Saturday, November 10, 2007

Leo the Great

Today is the Feast of Leo I. From Prosper's account of the meeting of Leo I and Attila the Hun, which led people later to give him the title, 'Subduer of the Hun':

Now Attila, having once more collected his forces which had been scattered in Gaul [at the battle of Chalons], took his way through Pannonia into Italy. . . To the emperor and the senate and Roman people none of all the proposed plans to oppose the enemy seemed so practicable as to send legates to the most savage king and beg for peace. Our most blessed Pope Leo -trusting in the help of God, who never fails the righteous in their trials - undertook the task, accompanied by Avienus, a man of consular rank, and the prefect Trygetius. And the outcome was what his faith had foreseen; for when the king had received the embassy, he was so impressed by the presence of the high priest that he ordered his army to give up warfare and, after he had promised peace, he departed beyond the Danube.

Later legends based on this event told of Ss. Paul and Peter coming to Leo's aid; this is the basis for Raphael's famous painting of the scene. There's a YouTube video (very uneven sound quality, and silly, but rather fun) about the event, using Legos and Carmina Burana.

Leo's most important theological work is the Tome to Flavian, which became one of the key texts of Chalcedonian Christianity. You can also read some of his letters and sermons (and more at CCEL).

Problem of Evil

There has been some fascinating recent discussion of the problem of evil on some of the weblogs I read regularly or semi-regularly. Here's a list.

1. An Examined Life: News from the Scorecard Department

2. Quintessence of Dust: Oh look. It's the problem of evil.

3. Sacramentum Vitae: Theology to go

4. An Examined Life: More Evil Problems

5. DarwinCatholic: That Problem of Evil Thing

6.Sacramentum Vitae: Theology to go II: Eating the meal

Friday, November 09, 2007


A CHE column on 'impostor syndrome' among academics, the sneaking feeling that all your teaching and research is really phony. It's something to which I have, by temperament, strong and recurring temptations, but I have a somewhat cynical attitude toward the sort of treatment that seems suggested by the article.

Part of the problem, I think, is that the sneaking feeling really is always at least partly right. The reason you've had the success you've had really is partly due to sheer dumb luck; it is indeed partly due to a bit of finessing on your part. You really are partly a phony. That nagging feeling that you don't understand your subject as well as others tend to infer? It's partly right. Those of us who feel it feel it not because we are silly but because there really is some truth to it. The 'partly' and 'some' is in each case key.

'Impostor syndrome' is actually the intellectual version of the moral disease of scruples. Scrupulosity is hard to eradicate because the reasoning involved in it is not wholly wrong: we do constantly come up short, we always could do better, we have a lot of sins, we can and sometimes really do sin in small matters, and there are more gray areas that are difficult to evaluate than we could hope. But the attempt to feel as virtuous as others seem to think you is exactly the wrong medicine for it; either it just aggravates your scruples or it turns you into exactly the sort of sinner you are inclined under scruples to think yourself, namely, the hypocrite, who really does sin even in apparently innocent matters.

So it is here. Faced with this feeling, the right response is not, I think, to try to "Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are," which really just leads your self-ideal highjacking your self-image (or, worse, other people's ideals highjacking your self-image). The right response is to start thinking through how completely absurd it would be for anyone to feel as bright and capable as everyone else seems to think they are, given that everyone else is a completely incompetent judge in this matter. It's the whole idea that you should feel as bright and capable as everyone seems to think you are that's the problem. Trying to get you to "Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are" often just aggravates the situation, since it forces you to recognize more and more that people really have no clue who you are, but assumes that they should, and the feeling is quite often a sense of this very disparity. The other danger is that it might make you completely into the sort of imposter you're worried you might be.

The first step, I think, is to recognize that it is a pathology of reason, a warping of your judgment by a combination of internal and external factors; and the best way to handle it is not to try to force yourself to regard yourself as bright and capable but to figure out what those factors are, and deal with them. What I find helps me is to remember that worrying about it is a distraction from my real interests, and that it does not in fact matter if I'm bright and capable at all: what matters are things like truth and justice, and the sort of person I want to be is the sort of person whose devotion to these things is so great that he is willing even to be a fool for them. I'm sure others would have to focus on other things.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Warning from Whewell

If the mathematician is repelled from speculations on morals or politics, on the beautiful or the right, because the reasonings which they involve have not the mathematical precision and conclusiveness, he will remain destitute of much of the most valuable knowledge which man can acquire. And if he attempts to mend the matter by giving to treatises on morals, or politics, or criticism, a form and a phraseology borrowed from the very few tolerably complete physical sciences which exist, it will be found that he is compelled to distort and damage the most important truths, so as to deprive them of their true shape and import, in order to force them into their places in his artificial system.

