sunnuntai 25. helmikuuta 2018

Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise vicomte de Bonald - Philosophical researches on the premier objects of moral cognitions (1818)

I’ve already discussed de Bonald’s ideas about the proper form of state - to summarise, he was a conservative thinker, who preferred hereditary monarchy over democracy, because the former provided a unifying element required for stabilising society and keeping it running according to necessary laws. I am now about to discuss his opinions on the more theoretical side of philosophy and particularly his work Recherches philosophiques sur les premiers objets des connaissances morales.

De Bonald begins his discussion with a summarised account of the history of philosophy, starting with Thales and ending with Kant and his school. While his account is at first quite diverse, he is finally quite willing to divide all philosophy into two rough classes, according to the question of the source of our ideas - those de Bonald calls Platonists, who believed in the possibility of innate ideas, and those he calls Aristotelians, who upheld that all ideas are ultimately derived from sensations. This is strikingly similar to the ideas of Saint-Simon, which makes one suspect that both thinkers relied on some common tradition in French historygraphy of philosophy.

It is no wonder that de Bonald, with his conservative take on philosophy, prefers the platonistic side of the dispute. This can be seen especially in his attitude toward the question of the origin of language. On the one side of the question, de Bonald sees linguistic atheists, who deny any peculiar origin of language and regard human speech as a mere haphazard accident that has arisen through happy circumstances. At the other side, then, are linguistic theists, who insist that skill language has been created together with the creation of human beings, just like the biblical story of Adam naming animals reveals. Finally, there is also the deistic middle stance, which supposes that human language has arisen gradually over time, from a state of complete silence, but also that humans have had a natural tendency for speech, not to be found with other animals.

De Bonald insists that the proper answer to the question is the theistic one, simply because language is something that could not have been invented - invention would have already required thinking, but human beings simply cannot think without the aid of words. A particular target of his criticism is Condorcet’s notion of the development of human culture, which undoubtedly was highly speculative account. Of course, nowadays we would quickly discount de Bonald’s explanation by saying that it is equally speculative, based on mere unverified myths, while the seemingly separate realms of silent animality and linguistic rationality seem in our eyes to be more like two points on an unbroken continuum.

De Bonald goes even further and suggests that even writing is something humans cannot have invented by themselves, pretty much for the same reason as language couldn’t have been invented - to distinguish sounds within words, one must already have letters to indicate them. What might have been invented was hieroglyphical writing, in which all words were indicated by one picture, but like other thinkers of the time had said, such a manner of writing expressed a stagnation of human development. The truly innovative alphabetical writing, de Bonald insists, must have been of divine making. Indeed, its very purpose was to counteract the all too human habit of forgetting such important things as divine law.

On basis of these considerations, it is no wonder that de Bonald is against any materialistic theories of human constitution. He notes as a physiological fact that human brain plays a crucial role in the formation of human consciousness, because all the nerves clearly transmit sensations to it. Yet, he notes, this does not necessarily mean that brain is the source of thoughts, because it might as well be just the means by which the proper source of thinking - intelligence - receives sensations and transmits commands to various parts of the body. Indeed, de Bonald says, the latter theory bears striking resemblance to the proper form of state, in which a monarchic ruler uses noble ministers to guide the body of state.

De Bonald finds three different aspects in the intelligence: imagination, or the faculty of making mental representations corresponding to sense objects, understanding, or the faculty of conceiving ideas of non-sensuous, intellectual objects, and finally, sensibility, or the faculty of sensing pleasure and pain. Now, all of these aspects have their own form of language, de Bonald continues: imagination makes gestures and pictures, understanding creates articulated speech, while sensibility is shown in involuntary movements and cries.

What de Bonald tries to achieve by distinguishing these three faculties is, firstly, to argue against the Condillacian theory that all thoughts are just modifications of sensations. Especially he wants to say that ideas - say, like of justice or goodness - are not mere sensuous images. Of course, we have learned through senses the linguistic expressions, which refer to these ideas, but the ideas themselves must be innate in us, at leas as innate capacities to think such things, de Bonald concludes.

The second reason for this trivision of mental faculties, lies in de Bonald’s wish to undermine the materialistic philosophy of mind presented by Cabanis. While Cabanis had suggested as significant evidence for materialism that such things like age, gender or climate affect one’s mental constitution, de Bonald suggests that such matters affect only things like taste in foods, which belongs more to sensibility, but not ideas, which should be universal. Indeed, de Bonald states, seeming counterexamples of cultures having different moral norms are not dependent on material influences, like climate, but simply on the moral state of the culture in question.

