Posts for Tag: philosophy

We are living through a moment of extreme irrationality

“To some extent, of course, politics has always played out, even in the most enlightened times, through visuals and suggestions, through hints and insinuations, and has always gone to work on us at an affective level. But new tools for carrying this work out, tools that combine both creative imagination and technical expertise, have ceded an outsized responsibility for our political destiny to the technologically literate but argumentatively sub-literate, to the meme-makers, to online subcultural insiders. It should not be altogether surprising that these sectors of society were not necessarily prepared to wield their new, tremendous power in a responsible way.

“We are living through a moment of extreme irrationality, of fervency and ebullience, of destabilization and fear. An important part of the story of how we arrived here seems to be the collapse of traditional safeguards for the preservation of rational procedures and deliberation.... Again, there are many people who evidently welcome this turn. It is rather those who value caution and reserve who feel suddenly as if they belong to another era, and have woken up to find their concerns, their habits—in short, their world—simply gone. It is those who have a weakness for legitimation from a crumbling establishment, from what will soon be the ancien régime, who have the most to lose, those who seek to preserve the old way of doing things: maintaining subscriptions to print media, publishing books, getting humanities degrees, supporting mainstream candidates in mainstream political parties, listening to well-reasoned arguments. These are the people who likely feel the sharpest disappointment at the seizure of the internet by the forces of aggression and chaos, at a moment when we can still hear echoing, from the most recent past, the grandest claims about its power to serve us as an engine for the rational ordering of human life in society....

“... we have most recently discovered the irrationality at the heart of the algorithm, or at least the impossibility of applying algorithms to human life while avoiding their weaponization by the forces of irrationality.”

Justin E. H. Smith, Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason (Princeton University Press: 2019), 17-18.

Forgetting our inheritance

A classical inheritance is all around us, recognized or unrecognized. Yet there has been no period since the Renaissance which is as intent on forgetting the classical past as today. The images and language that flooded the minds of previous generations now need a guidebook. A painting of a classical myth must have an explanation on its museum label, every classical reference in a poem needs a footnote. What for centuries was the foundation of Western culture, a shared resource of the imagination, has been systematically uprooted in modern educational systems across the West, with inevitable consequences for public culture. Modernity has come to mean amnesia—amnesia about the past, about cultural tradition, about the passions and interests of our own history. Like adolescents who believe themselves the first to discover swear-words and sex, and who can only stare with incomprehension at their parents' desires, modern culture finds it hard to notice that it is forgetting its inheritance.

Simon Goldhill. Love, Sex & Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 2.

Epistemological humility or potluck?

The Emergents confuse incomprehensibility with agnosticism, while they make mystery into an excuse for doubting divinely revealed propositions, and they pervert paradox by denying the very ground on which it is created: an a priori commitment to absolute, logically consistent Truth. Their doubting is not any kind of "epistemological humility"—it's intellectual (and spiritual) suicide. Finally, Emergents repudiate logic while simultaneously angling the conclusions of their own humanistic reason against the Scriptures. It's an epistemological potluck on the village green, complete with half-baked chicken, stale heresy-crackers and the moldy rolls of relativism. I've also heard the salad isn't too fresh.

"Recovering Orthodox Epistemology — An Open Letter to Conservative Evangelicals", THEOparadox blog (December 4, 2009), retrieved from

The life cycle of a theory

In the life cycle of a theory, it starts off simple and then gets fancier and fancier, as brainy thinkers mount objections and the theory's proponents develop a more subtle, complex, and well-defended theory to stave them off. Then it dies. Actually, before it dies, it lives in a special preserve for theories too complicated to survive in the wild, called a university.

Eric Kaplan, Does Santa Exist? A Philosophical Investigation (New York: Penguin Group, 2014), 39.