William Whewell, Astronomy and General Physics, quoted in John Henderson, Early Mathematical Economics: William Whewell and the British Case, Rowman and Littlefield (Lanham, Maryland: 1996) p. 70.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Most Young People Everywhere

A post at Mixing Memory has set me to re-reading Mary Anne Warren's book, Moral Status. I like some of Warren's work, but I always find myself amused by some of her claims and arguments. This is a case in point:

People who are told that they must conform to moral standards which very few actually can meet are likely to conclude that morality is a set of hypocritical platitudes that only a fool would take seriously. (Think, for instance, of the reaction of most young people everywhere to the demand for lifelong celibacy, except within heterosexual marriage.)

[Mary Anne Warren, Moral Status, Clarendon (Oxford: 1997) p. 14.]

I'm thinking of it, but the example doesn't seem quite so firm as Warren seems to think. Since the demand doesn't die out, this means either that most of those young people "conclude that morality is a set of hypocritical platitudes that only a fool would take seriously" but then later change their minds; or that they don't, in fact, "conclude that morality is a set of hypocritical platitudes that only a fool would take seriously". Nor is it really quite clear that "most young people everywhere" think that the demand is a moral standard "which very few actually can meet"; I would imagine there is a lot of diversity among that very heterogeneous group, "most young people everywhere."

I'm unclear, actually, whether this was intended as a joke or as a serious example; nothing in the context marks it as a joke, and, to be frank, Warren often affirms uncritically arguments that happen to yield conclusions she agrees with, some of which are more of a stretch than this one would be if affirmed seriously. But perhaps it was a joke, or a half-joke; I can hardly imagine someone actually saying this without saying it half-jokingly. That's a problem with arguments in writing, I suppose; in reading them we operate under only partial information.

Sub Actione Unius Spiritus Sancti

This has turned out to be a rather more complicated question than I expected; I jumped in simply to point out things I thought everyone recognized but had forgotten in the heat of a dispute, but it turns out no one agrees with me. Jonathan Prejean (the Crimson Catholic) has responded to my post on his prior post about the authority of Scripture. He suggests this line of reasoning:

What this essentially says is that there must be someone to speak with the very same force of law in favor or against some interpretation. Absent that, one simply must concede that the law has no authority over the dispute. One appeals vainly to a law that has no force, and on that account, is no law. One might form all manner of probable opinions, but none are ever binding.

But this, I think, doesn't get us anywhere; everyone agrees that there is someone to speak with binding force in favor or against some interpretation, namely, the Holy Spirit. Protestants don't disagree with Catholics up to this point. Jonathan wants to say that "If the Scriptures are the SOLE rule of faith and morals, so as to exclude any human agency endowed with the capacity to speak authoritatively in the name of God (which entails infallibility) in giving interpretations, then the Scriptures cannot be a law." But this appears to be false, taken strictly; if God Himself speaks authoritatively in the name of God, then you don't need any human agency endowed with the capacity to speak authoritatively -- God is authoritative enough. And there's no real way of getting around this: any Protestant worth his salt will point out to Jonathan that there's nothing human authority can add to divine authority. And this is the Catholic view, too, as far as I can see. The only question is whether God decides to speak authoritatively through the medium of human agency.

Where Protestants and Catholics disagree is in their full accounts of the authority of Scripture, because, as Jonathan and Father Kimel and others keep pointing out (but I think they keep confusing this with other, distinct issues), from the Catholic point of view the Protestant account of the authority of Scripture is incomplete. Another way to put it, as I've put it before, is that from the Catholic perspective Protestants have only a partial understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture.