From the rather clear that fact that a person can wish for one’s own death, de Bonald draws the rather strong conclusion that human soul must be immortal. De Bonald’s reasoning is based on the assumption that soul or human personality can never really hope for its own destruction. Indeed, when one desires death, one desires merely separation of soul from the shackles of body, de Bonald says. Of course, one can quite well suspect such a statement, because we might well assume some suicidal people would really want to destroy their very consciousness.

De Bonald also notes the universal recognition of the existence of God. Indeed, he notes this on each of the three aspects of human cognition: different cultures have had images of divinity, they have talked about gods and they have surely had sentiments of the creator. De Bonald suggests this universal recognition as a premiss in a Cartesian proof of God’s existence - if humans have had cognitive stances about God, God must be possible, which means that he must also exist. Yet, as he himself appears to understand, the most convincing argument he could use is more emotional - the universality of belief in God seems hard to explain, unless God really existed. Indeed, de Bonald notes, even hardline materialists cannot but fail to speak of such matters as the order of the world, thus implicitly already assuming the existence of someone to order matter.

It is no wonder that as a conservative thinker de Bonald doesn’t try to introduce any novelties in his philosophy, but defends a tried worldview. Thus, it is to be accepted that after bringing God into the equation, de Bonald notes that he has organised the world teleologically for the sake of human beings. In another analogy with state, de Bonald calls humans ministers of the divine monarch, leading all the other living beings. This does not mean that humans could despotically rule over animals, because they should be more like guardians to animals. Still, de Bonald sees humans as clearly above animals, because animals are, de Bonald says, perfect and cannot become any better, while humans are perfectible.

torstai 1. helmikuuta 2018

Hugues Felicité Robert de Lamennais: Essay on indifference in matters of religion, volume IV; Defence of the essay on indifference in matters of religion

The rest of Lamennais argument for the divine nature of Christianity concerns mostly what could be called its emotional impact. For instance, Lamennais notes that miracles reveal to us the power of divinity, which surpasses the comprehension of human mind, and thus bolster the dogmatic side of divine revelation. I am not really interested of the question whether miracles actually have occurred, but a more interesting consideration is whether miracles are even possible. A deistic argument against their possibility, which Lamennais recounts, notes that miracles are contradictions, because they should break supposedly unbreakable laws of nature - that is, nothing could be a miracle, because if something broke what we thought was a law of nature, then the supposed law wouldn’t have been a true law in the first place.

Now, making miracles into a logical absurdity seems a sophism of the worst sort and makes one just wonder, if there is something wrong in the suggested definition of miracle, because one can surely imagine what it would be like if some divinely powered entity would break the regular course of nature. Of course, it also depends on what do we mean by a law of nature. If one means by it just a regularity, miracles could be defined as highly improbable events, on the condition that these regularities usually hold. Then again, if a law of nature means something more necessary, we could either think of all these laws as having an implicit caveat, like “unless God decrees otherwise” - and a miracle would then be just an instantiation of such a caveat - or we might think that miracles mean temporary replacement of our world and its laws with another world having different laws of nature. For Lamennais, this sophistical argument is just a proof that deists, who deny all powers from divinity, are a step away from becoming atheists, who, by the way, cannot even show that natural world has any unbreakable laws.

The very crux of the emotional argument for the sanctity of Christianity lies undoubtedly with the person of Jesus and his supposed role in the divine plan. Word of God - whatever that means, but it surely sounds like a mighty person - takes on a rather powerless position and dies just for the sake of giving humans a chance to redeem themselves. As the popularity of Christianity shows, this is a rather powerful story - who wouldn’t like it, if some person of authority sacrificed himself for others? Indeed, one might suggest that this emotional component was an essential aspect at the stage when Christianity spread over the Roman empire. Lamennais, on the other hand, takes this spread as a further proof for the divine origin of Christianity, which seems a bit too quick conclusion, since Christianity surely hasn’t been the only ideology that has gathered followers despite its meager beginnings.

Lamennais still tries to back the sanctity of Christianity by showing that Christianity has been beneficial to the development of society. I have already discussed a similar argument and noted that it is rather doubtful. What is more interesting is Lamennais’ later written defense of his work, attached at least in the edition I've been reading to the final volume. Here Lamennais returns especially to the themes of the second volume and to his account of various philosophical schools, like empiricism and idealism. In the defense, Lamennais is especially interested of what he called dogmatic school of philosophy, the major proponents of which were supposedly Descartes, Pascal, Malebranche, Leibniz, and rather interestingly, Francis Bacon, whom otherwise one might have included with the empiricists. The defining characteristic of this “school” Lamennais finds in reliance on individual human reason. It doesn’t take Lamennais long to find some clear difficulties e.g. in Cartesian reliance on human reason - as Descartes himself attests, the very criterion he suggests, or clarity and distinction of ideas, works as a criterion only if he already supposes the existence of a benevolent divinity, who can guarantee the connection between clarity/distinction and truth. Lamennais thinks that even the famous I think therefore I am falls because of this mistake, since it can at most now show that we must believe in our own existence, not that we have any basis for this belief.

