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Letters to the Editor
Resurrecting the Dogma • Wronging the Ignorant and Dumb • Collective Madness • Systematic Electrons • Emotional Response
Resurrecting the Dogma
It is commonplace for atheistic apologists to sling mud at religion in the hope of discrediting its dogmas, as Les Reid’s letter (Issue 11) demonstrates. To do this is to confuse human inadequacy with religious inadequacy, blaming belief for evils such as ‘apartheid’ and ‘male chauvinist ideology’ when neither is found in the Bible. If Mr Reid would care to take a look at Genesis Chapter One he will discover that both males and females are created in the image of God and thus find that both masculine and feminine qualities are found in God’s fullness.
Mr Reid asks “what is this meaning that religion is supposed to deliver?” My answer is that it delivers the believer into a relationship with the source of all meaning. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Reid’s assertion that “the cosiness of group activity, the pleasure of ritual and the satisfaction of supporting charity work” are to be found outside of religious organizations, but where do these pleasures come from? What makes these things meaningful? If God does not exist, if there is no objective ground or foundation of meaning in the Universe, then how could it be possible for people to “agree on the facts of our situation, agree on the values we hold and work together for the common good”? The religious contention is that without God, there are no facts or values or good things.
I think that it is a mistake to drop the supernatural and yet attempt to corner the market in meaningfulness as Piers Benn does in ‘Shackles of Superstition’ (Issue 10) and I wouldn’t consider such an attempt to be an exercise in Christian apologetics at all. Without the supernatural I do not believe there can be meaningfulness at all. Mr Reid suggests that “traditional justifications resting on alleged miracles […] many years ago are found less convincing today by a populace who understand more of the scientific world-view,” and cites this as a reason why some look for meaning without the supernatural. I have no doubt that Mr Reid is correct in this assumption, but I also have no doubts that the premise of the assumption itself is wrong. Anyone who understands the modern scientific world-view will find it a whole lot easier to believe in the supernatural than someone who understood the scientific world-view of two hundred years ago. Besides, it is mistaken to assume that miracles were accepted in the past because people did not understand the scientific view of the world; just the opposite is true. The disciples knew enough about the way the world normally works to be scared stiff when they saw Jesus walking on water! Miracles can only be recognized as such precisely because they are out of the ordinary events.
The metaphysical monopoly of meaningfulness has never been lost, just misplaced by some people. Our only hope for the future is to re-discover the source of all meaning which is God, face the facts of our need for forgiveness, agree to accept God’s way of providing that forgiveness, and work together for the good which is God’s kingdom. The bankruptcy of atheism, and its irrational foundation, makes it a hindrance to the ultimate good of human-kind. It is better to grasp the living dogma.
Wronging the Ignorant and Dumb
If philosophy is only semantic juggling, then Tony Skillen (Wronging the Ignorant and Dumb, Issue 12) has skillfully made his point that a ‘wrong’ is perpetrated against any living thing that is deprived of its potential to live the good life.
If again we subscribe to clear thinking and David Hume’s maxim that we have to rely on experience of real existence, then the truth of nature is that reproduction is often arranged quantitatively so that not all organisms can avoid deprivation of one kind or another, whatever we or they may feel about it.
Tony Skillen appears to advocate utopian concepts of the natural world which must be judged to be laudable. Unfortunately this releases him from dealing with awkward matters such as emotion, ignorance, disposition and the rest and it is these which make ‘animal welfare’ very debatable.
Dr Derek Pout
Derbyshire Collective Madness
There is no social science that is not also a science of individuals. Collectives and institutions are maintained by individuals; without their individual members, they are nothing. Ignore these individual members and there is nothing to study. In everyday speech, this is often overlooked particularly when when the collective in question is a nation. Conventionally, nations are purposeful, singleminded agents, supra as well as super-human. I am not sure that this convention is entirely harmless. The more effectively a collective is personified, the easier it is to despise its members. One at a time, they are more difficult to hate. ‘Here I Go, Here I Go, Here I Go!’ (PN, 11) was this serious point put frivolously. Like Benedict Anderson, I feel that the nation is imagination. To me, nationalism is a kind of secular superstition. The mythical ‘England’ that expected every man to do his duty and the equally fanciful ‘France’ that could not be itself without greatness are my targets. I say that they are not real. Probe them in any depth and they are just individual people living individual lives. Each individual will have his own idea of England or France. Their individual ideas might be similar but they will not be the same. Being individuals, they cannot have the same idea any more than they can simultaneously eat the same food.