Now, Jonathan, borrowing from Scott, argues that "we have no reason on earth to think that any individual has 'words engraved on the heart' in any publicly binding fashion." Of course, to some degree this depends on what we mean by 'publically binding'. For instance, it's not impossible to have authoritative and binding words engraved on the heart; this is the Catholic view of conscience. Is conscience 'publically binding'? It's publically binding enough that it will be taken into account before God's great judgment seat. But what of the case of Scripture? In fact, the 'publically' does not enter into question here. Binding force is binding force; and for this all that is required is the witness of the one with the authority -- and this is the Holy Spirit. Scripture does not get its binding force from the Church, but from God; and this, too is the Catholic view. The Church proclaims and does not create the authority of Scripture. The authority of the Church is an extension of the same authority exhibited in the authority of Scripture, namely, the authority of the Holy Spirit. Thus when Jonathan says:

Laws without courts are powerless to adjudicate interpretive disputes, so they are no laws over those disputes at all. You yourself cited Nicaea. Why? That was a disputed interpretation of Scripture, and there is no authority who can speak with the same legal force as Scriptures so as to bind the interpretation of Scripture.

The obvious, and conciliar, response is that there is an authority who can speak with the same "legal force" (if we prefer to talk about Scriptural authority by analogy to law), namely, God. Thus, if, in fact, as Catholics do indeed accept, the Holy Spirit spoke definitively through the Council of Nicaea, that in and of itself makes the words of Nicaea authoritative. And this, taken as a hypothetical, any Protestant will accept, whatever their view of the councils. Likewise, if the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture, that in and of itself makes Scripture authoritative. And this general principle everyone accepts. The disagreement, as I've repeatedly stated, is about the ways in which the Holy Spirit actually works. To deny that God is an authoritative, and relevant, interpreter of Scripture is not a serious option, since all authority -- whether of Scripture itself or of the Church in interpreting it -- is a derivative authority, a participation in the authority of the Holy Spirit who works to preserve the Church in truth. To say that the Church is 'endowed' with the authority to interpret is simply to say that the Holy Spirit moves in the Church to interpret. In a dispute over differing interpretations, then, the recourse is to the Holy Spirit. Here Protestant and Catholic diverge with different accounts of how this recourse is possible. This is the question that divides Catholic and Protestant on the question of Scripture. Anything else is a red herring. And it is at this point that the Catholic must regard the Protestant account as incomplete (and thus deficient to the extent that it tries to present itself as complete). But, note, this is a different question from that of the authority of Scripture, a different question from that of the existence of a plain sense of Scripture, a different question from that of the danger of private judgment.

In responding to my point about the authority of Scripture in Catholic private devotion, Jonathan says:

The first sentence in the quote above simply equivocates on what "authoritative" means. I imagine that he does not think that his interpretation is binding on every Catholic who reads Scripture, any more than I think that my judgment of the law means that my opponent is thereby bound to agree with me, even though I have no authority. I might well think that my opinion is "authoritative" in that I have a very real belief that a reasonable judge will agree with me, viz., that I have persuasive authority, but that is not the same thing. The point is that no interpretation, no matter how persuasive, can possibly be binding absent the direct intervention of an authoritative interpreter; collective wisdom cannot add up to a binding authority. The individual Catholic simply cannot make public law for the Church; the Magisterium can. And my problem is that if there cannot even possibly be the direct intervention of an authoritative interpreter, then I have no idea what it means for the Scriptures to serve as law, canon, or rule, since those rare cases are the ones separating the rule of law from anarchy.

But it is Jonathan who is equivocating; I talked of the authority of Scripture, which remains even in circumstances where interpretations have no authority except insofar as they correctly express Scriptural truth, whereas he talks of the authority of interpretations themselves. And this has been the common move: Protestants insist on the authority of Scripture, and Catholics deny that private interpretations of Scripture have any authority. It is an irrelevant move. Of course, no Protestant will agree that "there cannot even possibly be the direct intervention of an authoritative interpreter": he or she will say that there certainly an intervening authoritative interpreter, the Holy Spirit. And this is the same authoritative interpreter on which Catholics rely, because the Magisterium has all of its authority wholly in its participation in the teaching authority of the Holy Spirit. There is no other authority of any significance in this matter. The reasonable Catholic argument against Protestants is not that Protestants have no grounds on which to accept the authority of Scripture, but that they fail to appreciate the full authoritative work of the Holy Spirit.

In any case, I think that there's a danger in a number of Jonathan's expressions, namely an assimilation of all authority in the Church to something like canon law, whereas canon law is simply one of many different expressions of the Church's authority. And this is not surprising. When Jesus tells a parable, that is not a law; but it is an authoritative expression of truth, because it is put forward by the teaching authority of Jesus himself. And this is perhaps where Jonathan is going wrong; he thinks of authority in terms of the binding force of law, but the Catholic conception of the authority of Scripture and of the Church has always been primarily expounded in terms of authoritative teaching, and even the binding force of canon law is derivative of this more fundamental form of authority. Authority lies with the Teacher; the judge has no authority except insofar as he is a very specialized kind of teacher with a very particular authority to teach. And thus to think of the Church's authority, or Scripture's authority, or the Holy Spirit's authority, wholly in terms of juridical authority is to fail to go back to first principles.