While Cartesian fundamentalism does break at obvious places, Lamennais regards as its worst offence the culture of individual reason it has propagated - after Descartes, everyone believes she can find the truth by following her own opinions. Lamennais explicates his own chosen criterion by saying that instead of individual reason he advocates for common sense or reason, that is, the authority of generations and generations of Church doctrine. He does note some of the more obvious criticisms against his position, especially on the question whether we can truly say that Catholic Christianity is the best authority to rely upon. Unfortunately, he really does not have any better basis for this assumption, except to point to his four criteria of unity, universality, perseverance and sanctity, all of which we have found wanting.

maanantai 22. tammikuuta 2018

Hugues Felicité Robert de Lamennais: Essay on indifference in matters of religion, volume III

Lamennais’ argument for taking Christianity as the true religion was based on four characteristics the true religion should have: unity, universality, perpetuity and sanctity. I talked about Lamennais’ case for the unity of (Catholic) Christianity, which meant essentially just that Christianity did not tolerate any other religions. Even if we accepted such intolerance as a characteristic of the supposed one true religion, the problem is that many other religions share the same characteristic.

Lamennais’ case for the universality of Christianity is based on an almost opposite justification, namely, on the supposed similarity of aspects of other religions with some dogmas of Christianity. Lamennais goes to great lengths in quoting authorities on other religions to show that e.g. belief in one divine creator and an idea about an upcoming savior are accepted throughout the world. Lamennais wants to say that other religions are mere modifications of Christianity and its dogmas. The obvious problem with this line of attack is that one might think Christianity itself is just a modification of the true religion, which might be one of the other religions having these supposedly universal characteristics. This problem is augmented by the fact that some distinctly Christian dogmas, such as trinity or incarnation, are not as universally accepted.

If by universality Lamennais tried to emphasise that Christian dogmas could be found all around the globe, by persistence he meant to say that Christianity, in one of its forms, could be found at all times. This characteristic tied in with Lamennais’ insistence on a chain of authority running through the Catholic tradition, all the way to the supposed creation of humankind. In fact, Lamennais even stated that such a chain could be found in other traditions and noted that many religious thinkers and philosophers emphasised the ancient religious customs as the purest and most suitable for worship of divine. In case of these other traditions, this chain just had at some point broken, by idolatry and materialistic philosophy.

Lamennais’ case for the perseverance of Christianity is, of course, based strongly on the assumption that Bible is a reliable history. We obviously cannot expect that Lamennais would have had any idea of the future findings of archaeology, which make it rather clear that many Bible stories cannot be literally true - e.g. there probably was no great migration of Hebrew nation from Egypt. Even so, many of his arguments for the reliability of Bible are quite full of holes. For instance, Lamennais finds it unconvincing that Jewish nation would have suddenly forgotten its history, when it had been handed from parents to children in an unbroken succession. The obvious problem here is that even if this line would be unbroken, the message might well change, like in a game of Chinese whispers. Indeed, Lamennais notes this possibility in case of e.g. Indian traditions, which shows a clear double standard on his part.

Just as unconvincing as Lamennais’ defence of the reliability of Bible is his defense of Biblical prophecies, especially of those that have concerned events which are now past - because these prophecies came to be true, Lamennais thinks that we can trust that the other prophecies will also. The clear problem is that Lamennais takes it as granted that these prophecies derive from the era of the supposed author of the texts, for instance, that the prophecies of Daniel concerning the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms were reported at a period before these risings and falling had occurred. Yet, one might well make the assumption that such prophecies were actually written after the events mentioned, and in fact, in case of Daniel’s prophecies, it seems clear that their author knows much more about this future history than about the time when Daniel was supposed to live.