The first paragraph of Mark Hawkes’ ‘countercharge’ (PN 12) starts by commending my cogency but he goes on to say that my argument holds neither air nor water and by the end of the paragraph, he has declared it quite fallacious. Is this the consistency one should expect from a selfproclaimed “determined, impersonal movement through time”? Not only is Mr Hawkes no individualist, by his own account he is no individual. He rejects the concept of “the person as an isolated, celebrated individual in space.” Oddly enough, so do I. So would Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig Von Mises. And so would every methodological individualist I have ever come across. Mark Hawkes has confused my position with the straw man he so eagerly pulls apart. He defines individualism in such a way as to make it impossible. For him, individualism is the claim that people habitually exist beyond social interaction, free from the influence of culture and ideas. (I’m surprised he didn’t ask “If everyone’s an individual, how come you’re writing English?”). Defined per Mr Hawkes, there is (surprise, surprise) no tenable individualism. But look at culture and ideas. Of course they are real but it is as individuals that we meet them. Their impact can only be an individual one. Mr Hawkes can’t see the trees for the wood. He struggles to construe the LA riots of three years back as just about everything except what they were: individual people rioting. The individual rioters, he says, “had no individual consciousness…. but had had their individualism subsumed by an awareness more powerful and collective than their own” (Spooky!). Mr Hawkes, how do you know? Did you ask them? And your Mr Smith. His motives for rioting bear an uncanny resemblance to a sociology textbook. Would a real Mr Smith be as reliable?
Risibly enough, I never did say that Italy today and Italy in the 1930s are not causally connected. But I’ll say it now; they aren’t. ‘Italy’, then and since, is a metaphor for individuals. The outlook of a man in Rome could well owe more to ideas and ideals from a variety of different times and places. Look how the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, for example, are still going strong today and not only, or even mainly, in Greece. In demonstrating a causal connection, Mr Hawkes gets no further than metaphor; Italy 1930 he claims is Italy l995’s “father”. (Who was its Mum? Albania?)
The term ‘Italy’ can be applied to the state as well as to the nation. Unlike the nation, the state is a corporate body with a real, organised existence. It has a policy and a plan of action, it has executives to carry these out and a chief executive officer to represent it at the highest level, it has income and outgoings, it has offices at home and in many of the world’s cities. In many respects, it is like any other corporation: the Church of England, say, or the Inland Revenue, the Boy Scout Movement or the Liberal Democratic Party. Dr Bolton suggests that I have developed a method whereby the existence of these might be denied. I have no such method. The balance of evidence suggests that they, like the physical world, are real. To deny the existence of society (as in “Society turns decent people into criminals”) is one thing, to deny the existence of NATO is quite another. I deny the former but not the latter.
Thank you for the article by John Mann (PN 12) which dealt with philosophy on the Internet. Apart from the two LISTSERV philosophy groups shown at the end of his article, your readers may be interested to learn of an excellent moderated* list emanating from the States but with contributors from all over the world. It is called the Association for Systematic Philosophy and is known as ASP-DISC. To subscribe simply send a message to ASP-DISCrequest@ netcom.com containing only the text: ‘subscribe’ (leave out the quotes) and you will automatically be added to the list. People whose mailers normally append a signature file should add a line saying ‘end’, like this: subscribe end. This prevents the list server from trying to interpret the signature as a series of commands. The list also maintains an archive that is accessible via anonymous ftp.
I hope many of your readers will enjoy the lively discussions as much as I do.
* p.s. A moderated list means that all postings go through an editor and this tends to keep the conference free of mindless nerds such as can be found on many free-for-all newsgroups on the Net!
In Carole Haynes-Curtis’s article ‘Emotions: A Defence of Irrationality’ (Issue 12), I find her examples of irrational emotions difficult to accept. In my view it is rational to show fear if you have good reason to believe that you are confronted by a tiger, irrespective of whether your belief is true or false.
No one seems to dispute that it is rational to laugh at Charlie Chaplin, so why should it be irrational to be deeply moved by the fate of Tolstoy’s heroine? Normal human beings have the capacity to identify with others and to respond to the situations and behaviour of others with appropriate emotions. It would be irrational if someone laughed, or failed to show any emotion, whilst looking at a film of the holocaust. Unless of course their laugh was caused by nerves or their lack of obvious emotion was caused by shock.
Roughly speaking, normal people usually display rational emotions and people with mental problems sometimes display irrational emotions. Both rational and irrational emotions exist and therefore Sartres’s view that “all emotions are inherently irrational” is false.
Finally, Mother Nature does nothing in vain, and there are good practical reasons why human beings display their range of emotions. The various scientific disciplines examine these reasons in some detail, and they are rather more convincing than Jean-Paul’s ‘magical world’.
Peter C. Horn
Readers in London may have seen the large posters which often appear on the Underground advertising philosophy courses for beginners: “Philosophy: 12 Practical Discussions…” The posters are placed by an organisation called the School of Economic Science. William Shaw, in a recent book (Spying in Guru Land, 4th Estate 1994), wrote that “In the whole colourfully eccentric splatter of cults, there has never been one as genteel, stiff-upper-lipped and absurdly British as the School of Economic Science.” A compliment of sorts, I suppose. Their courses apparently include very little philosophy in the usual sense of the word. Instead of introducing people to a wide variety of different philosophers as the posters imply, the lessons focus almost exclusively on the SES’s own system of beliefs, a mixture of ideas taken from Hinduism, the mystic Gurdjieff and the authoritarian bits from Plato. The organisation is now coming under pressure to make its posters less misleading. If you are looking for an introductory philosophy course, we suggest you contact your local education authority or university philosophy department for advice.