And a further problem is that Jonathan treats his argument is a defense of the juridical authority of Scripture; but in fact it seems to entail that Scripture has no juridical authority -- only the pronouncements of the Church have authority, because only they can be "identified with human interpretive acts," in Jonathan's words. This is not, I think, the Catholic view of the authority of Scripture. Scripture is the rule of faith because it is from God, and it is because it is from God that it is received by the Church as the rule of faith; it is false to say that there is "no authority of Scripture as canon, rule, or law" without the interpretive act of the Holy Spirit "being actually identified with human interpretive acts." The authority of Scripture is the authority of divine pedagogy; the Church has authority to interpret it because Scripture is given to the Church as a trust to guard and to proclaim, and this authority consists in its being led by the same Spirit of truth whose authoritative teaching is also expressed in Scripture. Any juridical aspect of authority, both of the Church and of Scripture, is explained by this as well.

Scott Carson had also commented on my previous post; I don't really have much to say to it, it largely just shows that Scott and I both think (1) that the other has completely misdiagnosed the state of the dispute between Catholics and Protestants and (2) that the Catholic line of argument that the other thinks carries the most force against the Protestant view of Scripture is in reality completely irrelevant to it. In any case, you should read it, too. He also comments here on the discussion I've been having with Fr. Kimel in the comments to that post, mostly on the subject of the canon. As I noted to Fr. Kimel, plain sense in the basic form is hardly 'useless to the Protestant position' if that means it is useless to Protestant polemics; it's a standard polemical tactic -- and one reason I jumped into this discussion is that it seemed to me the Catholics in the discussion were doing the same thing in reverse with the arguments about private judgment -- to associate one's own position with an obviously undeniable claim and one's opponents' position with the denial of that obviously undeniable claim. It is, of course, a question open to genuine argument whether other positions held by the other side actually do imply the denial of that claim. But in this context this is an argument that there is a hidden inconsistency in the other side's position; such arguments take very close and accurate examination of that position. In any case, the question of the plain meaning of Scripture is definitely distinct from questions of authority; it's relevant to interpretation, of course, but only to the sort of interpretation we find in the prayerful reading of Scripture in private devotion. On the issue of the canon, I don't think there's any disagreement, although I interpret the Dei Verbum passage differently:

These books the church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the church.

I don't think this does identify three reasons why a text is accepted as canon; I think it identifies only one. It does not identify subsequent approval by authority as one of them, because when it mentions that it is talking about "after they had been composed by unaided human skill". This is clearly a counterfactual scenario: the idea is that the Church does not hold the canon to be sacred on the basis of the Church using its authority to approve a bunch of texts that were not inspired. It then also denies that the Church holds the text sacred and canonical simply because they contain revelation without error. Rather, the real reason the Church holds them sacred and canonical is that they have God as their author and were committed to the Church as having God as their author. Thus, I think the document does, indeed, deny Scott's [1] and [2] as reasons for the canon. Of course, it's true that the Church subsequently approved the texts, and it's true that they contain revelation without error, but these are not why these are canonical texts. The reason they are canonical is that they have God as their author and were committed to the Church as such. So I've been interpreting the passage.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Quote for the Day

At "Feminist Philosophers" JJ has a post on some comments by Dick Cavett on Don Imus that struck my fancy: clear, precise, to the point, I wish more of my comments were like that. To Cavett's question, "How can an insult be personal if the person delivering it and the person(s) receiving it don’t know each other?" JJ replies:

Isn’t that just how prejudice works? If you are prejudging, then of course you don’t have to know them to do it.

It's remarkable that this is often forgotten; but it seems easy for us to forget, as Cavett does in his comments.