The unreliability of Bible in general and prophecies in particular affects also Lamennais’ case for the fourth characteristic of the true religion or sanctity - that is, if Bible and prophecies are full of falsities, it makes it questionable that they and Christianity as a whole would be divinely inspired. We shall return in more detail to the case of the sanctity of Christianity in the next and final post on Lamennais’ work.

tiistai 16. tammikuuta 2018

Hugues Felicité Robert de Lamennais: Essay on indifference in matters of religion, volume II

With the second volume of his essay, De Lamennais enters the region of epistemology. It is especially the question of the foundation of all certainty that interests him. He considers three possible answers to the question, all of which he finds wanting. First of these answers is the classical empiricism, in which certainty is based on sensations - Lamennais calls this possibility materialism. His criticism is predictable: sensations give us no certainty on anything, because we do not know how or even whether they are connected to a thing existing independently of sensation.

The second answer Lamennais considers is idealism, which he says to be exemplified by Berkeley and Kant. This pairing might raise some eyebrows and even more suspect is Lamennais’ suggestion that such an idealism based certainty on sentiment. Lamennais does not offer a serious justification of this characterisation, but one might suspect that it is especially the post-Kantian idea of intellectual intuition as the method of philosophy, which lies behind his suggestion. In any case, Lamennais can quickly note just that sentiment is no better a foundation than sensation, because different people have diverse sentiments of same topics.

The final answer is Cartesian dogmatics, which in Lamennais’ opinion bases everything on reasoning. Although Lamennais regards dogmatics most favourably of the three answers, he is quick to point out that all reasoning must have some starting point or use some axiom which is not based on further reasoning. Thus, even reason is no final answer to the question of certainty and Descartes must accept the bane of Pyrrhonian skepticism.

Having denied the validity of these three answers, Lamennais introduces his own solution. Certainty, he says, cannot be based on thoughts of a single individual, but this does not mean that it couldn’t be based on a group of individuals. Indeed, Lamennais insists, whenever we are arguing and come to a standstill, we ask the opinion of other people. In other words, it is the intersubjective criterion of authority, which Lamennais takes as the foundation of certainty. There is certain feasibility in this ideas, since e.g. when discussing a difficult scientific theory, we are more likely to accept the opinion of an expert than that of a layman with a clear feeling about the correct solution, because the expert is more of an authority than the layman. Still, what we could consider an acceptable authority and what Lamennais considers it to be are two different things.

It is then no wonder that when Lamennais starts to consider the existence of God that he uses the common opinion of all humanity as a proof of this existence. He does mention more meatier proofs, notably what Kant called an ontological proof - surely God must exist, since he is just “that who is” or the epitome of all existence, which must exist, never mind what else there is. So convinced Lamennais is of his authorial justification that he puts all the other proofs he uses in a footnote.

The existence of God is not just some very theoretical statement, which doesn’t concern human life, Lamennais thought. Instead, a number of important truths follow from the existence of God, he said. Notably, humans, created by God, must have some laws governing their nature, just like all things, and furthermore, they must follow these laws of their nature, if they are to find true happiness. For instance, Lamennais noted, human beings need to know the truth, but as he supposedly showed, all truth is based on authority and ultimately on authority of God himself, who is supposed to know all the truth.

The purpose of Lamennais’ argument is then clearly to show that human beings need a relation to God, in order to satisfy their own yearning for truth. The relation of human being to God, then, is obviously meant to be the defining moment in religion. Yet, not just any relation to God satisfies Lamennais, but he insists that there is only one proper religion, since the natures of human being and God are not variable - they are like two puzzle pieces that can be combined in only one manner. This means that all the other supposed religions are then just falsifications of the one true religion.

The next question is obviously then what criteria we should use for discerning this true religion and distinguishing it from all false religions. Lamennais considers again the possibility to use sentiment or reasoning as a criterion - apparently sensation just has nothing to do with religion in Lamennais’ eyes. Both possibilities are easily shown to be unfeasible. Sentiment cannot be the basis of one religion, since different cultures have had different feelings about the true religion, while reason is again incapable of fending off doubts even about the simplest truths.

The only possible option left, Lamennais insists, is authority, this time of the society. God has created human being as an essentially social entity, who has to find his certainty through education given by others. Since this flow of education cannot be infinite, it must end at a stage where human beings were directly educated by God himself - hence, the need for revelation.

It is to be expected that the true revealed religion Lamennais has in mind is Christianity in its Catholic form. In the next post I shall enter into more details of the justification Lamennais gives for this thesis, but we can already note the emphasis on the unity on religion - a clear statement against any tolerance of opinions. Indeed, Lamennais is quick to dismiss all pagan religions because of such a tolerance of different viewpoints, which appears to be the worst form of idolatry. Furthermore, he regards almost all non-Christian religions as such an idolatry. The only exceptions are Judaism, which Lamennais thinks was just a temporary phase in the development of true religion and is now just a lifeless husk, and Islam, which he considers to be just another heretical form of Christianity.

torstai 28. joulukuuta 2017

Hugues Felicité Robert de Lamennais: Essay on indifference in matters of religion, volume I (1817)


It is always interesting to find thinkers who in their later life completely reverse or at least significantly modify their thoughts in some manner. Catholic priest de Lamennais is an example of such a thinker. While he was originally quite conservative in his opinions, disparaging French Revolution as a destroyer of traditional social and religious values, later on he would become a devout democrat, who would attempt to combine Christianity with a more liberal attitude toward affairs of state.

