapons from a smith who wears the product of a weaver, and so on.  Moreover, we evolve different kinds of farming, soldiering, merchandizing, etc.  In this light, it is more useful to understand Spencer as a structural-functionalist.  Talcott Parsons made this point in the “Introduction” to the 1961 reprint of The Study of Sociology by the University of Michigan Press.

To Marx, division of labor was the root of alienation.  To Spencer, it was life itself.  In the ultimate Marxist utopia, where everyone does everything, everyone is interchangeable.  In the ultimate Spencerian utopia of differentiated function, each of us becomes irreplaceable … assuming that we are not weak, sick, stupid or lazy.  Darwin got the phrase “survival of the fittest” from Spencer.  Spencer opens The Study of Sociology by admonishing against charity.

In the chapter on Biology, Spencer returns to the argument that made him infamous. 
Every further appliance for meeting an evil, every additional expenditure of effort, every extra tax to meet the cost of supervision, becomes a fresh obstacle to living.  For always in a society where population is pressing on the means of subsistence, and where the efforts required to fulfil vital needs are so great that they here and there cause premature death, the powers of producers cannot be further strained by calling on them to support a new class of non producers without in some cases increasing the wear and tear to a fatal extent.  (311)
In other words, not only does charity reward the unproductive, it kills the goose that lays the golden egg.  When we find it difficult to believe that taxation can bring the ruling class to starvation, we need to read the history of the U.S.S.R.  In most times and places, of course, it is not the topmost who are jeopardized.  The American social Darwinist Ayn Rand called it “sacrificing the underdog to the underdoggier.”  Spencer’s original point in the first chapter of The Study of Sociology was that charity prevents enterprise because the money given to the poor is lost to investment.  Therefore, future goods and services disappear.  This is the unseen consequence of charity.

Spencer was all for industry and had no use for predation.  In Social Statics, he condemned colonialism and imperialism. 

Spencer’s faith is in moral character, not education.  Emotions, not opinions, are the sources of our actions.
Spencer asks rhetorically what connection there can be between literacy and numeracy on the one hand, and morality on the other. 
“What possible effect can acquirement of facility in making written signs of sounds have in strengthening the desire to do right? How does knowledge of the multiplication table or quickness in adding and dividing so increase the sympathies as to restrain the tendency to trespass against fellow creatures?” (331)
Spencer’s eclipse came because he was never associated with any university, party or cause.  Spencer seldom spoke in public.  He sold his writings by subscription, so even though he had a printer, he was essentially self-published.  Like Protagoras and the Sophists, he made a business out of teaching, though never in person.  Turner and Peel both credit him with creating a research enterprise, a fact that we do not appreciate today.  He employed college-trained young men to search the printed works of his time, and then to catalog according to his schema the facts they found.  Yet, Spencer touched many lives.  Andrew Carnegie wrote to him, calling him “Dear Teacher.” 

We have lost an important resource.  Does our global society evolve according to Spencer’s predictions?  I believe that it does.  Do other societies–nations, civic clubs–also evolve along these same lines?  Again, I believe that Spencer provided useful tools.  If Spencer were returned to the discursive space of sociology and given the voice he deserves, we would benefit in our analyses.  More importantly, we would empower a new generation of enterprising intellectuals to open new frontiers.

Sources (Partial List)
Cooley, Charles H. 1920. “Reflections Upon the Sociology of Herbert Spencer.” The American Journal of Sociology 26: 129-145.
Haines, Valerie. 1977. “Spencer and His Critics,” Pp. 81-111 in Reclaiming the Sociological Classics: The State of the Scholarship, edited by Charles Camic, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
------. 1988. “Is Spencer’s Theory an Evolutionary Theory?” The American Journal of Sociology 93:1200-1223.
Peel, J. D. Y. 1971. Herbert Spencer: The Evolution of a Sociologist. New York: Basic Books.
Perrin, Robert G. 1976. “Herbert Spencer’s Four Theories of Social Evolution.” The American Journal of Sociology 81:1339-1359.
Shapin, Steven. “Man with a Plan: Herbert Spencer’s Theory of Everything,” The New Yorker, August 13, 2007.
Spencer, Herbert. 1891. The Principles of Sociology in Three Volumes. New York: Appleton and Company. 

------.  1954. Social Statics. New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. Second Edition originally published 1877.
------. 1961, 1966. The Study of Sociology (Introduction by Talcott Parsons). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Paperbacks.  Originally Published 1873.  (This was the copy that I bought, read and marked up.  The quotations in this paper come from cutting and pasting from the Google Books archive of the 1904 edition by Appleton and Company.)
------. 1968. Reasons for Dissenting from the Philosophy of M. Comte and Other Essays. Berkeley: The Glendessary Press. Originally published 1864.
Turner, Jonathan H. 1985. Herbert Spencer: A Renewed Appreciation. Hollywood, California: Sage.