Mary Doria Russell Interview

Elliot points to an interview on Mary Doria Russell's website. I was struck by the same passage:

In general, my overall background in science certainly comes through very strongly, especially in Children of God. I recently had a marvelous e-mail exchange with Sir Arthur C. Clarke [You wanna talk about Major League Thrills!? God, my heart almost stopped when I got that first message from Sir Arthur!] and Father George Coyne, SJ, the Pope's astronomer at the Vatican Observatory. Sir Arthur had arranged for The Sparrow to be sent to his old friend Father Coyne, who loved the book but said he really didn't think it was science fiction! I pointed out that they don't give the Arthur C. Clarke Prize to mysteries, and argued that The Sparrow most certainly was science fiction.

George Coyne finally admitted that, being an astronomer, he secretly believed that only physics, mathematics and astronomy are Real Sciences, so any book that didn't involve those sciences couldn't be SF. I wrote back, "Look, I hold a Ph.D. in biological anthropology, and I call myself a scientist with a straight face. My books don't rely on mathematics or physics, but they do grow directly out of nearly a dozen other sciences: paleontology, ecology, geology, biological evolution, cultural anthropology, economics, sociology, political science, botany and clinical psychology." Father Coyne eventually conceded that he needed to make an attitude adjustment about what constitutes the science in science fiction!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Links of Note

* Nominations for the 2007 Cliopatria Awards are open throughout November.

* "Philosophy and Bioethics" hosts the 56th Philosophers' Carnival.

* Czeslaw Milosz's 2004 speech on the religious imagination.

* Makoto Fujimura, the painter, discusses a trip to China he had with Ralph McInerny.

* The Immanent Frame is a new blog set up by the SSRC, devoted to the question of secularism, religion, and the public sphere. It is currently discussing Charles Taylor's A Secular Age; and the neat thing about it is that Taylor is also posting.

I hope that some of the discussion on that weblog ripples out into the general blogosphere; the Postmodern Conservative has started things off with a post on anti-authoritative metaphysics that is worth reading if you are interested in this topic.

* Commonweal has excerpts from Taylor's book here (on sex) and here (on death).

* FreeRice is a vocabulary game that uses the advertising revenue generated to donate rice to the UN.

The Hunger Site donates advertising revenue that is generated when you click a link.

* In a similar vein, don't forget to use GoodSearch occasionally when you are hunting things on the internet. Part of the advertising revenue generated by your search goes to the charity of your choice, assuming that that charity has registered with GoodSearch (a very great many have, so it's usually not difficult to find a charity you support in their database). (SearchKindly works in a similar way; but it donates all the revenue to a single charity picked each month by voting.) With GoodSearch Shopping you can do something similar every time you buy online: participating online retailers include, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy,, Old Navy, PetSmart, and Staples.

* John T. McGreevy reviews Mark Lilla's The Stillborn God.

* For 'Reformation Day' Millinerd had an interesting post on Christian unity, and on some of what attracts Protestants to Protestantism, from a Protestant perspective.

* George Will has a nice column on Congressional war powers.

* Evan Wallach discusses waterboarding.

* George Orwell's classic essay on Salvador Dali, Benefit of Clergy. The essay is worth reading even if you're not particularly interested in Dali, because there are analogies to other fields besides art. For instance, I would suggest that it is clear from some academic responses to the recent James Watson scandal that our views of academic freedom have, at least in some ways, degenerated precisely to something like a claim of 'benefit of clergy' for academics and particularly scientists. (I am always mildly amused when academics talk, as some academics didin the Watson case, of a 'right to offend'; which is, of course, a right that only academics think academics have, and is a mere caricature of a more reasonable candidate for a right, namely, to state the truth, as the best scholarship and study presents it, even if the truth offends. Of course, Watson's comments, as was widely noted, does not in the least fit the latter category, and so no one should have been able to bring up a 'right to offend' unless they did, in fact, mean a literal right to offend.)

* The history of piracy of the T. & T. Clarks's Ante-Nicene Fathers series.

* Charles Henry notes that there are reasons to be skeptical of the new Charles Schulz biography.

* Mike has an excellent post called Theology to go.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Poem Draft

A Meditation on Reading the Analects

Ruler's character, wind-like;
subject's character, grass-like:
wind blows, grass bends.

Prince to be prince,
minister, minister:
that is government.

To remember, not tiring,
to practice, not turning:
that is government.

To accept wise counsel,
to exalt the virtuous:
that is government.

To bless the near,
to lure the far:
that is government.

Not to rush, not to niggle,
to pardon with ease:
that is government.

To stand, the star
on which all stars turn:
that is government.

Not to govern oneself
is to fail to govern:
no government, no government.