De Lamennais’ four-volume work, Essai sur l'indifference en matière de religion belongs still to the conservative period of his thinking. He is evidently inspired at least by de Bonald, whom he quotes approvingly several times in the first volume. But while de Bonald emphasised more the role of society, de Lamennais focuses on religion and especially the battle of philosophy against it.

Just like Chateaubriand earlier, at least in the first volume of his work de Lamennais does not even try to give a theoretical argument for the truth of religion in general and Catholic Christianity in particular, but he merely emphasises the practical need for religion. All humans strive for happiness, de Lamennais begins his apology. Yet, any being can be happy only if it satisfies laws of its own nature. A presupposition of this step in de Lamennais’ argument is that it must be possible that a human being can live without satisfying those laws - thus, fatalism must be simply false, de Lamennais says, because in a fatalist world we would all follow the laws of our nature and be happy, which is clearly not the case. Of course, one would easily make this argument collapse by choosing a completely different criterion for human happiness, such as pleasure and pain. Still, if we follow de Lamennais a step forward, we notice that to become truly happy we must know our place in the world, as designed by God, which is the job of religion.

Although individual human happiness is then one thing that de Lamennais uses in his defence of religion, it is especially the social benefits of religion - and particularly of Christianity - which he takes as his primary justification. All societies have been based on religion, and the longer the mores of a society have been in touch with the original religious consciousness, the longer it has lasted. Especially noteworthy in de Lamennais’ eyes is Christianity, which has stabilised and civilised Europe since the fall of Rome - and like Chateaubriand, de Lamennais is quick to compare the havoc caused by French Revolution with the education of Paraguay by Catholic priests.

From modern perspective one might note that Christianity has also been one of the forces stifling the development of society, but for de Lamennais this objection would not be valid, because he is still quite enthused about the conservative ideal of society, in which people are bound in a clear hierarchy, with different obligations and authorities assigned for different classes and genders. The philosophical counterpoint - the story of a pact made to form a society - is not favoured by de Lamennais, because it essentially confuses authority given by divine power with the force of majority to make others follow the laws dictated by them (of course, one might ask, what is meant to be the basis of divine authority, if not the supposed infinite force behind it).

One common enemy of Christianity and liberal politics de Lamennais find in slavery, which cannot really be tolerated. Yet, even here de Lamennais finds the policy of Catholic Church much more reasonable than the attempts of philosophical reformists - while latter try to change the state of African slaves in one enormous upheaval, Church tries to educate men to stop taking people as slaves. One might think that while such slow reform can often be pragmatically best option, it is quite peculiar that Church as the supposed mouth of God in the material world still renounces its own principles and advocates for a pragmatic solution.

The opponents of the Church de Lamennais divides into three categories, all of which are in some measure indifferent to the importance of religion. The first and clearest of these are atheists, who turn their back completely to God. While atheists would nowadays just deny the worth of religion, the supposed atheists of French Enlightenment might have been of different opinion and they could have admitted that religion is a useful tool for upholding society. Or at least de Lamennais says they have admitted this, mentioning at least Voltaire’s quip that he wouldn’t accept atheists as servants (we can ignore for now that Voltaire most likely wasn’t an outright atheist). De Lamennais finds in this attitude a sort of inconsistency, but upholding publicly what one deems as false is not a real contradiction, just a lie - and perhaps such an atheist could say that lies might be necessary and hence acceptable in the matters of society.

A further problem de Lamennais finds in the assumption that religion has been expressly invented as a deceit when creating the first society - such an invention would already require a society, for which it should have been basis. Yet, one need not either take religion as a conscious invention or suppose its divine origin. Instead, we might suppose that religions have grown accidentally from pre-social experiences and interactions of human beings and thus can fail to be true descriptions of the relation between humans and the supposed divinity, while still having an important role in the growth of civilization.