Post 2

Monday, March 9, 2009 - 6:31pmSanction this postReply
That said, I found interesting and useful ideas in the works of Parmenides and Aristippus.  I have the two-volume Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Eminent Philosophers and if you want to be open minded and intelligent, you can learn a lot from those old Greeks, even the ones we don't like, Plato and Heraclitus.

... but enough about me...

Post 3

Monday, March 9, 2009 - 7:13pmSanction this postReply
Nietzsche, for his aphorisms, (sort of), primarily this one: "Without music, life would be a mistake."
(Edited by Joe Maurone on 3/09, 7:13pm)

Post 4

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 - 6:08amSanction this postReply

I can sum up the philosophy of my “second favorite” philosopher in one word: Harmony.
This philosopher is a vast mind, a good spirit, and a warm friend.

His name is Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. He was born in 1646 in Leipzig. He loved learning. He taught himself Latin at age seven in order to read some classics. He was educated in the tradition of Aristotelian Scholasticism. On a sojourn in Paris from 1672 to 1676, he became acquainted with Christiaan Huygens, who introduced him to new philosophy being advanced by Galileo, Torricelli, Cavalieri, Descartes, Gassendi, Pascal, Hobbes, and others. On the way home to Germany, Leibniz travelled to England and to Holland, where he met Spinoza. Reaching home, he became a counselor to the court of Hanover.

In Paris Leibniz had begun developing a philosophical system. He would continue to develop it through all his years to his death in 1716.

1675 - “Letter to Foucher”
“Even though the existence of necessities is the first of all truths in and of itself and in the order of nature, I agree that it is not first in the order of our knowledge. For you see, in order to prove their existence, I took it for granted that we think and that we have sensations. Thus there are two absolute general truths, that is, two absolute general truths which speak of the actual existence of things: the first, that we think, and the second, that there is a great variety in our thoughts. From the former it follows that we exist, and from the latter it follows that there is something else besides us, that is, something else besides that which thinks, something which is the cause of the variety of our appearances. Now one of these two truths is just as incontestable and as independent as the other; and Descartes, having accepted only the former, failed to arrive at the perfection to which he had aspired in the course of his meditation.”
(Translation of Ariew and Garber)

1684 - “Meditations on Knowledge, Truth, and Ideas”
“When I think about a chiliagon, that is, a polygon with a thousand equal sides, I don’t always consider the nature of a side, or of equality, or of thousandfoldedness (that is, of the cube of tenfoldedness), but in my mind I use these words (whose sense appears only obscurely and imperfectly in the mind) in place of the ideas I have of these things, since I remember that I know the meaning of those words, and I decide that explanation is not necessary at this time. I usually call such thinking, which is found both in algebra and in arithmetic and, indeed, almost everywhere, blind or symbolic. And indeed, when a notion is very complex, we cannot consider all of its component notions at the same time. When we can, or indeed insofar as we can, I call knowledge intuitive. There is no knowledge of a distinct primitive notion except intuitive, just as our thinking about composites is for the most part symbolic.”

1686 - “Discourse on Metaphysics”
“In saying that things are not good by virtue of any rule of goodness but solely by virtue of the will of God, it seems to me that we unknowingly destroy all of God’s love and all his glory. For why praise him for what he has done if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing the exact contrary?”

1697 - “On the Ultimate Origination of Things”
“There are always parts asleep in the abyss of things, yet to be roused and yet to be advanced to greater and better things.”

1714 - “Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason”
“Even the pleasures of the senses reduce to intellectual pleasures known confusedly.
“Music charms us, even though its beauty consists only in the harmonies of numbers and in a calculation that we are not aware of, but which the soul nevertheless carries out, a calculation concerning the beats or vibrations of sounding bodies, which are encountered at certain intervals. The pleasures that sight finds in proportions are of the same nature, and those caused by the other senses amount to something similar, even though we might not be able to explain it so distinctly.”

(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 3/10, 7:09am)

Sanction: 5, No Sanction: 0
Sanction: 5, No Sanction: 0
Post 5

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 - 6:18amSanction this postReply
John Locke. He largely solved the problem of universals. His design of a civil government is awesome and strongly influenced the Founding Fathers.

Post 6

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 - 6:58amSanction this postReply
I like the writings of Philippa Foot, a modern British philosopher who spent much of her career in the US, in part because she has a lot in common with Rand.  She revived ethical naturalism, the position that ethical utterances are claims of fact, in the face of the then-prevailing consensus that such utterances are really commands, exhortations or emotional expostulations that only look like statements.  She made her first bit splash with the articles "Moral Beliefs" and "Moral Arguments," pointing out that value-talk is inescapably about living organisms that can as a matter of natural fact be affected for better or worse.  One of these articles came out in 54, the other in 57 (I forget which), so she was a bit ahead of Rand on this point.