Well, I'm certainly not a relativist; I should register as an N-A-O, but I'm neither a Kantian nor a utilitarian. I came across this extraordinarily verbose internet quiz at Ahistoricality.

Your Score: N-A-R

You scored 77% Non-Reductionism, 77% Epistemological Absolutism, and 33% Moral Objectivism!

You are an N-A-R: a metaphysical Non-Reductionist, an epistemological Absolutist, and a moral Relativist. If you are simply dying inside to figure out what all this mumbo-jumbo means, then simply continue reading.

Metaphysics: Non-Reductionism (Idealism or Realism) In metaphysics, my test measures your tendency towards Reductionism or Non-Reductionism. As a Non-Reductionist, you recognize that reality is not necessarily simple or unified, and you thus tend to produce a robust ontology instead of carelessly shaving away hypothetical entities that reflect our philosophical experiences. My test recognizes two types of Non-Reductionists: Idealists and Realists.

1. Idealists believe that reality is fundamentally unknowable. All we can ever know is the world of sense experience, thought, and other phenomena which are only distorted reflections of an ultimate (or noumenal) reality. Kant, one of the most significant philosophers in history, theorized that human beings perceive reality in such a way that they impose their own mental frameworks and categories upon reality, fully distorting it. Reality for Kant is unconceptualized and not subject to any of the categories our minds apply to it. Idealists are non-reductionists because they recognize that the distinction between phenomenal reality and ultimate reality cannot be so easily discarded or unified into a single reality. They are separate and distinct, and there is no reason to suppose the one mirrors the other. Major philosophical idealists include Kant and Fichte.

If your views are different from the above, then you may be a Realist. 2. Realists deny the validity of sloppy metaphysical reductions, because they feel that there is no reason to suspect that reality reflects principles of parsimony or simplicity. Realism is the most common-sensical of the metaphysical views. It doesn't see reality as a unity or as reducible to matter or mind, nor does it see reality as divided into a phenomenal world of experience and an unknowable noumenal world of things-in-themselves. Realist metaphysics emphasizes that reality is for the most part composed of the things we observe and think. On the question of the existence of universals, for instance, a realist will assert that while universals do not physically exist, the relations they describe in particulars are as real as the particular things themselves, giving universals a type of reality. Thus, no reduction is made. On the mind-body problem, realists tend to believe that minds and bodies both exist, and the philosophical problems involved in reducing mind to matter or matter to mind are too great to warrant such a reduction. Finally, realists deny that reality is ultimately a Unity or Absolute, though they recognize that reality can be viewed as a Unity when we consider the real relations between the parts as constituting this unity--but it doesn't mean that the world isn't also made up of particular things. Aristotle and Popper are famous realists.


Epistemology: Absolutism (Rationalism or Pragmatism) My test measures one's tendency towards Absolutism or Skepticism in regards to epistemology. As an Absolutist, you believe that objective knowledge is possible given the right approach, and you deny the claims of skeptical philosophers who insist that we can never have knowledge of ultimate reality. The two types of Absolutists recognized by my test are Rationalists and Pragmatists.

1. Rationalists believe that the use of reason ultimately provides the best route to truth. A rationalist usually defines truth as a correspondence between propositions and reality, taking the common-sense route. Also, rationalists tend to believe that knowledge of reality is made possible through certain foundational beliefs. This stance is known as foundationalism. A foundationalist believes that, because we cannot justify the truth of every statement in an infinite regress, we ultimately reach a foundation of knowledge. This foundation is composed of a priori truths, like mathematics and logic, as well as undoubtable truths like one's belief in his or her own existence. The belief that experiences and memories are veridical is also part of the foundation. Thus, for a rationalist knowledge of reality is made possible through our foundational beliefs, which we do not need to justify because we find them to be undoubtable and self-evident. In regards to science, a rationalist will tend to emphasize the foundational assumptions of scientific inquiry as prior to and more important than scientific inquiry itself. If science does lead to truth, it is only because it is based upon the assumption of certain rational principles such as "Every event is caused" and "The future will resemble the past". Philosophy has a wide representation of philosophical rationalists--Descartes, Spinoza, Liebniz, and many others.