The second category of opponents includes deists, the foremost example of which for de Lamennais is Rousseau, as expressed by the speech of the Savoyard priest in the book Emile. Deists accept the existence of God, but they deny the need for any specific revelation, embodied expressly in the figure of divine mediator or Jesus. De Lamennais follows the official Biblical announcement that Jesus is the only true way toward knowing God and thus easily concludes that deists can really know nothing about God. Their only supposed source for the knowledge of God is human reason, but that is in de Lamennais’ eyes a fickle thing and something prone for errors, as shown by the fact that no two philosophers can agree on the nature of divinity. De Lamennais even uses Hume to show that reason can really say nothing about the existence of God, thus suggesting that deism just paves the way for straight atheism. The only content left for religion in deism is ethics, but this is especially something that cannot be decided by reason, de Lamennais insists, as shown by different customs of different nations. De Lamennais’ work reeks of an attitude where deism is not taken seriously, but is regarded as a mere lightweight substitute for religion - an attitude that doesn’t understand that religiousness can be embodied also in uncertain searching for something divine and not just in a faith founded on strong foundations.

Considering the Catholicism of de Lamennais, it is no wonder that the third opponent of true religion for him is protestantism in its various forms. If atheism tried to severe humans from God and deism from Jesus, protestantism attacks the relation between individual and church. One might think that this is a too severe judgement, because the protestants do have churches also, but it is more the unity of church de Lamennais is talking about. While Luther or Calvin might just have wanted to reform the original church, what they managed to bring about was a number of petty congregations, squabbling with one another. The problem in the whole reformist attitude, according to de Lamennais, is practically same as with deism - it tries to replace Catholic tradition with individual reason and conscience. What de Lamennais criticizes is the multiplicity of possible individual opinions on faith and God, while it is just this tolerance of individual opinions we might cherish as the true benefit derived from Reformation.

torstai 14. joulukuuta 2017

Antoine Destutt de Tracy: Elements of ideology, parts 4 and 5. Treatise on will and its effects (1815)

The unfortunately final piece of Destutt de Tracy’s Elements of ideology seems like a patchwork or a combination of disparate parts. Firstly, Destutt de Tracy uses the occasion to introduce a supplementary topic that should have been included somewhere in the first three parts of his work, namely, probability. The aim of this supplement is merely to show that probability requires no independent science of its own, but instead, all sciences should contain a part which deals with uncertainties.

The topic of the book proper is volitional part of human consciousness. Just like in his study of the cognitive side of consciousness, Destutt de Tracy divides his topic into three different parts, yet, he now also begins with a general introduction for all of these parts, dealing with will in general. We have already seen that Destutt de Tracy regards will as a completely passive faculty - it is mere perception of what one finds preferable or what one desires. We have also noticed that Destutt de Tracy considers our self-conception to arise from this volitional perception - we identify these preferences as belonging to ourselves, whereas all hindrances against attaining the preferable seem contrary to ourselves. Despite this rather passive view of volition, Destutt de Tracy admits that there is something active in human nature, namely the muscular system, which serves as our means for fulfilling our desires.

Going somewhat further with the basic concepts, Destutt de Tracy introduces such familiar notions like richness, freedom, right and duty. Richness means for him simply owning things one finds preferable (one wonders how this definition could be used as a basis for actual measuring of one’s riches). Freedom, on the other hand, is for Destutt de Tracy merely the absence of any constraint for one’s actions (what later would be called negative freedom).

Even more peculiar is Destutt de Tracy’s idea that desires determine our rights. Simply put, he says that all basic rights come back to the fact that living entities should have the right to fulfill their desires - a somewhat rash statement, since surely then many rights of different people would clash with one another, like the desire of having some slave serve you would contradict the slave’s desire of walking freely. Similarly, all duties should be determined by our actual means of obtaining things (one might suppose that Destutt de Tracy thinks here that one is morally obligated to use all means to gain what one desires).

The first part of the general science of volition Destutt de Tracy calls economy, which he defines as a study of human actions. Evidently, he is not speaking of just individual actions, but of the actions produced by the society in general. Indeed, Destutt de Tracy indicates that group work is a necessary ingredient in human manner of doing things, since it gives certain advantages to everyone, such as the ability to let each person concentrate on one aspect of a certain work process.

Destutt de Tracy goes even so far as to suggest that society can be divided into three classes according to the parts of a general scheme for all work processes. That is, since all work processes require at most three types of people, a theoretician knowing the general laws governing world, applicationist knowing how to apply theories and a practical person performing the actual work, society should be divided into three parts: scientists, entrepreneurs and workers. In practice, Destutt de Tracy quickly incorporates scientists into the workers, or generally, hirelings of entrepreneurs, and he also introduces a third class of sterile owners, who get their money e.g. from rents and do not actually produce anything new.

