When your spade turns against the bedrock . . .

Van Gogh - 1890 Two Peasant Women Digging in Field with Snow

If I have exhausted the justifications, I have reached bedrock and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: “This is simply what I do.” ~ Wittgenstein, PI, §217

The level of argument (process of reasoning—going from statements more known and accepted, and because of them, to another statement) most prevalent in our culture is “the meme argument.” This is the argument that one encounters on social media sites: it the “argument” of the come-back or the catch phrase.

This level feeds off of arguments spun at the level of media and political rhetoric—the well-balanced and effective catch phrases and slogans, with a “foundation” and “principles” in the party platform. This is where most arguments which pass for intellectual abide in our culture and of which we, the public, are informed. The level of memes relies upon this level of the media and politicians; the poets and rhetors. Of course, at the risk of failing the test of self-reference, the blog is such a medium in this category—but the medium can transmit content of different caliber. Let the reader understand I am trying to name the quality of content, the depth of penetration into reality, by naming the modes in which these arguments are most often presented.

Recent examples which I have found are in regard to the controversy over Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, and current cases pending in SCOTUS. This latter has received a more thoughtful reply (see also this related article, where, still, the liberal/Lockean perspective may be a bit too much in force)—but real replies, arguments that take real effect, are difficult at this level. It is easy to raise a hundred serious difficulties in the span of a few minutes, present them in a catching, emotive, and powerful mode, to which it takes many hours of careful thought to reply. This is because of the next two levels.

The third level of argument down is that of the professionals (those with technical specialties) and the academics, policy think-tanks, and specialists in managerial types of knowledge (these have specialties in various methodologies). This level supports and feeds the level above it. It provides the direction, vocabulary, and project outlooks for the second level. It gives the second level intelligible content. One person could belong to any of these levels without conflict.

The fourth level guides even the third level. It is somewhat the same as the third level, for its is a technical methodology, but because of its scope it transcends the third level. Here reside the scientists. Their professed scope allows them to give the “ultimate explanations” which are transmitted to the third in the form of practical directives and to the second in the form of media releases, grand outlooks for the public spirit’s faith in progress, and political platforms, initiatives, and grant proposals. Yet even this level rests upon . . .

The fifth level. Here we have the traditions of the philosophers—philosophy perennial or ephemeral, true or false. This level gives meaning and direction to fourth level and even third level (to paraphrase Keynes: practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some dead philosopher). But here the foundations split. Only certain philosophical systems easily support the prior four levels. The Socratic foundation of dialogue, or the Aristotelian foundation of investigating the doxa of the many and the wise, or relying upon customs and common experience—these logical tools all offer interpretations of words and thoughts that attempt to peer directly into the nature of things. This nature of things is the real bedrock. These levels within human interpretation are really—until one approaches reality with Socratic and Aristotelian logical tools—various shadows on the Cave wall. By living within any of these four layers, one either enters a mere game at naming the various types and patterns of shadows on the Cave, or becomes a puppet-master on the raised ledge behind the wall, or become one of the people who makes the puppets, or learns how to be one of those tending the fire. The modern philosophers—a tradition of misologists—bicker and kick each other at the mouth of the Cave, clamoring about why it is so bright outside. (Descartes: “It is bright because it is me, and in me I see God!”; Locke: “It is bright because it is the law of nature guiding us to fulfill our individual selves!”; Kant: “It is bright because the laws of nature and morality are found there, in the brilliant light of human reason!”; Nietzsche: “Why call it light? Why not darkness?”)

In the future, I hope to write my own assessment of Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos.

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About johnofstthomas

John Brungardt is a doctoral student at the Catholic University of America, a recipient of the licentiate in philosophy, and alumnus of Thomas Aquinas College. A Catholic and student of the highest truths, he follows St. Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, and their disciples — "But you, if you do as I ask, will give little thought to Socrates and much more to the truth." View all posts by johnofstthomas

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