If that didn't sound like your own views, then you are most likely the other type of Absolutist: the Pragmatist. Epistemological Pragmatists are fundamentally identified by their definition of truth. Truth is, on this view, merely a measure of a proposition's success in inquiry. This view is a strictly scientific notion of truth. A proposition can be called true if it leads to successful predictions or coheres best with the observed facts about the world. Thus, for the pragmatist, knowledge of reality is possible through scientific reasoning. A pragmatist emphasizes man's fallibility, and hence takes baby-steps towards knowledge through scientific methodology. Any truth claim for a pragmatist is open to revision and subject to change--if empirical observations lead us to call even logical rules into question (like quantum physics has done for the law of the excluded middle), then we can and should abandon even these supposed a priori and "absolutely certain" logical rules if they do not accord with our testing and refuting of our various propositions. As a consequence of this, a pragmatist doesn't feel that scientific knowledge is based upon unfounded assumptions that are taken to be true without any sort of justification--rather, they believe that the successes of scientific inquiry have proved that its assumptions are well-founded. For instance, the assumption of science that the future will be like the past is adequately shown by the amazing success of scientific theories in predicting future events--how else could this be possible unless the assumption were true? Pragmatism borrows elements from realism and yet attempts to account for the critiques made by skeptics and relativists. It is essentially a type of philosophical opportunism--it borrows the best stances from a large number of philosophical systems and attempts to discard the problems of these systems by combining them with others. Famous pragmatists of this type are Peirce and Dewey.


Ethics: Relativism (Subjectivism or Emotivism) My test measures one's tendency towards moral Objectivism or moral Relativism in regards to ethics. As a moral Relativist, you tend to see moral choices as describing a subject's reaction to a moral object or situation, and not as a property of the moral object itself. You may also feel that moral words are meaningless because they do not address any empirical fact about the world. My test recognizes two types of moral relativists--Subjectivists and Emotivists.

1. Subjectivists see individual or collective desires as defining a situation's or object's moral worth. Thus, the subject, not the object itself, determines the value. Subjectivists recognize that social rules, customs, and morality have been wide-ranging and quite varied throughout history among various cultures. As a result, Subjectivism doesn't attempt to issue hard and fast rules for judging the moral worth of things. Instead, it recognizes that what we consider "good" and "right" is not bound by any discernable rule. There is no one trait that makes an act good or right, because so many different kinds of things have been called good and right. In regards to the definition of "good" or "right", a Subjectivist will tend to define it as whatever a particular person or group of people desire. They do not define it merely as "happiness" or "pleasure", for instance, because sometimes we desire to do things that do not produce pleasure, and because we don't consider all pleasurable things good. Furthermore, Subjectivists recognize the validity of consequentialism in that sometimes we refer to consequences as good and bad--but they also recognize that our intentions behind an action, or the means to the end, can also determine an act's moral worth. Again, there is no one rule to determine these things. Hence the relativism of moral Subjectivism. The most well-known of the subjectivists is Nietzsche.

If that didn't sound like your position, then you are probably the other variety of moral Relativist--the Emotivist. Emotivists are moral Relativists only in a very slanted sense, because they actually deny that words about morality have any meaning at all. An Emotivist would probably accept Hume's argument that it is impossible to derive an "ought" from an "is"--no factual state of affairs can logically entail any sort of moral action. Furthermore, a emotivist's emphasis on scientific (and hence empirical) verification and testing quickly leads to the conclusion that concepts such as "good" and "right" don't really describe any real qualities or relations. Science is never concerned with whether a particular state of affairs is moral or right or good--and an emotivist feels much the same way. Morality is thus neither objective or subjective for the emotivist--it is without any meaning at all, a sort of vague ontological fiction that is merely a symbol for our emotional responses to certain events. Famous emotivists include Ayer and other positivists associated with the Vienna Circle.


As you can see, when your philosophical position is narrowed down there are so many potential categories that an OKCupid test cannot account for them all. But, taken as very broad categories or philosophical styles, you are best characterized as an N-A-R. Your exact philosophical opposite would be an R-S-O.

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The Infallible Method of Argument

When the argument was referred back to first principles in this way, the truth became apparent to his opponents too. And when he himself was setting out a detailed argument, he used to proceed by such stages as were generally agreed, because he thought that this was the infallible method of argument. Consequently, when he was talking, he used to win the agreement of his audience more than anyone else I have known. He used to say that Homer himself attributed to Odysseus the quality of being an infallible speaker, because he could base his arguments on the accepted beliefs of his hearers.

Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.6.11, in Xenophon, Conversations of Socrates, Tredennick & Waterfield, trs. & eds. Penguin (New York: 1990) p.211