Why are the renters then sterile? This statement just reflects what for Destutt de Tracy is the goal to be sought in economy, that is, the production of useful things. This seems quite a materialist dream, although obviously a lot might depend on what is meant to be useful. Unfortunately, Destutt de Tracy’s answer just avoids this issue - the utility of something is evaluated by the number of sacrifices one is willing to make to obtain it. We seem to be walking in circles here - we should do things that are valuable, but valuable are just those things we are willing to do most.

The more we get to the details of Destutt de Tracy’s economy, the more quaint it appears. He divides the work to be made into two different types - the one or industrial produces new things (Destutt de Tracy includes agriculture in this type), while the other or commercial moves things to where they are most needed. It is very notable that the service sector is altogether missing from Destutt de Tracy’s scheme, which just accords with his notion of where the true value in economy lies. Indeed, the only place where he speaks of service work is in connection with the sterile renters, who pay for other people to serve their needs. Since such a service does not produce any new goods, Destutt de Tracy condemns it as a mere luxury, which just consumes the wealth of the society.

It is not surprising that Destutt de Tracy thinks government resembles more the sterile property owners who merely consume without adding to the wealth of society. State in his eyes is just a necessary evil, and indeed, its only function appears to be just to protect its citizens from other states. The inevitable conclusion then is that the state budget should be restricted as much as possible and that the state should not meddle with the economy any more than it needs to. One can raise many obvious objections, the foremost being that there is no a priori reason why state couldn’t also be productive in the sense demanded by Destutt de Tracy; it is then a different question whether such a state-controlled production of goods is as effective as private production, but since he is not treating this as an empirical question, neither need we. Furthermore, we might well also ask whether state could not have other important functions, not involving production of goods, such as construction of infrastructure, education etc., which are handled by many modern states.

Despite the rather right-wing attitude toward state and his enthusiasm for the entrepreneurs, Destutt de Tracy does not forget the salaried workers. Although he does state that some inequality of wealth is almost inevitable, inequality is still unjust and an inherently wrong state of affairs. Despite this, he still denies that the poor would need any special economic policy. Instead, the general development of economy should help also the salaried workers, by giving them more work and cheaper goods.

What developments Destutt de Tracy then expects of the economy? His general attitude is anti-mercantilist in that he advocates for a completely free foreign trade, which in his opinion just serves to combine all parts of the globe, moves goods to where they are most needed and incites even internal trade. He is also somewhat Malthusian, because he thinks population shouldn’t increase unless the means of sustaining them also increase - unemployment does no good for workers. Despite these at the time modern attitudes, deeply conservative is his idea that valuable metals, gold and especially silver, are the only possible form of currency and that especially paper money just encourages swindling and causes disturbances in the economy. One might hear people proclaiming nowadays that we should return to gold standard, but Destutt de Tracy speaks for an even great leap backwards in history. He is again speaking especially for the workers, who apparently are best served by stable prices - this would be a controversial statement nowadays, when a low, but steady inflation is taken as the best state in economy.

Although Destutt de Tracy has emphasised more the means of action instead of its goals in his economy, he might have said something about the latter in the fifth part of his ideology, which would have covered morality, by which he meant the study of human emotions. Indeed, Destutt de Tracy himself suggested that the two books would have been complementary, regarding the same topic from different viewpoints, in a manner reminiscent of Adam Smith. Unfortunately, Destutt de Tracy managed to write only a small part of the beginning of morality, leaving his whole ideology unfinished.

What Destutt de Tracy did manage to complete was an introduction to the book, describing his view on the metaphysical underpinnings of our will in particular and our personality in general. He endorsed the idea of Cabanis that one’s physiology in large part determines what one is like and especially what one fancies and desires. Interestingly, Destutt de Tracy still in a sense upheld the Leibnizian pre-established harmony. Of course. his interpretation of it was rather original - Destutt de Tracy suggested that Leibniz had tried to express the notion that within human body happen some yet unobserved movements, which cause both our experience of wanting something and the corresponding perceivable movements of body attempting to achieve what is wanted. Indeed, if one just replaces Leibnizian soul with the far less ontologically loaded consciousness, this interpretation appears not that far-fetched.

When it comes to the actual emotions of a human being, Destutt de Tracy managed to just begin a chapter on love, which he called the most positive emotion possible. One might speculate that love might have offered him a similar basis for goal of human being as general sympathy did for some British moralists, but this is all a mere speculation. Even less to say we have of the planned sixth part of ideology, which would have completed the section on volitional part of human consciousness. We do know that this part would have dealt with the art of governing societies, but since we have already seen that Destutt de Tracy wanted to restrict the role of government, it would probably been quite a short work.

torstai 16. marraskuuta 2017

Antoine Destutt de Tracy: Elements of ideology, Third part, Logic (1805)

The main feeling after reading the third part of Destutt de Tracy’s magnum opus is one of futility - why did he have to write the book or at least why did he have to use so many pages for it? The main point of the work is so simple and could have been said in far fewer words.