When Foot was a teacher of mine in the early 70s I asked her about this Rand resemblance.  She said that people had pointed this out to her before and that what they had in common was what they both learned from Aristotle.  I came across somebody on one of the Objectivist forums who was a student of hers a decade later and who said that by then she was quite hostile to Objectiivism.

The aforementioned articles are widely anthologized.  Natural Goodness is a (short) book-length summation of her life's work.

(And DID you know that she's President Taft's granddaughter?  That would make her a cousin or niece of Robert, one of Rand's favorite political figures.)

Sanction: 9, No Sanction: 0
Sanction: 9, No Sanction: 0
Post 7

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 - 10:04amSanction this postReply
Mortimer Adler.
Not because he was the most correct philosopher in the world [this is a "second-favorite" listing, remember?  :-)], but because his infectuous love for ideas is more obvious than any other philosopher in the world.
While Rand did the most to "commercialize" or "popularize" her philosophy (she wrote great novels), Adler did the most to "commercialize" or "popularize" philosophy in general (he brought it into homes, via television; he founded The Center for the Study of Great Ideas).
Wikipedia entry on Mortimer Adler
The Center for the Study of Great Ideas
Selected quotes (from brainyquote.com ):
On truth and philosophy:
The philosopher ought never to try to avoid the duty of making up his mind.
We acknowledge but one motive - to follow the truth as we know it, whithersoever it may lead us; but in our heart of hearts we are well assured that the truth which has made us free, will in the end make us glad also.

On books:
In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but how many can get through to you.
If you never ask yourself any questions about the meaning of a passage, you cannot expect the book to give you any insight you do not already possess.

There is only one situation I can think of in which men and women make an effort to read better than they usually do. It is when they are in love and reading a love letter.

On the hypothesized link between America and Christianity:
One of the embarrassing problems for the early nineteenth-century champions of the Christian faith was that not one of the first six Presidents of the United States was an orthodox Christian.

On love:
Love without conversation is impossible.
On freedom:
Freedom is the emancipation from the arbitrary rule of other men.

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 3/10, 10:05am)

Post 8

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 - 2:28pmSanction this postReply
I will second Ed Thompson's vote for Mortimer Adler and sanction his post.

Post 9

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 - 12:40pmSanction this postReply
Great replies. Thanks. More are welcome.


Sanction: 10, No Sanction: 0
Sanction: 10, No Sanction: 0
Sanction: 10, No Sanction: 0
Post 10

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 7:22amSanction this postReply

Joe Maurone mentioned in #3 the quality of the aphorisms of Nietzsche. Although there is a great amount of Nietzsche with which I disagree, his expression of his ideas is arresting. Aphorisms, yes, and excerpts from longer passages too. I would like to share a favorite excerpt (when clipped as here) from a longer passage of Nietzsche’s. There is much with which I thoroughly disagree in the full passage. The culminating philosophical issue in this clip finds Aristotle, Peirce, and me roughly on the side of Nietzsche, with Leibniz and Rand saying “nice, but no.” One will encounter quite a bit in the imagery here that makes its way into Anthem and Fountainhead to somewhat different conceptions of human being.

Before Sunrise
    Oh sky above me, you pure, you deep one! . . .
    . . .
    Mutely you rose for me today over the roaring sea, . . .
    . . .
    . . . Before the sun you came to me, the loneliest one.
    We are friends from the beginning . . .
    . . . We are silent to one another, we smile our knowledge to one another.
    Are you not the light to my fire? Do you not have the sister soul to my insight?
    Together we learned everything; together we learned to climb up to ourselves by climbing over ourselves, and to smile cloudlessly.
    . . .
    And if I wandered alone—for whom did my soul thirst in nights and on wrong paths? And if I climbed mountains, whom did I ever seek if not you on mountains?
    And all my wandering and mountain climbing: they were only a necessity and a help to the helpless one—the only thing my will wants is to fly, to fly into you!
    . . .
    I am a blesser and a Yes-sayer if only you are around me, you pure, you bright one, you abyss of light! Into all abysses then I carry my Yes-saying that blesses.
    . . .
    But this is my blessing: to stand over each thing as its own sky, as its round roof, its azure bell and eternal security . . .
    Truly it is a blessing and no blasphemy when I teach: “Over all things stands the sky accident, the sky innocence, the sky chance, . . .”
    “By chance”—that is the noblest nobility in the world, I gave it back to all things, I redeemed them from their servitude under purpose.
    This freedom and cheerfulness of the sky I placed like an azure bell over all things when I taught that over them and through them no “eternal will”—wills.
    . . .
    Oh sky above me, you pure, exalted one! This is your purity to me now, . . .
    —that you are my dance floor for divine accident, that you are my gods’ table for divine dice throws and dice players!
    But you blush? . . .
    . . .
    Oh sky above me, you bashful, you glowing one! Oh you my happiness before sunrise! The day is coming, and so let us part now!

    Thus spoke Zarathustra.

Adrian Del Campo, translator (Cambridge 2006)

Post to this thread

User ID Password or create a free account.