Destutt de Tracy’s first point is that traditional logic has followed a completely misleading route. The aim of logic should have been to find the ultimate reasons why we sometimes stumble into error and methods for avoiding such errors. After Aristotle had put so much effort in classifying the various species of valid syllogisms, every logician was under the impression that these rather quaint formulas were the essence of logic, although they were sterile and quite useless in producing new truths.

Destutt de Tracy’s second point is that the true source of certainty can actually be found in the two previous parts of his ideology. All human thinking is just sensation, and in a sense, all sensations are as such reliable. Although this might appear rather far-fetched, Destutt de Tracy’s point appears to be simply that when we sense or experience something, we are certainly having that experience and something either outside or inside us is making us experience things in that manner. This means especially that simple sensations of things present are a completely reliable source of knowledge - if we sense red, then we are sensing red and something is making us sense red.

An error comes into the picture only with judgement. There’s no question about it that we sense red and that something makes us see red, but the question is can we say what this red-sensation-making thing is and whether it is even an object outside us or just some hallucination inducing state within us - or, to take another object, if we see a crooked stick, whether this sensation of crookedness is caused by a truly crooked stick or by a straight stick together with the refraction of water.

Now, judgements are also, Destutt de Tracy said, sensations - they are experiences of one idea being connected to another idea. Thus, there is no particular reason why judgements as such couldn’t be as reliable as ordinary sensations. For instance, if we note that a certain sensation must be produced by an external object, because it resists our efforts to change it, we can be fairly certain that this judgement is reliable.

The reason making certain judgements unreliable, Destutt de Tracy suggests, is essentially our bad memory. We have a sensation and are convinced that this sensation resembles sensations we used to have. If our memory of these earlier sensations were faulty, we would then be in error. Since all our general concepts are just abstractions from earlier sensations, according to Destutt de Tracy, this source of error can easily cause much damage in our cognitive state.

“Base your knowledge on present sensations and try to avoid faulty memories” is then the simple answer to most questions of logic - Baconian empiricism is the solution to everything. The only other thing we need to take into account is the role of language, since most of our cognitive processes happen through words. Indeed, when we learn things just through reading - a favourite point of ridicule, of which scholastics used to be accused - we are just having sensations of certain signs, which have the ability to induce in us some ideas, although these ideas might have no resemblance with our direct sensations. Language is thus another possible source of misinformation, but it is also a possible source of correct information, as long as we just know the semantics of the language used.

And this was it! No further methodology is required, Destutt de Tracy appears to say, and a more cynical reader might ask if experience and semantics is truly enough for finding new truths, although they are undoubtedly good tools for avoiding errors.

Apparently just to add some more pages to his book, Destutt de Tracy chose to give a general outline of what his ideology should contain. Despite its supplementary nature, this is by far the most interesting piece of the work. The three books Destutt de Tracy had published thus far formed only the first third of the whole ideology, or in more detail, the part dealing with human cognitive capacities. Even in this part Destutt de Tracy had noticed that human beings had something beyond mere cognition or sensations, namely, active drives, which we sense as volitions. The second part of ideology should then be formed by the study of our volitional side. Since this part of ideology Destutt de Tracy managed to at least partially publish, I shall not handle it now.

The third planned, but never published part should have then dealt with things external to humans. As we saw already with the first part of Ideology, Destutt de Tracy thought our belief in things external to us was based on our volition and especially on the feeling of resistance we have, when we are prevented from getting what we want. This resistance and its various kinds form then in Destutt de Tracy’s view the basis on which physical sciences would have to be founded.

In addition to physical sciences and concrete bodies, this third part of ideology would deal with the abstraction of distance, which we measure with our movement. Thus, we get the ideas of spatial dimensions and shapes, which form the topic of geometry.

Finally, the third part would have to deal with the imaginary world of numbers, which we create from the abstraction of units and an imagined collections of such units. On basis of this simple beginning can be built more and more complex ways to manipulate numbers, which retain their certainty because of their connection with these original notions of unit and addition and because of precision involved in mathematical language. Despite this world of numbers being completely imagined, Destutt de Tracy said, it could be used in real world, just because and when we could find suitable items to take as units.

Next time, we shall see the conclusion to the story of ideology.